Daily Archives: Sunday, 1st Apr 2012

Weight and Stuff Report – 1 April 2012

Looks like yesterday’s low was another of those random wossnames, as I’m back up again today. I’m still three pounds lighter than I was last Sunday, though.

After a busy morning of posting loads of nonsense here, I did some other online business, then decided that as the weather forecast for the coming week is a bit nasty[1], that I’d better get myself out for a walk while the weather was still nice.

Park and town

Park and town

I started with a trip round Saltwell Park, where amongst other things, I got this shot of a pair of swans, which I rather like. It’s been cropped and had a bit of messy stuff cloned out, but otherwise required very little treatment to look the way I wanted.

Reflected Swans

Reflected Swans

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Aperture: ƒ/6.3
ISO: 100

From there, I walked into Gateshead to get some pictures of the town centre redevelopment. Late on a Sunday afternoon is a good time for this, as there aren’t so many people to get in the way. I’ll see about putting together a gallery post later, but for now here’s a view of what I guess will be a row of shops:

Shops, I think

Shops, I think

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Aperture: ƒ/8
ISO: 100

That was taken through a gap in the fence, in case you’re wondering. And here’s the same thing seen from the High Street side. You’ll notice that we’re on much lower ground here, and you can see the service area (presumably) under the (presumed) shops. It’s also a reminder that this is a large development site.

The other side

The other side

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Aperture: ƒ/5
ISO: 100

And yes, that was another judicious use of fence gaps. Well, the holes where the big locks go, anyway.

Hover Tripod!

There seems to be a larger than usual collection of April Fools this year. Maybe it’s because falling on a weekend has given people more time for silliness, or maybe it’s because of quantum. There’s an ever-growing liveblog round-up of a load of them at The Poke which is worth checking for some quality laughs.

Here’s one I got by email a few minutes ago – sadly, they didn’t follow through with the website, so i’ll just show you what I received



I’d buy that!



Peter Serafinovicz[1] is generally good fun. I didn’t catch his 6Music show, but it seems I probably should have done, as it featured this quite lovely and very relaxing thing. While the Daleks have been taking a break from Doctor Who[2], they’ve taken up a sideline in new age relaxation tapes. Here’s a sample:

[1] Hey, I typed that right on the first attempt.
[2] But they’ll be back this year. In several forms, it’s been hinted.

Arc – a new magazine about the future

Earlier in the year, full-page ads started appearing in New Scientist for a new magazine. Arc 1.1, subtitled “The future always wins” appeared in February, and as I’ve just got round to finishing it, I thought I’d give it a mention.

For a start, don’t expect to find Arc in your local newsagent. This is, as Paul Weller once said, the modern world, and if you’re going to launch a magazine full of science fiction and factual writing with a focus on the future, you’re not going to mess around with paper, are you?

Arc is available for Kindle, and using Zinio, for Windows, Mac, Android and iDevices. As the content is mostly text, I opted for the Kindle version – if it had been a more visually oriented publication, I might have been inclined for an iPad version. There is also a somewhat expensive print on demand version, but I didn’t consider that.

So what’s in it? Well, there’s an introduction from the esteemed Bruce Sterling on the subject of futurism. There’s fiction from writers including Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds and M John Harrison, articles by China Miéville and others, and as they say, much more.

I enjoyed most of the fiction (a higher hit rate than the average issue of Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF or Interzone), and the articles were also at the very least interesting.

Good stuff – well worth your attention if you’re at all into near-future sf, or thoughts about the future.

Canon 5D Mark III – First Impressions

Just a few weeks ago, I had a bit of a mumble about the just-announced Canon 5D Mark III. Based on the information I’d seen at that point, I’d more or less concluded that while this was indeed a very desirable camera, I would wait a while before thinking about buying one. But then I read the rather more detailed preview at dpreview, which was based on a proper hands-on session with a pre-release model.

Reading that started me thinking. Now the only way I could justify to myself buying the Mark III would be to sell my still quite lovely Mark II. I know I’d never be likely to want to take two large camera bodies with me anywhere, so selling the older one to cover part of the cost of the new one would be the way to go. Which led me to a more interesting thought. While it’s likely that there will, at some point, be a reduction in the price of the Mark III, there will also, over time, be a reduction in the resale value of the Mark II. Now neither of those factors are particularly predictable, but my conclusion was that, if anything, the gap would grow rather than shrink.

So, when those nice Warehouse Express people tweeted just over a week ago that they had the body in stock (they’d previously had the kit with lens, but as I’ve already got the lens in question, as it came with my Mark II, that wasn’t what I wanted), I took plastic in hand and ordered it.

I ordered it on the Friday and it arrived, as expected, on Monday. I’ve had a reasonable play, read, or at least skimmed, the 400 page manual (up from 225 or so for the Mark II), and I can give at least some first impressions. For technical details, I suggest referring to the dpreview article – this is more about starting to use the beast.

First up – handling. It’s slightly larger than the Mark II, and distinctly more curvy, which makes it look even bigger. The grip feels a bit deeper, which is good for my large hands, and the recess on the back where my right thumb rests is nicely shaped.

The power switch has moved to the top left (as you look at the rear of the camera) – I think this is a better place, as it’s less likely to be accidentally knocked. As with the 7D, the mode dial is now a locking one – you have to press the central button down before turning the dial. As someone who’s lost a few shots due to the dial slipping when the Mark II went in or out of a bag, I’m very happy with this improvement.

The extra buttons seem to have been well thought out. The dedicated start/stop button for live view and video is well placed, and the programmable M-Fn button between the shutter and main control dial is a lovely touch – I’ve currently set it to display the level in the viewfinder, which is another excellent addition.

Talking of the viewfinder, the option of displaying a grid is a good one – it does make it easier to avoid wonky horizons even without the level.

The quick control dial, quite apart from being able to work as a touch sensitive switch in video mode, feels smoother and is definitely quieter.

I’ve been out and about during the week, just getting the feel of the camera with some of my lenses. Now I need to start getting to grips with the new autofocus system – I’m sure I’ll have more success with catching the gulls on the Tyne once I’ve played with the modes a bit.

Image quality so far – well, it’s early days, but I like what I’m seeing. The low-light capability certainly has some potential. This is an image taken from my back window at night. I’ve left it pretty much as it came out of the camera, with no noise reduction applied.

High ISO Test

High ISO Test

ISO 25,600, 1/8sec at f/4.0. Much more detail than the naked eye could see. Aggressive noise reduction has been applied.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Aperture: ƒ/4
Shutter speed: 1/8s
Focal length: 105mm
ISO: 25600

This was taken hand-held, 1/8sec, so excuse any softness. The line of hills in the background was not visible to the naked eye at the time, and the whole scene shows more detail than I’d normally expect.

There’s a lot more to investigate with this camera. Having both CF and SD card slots is interesting, for instance.

I’ll be doing more playing testing over the next few weeks, and I’ll post some results as I go along.

Doctor Who – The Dæmons

What with one thing and another, I haven’t got round to many of the ever-growing pile of classic Doctor Who DVDs. This is probably a good thing, as it means I’ll be able to give myself a top-up does of Whoness during the long wait for the new series.

But I did watch this one recently. The Dæmons is one I remembered quite well from its original showing and one or two repeats, but it had been a long time since I’d last seen it. Would it still stand up, over forty years since it was first shown in May and June 1971?

Like the other stories in 1971, the main villain is the Master, once again trying to work with an alien species to gain more power. I’ve mentioned before his tendency towards Terrible Plans, and this one is indeed quite terrible. He appears in a village called Devil’s End, posing as the new vicar, Mr Magister[1]. He’s running what appears to be a coven, using what appears to be black magic to summon up what appears to be a demon. In reality of course, it’s some alien science and the demon is really a Dæmon – an alien creature whose race[2] has interfered in human development as some kind of experiment. The fact that he looks like a sterotype devil (goat’s legs, horns, a face only another Dæmon could love, etc) is of course either coincidental, or an instance of human race memory. Or something like that.

Anyway, the fun starts with a televised excavation of a barrow near the village. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo Grant (Katy Manning) rush to the village to stop Something Bad happening when a sealed chamber in the barrow is opened.

Well, it wouldn’t be much fun if Something Bad didn’t happen, and so it does. The village is, rather in the manner of John Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos, sealed off by a “heat barrier”, with Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton on the inside with the Doctor and Jo. And the Master. And Azal, the Dæmon. Meanwhile, the Brigadier and the rest of his UNIT force are stuck outside.

And so lots of fun follows. The Master is happily bending people to his will, and sends an animated gargoyle[3] called Bok to deal with UNIT once the Doctor has told them how to make a hole in the heat barrier. This leads to one of my favourite lines ever, as the Brigadier instructs a soldier to deal with Bok:

Jenkins – chap with the wings, there: five rounds rapid

Of course, as Bok is a “magical”[4] creature, bullets and bazookas are of little use.

As I’ve mentioned, the Master wants Azal to give hi his power, but the Dæmon has other ideas. He wants to give it to the Doctor, who makes it quite clear that he’s not interested, thank you, got more than enough already. So Azal reverts to plan A, and decides to kill the Doctor[5]. Jo, having recently managed to avoid being sacrificed, intervenes, and pleads with Azal to kill her instead. This is all too much for Azal’s fragile little Dæmonic mind, and in the manner of a badly programmed computer blows himself up, taking the church with him.[6]

All good fun, and still quite watchable. The restoration job has been quite remarkable, too.

And on to the extras. In addition to the commentary, production subtitles, pictures and stuff, we have:

  • The Devil Rides Out – the usual cast and crew looking back at making the story
  • Remembering Barry Letts – a proper documentary on the career of the multi-talented man who co-wrote this story, and worked on many others. Good stuff.
  • Location film – a bit of silent amateur film shot during the location shooting
  • Colourisation test – An interesting demonstration of how far restoration techniques have come. In 1992, the best colour restoration job that could be done at the time allowed the story to be shown on TV for the first time in many years. Considering that it was made by combining black and white film with a poor quality US video copy, it was pretty good. For the time. The first episode is shown here in that early restored form. The difference in quality is remarkable.
  • Tomorrow’s World – a clip from the BBC popular science show demonstrating the restoration technique used in 1992.

[1] And you don’t need a lot of Latin to work out that this is one of his less subtle pseudonyms
[2] Like a few others
[3] Well, technically not a gargoyle, as he’s more of a statue than a drainpipe. Maybe a grotesque
[4] In the Arthur C Clarke, “any sufficiently advanced technology…” sense of magic, naturally
[5] This is a new sales technique. If you kill a few people who refuse to buy whatever you’re selling, you may find resistance is reduced.
[6] Apparently some people complained to the BBC at the time as they were quite upset that a lovely old church should be blown up just to make a TV show…