Photography ... astronomy ... art ... design ... technology
(... and the odd rant)

All of these make my world go 'round, to some extent, and they will all be found here at some time or other. Some of the photography can be purchased from my Redbubble site. I can also be found at Tempus Fugit (no longer being updated).

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The fun world of sewing machines

My wife's beloved Elna SU suffered a hiccup last week, and in the course of this being investigated by an expert, it transpired that a wire was broken in the foot. The expert had not fixed this, advising that 'it could be done, but it would take a lot of time' (& therefore a lot of money) to fix it.

Not one to be beaten by such a situation, I opened up the foot to see what the problem was. Sure enough, just a wee wire broken, as it enters the casing of a sizeable coil. I shall attempt to repair it, but the trouble is, the break is obviously right in the centre of the coil, so I will have to completely unwind it to fix it. If I don't succeed, there's no loss, as it certainly doesn't work now, but I will be somewhat disappointed if I can't do what's necessary. I've done battle with our washing machine twice now (there is no service agent for domestic Zanussi machines in Oz), so a wee coil should be but a small challenge ... I hope!

The fun world of HTML

I've been creating HTML, off and on, for more than 7 years now, and thought I had a reasonable grasp of it. Today though, I've been defeated in the process of trying to send out an email containing an existing HTML file, compete with CSS. It more or less works, but the CSS information doesn't get through. I've sent out an SOS, so hope to have the answer in a day or so.

I could just create it in the email client, but want to do this as a monthly newsletter, so will work from an HTML template (at least, that's the plan).

Think I'll go and read the book du jour.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Low-tech photography

Someone said to me yesterday, "what's pinhole photography?" So, with that as a prompt, here's a couple from the files. First a very literal - albeit panoramic - image:

The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. Copyright © Duncan Waldron, 1998. All rights reserved.

This was taken with a shoebox camera; literally, a shoebox, with a pinhole in one long side, and a long piece of film curving around opposite the pinhole. It gives a nice, straight, rendition of straight lines, around a very wide angle (about 155°). How does it work? Simple - light comes in through the pinhole, in a straight line, and hits the film opposite. Where it hits, it makes an image of whatever was exactly opposite the pinhole, outside the camera.

The second image was taken slightly differently, using a cardboard mailing tube, with a sheet of printing paper inside it. Same principle, but the geometry is different, hence funny curvy lines.

The City Observatory, Edinburgh. Copyright © Duncan Waldron, 1998. All rights reserved.

At its simplest, pinhole photography is just that - punch a hole in tin foil with a pin, and take a picture. You can do it with a normal SLR camera (with the lens replaced by the tinfoil), but the results will be a bit fuzzy. I tend to be a bit particular, and make a pinhole as near perfect as possible, and precisely the right size for the camera. But that's just me, pedantic as ever.

I'm interested in the number of finely-crafted pinhole cameras available these days - often lovely wood and brass. I have a notion to create one of my own, based upon an experiment a few years ago. It will be a challenge to create what I have in mind, but Rome wasn't built in a day, so if I just get started on the task, it might hit the market one day. Will there still be film available to put inside it then? That's another matter entirely!

There's nothing worse

Don't you love it when someone says, "there's nothing worse..."? Invariably – and I DO mean invariably – they are talking about something pretty trivial. Not enough rice for the biriyani, smudged lippie when you're running late, or catching a hangnail 3 times in 5 minutes: these are apparently serious matters that cause all others to pale into insignificance. Things like bowel cancer, third-world famine and fundamentalist terrorism seem to be blithely pushed to one side, while the trauma of the moment sits in the limelight.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

To be, or not...

Is it nobler in the mind (or the wallet) to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously badly-paid (but promising) employment, or with a new vision of something (some things) possibly better, jack it in and move one? It's a vexed question, especially as giving up the former means waiting several months to be paid. Acute cramp to the wallet! – but much more time to give to the other projects, and perhaps actually give them full attention and do them justice. Oh, for a crystal ball (or maybe just tea leaves with a USB connection). Yes, you heard it here first – cyber tea leaves, for an instant online reading.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fooling around with images

From time to time, I'll open an image in Paint Shop Pro (or create something from scratch using areas of colour/black/white), and then mangle and manipulate it to see what comes out the other end. I have something of a fascination for tiling images, seeing what, if anything, is the effect of a repeating motif.

Made this one a while back, and found it again today. Can't remember how I started, but probably just an array of dots.

Image copyright © 2007 Duncan Waldron. All rights reserved.


Why does a dictionary need to contain a definition for the word 'dictionary'?

Why do TV shows need to be announced as 'all new'? Are there any that have random old bits in them? Maybe the new Doctor Who could be momentarily supplanted by Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker, without any explanation.

Why does my daughter remember, in tedious detail, any conversation she has had or any disparaging remark directed at her by schoolmates, yet 2 + 5 takes a second or 2 to recall?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Digital mini Rolleiflex

Is this brilliant, or what? Classics like this are too young to die under the electronic onslaught. It won't provide quite the same satisfaction as holding the full-size real thing, but retro-cool outweighs that. It's just a pity they couldn't have managed at least 5 megapixels.

Full story at
clipped from
Here is a camera that not only collectors will get excited about but also the 'gadget' market and anybody fascinated by miniaturization. In co-operation with the Rollei company, MINOX makes available the smallest fully operating Rolleiflex in the world. The "Rolleiflex MiniDigi" is a digital camera with the same shape and design as the famous 6x6 twin lens reflex camera with a resolution of up to 3.1 million pixels. This unique miniature Rolleiflex is added to the successful 8x11mm film and 'Leica' digital classic collection camera series from MINOX.

blog it

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Health check

Middle-age spread. Is it good for you? Can you get it with plant sterols, to actively reduce cholesterol? Or should we just avoid it altogether, and stick with good old butter? It's a worry.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Great oaks

We have our own quercus – transported as a Glen Innes acorn, to become a Coffs Harbour oak. It loafed around for a while, doing nothing obvious, but a few weeks ago burst into new and thrusting life, and now sports 7 magnificent wavy-edged leaves on a small and spindly, but proudly straight stem (probably too early to call it a trunk).

30th August

16th September
So there it was - an eager, youthful, autumnal blush, now settling down to a sensible spring green. It's not clear that there are any more leaves on the way, so we'll see what next week brings.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A day in the life...

Attended an exhibition opening tonight - '365 Happy Days' by James P Gilmour. Interesting show: the artist is creating an exhibit based upon 1 work per day, inspired by – whatever happened to him that day. As he admits, it's a large undertaking; walking in and seeing 140 framed pics, tightly bunched on 3 walls, it's quite an effect in itself. Looking at the works themselves, it's clear I'll need a while to take them all in.

First impression? The man's got a lot of stuff in his head, and yet some days, a work is created on the flimsiest of notions. Some images really resonated with me (day 42, below), while others (unsurprisingly for such a vast and quickfire body of work) left me unmoved – or just bemused.

Image copyright © 2007, James P Gilmour. All rights reserved.

I think I'm impressed by James's courage in attempting such a feat; committing to complete the whole 365 days, and showing it part-way through (and day by day on the web); risking being laid low by artist's block, failing to complete and looking foolish – although there's probably little chance of that.

I felt there was an interesting resemblance, in some of the 'portraits', to drawings in Raymond Briggs's books (e.g. When the wind blows). I think this exhibition will grow on me.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Flash bang wallop ... what a picture

Haven't had a good thunderstorm for a while. Coming from a country where thunderstorms are infrequent and less than dramatic, I enjoy those that entertain us Down Under. There is always a desire to get the camera out, and capture a winning shot. I'm not a storm chaser, hell-bent on driving great distances in pursuit of the action, so tend to take the opportunity when it occurs on my doorstep (literally...), or within a few km. Sawtell headland is a favourite destination, and I'm not alone in that. The last big one that I went out for, there was quite a crowd in attendance, watching the display. Better than the goggle-box.

Photos © Duncan Waldron. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tempus fugit

It's now tomorrow, but I haven't finished doing yesterday's work. I realised a few years ago that my body clock seemed to be running on a 25-hour cycle. I think that's no longer the case, but I just have too much on my plate. I could stay up for another hour, but it will just catch up with me in the end, so I may as well admit defeat. Not total defeat, for I did get a few things done, just scrappy bits & pieces. At least, that's the way it seems. Maybe I just expect too much.

I was told once that there is a Gaelic equivalent of maƱana, but "it doesn't convey the same sense of urgency". Oh, for such an unhurried lifestyle. And all in a 6-day week, with forced rest on the Sabbath. Maybe I'll try it one day – after I've finished everything I have to do. Tick, tock...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Speak up, man

It's not that I'm going deaf - far from it; it's just that sound isn't so loud these days. All right, I know I don't hear quite as well as when I was 20, but it's not that bad. I've always had a tendency to miss the first word of a sentence, which often makes the rest unintelligible, or at least, nonsensical. The big problem now is the tinnitus, like a constant hiss somewhere just behind me. I don't always notice it, so maybe it isn't always there, but I doubt that's the case.

Used to be, it appeared only after I'd had an evening on the laughing syrup, or a long drive, but now it's a fairly constant companion. Wake up, it's there; go to sleep, it's there. When I first realised it had come to stay, I felt a brief moment of panic: what if it tormented me all night, and I ended up insane? I soon realised that wasn't going to happen, and a visit to the specialist gave the comforting information that it would likely not get worse; on the other hand, there would be little I could do about it.

Fortunately, I don't notice it all of the time; usually, I am too busy concentrating on something, or the background noise is loud enough to block it out, but it's in the quiet moments that I hear it most. I don't care for the thought that I will be missing out on finer nuances of music, but then I never was much of an audiophile. These days, most music is heard while at the PC or in the car – neither of which are ideal environments – the opportunity for sitting just listening with the headphones on doesn't really exist these days (partly because No 1 son has managed to destroy a good Sennheiser set by neglect and abuse). Requests to buy him some new headphones now fall on deaf ears...

In praise of a Weston

Way back when the world was young, and the word papparazzi wasn't even a twinkle in someone's eye, things happened at a slower pace. In the 'olden times', as my daughter might innocently say, there was less urgency to get one thing done and on to the next. A fast computer was someone who could flick through log tables in a flurry of pages, on the way to completion of a Herculean multiplication task. A small quality modern camera was likely to be a Rollei twin-lens reflex or perhaps a Contax rangefinder. A fast lens was around f2.8, and Kodachrome was hot stuff. (Kodachrome remained hot stuff for quite some time afterwards, but that's another story.)

In those peaceful times, there was no such thing as automated exposure control; a photographer had to use judgement and experience to get it right, or revert to using a hand-held light meter, such as a Weston. Almost an institution, the Weston Master was (is) a lovely instrument, with its snug, thick leather case and slim, heavy construction. It wasn't too good in low light – that needed an as-yet-unknown CdS cell – but as long as the needle wasn't bumping the bottom end of the scale, you were in business.

A swinging baffle allowed the large self-powered selenium cell (show me a light meter now that doesn't require batteries) to measure light over a fairly wide brightness range, and in later models a diffuser could be fitted over the cell, to measure the light falling on the subject instead of the reflected light, allowing a more objective exposure measurement. And that was about it. No bells or whistles, no LEDs or thumbwheel-controlled menu. Just a basic tool for no-nonsense, get on with it, photography. Pick it up, point it in the right direction, turn the dial, and there's your answer. Later models did provide a locking button, so that you could hold the measuring needle in place after the reading was taken, but that was about as high-tech as it got.

My Weston Master III doesn't get to see daylight very often these days, but that's all right. Occasionally, a modern light meter's battery fails, and out it comes, dependable as ever, to give me a result when it could otherwise be difficult to get the right exposure. I still like its glossy black enamel and rounded styling; the later silver-grey models with harder lines did little for me. If I'm using a pinhole camera (they don't see much daylight either), the Weston is a very appropriate tool to judge the right exposure: an unhurried measurement for an even more ponderous exposure. Deeply satisfying...

Monday, September 3, 2007

We have the technology; we can rebuild it

Bad news this morning: motherboard &/or CPU on my main PC are dead. Yes, I'll have a faster machine with more RAM, but the timing could have been better; could it not have waited 6 months? At least the data's safe. To compound the problem, the old P-III that I brought in as backup has clearly decided that it didn't like 2007, and chose to pack it in while my back was turned. One minute: I'm checking email; next thing: computus geriatricus has rebooted, but gone no further than the obligatory RAM check. It stubbornly refuses to go any further. Probably time to let it RIP.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Word for the day

I was asked today what my favourite word is. Difficult; I tend not to have favourites; nor do I see much of the world in black and white, just many shades of grey. I settled on whisky – specifically malt whisky but might need to reconsider. Other candidates would include:

  • prosperity
  • wife
  • sleep
  • discumknockerate
I once amused a young colleague when I used the word 'splendid', so perhaps that should be on the list.

I am fond of invented words, but care must be exercised when using them, or the audience can be left behind. Scrabble often brings the opportunity to create Welsh words, when all you have on your tile rest is 6 consonants and one vow-ell...

Being a Scot (at least, I was born there; my heritage is in the Sherwood Forest area), I am wont to use the occasional bit of dialect; not too much, because a Scots accent is bad enough in Australia, without introducing weird words as well. I once watched a bit of
Looking After Jo Jo and was amazed to see subtitles being used, to help Aussie viewers understand the Edinburgh accent. Were the subtitles in English? Were they chook! They were in dialect, so made nae difference at a'. What a laugh!

Within the richness of the Scots tongue can be found such gems as:
  • shoogle - shake
  • tumshie - turnip
  • nyaff - a useless, objectionable, tiresome person
  • skelp - to smack, especially a child's backside ("I'll skelp your dowp!")
I was talking one day to a fellow Scot, in the presence of an Englishman. Jason was talking about the scooshers on his car, and I never gave the word a second thought, until Brian's face contorted in puzzlement; we had to explain that Jason was referring to the windscreen washers. Oh, the joy of secret language ;-)

So, preserve the richness of the spoken word, and use a regional word today.

Phoenix PC

My main PC is dead just now, or perhaps just resting. I took it into the shop yesterday, and left it in the capable hands of Ray. Bearded, sage and with a wicked sense of humour, Ray should be my saviour. The only thing that worries me this time is that the failure to boot was accompanied by a distinct smell of electrical overheating. What got fried? Something easily (and economically) replaceable, I hope. Will the trusty machine, resurrected from the ashes, be as good as before? I hardly dare think about it.

Meanwhile, an old P-III machine has been pressed into service. I've been hanging on to it for ages, thinking it's not worth selling, but too good to throw out. It's good to be a procrastinator, sometimes. I did try to load a new flavour of Linux on to it recently, but as with all previous attempts, was utterly unsuccessful. I may not try again.