Learning and sharing

A short while ago I was near a well-known landmark in Leicester. I saw a guy taking photos of it, so stopped and waited until he had finished, before walking on. I know how frustrating it can be, having someone walk in front of you, just as you have composed a photo! I decided to speak to him, saying that I was a photographer myself.

His response was “I suppose you’re going to tell me I’m doing it wrong”, which was not the case at all. A camera responds to the actions of the user, not the other way around! As it was, I asked if he had by any chance noticed an ‘alternative’ view of the place that could be seen as a reflection in a nearby window. As some of you know, I like reflections and the views they can provide! He thanked me and I continued on my way.

Photo of Dragon Boat


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Photographic Abilities

From the moment I was born, my right side has been significantly weaker physically than my left. This has been recognised as a disability by some, but not others. In a recent post entitled “Ability or Disability – that is the question” on my personal website, I mentioned a film quote which was “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are – it is our choices”. I have chosen to live my life for who I am, accepting my physical limitations in a positive way. (The full post on this may be found in the Topical Tales section of www.andyinleicester.wordpress.com.)

Photography has played a significant role in my life, right from the time I was given a Kodak Instamatic 100 camera as a Christmas present when I was eleven years old. In those early days I often had to use the index finger of my left hand to press the shutter button, because the fingers of my right hand were not strong enough to do so. However, with practice and determination I gradually mastered pressing the shutter button in what others might consider the ‘correct’ way.

Some years later I was able to buy a much better camera, which was, (for the technically minded) an Asahi Pentax SP1000. This allowed me far greater control over the photographs that I took, as the shutter speed and aperture could be adjusted, the camera lens changed, as well as adjusting film ‘speed’, dependent on the type of film that was put into the camera.

Photo: Asahi Pentax SP1000

Asahi Pentax SP1000

I was always taught to read instructions. I am aware that isn’t the case for every member of the human species, but I learned that by doing so it saved me time by making fewer errors. I therefore read the camera handbook thoroughly! I also talked to a friend working at a local chemists shop – he advised me to take a series of different photographs and use a notebook to record the exact settings used for each photograph. I did so and when the film was developed he and I examined the results alongside my settings. I learned what was good and what was not in a very practical way!

I continued this process, sometimes taking two or three photographs that were exactly the same visually, but with different settings. I learned to use focussing techniques, so that the background was either in or out of focus, depending on the subject – and indeed the degree of focussing! This is known as ‘depth of field’ and can make a massive difference to the resulting photograph. In fact there are three main aspects to camera settings, which, dependent on the camera you have, will affect how much control you have over the resulting photograph. They are film speed, shutter speed and aperture. Combining these three gives great flexibility over the effects that can be achieved.

Photo: small dog running

An example of careful focussing

For many years I used my Pentax film camera, but I wanted to get a good, digital camera. I started researching the subject, finding that the ‘main’ camera makes were with Canon or Nikon – sadly, Pentax were not doing the sort of camera I wanted at a price and quality I was looking for. I visited several photographic shops and found that some felt too heavy, didn’t sit well in my left hand and didn’t have a shutter button I could operate easily and comfortably with the index finger of my right hand. I needed to be able to hold the camera both straight and steady! I also knew what worked for me and saw no point in buying something I couldn’t manage. After much research I bought a Canon 40D digital camera, and did the same as I had done with my Pentax – I read the manual! I then took a series of photographs, this time downloading them onto my computer as soon as I returned home. I was able to review each photo, looking at the various settings I had used and deciding if the photo was how I wanted it to be.

An even greater advantage of digital photography was being able to look at the photographs that I had just taken by looking at the viewing screen on the back of the camera. This enabled me (in quite a few situations) to take another photo if the first one wasn’t quite what I wanted. However, that didn’t work at certain times like sporting events, wildlife, local events etc where I wanted to ‘capture the moment’. It proved to me that being able to make adjustments to the camera settings without having to reach for the handbook each time was a great asset. As my photographic skills with this camera improved, I bought additional lenses, enabling me to get both wide-angle and close-up views. I had to be extremely careful when changing lenses though, as one lens was slightly heavy. I also took care to make sure that the camera safety strap was around my neck – I have seen some photographers wrap the strap around one of their hands, but that was impossible for me.

photo: Punta Arenas, Chile

Punta Arenas, Chile

A favourite effect of mine, one that I am rather known for, is taking a photo of someone else taking a photo or video – especially if I can include the viewing screen of their camera! But in order to get the required effect, I may have to make a few camera adjustments very quickly. This brings me to another aspect of taking photographs, and one which I believe is very important.

If you use a computer, drive a car, operate machinery or perhaps take part in a sport, when you first try it you will probably feel awkward, but with practice we learn a degree of ‘automation’, as our brain learns new and co-ordinated movement as well as the relevant controls. I believe it is the same for photography – the more we practice, the more ‘automated’ we can become on what settings to use. This can give greater opportunity to get that particular photograph that we can not only see with our own eyes but want others to see as well. This degree of expertise was highlighted to me when I was taking several ‘group of people’ photographs at a particular event. Whilst I was setting up then quickly taking each set of photos, a friend stood near me, trying to take photos with their camera at the same time. They asked me to slow down, as I was setting the scene, organising the people, checking the lighting, setting the camera then lining up the photograph and taking several photos, all before my friend was taking their photograph. I slowed down!

Afterwards I was questioned as to how I could do all of that so quickly, but I had to point out that I’d been doing this photography business for quite a while… I had also found my own ways to ‘overcome’ the lack of mobility and grip in my right hand. My right eye and right leg are also affected, but I do my best to overcome the difficulties they create in order to get the photo I’m after!

There is an old saying that ‘practice makes perfect’. In my case I’m not sure it makes for perfection, but it does make things easier! At the very least, it allows me to concentrate on the subject I wish to photograph, rather than on the camera’s controls or my physical abilities. I am very well aware that others may be able to manipulate certain controls on their camera more quickly than me, but I manage to do all I need to do. It also enables me to be prepared, wherever possible, for more photographic ‘opportunities’ that may arise. With all this in mind, I try to make as good a use of the camera’s abilities as well as my own.

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Fruit-based technology

Whilst discussing computers and mobile phones with a good friend of mine the other day, she referred to ‘those fruit-based ones’. It didn’t take too long for me to realise that she was of course referring to suppliers such as Apple, Blackberry and Orange. I recalled an extremely funny sketch by Ronnie Corbett, which reminded me of the power of advertising, as well as how much we take for granted. Imagine, if you will, an English-speaking person who has been out of contact from what we refer to as ‘civilisation’ for a number of years – marooned on a desert island perhaps. They would have absolutely no idea of the real meaning, much less the humour, behind the sketch that you can see here: My Blackberry Is Not Working.

A number of people have voiced their opinions to me over the merits, and otherwise, of certain fruit-based products. For a great many years I have used the Windows-based computers – I have also used a variety of mobile phones. At one time I found myself carrying a mobile phone as well as a rather bulky Psion Organizer – happily, the modern mobiles incorporate all of the Organizer functions, plus the phone and much more besides! Naturally, there is still a place for paper and pen in the form of diaries and notebooks – although I could perhaps point out at this point that the latest Filofax are quite bulky!

We have come a long way since the early Personal Computers (PC’s) like the ones I first used back in the early 1990’s, and even further from my very first computer which was purchased in 1981 and which was a Sinclair ZX81. We are now used to computer hard drives and external storage devices with capacities in Gigabytes (Gb) and Terabytes (Tb), but that Sinclair ZX81 had no ‘hard drive’ to store data – programs and data were loaded from and saved onto a cassette tape, by converting the data into sound. Also the ‘memory’ on that computer, known as Random Access Memory (RAM) was not measured in Tb, Gb or even Megabytes (Mb), but in Kilobytes (Kb) it had just 1Kb or 1024 bytes! If you consider that when typing words on a computer, each letter, space and carriage return takes up one byte, that little computer allowed for barely 1,000 letters! There was an additional ‘RAM pack’ with a capacity of 16Kb, but the data stored in it and the 1Kb of main memory was irretrievably lost if power to the computer was lost. In addition, the 16Kb RAM pack could be knocked or disturbed if the computer was moved, which could also result in a loss of data! Things did improve though, as the Sinclair Spectrum with a 48k memory appeared the following year, but it wasn’t until 1987 that the Sinclair Spectrum +3, with an integral disk drive enabling programs and data to be stored on floppy disk, came along. I used a +3 model right up until 1993, when I purchased my first PC!

picture of a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k computer

Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k model

Nowadays my computers and mobile are a mixture of both Windows and Apple products, which is essential for the training courses I run for both types of product. I do wonder what ‘fruity’ name will be used next, though!


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Every Trick In The Book

Following a recent football match, the manager of the losing team commented that the opposing team “used every trick in the book”. He was clearly unhappy at the result of the game and the tactics that were used. In a similar way, in the realm of Formula One motor racing, one particular team have been able to dominate the sport in recent years, especially one of their two drivers. Some of the other teams have questioned how this one team could be as successful as they have, as their cars clearly have a competitive edge. Naturally it is recognised that the driver concerned is talented and being able to drive a good car does help, but have the team been able to exploit aspects of the rules to their advantage?

In America, their game of American Football is more like our rugby. It consists of a series of ‘plays’, where the ‘offence’ players of one team attempt to move the ball the minimum of ten yards down the field in four attempts, or ‘downs’. If they succeed, they retain control of the ball and can attempt to to move the ball at least another ten yards, the ultimate aim being to get the ball over the goal line for a ‘touchdown’. However, the ‘defence’ players of the opposing team try to stop them. If the defence players recognise or ‘read’ the offensive play and can prevent the ball being moved forward ten yards after four downs, control of the ball switches to the other team. That team’s offence then take over and attempt to do the same.

As has been seen at the recent Winter Olympics, most sports require a degree of skill and an understanding of both the game and the rules by all participants. Formula One is combination of technology and skill, along with, it must be said, financial backing. However, the governing body of this sport are continuing to make changes that it hopes will allow other teams to compete, and enable spectators and fans to enjoy the sport more. There is also more to the game of American Football than has been described above, but certainly much of the game is being able recognise the plays and if possible, gain control of the ball and attempt to score a touchdown. Which means that any allowable trick or diversion to confuse the other team will be exploited, wherever possible! In all of these, anyone breaking the rules will be penalised and in many cases it is not just the player but the team as well that suffers by paying a fine or losing points. But so long as the move, manoeuvre or tactic is allowable within the rules, there is no problem.

Computers have become a great deal more interactive and easier to use by people of all ages. They are designed to provide entertainment, to make our lives easier as well as providing the capability to share information between other people around the world. But they too have many tips and tricks built into them that can speed up or simply make better use of their capabilities. These tips and tricks can be learned easily.

Sadly, some people do not feel that they have either the time, inclination or capability to learn what to them seems a complicated process in using a computer, but many of these same people have learned to drive a car and obey the rules of the road. Unlike many other things, computers have a variety of uses. A kettle simply boils water but it enables you to make tea, coffee and other drinks. A washing machine cleans a variety of clothes, likewise a digital camera enables you to take pictures of a variety of subjects and, with the aid of a simple connecting lead, allows you to transfer those photographs from the camera directly to the computer. These same photographs can then be sorted and if necessary edited before using the Internet to share with family and friends around the world, or stored safely on separate backup drives.

But a computer can do so much more, like storing information, researching family history, playing games, writing letters, keeping a diary, creating and listening to music & video and talking directly to family and friends around the world.

To achieve these skills requires a little training, but they are easily to learn. Skills include useful tips and tricks, referred to by some as short-cuts, but these do speed up the time involved when using a computer. The more of these you learn, the more adept you become and the more you find you can do. There are many publications nowadays to help you, as well as people like myself who offer local training on using computers as well as taking photographs. There is no doubt that using a computer is a great deal easier than it used to be, whether you are using a Windows-based one or an Apple computer, but learning even just the basics makes good sense. You may not learn every trick in the book, but the more you learn then the more skilled you will become!

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Technology – from fiction to fact

The speed of technological change and innovation seems to be getting faster all the time. In the early 1960’s the first spacecraft were launched and television programmes began showing us live events from all around the world. In those pioneering days the picture quality wasn’t always brilliant, but we still marvelled at being able to see such things in real-time. There began the race to land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth, and in 1969 that was achieved. Before that, however, science fiction programmes such as Star Trek showed humans travelling at speeds faster than light and encountering all manner of strange worlds. They were also using technologies that seemed, at the time, completely out of this world.

But things change. It wasn’t all that long ago that a keyboard was only found on a piano, a hard drive was a long trip on the road and a mouse pad was where a mouse lived! The early mobile phones flipped open in a very similar manner to the communicators as used by Star Trek, and whilst we cannot transport ourselves by disassembling and reassembling our component atoms, you may be sure that the concept is being researched. As each generation learns to use technology, new and innovative ideas are bearing fruit. In the film ‘Apollo 13’, Jim Lovell makes reference to ‘a computer that can fit into a single room and hold millions of pieces of information’. The modern iPhone has a vastly greater capability and capacity than the computer used on the Apollo 13 spacecraft and is dramatically smaller than its onboard computer.

photo of earth viewed from the moon

Earth viewed from the Sea of Tranquility

All this has occurred in what seems a relatively short space of time and we now almost take for granted that we can watch live pictures of events happening almost anywhere around the world. Also, whilst technology enables us to predict such things as weather events, we seem unable to cope with the after-effects, such as the flooding that is being experienced at present. Whilst some immediately claim that defensive measures should have been put in place, it is likely that those same people would have complained bitterly about the waste of tax-payers money had such measures been taken but the heavy rain not fallen in the quantities it has over such a short time.

Technology in itself will continue to change and hopefully improve our lives, and some ideas dreamed up by science-fiction writers will, I am certain, also change from fiction into fact. My hope is that such changes will be directed towards the preservation of all life on earth, so that future generations can and will enjoy the beauty and wonder that astronauts saw when they first saw this planet from space.

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Monday April 15th 2013

Latitude: Changeable!
Longitude: Changeable!
Course: North, then East
Speed: Variable
Status: After an easy disembarkation yesterday it was a good idea for me to stay overnight in Southampton. The next stage of this adventure was by train, back to Leicester where a good friend gave me a lift home. She also suggested a visit to a nearby supermarket for essential supplies, which was an excellent idea. I got a hand with unpacking, too… I started the washing immediately!!! It did feel strange being back on dry land after all this time, especially sleeping in a bed that stayed perfectly still all night!!!

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Sunday April 14th 2013

Latitude: 50,54,18N
Longitude: 1,25,42W
Course: 0 degrees
Speed: 0 knots
Status: Day 100 – Docked, Southampton
Notes: Arcadia was securely docked by 7.00am and those passengers capable of carrying their own luggage were allowed to disembark. The rest of us had to wait until our pre-determined time – mine was not until around 10.30am. However, all passengers were asked to vacate their cabins by 8.00am in order to facilitate cleaning and preparation for the new passengers joining for the next cruise. For the staff there was no time to rest, these new people would come on board from about mid-day! I was able to disembark more quickly and easily than I had expected, I was off the ship at 10.10am. I walked straight through Customs, found my cases fairly easily and then joined the queue for taxis. Again I was not waiting long, although some other passengers were complaining – though it can be stressful if you’re not sure exactly where you are going… Soon I was at a nearby hotel where I left my cases etc and walked across the road to the nearby shopping centre for coffee. A while later I walked to the train station and purchased my ticket for tomorrow. After lunch I window-shopped then returned to the hotel. I cannot buy any more items, my cases have no spare space! I return to Leicester tomorrow.

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Saturday April 13th 2013

Latitude: 48,17,24N
Longitude: 7,34,12W
Course: 55 degrees
Speed: 16 knots
Status: Day 99 – at sea
Notes: By mid-day today, Arcadia was about forty miles south of the Lizard. Unfortunately, weather conditions meant that there wasn’t much to see as it is raining, with a heavy mist. The third officer has advised that the harbour pilot should be on board tomorrow at around 3.00am – I doubt if I shall be on deck to watch, as it will be a bit dark then! All being well Arcadia will be on its berth in Southampton for around 6.00am. I had hoped that, as we got closer to shore, I would pick up a land-based mobile signal, rather than using the ship network. However, by around 8.00pm Arcadia was definitely in the English Channel, and whilst my mobile could recognise local networks, I could not connect to the one I needed. Perhaps later… I have also now experienced a further aspect of sea travel – fog! The ship’s siren is sounding regularly, I wonder if any passengers will complain at the noise?!?!?!?!?! Just joking…

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Friday April 12th 2013

Latitude: 44,24,42N
Longitude: 15,15,30W
Course: 52 degrees
Speed: 16.4 knots
Status: Day 98 – at sea
Notes: It was overcast first thing, with temperatures continuing to slowly fall – at 8.00am it was 13C, 55F. Dropping gradually like this does make it easier to cope with. Somehow it doesn’t feel that cold – although I know there are those who would disagree with me!

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Thursday April 11th 2013

Latitude: 39,51,24N
Longitude: 22,16,12W
Course: 42 degrees
Speed: 15.4 knots
Status: Day 97 – at sea
Notes: I have been successfully immigrated! To save time when Arcadia reaches Southampton, a UK Immigration officer came aboard at Ponta Delgada and will complete an organised, face-to-face inspection of all 2,000 or so passengers against their passports. It was a very good idea, as it will still take time to get off the ship and go through Customs – or is that UK Border Control these days? I think the name has been changed, or will be… whatever. The sun is shining and the wave height is around four metres, according to the bridge, so in their words, the ship is ‘moving around a little…’. I would say that is an economic way of phrasing it!!! All passengers have therefore been asked to take care when moving around the ship. It was like that last night, but after a while I got to sleep. I’m just about used to it by now, I wonder how I’ll manage when I am back home, where the ground stays still – or should do! It will feel strange for a while, I guess.

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