Another week of socially-distanced, furloughed fun: here are some of the highlights…
“Playing” with tech: Azure Sphere
I took a break from exam study this week, partly because I had some internal meetings that made a big hole in the calendar and diverted my attention. Instead, I finally got my Azure Sphere Starter Kit IoT device working, with both Microsoft samples and with some more practical advice from Brian Willess at Element 14.
I’m blogging my progress (slightly behind the actual learning) but over the course of a few days, supported by Brian’s blog posts, I managed to get the sensor readings from my device working locally, with Azure IoT Hub and Time Series Insights, and then finally in Azure IoT Central.
Thursday meant my usual trip to the local market, followed by the supermarket, buying provisions for my family and others. Because product availability is a bit “hit and miss”, in the supermarket (and because I prioritise supporting local businesses over the big retailers, where I can), I bought some peppers (capsicums) from the market greengrocer. There was no price displayed but, as he bagged them, he said they were expensive… and he was not wrong: £3/lb, I think! But I was too embarrassed to say “no thanks at that price” so bought them anyway. Lesson learned…
That’s 3 exams in 7 “working” days since I was furloughed, so I think next week I’ll give the exams a bit of a rest, knock out some blog posts around the things I’ve learned and maybe play with some tech too…
Easter Monday also saw this website move to a new server. The move was a bit rushed (I missed some communications from my hosting provider) and had some DNS challenges, but we took the opportunity to force HTTPS and it seems a little more responsive to me too (though I haven’t run any tests). For a long time, I’ve been considering moving to Azure App Service – if only for reasons of geek curiosity – but the support I receive from my current provider means I’m pretty sure it will be staying put for the time being.
The intersection of cycling and technology
Those who follow me on Twitter are probably aware that for large parts of the year, I’m “Cyclist’s Dad”. At weekends in the autumn, I can usually be found in a muddy field somewhere (or driving to/from one), acting as pit crew, principal sponsor and Directeur Sportif for my eldest son – who loves to race his bike, with cyclo-cross as his favourite discipline.
This weekend, we should have been at Battle on the Beach (not technically cyclo-cross but still an off-road race) but that’s been postponed until the Autumn, for obvious reasons.
Instead, we’ve been having fun as my son upgraded his CX bike to electronic gears, using a Shimano Ultegra/GRX Di2 mix.
It’s all been his work – except a little help from Olney Bikes to swap over the bottom bracket (as I lack the tools for changing press-fit BBs) – and the end result is pretty spectacular (thanks also to Corley Cycles/@CorleyCycles with their help sourcing some brake hose inserts at short notice). I’ve never had the good fortune (or budget) for electronic shifting on my bikes but having ridden his yesterday (long story involving a mid-ride puncture on my bike) I was blown away by the difference that all the components he’s swapped to save weight have made and the smooth shifting. Oh yes, and it’s finished with a gold chain. I mean, who doesn’t need a gold chain on their bike?
Electronic shifting has its critics but first impressions, based on a couple of off-road rides this weekend, are very positive. Maybe I need to get a couple of newspaper delivery rounds to start saving for upgrades on my bikes…
Right, it’s getting late now and Sunday night is a “school night” (especially true since my Furlough Leave is being spent focusing on learning and development). I’m off to watch an episode of the BBC’s new drama, “Devs”, before bed. I’m 4 episodes in now and it’s a bit weird but it’s got me hooked…
There’s not much to say about work this week – I’ve mostly been writing documentation. I did spend a good chunk of Monday booking hotels and travel, only to find 12 days of consulting drop out of my diary again on Friday (cue hotel cancellations, etc.) but I guess that’s just life!
Family life: grime, rap and teens!
Outside work, it’s been good to be close to home and get involved in family life again.
I had the amusement of my 11 year-old and his friends rapping to their grime music on my car on the way to/from football training this week (we’re at the age where it’s “Dad, can we have my music on please?”) but there’s only so much Big Shaq I can take so I played some Eminem on the way back. It was quite endearing to hear my son say “I didn’t know you knew about Eminem!” after I dropped his mates off. I should make the most of these moments as the adulation is dropping off now he approaches his teens!
Talking of teens, my eldest turned 13 this week, which was a big day in the Wilson household:
I’m not sure how this little fella grew into this strong chap (or where the time in between has gone) but we introduced him to the Harry Enfield “Kevin the teenager” videos a few months ago. I thought they were funny when I was younger but couldn’t believe how accurate they are now I’m a parent. Our boys clearly understood the message too and looked a bit sheepish!
I did play with some tech this week – and I managed to create my very own chatbot without writing any code:
It’s also interesting reading some of the queries that the bot has been asked, which have led to me extending its knowledge base a few times now. A question and answer chatbot is probably more suited to a set of tightly bounded questions on a topic (the things people can ask about me is pretty broad) but it’s a nice demo…
I also upgraded my work PC to the latest Windows 10 and Office builds (1709 and 1710 respectively), which gave me the ability to use a digital pen as a presentation clicker, which is nice, in a geek-novelty kind of way:
I have an Amazon Prime membership, which includes access to Amazon Prime Instant Video – including several TV shows that would otherwise only be available in the US. One I enjoy is Mr Robot – which although completely weird at times is also strangely addictive – and this week’s episode was particularly good (scoring 9.9 on IMDB). Whilst I was waiting for the next episode to come around, I found that I’d missed a whole season of Halt and Catch Fire too (I binge-watched the first three after they were recommended to me by Howard van Rooijen/@HowardvRooijen). Series 4 is the final one and that’s what presently keeping me from my sleep… but it’s really good!
I don’t have Netflix, but Silicon Cowboys has been recommended to me by Derek Goodridge (@workerthread). Just like the first series of Halt and Catch Fire, it’s the story of the original IBM PC clone manufacturers – Compaq – but in documentary format, rather than as a drama series.
People have been telling me for ages that “the latest iPhone has a great camera” and, in daylight, I’m really impressed by the clarity and also the bokeh effect. It’s still a mobile phone camera with a tiny sensor though and that means it’s still really poor at night. If a full-frame DSLR struggles at times, an iPhone will be challenged I guess – but I’m still finding that I’m inspired to use the camera more.
7 Days 7 Photos
Last week, I mentioned the 7 days, 7 photos challenge. I’ve completed mine now and they are supposed to be without explanation but, now I have a set of 7 photos, I thought I would explain what and why I used these ones. I get the feeling that some people are just posting 7 pictures, one a day, but these really do relate to what I was doing each day – and I tried to nominate people for the challenge each day based on their relevance to the subject…
I spotted this pub as I walked to Farringdon station. I wondered if “the clerk and well” was the origin of the name for “Clerkenwell” and it turns out that it is. Anyway, I liked the view of the traditional London pub (I was on my way home from another one!) and challenged my brother, who’s a publican…
I liked the form in this photograph of my son’s CX bike on the roof of my car. It didn’t look so clean when we got back from cyclocross training though! I challenged my friend Andy, whose 40th birthday was the reason for my ride from London to Paris a few years ago…
Not technically a single photo – lets’ call it a triptych, I used the Diptic app (as recommended by Ben Seymour/@bseymour) to create this collage. I felt it was a little too personal to nominate my friend Kieran, whose medals are in the lower left image, so I nominated my friend James, who was leading the Scouts in our local remembrance day parade.
I found some failed backups on my Synology NAS this week. For some reason, Hyper Backup complained it didn’t have enough storage (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Azure that ran out of space!) so I ran several backups, each one adding another folder until I had all of my new photos in the backup set. I felt the need to challenge a friend who works in IT – so I challenged my friend Stuart.
My son was cake-baking, for Children in Need, I think – or maybe it was my other son, baking his birthday cake. I can’t really remember. I challenged a friend who runs a local cafe and regularly bakes muffins…
Self-explanatory. My son’s own creation for his birthday. I challenged my wife for this one.
The last image is following an evening helping out at Scouts. Images of attempts to purify water through distillation were not that great, so I took a picture of the Scout Badge, and nominated my friend Phil, who’s another one of the local Scout leaders.
(All seven of these pictures were taken on an iPhone 8 Plus using the native camera app, then edited in Snapseed and uploaded to Flickr)
I added second-factor authentication to my WordPress blog this week. I couldn’t find anything that uses the Microsoft Authenticator, but this 2FA WordPress plugin from miniOrange uses Google Authenticator and was very easy to set up.
Being at home all week meant I went to see my GP about my twisted ankle (from the falling-into-the-sea incident). One referral later and I was able to see a physio… who’s already working wonders on helping to repair my damaged ligaments. And he says I can ride my bike too… so I’ll be back on Zwift even if cyclocross racing is out for the rest of the season.
On the subject of Zwift, they announced a price rise this week. I understand that these things happen but it’s gone up 50% in the US (and slightly more than that here in the UK). All that really does is drive me to use Zwift in the winter and to cancel my membership in the summer. A more reasonable monthly fee might make me more inclined to sign up for 12 months at a time and create a recurring revenue for Zwift. Very strange business model, IMHO.
I particularly liked the last line of this article:
“Five minutes after the race
That was sooo fun! When can I do it again?!”
I may not have been riding cyclocross this weekend, but my son was, and Sunday was the popular Central Cyclocross League race at RAF Halton. With mud, sand, gravel and steep banks, long woodland sections and more, it looked epic. Maybe I’ll get to ride next year!
I did get to play with one of the RAF’s cranes (attached to a flatbed truck) though – amazing how much control there is – and had a go on the road safety rig too.
And of course, what else to eat at a cyclocross event but Belgian fries, mayo and waffles!
Finally, my friends at Kids Racing (@kidsracing) have some new kit in. Check out the video they filmed at the MK Bowl a couple of weeks back – and if you have kids in need of new cycling kit, maybe head over to HUP CC.
That’s it for this week. Next week I have a bit more variation in my work (including another Microsoft event – Azure Ready in the UK) and I’m hoping to actually get some blog posts written… see you on the other side!
Last year, I developed a new sporting interest. In common with many others in the UK, I found myself glued to the TV highlights for the Tour de France, followed by the various cycling events at the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Vuelta a España, and even taking a day out to watch the Tour of Britain. I haven’t got a road bike yet (hoping to get one soon – I’ve entered a trialthlon later in the year and am hoping to ride London to Paris next year) but I was looking forward to watching the Giro d’Italia. At least, I was until I found out it’s not available on free-to-air TV:
So, despite being delayed by two sullen blokes hitting coloured balls around a big green table, here I am, watching Cav, Wiggo and co. racing on the Italian riviera, just as I suspect I will be for the next three weeks!
A few weeks ago, I bought my first flat screen TV. The old (c1998) Sony Trinitron still works, but it was starting to lose the colour a little around the edges and was, frankly, taking up a huge chunk of living room so I splashed out and bought a Samsung UE37ES6300 from John Lewis.
I’m not bothered about 3D pictures but the Smart TV (Internet-connected) functionality is a huge bonus. Meanwhile, the availability of HDMI ports (no VGA on this year’s model) led me to hook up my old Mac Mini as a permanently connected place for Internet access in the living room (although the requirement is rapidly dropping as more and more Samsung Apps become available – Spotify appeared last night!).
Using a DVI to HDMI cable, the Mac was able to detect the 1080p display but it did enable overscan which meant I was losing the edge of the picture. Turning off overscan helped, but didn’t use the whole display (and was also a bit fuzzy). With a bit of help from a friend (who, conincidentally, had come over and hooked his Linux machine up to the display), I worked out that the solution is to leave overscan enabled on the computer but to set the TV Picture Size to Screen Fit. I’m not sure if I can see much difference betwen 50Hz PAL and 60Hz NTSC but, seeing as this is a European model, I left the computer set to 50Hz PAL.
This resolved the display size but it was still not as sharp as I would expect for a native resolution display. Switching the Picture Mode from Standard to Movie made a big difference (although the colours were a little muted and there was a slight magenta cast) so I started to look at the differences between the two profiles. Now I’ve tweaked the Standard profile to bring down the sharpness from the default of 50 to 20 and turned off the Dynamic Contrast in the TV’s Advanced Settings and I think I’m pretty much there.
So, there you have it. I haven’t tried a Windows PC yet, but those settings seem to work well with the Mac – and the result is a much improved digital display output.
I had avoided applying any more firmware updates because for consumer electronics my approach is generally one of “if it works, don’t fix it!”. Unfortunately it seems the UK’s switchover to digital TV is working against me with what appear to be constant changes in the infrastructure and an increased number of system lock-ups seems to correlate to a retune. Over the last few months it’s been manageable (it was just happening when we watched Channel 5 – so we stopped watching it!) but yesterday it became worse, on all channels, with the clock on the device staying still and the remote becoming unresponsive within a couple of minutes of a reboot. Yesterday, I must have power-cycled my PVR on at least 10 occasions.
“My 9300T has also started to lock up recently. I contacted Humax Support and they advised me to manually retune so that I only pickup the signals from my area […]. Instructions below:
Please find below the details you will need to follow to manual tune the receiver.
Enter your password (Default – 0000)
Select Default Setting
Enter your password (Default – 0000)
The receiver will then take 30 seconds and will switch off and restart.
When the product loads up again it will enter the Automatic Search; please press OK to STOP the search before any channels are found.
If any channels are found and you are asked to SAVE the channels please select NO and press OK.
Press OK twice to access the Installation menu, and then follow below:
Select Manual Search and press OK
You will now need to enter the channel number for each of the 6 Multiplexes available to receive all of the channels. After you enter each of the numbers below select the Search box and press OK. When the channels on each Multiplex are found press OK to save.
Follow the procedure above to search all 6 multiplexes. You will be able to see the signal levels of each of the Multiplexes.
Please ensure that the Network Search option is disabled.
After following the update process, I repeated the reset to defaults and retune process (a manual retune has an added advantage that I can skip certain channels that an automatic tune picks up and I might not want the children, in-laws, or others to ask me about – I’m happy answering questions about Father Christmas or the tooth fairy but would rather avoid “Daddy, what’s Adult Filth?”).
It’s early days yet but the system has remained stable overnight so, hopefully, installing the latest firmware has fixed whatever was causing my PVR to crash. In the meantime, I hope the information in this post is useful to someone else!
Pictures of people can tell a lot about their characters, their stories and their relationship with the world. When you know you’re onto something, explore the scene fully and try work out how to best capture it. Use people and places together to tell a story: decide what the picture is about and then how you compose it will tell the viewer what you’re trying to say.
Take a fresh look – find out what people are thinking, saying and doing.
Take lots of pictures – take the bad ones to get the good ones – experiment and shoot lots – they can succeed or fail and success is great!
Engage with subjects – observe the quirks, observe the people and it suddenly becomes more interesting. Engagement is a key element to drive photography forward so keep the dialogue going – even if everything is all right, say this is great, look at me, don’t smile – let the subject know that you’re still interested in them. When get that engagement, you can bring your work alive.
Be bold to really get the moment you are after – get in close, look for surreal moments – collect stories about the world and try to distill them into a few pictures.
“I guess, as a photographer, one of the things you hope to do is to create an iconic picture but of course you can never quite predict how and when it’s going to happen. In the end it often comes down to luck but the thing about luck is that it is always earnt so you need that perseverance and suddenly things will happen, it will flow in front of you and you’ve got your moment.
I think what we can see here is that by concentrating on one thing, coming in closer, exploring it better, making sure it’s something you can identify with – that’s when you can really reap the benefits of going to a place and trying to take away photographs that tell you something about your relationship to that place.”
This was the final programme in the series and I have mixed feelings. In the comments on the first post, I defended the programme but, even though I went on to write up the key points from all six episodes, on reflection, some of them have been a bit lightweight. Even so, with a 22 minute programme, there is only so much information that the producers can put across and, for purely commercial reasons, it is pitched for a broad appeal. I’ve probably learned something in each one – and hopefully you have too!
Know your animal – be interested in your subject and try and find out a little more through a journey of enquiry, researching the subject, including people closest to the animal (e.g. a farmer).
Develop your idea – what’s the purpose of the image – i.e. what are you setting out to do and what do you want to explore? Think about what is special about the animal and use that to consider how to communicate its character through pictures.
Use details and textures – get in tight and explore details and texture in animals – you can even create new meanings by leaving details out… (e.g. a part of one animal may look like something else entirely, when viewed out of context). The closer you get in, the more dramatic an image will look.
Be sensitive to the animal’s needs and be prepared to adapt your ideas. Have a plan/strategy but be able to see other things that develop as it may be chaotic and nothing is ultimately controlled.Â It’s important to observe and let go if what you thought was gong to happen if it didn’t and be ready to capture something else if it reveals itself ! You never know how large (or small) a window of possibility will be.
Channel 5â€²s website has some tips to go with each programme, but they donâ€™t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the fourth episode:
Watch the action – it’s really important to understand the sport that you will photograph. Look at it, think about it, and pick the moment that will give the most interesting photograph. Sports photography is about action – you mustn’t miss the key events.
Frame the action – pick your position based on how the light falls on the subject and what’s in the background. The picture must be well-composed and, if possible it should be quite graphic. A few inches either way makes the difference, so when choosing spot to shoot from, pick the one that really works.
Freeze the action – this is particularly important in sports photography and is all about shutter speeds. Head on may only need to be 1/640th but sideways wide angle may need 1/2000th second to capture all the details.
Light the action – use the light in the most dramatic way to give your shot impact – if you’re looking to shoot a silhouette, expose for the sky to stop the camera from trying to produce a neutral shot.
I’ve written a couple of posts recently based on Channel 5 Broadcastingâ€™s â€œHow To Take Stunning Picturesâ€ series. The first two episodes covered portraiture and celebrations – plenty for me to take on board there – but I found the landscapes episode was less useful. Even though it featured Charlie Waite, a photographer whose work I admire – I found it a bit of a let down, possibly because landscapes are a genre I’ve invested a lot of time in learning over the years (includingÂ attending two ofÂ Charlie’s talks) and so there was less for me to learn in this programme.
Even so, it’s worth publishing some tips – Channel 5â€²s website has some to go with each programme, but they donâ€™t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the third episode:
Choose the right location and read the landscape: landscape photography needs to be well constructed and thought about. Think what is it about a scene that is emotionally enjoyable and enriching. Read the landscape: start at the top, at the sky, and follow down, asking what’s really worthwhile. Don’t think that the first place you’ve arrived and set up at is the best. Sometimes even a few inches to the right or left can make a radical difference to a photograph.
Take care in composition: consider the frame carefully – use compositional aids if necessary to see if the image that your are planning to make will work. Before even taking the camera out of the bag, consider: Is there an image to be made here? Do I like the shapes? Is the balance right? Is there enough geometry? How much sky can I have in? See where you want the crop to be – try and imagine your picture before you take it (I’m sure that Charlie would talk about one’s mind’s eye). Take your eye around the perimeter of the viewfinder. Think what to keep in, and what to keep out – “omit the redundant”. In the words of Charlie Waite, “The key to good photography is to settle down and to think bout what is going to appear in that viewfinder and not think that the camera is going to do all the work. As you look through the viewfinder, ask yourself if you can see the frame on the wall…Â previsualise to define the objective”.
Control the light to get the correct exposure: use a filter to produce an image that equates with what we see in the eye (there was no mentionÂ of what filter this would be in the programme, but typically this would be a grey grad to balance areas of high and low brightness). Often when we look at a landscape we can see beautiful subtle nuances in the sky and also detail in the land but when we take the image, camera sensors/film find that very difficult to reproduce.
Don’t just look for bright, sunny days – it’s possible to get great images on the cusp of bad weather leaving and good weather arriving when there are often some fantastic moments. If it’s really raining and the forecast is changeable, hang on and wait and you see dark clouds being replaced by bright skies in a very exciting moment on the transitional point. Look over your shoulder, see what kind of sky is coming, wait for it, and if it does arrive, think about whether it relates satisfactorily – just waiting a few minutes can really help.
Draw the viewer in: Think about how to invite the viewer into the image? For example, using a path as a lead in, beckons the viewer and encourages them to travel along the path. Landscape photography is about shape, harmony, balance and design – looking for the optimum moment when you press the shutter.
“I often think of that rare fulfilling joy when I am in the presence of some wonderful alignment of events.
Where the light, the colour, the shapes and the balance all interlock so beautifully that I feel truly overwhelmed by the wonder of it.”