Beardie McBeardface

Firstly Happy New Year to my loyal reader (Marky) and any other casual visitors 🙂

So after 35 years of being clean shaven I decided just before Christmas to try growing a beard. No particular reason other than I fancied a change of look and with no work for two weeks it would be an ideal time to try.

Having never gone more than a week of being unshaven it does feel strange to have this growth on my face and I’m still unsure whether it will remain in the long term, but for now it’s here to stay.

It has caused some concern from Tina as she says I look like the local tramp and so I need to ensure I steer clear of any rubbish bins when out walking Rio for fear of becoming a bin-diver.

One thing that has got me thinking is keeping it clean; should I use shampoo or will soap and water suffice?  And what about getting food in it, I need to watch that one.

The biggest worry was whether it would grow through grey and so far it does seem to be more silver than I was expecting but I am still retaining some darker colours too. Fingers crossed it won’t go fully white or I’ll be up for taking on the Santa job at the local garden centre next Christmas!

Anyhow here’s progress to date…

 

Drone #3

It just had to be done.

As soon as I saw the DJI promotional video showing off their latest offering I knew it would be the one for me. The compact design, the convenience of size and the apparent ease of flying was just too tempting to ignore.

But I’ve already got a drone I hear you say!

Well yes, the upgrade from my first drone to the DJI Phantom 3 Standard was a fantastic step up and sparked an interest in aerial photography and also revitalised me back into video creation. But I soon realised the entry-level drone was exactly that…aimed at beginners and I was getting frustrated with its limitations. As the cheapest model DJI made, it lacked features and I often found that it would lose connection and instigate the ‘return to home’ function even if the drone was close by.

So I had been considering upgrading anyhow, probably to the P3P (professional) which had a better camera, improved WiFi connectivity and more advanced flying features. It also meant I could keep the existing spare battery I bought for the P3S, saving a few quid too.

But there was always the disadvantage with the Phantom series…their size. In order to safely carry the drone around it needed a backpack, and a large one at that. Walking along the street got me some strange looks, with one guy even asking whether I was training to go into the army! I would have loved to have taken the quadcopter on our holiday to Turkey but the size of the bag was just too big and would have certainly raised interest from the security guys.

mavic-proSo when DJI announced the release of the Mavic Pro, I knew it was just what I was looking for. It is such a clever design, the size was small enough fit into a coat pocket and the features were so advanced for something so compact.

The only thing was the price; almost three times the amount I paid for the PS3.

So I hesitated…for a day!

And then bit the bullet and preordered, paying the full price up front.

DJI gave an expected shipping date of mid-October but it was soon apparent they had wildly miscalculated the popularity of their latest offering and soon social media was muttering that there was going to be delays. To be fair to DJI they did state early on that orders would be on a first-come-first-served basis but I really didn’t expect it would have a dramatic impact on delivery times. Of course, mid-October turned into November and with no news on the impending shipping I was resigned to the fact that I would have to stick with the Phantom for the foreseeable future. I had been tracking other customers deliveries on a socially-shared spreadsheet but the shipments were erratic and difficult to judge when mine would be ready to send out.

And then on Saturday I received the mail I had been waiting for; notice that the Mavic had been shipped. Yeah!

I was given tracking information and an expected delivery date of Wednesday and so logged on to the DHL website and followed the parcel from China, through Hong Kong and Belgium, arriving into the UK via East Midlands airport on Sunday night before being shipped to Birmingham, ready for delivery. And on Monday morning I got a ‘parcel out for delivery’ notice, less than 48 hours from leaving Shenzhen. Incredible.

And so last night I savoured the unboxing and managed maiden flight, albeit in the living room for just a minute. And I am so impressed!

Unfortunately the rotten weather and shortness of the daylight hours meant no chance of flying properly today but hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to get out and do some flying on Friday as I have the day off. And then next weekend we’re off to Jersey for a few days to see Abby and I’m definitely including my little drone in my carry on bag.

V(aughan) Fest

Last week our team held a ‘charity event’ at the Patshull Scout Activity Centre in South Staffordshire. One of the team is a scout leader and suggested that he could organise the event in exchange for the team carrying out ‘tasks’ such as clearing paths and digging holes, and fortunately everyone was up for it.

On arrival it didn’t take long for the team to erect their own tents. They were small two-man versions (everyone got their own for comfort and reduced embarrassment factor) and for me, having spent many a happy time in my youth camping, erecting the tent was just like riding a bike and it was soon upright and the outer flysheet pegged down (note I even remember the technical terms still).

Whilst the rest of the camp was preparing for the day ahead, I decided it would be a good opportunity to fly the drone to get some shots of the campsite and as expected it caused quite a stir with everyone down below.

Somehow I managed to get voted in a team leader and our first task was to decide what work we would do. After debate we decided that digging a hole for a drain soak away would be just down our street (Virgin Media people do like digging holes) so we headed off to the shed to obtain some shovels. Vaughan, the organiser and scout leader, said the hole needed to be 2m x 2m x 2m deep, but we soon realised that was going to be a tall ask, especially with only spades and a couple of broken forks available. One of the guys did bring a mattock which helped break up the soil and soon we had the job completed; albeit only to a depth of 1m.

After an impromptu team meeting with the boss, we then started on some of the not-such-a-small-quantity of alcohol which had been gathered for the team. A 4pm start meant it was going to be a long night though.

After the BBQ, we settled around the campfire for a good old scouting singsong, led by Skip, a chap Vaughan had arranged, who knew all the words and got us all up, despite most now being quite inebriated.

I managed to stay awake till gone midnight, when I made my way back to my tent, hoping the wine and cider combination would send me straight to sleep. Not a chance!

Sleeping on a slope, in a smallish tent, on a single airbed, in a tiny sleeping bag and with noises outside is just not great for a good nights sleep, with multiple trips to the loo not helping. Eventually I got to sleep about 4am but at dawn, I was woken by the chorus of wildlife that surrounded the campsite. I decided to get up for a shower!

After a full English breakfast (I assisted in the cooking) we took part in a team building exercise – building a bridge out of poles and ropes – amazingly it supported ten people, did some rifle shooting and then cleared the site ready for departure.

Whilst the experience was worth participating in, I think my camping days are over and I’ll stick to hotels in future. And when I got home I counted eleven mosquito bites on my arms, back and feet, the perils of sleeping outdoors I guess.

Somehow I managed to become the unofficial videographer so cobbled together a short film capturing the highlights of the two days.

We all enjoyed the experience although I’m not quite sure how much ‘charity’ work we actually really did!

Windmills of Your Mind

Ever since the nearby wind farm was built a few years ago I have been fascinated by the technology and the turbines ability to be able to work so efficiently despite their enormous size. They look so big from a distance and rarely are they ever still, even with the lightest of breezes, very clever technology.

The original ten turbines at Burton Wold Wind Farm near Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire were so successful in their electricity generation that they recently added a further nine, and now the site is able to generate almost 50% of the power requirements for the Kettering district.

But getting close to them to have a better look is not so easy; I think the owners are not keen for the public to get near for fear of them suffering damage or for public safety reasons. From the main roads that surround the farm there are signs that say ‘KEEP OUT’ and ‘No Entry Private Property’ and so it was with a bit of trepidation that I ventured out with my drone to see if I could get a closer look.

I had already done some homework and surveyed the local ordinance survey map and found that a public footpath went close to an abandoned stone quarry, which also just happened be be adjacent then wind farm too. Two birds etc…

So on Sunday evening I headed out for some quadcopter flying exploration.

Getting to the edge of the quarry/wind farm wasn’t too bad; clearly the footpath wasn’t a well trodden route and a bit overgrown but I soon found a clearing where I could launch from. After takeoff, initially I surveyed the old quarry but it was overgrown and pretty uninteresting so instead turned the camera towards the wind turbines to record some great shots looking across the site from the high vantage point. I was of course careful not to encroach the fields, keeping the drone directly above my head all the time in flight.

After a few minutes I brought the aircraft back down and moved further around the footpath so I could get some shots facing south towards the original turbines. Again, I managed to get some good footage before bringing it back down. It was at that point I stopped and listened to the turbine slowly rotating and it was only then I could appreciate the calmness of the electricity generation, the near silent whoosh as the blades rotated.

I recorded a few filler shots from my iPhone before heading back home, eager to check out the footage I’d shot and wasn’t disappointed by the results.

Here’s the final video.

Flight #03

So flight number three nearly didn’t happen yesterday as the weather was crap when I got home from work so I was pleasantly surprised when the clouds cleared around 8pm allowing some flying time. It was a bit windy but not enough to stop the flying.

I intended to drive down to the first place I flew my quadcopter, but found out that cars were not allowed down the lane so instead stopped at a spot I often walk the dog. It looks down over the town so thought it would be an ideal spot for getting shots of the fields and the setting sun.

I soon had the aircraft in the sky and filming the surrounding countryside, practicing flying and generally having some fun, especially knowing that I had extra time in the air as I now had the second battery I’d ordered.

Disappointingly, the setting sun wasn’t great to look at so in the end did some low level shots of the wheat fields and a couple of flyovers. I then headed home and downloaded the video to my laptop ready for editing tonight.

The last time I did any proper video editing using Final Cut Pro was a few years ago, but after watching a couple of online tutorials I soon got back into it. The final edit ended up a a bit smaller in frame size than I would have liked but I needed to cut out some of the video shots due to the high winds showing the propeller guards.

Anyhow, here is flight number 3…

 

Our days in Jersey

wet st helier

A little damp looking out of the window at breakfast on our first day in Jersey

graham with cider

Gluten-free cider of course 🙂

After breakfast we decided to go and explore St Helier, a ten minute walk from the hotel. Fortunately the taxi driver had given us general directions to find the town centre and we were soon browsing the shops, doing some reconnaissance for Abby before finding a cafe on the promenade for a mid-morning coffee. I texted my sister to let her know we’d arrived and said we’d meet her at lunchtime, then did some more wandering before grabbing a drink at one of the pubs near the high street. Whilst we sat outside, we watched someone being interviewed outside the council offices nearby (and watched it again on the local news channel later that evening).

We met up with Lesley for some lunch before heading back to the hotel for a rest, then  ventured out for an Italian meal at La Cantina, which we had spotted served gluten-free pasta. I naively telephoned to book a table before we set off but needn’t have bothered as it was very quiet, being a mid-week evening. The meal was excellent. We took a slow stroll back to the hotel for an early night.

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Gorey Harbour

tiffin in tiffin

It would have been rude to drink the tea before the champagne

The next morning we picked up Lesley’s car and went exploring the island, including visiting Gorey and the Jersey Pearl showroom before stopping at St Brelade’s Bay for some lunch. I dropped Tina off at the hotel (she’d not slept well during the night) and I took Lesley’s car back and picked up some wine for the later in the day (we were spending the evening at her house, with Jason, Iona, Isla and a takeaway). We met Lesley after work, picked up the girls from school and then drove back to Lesley’s house in St Peter’s. The island is so small, it only takes 30 minutes to get to most places from St Helier. Lesley’s girls were pleased to see us and I was soon helping make a car out of a cardboard box (isn’t that what uncle’s are supposed to do?). After enjoying a lovely curry, some cider and wine we eventually headed back to the hotel, via a taxi and both slept much better after an exhausting day.

We managed to get a good walk in the next morning before the rain set in for the day so returned back to the hotel before getting a lift by Lesley to Tiffin for afternoon tea (and a glass of champagne). When we went to pay we had a nice surprise as Lesley had rung them whilst we were there and paid for the meal. Thanks sis!

We visited Pizza Express in St Helier for our evening meal before retiring back to our hotel, fully stuffed from all the food we’d eaten throughout the day.

tinas ring

Last minute purchase for a special lady

Check out at the hotel was at 10am so following breakfast we packed up our cases and left them at reception before wandering into town for the final time. Again the rain started to fall so we dodged the showers by visiting any of the shops to try to keep dry. We had about an hour left to kill so started to look in the windows of the jewellery shops, of which Jersey is quite famous for.

During our stay Tina had mentioned about getting an eternity ring and spotted one she like in a shop window, so in we went. Thirty minutes later she was leaving the same shop wearing her new, diamond encrusted white gold ring, with my wallet significantly lighter!

And then it was time to leave Jersey, with getting home far less hassle than getting there.

I’ll be heading back there in a couple of weeks when I’ll be helping Abby to relocate.  I’ll be travelling by sea this time so they’ll be no problems with fog, I just hope the Channel is relatively flat as I’m not a great sailor!

More Photos

I keep posting photos on Instagram and Facebook forgetting that I have my blog to add them too.

Here are a few of my recent efforts…

owl

Eagle owl being shown at a steam rally we visited recently. The light levels were low as they were in a tent and I didn’t think it was appropriate to get my tripod out 🙂

dog and ducks

Another shot from the steam rally where there was a sheep dog demo. It was really tough to get the ducks and dogs in shot and focus and in the end I had to crop to remove the background crowd.

berries

I love macro photography (a proper macro lens and ring flash is on my wish list). DSLR’s struggle with reds but these berries have come out quite well.

Passion Flower

I love the look of the passion flower but they are buggers to photograph. This was probably the best as I used a narrow aperture (f20) to try to keep everything in focus.

spider

Probably the best macro shot of the session, this spider kept moving so it was a struggle to keep it’s body and legs sharp. I love the fact that you can see the hairs on its legs and the two white spots on its abdomen (which I assume is some sort of sign to ward off predators)

Photos from Australia

I thought I’d add a few of the photos I took with my DSLR whilst we were in Australia last month as the only ones published during the trip were from my iPhone. I must admit though that the quality of the images from the camera phone were exceptional and have given my Canon a run for it’s money. Having said that the phone did cost more than the camera!

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