Category: photography

A Dusty Old Machine

An Old Pepsi Machine

Each morning on my way to and from dropping Nathan at his childminder’s flat, I walk past a block of flats that has a diagonal façade above which is a square overhang. The space underneath is closed by a mesh shutter, and nothing has changed behind it since I’ve been walking past it these past few months. A layer of dust on everything tends to point to nothing having moved for longer still.

More conclusively, an old Pepsi machine stands there; it is no longer lit up to entice you to refresh yourself with a fizzy drink. The dust has even taken hold on the vertical face of the selection buttons. You can just see in the low resolution mobile phone photo I took this morning that the price for a can is 6F00. The euro became standard currency in France in 2002, which would suggest that the machine has been there for five years or more. The Franc is now resigned to be remembered as 1/6.55957 of a Euro, and Nathan won’t ever look at – or fondly remember – the colourful blue 50 Franc notes with Antoine de Saint Exupéry, or the big old 100 Franc notes with Paul Cézanne on them, except in books or in the hands of old banknote collectors.

Sleeping Like a Baby

Nathan Asleep on the Sofa

After my last post was published, I learned from my email reader timezone definition that the official name for the zone here is now Romance Daylight Time which sounds particularly apt for Paris in the spring. I’ve moved back to PINE for email, one of the first mail readers I ever used back in 1993 is still available and going strong. Better still, it hasn’t changed much in look and feel. It’s still text only and efficient because everything can be controlled by keystroke combinations.

Pictured here looking a lot like I’ve felt over the last few days, Nathan took time to adjust to daylight savings time. You probably don’t want to actually sleep like a baby, by the way.

Nathan is now eating some solid (well, puréed) food and is down to four meals a day. His hair is getting lighter — much to my delight — as he’s looking more like I did when I was a baby. His latest toys are getting noisier – he has a piano toy with five keys that plays nursery rhymes and classical stuff like Pachelbel’s Canon in D and Für Elise by Beethoven. You can also play your own melodies on it, but with five keys you’re a little bit limited in scope.

Thinking about family and the little boy growing up, I wrote an article “Childcare and the Telescoping Family” for publication at Urban Semiotic. You might enjoy a trip over to that blog, whether it’s to read my piece or the other excellent posts there.

New Fujifilm Finepix E900 Zoom

Nathan crawling - almost - on the sofa

After some time without a digital camera to speak of, I finally took the plunge and bought the Fujifilm Finepix E900. It’s a 9 megapixel camera in the “serious amateur” price and quality range.

I learned the technical side of photography when I inherited my grandfather’s old 35mm reflex camera. It’s a Prinzflex with an old screw-fit lens thread which meant any lenses I bought for it were all acquired second hand whilst hunting around old camera shops. Having that camera encouraged me to read a few books and familiarise myself with the notions of aperture, shutter speed, film speed and depth of field. Then I started taking loads of pictures, but I hated waiting for development (and the cost) when only one out of every fifty or so photographs were actually any good. You have to take a lot of shots and analyse what’s good about the photos you find most pleasing – it’s rarely the subject that is interesting. It’s all about trial and error.

I’ve always wanted a serious digital camera. A few years ago on a low budget I bought the cheapest camera with an LCD screen that I could find. A lot of the photos on this site were taken with that camera, but it really was a point and shoot box. Nonetheless I could shoot a lot of photos and delete everything I didn’t like immediately. Most of the time that’s actually enough for web quality photos and experimentation. Some of the shots I took with that camera, like the ones on this post, or an early photo of Nathan with Mummy, are actually quite good.

Investing in the new camera allows me to mix the technical aspects of my old Prinzflex SLR and the convenience of digital. Like most midrange digital cameras, you can control shutter speed, aperture and with the E900 even a simulated ISO rating. Fujifilm make their own CCDs for these cameras and they claim – and seem to have shown to me so far – that they can treat natural lighting settings really well. The key point for me is that the shutter delay is very short: when you press the shutter button, the picture is taken almost instantaneously. My previous digital was very slow to actually take the photo after you pressed the button.

Nine megapixels means that I can print big enlargements and they should look very clear. The argument that actually swayed me to allocate the extra budget compared to the 5 megapixel Nikon I was looking at is that even with about half as much zoom, you grab the same information: I can crop out a lot of image and still be left with a 5 megapixel shot. This goes for macro photography too: at almost twice the distance from an object I capture as much detail as an equivalent 5 megapixel camera.

Some other advantages of the Fujifilm E900 are excellent video capacity: it can film at 640×480 resolution @ 30fps which is close to analogue NTSC TV resolution (if you compare with these video resolution specs) and not far from PAL or DVD resolution. You can add audio notes to your snaps as a reminder of conditions, names of places, etc. You can crop photos on the camera itself. This is very handy – you can cut out unneeded stuff from the edge of the frame and save the resulting image at lower resolution, freeing memory for more pictures. The E900 also boasts RAW format, automatic and manual white balance, and comes with rechargeable batteries and its own charger. There’s a review here with some good examples of photographs under different conditions.

At only 250 pixels wide you can’t really see the quality of one of my first photo experiments – Nathan crawling – especially because I compress the images quite a bit too. However, you can see how the colours look very natural even though this photo was taken with flash. The focus is very crisp, and the detail in the cushions is totally clear at full resolution.

So now I can really start experimenting.

Memory from Amsterdam

Amsterdam Mounted Policeman

Back in May 2004, I took a drive up to the Netherlands with Yasmina to visit friends in Utrecht. A big advantage of living in France is that access to most of Europe is overland and most of western Europe is easily accessible. We drove up to Amsterdam one day and toured around the capital which takes its name from the dam built on the Amstel river. On the way up we stopped at a place which explained how windmills worked to pump water out of land diked into polders (see the Wikipedia Zuiderzee Works entry for a large scale example of this). This has been a tradition in the Netherlands since the middle ages; about 26% of the land is reclaimed from the sea and situated below sea level. There’s a lot more to Holland than just recreational drug use. Other countries could learn a lot from their liberal attitudes not just to sex and drugs but to reaching agreement on difficult issues. The “polder model” has existed for centuries and is a good example of how disparate viewpoints can be brought together to make decisions for the greater good.

Pictured above is a Dutch mounted policeman I managed to snap in the square outside the palace on Dam square. I was impressed by the laid back policing: whilst walking back from the red light district we were stopped by police (not on horseback this time). They explained that they were searching for knives and arms and told us we would be searched. After politely searching us, they handed us a leaflet which explained exactly why we had been searched and why the searching policy had been adopted. Compared to treatment I’ve had with rude British traffic police and corrupt police in Morocco, it was a pleasure to be checked in the street. There are plenty of good reasons to go to Amsterdam, it’s a city with great character in which even the police have a laid back attitude as do the residents – and most of the tourists too, especially after a trip to the coffee shop…

Bicycle Repair Man

Bicycle Repair Man

I am a Monty Python fan, and I always remember the sketch Bicycle Repair Man because it made my Dad laugh so much. With a Clink! Screw! Alter saddle! he came to save the day. The humour of Monty Python, taking an everyday situation and stretching it to comedic end, is well illustrated by this example.

I was walking through Amsterdam when I saw the shop pictured, and I had to snap it. I practically laughed out loud remembering Bicycle Repair Man, and what a fitting place – the capital of bikes – to find a reference to that silly sketch amongst the many bike hire and repair shops.

They’re not the only people to have used the sketch for their projects : a refactoring browser written (of course) in Python takes its name from the sketch.