February 22, 2017

A Story About Bottles

The pile of empty glass bottles in the garage was starting to overflow its box, so I decided it was time to drop it off at the recycling point on my way to work. I placed the box in the otherwise-empty boot of the car, and was on my way.

While taking a right turn on a mini roundabout, I heard an almighty cacophony from behind me, the sound of two hundred glass bottles hurling themselves around and shattering into a million dangerous shards. I saw pedestrians turning their heads at the racket, cars ploughing into each other, distracted cyclists riding full-tilt into bollards and going flying over their handlebars, a murder of crows taking flight.

As I continued to drive, I imagined the scene that would confront me when I arrived. A jagged layer of sparkling glass pieces, nothing even remotely recognisable as once a bottle, with an empty black plastic box resting on top. Maybe it would be easiest just to sell the car, hope that the buyer never opens the boot until I’m long gone.

I pulled into the recycling area, a troubling lack of sound coming from the terror that lurked in the back. With a wince, braced for the worst, I opened the boot, to find…

…a box full of perfectly well-behaved empty glass bottles, and two stray bottles next to it.

Pete
February 10, 2017

Wheel Of Time

I can’t remember exactly who bought me The Eye Of The World by Robert Jordan, or when, but I definitely started reading it around May 2014. Since then, I have worked my way through the entire series, on and off, and today I finally finished reading the 14th and final book of the series.

It’s been quite a journey, with its highs and lows. While I was able to read the first three books back to back, and likewise the last few, the middle of the series was sometimes quite the slog, and I’d have to take a month or two off to read something else for a while.

The series is the very epitome of high fantasy, with plentiful magic and sword fighting, numerous religious and mythological references, the whole light-vs-dark thing going on, and an utterly flabbergasting cast of characters. Indeed, this is perhaps one of its greatest failings, as during the middle books in the series you see many characters introduced and subsequently removed with only a glancing impact upon the overall series. While it has a similar number of named characters to the Song Of Ice and Fire series (WOT has 2,7821, whereas ASOIAF has 2,1022 ), 147 are so-called “POV” characters3 whereas in ASOIAF the count is only 254. It can be very hard to keep track of all these names, with their distinctive personalities and motivations. While in ASOIAF there is a fairly clear distinction between the important characters and the wallpaper, in WOT there’s much more of a continuum.

As you may or may not know, the series was originally written by Robert Jordan, who passed away in 2007 while working on what was planned to be the 12th and final book. The mantle was then taken up by Brandon Sanderson, who decided to split it into three books, and I have to say that he did a truly excellent job. Admittedly there were some missteps, with one or two characters apparently changing personality overnight, but in my opinion the series really picks up when Sanderson takes over. Admittedly, since the series was nearing the end, this was probably going to happen anyway. One notable change is the welcome absence of Robert Jordan’s obsession with the size of his female characters’ breasts.

The series has a fairly low death count throughout, until you get to the final book and the Last Battle, when all hell breaks loose. Still, most of the principal characters somehow survive – I won’t tell you which ones. Unfortunately, I had one of the main character deaths spoilered for me by the official Wheel Of Time wiki, so I’d advise steering clear of that.

It’s a series that I’d struggle to recommend without reservations. It’s got a very tough middle third, and sometimes I felt like the story was shooting off in various directions that weren’t leading anywhere. Some of the less essential subplots could have been excised completely, and others tightened up a bit, and the overall story would have been healthier for it.

That said, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that I will return to re-read the series from top to bottom in a few years. With the benefit of hindsight, I think I’ll be able to get much more out of the story second time round, most notably that It’ll be much easier to keep track of the various characters.

  1. The Compendium of Wheel of Time Characters []
  2. How many named characters are there in A Song of Ice and Fire? []
  3. Statistical analysis []
  4. POV character []
Pete
  • Comments: 6
  • Hm. I honestly think that Jaimie is a good example of how your view of a character can be... - swisslet
  • I don't think that that's so much a case of clever use of perspective, rather that the "ev... - Pete
  • The genius of ASOIAF (in my opinion, even with the rather stodgy bits in the last couple o... - swisslet
  • It's frustrating, because some of it is brilliant, and the bones of a great story were cle... - swisslet
  • You're spot on - the first book tricks you into thinking it's going to be a LotR style roa... - Pete
January 31, 2017

Basingstoke Canal Walk (Part 2)

Back in December, a planned Saturday morning geocaching walk ended up turning into an eight mile canal walk. Last week, we decided to just go all in from the outset, and decided to walk from Farnborough to Woking along the Basingstoke Canal. We figured that if we left as soon as we’d packed the boy off for school, we’d be in Woking by lunchtime. We also had the clever plan of using the trains for transportation, so we wouldn’t be forced to do a circular walk or retrace our steps.

It also gave me an opportunity to take out my new camera lens, a 70-300mm that Karen got me for Christmas. So far I’d been unable to really give it a good outing, as there had never been enough light, but I figured that this day might give me the opportunity.

It started off a bit on the foggy side.

Basingstoke Canal, 24th January 2017 (taken with Nikon D40, f/5, 1/250s, ISO-400, 70mm)

However, the mist soon parted, and as the sun shone down upon us, the wildlife emerged. With my long lens I could get reasonably “close” to the animals on the opposite bank.

Basingstoke Canal, 24th January 2017 (taken with Nikon D40, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO-400, 300mm)

The canal was frozen solid, and we had great fun lifting large slabs of ice from frozen puddles and throwing them back into the canal. As they shattered on the surface and the resultant shards skittered across to the opposite side, they made the mostly delightful glassy rattling sound.

Basingstoke Canal, 24th January 2017 (taken with Nikon D40, f/6.3, 1/250s, ISO-400, 70mm)

As we got closer to Woking, we gradually started to see more houses. I also realised that my boots are not going to be adequate for doing the Thames Path, as I could feel blisters forming on my heels from about four miles in. There’ll be some shopping soon, I forecast.

Basingstoke Canal, 24th January 2017 (taken with Nikon D40, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO-400, 70mm)

Karen was worried that this swan might be frozen to the ice.

Basingstoke Canal, 24th January 2017 (taken with Nikon D40, f/10, 1/250s, ISO-400, 116mm)

Some of the houses backing onto the canal had really spectacular gardens. I should really have made a note of some of their GPS coordinates, so I can see if any of them are on the market. Putting photos of them up here seems like it would be indiscreet, so here’s some buttresses instead.

Basingstoke Canal, 24th January 2017 (taken with Nikon D40, f/4, 1/250s, ISO-400, 70mm)

We eventually had to turn away from the canal and head into the town centre. I was unable to adequately enjoy this stage of the walk, as my feet were really giving me hell, which is a great disappointment to me.

The total distance from Farnborough to Woking came to 9.9 miles, and we rewarded ourselves with a beer and a burrito at Araceli’s which I can heartily endorse, next time you’re in Woking.

Pete
January 25, 2017

The Giggling Squid

A weird one this, it is a kind of a Thai restaurant and a Tapas place. This is a VERY new restaurant and has only been in Wokingham for a short amount of time.

I rate a 10/10 until something HORRIBLE happened, we waited what seemed like 30 minutes for them to clear up! What sort of show is that?! I rate a 7/10 now! I ate a Pad Thai Noodles and there was a weird thing at the bottom I was like “Hey look at this!” I ate it and “AAUUGGH! What is this!? Mum! what is this!!!” It turned out it was bread and I thought “?!” because why would you have BREAD in a bowl of THAI NOODLES. As a extra I had some beef on skewers with a dipping sauce! That was GOOD. If I came back again I would have Pork Dumplings, Pork Dumplhins HeHe Pork Dumplhins! I like my food because it had a good taste and it showed that they put a lot of work into it.

I like that they had 7 jelly beans in a little pot at the end like the indian buffet restaurants have the mint chocolate.

 

Bernard
January 22, 2017

Subway

This is a very old fast food place in Wokingham, it is a very small shop but it is very good. Thanks for the comment Gordon. I don’t get to go to the shop much because Mum and Dad don’t like it much.In this review I will put up something special too!

I rate this a 8/10 because my food ( a Steak & Cheese Subway with Italian Herb & Cheese Bread) was great. Service 10/10 for speed, you make it yourself, 45 second heat up then this is the special part: you can customise. Yep, you can just say, ” Excuse me, please may I have some Salami & Olives too. Ooh, and some BBQ sauce”. That is what I said. BOOM! Got it! If I came back again I would have a Chicken & Chorizo melt, I dont have to explain it because it is pretty obvious what it is, isn’t it? I like my Sub because it was a very good combination of Steak; Cheese; Olives; Salami and BBQ.

The chain of Subways is very big after all.

 

Bernard
  • Comments: 3
  • I'm so much more sophisticated in my culinary tastes these days. - Pete
  • Pete would rather chew his arm off than go to Subway, yet in our first year of dating, he ... - Karen
  • Interesting combination. I don't like olives but I like that Subway let you choose whateve... - Gordon
January 17, 2017

Gig Photography

If you listened to Uborkast last year then you may remember me mentioning my intention to try out some gig photography. Well, it took me a little while, but I finally got round to it!

On Saturday night I took my trusty Nikon D40 and my 50mm f/1.8 out to a gig to find out how it would perform in these conditions. I’d done a little bit of reading about the sort of problems that I could expect to encounter, and it all turned out to be fairly accurate.

Exposure

With the ISO cranked and the aperture wide open, I was able to get nice clear shots at a fast enough shutter speed (1/250s at f/1.8 and ISO 800). The end result is fairly grainy, as a result of having the ISO almost all the way up, but it’s an acceptable showing from what is now a 10 year old camera. This is one of those aspects where the camera body comes into play – a brand new top of the line camera will produce less noise at ISO 3200 than my 10 year old entry-level DSLR does at ISO 800. Still, the pictures produced are a little, shall we say, “moody”, so maybe ISO 1600 would have been a better choice.

Zack Johnson at The Acoustic Couch, Bracknell, 14th January 2017 (taken with Nikon D40, f/1.8, 1/250s, ISO-800, 50mm)

Focus

I mostly stuck to using the auto-focus. I’d read various articles about how to prepare for concert photography, both in terms of technical settings and also in terms of the more practical things to remember, and one author mentioned that one of his major annoyances was microphone stands. I’m really starting to appreciate that now. A lot of otherwise good shots were ruined by microphone stands, either because they wrecked the composition, or because the camera decided to focus on them. With basically no depth-of-field to play with, if the microphone stand is in focus then the person standing behind it isn’t. I found that the most satisfying subjects to photograph were the singers who weren’t also playing an instrument (and hence could hold their microphone in their hand throughout), and the musicians who didn’t sing at all (and hence had no microphone stand in front of them). For the others, I found that best results came when I moved around the side of the stage, and shot them in profile.

Vicky Sayers at The Acoustic Couch, Bracknell, 14th January 2017 (taken with Nikon D40, f/1.8, 1/250s, ISO-800, 50mm)

Composition

As a general rule, I use a zoom lens with this camera, and have only used a prime lens on a few occasions. That said, I’m a bit of a moron when it comes to using zoom, as I have a tendency to default to the widest angle possible to maximise light. I also do treat my camera phone as if it were a prime lens, because I assume that digital zoom is no better than cropping the picture after it’s already taken. Anyway, I’m digressing all the way into the weeds here, so should probably get back on track. Once you’ve chosen a place to stand, it narrows down your compositional options significantly. You can’t do much playing about with depth of field, because you need every photon that you can get, so basically all you can do is choose a direction and go for it. With only a 6 megapixel sensor, I know that I’m not going to be doing an awful lot of cropping afterwards, so I take the attitude that if I can’t get it right, the best I can do is to get it gloriously wrong. It’s somewhat liberating.

Origami Heart at The Acoustic Couch, Bracknell, 14th January 2017 (taken with Nikon D40, f/1.8, 1/250s, ISO-800, 50mm)

Getting In The Way

I wasn’t the only person taking photos at this gig, and as I was watching the other photographers I was realising how difficult it is to be unobtrusive when taking photos. I tried to minimise the amount of time that I spent taking photos, and I only got the camera out for a couple of songs from each band’s set. I also had a moment (thankfully very early on) when I realised that I’d been moving around during the songs, and this was probably quite annoying for the band and audience alike, so after that I tried to stay still until the end of a song. Let’s call this “noobie mistake #1”.

Moments

When something interesting and unforeseen happens on the stage, either you already had your camera up to your eye and are able to capture it, or you only get the tail end of it. I didn’t manage to end up on the winning side every time, but I got a few of them, and when that happened I was fairly liberal in my deployment of the shutter button. This is always going to be a bit of a hit and miss affair, but the general rule is to keep your eye on the target.

The Final Clause Of Tacitus at The Acoustic Couch, Bracknell, 14th January 2017 (taken with Nikon D40, f/1.8, 1/250s, ISO-800, 50mm)

Regrets

There was one particular angle which was giving me some difficulty. I was trying to capture the lead singer in silhouette against a very bright light. However he was moving around a lot, which meant that my camera was constantly in and out of his shadow, which made it hard to meter correctly. Looking back now, the solution is obvious – instead of having my camera in shutter-priority mode, I should have been on full manual all evening. Noobie mistake #2.

Noobie mistake #3 was another realisation that struck me during the evening – while I had my flash turned off, I wondered whether the autofocus assist light was causing any annoyance to the bands and/or audience, or whether it all just blends into the rest of the dynamic lighting that you’d expect in a gig situation. Either way, I’ve now learned how to turn it off, so next time I will start with it deactivated, and only switch it back on if the camera is utterly failing to find focus without it.

Finally, I wish that I’d also taken a few photos with my camera phone for comparison. It would be interesting to see how it fares, and whether an extra 10 years of technological advances are of any use.

Pete
January 7, 2017

Oslar Coffee

I have been going to this cafe for a long time – since it opened – so i came back today to write a post on it. Thank you Lyle and Clair for the comments. I have wanted to go to Oslar Coffee again because I haven’t been for a while. I also have a picture on the wall in the second room!

My Lunch

My second place is a cafe, Oslar Coffee to be exact. My star rating is a 9/10, I rate 9 because the service was a 10/10, only 2 – 3 minute wait! I ate the Ham & Cheese Panini’ which is definitely a 9/10, it was very hot so I CAN NOT believe, I don’t even WANT to think HOW hot the spicy is. I also had a Mango Drink which was a 8/10 because there wasn’t a large taste of mango in it. if I came back again then I would have a ‘BBQ Pulled Pork Burrito’ because it sounds like something I would like. In my ‘Ham and Cheese Panini’ the cheese was very gooey and lovely, the ham was nice and soft.

I am sorry if you are annoyed that this is shorter but it is still very good, I recommend this place.

Save

Bernard
  • Comments: 2
  • That does look like some nice gooey and lovely cheese! I hope you get to try the BBQ Pull... - Gordon
  • For the record, Pete and I shared a meatball panini and a bacon and hash brown panini, bot... - Karen
January 6, 2017

Archive-diving Into 2002

Some thoughts on re-reading my blog archives from 15 years ago:

  1. It’s all very low-tech. At the time it was just a manually-updated page, so there were no permalinks, comments, categories, tags, RSS feeds or anything like that. My blog posts didn’t even have titles. Just a date and time. Over the course of the first year, I wrote a little program to help manage my posts, so I was able to gradually incorporate some of these features, and eventually I just switched to Movable Type where it was all provided for me.
  2. The content is all muddled together in a very haphazard fashion. I would often write a long diary entry and then dump a few unrelated links (the vast majority of which I imagine are now broken) at the end as part of the same post. All very unstructured, there was clearly no intention to provide a searchable archive for future generations to enjoy, it was just for the now.
  3. By looking at the timestamps on the entries I can see that I’d often stay up until 2am for no particular reason. I remember that during the first six months I had a lot of connections in the US blogosphere (and yes, I use that term ironically) so I imagine I stayed up late chatting with them on AIM.
  4. I was an incredibly self-centred, ill-informed, sexist arsehole. Doubly baffling when you think that Karen was somehow attracted to me. I guess she saw through all my bullshit to the potentially-decent guy underneath. When posting news articles (often from the now-defunct Ananova) I’d add my own thoughts and opinions, and politically I was all over the shop. In a way, it’s sort of cute – the scattergun reaction of a young man who wasn’t trying to affiliate himself to any particular political party or movement, and judged each situation in isolation, resulting in a puzzling, usually self-contradictory jumble. The word whimsical used in its most literal sense seems appropriate here.
  5. I’d often write a lot of entries during the day, capturing my thoughts as and when they occurred to me, in a very twitter-esque way. I was clearly totally unconcerned about my employer finding out.
  6. While I would frequently bend the truth wildly for the sake of entertainment, there’s a great deal of honesty if you know where to look. The most significant and memorable events pass by completely unmentioned, but I can recognise them by what else is happening at the same time.

If you’re wondering where you can go to to view these archives, the answer is that you can’t. So deal with it, you stinky bastards.

Wow, a bit of 2002-Pete leaking out there.

Pete
  • Comments: 7
  • I quite like that back then, the links and the diary entries could coexist so easily. Nowa... - Pete
  • I think I was mostly just boring and without a meaningful "voice" in 2002. I still did lo... - swisslet
  • Interestingly, looking back to when D4D started, there isn't *that* much of a difference f... - Lyle
  • I think that a big part of it was that I stopped viewing my readers as faceless entities w... - Pete
  • Well that's interesting, because I always think that you made/make me a better person, so ... - Karen