Good, bad and indifferent photographs

When a photograph you is going to be one of the first things that someone sees and therefore learns about you, don’t you think it would be a good idea to get a good picture taken? Or even some advice on which photograph you should use?

Only, in this wonderful world of internet dating that single face photograph is likely to make or break the decision on whether or not someone finds you attractive. When we were in High School the same thing happened- except then it was a pimple or zit on your nose. Now it is a badly lit or poorly framed shot. I am not going to name or shame the profiles that I have seen nor do I know how many potential friends have rejected me because of what I look like but I hope that my picture at least gives a measure of truth and not only reflects what I look like but is a half decent photograph too.

And the mind-blowing thing is that there are many, many photographers out there who can take a truly stunning photograph. And in these days of fully automatic everything even my 3 year old has been able to take a half decent shot of me. As evidence of how a photo can be wonderful, Heather Armstrong at http://www.dooce.com has this photo of a bad hair day

Bad Hair, Great Photo

Now it may be a bad hair day (according to the blog post it caused her 5 year old daughter to yell “You look crazy” but IMHO it is undeniably a good photo. For the full size photo (and with the proper accreditation please go to http://dooce.com/dailyphoto/2009/02/02_20_2009.jpg

Admittedly Heather makes a living out of taking photographs so she should be good at it, and lord knows how many shots she had to take to get that one, but even an amateur snapper can get it almost right- witness the changed photo on the About page of this blog (the reason for ‘almost right’ is entirely due to the model having a goofy face and eyes that aren’t quite the same size). And that shot was one of the pictures that didn’t make it to my profile page on the dating site.

Almost anyone can learn to take a decent photograph, and the equipment is making it easier and easier to get it half way right- I guess I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to make a good first impression when it is quite likely going to be the only chance you get.

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About a blog: How to increase your hits

In the scale of navel gazing this has got to be right up there, but over the past few days I have been thinking about this blog and what I have found out over the past 15 months. So I am now going to create a blog post all about creating blog posts.

When I started to write this blog I had no clear idea what I wanted to make it into. I saw it as a forum for mainly technical items that would be a work in progress before uploading to a permanent location on another site. I also realised that there is an example of the type of entry I wished to create: It shouldn’t be a random comment on something I have seen or read, but rather should contain some original thought and try to reach a logical and sensible conclusion. As I thought about more and more I realised that I was, in a very small way, creating my version of Alistair Cooke’s venerable and much missed ‘Letter from America’

Of course the original intention of a technical forum was now pushed to the back and I posted on the vagiaries of the world. And as I posted I monitored the hits and watched what people were reading. Here is what I have learnt:

  1. Most recommendations say that you need to create decent sized postings to keep people coming back. This appears to be true
  2. You will create many, many postings but most visitors will only read 1 or 2 really popular posts. And you probably won’t know which post that will be until after the stats come in
  3. Almost no-one clicks on the hyperlinks in a post (even when you completely expose the URL)
  4. If you really want to increase your traffic then create a post with certain key words in it

This last point requires some explanation. In April 2008 I created a post that attempted to discuss the nature of art, photography and whether a photograph on a magazine cover should be an accurate representation of the image recorded by the camera. All heady stuff, except it was inspired by a TV show called ‘Dawn Gets Naked’ and considered the examples of photo manipulation performed on Faith Hill and Kate Winslet on the cover of Redbook and GQ.

So, at various points in the post there are the words “naked”, “Kate Winslet” and “Faith Hill”. Oh boy, do I get a lot of hits on that post. And I am guessing, but it is only a guess, that most people who have typed ‘faith hill naked’ into Google were not expecting to read a blog posting that discusses the evolution of painting techniques and creating accurate oil colours to depict an english monarch from 900 years ago.

My only hope is that a small number of people who arrive at the site looking for Kate or Faith read the article and stay for the thought and comment. Although, saying that, do I really want someone interested in naked pictures of Kate reading this? Well that is the beauty and terror of a blog- you have no idea who the vast majority of readers are. So welcome, one and all: Batblog is still here and still growing. I’ll keep posting, I hope you keep reading

When did walking become a Driving Offence?

As part of moving house I had to update the address on my driving licence. And the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency kindly sent me a new licence and some information about my licence including a section describing the penalty point codes that I will accrue if I commit an offence. Most of these point codes are exactly what you expect, apart from this one

Code Accident Offence Penalty Points
DR60 Failure to provide a specimen for analysis in circumstances other than driving or attempting to drive 10 points

If I read this correctly then I am extremely worried. Imagine the following scenario: I decide, as an adult that I wish to go out and drink a vast quantity of alcohol. I am a sensible (?) and law abiding citizen so I decide not to take my car with me and so after consuming said vast quantity of alcohol I am staggering home. At which point a policeman stops me and wishes to breathalyze me. As I have done nothing illegal I refuse to provide the sample.

According to the information above I will now accrue 10 points on my driving licence as I “failed to provide a specimen”.  I was nowhere near my car so I am clearly “in circumstances other than driving or attempting to drive”. In fact I had conciously decided to not drive my car and yet I am still have the potential to be penalised.

Surely I have got this wrong?

The Difference is Day and Night

The nature of modern living means that we are frequently forced to do the same task over and over  again. One of the great things about the world is the way things subtlety and imperceptibly change but ultimately thoses changes are quite significant. So although we are doing the same thing as we did yesterday the experience is wholly different.

I recently had to drive from the UK to the Netherlands. I had made the same journey about a year ago when I moved into my apartment there, and now it was time to move out. Of course, there is often more excitement about moving into somewhere new than moving out of it; and in my case this was more so given that the apartment I lived in for a year was in the heart of old town Delft, overlooking a canal and quite simply stunning. I had decided that I wanted to live there, not because it made any financial sense, but because I needed to feel as though I had a ‘home’ whilst I was away at work. In this respect it ultimately performed magnificently, although there was a period when I was sleeping on the floor and had nowhere to sit down that I doubted the sanity of the decision.

And so, unlike a year ago when the world seemed full of promise and the excitement of living in a a fantastic apartment, it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I drove across southern England, northern France and Belgium. I had the added disadvantage of the fact that last year I made the journey is a really rather spangly car, whilst this year the journey was in that ultimate ‘white van man’ vehicle; a Ford Transit. But with all of these differences what really hit me about the two journeys, and how one was so much more pleasant than the other was the time of day I drove.

Last year I left my house early in the morning, drove off into the rising sunlight and cruised through France and Belgium around lunch time. It was glorious- my car seemed to hug the road and although I got lost around Antwerp (thank heavens for Sat Nav this year) and got stuck in traffic jams on the way back, the whole trip  (there and back again) was a fantastic journey. Although I wouldn’t want to do it every week I was quite happy to do it again.

This year I left my house in drizzling rain as dusk fell: The rest of the journey was to be in the dark. Due to my usual combination of appalling planning and preparation I was forced to eat at a typically grim motorway service station before, just like last year, tunnelling under the English Channel and emerging into France. And as I emerged the fog came down. I had never used a sat nav in 3D mode to guide me along a road and tell me when to turn, but I did that night; I spent as much time looking at the road layout on the screen as I did looking out the window. Obviously from the fact that I am writing this I didn’t crash and die, but I would not recommend it as a sensible way to drive. Somewhat effective in fog, but not sensible.

Later the fog lifted and the sat nav managed to take me the right way around Antwerp. As it was now well after midnight the roads were clear and the driving was easy, but it just wasn’t pleasant. It was functional, it was necessary but it was not enjoyable.

And it was only slightly different on the way back; I managed to leave earlier in the day so I was able to drive in that beautiful half light that occurs as the sun slowly sets out of a clear sky. I have heard that film directors call that time of day the ‘magical time’ because people have been working all day and are a little prone to mistakes- it makes for wonderful film-making and I think it is probably my favourite time of the day. It was certainly more pleasant than the five hour drive that I still had to do after darkness had fallen.

And it was at this moment that I realised that it wasn’t the car/ van difference that was critical to the experience, nor was it moving in or out of the apartment: The difference in the experience was almost entirely due to the fact that one journey was in daylight and the other in darkness.

I have had this experience once before: I was working on a seismic crew in southern England and we worked from 7am to 5pm, 7 days a week all winter. This meant that, wherever we were staying, we would leave it before the sun came up and come home after the sun had set. Apparently we were living in holiday homes that people would pay good money to come and stay in, but to me the houses were cold, unpleasant and nothing that I would want to visit ever again. Until one day I had to go back to the house where we were staying at lunch time. Instead of the usual dark, gloomy driveway suddenly I saw a beautiful garden, with an orchard behind it and in the distance a view across the rolling southern hills that was quite stunning. Had I never gone back to that house in the daylight, it would have remained a grim, foreboding place. Instead, although much of my time there was indeed grim I was able to see it in a far happier light.

And so it was with the drive to and from the Netherlands; had I only made that journey in the dark I would have resented the time it took, despised the inefficiencies of the route and disliked the whole experience. Because I had done it in daylight I can recognise the pleasure that driving across a continent can bring, the feeling of elation as a car powers along a road and the ultimate joy of seeing the world around us.

Keeping Fit

I have a passionate dislike of gyms and fitness centres in general. But put me on a field, a pool or a court and tell me to run around after a ball, a disc or a shuttle and I will keep going all day. Which tends to result in a mismatch between my aspiration to play and the actual fitness level I possess.

As often as possible I try to simply incorporate a better lifestyle; so I walk or cycle to work (not across the ocean, obviously, that would just be silly) whatever the weather and use the stairs instead of an elevator for anything up to 5 storeys etc etc. But there is also nothing like a little incentive to make you more enthusiastic about actually doing something about it, and the Fitness Challenge is really good for that.

The premise is simple: In each 24 hour period starting at midnight you have to do 100 situps and 20 pressups (pushups). You get 1 day off a week and just keep going as long as possible. It is great and I have attempted to convince many people to get involved. Sure, normally I have had more than a couple of beers when I try to convince them so I may not be the most persuasive advocate at the time; hence this approach.

Oh, and the final cool thing about it: You are doing a ‘worthy’ thing and most of the $15 it costs to join goes to charity. Well there is nothing like a little cash involvement to keep you  committed. Anway, sign up for it by sending an e-mail to thefitnesschallenge@gmail.com and tell Fred that you know me.

Quo Vadimus

Like all good stories this one is about a girl. And like too many of them the road has highs and lows and may not end with a ‘happy ever after’. But life is bigger, more fantastic and holds more possibilities than any one girl, so although I tell this story now, who knows what the future will hold. To some this posting may seem a little too personal, but I have never had a problem telling people about myself (I like to think it is the one subject that I can talk on with some authority) and who knows, this process may be cathartic.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will have noticed a fantastically optimistic posting towards the end of 2008 and a distinct lack of anything new for much of January 2009. Now we find ourselves in February and I am back posting. Guess what? All three things were somewhat related as the optimism in the post resulted in the possibility of a relationship, only for it to be crushed as January turned to February.

The story of how we met is a good one: a chance meeting on a plane and a joyous grasp of life. It evolved into fairly deep conversations and a total wonder as to whether or not this could possibly be really happening. At the time I was assured that this sort of thing did happen, I guess with hindsight that the chance meeting on a plane and disappearing off into the sunset is a dream that struggles to stand up the harsh test of reality. I told a number of people about the girl & how we met and pretty much unanimously they advised to be slow, cautious or guarded. But I am afraid that it is not in my nature to hold back; I fall deep and hard, full in the knowledge that it most likely will end badly, but the risk in my approach to grasp life in its entirety is that I experience the lows to go along with the fantastic highs. It is the price I pay for being so optimistic, so open and quite possibly being somewhat naive.

Even as we embarked on the journey it was obvious to see the many, significant challenges ahead: her personal situation, our geographical location and our entirely different professional lives. But she seemed to be happy to overcome the travel & logistics, the difference in professional lives just meant that there was a whole new world to learn about and the personal situation was going to become clearer as time went by.

And I guess that the personal situation did indeed become clearer. Unfortunately for me the clarification to the picture involved the removal of me from it. So, as I posted once before, I find myself contemplating diving into the heady world of dating and who knows what adventures will come of it. Of course there is a possibility to short cut this somewhat terrifying prospect: If you are a single woman or know of any single women who are open to something new, please feel free to get in touch. Maybe 2009 will be as great as the portents held; and wishing for a whole year of wonderful things happening is naive in the extreme. So I look forward to what the future holds; we live in interesting times and although I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone I recognise it is a necessary component of life.

In fact, to put a positive spin on things, this is an opportunity to fully implement one of my philosophies of life. The motto is simply “Quo Vadimus” which I am reliably informed translates as “Where do we go from here?”. I am entirely unable to claim any originality in the motto- I first came across it in an episode of a truly wonderful TV show called SportsNight. In the episode a stranger explains that although he is a “phenomenally successful man” he has failed much more than he has succeeded. And each time he fails he gathers all the people who are important to him and asks the question “Where are we going?”. The point being that it is not possible to change the past, all we can do is work out how to move forward with the all the information available to us now. And by looking forward the situation gets better.

I do not presuppose myself to be anything like phenomenally successful, in fact a few years ago I realised that by many measures one is a nicer person if the drive to succeed is curtailed. Of course, given the evidence presented in the story about the girl then maybe I should just stick to trying to be successful because it sure does appear as though I am not succeeding with women, but let’s gloss over that for now. So despite not being like the stranger, I thought that looking forward after a failure was a fantastic approach to life. And at times like these, such as when a relationship has not worked out, using a philosophy like Quo Vadimus forces us to focus on those things that we can still control, those things that are a constant truth and the things that are genuinely important to us. The recriminations, the remorse and the regret have their place, but not for long. By focussing on the future, the past becomes a lesson to guide us and improve us- it doesn’t dominate our lives and it doesn’t paralyse us into not taking the chance again, should it ever come up. I hope the chance of another story involving a girl occurs, but then I am still an eternal optimist.