Not That Kind of Router

I have to admit I’m struggling with this one. Usually I can find some kind of spin, some kind of humour, some way of making a very boring subject a little easier to read.

I think with this one I’m just going to have to put on my anorak and face facts: there’s nothing really interesting in this story. It is what it is, but it does have a mildly uplifting conclusion. At least I can tease you with that.

Many years ago I bought a cheap router; the kind that you use for machining grooves in wood, not the kind that hurls packets down the right network pipe. I was fitting out a room with a load of custom built cabinets and I figured if it lasted for just that job I’d not be too bothered.

It lasted a bit longer than just that job, about a decade longer.

A few days ago however it had a problem. I was cutting a chamfer on a roof panel when the motor suddenly slowed and there was a fireworks display in the top.

“It’s done well” I thought to myself and started looking at the price of half decent routers. Ouch!

I’d just assumed that there’d be no way to fix a cheap router like that. There’d be no way to get the parts! Nevertheless I popped the top off and had a look and to my surprise I found that the brush assemblies just slid out and that the brushes themselves were easily replaceable.

A quick visit to Ebay later…

Then it was just a case of slotting them into the housings. In the picture beneath the right one’s done, the left is the old, worn out one.

Then popping them back where they should be.

The exciting moral of the story is not to assume that you’re going to have to throw something away just because it’s developed a fault. The Internet – and in particular ebay – has given us access to millions of parts for all sorts of things. It’s always worth looking.

Primordial Radio Data Usage

The question of how much data allowance Primordial Radio uses has been asked a few times.

The simple answer is about 30 megabytes per hour, which means 1Gb of data will last you about 33 hours.

If you’re interested, the not so simple answer goes as follows.

Primordial are cunning, they use a 63KBit AAC stream. The bit rate is, quite literally, how much data per second the stream uses. The higher the bit rate, the higher the quality of audio that can be squeezed in. It’s a trade-off between data and quality. But there’s another factor – the technique used to encode the audio.

If Primordial used a 63Kbit MP3 stream it would sound dismal, because MP3 is actually a pretty old and inefficient audio encoding technique. Because they use AAC, they can get away with a much lower bit rate, which keeps the amount of data you need to use to listen to Primordial low and the quality acceptable.

BBC Radio 3, in comparison, have a 320Kbit AAC stream (amongst others). You can get your Classical Music fix in super-high quality, but it will munch 150 megabytes per hour.

Now, the relationship between the bit rate and the amount of data it uses isn’t entirely straightforward. In data transmission we tend to talk about bits per second and when we talk about data allowances they’re in bytes, or more likely Gigabytes.

Your broadband connection, for instance, is almost certainly specified in Megabits per second. Long story short, the reason is that the bit is the smallest thing that can be sent, so it’s most accurate to talk about the speed of a connection as bits per second.

A byte is almost always 8 bits, but some types of communication use extra bits to regulate the transmission, so it’s not always a straight 8 from bits per second to bytes. It’s close enough for a ready-reckoner though:

63 / 8 = 8 (roughly)

We need 8 kilobytes of data for one second of audio. We can then easily multiply that up.

8 *60 = 480Kbytes per minute

480 * 60 = 28800Kbytes per hour

A megabyte is 1024 kilobytes, so:

28800 / 1024 = 28Mbytes (per hour)

This, however, is always going to be optimistically low. Firstly there is the problem of the envelope. Data over The Internet is sent in billions of packets. You can think of each packet like a… um… packet. You can’t just lob a bottle of Hendricks in the postbox and expect it to get anything other than drunk by the postie. You need to wrap it up in something, put an address on it and pay postage if you want someone to actually receive it. There are similar overheads on the The Internet.

There are various different systems in use, often there are several layers of content and packets. This means that there is a lot more traffic on The Internet than just the useful data.

There is also the problem of packet loss. A small amount of data on The Internet just disappears. This is actually expected, it was designed that way because it’s easier and more resilient. What it does mean however is that a small amount of data has to be sent twice.

You can pretty much account for all this by simply adding a fudge factor. 20% is usually considered a safe margin. If we take our theoretical figure from earlier:

28 * 1.2 = 33.6MBytes per hour.

This, of course, is an estimate based on a bit of theory and some practical experience. If you don’t trust these kinds of calculations, you could just look at the speed on your router’s data rate table.

If you wanted a bit more accuracy though, you could listen to Primordial for, say, 1/4 hour, record the amount of data every packet contained and the overall length of the packet, then add them all up.

You’d have to be a right geek to do that though.

The total data received was 8150537 bytes, of which 7247617 was useful content. Those can pretty easily be multiplied up to an hour:

Total audio and related data: 27.65 megabytes per hour.

Total data exchanged: 31.1 megabytes per hour.

Naturally I can’t guarantee these figures absolutely. They’re over Wi-Fi rather than a mobile network and there will be differences. There will also be differences between different networks and even different times of day as The Internet itself changes and adapts to the traffic.

What I can say is that they should be somewhere near, within a few percent.

The Healthy Business Traveller’s Survival Guide

Disappointing hotel room

Tonight’s bed is in a characterless chain hotel just off the M1. Like every business hotel, the bar is stuffed full of regretful corporate peons in cheap suits. It’s a club that’s far too easy to join. At first you’re only away for the odd night, so it doesn’t matter if you have a burger and a couple of pints.

It creeps up on you though, a few nights here and a few nights there and suddenly you buy and Audi A4, can’t see your feet when you’re standing up and find yourself discussing house prices with a Regional Business Development Manager from Nuneaton.

“It’s really hard to keep up the diet when you’re on the road” I hear time and time again from the person loading their plate with fried sausages and hash browns. They look down at the bowl of muesli and fruit I’m holding then briefly catch my eye again before they awkwardly shuffle off to join a table of 3 others, all with plates piled high, all wearing the same expression.

It’s not about the diet though, it’s about the choice of lifestyle: they’ve subscribed to the road warrior lifestyle; “You’ve got to play the game, Tom, you’ve got to play the game” one of them once told me. He never could tell me why.

You can join that world if you want to. It’s kind of cool for a while, but it starts getting old very, very quickly. You don’t have to join that world. You don’t have to play that game.

Here then are my tips for not getting sucked into that cycle of drudgery.

Eliminate Unnecessary Travel


Rule 1: if you don’t need to travel, don’t travel.

The face-to-face meeting is still the default for an awful lot of people. If there’s any doubt about anything then they want to get all the people in a room and talk about it. It’s a reflex, often no more than arse-covering, but it often results in a lot of people wasting a lot of time.

Of course there are occasions when it’s the right thing to do and it’s right that you should be there. Otherwise however it’s better for both you and the business if they conference you in only for the bit where you’re actually needed.

The key point is that travel is often not the most efficient use of business resources, it’s just an assumption that you – or someone – should go. Question that: if it’s not the best use of resources put the case for why.

Choose The Right Hotel

There are many employers that give you some flexibility about the hotel you book. In which case always book a hotel with a free gym and free breakfast.

Being away on business is a good opportunity to visit the gym. Not only that but being away from home is stressful and exercise is proven to combat stress and anxiety. Remember to pack your gym kit though eh? And a water bottle is useful too.

In the morning, always choose the healthy breakfast option. Start how you mean to go on. This is where the free breakfast comes in: many hotel chains lower their room rate but don’t include breakfast, You book them thinking you’re getting a bargain and then find they’re charging £18 for breakfast. Even though you’re not paying, the idea of shelling out 18 notes for a bowl of muesli and banana irks, so if you’re not careful you head for the buffet and have a Full English.

Don’t do it. Book the more expensive hotel and have the muesli and banana.

Whilst we’re on the subject of hotels, pay attention to the distance the hotel is from the place you’re visiting. The cost to the business of having you stuck in traffic for an hour is £50 as an absolute minimum. It could be many times that. Saving £10 to spend and extra 1/2 hour in traffic isn’t worth it. I’ve justified trampling on various hotel booking policies many times this way.

Supermarkets Are Your Friends

Get control of your food. Buffet lunches these days are better than they used to be, but be careful. Work out how much you usually eat for lunch and don’t got over that. If it feels socially awkward not to have food, grab a glass of water.

Similarly if there’s a canteen, don’t get sucked into having 2 main meals that day.

If lunch isn’t laid on, make sure you bring some. Otherwise it’ll end up with someone doing a run to Joe’s cafe at 2pm for a large sausage and meatball butty.

There are some pretty good petrol stations these days with mini supermarkets in. They often have good healthy meal options. Either make your own lunch or buy your lunch in advance.

Keep some travel cutlery into your day bag. That vastly increases the amount of food you can eat.

When it comes to dinner, some hotels have good options and if you’re staying in an urban centre there can be good options there, too.

Otherwise buy some cold food from – you’ve guessed it – a supermarket. Then you can make sure that you have a balanced intake with the right amount of calories.
If you’re really inventive there are actually quite a few cooking options in a hotel room, you can do a lot more than Pot Noodle.

Don’t forget drink. I don’t usually drink as much liquid when I’m away, so I’ll buy at least a litre of flavoured water per night.

Whilst we’re here, stay away from the extra-large chai latte, from fizzy drinks and especially from energy drinks. This isn’t just a travel tip, it’s a life tip. They put you on a roller-coaster that you really don’t need to be on.

Plan Your Evenings

You’re in a disappointing room near a disappointing town in a disappointing hotel commanding disappointing views of a disappointing motorway. This is a really good time to sort out your car insurance and catch up on a couple of episodes of that TV series that you love but which your partner hates.

This requires forethought however. You need (copies of) the documents or access to them online.

Never rely on hotel WiFi. Sometimes it works brilliantly, other times you can barely get to Google. Make sure you have anything you want to watch or any substantial document on a device you have with you.

Pack a HDMI cable if you carry a laptop. Most hotel TVs have a HDMI input that you can use, whether they advertise it or not.

If you rely on a mobile device then pack a Chromecast or similar, you can put it into guest mode and stream to the room’s TV.

Plan Driving Breaks

Live traffic Sat-Navs and automated reminder services are pretty good at estimating how long it will take you to get somewhere. That time doesn’t include breaks. Driving requires concentration and that means you need breaks. It’s is, quite literally, for your health and safety.

Don’t mess with your meal times too much and, especially, never miss a meal. If you usually eat at 12:30 then try to make a break fit in around that time and have a bite. Again, stay away from burger chains and greasy spoons. There are plenty of healthy, tasty food options in service stations these days.

Keep a Travel Bag

One of the really annoying things about travelling is the continual packing. It helps if you have a spare set of toiletries in a bag that you can just throw in and know that you don’t have to worry about deodorant, toothbrush, etc.

It’s not just toiletries either, there are a few other things:

Buy a warm high-vis jacket and keep it in the boot. Your car is lovely and warm when it’s working, but the engine management unit has a problem with its lifestyle it can get very cold very quickly. A warm hi-vis jacket kills 2 birds with 1 stone. I got mine – and in fact most of my safety equipment – from Arco (and no, they’re not a sponsor).

Include a USB extension cable. These are surprisingly useful, not in the least because hotels have a funny habit of putting the electrical sockets as far away from the bed as possible. Your phone however you generally want to both charge and use as an alarm.

A mobile phone power bank is another good investment. You might think you’ll be near a socket all day and all night, but if you get stuck in meetings then get a particularly unfortunate room, it can get dicey.

Finally, Look After Yourself

Above all remember that you and your health are the most important things. Don’t compromise that. You don’t have to get sucked into the business travel lifestyle.

It is a profoundly unhealthy lifestyle and this is worth remembering not just for your own sake but for that of your employer. There’s a reason many employers offer private health schemes, gym memberships and other health related benefits. It’s an investment on their part, because healthy people work more effectively and more efficiently.

It’s good business sense for your employer to let – even encourage – you to keep yourself healthy.

Moreover it’s an investment by you. You only have one life and if you compromise your health now you will pay for it later, financially, physically and emotionally. When it comes down to it, it’s as simple as that.

I’m Pulling the Social Media Plug

In the words of a certain radio station, “Social media can be a force for good, but it can also be a giant pain in the arse.”

When I wrote that First Class Post was the most rapid form of communication of which I approved I was only half joking. I recently spent two weeks in India. Rather than deal with the expense of roaming or hassle of a local SIM I just turned mobile data off. It was a surprisingly liberating experience.

It’s not like I dropped off The Internet completely: there’s free WiFi in most hotels and a few restaurants. What I found though was that having Internet access time-boxed had a far greater effect on the way I lived my life than I could ever have imagined.

I’ve spent pretty much my entire career in communications, most of it trying to improve the connectivity and communication technology used by the emergency services. I’d always kind of assumed that more connectivity and more flexible communications were a good thing.

It’s true – the increased ability to communicate can benefit us very greatly. For instance, we’re now talking about the ability for members of the public to stream video directly into an emergency service control room. That information could be hugely useful to the call-taker, in informing the member of the public, in informing the crews being sent to the scene and also providing an evidence trail for any followup action.

On the flip side however, as I’m sure you can imagine, the ability to stream video from a remote location to another, particularly via an end-to-end encrypted channel, facilitates some of the most appalling people in existence.

To a lesser extent the same is true of social media. It enables us to keep in contact with people that we would otherwise naturally lose touch with, but it also throws up conflicts that we would never otherwise have. On top of this the social media companies themselves aren’t making money unless you’re using them. They make every effort to ensure that their platform invades your life as much as possible.

Over the past year or so I’ve become utterly frustrated with this: I’ve disabled all notifications from every social media app on my phone. What India taught me however is that this isn’t enough. If I really want to take back control from social media, I have to remove myself from the social media environment and only step back into it on my terms.

Social Media is not a new thing, it existed back in the dial-up days. The difference was that to be online you had to make a phone call, and the costs could mount up if you weren’t careful. You had to set limits, for purely financial reasons (especially if you were on a trainee’s wage).

So I’m setting usage limits again.

Just before we left for India, my partner and I were in a restaurant and the couple next to us spent the entire meal on their phones. They barely talked to each other. The first rule therefore is:

No phones at the dinner table, wherever that dinner table is: in the house; in a restaurant; a picnic table in a field; etc.

If I’m out and about doing jobs or visiting people, the chances of me needing to call someone are fairly high, but the chances of me needing a smartphone are fairly low. The second rule:

Unless there is a clear reason to take the smart phone out, take the dumb phone [see above photo].

The penultimate rule I call the “Soap Opera Rule”. In many ways Social Media is like a Soap Opera, the two differences are that it deals with real people and that it’s constant, it doesn’t come in half hour chunks 3 times a week. The former is somewhat the point of Social Media. The latter is something that you have to manage and it helps if you think of it more like a Soap Opera:

Set clear daily usage limits and don’t exceed them.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule. When we’re talking about usage limits we have to consider what the purpose of usage is. If you’re organising a family meal via WhatsApp that’s not the same as reading your Twitter timeline.

The key here is be sensible and maintain perspective.

The last rule is the simplest of them all:

Talk to people.

Social media is no way to conduct a friendship. Sure, it’s a great way to allow you to find people with common interests and to keep touch with people who you would otherwise lose touch with. Those people aren’t your friends (although they may have been or may become so). Ultimately, friends are not people you broadcast status updates to. Friends are the people you have a conversation with when you have news.

So call them, invite them round for tea, go to lunch with them, go watch a film with them but interact with them directly and personally, not via timelines and group chats.

From now on I’m going to be following these rules. In reality you probably won’t notice any difference, but I think it’s going to make a big difference to me and I hope these words make a difference to other people.

Remember that it’s in the interests of the Social Media companies to create a society where it’s socially unacceptable not to be glued to your phone. Don’t sign your life over to them: take back control and always, always be true to yourself.

Poppies

A few years ago I took the very deliberate decision to stop wearing a remembrance poppy, because I actually believe in remembrance.

Take a look around social media in the few days around November 11th and you’ll see an awful lot of messages simply thanking military personnel for their service.

That is only half the message of remembrance. Not only that but without the other half it’s a dangerous message because it’s easily corrupted.

We sleep-walked into the First World War. The warning signs were there years before. They were noticed, alarm bells were rung, governments were advised: “unless we change course,” they were told, “there will be war”. The warnings were ignored and there was the most terrible war the world had ever seen.

The economic and social devastation of the First World War pretty much guaranteed the subsequent rise of populism, particularly in the hardest hit countries. That does not however mean that the rise of the Nazi Party was inevitable. They could and should have been stopped.

Martin Niemöller’s seminal “First They Came” highlights just one thing – that it was within the power of ordinary people to stop it. However we stood aside and did nothing and by doing so damned a whole generation.

Tens of millions died in two catastrophic wars, both of which were entirely avoidable.

For me that has always been the meaning of the phrase “Lest we forget…” We must remember the senseless waste of two generations. We must never again sleep-walk, or let ourselves be led as lambs into another unnecessary war.

If you want that put in transparent, soul-piercing clarity Siegfried Sassoon was there:

AFTERMATH

Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked awhile at the crossing of city ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same,—and War’s a bloody game….
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz,—
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench,—
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack,—
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads,—those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the Spring that you’ll never forget.

Make no mistake, I am not a pacifist. There are times where war is the only practical solution. And of course I support The Royal British Legion and Help For Heroes, of course I have enormous respect for those who are prepared to lay down their lives to defend the free way of life.

There is a very important distinction however between the individuals who serve and those who would lead us into war. The latter, we must reflect, is substantially our fault: in a democracy we are the ones that set the agenda.

In remembrance it is therefore not sufficient simply to thank those who have given military service. We must take time to reflect on why their service – and in many cases sacrifice – was needed. We must reflect on our failure as the people of the United Kingdom, the people of Europe, to prevent two devastating wars and numerous conflicts since.

Moreover those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We can see, very clearly, where the mistakes that led to each war, each conflict were made. It is imperative that we learn those lessons.

Currently some of The Poppy’s most ardent supporters are far right groups. Far from being reflective and contemplative on the horrors of war, these groups delight in militaristic imagery and seek to glorify military conflict.

They even use The Poppy and the concept of remembrance to try to shut down their critics, “Your grandfathers!” they scream, “Your grandfathers didn’t give their lives so that…”

Economic stagnation breeds populism. Austerity breeds populism. Populism inevitably veers either toward communism or fascism. These are delicate times and we, those of us who are sufficiently well informed to understand this, have a duty to try to steer our countries away from those extremes.

This is why I don’t wear a poppy: because I believe that it is not an effective means of communicating how I feel about remembrance. Because most people just pin the badge on because they think they ought to without really understanding it. Because that lack of understanding is easily corrupted into support for very people that Remembrance was designed to condemn. Because I’m scared that as the generation that fought the Second World war dies out, the memory how of terrible, how devastating it was and why we must never allow history to repeat itself will die too.

Because I’m scared that we will wear The Poppy and tell ourselves that we have not forgotten when in truth we have.

Stop! Thief!

“That image looks awfully familiar” I found myself thinking when reading an article on vinyl record run-out groove etchings. Then it clicked, it was one of my images, reproduced in someone else’s article without my permission and with no recognition that it was my image.

Image of Vinyl Factory 29 Dec 2017

I’m not a professional photographer, it’s true I do know which end of a camera is the sharp one, but trying to make money out of photos is just more hassle than it would be worth to me. Consequently I’m quite happy for my images to be reused for non-commercial purposes provided that I’m given due credit.

What I do mind however is when my images get re-used on commercial, for profit sites without even so much as an acknowledgement. Even on commercial sites it’s really not worth me pursuing them for revenue (although I reserve the right to do so), what I mind is the fact that it’s downright rude not to credit the original artist.

There’s really no excuse for this – even if someone found the image on a different site a Google reverse image search will very quickly identify its origin. Consequently I have no hesitation in naming and shaming places where I’ve found my images used without my permission and without any recognition.

Original Article Rip Off
A Porky Prime Cut Vinyl Factory
And Twitter
A Porky Prime Cut Two Good Ears
A Porky Prime Cut jack.canalplus.fr
IP Webcam MSN / Auntie Acid
(image and factual content)
IP Webcam Auntie Acid
(image and factual content)
IP Webcam estisuperba.ro

And again (different article)

IP Webcam smalljoys.tv
Goodwood Cobra (racing) conboy.us
Goodwood Cobra (crash) conboy.us
Goodwood Cobra (crash) armeniabirding.info
Goodwood Jaguar D Type (racing) 165.227.181.117
Goodwood Jaguar D Type (rear) 165.227.181.117
Grand Rosela Hotel, adelynndesign.us

The Jet Set

I really genuinely hate air travel. I will do pretty much anything I can to avoid it. I’ve taken a 16 hour train journey from Suffolk to Barcelona to avoid a 3 hour flight. It’s not that I’m afraid of flying, there’s just something about the whole experience that I find fundamentally unpleasant.

South Africa however is a bit of a trek. Personally I’m completely up for a McGregor/Boorman type epic, but there are certain logistical problems. Mainly not having anything like the spare cash that Ewan McGregor has. Or time. He does seem to have a lot of spare time.

Consequently I’m currently sat on a plane and I’ve been here a while…

There’s never anything on the entertainment system that I want to watch. I have no idea why. It could have my favourite show on there and I still wouldn’t want to watch it. I’ve gone through it all, pawed the duty free catalogue, scanned the in flight magazine and read the safety instructions twice. It’s half past midnight and I am still quite unreasonably awake. It’s at times like this when I conclude that it’s a good idea to listen to Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother.

I’m almost coming to terms with “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” when I suddenly become aware of something plasticky in front of me. I’m just about to “put it over my mouth and breathe normally” when my nose informs me that it’s curry. I conclude that I could in fact eat, not because I’m hungry but because I’m bored and I’m hoping that redirecting some of the blood supply from brain to stomach might help me at least doze.

To this end I order wine too, “Cabernet Sauvingon?”, I enquire. “No, but we’ve got Sauvingon Blanc”, comes the reply. “No thanks,” I interject, “Cabernet Sauvignon is a red” but it’s too late and an open mini bottle of white wine lands on my tray table. I note that is a Marlborough and decide that it’s better the devil you know.

Nevertheless my plan works and half an hour later I’m in the land of nod.

I awake to the rather uncomfortable realisation that I ordered Asian Vegetarian food on this flight. I usually do because it seems more difficult for airlines to murder curry then it does any other type of food. Unfortunately breakfasts can get interesting as I’m about to find out when I’m served bland, generic cheese, coleslaw and sort of bread that tastes like dehydrated semolina pudding.

On the bright side I conclude that breakfast service must mean that I got a good few hours sleep and that there can’t be that much time left on the clock. I don’t dare look however.

I fire up my music player and decide to give the Amaranthe album I curiously downloaded on Spotify a listen. The first track is good, but I very quickly conclude that although Euphoric Dance / Death Metal crossover might sound like an interesting and challenging concept, right here, right now it’s just very, very annoying.

Thankfully the entertainment system has some Chopin and my eyelids are starting to feel heavy again.

There’s an eerie silence when I wake and another strong smell of curry. Chopin has finished and my noise cancelling headphones are busy cancelling out the drone of 4 enormous GP7000 series jet engines.

I lift the lid on the tray in front of me: the airline chefs have surpassed themselves this time and reached a whole new level of achievement. Somehow they have managed to screw up a paneer curry.

Fortunately there are enough other dishes to make a meal. There’s even some spare cheese, just in case cheese in lightly spiced cream sauce wasn’t enough dairy for one meal.

By the time I’ve obtained a cup of tea I’m feeling brave. I’ve had two good sleeps and three bad meals. We must be nearly there, right?

3 hours to go. There’s nothing out the window but cloud. The aircraft cameras are showing nothing but cloud.

Now all we need is some… whoa! Where’s the floor gone? Is that kind of jolt within the tolerances this plane was designed for? “A bit bumpy”, why yes Captain I think we’ve all noticed that. There was a small hint in that if I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt I’d be sitting in the overhead locker right now.
I then spend the next few moments marvelling at how, firstly, relatively minor atmospheric conditions can hurl a 500 tonne plane about like a piece of confetti and secondly what a superb piece of engineering it is that a 500 tonne plane can be hurled around like a piece of confetti without the wings falling off.
Now however the baby is screaming and the bloke next to me is pale as a ghost and clinging on to the arm rest for grim death.

I try to think of some words that might be of comfort to him, but everything I can think of either makes me sound like a smug git or contains the word “plummet”. I do however make a note to stop jokingly referring to our destination – a well known London airport – as “Splatwick”.

Still more than 2 hours to go but on the positive side, I’m starting to wonder if there’s some mileage in trying to write a blog article about why I hate flying so much…

Tanya And Tom Do Racing

I have been known to point a camera at a thing – quite often that thing is a racing car. I do it as my own personal challenge but other people seem to like the results, which is one of the reasons behind the TanyaAndTomDoRacing Instagram account.

I do find however that I get asked two questions quite a lot and as Instagram isn’t really the place for a FAQ…

You Must Have Some Really Good Kit?

The direct answer is no, I don’t. In fact this is a pet peeve of mine, not just in photography but in many hobbies.

If you have a good eye, enough knowledge, skill and technique then any entry level major brand Digital SLR camera and many bridge cameras are perfectly capable of taking very good photos – in many cases professional quality photos.

The key about a Digital SLR camera is that it puts control of the optics and the sensor into the hands of the operator, allowing the photographer to make artistic decisions about how the light is captured.

This is one of my favourite (but not technically best) photos, taken at Goodwood Revival in 2015.

It was taken with a Nikon D3000 and a Nikkor AF-S 55-300 F4.5-5.6 D G VR DX lens: entry level kit. What makes the photo is the framing, the choice of subject, the angle to get the reflected sun, the 1/25 shutter speed and a big chunk of luck with the panning.

You can’t compensate for deficiencies in any of those things by throwing more money at it.

Yes, I would have liked a higher resolution sensor and in an ideal world I would probably have used a lower ISO value and larger aperture but I could easily pay 10 times as much for kit to get a photo that is only marginally better.

Digital SLRs are not supposed to be smart, they’re not about image processing and fancy modes to try to make something out of nothing, they’re all about controlling how the light falls on the sensor. There’s only so much that clever electronics and software can help and the best of that is often found not in SLRs – where it might actually degrade the photographic quality – but in compact cameras.

Here’s a case in point:

I like this photo, but it’s not one of my favourites. Taking the standard sharp foreground, blurred background photo is like shooting fish with a Digital SLR.

This photo wasn’t taken with a Digital SLR though, it was taken with a Sony DSC-HX50, a £200 compact camera.

It’s possibly my favourite ever camera, simply because of the amount of power it puts in a genuinely pocket sized piece of equipment.

It does have modes to put optical control in the hands of the user (as seen above), but what you can do is limited – mostly by the physical size of the device. To compensate for the fact that there simply isn’t room for better optics it’s stuffed full of electronics and software.

This shot, for instance, was taken hand-held at a beach cafe somewhere in Indonesia using all the electronic aides available (and needing them).

In an ideal world I would have had a Digital SLR mounted on a tripod and I could have taken a slightly better picture. In an ideal world the person in the picture would be a model who wouldn’t have moved.

The problem is that the person in the picture isn’t a model, she was one of the tour group and I couldn’t really ask her to hang about whilst I set a tripod up or stay still whilst I took the photo. The moment was there, I was able to capture it specifically because I had a compact camera with a night mode that I could select in a second.

The bottom line is this: you can take really good pictures with a sub-£100 camera. The problem is that the capabilities of that camera will be limited, which will limit where, when and the type of picture you can take.

If you spend a bit more, around the £200-£300 bracket you can get cameras that are far more capable and put a good amount of control in the hands of the photographer.

Above that you hit the wall of diminishing returns pretty hard. Between £100 and £200 there’s a huge jump in capability and quality. Between £200 and £300 less so. When you get above that then you can find yourself paying an awful lot of money for very little improvement and you have to ask yourself whether it’s really worth the money.

If you’re thinking of turning professional or if you spend every waking, non-working moment dreaming about photography then fine, maybe it is. For most of us it’s not.

But You Should Sell Your Photos / Turn Professional!

I’m flattered, sincerely and genuinely that some people think my photos are good enough to make money out of, but the reality is that they aren’t.

OK, some of them are and course if people want to pay me to use / print them then we can talk about that… the point is that it’s not worth me actively pursuing trying to sell them.

As I said above, taking the standard “sharp foreground, blurred background” racing car photo is shooting fish in a barrel with a Digital SLR – anyone with any understanding of the principles of photography can do it.

It used to be difficult because with (wet) film you had no idea how good the photo was until you developed it. You can’t do that at the track-side. That means you needed a lot of experience to know exactly what settings and techniques were required because you were shooting blind.

With a Digital SLR you can press the shutter and have the image on a HD tablet within a couple of seconds. You can closely analyse the picture, work out what needs changing and then go again with an improved set up within a few seconds.

At any Formula 1 Grand Prix there must be at least a thousand people doing pretty much that and a good portion of them will be producing shots as good as mine or better. There are only a handful of places you could sell the pictures to and they’re all looking for something that is not just technically good, but has something extra that makes it stand out.

Perhaps something like the first picture in this article, but with a little more sharpness on the helmet and without the smear in the bottom left caused by the head of some bloke who wandered into shot.

I have thousands of photos in and around race tracks and other motorsport events. I have only a handful of photos that I genuinely believe anyone would pay money for.

If you want some idea of the differences then look at the Instagram streams of the professionals:

James Moy @f1photographer
Lollipop Magazine
(Joshua Paul)
@lollipopmagazine (my favourite)
Peter J Fox @peterjfoxy
Sutton Images @suttonimages
Darren Heath @darrenheathphotographer
McLaren @mclaren
Ferrari @scuderiaferrari
Williams @williamsmartiniracing
Red Bull @redbullracing
Toro Rosso @officialtororosso
Force India @forceindiaf1
Renault @renaultsportf1
Sauber @sauberf1team
Haas @haasf1team
Mercedes @mercedesamgf1
Prema @prema_team
Racing Engineering @racingengineering
Russian Time @teamrussiantime
ART @artgp_official
DAMS @damsracing
Campos @camposracing
Trident @trident_team
Rapax @rapaxteam
Arden @ardenmotorsport

 

 

My Favourite Little Friend

Lily Asleep in the garden

[originally written February 9th 2017]

You know before you step out the door. You’re going to the rescue centre, there will be something small and cute there and you will fall in love. You might tell yourself that you’re just going to look, but you’re not. You’re going there because you want to fall in love, you want to share your life.

You also know that one day it will end. The dog that jumps up to greet you after a hard day’s work that somehow makes it all better. The cat that sits and curls up on your lap and just purrs gently when everything seems lost. One day they will die. You know this, but when you’re stood in the rescue centre trying to work out a way of leaving without promising to take all of the animals you don’t accept it. You’re choosing a new life companion and in your head that companionship will last forever.

You know however as time passes that the day it must end is coming closer. When my cat Lily was about 14 I saw her laying motionless on my lawn. I found myself thinking that if she’d passed away I wouldn’t be so upset. 14 is a good age, she’d led a good life and right up until that day she’d been scampering round like a kitten. Yes, this was a good way to die, to find a sunny spot on the lawn on that warm spring day, to curl up and drift off into the big sleep just as she’d drifted off into any other sleep.

I crept closer to see if I could spot any sign of life. As my shadow fell over her I heard the faintest “mip” and she rearranged her paws. She was fine, just far more deeply asleep than usual.

I smiled and carried on walking, but that image stayed in my mind. If that’s how it happened, if one day I just found her curled up having just gone to sleep never to wake up, that would be OK.

Barring a miracle, that is not how it’s going to happen.

Looking back she wasn’t quite right this summer. We used to lose her in the summer, she  rarely came into the house. She’d be out prowling or sleeping either in the garden or in the nearby fields. She’d get sun-bleached, by late August she’d not be a black and white cat, more of a sort of brown stripy cat, not that we really had a cat you understand – she was nature’s child, wild and free.

This summer she spent a lot more time with us. We just put it down to old age and maybe not being as sprightly as she once was. As Autumn became winter however we noticed that she was losing weight fast. We tried a few different foods but none of them seemed to make a difference so we took her to the vet.

Initially all seemed fairly bright, there can be any number of reasons for older cats losing weight and many of them are treatable. As time progressed however there were more test results and we noticed more symptoms and the field of diagnosis narrowed. Sadly it was the benign things that were being eliminated. We’re now in a world where all probability points to her being terminally ill. We’re still not quite sure what the root cause is, but the weight of evidence points in that direction.

I hope that she isn’t in too much pain. Right now she doesn’t seem like she’s in too much pain so I still have that dream, that I walk out into the garden on a warm spring day to find her curled up in the sun, having shuffled off this mortal coil in the gentlest of sun and lightest of breeze.

The reality however is far more brutal. At some point she will be in pain. At some point the pain will be too much. At some point it will be better for my Lily, my dearest companion of the past 16 years if she were no longer here.

And I’m sat here now with tears streaming down my face as she walks all over the keyboard and rubs her cheek against mine.

At some point I will have to kill her.

I am terrified.


I wrote this post a few months ago and I didn’t publish it because at that time I thought it was – well – just too sad. It felt like I was writing her obituary long before she had died.

A few days ago Lily came to see me whilst I was asleep, she curled up and went to sleep next to me. For the first time I can remember when I woke she was still there. I dearly hoped that’s what I’d be able to tell you, that she’d died whilst peacefully asleep next to me. Sadly, as I predicted, that’s not how it was.

She had a brief spell where she seemed to recover a bit, but it soon became clear that it was temporary. She continued to become evermore frail. Over the past 2 weeks however it started to become noticeable that she wasn’t moving or even standing in the same way she used to. Her life seemed to consist of long periods of sitting on her favourite rug staring into space, going to the food bowl, going to the litter tray and coming to us for affection and comfort.

Reluctantly we concluded that by continuing to feed and care for her we were extending her life beyond its natural limit. As it was now clear that she was in pain we decided that to continue to care for her without there being a dramatic medical intervention was unethical.

We visited the vets last Friday and we were not able to come up with any medical solution that would have any reasonable prospect of giving her any further valuable life. We therefore took the decision to end her life in the most peaceful way possible.

We buried her in the garden on Saturday, in one of her favourite spots – almost exactly where the above photo was taken. Currently the spot is marked by a white lily plant. We say hello to her every time we go to work. She’s still with us, still part of our story, still part of who we are.

Rest in peace Lily, 17/04/2001 – 21/04/2017

[original artwork by Emma Green]

Never Work With Scientists or Engineers

Forget never working with children or animals. Never work with Scientists or Engineers.

Picture the scene, dear reader; the air is being turned blue with the kind of language usually reserved for the rugby scrum. Things are being thrown.

A calming voice comes from a distant room enquiring what the problem might be. I respond using “language” that mounting the picture in the frame has not gone as well as I had anticipated, it’s not quite central. I may have used the word “disaster”. I can’t recall what the other words were but I seem to recall them being quite short and decidedly pointy.

“But you can fix it,” comes that calming voice again, “you can fix anything.” I take a deep breath, think for a bit and conclude that yes, I can fix it.

There then follows a few minutes of calm and concentration before once again the demons are unleashed, the air turns blue again and more everyday household objects find themselves travelling at unnatural speeds towards various hard surfaces.

“Problems?” enquires the calming voice.

“Yes, ” I reply. You will understand of course that my actual reply was somewhat longer than this but there are international treatise preventing me from disclosing the full transcript. I then continue to explain the cause of my frustration, “have you ever tried to cut 1/4 of a millimetre off the side of a piece of A4 card? It’s impossible!”

It was at that point it hit me, I had a steel ruler on top of a piece of card, both clamped to a cutting mat and I was using a razor blade to trim off a tiny amount to correct an error that only I was ever going to know was there. It was pointless, I should have just put the card in the frame and forgotten about the tiny mistake.

That 1/4mm level of passion, that level of attention to detail is entirely the sort of thing that’s required if you’re an engineer that is, say, responsible for ensuring that 999 (911 ,112)  calls get dealt with correctly (which I am). When mounting a picture however it’s more like an anti-skill, a trait that does more harm than good.