A week away

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Last week, M and I spent a week in Hampshire, camping near the New Forest.

We weren’t familiar with the area, so it was a great opportunity to explore, unfurl the OS map, and do a tour or two. We were blessed with mostly excellent weather which meant for spending hours outdoors, cooking and winding down, and doing some fun outdoor things like learning to paddle board and exploring castles. Maybe I’ll write more about some specific activities soon, but for now I felt like scribbling a brief write-up.

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The weather wasn’t totally perfect – one night we were woken by what sounded like a heavy shower, but fortunately our tent held up pretty well. The worst weather episode was saved up for the morning of our packing up, because of course.

In fact, the severity of the wind and rain was such that our tent – and others around us – actually buckled a little. Pegs which had been driven into the hard, drought-addled land suddenly worked loose in the deluge. And then the wind lashed the weakened structures and it all felt a little bit apocalyptic for a few moments.

Thankfully the storm blew over within an hour or so, and the wind lingered after the rain had ended so that our tent was very much blown dry before we needed to pack it away.

It struck me at the time that it would be a great opportunity for a tent manufacturer to see exactly how different kinds of tents and gazebos react to such weather. I would guess that they conduct tests in wind tunnels or similar, but to actually see the failure points – particularly on tents erected by actual campers, literally in-the-field – would surely be very helpful.

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Mostly what was nice about the week was just being outside for so much of every day. It tunes your senses to the natural world in a way that’s harder to do as you go about your day-to-day life in the city. I remember noticing the wind had changed one morning; lo and behold, it heralded a change in the weather.

I also have fond memories of the swifts darting about the site in the evenings – some whirling around in the trees, and others running low-flying raids mere centimetres above the grass for tens of metres at a time.


Our relatively remote location down near the south coast was also great for a bit of playing with radios.

In London I put up with the inevitable fog of radio interference that comes with densely packed residential areas. I’m lucky to be able to pick up a decent amount of shortwave stations there, but when visiting as rural as location as we were down near Milford-on-Sea, it still blows me away to hear the difference in the number and clarity of signals I can receive.

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A radio nerd, radio nerding

I spent a few evenings DXing on shortwave, seeing what I could find. Mostly the usual, but what was most enjoyable was just how clear so many stations were. The bigger stations boomed in with a strength and clarity approaching that of a nearby FM station. Meanwhile, other weaker stations – including the Dutch pirates – came in with enjoyable levels of signal. At home I can sometimes pick them up amongst the murk and the mire of interference. But it was nice to be able to actually listen to these stations for a short while.

The biggest ‘problem’ I was blessed with was the sheer number of stations I could pick up – automatic band scans regularly logged more than a hundred signals, and it was a constant compromise between checking out one station before wanting to carry on to the next.

I also had a few scans on FM – not an awful lot to be found where we were a mile or two inland, but down on the coast I was overrun by clear, loud French stations, which is a neat novelty. I was picking up more French stations than English – probably 30 or so foreign broadcasts creeping across the Channel versus the 15 or so local and national ones I had expected.

And, as I find myself doing more and more, I tried some DAB DXing on a small portable receiver, with mixed results. I didn’t log any foreign multiplexes, which was a little surprising given the number of strong French FM signals, but I did get a good range of British ones coming from all along the south coast, including the quite experimental selection on the Portsmouth trial operated by Solent Wireless. However, quite often I would find that although the multiplex was logged, actually tuning to a station would fail, so the signal must have been pretty weak.


I’m still working through the photos I took on my ‘proper’ camera, so I’ll be adding some to Flickr over the coming weeks.

Flickr’s a funny old place. Literally old, in web-years. And I go through phases of thinking it’s irrelevant in today’s web, to spending whole hours looking at photographs taken by others, and finding myself enthralled, enrapt, and inspired to take more and better photographs of my own.

It’s also recently been bought ‘back’ from Yahoo! by SmugMug, which either sounds like it’s a step in the right direction for a new future, or further scratches the nostalgic itch that Flickr belongs to ‘the old web’ and its attendant community.

But then I realise that, like a lot of these things, it’s just whatever you want to make of it, and if I want Flickr to be useful to me – and at the same time that makes me want to be a better photographer? – then so be it.

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulcapewell

41256 the podcast

For a long time I’ve loved Radio 4’s Pick of the Week show, as it deftly rounds up little snippets and highlights from the quite endearing amount of content the station puts out in seven days. But of course, it’s just a selection of Radio 4 content, and the show is broadcast on Radio 4, so it’s a touch homogeneous.

The Beeb also does Podcast Radio Hour, which is an admirable attempt at showcasing some variety of podcasts, although it inevitably spends a bit too much time on one person’s choices, and I never find this sort of curation of podcasts particularly helpful.

But I recently stumbled on the truly wonderful 41256, a podcast of just over four minutes, released weekly, which collects together bits of often unrelated audio. And it’s always a really good listen.

The source of the clips is sometimes BBC documentaries, but often not. And the editing is usually quite slick, and often rather amusing in terms of juxtaposition.

41256 describes itself as an audio commonplace, which I like.

The shownotes are also great, and they’ve helped me track down the source of a good clip on more than one occasion. It also helps one to understand just how much effort must go into producing this podcast. The listening, noting down, editing, producing, publishing, shownote writing… All of it.

While I catch up on 41256‘s backlog, it’s become a lovely little buffer between the longer podcasts I tend to listen to.


On a not unrelated note, and something Caroline Crampton’s PodMail newsletter has covered previously, it’s sometimes tricky to know how to link to a podcast.

I’ve opted, above, to use the iTunes page. But I don’t use iTunes – not at home on my PC, and not on my phone to listen to podcasts. And iTunes doesn’t even host the files… They just kind of point to them. If you look at a podcast’s iTunes page but you don’t have iTunes, you can’t even preview the audio. It’s just… kind of a list of episode titles.

Also, when podcasters beg their listeners to leave a review, where is best to do this? Probably iTunes – but I don’t see how to do it. Maybe it can only be done via the iTunes app?

In this case, 41256‘s true source (i.e. the source of the audio files and, presumably, the feed iTunes draws from) appears to be on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/41256 – but this doesn’t feel right either.

I don’t really have a horse in this race, although I do listen to a lot of podcasts and enjoy reading about their production and precisely these sorts of issues. When John and I had a podcast, we gave it its own website, which felt like the right thing to do.

2018 Weeknote 19

Time to restart weeknotes, I think. Sorry about the hiatus.

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This week I had a film developed and printed for the first time in a few years. I posted some of the pictures here. It was a very pleasant experience, not least because I have a handy branch of Snappy Snaps nearby, and I found an unused scanner at work that has done nothing for three years, but that scans film negatives in at remarkably good quality. It was of such great quality that it’s now got me thinking about films from my past that I only ever digitised from the prints, or where I feel I could make better negative scans.

The quality of the scans is one thing, but what I loved was convenience of scanning two strips of negatives in one go (so, eight shots), and having the built in software not just crop them, but also colour-correct them automatically. I frankly can’t believe that before now I made do with a) scanning prints, b) getting crap neg scans from the photo shop, or c) trying to do my own scans on a too-cheap neg scanner myself.

Finding a good way to digitise physical ephemera is so far in my wheelhouse it’s not even funny.


Elsewhere this week I watched Jurassic Park for the first time in a wee while. By God, does it stand up. It’s so hard, of course, to separate it from the version etched in your brain – the lines, the scenery, the concepts, the score – but it still feels rollicking and vital. Of course it’s dated in place – it’s 25 years old this year, which is insane. But it holds up magnificently.

I also played the start of L.A. Noire again. Years ago when  I lived with him I watched John play through most of it and I think we both concluded that it’s gorgeous and nuanced, but ultimately quite boring. With the recent chat surrounding the remaster for Switch et al, it seemed like a good time to pick it up – especially as it was only £1.50 at CEX. Anyway the first few missions went by smoothly – the formulaic searching-the-scene-for-clues only feeling slightly clunky. But I forgot the ratio of mission to open-world, and I feel like that’s where I’ll lose interest in the end. But for now, as a primarily narrative-driven piece of entertainment, I’ll carry on until I don’t want to any more.

I also watched this interesting video about the current world record Super Mario Bros. speedrun. It was pitched to me, variously, as “like watching a Swiss clock maker explain his machine,” and, ” even if you aren’t into video games it’s pretty interesting.” I’d say it was somewhere in-between. At least, between M and I watching it, that’s the impression I got. It definitely had a handful of really interesting bugs and…. not hacks, but exploits, that are vital to shaving off the seconds – and sub-seconds.


20180515_075755.jpgFor many months now, I’ve been in the habit of reading from a couple of diary compilations – one of London diarists, the other with a rural angle – and around the turn of the month, a few pages from an almanac which talks about natural occurrences.

On top of of that, I always have my Kindle handy, and recently I’ve gotten into the habit of sending a so-called long read or an edition of an email newsletter to it.

The latter works only some of the time – some newsletters are more text-based than others, with some being mostly links (to be ctrl-clicked while browsing) or containing too many images to play nicely with an e-ink device.

But now and then, a well-formatted, single-column newsletter consisting of mostly text works a charm.  Two recent examples:

  • Craig Mod‘s Roden Explorers – the latest issue is here – usually contains tales of walking, meditation, photography, some tech insight, and whatever is bubbling around in Mod’s always-fascinating mind.
  • close, a monthly newsletter only onto its second issue – here – but this entry made for very interesting/familiar reading as a 30-something member of an extended collective community of folks who found kinship online in the early 2000s.

There are others, but I felt the need to jot down two solid examples while they were fresh in my mind. I tend to use one of two Chrome extensions for sending a newsletter (or any web article) to my Kindle – Send To Kindle by Amazon and Push to Kindle by fivefilters.org. They take a couple of minutes to set up, and your mileage will inevitably vary depending on what you send. But both can provide a preview of the content as it will be sent, so you can quickly see if it’s going to work or not.


Very pleasant, several months after starting things, to announce the launch of the new website for the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain which I’ve helped create.

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It’s mostly been a ‘simple’ WordPress.org installation, but there was quite a lot of content to convert, a fair few design principles to incorporate, and – as always – more technical issues than I had expected, mostly around the hosting.

The client was fantastic throughout, and it was a largely enjoyable experience for me, with experience being the operative word as I was able to learn quite a bit even doing something I felt was very much in my comfort zone.


In weekend-related activities, last Monday was a Bank Holiday, so M and I popped up to St Albans to visit friends and have a little wander. It was the third of three ridiculously pleasant Spring days so much ice cream and iced coffee was consumed, and the cool interior of the cathedral was most welcome.

The previous night we’d spent camping in West Sussex – a glorious little site on the wilder side of things. No showers or buildings, and just a few portaloos or compost loos dotted around with the occasional cold water tap dotted around. And, most importantly, they allow fires, so I was in heaven.

It was a great opportunity to test out some new camping gear ahead of a longer trip in Summer. But mostly it felt remarkable in feeling like a 2-3 night trip away, all completed within 36 hours or so. The nearby village of West Hoathly also has a lovely pub or two. And one nice surprise were views across to the ridgeway of the South Downs. We were able to pick out Chanctonbury hill fort and various other landmarks from our recent walk.

And then this weekend just gone, the good weather continued, so we were able to have a little barbecue on the patio – partly in celebration at having decided to scrub the slabs, tidy up the plants, and to buy some new ones to replace the feeble amongst them that didn’t survive the winter.

Onwards, into summer.

Shooting film with the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s

A few years ago, when hunting high and low for a specific camera, I picked up a Minolta Hi-Matic 7s.

Here it is:

It wasn’t the Ansco Autoset I was looking for – that’s a long story for another day, but this is in fact a slightly later evolution of that camera, and much more user friendly.

It’s a lovely 35mm film camera produced in Japan in 1966, with a few really nice features. It’s not the most attractive camera, though it isn’t unattractive, and it’s a touch on the heavy/boxy side. But as someone who has shot several films with a Zenit E, this is a wee bit lighter.

While clearing out my storage locker recently I came across the little Minolta, all tucked away in its hard-wearing leather case. Strange, I thought, as I got rid of most of my film cameras a few years ago. But I couldn’t resist taking it out for a spin last weekend. It already had film in, with 3-4 shots taken, so I took it along for a day-trip to St Albans.

 

One thing that’s great on this camera is the battery-powered light metering which actually enables it to be run fully automatic – save for focusing. I ran fully automatic for all these shots. Luckily, the focus system is quite nice, too. Rather than the split-circle style found in some cameras, this one uses a small smudgy area in the middle of the viewfinder, through which one sees two images. Align the two overlayed bits of the image (ideally on an edge, or some other contrasting feature), and that is what will be in focus.

It turned out really well – a mixture of shots indoors and out, from the glaring sunshine of that sunny bank holiday we had, to the dark crevices of a thousand-year-old cathedral. Another neat feature is how quiet the shutter is. I’m more used to the hefty CLUNK of an SLR, and this is more of a quick click.

The below were taken on bog-standard Pound shop Kodak 200 film (most likely approximately six years old, too). I’ll be picking up some new film for the Minolta, as I really enjoyed using it.