Thursday, 1 September 2016

A game I could play

I've just had a rather good idea. It's a daily game that will get me on my feet and walking briskly around the village. This will make me a bit fitter, and help me lose a little weight.

I was thinking of Pokemon, and all those youngsters walking around in search of new monsters to catch. It sparked an idea for an exercise game that would have a time element to it.

This is how it works. (I'm still at the planning stage, but I should be trying out the beta version within 24 hours!)

First, I identify 36 places in and around the village, each with a unique identifying number, and give them a score based on how roughly far they are from my front door. For instance:

11 Exercise machines in the park - score 5 points
12 Bowling Club - score 5
13 Postbox - score 5
14 Nursing Home - score 5
21 Pub A - score 10
22 Village Hall - score 10
23 Library - score 10
24 Garden of Remembrance - score 10
31 Parish church - score 15
32 Pub B - score 15
33 Supermarket - score 15
34 Post Office - score 15
35 Bank - score 15
36 Delicatessen - score 15
41 Doctor's surgery - score 20
42 Pub C - score 20
43 Garage - score 20
44 Station - score 20
45 Railway bridge - score 20
46 School gates - score 20
51 Crossroads - score 25
52 Tennis Club - score 25
61 Pub D - score 30
62 Filling station - score 30
63 Garden centre - score 30
64 Windmill - score 30

Second, I make up a list of six places to visit on foot, each selected by rolling a dice twice. Supposing I roll a 4 and then a 3. That gives '43' which is the number for the Garage, and that becomes one of my objectives. And so on, until I have six places to walk to.

Third, I decide the most efficient order in which to visit them. I must plan my best route carefully, because to get maximum points I must go to all of them, and return home, inside a time limit. Let's say that I am going to these following six places, arranged by me into this order:

12 Bowling Club (the first place to walk to) - 5 points
22 Village Hall - 10
34 Post Office - 15
51 Crossroads - 25
43 Garage - 20
23 Library (the last place) - 10
Total possible score: 85

Fourth, I work out the time allowed in order to get a full score. This (in minutes) is: the total score for the six places, halved, and then rounded down to the nearest 5 points. The points for the six selections above total 85. Half of that is 42.5, which when rounded down becomes 40 minutes. So, if I visit them all and return to my home within 40 minutes then I score the full 85 points.

But I lose 10 points for each five minutes over the time allowed. Let's suppose it takes me 60 minutes to walk to every place and get home. That's 20 minutes over my time limit, and my penalty is therefore 40 points. My net score is only 45.

I could make it a requirement that any score below 50 makes it mandatory to select a further six places and complete another walk later in the day. Thus an 'easy' walk in the morning, with all the places very close to home, will in any case score less than 50, and will automatically prompt another (hopefully more demanding) walk later on that same day. And a longer walk tackled at too leisurely a pace will also tend to score under 50, prompting another - hopefully brisker - walk in the afternoon.

All this encourages fast walking.

I could also build in a reward for securing full points on a long walk. Let's say any walk that scores at least 100 points. The reward could be some treat not often enjoyed, though naturally nothing that would impinge on the salutary physical effect of the walk!

Now what shall I call this game? Pokepoints? Point-to-Point? Walko?

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

My weight is becoming a real problem!

I have been slowly but steadily gaining weight right through the summer.

Something is causing this. It could simply be too much sitting down at home, combined with too many calories - although I speak as somebody who has no sweets, soft drinks, crispy snacks, biscuits or naughty salad dressings in the house. I do eat a good, balanced diet at home or when away in the caravan - most often a slender but wholesome breakfast; soup for lunch; and lean meat or fish on alternate nights, always accompanied by good portions of fresh vegetables. My thinking here is that:

(a) I deny myself sex and many other traditional indulgences, but I do take a keen interest in what I eat. Eating is a major pleasure. To adopt a boring spartan diet would be depressing.

(b) I am anxious to eat a wide variety of foodstuffs, to ensure that my body gets all the nutrients it needs, and in ample quantities. So my diet includes all the different things one can eat - just not to excess. I am pretty omnivorous - I think it's natural for a human being to be so.

At home (or in the caravan) I mainly drink water, cold milk or tea. I used to drink coffee, but I've rather gone off its taste. I never touch wine, nor any alcohol, if home on my own.

Eating out, in company or by myself, is of course rather different. Not personally doing the cooking, it's much harder to control the calorie intake; and I will always have something to drink with the food, most often white wine.

Nowadays I might easily eat out two or three times a week - it goes with a decent social life. Hmm...thinking about it, it would be accurate to say that, on average, I enjoy one extra meal per week eaten out, compared to last year. That fact might well account for much of my steady weight gain - for although I don't take enough exercise, that's been the case for a long time, not just this summer. My daily activity level this year is the same as last year, anyway. A bit more brisk movement would certainly be beneficial, but I think over-eating is my main trouble.

So much for the analysis. What do I do now?

1. Eat out less often. Which means that I will drink less too.
2. Eat smaller portions.
3. Sit down less, and find reasons to walk around a lot more.

All three of these things need some willpower. I'm a sociable sort, and so likely to accept an invitation to eat at someone else's home, or in a restaurant. I hate turning invitations down unless I'm genuinely committed elsewhere. But eating out is a certain diet-killer if not curbed.

Smaller portions...that's hard. I will try to imagine what would be a 'child's portion' and eat only that, or be Japanese and eat only just enough to satisfy immediate hunger pangs. Am I strong enough?

As regards walking around more, I've already thought of going out for a brisk walk every day after breakfast, unless the weather is insane. It will wake me up, and freshen me for the day. But I'm not a creature of habit or routine, and I'm easily diverted towards something more interesting than treading the same old streets or pathways. It'll be hard to keep up the initial burst of enthusiasm. I need a goal, a daily reason for walking into the village and back. Some people walk to the newsagents for their morning newspaper, and if I liked reading a paper I could do the same. But I despise newspapers. I'll have to think what else I could need first thing in the morning, that involves a determined stroll.

Coincidentally it's the 1st September tomorrow: I should take advantage of that date. A new month, a new regime, a new woman - you see what I mean. It's a psychological trick, but it might just work.  

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

My purse wasn't hit

Well, that went better than expected!

I refer of course to my plan to take the Panasonic LX100 camera to Panasonic's official repairer in Horley (on the extreme southern edge of Surrey) and get the ingress of dust or pollen dealt with. I just hopped in Fiona and drove up there. It took forty minutes, along mostly country roads. I rarely venture into the northern parts of Sussex, or the southern edge of Surrey, and I was reminded again that although this is not 'real' countryside - it's mainly woodland and horse pastures - it was nevertheless attractive in its own way, once away from the vicinity of Gatwick Airport. It would drive me potty if I heard the muted scream of jet engines taking off and landing every few minutes. I don't know how people can live around there.

The repairer was DK Audio Visual Services. They were on a trading estate. I found them easily, and there was an empty parking space, the only one, right outside. A good omen. I walked in, rang the bell, and a young man came out to see me. He looked on the ball.

I explained what seemed wrong, and what I would like done. I had with me not just the camera, but copies of all the documentation needed, including the Extended Five-Year Warranty Certificate and the Terms & Conditions. I'd also printed off a specially-taken photo of plain white paper, at the smallest aperture on the camera, f/16, which clearly showed what kind of spots or specks were now affecting my pictures.

Yes, they could clean the camera up for me.

I now drew attention to the Extended Warranty. Did the Warranty cover particle ingress? Yes, no problem. So the job would cost me nothing. Hurrah!

And when might the camera be ready for collection? Maybe only a week. Hurrah!

I was highly relieved to hear all this. I could see the repair cost robbing me of my £100 cashback on buying the camera last year. But not so.

The odd thing was that when looking on the Internet the night before I had come across loads and loads of negative comments about Panasonic quibbling over their guarantees, and basically not honouring them. So I'd half-expected DKAVS to tell me that cleaning dust out wasn't covered, and I'd have to pay. Certainly, the Terms & Conditions seemed to exclude most things, and suggested to me that I was going to be refused a repair under guarantee. But I'd been pushing at an open door here.

It must be that most Internet comments are negative because they are made chiefly by people who fumble their approach, or are too belligerent, or too unrealistic, and who generate heat and frustration not success. A post rubbishing Panasonic would be an outlet for their frustration. Satisfied customers who got what they wanted wouldn't have the same motivation to sound off afterwards.

My own experience is that it pays to prepare carefully, and to adopt a diplomat's suavity and lack of aggression. It's hard to explain, and win an argument, over the phone. So I avoid it. The face-to-face method - two human beings communicating normally - is always much more likely to get the desired result. Which is a rapid agreement to deal with the matter in accordance with what the customer is looking for.

Mind you, DKAVS will have to live up to expectations. One week, they said.

The particle-ingress problem will recur of course, but I can protect the camera better than I do at present. I think I'll keep it in a proper camera case, hopefully small enough to get said case inside my ordinary bag. I will miss a few grab-shots if the camera is zipped-up like that, but if it keeps dust and pollen and other stuff away, then I can't complain.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

A love-triangle

The Panasonic LX100 camera, with dust on its sensor, has been boxed ready for the warranty procedure, which I shall get started by midweek. The much older Leica D-Lux 4 has taken over daily photo duties. Here it is. It's actually a shot taken a year ago. But the Leica looks exactly the same today:

Am I downhearted, because the still-quite-new Panasonic has to be repaired? Not at all. I welcome the chance to use the Leica again. The little Leica may be seven years old, with nearly 63,000 shots under its belt, but it's in feisty condition, with a set of brand new batteries, and completely up to the job. In fact in just three days I've already taken over 150 pictures with it. I admit these pictures are not quite as good as the Panasonic could have taken. A discerning and knowledgeable person will rightly notice that the Panasonic has a slight edge on resolution, dynamic range, and low-light performance.

But there is more to taking successful pictures than a better technical specification. A newer, more sophisticated camera does not necessarily outclass a simpler camera from a previous generation, where handling and results are concerned.

I noticed that years ago, when first using my Nikon D700 SLR. It produced (for the time, 2008) astonishingly good results - if you valued a pin-sharp and detailed photo showing great tonal and colour accuracy. But the rendition was too perfect, too accurate - it was like looking directly at a real scene, and not at a representation of one. It was a perfect 'record shot', and the rendition was accordingly a bit dull. Technical perfection had paradoxically robbed the Nikon's pictures of any obvious 'photographic' quality. Whereas the compact camera I was using at the time (a Ricoh GX100) could turn out gritty shots that couldn't possibly be mistaken for real life, and - aesthetically speaking - were all the better for it. So could its successor, the Leica. This is one reason why I went back to small cameras: their particular lens/sensor combinations allowed me to create something other-worldly (and potentially very creative) straight from the camera.  

A camera is a tool, and I like it to be a sophisticated tool for the right occasion. The Leica does seem rather bare-bones in the manual control department, compared to the Panasonic. Look at that shot of the Leica above, and then look at these shots of the Panasonic:

Doesn't the Panasonic look the business? That no-nonsense, rather rectangular, 'industrial' look. And all those dials: a proper manual control for everything essential. And that fast f/1.7 lens, which pulls in about 60% more light than the Leica's more modest f/2 lens can. From first acquaintance in August last year, I felt inspired by the Panasonic. And 15,000 shots later, I have not been disappointed. It's a really nice camera. It truly shows what an extra seven years of technical development can achieve. Specification-wise, it's twice the camera that the Leica is. I respect it, I enjoy using it, and I love the results it gives me.

And yet...

The smaller Leica is somehow more engaging. My fingers curl round it more easily. The shutter release button seems more controllable. It's never given me any problems, like dust on the sensor. It's outclassed, of course it is, but I'm falling in love with it all over again.

Perhaps it's no more than an upsurge of affection for an old and very faithful friend who has lately been eclipsed. Or, if it's an infatuation, that this will run its course by the time the Panasonic is back. But you never know. Love is an inconvenient emotion. It's also an illogical emotion. I might find, if I'm not careful, and if the Leica produces a harvest of wonderful shots, that I will want to stay with it and not go back to the Panasonic.

What then for the Panasonic? I've already taken more shots with it than many people do in a lifetime, and so in that sense it has served me very well, and we can part without regrets. Some (high-income) photographers do sell or trade in their equipment every year, or every other year, just in order to stay cutting-edge. Nobody uses the same camera for ten or twenty years, as was quite often the case in film days. But it does seem a bit too soon to part with the Panasonic. I'm sure I would happily use it for years to come, once it's been cleaned up, if the Leica weren't around.

But the Leica is around.

Hmm! A classic love-triangle. A classic tug of loyalties. Return to the old love, or embrace the new?

Here are a few examples of what the little Leica can still do, taken from the last three days:

Click on any of these to enlarge them.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Trouble in cameraland

Oh dear. The main Melford camera, a Panasonic LX100 bought almost exactly a year ago, has developed an annoying problem. Except at full aperture, images show small shadowy specks here and there.

Here they are, showing up clearly at f/16 against a shot of a white blanket (with a hair showing too, in the bottom right-hand corner):

This is very noticeable on shots that include a lot of sky, if taken on a sunny day. Indoors, or when shooting dark subjects, or highly-textured subjects, it's there but not nearly so obvious.

These specks or spots can easily be removed with my photo-editing software, but I don't want them in my pictures in the first place. Research on the Internet has quickly revealed that the LX100 has a design fault: despite the lens being fixed to the camera and not removable, tiny particles of dust and dirt can get drawn inside whenever the lens extends, as happens when switching the camera on, or zooming. These find their way onto either the sensor or the light filter in front of it.

There is no cure, except to open the camera up and blow the dust away. I have seen a YouTube video showing what to do. Given the right preparation, simple tools, and a lot of self-assurance, it can be done by any ordinary person. I may do it myself, but I'm not ready to yet. I need to psych myself up to the task.

Meanwhile, the little Leica D-Lux 4, the LX100's long-serving predecessor, and my stalwart workhorse from June 2009 to August 2015, has come out of semi-retirement. It had been on standby in the boot of my car. As my emergency camera, it saw some action in April this year, after I slipped on some seaside rocks and in the process crunched the LX100 onto a ledge. The D-Lux 4 galloped to the rescue that afternoon, to record a sore-headed Lucy (I'd knocked my head and wasn't feeling my best) and a sorry-looking Panasonic camera (a bit sand-covered and splashed with salt-water, and with its front lens rings detached)

The Panasonic was robust, and after careful cleaning-up it was OK. It carried on nobly. In the year since purchase I have taken very nearly 15,000 shots with it, most of them excellent. But now there is this dust-on-the-sensor issue.

My first step must be to see whether the LX100 is still under guarantee, and if so, I'll send it away and (presumably two months afterwards) will get back with the dust cleaned up. If I'm just out of the guarantee period, as I suspect I am, then I will attempt to do the job myself. If my surgery goes well, I will be back in action with it. If not, then I will have a crippled camera.

For now, though, the little Leica is back in harness. I'm not at all displeased. I admit this is quite an 'ancient' camera, as modern digital cameras go. It was launched in October 2008, and camera technology has moved on quite a bit since then. But it has all the essentials for rewarding photography: a great lens, a decent sensor, easy-to-use controls, and dependable results that need little adjustment on the laptop. It's a simpler, smaller, lighter, camera than the Panasonic. The Leica has been my best camera ever. I have taken 62,900 shots with it over the last seven years. I am sure that if need be it could go on indefinitely.

I changed to the LX100 simply to obtain a newer camera, as I had important holidays in mind. Buying it also gave me a faster lens and a larger sensor, and therefore better pictures in low light, with the occasional downside of flare in very bright light. Those things apart, the LX100 isn't a radically different camera. Close up, or at middle distance, the results from each camera are much the same. So going back to the Leica D-Lux 4 for a while won't be a culture shock, nor will it feel like a retrograde step.

Here they are, lined up together in the caravan in April this year, after the Panasonic had been cleaned up after its seaside ordeal:

Wish me luck on either the guarantee, or the alternative surgery.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Changes in the kitchen

I don't post much about my home, mainly because I rarely spend real money on it. It's kept very clean and very tidy, and from time to time I buy little things for it, but I haven't bought anything postworthy since the new gas cooker February 2013.

Nor have I embarked on any redecoration. That's partly because I am a languid kind of person with no DIY skills to speak of, so it all seems a daunting task. But there are also three other problems.

One: Nothing has been altered or repainted since the early 2000s, so making a small start on anything (white gloss on the door frames, say) will immediately make the rest look shabby, and nothing will look right again until it's all had a makeover. Just now I haven't got the time or inclination to do that. So it will remain in its present state. As for the style of decor, it was last decorated in the early 2000s, and even then it conformed to my parents' taste, which I can best describe as 'Pre-IKEA'. The look is distinctly last-century. And although he was a keen DIYer, Dad's execution was a bit rough-and-ready here and there. But if you ignore that, the decor and the furniture do at least look, in their own way, consistent and harmonious. It's not 'me', but I can happily live with it.

Two: I'm not yet ready to obliterate the look and ambience that Mum and Dad created. I may have put my own pictures up on the walls, and my own ornaments and books on the shelves, but the house remains essentially as they had it. The furniture (with the main exception of my bed) is all theirs. The wallpaper was their choice. It absolutely says 'Mum and Dad did this'. They created a very comfortable, well-equipped home, and I have gratefully enjoyed that comfort. I was surprised to inherit the house, rather than sharing a pot of money, but I like its atmosphere and in many ways it does feel to me like a survival pod that my parents knew I would need. I owe it to them not to tear it apart too soon, simply to start afresh. And even though my home is in no sense a shrine to my parents, it does constantly conjure up their memory, wherever I glance. Everything about it reminds me of my parents, and really my home is my last tangible link with them. One day I will decide it's time for a new look. But not yet.

Three: Money. I am putting my social life, my car, and my holidays a long way in front of home beautification. You can't afford it all. You have to decide which things must have priority. I have made my choice, and I think it's the right one.

So as things wear out, I make a decision on whether to replace them, or just do without. Replacement is not automatic. I do want the essentials, of course, but not a lot of gadgetry that gets in the way. My parents bought gadgets galore. (I believe this is a common feature of older life) I have gradually been throwing stuff out, rather than buying replacements.

Here's an example. Mum and Dad were among the early purchasers of a dishwasher, once they became available at a reasonable price in the 1970s. But for some reason they made do without one when they moved into this house in 2000. I suspect that was because the era of regular family entertaining was pretty well over. Washing dishes by hand was no trouble. But in late 2008, Dad decided to buy a small Bosch dishwasher for Mum. It was installed near the sink, underneath a wall unit. If I show three kitchen shots, one taken in 2007, one in 2009, and one just the other day in 2016, you can see what the arrangement was, and how that corner of the kitchen developed:

The middle of these three pictures shows the kitchen in the state I inherited it after Dad's death - pretty well exactly as he left it after his last meal and the washing-up that followed. And it must be obvious that since then I've made only minimal changes.

That little dishwasher was hardly used. Mum grew ill, and by January 2009 was in a hospice. Dad washed up by hand. That was his preferred method anyway. And after he died, I always washed up by hand too. That said, the dishwasher was still useful as a fold-away drying rack. I'd lower the front door, pull out the rack, and place bowl-washed items in it.

The water and suds would drain onto the lid, and then back into the machine. I'd leave the dishes and cutlery to dry naturally, then, some hours later, unload the rack, push it back into the machine (on its little wheels), and close the door, leaving a gap for ventilation. The water and suds would pool inside somewhat, but if left long enough would dry. Once a fortnight I'd shut the door properly and run the machine empty on the final rinse section of the washing programme, to pass hot water through it and clean it out.

Unfortunately I live in a hard-water area, and I became aware that the machine was slowly furring up with the kind of mineral crust that you get in kettles:

I knew that one day it would stop running as it should. That began to happen early this year. Last week it stopped altogether. It was of course entirely possible that a thorough service would bring it back to life, but I didn't see the point of spending the money - for I had never used the dishwasher as it ought to be used, and never would. It was time to disconnect it, remove it, and take it to the tip. I'd gain a useful amount of worktop space. I wanted the rack, though - it would still be perfect out of the machine.

So yesterday my next door neighbour Kevin came in with his plumber hat on, and the deed was done. He capped off the piping and obligingly carried the thing out to my garage for me. I was left with a space to fill.

After cleaning that corner, I shifted the microwave oven - another gadget I rarely used - and plonked it where the old dishwasher had been. This left sufficient space for the rack.

You can see what happens. At dishwashing-time, I roll the rack forwards onto the stainless-steel draining board...

...and roll it back out of the way after everything is dry, so that I can wipe the draining board. Meanwhile, the worktop on the other side of the kitchen is minus a microwave oven, and has become relatively decluttered:

I now finally have a long stretch of worktop, which will of course be invaluable or any cooking process or serving-up operation that involves a lot of plates, and/or two persons working side-by-side. (I am not too proud to accept assistance in my own kitchen)

Less is more!