Antipodean Travel Albums

If, following all the recent GDPR shenanigans, there are any readers actually still left out there, I have finally managed to muster the time to put together albums on our travel page for our 2017 Antipodean adventure, pausing our outward journey in Hong Kong en route. If you have the inclination, you’ll find these new entries on the Travel page:

Speaking of GDPR, I didn’t want to be left out and the nice folks at WordPress have released helpful updates to assist, so we now have our very own Privacy Policy complete with Cookies mumbo jumbo. What a lot of fun that was. 😉

Now, don’t say I don’t do anything for you.

Cloud Cuckoo Land

My, how time flies. It doesn’t seem it but it was back in 2013 that I signed up with Crashplan for a cloud storage account to backup our data. Multiple people in one household banging away with multiple digital cameras generates a lot of data, some of which is worth protecting, and my original regime of writing out optical storage media, starting with CDs and going on to DVDs (though not Blu-ray), had become less than viable. We’d got a little over 200Gb of data between us.

The initial upload of data would, given the very limited speeds possible on our archaic copper wire telecoms infrastructure, have taken about 4 months, so I also signed up for a fibre optic broadband service. Welcome to the modern world – well, almost. My service is still not blazingly fast ‘cos there’s still over ½ mile of archaic copper wire between me and the cabinet – I get about 1Mb upload – but my initial upload now got done in one month.

Everything then went swimmingly. The Crashplan software seemed reasonably well designed and we continued uploading incremental amounts of data as our photographic collection grew. (We do discard the rubbish, as we did in the days of real film, unlike some folks.)

Six months ago the rug got pulled out from under our feet; the gentlefolk at Crashplan announced that “they were withdrawing from the home/consumer backup market”. Sod! [Just look at the management bullshit on that page.]

The Crashplan bullshit also announced, though, that “they had partnered with Carbonite” to which their home customer base was invited to switch. [See the same Crashplan page above.]

Now, I’d have thought that “partnering with” would include a painless data migration path, the data that I had initially spent a whole calendar month @ 24hrs a day uploading. Wrong. The extent of the partnering appeared to be limited to a 50% reduction in cost for the first year. Crashplan home customers would now have to spend almost another 2 months (our data volume has, of course, increased in 5 years) uploading their precious data to the cloud, in the form of Carbonite, yet again.

Well, thanks for nothing to the dishonourable bastards at Crashplan. Personally, I wouldn’t even offer you a blindfold.

Actually, at one point I calculated that it could have taken me the whole of that first year to upload the data again. That’s because Carbonite originally throttled the upload bandwidth to 1Gb/day after the first 200Gb. Look, you don’t need a paid-for service with modest amounts of data; you can accumulate at least 30Gb with free services like Google Sync, Dropbox and MS OneDrive. The paid-for solution space IS large amounts of data. However, they may have seen sense because I now read that they Caronite has supposedly removed that throttling. So, as you were and back to 2 months uploading, then.

I suppose, just out of desperation, I did sign up for the first year at Carbonite. Having done so I swiftly became disheartened, though. The straw that broke my particular camels back was noticing, and I fail to understand why, that with constant uploading to The Cloud, any streaming of TV programs on catch-up slowed to the point where buffering and stuttering was frequent – the programs became unwatchable. I measured my download speed and my usual 15+Mb download had slowed to ~3.5Mb. Now why does something that I thought was just uploading knacker download speeds to that extent? I wasn’t prepared for 2 months worth of that so I cancelled my automatic renewal and uninstalled the Carbonite client software.

Once bitten, twice shy. I no longer wanted to rely upon some distant CEO’s whim so I needed another solution.

Optical media still being a pain in the derrière given the data volumes, even with the possibility of Blu-ray, I settled on a 2-bay NAS [Network Attached Storage] device, set up as RAID-1, plugged into my router. This I could make accessible to all our machines. Admittedly my new solution would not address the offsite backup requirement. IT professionals know that, as well as locally available backups for swift restoration, for which we have external hard drives, one should also have an offsite backup to protect against dire disasters such as your business premises/house burning down but if our house burns down we’ve got much bigger problems than salvaging a few digital images. That aside, being RAID-1 (twin copies in the NAS), three things would need to fail more or less simultaneously to lose anything, both drives in the NAS and the source laptop/desktop concerned.

The Cloud is an appealingly neat solution but we really need better access speeds to make it properly viable. The UK, having been hamstrung for too long by its BT copper wire infrastructure, still has areas of the country where even basic fibre optic broadband is not available and copper wire download speeds limited to a few meagre Mb are the norm. We also need companies providing the services to be honourable enough not to suddenly decide to screw their customers by changing their business model.

So, a lingering 2-fingered salute to Crashplan. You do not deserve business.

The ISA Myth

Cash ISA (or NISA) savings accounts are a benefit to the consumer, right? This is because the interest on them is tax free, right? Well, yes, but …

In just opening two new ISA accounts, I’ve bumped into another example of what I’ve known for some years. For the most part, it isn’t the consumer that benefits.

I have transferred two existing Cash ISA accounts from one savings provider, let’s call it A Bank, to another provider, let’s call it B Bank, to benefit from a higher rate. My new ISA rate with B Bank, on a 2-year fixed account, is 1.67% which is considerably better than A Bank’s current rate offering.

But wait, I noticed that I could open a regular 2-year fixed savings account with B Bank and get 2.09%. Think about that for a moment.

A basic rate tax-payer would pay tax at 20% on the interest from 2.09%, i.e. would lose (to the government) 0.418%, making the net gain exactly equivalent to the 2-year fixed rate ISA of 1.67%.

So, who benefits? Not the saver who pockets precisely the same amount of interest. Not the government because they’ve lost their 0.418% in tax.

No, the winner in this tale is the bank, which pockets the difference between what they would have paid had you opened a regular 2-year fixed savings account and the reduced amount that they actually pay you now that you’ve opened a 2-year fixed ISA account instead.

There are a few further wrinkles. Well, there would be, wouldn’t there?

For a higher rate taxpayer, the ISA is still beneficial because they’d be paying more tax [what, 40% these days?] on the interest from a regular savings account. So, the richer buggers are better off to the tune of half their tax on the interest.

For a basic rate taxpayer, though, things could actually be worse. We are now allowed to earn some interest on savings tax free; I think the tax free interest amount is £3000. If all your earned interest does not exceed that amount, a basic rate taxpayer is actually losing money from the ISA because they would not have paid interest on the higher yielding regular savings account. Bother!

The ONLY benefit of an ISA in this last situation is that you are spared the pain of declaring it on a UK tax return form. If you don’t earn the limit in interest, the Cash ISA/NISA is actually detrimental.

Someone is being screwed. Quelle surprise!

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Canon Camera Batteries

Some years ago I acquired a Canon EOS 7D DSLR, primarily for wildlife photography. I always fancied a shutter release in the portrait orientation so I bought a battery grip for it. That takes two batteries so, instead of lashing out on an expensive Canon original battery, I got two pattern batteries by Hahnel. They don’t have quite the same amp hours as the Canon LP-E6 but they are fine, especially as back-up. My 7D charger charged them and all was well.

When the EOS 7D mkII was introduced, wanting the built in GPS (for wildlife recording) and somewhat improved high ISO noise performance,  I upgraded.

The first thing I noticed was that Canon has cunningly changed the position of the locating lug on the battery grip so my 7D mkI battery grip does not fit the 7D mkII. Nice one, Canon!

A further surprise was in store. The charger that came with the 7D mkII, whilst being ostensibly the same as the mkI’s charger, refused steadfastly to charge my pattern Hahnel batteries. Thanks a bunch! I continued to charge them in the original 7D mkI charger so I continued carrying them around as spares for the 7D mkII. When I eventually tried to use the Hahnels in the mkII camera, things got worse; the 7D mkII camera body refuses to run with one of the Hahnel batteries installed.

This doesn’t seem to be a compatibility problem between the LP-E6 compared to the newer and more powerful LP-E6N (introduced at the 7D mkII) because the 7D mkII works with my genuine Canon LP-E6 battery from the 7D mkI. No, this bloody camera seems to be detecting a “foreign” compatible battery and rejecting it. It appears to be forcing the use of genuine Canon batteries.

The sods!

Campaign For Real English

Every now and then one hears things that jar; things that grate on the nerves; well, mine, anyway. There are at least two types of bastardization of our language going on.

I was preparing to collect Carol from her return easyJet flight to Luton airport and had pulled in to our local Tesco filling station to top up the tank  I like to use the “pay at pump” positions and avoid the kiosk. There was a Nissan Joke Juke at the pump in front of me. I had inserted my club card (the scanner never seems to work) and had just inserted my payment card when the lady standing beside her Joke Juke addressed me.

My brain had trouble processing the message and I couldn’t quite figure out why. I asked to repeat herself. Again, I had trouble. Cogs turned and eventually I figured out what she had said.

I’m sorry; I’ve released my hood accidentally. Do you know how to put it back down?

Hood? You’re not wearing a hood, I thought. For some strange reason, though she seemed to have not a trace of an accent and sounded English, she was speaking American. Evidently, in trying to release the filler cap, she had mistakenly released the bonnet.

Timing could’ve been better, having just introduced my payment card. I withdrew it and went to her assistance. I re-seated her “hood”. I desperately wanted to say, “3000 miles across the northern Atlantic, they call this a hood but in this country, it’s a bonnet”, but I thought better of it.

Is this the latest descent on the slippery slope towards the Americanization of our language? I do hope not. There seems to be at least one new descent every year.

My delicate nerves were assaulted by the other form of bastardization when we were out for a meal on the evening before Carol left on her trip. A family was seated at a table near ours. At one point I heard the mercifully well-behaved daughter say

Mum, could you itch my back?

Arghh!

No, nobody can itch anything, itch is not a transitive verb. Verbs are either transitive or intransitive. Itch is intransitive, it doesn’t operate on something else. Your back may itch but it can’t be itched. If your back itches, you want it scratched for education’s sake. What are we doing?

There’s another similar example that really makes me cringe.

You must be joking me

Arghh again!

More mixing up of transitive and intransitive. You may be joking but you cannot, in any way, shape or form, joke something or someone else. You can kid them; to kid is a transitive verb, or you can simply be joking.

This is just plain ignorance. That phrase sounds belittling, I know, but it shouldn’t. Without learning stuff, we’d all be ignorant. I imagine it’s become unfashionable to correct people these days. How else are they supposed to learn, though? It doesn’t have to happen in an unfriendly fashion. We can bottle up our screams. 😉

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Lens Selection

I’d been debating about lenses to take with me on a wildlife trip to parts foreign, Namibia, in this case. If my subjects were to be wildlife only, the choice would be very straightforward; all I would need would be my super-duper  Canon 100-400 mkII L series lens. With its close-focus distance of 0.9m, it does for close-ups of insects, too. The debate comes in with any landscape work, which we also have thrown into the mix.

Going from wide angle to the 100mmm starting point of my long zoom lens is less than straightforward with an APS-C cropped sensor camera. Canon, makes some lovely L-series lenses for a full frame camera but they really only have consumer lenses covering that range on a cropped sensor camera. I started out thinking I’d make do with our Canon 17-55mm F2.8 lens and ignore the gap up to 100mm. Then I remembered my Sigma 18-300mm F3.5-6.3 “travel” lens. I was expecting the image quality to be lower but I thought I’d do a test. I set up a shot and took it on both lenses, each set at their 55mm focal length.

To my surprise, the Sigma 18-300 seemed to be both sharper and clearer (maybe it has more contrast) than the Canon. Right, decision made: not only is my travel lens sharper but it’s also a little lighter and covers a much greater range overlapping with my primary lens. The weight could prove critical ‘cos we’re limited to an 8kg carry-on limit.

Then I started wondering about a comparison between my long Canon professional lenses, the 100-400 mentioned above and my Canon L-series 300mm F4 prime lens. Now I was in for a real shock.

I set up a couple of tests using a tape measure to compare image size. My limiting factor was the Minimum Focus Distance of the 300 mm prime: 1.5m. Both other lenses the 100-400 L series and the could be set to 300mm focal length and could focus at that same distance. Click, click, click.  Here’s a composite of my results.

300mm-3-way-lens-comparisonThree different images but all of a ruler at 1.5m distance, taken on lenses all apparently set to 300mm focal length. All three images are clearly different sizes but they should all be the same, right? So what’s going on?

What’s going on is known as focus breathing, a bizarre name for a symptom whereby a lens’s actual focal length varies at different focus points. In essence, it gets weaker at closer focus distances.

The top image is, if you will, the default – it’s the Canon 300mm prime lens and shows a little more than 9cms of the ruler.

The middle image is taken with the C anon 100-400mm lens set at the same 300mm focal length (I checked using the EXIF data). It shows almost 12cms of ruler, 33% more. The 100-400 is known to “suffer” from noticeable focus breathing so I was expecting some difference.

What blew me away, though, was the third image, the result from the Sigma 18-300mm lens set at 300mm. It’s showing a whopping 19cms of ruler, fully double the amount of the 300mm prime benchmark.

In other words, the image from the 300mm prime lens is a thumping great four times the size of the image from the 18-300 lens. Yikes! Now THAT’s what I call focus breathing.

The travel lens is still good; I’m glad I know what’s going on, though.

A Trip to Kew

Compare and contrast, both journeys being of similar distance (45mls vs 65kms).

  1. England: parking at LB station, £7.90 – off peak travel card to Kew Gardens, £21.00;
  2. Spain: parking at Xeraco station, FREE – return ticket to Valencia, ~8.50€.

This was my first visit to Kew Gardens since childhood. I must say that, despite the costs, a trip on the train, three trains actually, was fun, especially as we didn’t end up waiting for too long on  cold, windy platforms. We were also lucky enough to be meeting friends with membership cards so they could sign us in to Kew for nothing. Very nice.

[Aside: Just for the record, I do find £7.90 an exorbitant parking charge at our local station. If we are ever to encourage people out of their cars and onto public transport, we have to stop making it so expensive.]

Lurking around the external gardens at Kew in early February is probably not the most appealing of pastimes. The reason for our visit was twofold, though. Firstly, there was a display of orchids in one of the glasshouses; secondly there was a display of photographs, also indoors, of entries into the Garden Photographer Of The Year competition. Yes, there’s WPOTY (Wildlife), LPOTY (Landscape) and GPOTY. What a lot of POTYs. 🙂

Unusually, I went armed with my camera. Remembering trouble at The Eden Project when lenses were changed inside the tropical biome, I picked one lens and stuck with it: a 100mm macro. Having recently had my camera fixed, yet again, and the flash now functioning, I thought I’d try using flash to try and make the backgrounds fade into darkness. This turned out to be largely successful. Without my trying to identify these subjects (I know one is an Hibiscus), here’s a few of my favourite shots from the day.

J16_8807 Kew 0J16_8812 Kew 1J16_8813-Kew-2-webJ16_8814-Kew-3-webJ16_8833-Kew-5-webJ16_8846 Kew 4 web

I don’t often use flash and it didn’t fire on the first shot – the droplets would’ve sparkled more with it – but I like the line-up. I got it going eventually but the line-ups weren’t as appealing. 😉

J16_8825-Kew-6-webAt one point there were very long flower garlands hanging vertically from the ceiling/roof. Shot straight, they looked a little less than interesting so I tried a rakish angle and superimposing it on some post-processing motion blur courtesy of Photoshop Elements. Better – well, I think so.

_17C0761Meanwhile, Carol, who has become keen on in-camera multiple exposures when it comes to the creative, was having a play with that technique. It’s a bit hit and miss – some work out and others don’t – but this one appeals to both of us.

‘T was a good day and provided something to do with a camera in the depths of winter.

Spare Wars Episode VI: The Empire Strikes Back

After a week or so, customer Skywalker eventually heard back from Mr Stormtrooper representing the empire, i.e. advice@jaguarlandrover.com. He had been good to his word and had “further information” for me. I could, of course, have guessed pretty much what the bottom line of the “further information” would be but it’s good to have ones suspicions confirmed.

… in regards to the heavy duty towing kit not being available on the 180 SE Tech, I have spoken with our production team and they have confirmed that a business decision was made not to make this model variation available.

Quelle surprise!

Well, I’d guessed that some of these decisions might be somewhat arbitrary and here we have it in black and white. To paraphrase: “we know how to rip out the 5+2 seating and put in a full sized spare wheel but we refuse to do it on 2 out of 4 model variations.”

Clearly Land Rover is now firmly positioned in the Chelsea Tractor market for ferrying Satan’s Little Disciples to and from school. Why else would you want a 7-seater with no luggage capacity?

This has definitely been an f…ing experience – both fascinating and frustrating. [Well, what on earth did you think I meant?]

There is not going to be an Episode VII.

Spare Wars Episode V: Regrouping of the Landie

After a not unexpected period of silence, I recently received a completely unexpected subsequent email from my assigned Landie Grand Master representing advice@jaguarlandrover.com, the one that was asking the dealers what Jaguar Land Rover supplied – akin to young Skywalker teaching Yoda, this seemed to be.

The email was brief and to the point:

Sorry for the confusion over the questions you raised, I am still looking into these for you and will come back to you as soon as I have further information for you.

To say that I’m waiting with bated breath would be overstating the case. However, this having become something of a crusade, I am interested to see if I do get anything sensible back. I’d settle for sensible over satisfactory.

[Ed: A short episode, this one. Where’s the much loved B-picture?]

Spare Wars Episode IV

… in a galaxy far, far away …

It must be in a galaxy far, far away because the Stormtroopers of the evil empire of Jaguar Land Rover are clearly on a different planet from me.

OK, in Episode III [Ed: which, of course, hasn’t been written yet] we left customer Skywalker and the empire’s Mr. Stormtrooper in what appeared to be an infinite loop of contact:

  1. talk to Land Rover dealers
  2. talk to Jaguar Land Rover
  3. go to #1

This could go on for centuries.

Episode IV began very shortly after writing Episode III [Ed: ah, so time travel really is possible] when, having explained to Mr. Stormtrooper that phone contact with him would not be possible for a while, another holographic message from him arrived by Google droid. However, before I report its content, I must quote a section of my original email to lradvice@jaguarlandrover.com. I wrote:

On certain 180PS models there is an expensive option of a Heavy Duty Towing kit (<2500kg) which includes the much sought after full-sized spare. This option deletes the additional seating – excellent! – BUT … it appears to be available:

  • only with the automatic transmission and
  • only on an auto of trim level HSE or above – not on, for example, the SE Tech level.

Mr. Stormtrooper, expressly stating that he had read my emails, replied:

From the emails you have sent to me I have spoken to our retailers and I have been advised that with the Discovery Sport you can place an order with a full size spare wheel and heavy duty towbar. This, I have been advised is only available with the 180PS HSE version only.

Brilliant! Ungrammatical but brilliant. This is one of those classic “no shit, Sherlock” moments, it being one of the restrictions that I had mentioned to him. I was utterly gobsmacked. It’s a damn good job I wasn’t on a telephone.

Just to add insult to injury, he went on to explain that this startling new [NOT!] piece of helpful information came from my dealer #2, the one that had introduced me to the Heavy Duty Towing Kit in the first place.

Customer Skywalker rejoined:

Well Mr. Stormtrooper,

This is quite astonishing – one could almost say unbelievable. I told you that.

[Here I quoted my original email, to refresh his memory.]

So, all you have done is to quote my own words back at me. You’ve added precisely nothing. Furthermore, you’ve done it from one of the very dealers I’d already spoken to.

What I wanted to know is, why cannot the Heavy Duty Towing Kit be placed on a 180PS SE Tech, for example. It seems like an arbitrary restriction. Land Rover clearly has the ability to rip out the 5+2 seating and stick in the towing kit. I wanted to know it could do it. What I fail to comprehend is why these seemingly illogical restrictions exist and, unless “lradvice@jaguarlandrover.com” can go direct to the horse’s mouth, to those building the cars and setting the restrictions, what purpose does it serve? “lradvice@jaguarlandrover.com” approaching the dealers is entirely the wrong way around, it is they who should be approaching you.

The difference between a 150PS car, which can have a full-sized spare, and a 180PS car is, I suspect, just an engine management chip – it’s the same 2-litre diesel engine.

My frustration with Land Rover increases with each contact. Put this together with a series of seemingly irrational design issues involving spare wheels, tow bars and exhaust systems, and my love for the Discovery Sport rapidly dissipates. What a crying shame.

Still, there is a positive side to this sorry tale. Having owned several piles of British crap in my youth, about 35 years ago I vowed never again to buy a British car. I’m not convinced there is such a beast these days, aside from minor small specialist companies, but I was beginning to weaken there, just for a moment. My resolve is now re-invigorated.

Finally, with the benefit of hindsight, I should have chosen Spare Wars as my tongue-in-cheek pun title rather than Going Spare, though my feeling of being on a war footing didn’t come until later. Maybe I’ll go back and rename them. 😉

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