Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wallet Wide Shut ...

It is known in certain circles that I have become a dab hand at taking panoramic photographs - from monster flat images to 360º moving pictures. I have only been doing them seriously for the last 4 months and it's a fascinating hobby. However, I can see that in a few more months I should have sufficient experience to offer this medium as a commercial commodity to estate agents etc.

In October of last year, I came across a Hollywood film actor who runs a company which supplies panoramic imagery for just that. His pictures of West Coast property and scenery are quite superb - it got me thinking; "have a crack at it yourself, Stu". Sheepishly, I wrote to him and explained that I was fascinated by this type of photography and where could I learn more? I was stunned when he penned a long-winded reply listing who, where and what I needed to know. Since then, we have continued to exchange emails, thoughts and ideas. He has been of great encouragement and is always very patient to explain where I have gone wrong or what I need to 'tweek' in order to get results. He put me onto an internet group who exchange ideas, help newcomers and critique their work. After 3 weeks of trying to join, they eventually accepted my application, citing the weeding out of loonies and nutters (you mean I'm not a loony? News to me ...).

To begin with, you need a camera, a tripod, a fisheye lens, a stitching programme and bags of patience as the learning curve is as steep as a lighthouse staircase. A majority of the folk in this internet club suggest that I plough through pages of technical drivel, diagrams of oscillating sinewaves, temperature scales, mathematical theory and calculations involving the letter 'x'. Excuse me? When I bought the stitching programme, it simply said "with this, you can do THIS!" and nothing about gaining a degree in calculus. So, €70 later, I installed the stitching programme on my Apple Mac and started to climb the lighthouse.

I began with flat images, initially taking 4 or 5 separate photographs, then stitching them together. When it finally worked, I was stunned. Weeks of playing with 'Gigeresque' looking pictures and pressing buttons had paid off. But, naturally, I wanted more - I wanted to make moving 360s. The online community were a little hesitant to cough up the inside info and I was beginning to think that I didn't possess the right handshake or had rolled up the wrong trouser leg. Finally, someone took me under their wing and explained that I needed yet more software and more camera kit to get perfect results. Sadly, I am not in a position to do either and I'm buggered if any more cash is going to be invested. I have the basics, so let's see what I can do with them.

The more experienced members of the group said "Oh, if you have a Canon 5D, the you should get yourself a Nikkor 10.5mm lens, it's THE ideal combo". Well, I have an 8 and a 14mm so let's get working with those. "Oh", the group continued, "then you'll need this gadget and then this piece of software ..." But the stitching software said "with this, you can do THIS!" and showed a fisheye lens on camera, mounted on a tripod - and that's exactly what I have and all I'm going to use. To make moving images I got hold of a programme that does the conversion through a friend. So, back to the lens ...

The Nikkor 10.5mm costs around €700 but the fun doesn't start there, oh no. In order to get this 'ideal combo' working you should also invest in a hacksaw and a 5mm spark plug gauge. Eh? Apparently, after shelling out nearly a months rent, the Nikkor should be carefully placed in a vice and using the spark plug gauge as a ... err, gauge, saw off the sunshield around the business end of the lens. Then you need to buy the adapter ring that fixes the Nikkor to a Canon. What? "But the results will be fantastic!", the group insisted. But what if I dragged a hacksaw blade over the polished glass of a brand new lens? Guarantee shot to bollocks and €700 down the tubes ... so I started asking around about the 8 and 14mm lenses that I already have. A very helpful chap from Ireland came back saying "Not a problem, I do it all the time". He explained that it simply a matter of doubling the amount of images that you take initially. So much so, he asked that I send him 17 images (ok, you might need a pen and paper for this) with the 14mm lens. With the camera pointing -20º down from horizontal, take 8 images around the circle, then a further 8 images at +20º and a final shot at 90º upwards, the top shot. By the end of play that day, I received a Quicktime movie with the workflow explained with a running voice commentary. Heaven's above, and I've never even met this chap! I watched the little film, followed his every instruction and managed to replicate the result.

A huge weight appears to have been taken off my shoulders, the smoke and mirrors removed and I'm cracking on with a constant thirst for knowledge, taking the lighthouse steps two at a time. What next? I'm off to invade Poland ...


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

6 Nations Shall Speak Volumes ...

BHLC, nice one ...

Trouble In The Trussocks ...

Now, here's a film you should buy a ticket for.

"The Last King Of Scotland" is a superb tale, loosely based on events in 1970's Uganda. In reality, Bob Astles was the Scotsman in question, though the film-makers have toyed with the details (naturally). Forest Whittaker is a highly believable Idi Amin with James McAvoy as the young Scottish doctor. Gillian Anderson, known primarily for her role in 'The X Files' is looking more than a little ravishing ...


Monday, February 19, 2007

They Say Depression, I Say Who Cares ...?

According to the popular press, diminutive singer Britney Spears seems to have 'done it again' and shocked America with her latest look - her shaved head. Along with this radical hairdo, a tattoo artist at the 'Body and Soul Parlour' explained that Spears had left the premises with something else, "cute little lips on her wrist". It is rumoured that Spears, a mere 25 years old, is suffering from depression. Recently she checked in to a rehabilitation centre on the island of Antigua - but checked out one day later.

In January 2004 she married a childhood friend - an oath that expired two days later. The following year she remarried, this time to Kevin Federline, a former backing dancer (what the f**k is one of those?). Federline, however, was not exactly pure as the driven snow as he left a heavily pregnant girlfriend, Shar Jackson, for Spears. The sun shone briefly on the happy couple until, as expected in showbiz, The Spears-Federline marriage ended late last year after producing 2 children. The second child arrived in September 2006 and this recent headline is, apparently, down to post-natal depression.

Hang on, there are millions of women a day who suffer from this type of depression and I don't see them grabbing the headlines. Not unless they go off 'on one' and kill either themselves, the child - or both. It must be hell being Britney Spears, all that fame and fortune so young and you act like a total twat. Well, you give millions of dollars to a teenager, surround them with a gaggle of people calling them 'special' every minute of every day, and what do you expect?

The papers went on to say that she 'shocked America' with her shaved head. Nerves a bit jittery, eh septics? So, if someone with a personal fortune of $123m shaves their head because 'they're feeling a little under the weather' and it shocks an entire nation, then how would you describe the time that LHO shot JFK? Not quite on the same scale is it.

So, married twice by the age of 25, 2 kids, photographed not wearing any knickers while out on the town and covered in tattoos ... about time she bought a house in Essex.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Hannibal Rising? A Matter Of Choice ...

Do not proceed if you haven't yet seen this pile of nonsense.

When you draw on the strings of a classic cult horror film and attempt to rewrite history, the wise would be well off leaving those sleeping dogs snoozing to their heart's content ...

Hannibal Rising is, without doubt, one of the worst films to kick off a new year - and it's still only February. The story is disastrously weak and riddled with nonsensical chance and writer's cramp. With it's forerunner now well and truly on a higher shelf, some bright spark decided that the original story should be told from the beginning. So, along with a financial backer, they set out to recreate the early years of Hannibal Lecter.

Casting a French boy in the role of the adolescent Hannibal only confused the character's Eastern European origins when he spoke. The supporting cast must have been drawn out of a hat at a charity ball and the editing appeared to have been done by a deranged axe-man with a blunt instrument. Where the idea of this Japanese Aunt came from, along with the martial art of kendo and the Samurai mask, I'll never know - and we're only 30 minutes into the film at this stage.

It's a bizarre tale with some truly awful lines, delivered by a collection of character actors who should strike this ordeal from their resumes. Remember Ridley Scott's 2001 'Hannibal' but leave this desparately poor relation to the half-price bins at your local DVD store.

If I were to describe this movie in 5 words, I'd say that it was 'a cow in a tracksuit'. But then I'd be insulting the cow ...


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Self Abuse And Six Of The Best ...

Back in the 1980's, when governments had us believing that things were on the up, one of those in total agreement was 20-something Jeffrey Harrison from Venice, California. Twice a week Harrison would take a trip to the local sperm bank to leave a deposit for the freezer. Unlike the Boston bar "Cheers", no-one here wanted to know your name - to them, you were a number and Harrison was labelled 'Donor 150'.

Thirty years later, while reading the New York Times, Harrison came across an article in which the Donor Sibling Registry was appealing for 'Donor 150'. It soon became apparent that no less than 6 US teenagers, fathered by 'Donor 150', had made contact and were looking for their father. To begin with, Mr H was hesitant to come forward (a different story back in the 80's, eh Jeff?) but eventually surrendered to the call. Now aged 50, Harrison lives with four dogs in a motor home in Venice on a low income, performing odd jobs. He was concerned as to what the teenagers would think of him, seeing as his sperm had originally marketed as "belonging to a tall, blue-eyed lover of the arts". Mmm, a possible trade's descriptions case?

Harrison was quoted as saying "it's a short life and these children need to have some kind of resolution", and thanks to his solution, they do. One of his daughters, 17yr old Danielle Pagano, said of him "he's sort of a free spirit and I don't care what career he has. I got to talk to his dogs." (fascinating conversationalists, especially to Californians apparently).

"What did your Father do before you were born?" ... "He batted for his country ... err, kind of".


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Suck It And See ...

With more than 60% of Americans suffering from obesity, it is becoming more and more of a problem for 'Uncle Sam'. To combat the overhang, many have reverted to liposucion, the manual hoovering out of unwanted fat via cosmetic surgery.

One particular Norwegian, however, thinks he has devised a way to recycle the fat from the Superpower gut-buckets. Lauri Venoy reckons that a single weekly harvest of 11,500 litres of body fat (from multiple clinics) can produce a staggering 10,000 litres of bio diesel. Currently, Mr Venoy is in talks with the Jackson Memorial Hospital ... and Mobil.

If you insist on driving bloody SUV's America, then you will give your right arm for them ...


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Oh Doctor ...

So, Robbie Williams has been admitted to a rehab clinic for dependency on prescription drugs - again.

Who gives a f**k?

I hear the clattering hooves of a personal hobby-horse approaching.

They Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore ...

I met a dear old soul over the weekend: my beloved's Grandmother who's aged 80+. We paid her a short visit over the weekend and as it was my introductory trip, I was on my best behaviour having washed behind my ears and curbing my language. In her bedroom was a rather splendid looking wardrobe, dating back from the year dot. She decided that upon her death, she would like my beloved to have it.

The story behind the wardrobe is as romantic as was the old lady in her former years.

In the 1920's, just before Grandma was born, her father owned a small wood, out in the countryside. He, himself, was married and soon began producing children. He declared that once his daughter was old enough and had found herself a husband, he would chop down an oak tree of his choice, and with the top class wood, build the newly married couple a wedding present; a wardrobe. Over 80 years later, this sturdy and beautifully crafted piece of furniture now stands in the old lady's bedroom. Neither time nor tide unable to dampen its splendour.

Although we don't all own tracts of land, it's rather a nice story, no? These days, it's more of a case of "Ikea hand-me-downs".


Friday, February 09, 2007

Bee In Their Bonnet ...

It's interesting to note that when the constantly-happy, red-haired Irish have anything to do with the English, there's always an underlying vein of "you bastards". They harp on about the days when the English Army arrived in their country, hence putting every member of my nationality under the same banner: 'English bastards. You f**king English bastards'. In bars, they will launch into some 'auld country song' at the drop of a hat, all about some local 'hero' who was shot trying to kill the invaders. Oh, such fun for all ...

It seems that in the world of sporting fixtures, these references will crop up. For example, before the Ireland/England game of the 6 Nations Rugby tournament: "Ireland could be without O'Driscoll and Horgan for England's visit in two weeks. That said, England will be without the machine guns and armoured cars from their last visit to Croke Park ..."

However, would it be fair if I were to accuse every Irish person of being a member of the IRA? Pointing the finger at everyone who can't pronounce 'th' properly, denouncing them all of coming to my country and casually bombing the shit out of people and property, causing havoc and death ... do you think they'd take it in good humour? I doubt it. Let alone if I was ask for quiet while I sang a ditty about hoards of dying Republicans to the tune of 'The Happy Wanderer'.

I was not responsible for the problems in your country. I was not there. It's 2007 now and I'm getting tired of this whining. Get over it.

Vee Haf Vays ...

A primary school in Wales* has recently banned it's pupils from making Mother’s Day cards. Why would they do this to the little 'uns? Well, it's in case they upset their fellow classmates without a mum.

School Head, 'Oberstabsfeldwebel' Helen Starkey ended the tradition because a minority of children have either been bereaved or separated from their mothers. All 357 pupils at the school were lined up and told "You vill not be making karts fur yer mutters zis year!". The day, which falls on March 18, has now been cancelled for the little tykes. 46-yr old 'Oberstabsfeldwebel' Starkey said: “I have taken zis dezision because it iz inzensitive to pupils zeparated from zer mutters. More dan fife perzent of children here are."

However, one mutter said: “Nobody wants to be hard-hearted to kids without a mum but it means that 95 per cent of pupils are deprived of a traditional activity.”

We're all getting far too sensitive. It's going the same way as Christmas decorations, innit?


* a small backward enclave in the British Isles, renowned for anti-social behaviour with farm creatures.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Veritable Theme Park ...

There was once a time when the chest on the left claimed to belong to the tallest woman in the world. In fact, the claim was that this Dutch monster (7' 4" and 320 pounds) had beaten all-comers to the Guinness Book Of World Records. However, it was all a bit of fun. Her name (supposedly) is Heather and she's from the USA. In her stocking feet she stands at 6'5" and in heels, a tad over 7'. The real holder of the record is Sandy Allen from Indiana who stands at a staggering 7' 7". This, and other photos of Heather, were possible because she consistently poses in high heels next to people of shorter-than-average height, thereby enhancing her stature.

Oh, give me the keys to the adventure playground ... with an hour to spare, I reckon I'd be bored stiff.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

There Was An Old Woman ...

A frightful shuddering came from the 8 year-old washing machine at my beloved's house. As the saying goes, 'water, water, everywhere' but I was in no mood to drink it. Right then, here's the chance to do a little something for the woman I love so let's order a new one - or so I thought.

The machine (and the 'ole it sits in) was measured and a suitable replacement found 'online' at the French outlet, Darty. Within minutes they were on the phone to confirm my order. I thought that this was possibly the best service the French could offer. How wrong I was. 6 hours later, an email arrived requesting that I a) confirm the correct delivery address with a gas bill or otherwise and b) prove that I am indeed the card holder with a copy of my passport.

Hang on, you confirmed the order (including payment) only this morning and now you want me to run around for you, make photocopies and start sending faxes? My beloved faxed her papers and copy of my passport. 24 hours later, she rang to say that Darty were not happy with my passport. Excuse me? Is France's largest domestic electrical consumer outlet now acting as an arm of the immigration service? What was faxed to them was a highly detailed, pro scan of a clean and unmarked passport. I should know - I made it. Apparently, they didn't like the size of it. Despite it fitting perfectly on a piece of A4 paper, they wanted something smaller.


I had no idea that the Japanese were producing a pocket-sized A10 (26 x 37) fax machine.

Another clone was made on a photocopy machine with the passport smack in the middle of the sheet of A4 and reduced in size. Apparently, some old grainy black and white photocopy is so much better than a scan at 300dpi. I faxed this new copy with a sneer and rang Darty. "So, about all this faxing crap we've been doing to purchase a €300 washing machine", I began, "do you treat all foreigners like this?" The young man who caught my rage was stunned for a second. "Well, it's all to do with money laundering ..." "FOR A BLOODY WASHING MACHINE?? We want to wash clothes man, NOT poxy bank notes!"

"Well, there's a lot of it about" he proffered. "You see, there was this poor old lady who lost ..."

"Stop right there Monsieur" I snapped back, "I am not going to have you tell me some bloody sob story about a little old lady who lost a few euros on her credit card and someone made off with a teasmade ..." (or words to that effect). This story, strangely enough, was echoed word-for-word by a friend of mine who had the self-same story about trying to buy a TV from another retailer. "There was this old lady who had ..." His girlfriend chipped in with a story about trying to buy a fridge from another 'grande surface' and the old dear cropped up again.

This poor old woman seems to appear in every story from every outlet and, to be brutal, it's wearing a little thin ...

It'll be a little old man next month, just you wait and see.


UPDATE: the second fax arrived (€13,50 in total for 3 faxes/6 pages) but Darty were still not happy. Apparently, the space reserved for the town I was born was smudged on the fax and they wouldn't accept it. My beloved cancelled the entire order and told them to shove it up their arses. She's French and an 'arse shove' from one of their own probably sounded much better ...
SAS - Simply Add & Subtract ...

With reference to a previous entry, "From Out Of The Archives", I am indebted to LJ for responding thus:

"I'm sure you are aware that many members of lesser ranks in the Armed Forces were of the opinion that a) Andy McNab (not his real name) should have been court-martialled for the fiasco now known as "Bravo Two-Zero" and b) that due to the literary (I use the term in it's loosest possible sense) efforts of many ex-SAS troopers, the regiment is now a spent force in that every tinpot dictator or lunatic government knows to expect them prior to the opening of hostilities and therefore are on their guard. There's a feeling that perhaps it's time to close down the regiment, simply because their former "mates" and colleagues have completely "blown" the fundamental ethos of the SAS, which is "in and out and NOBODY NOTICES". They have betrayed them to the enemy, current and future, for the chance of a fast buck."

... and have also betrayed their colleagues, their leaders, their country and that little dotted line where they sign their names. It's what happens when celebrity goes to your head.

Thank you LJ. I think we can put that one to bed now.

Next up: why do the French treat foreigners like skant-ridden vermin? Stay tuned for a good old fashioned rant ... but first, some music ...

Welcome To Our World ...

First Story: Rich Indian woman is allegedly abused on British reality TV show. Parliament sits to discuss.

Second Story: American pilot kills British soldier in 'friendly fire incident'. US cover-up, MoD light on truth to soldier's relatives.

Which of the above gets more coverage?

You decide.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

From Out Of The Archives ...

Sitting in a kitchen, the other night, I strained to hear a British radio station crackle and fizz on the transistor radio. The signal dipped and rose with an erratic swell. With a small child recently put to bed in an adjoining room, I stooped my head towards the speaker as announcer read-in the title of the next programme. It was lucky dip time and I had no idea what was coming up. A programme for women maybe? Question time for keen gardeners? A political review? The radio hissed and popped as the following announcement was read out: "And next, on Radio 4, something from our archives. SAS - The Originals".

I have been fascinated in 'modern' history for years: World Wars 1 and 2, for instance. It is not an unnatural interest, nor has it lead to an unhealthy collection of wall posters, or to dressing up on the weekends nor annual trips out with like-minded societies. I just like to read, or in this case, listen. First-hand accounts of historical events are certainly preferable to some 3rd-hand author's account.

Some years ago, it became trendy for former SAS members to spill the beans with their 'publish and be damned' accounts of daring rescues and fire-fights. Since Andy McNab penned 'Bravo Two Zero', I have never been tempted to buy such accounts. I simply can't be bothered with all this derring-do; cover to cover displays of highly-trained yet hair-trigger testosterone, bludgeoning and killing a path across the world's battlefields. The book version of the radio show now on air, however, is certainly one which I would happily entertain sitting in my bookshelf.

Twenty years ago a British author, Gordon Stevens, was tasked with making a documentary about the founding members of this elite fighting force. He dug up not only the man who's idea it all was, Colonel Sir Archibald David Sterling OBE DSO, but also a number of the first men who served under him back in 1941. The documentary was never completed and, according to Stevens, the rolls of film were 'locked away'. Years later, the audio tracks of the interviews were made into a 50-minute wireless treat. With gentle guidance from Sterling's official biographer, Alan Hoe, the radio documentary followed Sir David's childhood, his joining the Scot's Guards, the parachute accident (which led to having a leg amputated), the drafting of a paper outlining this 'special' force and the disastrous first outing for L Detachment, the earliest given name of the SAS.

I was 19 years old when London's Iranian Embassy siege took place. The building was successfully stormed by a group of alien undercover men using high explosives and wearing gas masks. The papers of the day, along with copious reels of TV footage, brought these men in back, these black knights, to the forefront. Britain was captivated by their appearance, delighted with the outcome and even Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher thanked "her boys", personally but privately. This photograph shows 3 of the armed troopers involved in the successful raid on the Embassy with a jubilant (and equally armed with a handbag) Mrs Thatcher during her visit to their HQ. The negative was supposed to have been destroyed but, like all things 'secret', it managed to find it's way into the public domain.

Since then, it's all gone tits-up for the modern Special Air Service. Books, films, accounts, interviews and general unmasking. It's rather like a Magic Circle whistle-blower: take away the myth, reveal once heavily guarded secrets, and all you're left with is a bare-arsed individual running through a crowd. The cloak-and-dagger world has attracted many to dream of living the life of an SAS soldier. In 1995, for example, Christopher Reynolds was fined £250 for impersonating an SAS officer and giving a talk to army recruits and since 1997, all former SAS members who have published books have been banned from entering the SAS Headquarters.

"SAS - The Originals" follows the first men to go deep undercover in the deserts, when the world was in black and white. Sent into battle without Bond-like gadgets, without today's technology-lead trickery, just honest-to-goodness balls, grey matter and equipped with (unlike today's modern arsenal) the bare essentials. I have no idea how long BBC Radio 4 will keep this fascinating story online in their 'listen again' section but if you get the chance, go and find it before it goes back down, deep into the hidden world of the radio archives once again.


Monday, February 05, 2007

A Quickie (But Rude) ...

A wife, upon reading an article in National Geographic, announces to her husband: "Wow! It says here that a bull can have sex 3000 times a year! I wish you could do the same ..."

The husband, gripping his pipe between clenched teeth, replies: "Ask the bull if he f**ks the same cow ..."


Thursday, February 01, 2007

One Rule For Us, One For Them ...

A wide-eyed teenager walked in to police station and waited in line for the desk officer.

"Yes?", said the officer turning to the youth. "Someone's stolen my scooter". The desk officer rolled his eyes, bent down and opened a drawer where the report forms were kept. "Fill this out" barked the officer, "and no, I don't have a pen."

The youth placed his crash helmet on the desk, took the form and pulling a stubby pencil out of an inside pocket, filled it in the best he could. He handed it back and the information he'd given was briefly scanned "So, you left it here?" asked the officer, pointing at the lower part of the form. The youth nodded. "Did your scooter have an anti-theft device? A chain or a D-lock?" the officer enquired. The youth lowered his eyes and shook his head. "Mmm", scowled the officer. "Was it insured then?" Again, the youth examined his €200 Nikes. "Well then, we've got your details and we'll be in touch if we find it." The officer turned and laid the report on a pile behind him. Picking up his helmet, the youth made for the door. "It's a good thing we didn't catch you riding it sonny", called the officer, "because we'd have nicked ya!"

A few kilometers away, another angst-ridden teenager was going through the same process, except for a few minor details ...

His scooter was stolen on January 7th from outside an apartment building in the wealthy district of Neuilly-sur-Seine. House prices start in the millions out here and the sound of jewellery rattling down the streets can drown out birdsong. However, his bike was found 2 weeks later, 28 kilometers away in Bobigny, a poor rundown immigrant ghetto. What a stroke of luck. Well, not exactly. It has since become a national scandal due to the amount of man-hours used to find the bike, the costly DNA and fingerprinting resources employed, the call of "double standard" is now the latest cry. This youth happens to be the son of Interior Minister and Presidential candidate, Nicholas Sarkozy. By the way, Nicky is also the ultimate head of the French police force.

The cops have since arrested and charged 3 youths with this atrocious crime. No doubt, they'll be shot at dawn.

Just so we can put this into perspective, Sarkozy Jnr's bike didn't have an anti-theft device, nor did it have insurance covering theft. Last year alone, more than 85,000 motorcycles and scooters were stolen in France.

On a trip to London, Nicholas Sarkozy was hounded by the French press and quizzed about the events back home. "Leave my children out of all this", he responded.

Why? You didn't!