Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Wedding of the Year

Yesterday, Alastair and Rebecca tied the knot. Congratulations! A very special occasion for celebration. Just one photo for now:

Thursday, December 18, 2003

London and the Eye

London just before Christmas! A good time to be there, particularly when the weather cooperates. On Wednesday evening we enjoyed the Royal Commonwealth Society's Christmas Concert in St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Trafalgar Square) and then the Society's annual Christmas Party at their headquarters on Northumberland Avenue. Next morning the sun shone with a winter's low angle brilliance that cried out for some photography. So we decided to take a "flight" on the London Eye. The London Eye is the largest "observation wheel" in the World and is a truly maginificent experience. A few photos taken with the Finepix S7000 cannot do it justice, but here goes!

The London Eye from Westminster Bridge

View of Hungerford Bridge

At the Top of the Eye

St. Pauls and the City

April and Big Ben

On the way down

Friday, December 12, 2003


So here I am in Houston. Two down, three to go (three flights in ~4 days). And the first thing I do is put my wallet through the washing machine! I only hope the bank card works at the ATM tomorrow morning!

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Caracas Airport - Maiquetia

Caracas is located up a mountain - I've not been there yet, but I am told it's "up there" at the end of a freeway with tunnels through three mountain chains. The airport is at sea level in a place called Maiquetia. This post is about Maiquetia. As the main gateway to modern Venezuela, the airport looks much like any other large airport. Lots of unfinished concrete and tiles, uncomfortable chairs, taxi touts and petty crime.

The other day I met a man who had lost his luggage while standing in line at the check-in counter. A team of two worked him over, one distracting while the other walked off with a carry on bag containing passport, wallet, laptop, etc. Welcome to international travel, it's oh so glamorous (or so those who don't travel think!)

Then there's the situation where a man offers to take you through a back passage in order to avoid security. I had this offered to me at the domestic terminal but a colleague reported the same activity at the international terminal.

Airports could do so much to improve security, particularly for strangers. Deciding to become better informed, I asked a fellow passenger what I should do if the car sent to meet me wasn't there. Simple, he said, avoid the taxi touts and look for an official black taxi in the form of an SUV. So why doesn't the airline and the airport make this information readily available? I can't believe the taxi touts have the backing of a powerful union.

An abandoned well and pump

On Tuesday I spent the day surveying an old oilfield, discovered in 1936 and still producing a small quantity of oil. This well was shut in long ago. Long enough for vegetation to take a strangle hold. I don't see this as an eyesore, any more than I do the numerous abandoned mines in Colorado or the scars of old granite quarries on Dartmoor. I call them a part our heritage, ikons of our species!

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

Having enjoyed Theroux's travel writings in the past (The Great Railway Bazaar, the Patagonia Express) I bought his latest travel epic, Dark Star Safari, to read during this trip to South America. This evening I finished following the brave journey from Cairo to Capetown. I have not been to many of the countries described in the book, but Theroux has reminders of Africa in general on every page. So a description of East Africa seems to fit quite well with my West African experiences.

Perhaps the saddest part of this book is Theroux's own conclusion that little has changed in the 35 years since he lived and worked in Malawi and Uganda as a Peace Corps teacher. If anything, things have gotten worse. Not just AIDS, bad enough that that scourge is, but the overall reliance on others to bail out Africa, be it money, food, infrastructure, anything, everything.

He notes that he felt happiest in the rural areas where there was a measure of self-sufficiency, albeit at the total expense of national progress. He blames the leadership of Africa and their total reliance on foreign aid (which more often than not buys the leaders their perqs and provides little to the people in need). His greater scorn, though, is aimed at all the foreigners in their white Land Rovers and Land Cruisers who drive around doling out what little gets through to a people now totally dependent on the next aid shipment.

Whatever happened to the concept of "Don't just feed a starving man, give him the tools to feed himself"?

The book itself is strongly recommended. Theroux seems to have gotten even better at painting pictures with words. This is a book that needs no illustrations. I also envy his ability to simply catch a bus or make a split decision to take the long road round an obstacle, to eat the local food and survive, and to sleep in places where sleep is impossible unless you realize there is simply no alternative.

Monday, December 08, 2003

The Price of Petrol(eo)

Here in Venezuela, an OPEC country, unleaded gasoline costs 97 Bolivars a liter. Unleaded petrol in England costs around 75 pence a liter. There are 27 Bolivars to each penny (£1 = 2,720 Bolivars) which means that petrol in Venezuela costs 21 times less than in England!

Both countries produce oil, one levies no tax, the other levies too much.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

My own oil well!!!

Well, not really. As a shareholder I suppose I own a very, very small part of this well, a percentage probably too small to calculate. It's Uracoa UM-152, Eastern Venezuela. Just completed and flowing about 1,800 barrels a day of oil through the valves I have my hand on! A good feeling, courtesy of my host for the day, Operations Manager John Paul McKee, who took the photo during a brief tropical downpour that couldn't dampen my spirits.

Friday, December 05, 2003

The Fujifilm Finepix S7000 - a short Review

The Fujifilm Finepix S7000 is positioned at the top of of the consumer range and has many professional features, thus qualifying for the monicker "prosumer camera". So it is not a Nikon D series but it is also much more than a point and shoot digital snapshooter.

The features that help to qualify for "prosumer" status include:

A 6.3 megapixel CCD
Interpolation to 12.3 million pixels (4048 x 3040)
A 6x f2.8 quality zoom lens with additional digital zoom available
A Through-The-Lens electronic viewfinder, switchable to LCD screen
Three meter modes
TTL contrast type autofocus with manual override
File format option includes CCD-RAW uncompressed
Storage media can be both xD Picture Card and Microdrive/CF Type II
USB 2.0 file transfer
Fully manual operation (exposure, focus, flash)

The features that are usually associated with point and shoots include:

Built in flash (but there is also a built in flash shoe)
Automatic exposure programs (i.e. P and SP modes)
Movie option with sound

In general, the S7000 is a relatively easy camera to use, given that there are lots of menus to become accustomed to. It is easy to operate as a point and shoot. The negatives are far fewer than the positives and so I will stress the few negatives I could do without!

Start up time takes a couple of seconds as the lens has to telescope out from the body. Once ready to shoot there is a small shutter lag (I would guess around 1/10 to 1/5 of a second) which can be reduced by using pre-set manual or semi-manual focus;

I have ordered a very fast flash card so that images can be saved quickly. There seems to be no point using this camera in 2 or 3 megapixel mode, so large files need to be saved quickly if several photos are to be taken in succession with CCD-RAW switched on. I'll update on this once I have tested the faster storage card;

Fuji should have included the optional AC power supply as it really is necessary when transfering files to the computer;
Apple's Image Capture software doesn't always recognize the camera connection. I am not sure why but a restart is then necessary;

I have also ordered two extra sets of high capacity Ni-MH AA batteries as the one good set I have discharge quite quickly. I wouldn't even consider putting alkalines in the camera unless it was in an extreme emergency!

Here is an image trimmed down from a larger file:

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Downtown Maturin and a New Digital Camera

I am spending a lot of time in Maturin, Eastern Venezuela and one part of the assignment will be to photograph oilfield installations in this petroleum-rich province. This morning (very early) we drove through downtown for the first time in daylight, so I took this photo through the windshield.

Before I left Houston I decided to buy a new digital camera. Camera Co-op, my favorite camera store in Houston, showed me a number of models and I ended up with the Fujifilm Finepix S7000, a new model which is Fuji's "pro-consumer" model of the month (digital cameras must be on an exponential model upgrade curve). The S7000 is a 6 megapixel model with 12 megapixel interpolation, giving 35 meg files, almost as detailed as our Nikon slide scanner.

Like all digital products the camera takes some getting used to but the results have been quite pleasing. Later I'll do a more detailed review and make some comments about the accessories that are really necessary in this digital age.
Is film dead at focalplane.com? No. The F5 is still a great camera and slide film is an excellent medium.