Thursday, October 27, 2005

It may not have felt like it here in the UK today, but Autumn has crept in across the countryside. With temperatures still relatively high, the leaves have turned golden brown and mostly behaved themselves by falling to the floor.

Autumn is a great time to take photographs as the days become shorter which means that light levels tend to be more interesting. This is coupled with some lovely reddish brown colours which really do look good in the pictures.

I was out today capturing some of the settings around my local nature park and had a great time walking in the warm morning air and also chatting with some of the other walkers. I also spent some time at one of the squirrel stations and it was great to see them all gathering food for the winter months.

One thing that did slightly amuse me was that in the midst of all the wildlife. People generally only ever commented on one thing. Despite nimble little squirrels and dainty little rabbits and some beautiful birds, people only seemed to be interested by the presence of rats.

"there's one of em!" they would shout "saw a family of six before, some of um are big buggers too" I would politely nod and smile before taking more pictures.

I can't help thinking that sometimes we are surrounded by some really beautiful animals, birds and flowers yet we only really take notice of the bad things. I didn't meet anyone today who commented on anything but the rats, but as soon as you look though the camera viewfinder, you can't help but notice much more.

I wonder if there's a way of looking out for things like that in life itself? Or are we too preoccupied with trying to spot vermin?


For anyone who wants to take a look at a few of the photo's I took, take a look at my 'flickr' badge about half way down the Right hand side of the window. Click on it for a proper view of my Flickr pics

Monday, October 24, 2005

EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS USM (and its MINE!)

Ok so no-one said that blogs had to be interesting and this entry will mean nothing to most people. But for the chosen few, this will be a big deal (and yes, I did start the last sentence with a conjunctive).

Most people who know me, know that I like to take photographs. Even a casual visitor to this blog will see that so to anyone who doesn't know much about snapping. This lens could be considered a weapon of mass destruction, especially if you dropped it on your toe.

This lens is quite heavy but very well built. Its a zoom lens which means that it makes things look closer than they really are and although zoom lenses can be hard to use to take good pictures due to camera shake, this one has a trick up its sleeve.

This lens uses something called IS. It stands for image stabilization and its basically a middle lens inside which can detect shake. It then moves in the opposite direction and thus cancels it out and your pictures still look nice and sharp, even at 200m (roughly 4 times larger than life).

I'm looking forward to putting this lens through its paces and I dare say that some of the pics will end up online so even for those who don't have a clue about what this post is all about, you'll probably see for yourself soon.

**Edit** Image posted below

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The errr.... Moon!

This may be a sight you've seen a thousand times, but for me its a first. Now I'm not saying I've never seen the Moon before but this picture is the first decent quality one that I have ever taken of our natural satellite.

Astrophotography is very difficult to master. Sometimes the photographs take nearly 30 minutes to expose and within that time the objects have actually moved in the sky! So to keep your pictures sharp, you have to spend lots of cash on a special tripod that moves your camera at the same rate in the same direction, which prevents the star from drawing a 'line' across the picture.

Fortunately my picture here is rather easier to take. For anyone who wants to know its at 300mm f8 and a shutter speed of 1/40 sec at ISO 100. The moon is very bright (a full Moon casts shadows!) so I have always struggled to capture surface detail and on the other few times I have tried, the air humidity has made it near impossible to keep the image sharp. This evening has been pretty good though and I don't mind admitting, I'm pretty pleased with the picture too.

The light is good, the details are crisp and if you look closely, you can see Neil Armstrong waving, so Maybe it is conclusive proof that we have landed after all?

I did once ask a scientist a question along the lines of "If we point the Hubble Space Telescope at the Moon, would we be able to see the landing sites from Apollo?" The answer was 'no' because apparently the extreme amounts of light reflected off the Moon would break the telescope. Looks like the brightness causes problems for telescopes as well as cameras.

In fact, its been quite a week Moon wise. All of my photography comes amidst the announcement that China looks to be setting its sights on the Moon as well. They have announced the launch of their own 'Apolloesque' missions in 2007. There are 12 men who have walked on the Lunar surface so far and although NASA has announced that they're going back (maybe they left something?), the next people to visit could be flying a different flag.

I've been lucky enough to spend some time with one of the Apollo Astronauts. Charlie Duke was in the backup crew for the ill fated Apollo 13, but was on Primary crew for 16. Its amazing to hear about his time on the moon and he very kindly signed my book for me too. To listen to him speak, you definitely feel that Lunar exploration falls into the "because its there" category of why we do things. So for anyone who may wonder why the Chinese are launching their Lunar series of missions in 2007, I suppose the answer may be "because its still there" Or it was for my photographs anyway.

'X' really does mark the spot here

Charles Duke also left a momento on the lunar surface... A photograph of his own! (image use courtesy of NASA)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Podcasts to go with this blog

If you can't get enough of this blog and my writing then I've got good news for you. Being someone with far too much spare time on his hands and the kind of work schedule that makes Eddie the Eagle Edwards look 'busy', I am pleased to announce the introduction of my blog linked podcast.

Now before you all get too excited, I will only be doing one per month and there will be many blog posts that never make it to the mic, but every now and again, I will be commenting in mp3 stereo on some of the things that I usually only write about. If there is any audio linked to any particular post, it will be indicated by the little icon below. So keep a look out!

How do I tune in?
There's two ways you can access my podcasts, one for those who are all 'appled up' with iPods and the like and one for those who are not.

I'm leading the iPod generation: If you find yourself forced into the limelight through your excellent taste in personal entertainment and if there's nothing you like more than iPod shuffling down at your expensive gym then:

1. Open iTunes
2. Click on the podcast icon (near the shop one)
3. Find the 'directory search' button, click it, type in 'pauls podcast' then check the logo's are mine before hitting 'subscribe'. Job done, you will now enjoy the nasely sounds of my voice on your iPod automatically whenever I have anything new to say.

i what? Ok so maybe you havent taken a bite from the forbidden fruit just yet or maybe you don't even have an mp3 player... You can still tune in on your humble PC (I'm guessing you have a Packard Bell?)

1. Visit
2. Click on the podcast icon to hear the respective bits of audio
3. Ponder my magnificence (this point is optional)
4. Donate lots of money to me via PayPal (alas! Also optional)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

5... 4... 3... 2... 1...

Today was launch day for EESA's Cyrostat satellite and I was on hand at the Leicester National Space Centre to talk science with the white coat people and drink champagne after 'lift off'.

I think that my lack of a PhD in physics soon became apparent at the press conference and it was amid muffled comments of "who's the guy in the tee shirt?" that I hastily teleported elsewhere, but not before I'd got the Cryosat team to sign my press pack. Hellooooo ebay!!!!

The 93 million pound satellite was launched to map Earth's ice caps in high res detail using two radar mapping sensors. This will show scientists how the polar ice regions are reacting to global warming. Even with my limited knowledge, I suspect they could be melting but I guess the 163 million dollar question is, how fast?

I decided to gate crash the party/press conference during a visit to the National Space Centre at Leicester and all in all, I had an excellent time 'nosying' around the exhibits, especially the one which explained how to 'go to the toilet in space'. I always thought that you floated there and that the real question is what do you do when you arrive but rest assured, the answer to both questions can be found at one of the exhibits. At the press conference, someone asked how you go to the toilet at Antarctica? The answer? 'Very quickly'

So let me finish today's post by encouraging anyone who has a passing interest in science, astronomy or films with Phasers or Light sabers to take a look at what's on offer at the centre. If your lucky you may be able to wormhole your way into some extravagant launch Party (Yes lets do launch!), or you may just have to put up with the excellent exhibitions and multimedia rich displays but whichever you find yourself gravitating to, the centre could leave a black hole in your wallet, you have been warned!

STOP PRESS..... I've just flicked the news on to see a press conference where not only is there a suspicious man in a tee shirt, but there's an announcement that the rocket and satellite have broken up during the launch process. It looks like its curtains for Cryosat and maybe popping the champagne corks at T+ 2 minutes, may have been a little presumptuous.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Look carefully up into the heavens this morning and you should witness one of natures finest phenomena,

Today across Europe and parts of Africa, the Moon will get in the way of the Sun and cause an annular eclipse. Now it won't be as spectacular as a total eclipse which is where the sun is covered completely, but according to NASA, we should see the moon sit in the middle of the suns disc so that only a thin band of light remains.

I went to Newquay for the '99 total eclipse and somehow was one of the three people in Cornwall who actually saw something other than cloud and during the last total lunar eclipse, I was fortunate enough to see something again. Admittedly it was a group of thieves breaking into a local shop. So it was with a certain sense of trepidation that I cast my gaze heavenward this morning.

Images of a burning ring of Hydrogen, Ninety-Three million miles away or even three or four cosmic criminals a mere hundred yards in the distance were not to be, so I decided to tuck into my Mars bar instead. The most celestial object that I am likely to come into contact with today.