Night-time Photography

Had a stab at some long-exposure shots the other night when standing over a motorway bridge. I had it all planned in my head where I would go and stand – the bridge on St. Johns Road over the M27.

Unfortunately, three things spoilt the evening’s work:

  1. I forgot that the M27 is particularly well-lit at that point, hence I couldn’t really get the desired strong trails of light compared to the surroundings
  2. The edge fencing is a wire mesh up to eye-level on the North-West side of the bridge, which meant I could only look in one direction, thus limiting opportunities
  3. There were overnight works on the motorway, with slow-moving maintenance vehicles and large floodlights limiting even further where I could view from

Maybe next time I will plan a bit better, but here’s what I got for starters:

Getting All Maternal

Went out today and bought a sterliser, bottles, and bottle warmer for when the baby arrives. Also bought a set of scales (the sort for weighing oneself with). The whole trip to Argos would have normally cost well over a hundred pounds, but with a £10 gift card I received a while back, plus 20,000 nectar points, we walked out without paying a penny. That’s a good start.

When we get home to look at the bottles though, I suddenly come over all maternal. No, not paternal, maternal. I start making big “awwwww” noises and commenting on “how cute” the 125ml bottles look. I must be getting soft in my old age. Back to the bottles though – they really are tiny. These small food sources (which baby won’t “eat” all of for a while) are impossibly small. For reference (I measured it)*, 125ml is two mouthfuls for me. Say what you want about me having a big mouth, but that’s small by anyone’s standards.

Here is a photo, with a suitable object provided as a size comparison.

* without using the bottles!!!

Dropped connections

Since being upgraded to the super-fast “upto 8Mpbs” broadband, I’ve ended up with a worse service.

I was previously getting a rock-solid 1Mbps downstream, 256kbps upstream. I’m now getting around 3.1-3.4Mbps downstream and 448kbps upstream. The problem is that the connection is regularly dropping out. Now this isn’t much of a problem when you are just surfing the web or reading e-mails, but when you’re working at home like I do, the VPN tunnel to the office falls over, plus then I lose my 3270 terminal session (I’m a mainframe man, you see).

It’s now dropped out 12 times in 24 hours. Time for a call to Pipex I think…

Rechargeable Batteries

One of the best things I’ve ever bought in terms of photography equipment is my external flash unit – a Canon Speedlite 580EX. It makes such a huge difference to the quality of photographs, both indoors and outdoors. One of the best pro tips I’ve ever received is always use flash when shooting a wedding: it brings faces out of the shadows nicely, even on a sunny day.

The flash unit is significantly more powerful than the on-camera flash unit of my Canon 350D (GN 58 vs. GN 13), but this means it needs its own power supply. This is provided by an additional battery pack externally or 4 x AA batteries internally. Now alkalines last ages, but the environment thing is a consideration nowadays, and buying packs of Duracell AAs quickly gets expensive. So off I went and bought some Fameart 2700mAh AA rechargeable NiMH cells.

The initial test was good – fully charged in an hour and flash fires well: great. I put the camera kit away and then forgot about it. Next time I came to use it though, the batteries only lasted a couple of test shots. No problems – I thought there may be a few cycles needed before full capacity was reached. I put the alkalines back in and continued with the picture session. Same thing happened the next time, and I duly recharged them.

By the fifth time round though, I was beginning to get worried. The cells didn’t seem to be holding their charge at all. I was about to send an e-mail to the manufacturers, but then started Googling around looking for an answer, or reports of people hitting the same problem.

The main evidence came from the wonderfully-titled BatteryUniversity.com website. That gives a lot of information on battery characteristics, including these two very interesting facts:

  1. Self-discharge per month at room temperature is around 20% for NiCd cells and around 30% for NiMH cells
  2. The self-discharge is highest immediately after charge, and then tapers off. The capacity loss of NiCd is 10% in the first 24h, then declines to about 10% every 30 days thereafter. High temperature increases self-discharge.

Hmmm… assuming NiMH suffers like NiCd, 10% lost in the first 24 hours is a lot. The whole self-discharge theory was worth looking at though. I put the cells in a battery holder, then inside a sealed plastic bag, into the freezer. A month later, charge was still fine and happily powered my flash for a full session without having to resort to alkalines.

So when not in use, my batteries are now stored in the freezer – when I visit anyone for a weekend and ask to put the batteries in the fridge, I get some odd looks though!

The flip side is that batteries are much better at operating once they’ve gone above freezing, preferably into double-figures degrees-C. So I need to take batteries out of the freezer, then put them in my back trouser pocket while they warm up. Ah well, can’t have it both ways I guess…

From this blog entry you should take the following messages:

  • External flash is good
  • Buy rechargeable batteries
  • Store them in the freezer

The Free Festive Gift

Well it’s now 6 weeks to Christmas and you’re probably starting to wonder what to buy for those people who have everything. Well I have something that is both practical and free!

There’s a whole raft of novelty USB gadgets knocking about at this time of year, from a USB Fridge to a USB Cup Warmer, but these things all cost money. What I have for all your Christmas present woes is the magical Mince Pie Warmer application. Simply place your mince pie next to the CPU cooling outlet of your laptop, download and run this app (no install needed!), and hey presto, your mince pie will be warmed to something slightly above room temperature. During the heating of the pie, your laptop battery may diminish, and other applications may feel sluggish as it does use 100% of the CPU to achieve the necessary heat output.

I must admit that I have succumbed to commercial pressures and hurried out a version 1 application in order to catch the Christmas rush. Version 2 will automatically detect how many CPU cores you have and use all of them for optimum pie-warming capabilities.

Just click here to download my mince pie warmer application.

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