On the nature of humans…

30 11 2013

Are you quick to judge?

Prone to speak before you’ve checked the facts?

No? Must be just me then…

Of course, it’s not something I’m proud of, or that I choose to do – I do tend to look before I leap… but there are times, I confess.

We all seem to have assumptions and pre-conceptions. They range from “flames tend to be hot – best not to test this specific one with my finger” through to “it’s best not to trust politicians  – at least while they’re alive”.

Yesterday my colleague told me that he’d heard something on the illustrious CBC Radio 1. There’d been a piece about how the Canadian government had engaged a consultant to teach Canadian businessmen how to speak with “British accents” to help their negotiations run more smoothly. Naturally this spun off into a self-fuelled rant as we fed off each other, and we agreed that it was ridiculous (first clue), and that any North American trying to “put a cockney at ease” by speaking in their own accent would likely turn out at least as bad as Dick van Dyke‘s “Bert” in Mary Poppins. Worse – they’d likely be knifed or otherwise assaulted at some point in the proceedings.

I of course, being all superior and pious, had additional issues with the mere phrase “British accent”. I kept bleating on about there being four countries in Great Britain – not including the various islands (Yes – the UK is the “mainland”… ;) ) – and that each of them had more accents per square mile than Canada had voters. Or possibly even trees for that matter. This was all easy self-reinforcing bias, and supported the pre-existing assumptions that (i) governments in general were keen to spend our tax money on silly things, (ii) teaching anyone an accent was inherently going to fail – Meryl Streep‘s excellent rendition of Maggie notwithstanding – and most importantly (iii) Dick van Dyke may not be able to act, but he makes a great penguin.

Not a proud moment in QE’s life. Nor, I’m further ashamed to say, an uncommon one.

Fast forward to today when a friend posted on Facebook the following story:

Town in Montana changes its name to Banff Alberta Canada

CBC: According to Mr. Landers, Banff Alberta Canada, Montana is not near the mountains but it does have a great local theatre company for tourists to enjoy. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Ridiculous, right? (Déjà vu!)

But wait –  let’s not forget about Leavenworth, WA

Wikipedia: Leavenworth’s main street reflects its modelling on a Bavarian village

Reinventing the entire town as a Bavarian village just to increase tourism is completely batty, right?! Insisting that industry giants like Subway, Starbucks, etc. use signage “in keeping” with the theme (carved wooden hanging signs as in the above photo) is ludicrous, yes? Can’t be true… but it is.

So renaming a ghost-town in Montana to “Banff Alberta Canada” to lure unwary tourists isn’t really any less believable is it? And there of course enters “the bias”. The assumption that well, without putting too fine a point on it, it’s just the sort of thing “the Americans” would do, isn’t it? :)

It took all of a few minutes for someone to point out “You do know it’s a satirical program, right?” (I’ll forgive them the omission of the “me” at the end of programme, under the circumstances).

Ah! Burn…

I felt ashamed more than embarrassed. I was so totally ready to believe that this little town would rename itself. And based on what? Prejudice. Assumption that we wouldn’t do that, but they would. Us and them – the core of prejudice. I hadn’t even bothered to listen to the whole piece, and though the photos of the presenters looked a bit glib, I didn’t check further into their programme.

Then a thought…

Yup – sure enough, the CBC 1 programme to which my earnest colleague had referred earlier was the same one responsible for Banff Alberta Canada!

Canadian industry delegates learn to speak with British accent to improve trade relations

CBC: According to Mr. Theodore, the Canadian accent is perceived as unintellegent in the United Kingdom. (iStockPhoto)

Well – don’t I feel silly?!

Of course – the spirit of a good laugh is for it to be believable enough that the punchline is unexpected and funny. Because my colleague had himself believed it to be “straight”, and it played to all the accepted stereotypes, I too fell hook, line and sinker to his retelling. But now I know this programme is actually a satirical one… I’m actually pretty underwhelmed. If you were listening to it, knowing it was a satirical show, it’s a pretty blunt instrument! Or is that my prejudice speaking again?

But these deeply flawed aspects of human nature (at least as far as they are represented in my own case) are only part of the picture. Thankfully!

This morning I took the devil dog for a walk around the local duck ponds. Winter is well on its way, and the deciduous trees are all but bare now. But not quite…

Bigger berry Bauble Christmas cheer

Some local wit had placed about a dozen Christmas-tree baubles on various otherwise sparse trees around the ponds. Nothing too outlandish. No tinsel, for example. No garish lights as the municipality chooses to use elsewhere. Just one bauble per chosen tree, evenly spaced around the park. Yet somehow, these cheap dollar-store ornaments were uplifting as I trudged around in the rain. Someone had thought to do it. Do something unexpected. Worthy of note (at least by me). A bit like when soon-to-be-obsolete pennies appeared on the park benches.

What're you looking' at?

What’re you lookin’ at?

I met a couple of other locals on their morning constitution. One (who I have a sneaky suspicion may have had some involvement) agreed with me that they were a jolly addition to the park, and added a festive air. Another – a middle-aged lady with incongruous headphones disappearing into her pocketed iPod, and a keen and adept hand with mobile phone photography – asked me if I’d noticed the curious additions to the treescape. She too had been photographing them. Perhaps she has her own blog… We chatted briefly and went on our separate ways, smiling and happy at this brief most human of connections.

And as I walked home still grinning, I realised that perhaps this Christmas, if I really tried, I could perhaps be less cynical. These cheap plastic baubles had already caused me to have two friendly conversations with strangers. Even better – somewhere near me lived a kindred spirit. Someone who did weird stuff just for the hell of it. I wondered if it was the same person who had put the pennies out last year. I was in a good mood… and there hadn’t even been chocolate involved!

It would seem that despite my previous assumptions and prejudice, there really can be such a thing as Christmas cheer. A non-commercial, non-marketed, simple, pure, goodwill to others.

Humans can after all still do little things that bring pleasure and happiness to others. It could be an unexpected bauble in a tree (I’m willing to overlook the fact that it’s technically littering), or it could be a few dollars in a Sally Army fund-raising kettle.

But it’s not even December yet. Bah – humbug… :D





No more fog

28 10 2013

The fog has left us… with amazing sunsets

Flaming Sky

Flaming Sky





Open your eyes

19 10 2013

It’s been foggy in the Lower Mainland for a few days. Quite mild, but pretty murky. It adds a dampness, without actually raining.

It was as if it highlighted every spider’s web in every bush and shrub. It added sheen to all the autumn leaves just waiting for their command to let go of their particular branch. But there were still some flowers in full colour.

I had just a few minutes playing with my camera, but I felt so calm and relaxed afterwards. Looking at nature slowly and deliberately as one does through a lens.

How much there is to see, if only we’d take the time to look.

Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version.





Ansel Adams

15 07 2013

Last night I watched a DVD from the library. A biography of Ansel Adams.

It had lots of his wonderful photographs from Yosemite and explained how he came to take them. I know his images of Half Dome would appeal to climbers out there.

Ansel Adams Gallery: Moon and Half Dome

Not as much of the photographic technique as I’d expected, but an interesting insight into his life never the less. I was a little disappointed how they kept trying to make out he was driven as a true patriot and how his work was especially American, rather than simply celebrating his skill, determination and love of nature. He happened to be American.

Anyway, the purpose of the blog entry is a quote from Adams of his friend Alfred Stieglitz‘s intended epitaph. I thought it was witty. Almost Oscar Wilde so.

“Here lies Alfred Stieglitz. He lived for better or for worse, but he’s dead for good.”

The entire programme’s transcript can be read here… unfortunately without the wonderful photographs: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/ansel/filmmore/pt.html





Old dogs

23 05 2013

They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. I don’t know why they say that. It doesn’t strike me as particularly well based in scientific research.

I’m feeling a bit of an old dog today – I just clocked up 49 circuits of the sun. Give or take a partial spin of the Earth for emigrating from the UK and immigrating into Canada. That’s more of a rounding error in the grand scheme of things. I also flew clockwise all the way around, so I’m not sure what that means in ABSOLUTE age, either. But I do like a new trick every now and then. I can be obsessive in my interests. To the point of annoying Mrs E. My most recent obsession is a newly refreshed interest in photography. I did all the usual mid-life male pseudo-crisis stuff and bought a new camera and lenses. Convinced myself I now took better photos. The usual.

It’s not surprising therefore that when pushed to state preferences for potential presents by offspring and assorted rellies, I came up with an assortment of camera and photography related items. It was a bit tough, as being reasonably affluent and of the male persuasion, I’m not shy of splurging out whenever I feel the desire for a new gizmo or trinket. Nevertheless, I was indeed pressed to name items I might not be averse to receiving, and so duly received even more baubles with which to play.

One such item is an Infra-red filter for my camera. More expensive than I’d have expected, so I’m even more grateful to my father-in-law for sending it.

I attempted to snap a few photos this morning before work. Nada. The images barely registered. I’d watched a video that had explained how hard it was to compose your shot because the IR filter blocks all visible light… kind of makes the through-the-lens viewfinder a bit useless for the non-bionic amongst us!

So I wasn’t looking to get any super photos, just something to see the promised ethereal effect of an IR spectrum shot. The video had mentioned that IR focuses slightly shorter to visible light, and that your focus ring needs to compensate, or you need a deep enough depth of field to handle the difference. Again, I wasn’t looking for super sharp images at this stage… just SOMETHING. The video had gone on to mention setting a small aperture to give that extra depth of field, but had just vaguely mentioned “the appropriate exposure time”. Thinking I was being smart, I set my fancy schmancy camera to aperture priority, slapped on the auto-focus, set ISO100 to try and get a low-noise image, set a small aperture for good DoF and let the camera do the rest. It selected a relatively short exposure (1/50s I think) and snap.

As I said… nada!

Time to leave for work, and a frustrating day pondering the puzzle.

I read more, and discovered that the camera’s sensor is confused by the narrow band of light reaching it through the filter and assumes there’s more light than there actually is. Exposures in the 10s range are more appropriate. Ah! So, once back home, I took care of the other little issue I’d read about – setting the custom white balance of the camera to deal with the strong red/magenta cast of using the filter – and then went about putting my camera on a tripod and having another go.

Here’s where I learnt one last new trick. It turns out that because of the aforementioned difference in IR wavelengths and the band of visible light, the IR light bounces around inside your lens a bit differently before it hits the camera’s sensor to be recorded. Depending on the design of the elements in the lens it may be prone to producing “hot spots” in the centre of the image. The good ol’ Interwebs provides a few sites listing various lenses and their suitability for IR photography. Guess what? My lenses are all on the “bad” list. All except my 100mm Macro.

Oh well – that’s a good excuse to buy more toys. :)

There’s a few tricks left in the old dog yet, it seems…

Image

Image





Behold!

17 05 2013

Beauty is in the eye.

I went to the dollar store tonight. To get something to test my new off-camera flash cable with.

One in the eye

 

 





The view from here

4 05 2013

As I mentioned previously, today I added The Chief’s First Peak to the list of places I’ve been. It was a lovely day with the views absolutely stunning.

I only hope the many climbers on the Chief’s famous faces were being appropriately careful in their enjoyment, and were well supplied with sun screen and lip balm. The iPod’s ability to dynamically build this image as I wafted it unceremoniously in the air is nothing short of amazing. Kudos Apple (and people who know me will agree that that is not something I lightly offer to The Dark Empire).

Click on the image to see a bigger version. The wiggly road to the left is the Sea to Sky highway, linking Vancouver to the left and Whistler to the right.

View from Stawamus Chief, Squamish, BC

View from Stawamus Chief, Squamish, BC








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