Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sunday Snow

Sunday Snow

I woke up this morning to snow. Not a lot but enough to cover the streets early on a Sunday morning and make the sidewalks a little treacherous. The photo above was taken out the office window at 8:30 a.m. Yes, on a Sunday!

Calgary has an excellent system of First Floor bridges and corridors that link many of the downtown buildings. It's called the Plus 15 because it is approxiamtely 15 feet above street level. During the week it is a hive of activity with coffee shops, sandwich bars and so on serving the huge workforce (the building I am in has at least 1,200 workers). But at weekends it is a home for the homeless, assuming they escape the eye of the security guards (who, in some cases, may turn a blind eye). And not all of it is open, as I discovered just after I had woken up three homeless individuals asleep on the hard floor. Retracing my steps I ventured outside and carefully walked the six blocks from hotel to office. I met two other souls.

The temperature is officially -8ºC and it feels like -20ºC according to accuweather.com. It didn't seem that bad to me but I wasn't out in it for very long.

It continues to snow, very small flakes, a sort of frozen drizzle. The wind is starting to drift what has already fallen but I am sure the city will have their equipment out before too long - this isn't the UK, after all!

Winter is here!

So far my first week in Calgary has been most enjoyable with a lot of sunshine and pleasant temperatures. This is all changing fast. Tomorrow it will be -6ºC but will feel like -13ºC. And I have to walk about six blocks to get to work. Luckily I have enough warm clothing with me and, if I didn't, I know I can always buy more here!

They are also suggesting we may get some flurries of snow. Maybe.

Update: Flurry it did! Photos to follow. . . .

Canadian Pacific #29

Canadian Pacific #29 - HDR (2)

I've been working today (Saturday) and will be again tomorrow in order to meet deadlines. But all work and no play is no fun, so I took off mid-afternoon to photograph this fine preserved steam locomotive on 9th Avenue, downtown Calgary. First I stopped for a late lunch at an Irish pub as I hadn't eaten all day (Breakfast at 6:30 a.m.) as it was bloody cold and I needed some fuel! Then, feeling a lot warmer, I took a series of photos including this five exposure HDR image.

I am not at all sure I like this, but the reason for doing HDR was that the contrast between dark paint and bright sunlight was so great I knew it would help. In fact there is still too much dynamic range so I may go back and try some different settings.

Then I walked one block north and took this:

8th Avenue Conversation

We have admired this piece of street statuary for some time but this is the first time I have photographed it.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Blogger is Acting Up

I have finally found out that, although Blogger isn't working with Safari, it is running with Firefox. Numerous others are having the same problem but Google/Blogger seem unable to admit anything is wrong on their status blog. As several have commented, the worst thing about Blogger is that they never update the status page until they've solved the problem!

I am a bit worried about this (several years ago, pre-Google ownership) I lost my entire first round blog. So I think I will turn on DeepVacuum and at least download all my hard work over the past three years.

The Goat, or who is Sylvia? - a Review

Last night I had the opportunity to go to the theater in Calgary. Friends suggested joining them for a play. Not knowing what to expect, I signed up and bought a ticket. In retrospect the "not knowing what to expect" bit turned out to be the chance of the day not to be missed. Would I have so readily agreed to go had I known what the play was about? Probably, but then again, maybe not.

For the play was Edward Albee's 2002 prize winning The Goat, or who is Sylvia?.

Albee forces us to stretch the limits of our liberal ideals with a plot that includes bestiality, homosexuality and a hint of incest thrown in for good measure. On top of that, the cast includes what seems to be a perfectly functional family that isn't, a highly educated family that also uses its combined intelligence to hurl vectives around like china (and the china is thrown too).

In a nutshell - Very successful architect admits to his best friend that he is having an affair with a goat. Best friend writes a letter to the architect's wife revealing all. Architect's wife hits the roof in an intellectually driven desire to understand. Their gay son intervenes from time to time to add another dimension. The story ends as dramatically as it begins.

I found myself wanting to believe that the architect wasn't really goat f***ing (the play doesn't use asterisks) but that he was misunderstood. But the plot wouldn't let me take the easy road out of the situation and I began to realize, reluctantly, that the man was serious, worse, that he could see nothing wrong with his activities. Yet he was quite the critic when it came to his own son's homosexuality.

The wife/mother raises the atmosphere to screaming pitch with several crescendos that are accompanied by a lot of furniture tossing and china smashing. Her graphic description of how she feels about sharing her husband with a goat finally seemed to break down her husband's profession of innocent love. But she fled the house before he could attempt reconciliation.

The rest of the play, leading up to the finale, I will not reveal here. It would be unfair on any unsuspecting theater-goer to know the ending.

The acting was excellent, all four characters being well cast. The set and lighting were appropriate - a rather nice arts and crafts style room with the usual stained glass window treatments, etc. I will admit to being both affronted and entertained. Perhaps exactly what Albee intended?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

iTunes DRM "cracked"

This BBC article refers to a new program that will allow iTunes music to be played on other MP3 players than Apple's iPods. The article suggests this is something new. Nonsense.

OK, so you download music you purchased from iTunes onto your computer. What the rest of the world has been doing for quite a long time (?5 years) is to then back up the music onto a CD. Apple strongly suggests you do this, by the way! But if we burn the files as AIFF files, guess what, we not only create a CD with tracks that can be played on the car stereo (or any regular CD player) but we can also then load them into a non-iPod MP3 player.

This may not sound that easy but, given the fact that iTunes purchases should be backed up anyway, most of the effort is already expended.

The truth is, Apple's digital rights management (DRM) software, called Fairplay, is pretty inocuous in that up to five computers and iPods can be registered for use and CDs can be burned that allow free export of the songs. It really isn't so different from the days when we copied tracks off an album onto a cassette tape. The key, of course, is that the license on every record, tape, CD, DVD and download says the music is for our own personal use and not for dupication for profit.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Venezuelan Traffic

My second YouTube entry was filmed while driving in Maturin, Vanezuela. Well, I wasn't the driver! Anyway, the idea was to show how driving is in this interesting country of contrasts. People who are incredibly friendly outside their vehicles become maniacal when at the wheel of one. Except my driver, Luis. Things get really interesting after about 15 seconds. Enjoy!

Crossing the Congo

I made this short movie over a year ago. The "executive ferry" runs across the River Congo between Brazzaville (capital of the Republic of Congo) to Kinshasa (capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo). The cities are located at the lower end of Lake Stanley, just before the mighty river plunges through a series of rapids to the coast. All the ships, boats and barges you see are essentially confined to the upper reaches of the river.



This is my first effort using YouTube. The movie was made with my Fuji S7000 in movie mode. I made one other movie with this camera so, until I think about buying a digital movie camera, my repertoire will be limited.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Madonna and Guy Ritchie

I feel bound to comment on what has been going on during the past week or so. The press are, of course, making a mountain out of a molehill while all the "do-gooders" are squealing about human rights and "due process".

Madonna and her husband Guy Ritchie have applied for and won adoption rights to a 13 month old Malawi boy, David, whose mother died soon after childbirth. The boy's father has consented to the adoption on the grounds that he is incapable of providing a life for the child, having sent him to an orphanage.

The boy's future can only be brighter. So anyone who claims that he should stay in Malawi on "human rights" grounds is probably jealous. What may be more important, however, is that the Ritchies have brought the plight of African children to the forefront. If they can adopt a child, so can others. That may be a significant change for the better.

Too often the real problems in Africa are over-shadowed by glib statements from politicians and do-gooders. Earlier this year Gordon Brown, UK PM-in-waiting, made a quick visit to Africa to hand over a promise of billions of pounds of aid. He got a nice photo opportunity with Nelson Mandela in return. Bullshit. He wasn't even giving away his own money (though he probably considers it his!)

In Africa (where I spend quite a lot of my time) things are very different from Europe or the Americas. There is extreme poverty and often no hope of making things better. NGOs come and go, busying themselves with grandiose schemes, driving their white Landcruisers from one meeting to another. The UN sends ill-prepared peace-leeping soldiers who rape children in eastern D R Congo. Meanwhile, big business (you know, the people "they" like to blame for everything) quietly goes about its ways, providing jobs, building infrastructure, developing resources and so on. I see the impact of this on a first hand basis and it is just about the only aspect of positive change out there.

Now we have this very wealthy couple making a deal with a destitute father in Malawi in order to take care of one small child. Bravo, Mr. and Mrs. Ritchie, you have my unqualified support. May others follow in your footsteps.

Football/Soccer - on being a Bluenose

This may come as a surprise to many. I am a Bluenose, meaning, I support Birmingham City Football Club, a.k.a. the Blues.

The Blues (not to be confused with late comers Chelsea) were one of the founding members of the original football league in England, along with neighboring teams Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion. While those other two teams may have had a more illustrious past (and, in the case of Villa, a reasonable start to this season), I have always been a Bluenose, as supporters are called. Well, that's better than being a Villain or a Baggie!

At the moment the Blues aren't doing very well despite having aspirations to greatness as seen by the large amounts of money invested by the owners Gold brothers and David Sullivan. These characters have plenty of money but it does look like they know how to waste it as well as make it. The manager (or gaffer in soccer-speak) is ex-Manchester United defender Steve Bruce. Bruce may have been a great player but a great manager he ain't. There's a good chance he's going to get the sack later this week and I for one hope he does.

Why?

Well, if you analyze the truly great managers and coaches you will see that there is a not a strong correlation between managers and coaches who were legends at playing the game. In other words, there is a good chance that individual skills do not translate into management skills. This is true in many walks of life and in too many cases we see people promoted into management because of their skills only to fail when dealing with people. I consider Bruce to fit into this category. After every loss he takes the blame (as he should) but never seems to be able to deliver a response. As a result we've seen some truly great players go sideways, even backwards, to be sold at a loss after one miserable season. Part of that responsibility must rest with the owners but they basically buy the players the manager wants.

Across town at Villa Park there has been a revolution since the start of the season with Martin O'Neill taking the helm from David O'Leary. What a difference a true motivator can make with little injection of funds but a whole lot of cajoling and touchline support! That's what the Blues needs.

I am not sure who exactly is out there and available at this time but I bet the owners have already got someone lined up.

What I would most hope for is a manager who can inspire, who understands player psychology and can get the team playing together and above their own individual levels. That isn't impossible. Arsene Wenger has proved it at Arsenel while Alex Ferguson is another who seems able to make the most with what he has. And neither was ever a great player. Birmingham City needs a thinking man as a manager, preferably one who hasn't had an illustrous career with a famous team. Let's see what happens!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Who is "not compatible"?

I use Apple's Safari browser. Some website designers haven't heard of it which is surprising as it is either the third or fourth most used browser out there. But they probably think there's only Windows anyway! Sometimes they do understand that they have not supported other browsers than, say, Internet Exploder, and, having identified an alien browser, post this message:

Some features of this site won't work because your browser is not compatible. More...

Surely such designers have got it the wrong way round. The message should read:

Some features of this site won't work because our site is not compatible with your browser. We are working on this problem and will soon have a solution. Meantime, we ask that you consider the temporary use of E******r, even though that company ceased to support your operating system some time ago.

Cabinda

I recently spent a few days on a reconnaissance trip to Cabinda, a small enclave of Angola that supplies a lot of oil to the western world. I was actually there in order to try to cross into a remote part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) but never actually made the border crossing. But Cabinda is an interesting place so a few pictures have been posted to Flickr.

What comes across is that this country, which recently (~2002) ended a 30 year long civil war, has a long way to go to catch up. A major part of the problem has to be the large number of land mines that remain concealed around the country. Mine clearance is not something that seems to have a high priority and even the knowledge of where mines may be is not always remembered with candid honesty.

I traveled with an interesting character, Nick, who is a mine clearance expert. Much of the work involves talking to local people about where mine fields were established during the war. The mines are then either cleared or flagged. The latter does not appear to be a long term solution as the signs and tapes are often removed by villagers who may simply be ashamed that the mine fields still exist. Mine fields are not that common in Cabinda but of course it only takes one.

By design a typical land mine only maims, it does not kill. So it is no surprise to see a lot of people in Angola with injuries and the capital, Luanda, has many street beggars with missing limbs. There are fewer casualties visible in Cabinda so it is possible that there were fewer land mines laid here. Typical locations for mine fields include around a village meeting place (often a shade tree), along the fences around government installations and military bases, and at road junctions.

The challenge today is to get the economy back on its feet. Angola is a major oil producer offshore but there remains some potential onshore as well, so mine clearance is a priority, particularly when starting new exploration seismic surveys. Unlike in neighboring Congo (that's the old French Congo, not DRC) Cabinda shows little sign of prosperity despite the oil wealth. Farms and smallholdings seem to flourish in the Congo, I never saw a vegetable plot in Cabinda. Fish seem to be the only locally supplied foodstuff. In the countryside the wildlife has largely been hunted into extinction and the jungle can be eerily quiet with just a few birds audible in the trees. I was told that the locals will kill and eat "anything". We came across one party of undernourished hunters but they had nothing to show for a morning's work.

The locals often have a hard time understanding foreigners and their ways. One example is that, under Health and Safety rules, locals cannot be given lifts in company vehicles even though this is a time-honored way for villagers to hitch a ride to town. This does create a "them and us" mentality but even so the people are often more than friendly. At one small town we were feted with cold beer by the "mayor" and local military commander in a gesture of friendship that also carried the notion that jobs and other economic benefits were available should we start work in the area.

Cabinda seems to be neglected by just about everyone. The NGOs and charities that seem to be everywhere in Africa were missing. Schools have been built but many are not open as there are few teachers. Those that are making it in society have little respect for those who haven't (i.e. it's strange how drivers speed up through a village, just to show off their job, skills and new found position).

It will be interesting to see how quickly things change (or not). I was constantly reminded of an earlier entry about Africa.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

One Year of Flickr

I just renewed my annual membership and have the following statistics to report:

Photos uploaded: 2,512

Photostream Viewed: 25,317 views and rising

Number of Contacts: 62

Number of Groups (Pools): 97, of which I administer 5

Most Viewed Photo: 1,813 times

Washover Channel, Padre Island

(Note: I have no idea why this photo is so popular!)

Most Interesting Photo:

Southleigh Church, Devon

Most Commented Photo:

South Devon Coast HDR

Ali and Zoë

Congratulations to Ali and Zoë! On Saturday we witnessed and celebrated their Civil Partnership Signing Ceremony at the Richmond Hill Hotel in Richmond, Surrey.

Ali and Zoë

This lovely couple have been together for some time but this ceremony puts the seal on their relationship. In England, Civil Union for same sex partners was passed into law in December 2005. Here is a short paragraph from wikipedia.

We found the entire day absolutely wonderful! To see the families come together and support these two women in achieving their dreams and aims was very special.

Having lived within one of America's largest gay communities (Montrose, Houston) we understand the difficulties facing those who desire to "come out of the closet". Enclaves like Montrose exist because people feel more secure among their own kind. All too often gay teens find themselves ostracized and driven away from home. So it was really exciting to see so much family support.

I mentioned to Ali and Zoë that they have a role model in Houston who has risen through the political ranks of the city to become elected as City Controller - the second most important position after the Mayor. I worked with Annise Parker during the 1990s. In 1997 Annise ran for City Councillor At Large and came a distant second in the first poll. The candidate with the most votes did not have more than 50% so there was was a run-off. The well organized gay community turned out in strength and Annise romped home. Her election to Controller in 2003 was based simply on her positive record - by this time she had earned the respect of the community at large. As wikipedia mentions, she is a possible mayoral candidate in 2009. Imagine that, a lesbian mayor for America's fourth largest city, located deep in the Bible Belt!

And this is really the point of my digression. There is absolutely no doubt that Ali and Zoë are great people but they will be even greater for their openness and full expression of the love and caring they have for each other.


Ali, Zoë and Ali's closest family

Bravo!