Sunday, January 29, 2006

Update on Travelogues and Galleries

I have noticed that the few travelogues and galleries that are still unmodified have broken links. So I have unlinked them for the time being. And by looking at the lists you can now easily see which ones have been modified!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Berwyns

Were we lucky today! Earlier in the week we decided a day in the Welsh Mountains would be good. The weather report suggested Wales could be sunny on Saturday. And it was!

We headed for the Berwyns, a lesser known range of mountains that tends to be ignored by most visitors (particularly the "mountaineers") as they are considered to be rather tame. In fact they can be very wild, particularly if the clouds come down suddenly, for there is very little to identify where you are or might be.

But we had no clouds, as the Flickr set will show. A travelogue seems to be in order, particularly as there is very little information on the Berwyns on the web. But that may take a day or two!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Wiki needs your help!

We have found Wikipedia to be perhaps the most useful site on the internet. Information is surprisingly accurate and reliable. Please take a look at this personal appeal by Wikipedia's founder and consider making a contribution! In the US any gift you make is tax deductible.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

West Texas Gallery turns Black!

The Focalplane new look is slowly being applied throughout the site. Many of the travelogues have been modified, now it's the turn of the first of the galleries. I have kept the format very simple, opting for the pictures to speak for themselves. However, a mouse over any thumbnail will give a brief title. The images are stored on Flickr so the total amount of website code on the Focalplane server is less than 30 kilobytes.

Balti Triangle

An excellently upbeat article about Birmingham's Balti Triangle features in the Telegraph Online here.

One small error that has nothing to do with writing about cuisine. The area was not hit by a typhoon last summer - it was a tornado. There's a big difference bwteen the two!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

"Asia in the 1970s" Upgraded

I have been modifiying all the Focalplane content to match the new look and the latest to turn black is "Asia in the 1970s". I think this was the first full page of content I programmed and I am still quite pleased with it. The photos are all from the 1970s and some were in poor condition when scanned. Nonetheless, there are one or two of my all time favorites in the group, not the least of which is "Iban Elder". If you click here you will see it on a black background.

The travelogue reads well after several years but I do note a certain melancholia in the writing. And it's true. I really do not want to revisit some of the places mentioned as I feel sure I will be disappointed to see so much change. I did return to Singapore in the 1990s and was quite horrified at how little heritage had been preserved in the rush to modernise.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Fifth Spoke - Fotoblog

What is a Fotoblog? Well, it's not another gallery of pictures, we've got some of those. And it's not going to be full of scientific opinions. This spoke of the focalplane hub is to be devoted to things photographic, be they equipment, technique or what ever. As always, Google provide a good search option to find hidden "gems", so if it isn't a recent post, go search on the spoke!

Hatton Locks

The advantages of being a Flickr member! Another local photographer I "met" on the Birmingham Group lives in Leamington Spa and recently posted some fine shots taken on the "Stairway to Heaven" a.k.a. Hatton flight of locks on the Grand Union Canal.

Having never been there (but having driven past many times) we decided to take a Sunday morning walk up the canal tow path and, of course, take a few photos. The ones you will see here today were taken with the Fuji S7000 digital (instant gratification). The ones that will appear later will have been taken with the Nikon F5 (300mm f4 on the front end, Fuji Astia at the back), processed, scanned and finally uploaded. Don't hold your breath, it could take a week or two, particularly as my scanner is out on loan.

Anyway, here is a heavily photoshopped image of canal locks, just for the fun of it.

Hatton Locks

Monday, January 16, 2006

Apple v Dell - surprise!

Who would have thought that, on Friday 13th January, the value of Apple Computer, Inc. would exceed that of Dell Inc. But that is exactly what happened, as Steve Jobs has pointed out in an internal memo. To be precise, Apple's stock closed up at $85.59 for a value of $72.132 billion while Dell's stock closed down at $30.58 for a value of $71.971 billion. No guarantee that Apple will retain the lead but an interesting moment in history nonetheless.

The growth of Apple and collapse at Dell seem to be basically attributable to how much a company innovates. It also suggests that increasing market share is not necessarily a driver for increasing value on capital invested.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Nikon to discontinue 35mm! (Almost)

According to reports today, Nikon plans to cease production of all but the F6 and FM10 (top and bottom of its 35mm range) cameras and focus (pun) on digital from now on. Does this mean that film cameras will now become collector's items?

Comments on Flickr

Part of the photo sharing aspect of services like Flickr is that you get to comment and be commented on. A few years ago I was an avid supporter of but tired of the "same old same old" content and, to be honest, the often brutally offensive remarks that strangers made to each other from behind the screen of an internet connection. I used to wonder what they might say to each other if they should ever meet face to face!

Flickr has plenty of comments but, to be honest, they are too bland much of the time. It is nice to see people react with a positive, of that there is not doubt, but simple "Wow!" and "Ooh!" don't really cut the mustard if you are looking for constructive criticism. But then I guess most Flickr users are not looking for criticism, and too much negative criticism might turn would be photographers away from the medium.

Which is why I believe a comment should try to include a reason why the comment was made, not just a simple congratulatory grunt. And if you can't come up with a reason, then just click the "favorite" button!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Google Earth (Mac Version)

Today Google announced that the long-awaited version of Google Earth is in beta form for Mac OS X. I instantly downloaded the free version and it works fine. I had previously seen it working on a PC and was hoping that Google would deliver sooner rather than later. Sooner is never soon enough when all my Windoze friends are already boasting about it!

Some of the things you can do with Google Earth are quite simply fascinating. I am not writing about geographically contextual advertising here, by the way, though this is presumably why Google is offering the service. As a geologist the implications of visualizing the surface of the earth can be profound. The key to this is in the control buttons for tilting and rotating an image. For example, find a suitable piece of desert topography, zoom in, tilt and then rotate! Works best where there is high resolution imagery, of course. Here is an oblique view of the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park:

The computer requirements for Google Earth include the need to have OS X 10.4 installed but the other requirements are relatively universal if you have a Mac less than 4 years old.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Apple Keynote Day

Well, I haven't seen Steve Jobs' Keynote yet but the details of Apple's new announcements are on Apple's website. For the first time I can remember the stock market has moved favorably in time with the news of Apple's latest offerings. The stock (which had already been climbing in anticipation) rocketed up 7% but has since slipped to less than a 5% gain on the day with an hour of trading to go. Typically, Wall Street is none too fazed by Jobs' "reality distortion field" but excellent iPod sales over the holiday season seem to be behind their unbridled optimism. Good, is all I can say! Even though my PowerBook is now officially old and superceded by the MacBook Pro.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Focalplane Wheel

Well, the challenge has been accepted and I think I am 95% there. Think of Focalplane as a wheel. is the hub of the wheel, while various peripheral sites managed by Focalplane are the spokes. With the magic of FeedDigest, the wheel comes together, automatically aggregated and updated.

Bear with me on one small point - the font size of the blog feeds. I am working on it!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Google vs Microsoft - my strategy would be. . . .

. . . . to design Google projects for Linux and Mac OS X and then put out a statement that a version for Windows is "in the works". At the moment Google's strategy is the reverse. Google Earth is only Windows compatible, for example and the new video download service has a Mac version "coming soon".

Now, I fully understand that Microsoft Windows dominates the PC world, so we don't need to go there. But I seem to remember that Apple was the first OS to put a Google search bar into the basic browser design (when Safari came out), so Google could show a little bit of loyalty!

Friday, January 06, 2006


Pete has challenged me to get with the program and apply feeddigest to This would allow an aggregation of the latest posts and photos from the various spokes on the focalplane wheel to appear on the hub. He says it will only take about an hour. I am sure he's right but I think I should take another hard look at the home page design first. Besides, I have a decorating project this weekend.

Excuses, excuses!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

View Flickr images on a black background!

I have been wanting to be able to do this and now it's available. A third party site has created a neat "book marklet" which works a treat. If you're using Flickr, try it out!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Black is Good!

My focalplane weblogs look good with a black backgound, so the main site is going to get a new look. So far I have modified the three main pages. I am also thinking of changing out the pelican photo with something else but that can wait a while. The bigger problem will be modifying the large travelogues and galleries and here I am seriously thinking about storing all my images on Flickr, thus reducing the storage size of the focalplane site considerably. So I may as well re-vamp the layout of the travelogues and galleries. (The Jewellery Quarter Travelogue has been completed!)

As far as possible I am going to retain the structure of the site so that links will not be broken. That is, I believe, one of the golden rules of web design!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Possible new twist for 2006

Photographically I seem to have more equipment than the time to use it. There has been talk of replacing my Nikon F5 with a digital SLR but last night I woke up with a different idea. Why not start shooting black and white with the F5, develop the film myself and scan the negatives? The cost of doing this would be minimal, involving a new developing tank, chemicals and a thermometer. I would probably use both fine grained and high speed Ilford film, depending on the whim of the moment. It might just re-awaken my dormant interest in 35mm.

Happy New Year!!

A couple of days late, but I've neen busy on the railroad weblog!