Do you have the time?

When I was at school I had a conversation with my physics teacher, Mrs Price, that truly was a butterfly effect moment. As a result of that coversation I finished up studying geophysics. At the time it was somewhat of a niche subject (come to think of it, it probably still is) but I genuinely found it fascinating (and I still do). The BBC has produced a couple of series recently that had me reaching for my text books again only to realise that I need to sit back and enjoy the Wonders of first the Solar System and then the Universe. As a quick aside, the series titles do beg the question; Where do you go next? You know, after you’ve done the Solar System and the Universe. Is there a multi-verse? Are we alone? What if it all means something? Or even worse, what if it all means nothing? (Or should that be the other way around?). Either which way, the two series demonstrate many of the things that the BBC does best and Brian Cox makes a pretty decent presenter, given that his day job is a Professor of astrophysics at Manchester University and he used to be in a (moderately successful) rock band. Oh and apparently he’s quite good looking too. Yup, he’s the kid we all used to know at school who was just too good at everything. If he didn’t come across as being such a nice chap you could really grow to dislike him.

But back to what I learnt at university: The single biggest concept that you need to get your head around in geophysics is “time”. Geology exists over such a long time that it makes your head hurt and no amount of analogy of compressing the lifetime of the earth into a single day makes it any easier. And in a somewhat related fashion, the 2nd biggest concept to get your head around in the bit of geophysics that I finished up studying is “space”. Which does mean that according to Einsteins’s theory of general relativity actually there is only 1 concept because of that mind-bending concept of space-time, but that’s a subject for another day.

 We, on this small, blue dot spend our days busily doing things and sometimes we fail to notice the passing of time. Sure, on a geological scale we are just a blip but that shouldn’t stop us noticing the changes going on all around us. I am fortunate that I have 2 sons and 2 daughters who seem to change each and every time you turn around to look at them. And every now and then we need to take the time to stop and realise the things that are precious to us and saviour them.

I was browsing back through some old photographs of my kids (thanks to digital photography that’s a lot simpler than it used to be) and it too my breath away to see the changes in them. Of course, we know that they grow, but if you are lucky enough to see your children every day then you probably get totally consumed with the minutae of the day to day routine. But we shouldn’t. We should find time. It’s worth it, I promise you.

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 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

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.

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

Airbrush Outrage (again)

If you are going to make a point and convince people of the validity of it, then you need to be

  1. Correct
  2. Succinct
  3. Provide irrefutable evidence to backup your point

I learnt this when I was 17 and studying geography and admit that I need to remember #2 more frequently when I blog, but then I am not a professional writer with an editor to whip my words into shape. Unlike, say the Daily Mail. Which attempts to make the point that Jessica was airbrushed to look thinner on a calendar for Campari. And the evidence they provide is this photograph:

Jessica Alba before and after photo manipulation

Jessica Alba before and after photo manipulation

We can all agree that the image on the right is different from the one on the left is different, ergo it has been manipulated. Check for requirement #1. Also, presentation of the offending images is certainly the most effective way of explaining the problem. Check for requirement #2.

The problem with the Daily Mail’s outrage is that they have not presented evidence to justify their position. A brief look at the image on the right shows that it in no way resembles the  photo on the left, even a child can see the background is completely different. Furthermore, closer examination of Jessica Alba shows that this is almost certainly not the same before image used to create the after (her hair is different, her knees are in different positions, her head is held at a  different angle etc) So to agree with the Daily Mail we need to accept that the pool background can be changed and no-one should care, but because there is a person in the front it must be a truthful representation and we have to accept their (possibly flawed) evidence as proof.

Sorry, but the image on the right is art. Just as van Gogh, Picasso, Francis Bacon or Turner created images that were based on what they saw, so have Campari.In the case of the Jessica Alba she has provided the muse, the inspiration and the source material to create something that will adorn the walls of thousands of people. And Campari have even tried to head off the criticism by providing a behind the scenes look at the photo shoot– in fact, it looks as if the Daily Mail have taken one of the behind the scenes shots (i.e. not a photo taken by the photographer) and used that as the photo on the left. Now, if the behind the scenes photos have been retouched, then we have a problem. Otherwise, can’t we just look at Jessica Alba?

I have already commented on the practice of photo manipulation and wondered whether an image that is considered ‘photo realistic’ needs to resemble the source material and therefore convey the truth. For the record, I don’t think it does, but that is for a different discussion. My concern here is more that an established media outlet has expressed outrage, without presenting evidence for it. And, here comes the kicker in this connected age, other sites such as the Huffington Post and now Batblog itself are further perpetrating the distribution of the error. Hey, this is the way invasions can be justified…

A Child’s View

Sometimes we forget what the world looks like to other people.

Fortunately the ever simplification of taking photographs allows us to put a camera in the hands of quite small people and every now and then they are able to remind us in the most glorious, heart stopping way. Most of the pictures are not particularly composed well, but they are digital so it doesn’t cost anything and gives the little person a sense of pride and achievement. But every now and then this very innocence and different view of the worlds results in a picture that makes one stop and realise just how we take things for granted now that we are grown up.

I remember as a child having to stretch up to reach the light switch in my bedroom- that light switch is probably no higher than my navel, but at the time it was a great stretch. As my kids grow up I see the same behaviour: As winter has drawn in and it gets darker earlier in the evening so my 4 year old now needs someone to come upstairs with him. Not because he is scared but because he can’t reach the light switch.

The attached picture was taken by him with a Nikon D40 whilst we were on holiday. It may not be the best technical shot (everything was on automatic) and it may not be framed perfectly but it really made me stop and realise just how he sees me. Not as a regular sized person, but this strange, towering creature who reaches down to hold his hand.

I hope I can hold his hand for a long time to come. Even when I stop towering over him.

Ben’s School Photo 2008

Ben’s School Photo 2008

Originally uploaded by maguffyn

Been a while, but he has kept growing in the meantime. And who says you can’t get a decent photo from a school photographer.

Or maybe I am just biased towards my kid

And for anyone interested there are various other updates to the photo gallery- both kids are still being snapped and now I have a new camera (well, not that new, but better than I had before) they are trapped until I get a decent shot

Photography as Art

They say that a good story is worth retelling, well I don’t know if this is a good story, but it keeps getting retold by others, so I’ll jump into the frame with my own version…

There have been a number examples of celebrities complaining (and occasionally even suing) magazines for retouching photographs. Famous examples include Kate Winslet (there there are many more links than just this one on Kate’s issues with GQ magazine) and Faith Hill (including this blog posting on the Faith Hill example) but the art of doctoring or modifying photographs has gone for as long as there have been photographs. So what particular example do I bring to the table? This one

(The picture should be an animated GIF showing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ effects of photo retouching. If it doesn’t change then click on the photo to open it in a new window)

Full credit for the photo goes to Lee Phillips1 at Flickr

It is taken from a BBC Three program Dawn gets naked that was recently (re)shown in the UK. Obviously with a title like that it was going to grab the attention, but there was more to it than simple voyeurism. As Dawn attempted to overcome her issues with body image, she learnt how to perform a burlesque strip tease and organised a mass flash mob entirely composed of women riding an open top bus around London. But the most interesting part was as intrepid reporter got her body initially made up and then retouched by the digital artists.

Again credit to Lee Phillips1

My mind had two questions as we witnessed the transformation

  1. Why do we believe that an image that was captured using a mechanical/ electronic device should actually represent the truth? Sure, it can be used to represent the truth, but does it always have to?

One of the dominant trends in the art world for over 100 years has been the impressionist movement. If you look at the work of Monet, van Gogh and the like, the images are nothing like the truth. Yet they are undeniably desirable (to me at least, and if the sale prices at the major auction houses are anything to go by, by a lot of other people as well).

If we go further back in the history of art the paintings and sculpture are more lifelike and at the time served the purpose of capturing a measure the truth. But if you are commissioned to paint a King and he is overweight, ugly, has bad skin and bad teeth (insert favourite joke about bad British teeth here) it may be in your best interest (not to mention keeping your head attached to your shoulders) to exercise a little artistic licence and make him look a little better than reality would have it. So what did Henry VIII really look like? And what about Henry V? William the Conquerer? If we go back 1,000 years then the process of creating paint the correct colour was beyond the means of most artists- never mind the fact that perspective was not truly understood. So how do we know that the image we have of Kings, Queens and the like are anything like the truth? So maybe the trend of photo retouching is simply continuing a tradition that has existed as long as artists have painted- that of making the image a little more than the truth.

2. The other question is a little more social sciences oriented: Why do women want their physical appearance to look like the images of women they see on the covers of magazines?

OK, there are many, many women who make a lot of money for nothing more than looking good and very few men (Name me one male supermodel? OK, now name me 10 female supermodels) but is that a real aspiration for women? There is a huge industry in making women thinking they need to primp, preen and pump themselves up- and don’t get me wrong, I like it (a lot) when I watch the transformation in a women as hair, makeup and the like get applied. And maybe guys just have it easier- can you imagine George Clooney spending more than 20 minutes getting ready for a night out? Even Samuel L Jackson gives the impression that looking that good doesn’t take effort.

I guess I just don’t get it. But that might explain why I am single

New Photos of Ben and Jake

Now that I have a half way decent digital camera you can expect more photos to be uploaded.

This one is starting to teach me about flash and indoor portraits (like make sure there is a reflector to prevent the shadow behind Ben’s head) but that requires extra kit and more importantly, kids who will sit still for long enough for me to faff around.

The latest upload also includes photos of Jake. Click on the image to open the photo stream.

Be careful, this could change your (photographic) life

I like to take photos. I bought a truly over-the-top camera (a Nikon F3) to try to take “proper” photos; and I did learn the technical aspects of taking photos. But there was something in the back of my mind that was rarely happy with the results.

Then I read this

And now I know. And you will too.

And I will be removing a whole bunch of photographs from my Flickr account.

And you should too

Latest Photo Upload

Have uploaded a whole load of photos of Ben and Jake to Flickr. So many in fact that I may have to upgrade to a professional account. Bugger. Oh well, the upside is that there is just about zero chance on this planet of me ever making 200 photos available via any other mechanism.

So enjoy (BTW If you click on the image to the right then a strange little popup window will appear before it takes you to my Flickr account. Don’t worry about it, just go with the flow)