Friday, November 30, 2007
A Welsh builder spent $325,000 on a special new habitat for a protected species of newt, then discovered there were only two on site. Anwyl Construction was forced to create a habitat as part of its 26-property development because of the existence of great crested newts. After the company finished work on the habitat, environmental specialists arrived to move the newts to their bespoke home. But they found only two.
FOOTNOTE: Two’s company, three’s a frown.
Confused? Yep, I thought you might be. And just to prove that we are a happily topsy-turvy race, we have a special name for blokes with red hair. They're called "Bluey". No, I'm not kidding you. That's why Sir Richard Branson's Australian airline is called Virgin Blue, even though its planes are red. You can't get more Aussie than that, mate!
Japanese scientists have developed a robot that can help people get out of bed and bring them their breakfast. They claim the 4ft 10in (147 centimetre) robot, which has soft hands and fingers, can become even more like its human inventors. The Japanese humanoid - called Twendy one - has enough strength to support humans as they sit up and stand, and can make supple movements that respond to human touch. It can pick up a loaf of bread without crushing it, serve toast, help lift people out of bed and even lend a hand with the housework.
FOOTNOTE: Peter Pan, meet Twendy.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Exterior spiral staircase, Montreal. Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
Since I started posting photography advice, I've had several questions on the subject. One was from Mahina who asked:
"Your photography is beautiful. Are there are any photography books you would recommend for getting a better grasp on exposure/aperture/shutter speed/ISO?"
Mahina, there is a short answer and a long answer to that. The long answer is that there are thousands of books by photographers far better than I am. But the short answer is that Tom Ang's book "Digital Photography - An Introduction" is probably the book I would recommend for any blogger, any amateur photographer, anyone trying to make the switch from film to digital photography, or anyone tring to widen their technological understanding of the post-darkroom photographic era.
I guess I'm lucky that my professional background as a journalist means I have been exposed (no, that's an unintentional pun, I promise) to just about every aspect of photography, as well as the amazing leap in camera and image-storage technology in the past decade. In addition, my experience in magazine and newspaper layout and editing, I guess, gives me a more critical eye than most. In my professional and personal life, I guess you could say I deal with what I call the "totality" of photography.
Am I running off at a tangent here? No. Because I deal with the totality of photography, I have no qualms about recommending Tom's book. It presents just about every aspect you can think of or that you have a question relating to. Tom's book is concise, easy to follow, well illustrated, clearly laid out and presented - and it deals with problems and how to fix them. No, I'm not working on a commission here - but at ten quid (about $US22) it is money well spent.
There's also a photography-related query from Beachy's Cape Cod Cupboard:
"I'd love any photo-taking advice you have. Here are my usual photo-taking conditions: traveling around with a toddler in tow who never walks in my own footsteps but prefers to wander in a different direction; and I only have a digicam with zoom lens. I have been hankering after a macro for some time (I do watercolor paintings and I use close-up photos to reveal details I'd normally miss otherwise)."
You are so blessed to be walking with a toddler. As a father of three, I know so well the sheer joy of precious moments with my children. Here's a little trick - buy a little toy camera, a plastic $5 replica. You and your child can both get busy capturing the sights you really want to photograph. Like you, I also sketch and paint in watercolour. Regarding the macro, I posted some information about a week ago, so you might find that useful. Do let me know if you have any more queries.
A rooster crowing at the break of dawn has earned his owner a $260 fine in an Italian court after neighbours complained it was waking them up too early. The rooster's owner in Bolzano province said he would appeal against the sentence, supported by the local Farmers' Association, on the grounds that he needs at least one rooster to breed chickens.
FOOTNOTE: Crowing pains.
I've been waiting weeks for the right time to capture this sequence. What I wanted to do was take a photograph at the same time, every day, of the same rose as it unfurled. I experimented with different colours, different varieties and different angles. The first shot in this sequence (above) was taken on Friday afternoon.
This is the second shot (above) in the sequence, taken on Saturday afternoon. Have a look at the centre of the rose. It is pure symmetrical perfection, as each individual petal forms an elegant pattern in synch with all the others. You'll see that the real change from the day before is in the mid-section of the bloom, with a little movement in the centre as well.
But the third shot, taken on Sunday afternoon, shows the clear result of the hotter weather. The rapid progression is quite dramatic. The rose has suddenly reacted to the sunlight and the heat, revealing itself in all its buttery splendour. For the record, it was a climbing Freesia and yes, they are as fragrant as they are beautiful. I hope you like this pictorial experiment. Do let me know ....
A Russian mugger stole a woman's cake as she walked by, then asked the victim to call police so he could go back to prison. A police spokeswoman in Krasnoyarsk, 4400 kilometres east of Moscow, said the thief told them he just wanted to return to jail. Charges carrying a potential jail sentence of three years were brought against the cake thief, who recently served a 12-year sentence.
FOOTNOTE: He must have had a sweet truth.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The Shahid Minar (martyrs’ monument) in Calcutta, India, used to be known as the Ochterlony Monument. I was born in Calcutta - which is now called Kolkata - and because my parents grew up and were educated in British India, they always referred to it as the Ochterlony Monument. It is almost 50 metres high and commemorates the military success of Sir David Ochterlony during a campaign in neighbouring Nepal in the early nineteenth century.
An amateur historian once told me that Ochterlony was well known for taking his family and his retinue for elephant rides near the Strand, but I cannot confirm this story. Maybe there is an Indian history/ trivia scholar out there who can do so.
During my childhood, the Ochterlony Monument literally loomed over me every weekend. My parents were members of the Dalhousie Athletic Club and played tennis on the immaculately maintained grass courts of the club. Too young to play alongside the adults, I used to keep myself busy with the other kids as the Monument stood like a silent sentinel nearby.
I took this shot last year, as I walked shoulder-to-shoulder through the holiday shoppers in the Chowringhee throng. On reflection, I find it curious that it is the only photograph I have ever taken of the Monument – and it was really a snap decision (unintentional pun) because I noticed the late-afternoon sun was creating a memorable sight. You’ll see some light flare in the bottom right-hand quadrant of the frame – but that’s reality for you.
I’m told the Monument is a meld of many styles, a blend of Turkish, Syrian and Egyptian architecture. I was lucky with my timing of this shot. Like I said, I just happened to be walking past, about 400 metres away to the east. I opted for the full extent of my 125mm lens for this shot and took it at 1/500th of a second, F16 and ISO 200. I shot only one frame because I was in a hurry. If I'd noticed the orange Batman-like flare on the bottom right, I would have taken a couple more.
But I'd just like to emphasise what a lucky shot this was. The sun was in just the right spot, giving me almost a grey-brown mosaic pattern across the texture of the image. And because the sky was hazy, as it invariably is over the Hooghly river in mid-October, it created a beautiful monochrome for me.
The story of David Ochterlony doesn't end there. Because of his influence in determining relations between Britain and Nepal, Ochterlony was honoured with the coveted Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. Interestingly, although he was considered part of the Indian army, he was a British general who was - believe it or not - born in Boston, Massachusetts. I guess there wouldn’t be many Boston natives who are commemorated in India, let alone commemorated in such grand style.
Talk about suspended animation! Star Wars fans with $74,000 to spare can now buy their very own Ewok-style tree houses. Canadian carpenter Tom Chudleigh's Free Spirit Spheres are suspended in trees and accessible by rope bridges. The eco-friendly houses, which are eleven feet wide (almost three metres) can sleep four, allowing families to live in the forest without the need to worry about their carbon footprint. The hand-crafted wooden spheres are constructed using boat building techniques and are coated in fibreglass making them waterproof and robust.
FOOTNOTE: Hans up if you want one.
A US village is trying to get around having to demolish a decrepit, old bridge by selling it for $1. The Kickapoo River bridge in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, was closed to traffic in the 1970s and officials hope high scrap prices will attract a buyer with a buck burning a hole in his pocket. The 1910 bridge was a major community link until a new route was built.
FOOTNOTE: A buck stops here.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
A Spanish shopping centre has set up a creche for husbands. The Gran Via2 mall, in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat near Barcelona, has comfy chairs, newspapers and televisions in what it calls its "husband parking area''. A mall spokesman said: "Everyone is loving it. We were told that some men are loving it so much they are encouraging their wives to go shopping.''
FOOTNOTE: Boom Creche Opera.
How much are your legs worth? Chinese Olympic hurdler Liu Xiang's legs have been insured for $13.3 million in the run-up to next year's Beijing Olympics. To him, though, the limbs are beyond valuation. "You can't really put a concrete figure on this. They're priceless," Liu said. He won the 110-metre hurdles at the 2004 Athens Olympics and his race at the Beijing Games is expected to be one of the most watched events at the Games.
FOOTNOTE: Er, make that a FEET-note.
Monday, November 26, 2007
The bigger the rose, the bigger the thorns. If you look down the stem of this bud, you'll notice gossamer-thin protruberances. As the rose grows, so these grow into protective, sharp thorns. The afternoon light was just right for this shot, because it highlighted the mini-thorns while allowing me to capture the bud in all its glory. Some years ago, nurseries began selling thornless roses, but the concept didn't really take off. Can you guess why? Because thorns actually serve a crucial purpose, of keeping pests away.
Someone in Italy placed the winning bid of $3.8 million for an unpopulated, one-house Texas town auctioned online. No one lives permanently in the 13-acre town of Albert, about 60 miles north of San Antonio, but the tavern created from the frame of the old general store is open on weekends. But before town owner Bobby Cave signs the deed over, he must ensure the eBay bid is legitimate. Cave said that unlike the usual items bought through eBay, there are no contractual obligations when it comes to real estate.
FOOTNOTE: Texas, the lone star estate.
A London firm has launched what it claims is the world's first perfume made especially for dogs.
Mungo & Maud's Petite Amande eau de toilette features French blackcurrant, Tunisian neroli, mimosa and violet leaf on a base of sweet vanilla bourbon with a little almond. Nicola Sacher from Mungo & Maud said: "For some time we had wanted to create an original fragrance for dogs made with refined ingredients that wouldn't overpower the senses. A scent that would refresh the dog and appeal to the human nose too."
FOOTNOTE: No Pongo pong.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
And the question is: Have you ever answered or made a call on a cellphone while you were in a toilet? (Or even wanted to and thought better of it!)
Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
O'er the fields we go; Slushy all the way. A few days ago, the word "dashboard" came up in some context and I promised to explain how the word was derived. I had no idea until a friend of mine with a keen interest in cars explained it to me a couple of years ago. Apparently the word goes back to the days of horse-drawn carriages. To prevent mud from the hooves of the horses splashing back onto the gentry, a wooden board was put judiciously in place.
This worked particularly well, especially when the horses were cantering or "dashing". It became known as the dashboard and the term survives today, in the hi-tech automobile industry. This photograph is not of an ordinary dashboard - it depicts a Rolls-Royce Phantom that I had the pleasure of photographing a few months ago.
"Nincompoop" is Britain's favourite word, according to a new survey. More than 2,000 people were asked to select their favourite from a shortlist chosen from the 16,500 words in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Results show that 13 per cent of respondents chose "nincompoop" which is believed to be derived from the Latin "non compos mentis", meaning not of sound mind. The poll was commissioned by Ubisoft, makers of the language computer game My Word Search. The second most popular word was "love" and the third was "mum".
FOOTNOTE: Stiff upper clip.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
This is the Eternal Flame at the Shrine of Remembrance on St Kilda Road here in Melbourne. With this week's theme being "Hot", I figured there aren't many things that emit more heat than this - and that I would be able to photograph up close. This flame has burned continuously since 1954.
I'm not sure how hot the flame is, but I could feel the intense heat even as I stood beside the metal railings. Have a look at the image (above) and you'll see the temperature is so high that the metal railings in the background have been endowed with a heat shimmer, like a desert mirage.
It was a hot, windy afternoon when I took these photographs. The breeze was really gusting and the flame was blowing wildly, first one side and then the other. It was impossible to take a pre-meditated shot of it, no matter how hard I tried. This was the first photograph I took and I was really pleased with how intense the orange is and how the flame was concentrated in one area.
But I wanted at least one frame with the flame filling the entire screen from left to right. It took a lot of patience and the photograph below was sheer luck. But I guess reverence and silent contemplation are natural in these surroundings.
Friday, November 23, 2007
A would-be thief took a nap while burgling a house in the central Bosnian town of Maglaj - and the owner found him sound asleep on the couch. The man managed to snatch two bracelets and an earring before falling asleep. He confessed to breaking into the house. "He saw the couch and just sat to down to rest for a while and fell asleep,’’ police said.
FOOTNOTE: Earring aid.
Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
Windsor Castle has been the victim of a cat burglar every day for the past four years. A cat called Mime, which lives in a Chinese restaurant 50 metres opposite, has been strolling past armed police and royal guards in order to dine with royalty - the Queen's corgis. On the Queen's birthday when Mime's normal route was blocked by a locked gate, security staff opened it especially to let her through. Owner Kevin Lam said: ``People ask me why the Queen's cat is in the restaurant. I keep having to tell them that she is actually my cat.''
FOOTNOTE: You’ve lost that lovin’ feline.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
If at first you don't succeed, try, try a brain. A small Hitachi robot may be designed to run office errands, but it ran straight into office furniture during a media demonstration in Japan. Researchers blamed the mishap on jammed wireless network traffic at the company's research centre. The robot later smoothly cleared any obstacles.
FOOTNOTE: R2 detour.
Yesterday in the post Circles Crop for Wordless Wednesday, I asked if you could identify the object in the photograph and I must say that just about all of you have earned your Sherlock Holmes badges with your answers. Yes, it was a cymbal. Yes, the word ``symbolic'' in the headline was a clue. I had some great responses, so it's something I might do again in a couple of weeks.
I hope all of you have a great Thanksgiving. And for those of us who do not live in America and do not celebrate this very meaningful day, let's all give thanks anyway. For life. For family. For friendship. For each other.
Pink rose. Fresh bud. What's to photograph? You've all seen a million rose pictures, here and on other sites. But when a photographer seeks a different angle, suddenly a commonplace sight becomes something that you look at with a fair bit of attention. All I did here was to position myself above the rose bush (easy to do when you're more than six foot tall in your socks) and I was able to capture an intriguing view.
As part of my "Get The Picture" instructional series for bloggers who want to improve their photography, I thought I'd present my rationale on this shot. The composition is unusual, but I wanted to include more than just the bud itself. I sought the totality of the view. I needed to present the bud itself, the delicate lime-green triangles that peel away from the bud, the leaves at interesting angles and far below, a fully-open bloom.
The quest to combine all these factors in a single frame meant that the bud is off-centre, yet it gives you many points of reference. And because the bud itself is not dead-centre, I guess it brings other aspects of the image to your notice.
If you have a question about photography, just drop me a comment here and I'll answer it as soon as I can.
So, where did he plant the flag? Comedian Griff Rhys Jones is lying low after falsely claiming to have climbed Britain's highest mountain. He recently told viewers of the TV series that he had finally conquered the 1343 metre Ben Nevis on his third attempt. But Rhys Jones, 54, later admitted: "I said we got to the summit, but we didn't. I wish I'd looked at a map.'' He said he did not realise he was on a neighbouring peak 122 metres below the summit in the Scottish highlands.
FOOTNOTE: Ever rest, mate?
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
The first time I grew a moustache, it was just an experiment really. I can't tell you whether it looked anything like designer stubble in the first week, but I can tell you that it was itchy. It startled me every time I looked in the mirror.
I was in my early twenties, spending some time in Darwin, up in the Northern Territory. At the same time, my girlfriend - whom I had been going out with since she was in pigtails - was on the other side of the world, training to be a flight attendant for an international airline. I spoke to her regularly on the phone, but I didn't tell her I was experimenting with facial fuzz.
About six weeks later, she came home unexpectedly and did a double-take, but told me that the moustache looked rather dashing. Her nod gave it the vital stamp of approval at a time when I was unsure of whether I wanted it to permanently adorn my upper lip or not.
You see, I was the fast bowler (opening pitcher, in US parlance) in my club cricket side and I reckoned the "mo" would strike some fear into the opposing batsmen. Also, if I may be permitted to go off on a cultural tangent for a moment, I'd like to point out to those raised on the sports of ice hockey, gridiron and baseball that the fast bowler is the quarterback of the cricket world. There, I've said it. That's going to put the cat among the pigeons now.
Truth be told, the "mo" didn't make me bowl any faster. While I thought it was on a par with Dennis Lillee's fearsome moustache, some other people whose surname was (and still is) the same as mine made no bones about their opinion. They told me it made me look like a second-grade Mexican bandit.
Fearsome Fast Bowler? Mexican Bandit? Same thing, isn't it? They're both quick on the draw and they strike terror into their opponents' hearts.
But one day, I decided on a whim to remove it. Let me tell ya, it ain't easy removing a mo. Growing one is a piece of cake. Removing it is something else all together. It doesn't come off easily. I might have been wincing, but I stuck manfully to my task and in about five minutes, I was clean-shaven once more.
And guess what? My girlfriend, the beautiful flight attendant, didn't notice.
POSTSCRIPT: But I loved her so much that I married her and now we have three beautiful children - who will never be shown photographs of me sporting the mo.
It's a green party, of sorts. The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, which performs on instruments made of fresh vegetables (yep, that's right) will play at Britain's Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. The 11-strong group carve their produce before every show, using celeriac bongos, carrot recorders and the multi-vegetable “cucumberphone”. They play a range of music from contemporary to house, jazz to classical. The audience is usually offered fresh vegetable soup made from the instruments after shows. But hungry fans in Huddersfield will be disappointed - health and safety regulations mean soup is banned.
FOOTNOTE: The astound of music.
Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
It's not often you see golden concentric circles, is it? If you want to guess what this photograph shows, leave a comment. I'll provide the answer in 24 hours - promise!
A chain of twelve restaurants with a toilet theme has opened in Taiwan. Seats in the Modern Toilet restaurants are toilet-shaped and napkins are dispensed from toilet rolls on tables. Food containers are also toilet or wash-basin shaped. The owner claims the edgy nature of the restaurants is attracting younger diners.
FOOTNOTE: Fancy a game of craps?
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Aparently there are more than 30 varieties of bottlebrush, which belong to the Callistemon genus. I took the first couple of shots on this post to give you an idea of how unusual the spikes are on each bloom. Early on in their life, each spike is tipped with a microscopic white dot that looks like a light-emitting diode, but these get progressively more dull as the blooms age. I shot this sequence in very bright light, so I had to work the angles carefully.
A Thai air force pilot has been suspended from flying duties after allegedly landing his helicopter in the countryside to collect wild mushrooms for his mother. Villagers in the western province of Kanchanaburi reported the incident to police. The helicopter had circled a jungle clearing before landing, and when the villagers went to investigate, they found that the pilot had gone. When the pilot eventually returned, he told them he had been collecting mushrooms for his mother.
FOOTNOTE: Spore loser.
How long ya bin on the phone line, ya pumpkin? AT&T phone technician David Cooper said it was the first time he'd disconnected a pumpkin - this one was hanging on the Stiger family's telephone wire in Chickasaw, Alaska. For five months, the Stigers had watched it grow from a blossom on neighbouring vacant land. The vine climbed the fence, made its way up the phone line, then started producing what was until last week a 19-kilogram orange orb dangling from the phone line.
FOOTNOTE: Hang on, speak to the pumpkin.
Monday, November 19, 2007
So I'm thinking polar ice caps. You know, just to cool myself down. Why? Look, I'm notorious for being jelly-kneed in the heat. Yes, yes, I know I grew up in India and I should be accustomed to the heat - but I ain't. It's not even summer yet and today's top temperature is going to be 37 Celsius which translates to 99 Fahrenheit. Lawks-a-mussy, what's a lad to do?
This shot was taken at dawn this morning (it's almost 3pm Monday here, on our side of the world) and as you can see, I was very lucky with the position of the sun. That rigging you see is the distinctive cladding of the Arts Centre spire here in Melbourne, so I was in the perfect spot to get an unusual foreground.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to spend the rest of the day under a block of ice ...
Be careful where and why you close your eyes. Reverend Fidelis Obdike opened his eyes after a prayer in Arkansas a week ago, but the setting wasn't the same. Gone were his laptop computer and the man with whom he was praying. But police in Fort Smith, Arkansas arrested the alleged conman after he pawned the computer.
FOOTNOTE: An open and shut case.
Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
This picture was taken some months ago when I was experimenting with the macro settings on a Pentax K10D that I was testing at the time. I got some great results with this camera, and this shot here shows is a very intricate design on a hand-painted miniature stool from India.
Macro is a great way to shoot, but it's always an interesting learning curve. I've just answered an email from US blogger Jenera Healy. In response to my cobweb pictures in the post Web Sight, she wrote: "I'm so jealous - I've not been able to get a good clear shot of a cobweb at all. the focus is always off or something else goes wrong with the photo."
As I said to Jenera, macro shooting takes a bit of practice. If you are keen are close-up shots, check the macro settings on your camera and experiment for best results. I recently saw an interesting post called Difference in Lighting for Macro on WhoDatDare's blog with some interesting feedback.
I also had a query from YesBut, asking for the details on the photo Mary Had A Little Lamp. The shot was taken with my Pentax K100D and my shutter speed was 1/60 aperture F8 and the ISO speed 800.
Authorities in Thorntown, Indiana, employed the power of lateral thinking when they used vegetable oil to free a man trapped in the vent shaft of a grocery store he planned to rob. Officers said the man was found in the shaft between the ceiling and the roof of the store after someone heard him screaming for help. After they cut his sweatshirt away, they poured vegetable oil (taken from a store shelf) down the shaft and handed him a rope. Four men on the roof then pulled him out.
FOOTNOTE: Another slippery customer.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
And the question is: When did you last write or receive a real snail-mail letter (you know, in an addressed envelope)?
It's all about speaking in tongues, sometimes. A 70-year-old German man seeking Swiss citizenship was told to go back to school - to learn his native tongue. The Swiss town of Dielsdorf ordered Ulrich Kring, who has lived in Switzerland his whole life but is only now applying for citizenship, to take a German language course costing $220. The class is obligatory for all foreigners seeking a Swiss passport.
FOOTNOTE: For Kring and country.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Having been to Alaska, here is another reason I'd like to go back - to meet this remarkable woman. She was on her way to hair appointment when she actually crashed her car through the window of the hair salon. Della Miller, 73, made a surprise entry into Tina's Hair Pros' windows, knocking one customer six feet across the room, Soldotna police officer Marvin Towle said. The parking area in front of the salon was snow-covered. Towle estimated damage to the building to be at least $15,000, and the car at another $2,500. Miller, who was not injured, was not cited for the crash. So she just calmly went ahead with her hair appointment.
FOOTNOTE: Watch her when she goes window shopping.