Archive for September, 2010
This morning I received a missive from our very own genuinej, apologising for not commenting as much as he used to. The reason for his absence is that his vitriolic messages are normally fuelled by the consumption of vast amounts of alcohol, and he is not imbibing to his usual level because he is currently driving around America; no doubt complaining about their spelling at every opportunity.
But the nights are drawing in and getting colder in the land of the
fear free, and both genuinej and the entire population of the USA will be retiring to the comfort of their living rooms. Genuinej will stay amused by getting pissed and nit-picking my grammar; Americans will need TV.
It’s the time of the year when American TV stations roll out their popular series, and I am poised with my torrents ready to
steal download them. Brits used to say, with some justification, that our TV was the best in the world. Not any more. The majority of what passes as entertainment on American TV is probably utter shite; but they have also produced some world-class entertainment series (The Sopranos, The Wire, almost anything from HBO).
Here are some of the downloads that will be clogging up my bandwidth over the next few months:
Boardwalk Empire – Martin Scorcese, Steve Buscemi, a gangster tale set in the time of prohibition; what more do you need to know? A sumptuous twelve hour epic from HBO.
Nikita – A secret service trained assassin goes rogue. Yawn, heard that before. But the assassin gone rogue is Maggie Q and she keeps getting into trouble when she is conveniently partially undressed. Pure exploitation, and I love being exploited.
Dexter – Antz put me onto this and it is disturbingly brilliant. Dexter is a blood spatter analyst with the police. That’s his day job; and his hobby is “serial killer”. Yikes! Caught up the with first four series and now series five has started. It’s dark, occasionally funny, and very watchable.
House M.D. – Another Antz recommendation. House is a genius doctor with an appalling bedside manner and significant personal issues. Hugh Laurie is the star and damn he is good in the role. Series seven has just started and you could do worse things with a couple of days of your life than watching the first six series in a single sitting (toilet breaks allowed).
Desperate Housewives – Yes, I know…. But she who must be obeyed likes it and I must admit to enjoying it too. It’s witty and the latest episode featured Teri Hatcher in lingerie. I rest my case.
The Office – How dare those nasty Americans take Ricky Gervais’s masterpiece and produce their own version? Well, Gervais didn’t mind because he was involved in the production, and with Steve Carell in the lead role, it is every bit as cringe inducing as the original. Plus the supporting cast contains more memorable characters than the UK version. Season seven is underway, giggles will ensue.
Breaking Bad - Just discovered this and have thirty plus episodes to catch up on. A high-school chemistry teacher discovers he is dying of cancer and turns to manufacturing crystal meth to provide for his family. Doesn’t sound very cheery; but it’s a black, unpredictable comedy and a good example of how some American TV is prepared to push boundaries.
The Event - Government conspiracy thriller. Haven’t watched the first episode yet, but it sounds interesting.
American Idol – Just joking.
I think I have a couple of hours a week free after watching that lot, so any other suggestions welcome.
If you buy coffee beans from most outlets, they will look dry and dull. The natural oils in the beans, released during roasting, have long since dried out.
Luckily, I get my beans from someone who vacuum packs them immediately after roasting, and gets them too me within a few weeks after that. So when I open the pack, the beans are still shiny and moist; an indication of good coffee to come.
Opened a new pack of beans this morning. Seemed only logical to photograph them.
Panasonic GF1, Contax 45mm lens
It’s the Singapore Grand Prix this weekend and I am not there. Put the blame on budgetary constraints; or more accurately my decision to splurge all my spare cash on lenses. Last year was a great experience and I would like to have attended again. Instead I am reduced to watching the very fine BBC coverage and gazing wistfully at last year’s photos.
Will be watching the race at NanoTrax tonight, after being thrashed in the weekly race as usual. My only hope is that Mister Miserable Alonso does not translate his pole position into a win.
There will be some comfort when my copy of the F1 2010 game arrives and I will be able to beat Alonso in Singapore and everywhere else.
The Photokina show in Germany is almost over and anything of note has already been announced. Time to review the state of the camera industry.
Ask most people what type of camera takes the best photos and they will answer “DSLR”, the interchangeable lens, mirror-slapping monsters, churned out by the likes of Canon and Nikon in a variety of specifications and a singularity of colour (black). Not so. All else being equal, the bigger the sensor, the better the image quality; so you would do better with something like this:
It’s a large format Polaroid and it’s what you need for the ultimate in image quality, when you really need to print something to cover the side of a building. If you find that carrying this around produces an unsightly bulge in your pocket; then you may be better of with a medium format camera:
This is the Ferrari limited edition Hasselblad introduced at Photokina. Still a little bulky in your pocket; but at least your wallet would be empty; don’t expect much change out of $30,000, even without the Ferrari badge.
Coming out of the price and practicality stratosphere and we end up back at DSLRs. Still the choice of the majority of people who think they want to take photographs rather than snaps. And what did the big two have to entice us at Photokina? What signs of innovation and progress? Bugger all. Nikon came up with the D7000 which I am sure is a very nice camera; but offered nothing new in the way of technology; just existing features improved. Canon offered the 60D which was greeted by yawns, even by the Canon crowd who saw it as not much of an improvement over its predecessor the 50D, which in turn offered little enticement to upgrade from the 40D. Canon and Nikon, wake up!!
So who was doing something different? Let’s start with Sony; not my favourite company but at least they are innovating.
First the NEX. Similar in concept to Micro 4/3, a mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses.
The good thing about the NEX is that it takes great photos from such a small size; the bad thing about the NEX is that it is just too small, with a lack of controls to enable you to manage the photo taking process. But well done Sony for producing something different.
And well done for the Sony A55. Looks like a DSLR, and indeed there is a mirror/prism of sorts; but it doesn’t move. Most of the light coming into the camera heads for the sensor and the viewfinder, with a small percentage being diverted to the DSLR-like focus mechanism. Why bother? Well, mirrorless cameras like the GF1 take their focus off the sensor using a process that is accurate, but slower than the focus techniques used in DSLRs. So the idea behind the A55 is to give you the advantages of a mirrorless camera, and the advantages of DSLR focusing. An effortless ten frames a second results (no mirror to slap up and down); so congratulations to Sony; although the latest from Panasonic may make the focusing issues redundant (see below).
Star of the show in terms of visitor interest has been the gorgeous Fuji X100.
Once this is released next year, I am going to have to make sure that my credit card and this camera are never in the same room at the same time.
In the world of Micro 4/3 there was only one really new camera announced, the Panasonic GH2, The GH1 already had the reputation of producing the best M4/3 images; and being by far the best “stills camera that also takes video” on the market; especially after a Russian gentleman had hacked the firmware.
The GH2 provides even better video features, and as a stills camera it offers an 18 megapixel sensor that is sliced in different ways, depending on the aspect ratio you are shooting (16:9, 4:3, 3:2) to produce 16 megapixel images which are is claimed have more dynamic range and less noise than the previous model. Gorgeous viewfinder too. Most impressively though, the previous rather stately focusing speed has been transformed to a Canon and Nikon beating level; which partially negates the Sony A55′s design (not clear yet how the GH2 will handle fast action and multiple frames per second). The only downside is that GH2 is more chunky than the small M43 cameras such as the GF1.
No sign of the rumoured GF2, so you will have to wait for next year for that, along with the announcement of a “professional level” M4/3 from Olympus. Never mind, if you want to join the future now and go mirrorless, you currently have choice of four M4/3 cameras from Panasonic and three from Olympus; all of which will produce great photos. Last time I counted, there were eighteen lenses specifically made for M4/3, and literally hundreds of other lenses you could mount with a suitable adapter. Or you could consider a Fuji X100, or a Sony NEX, also offering a mirror-free environment.
What are you waiting for?
Oh no Spike, I need the image excellence that only a DSLR can give me; and I don’t care about lugging around all that heavy kit.
Of course, you are right. How about a Nikon D700, a full frame DSLR optimised to produce amazing images? That’s what silly Nik sold before he moved to a GF1; the idiot. After our photo shoot yesterday, I asked him how he liked the images from his new camera. This was his answer:
“They are equal to D700 pics. Very pleased.”
The future has no mirror.
Nik was eager to try out his new toy, so it was off to Nong Nuch where there is plenty to photograph, provided you don’t mind shooting flowers.
Next to the car park there is an area full of fake flamingos; but there are also pots with water lilies; so we started there and Nik was soon engrossed.
I got this, which I rather like; “coming in to land” would be a suitable title:
After that, we wandered around for three hours or so. All these shot with the Panasonic GF1 and Contax 90mm lens.
Some consternation amongst my concerned readership when I announced my plans to strip down my high temperature/pressure potential bomb (aka coffee machine).
The remaining parts arrived today, and I will admit to slight concern when I turned the beast on again for a pressure test; to the extent that the machine was on the balcony and I made sure that I wasn’t. I waited for the normal hissing and popping which is so much part of the personality of my chrome peacock; but there was no sound. Was it broken? No, the pressure was there, but all the leaks had been fixed by my most excellent craftsmanship and hammering. No one more amazed than me, apart from she who must be obeyed who was cowering in the back room, convinced that a major explosion was imminent.
For my next trick I will build a high voltage transformer out of Lego.
Nik lives in our condo and is a keen photographer. There are few areas of Thailand which have not had one of his lenses pointed at them; and his worldwide coverage is pretty extensive too. He is a Nikon man (nobody’s perfect), with a semi-pro body and load of lenses.
At least he was. A couple of weeks ago he announced he had sold all his Nikon gear and was coming over to the dark side. And yesterday his new toys arrived. A red Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm F1.7, the Olympus 9-18 wide angle, and a Contax 45mm F2. Very similar to my lens collection; and he will be even closer when a Contax 90mm arrives via eBay.
Of course we had to lay out our toys, together with she who must be obeyed’s Olympus EP-1.
Another convert to the Micro 4/3 format; I really should be on commission.
…oh no, this is the road to Hell.
When the new mayor of Pattaya came to power, he had a 15 point plan to improve Pattaya. One of the points was to clean up Walking Street and get rid of all the hookers; so once we had stopped laughing we pretty much ignored the rest of the list as well. But tucked away in the projects was a plan to build a tram system, which on the face of it is almost as laughable as getting rid of the hookers. But suddenly the tram has become a monorail and the project is very much alive.
It’s a four billion baht extravaganza which will build a line from a place nobody wants to go to or leave from, to another place that nobody wants to go to or leave from; with a few stops along the way. The project is scheduled to take ten years (for which, read “infinity”) and will cause massive disruption on the main roads of Pattaya while it is being constructed. If it is eventually finished, nobody will use it and it will eventually break down and be scrapped. But none of this matters because some people will have benefited financially along the way; by which if course I mean the construction company which will be awarded a contract based on submitting a least-cost, technically acceptable bid in a carefully monitored tender process. And the hookers will be removed from Walking Street.
Still, we can take some comfort in the ability of City Hall to administer such a large project. Their stellar performance in the project to widen Thappraya Road over the last half century is a clear indication of what we can expect if the monorail goes ahead.
It’s been at least five years since the seven kilometre project started and it’s not quite finished yet. Indeed it is closer to being started than finished. For some reason, City Hall decided to award a separate contract for each kilometre of road. Not sure where they found seven different contractors who thought they could build roads, but experience has shown that they can’t.
The first section, heading out of Pattaya towards Jomtien, took years to complete. Now it is done and presumably handed back to the city for routine maintenance; which mainly involves keeping everything clean and tidy.
In the north of Thailand there is a road that runs dead straight for a hundred kilometres or more. If you join at the northern end you find that there is a patch in the central reservation which looks like a well-tended front garden of an obsessive gardener. There is a delicately pruned bush and a cascade of flowers, carefully arranged for effect. All very charming; and then you discover that this patch is duplicated over and over again, for at least twenty kilometres; before the design changes and another little garden design repeats itself for another twenty kilometres or so. It’s amazing, and you can’t help but admire the dedication of the local authority that planned and maintains this ribbon of display; presumably with a good deal less available cash than urban Pattaya.
And this is Pattaya’s approach to beautifying the central reservation; makes you proud to live here:
But at least the road seems to be standing up to being driven on, which is more than you can say for the next section, from the top of the hill, down to the lights at Theppasit Road. Completed only a few months ago, it immediately started to crumble; apparently not designed to cope with being driven or rained on. There are now a number of no-go areas which are occasionally halfheartedly repaired before again collapsing into rubble. This is the outside lane of a three lane road, a joy to drive on (in a tractor):
Carrying on down the road and things get worse. No new road construction yet; but a couple of years ago, someone ripped away the side of the road to make way for an eventual widening. The result looks like this:
Further on, and it really starts to look like a war zone. Septic water, mud, puddles; and no sign of anybody doing anything constructive.
Can’t wait for the monorail project.