Yearly Archives of: 2006


My Australia Trip 1 – Sydney


IMG_5187How to cover an amazing 2 weeks spent in New South Wales, Australia and do it justice? I thought I’d write a few articles briefly talking about each bit of my holiday with a few photos to illustrate what I’m talking about. For the final article I’ll show a slick slide-show with all the photos I took over the trip.

We arrived first thing in the morning in Sydney and would have to wait until lunchtime to get into the hotel. This gave us a chance to get a coffee from Starbucks and think about where we wanted to go. Lonely Planet guide in one hand and strong coffee in the other, we looked at the options – and it seemed the obvious choice was to go up the Sydney Tower, the highest point in town measuring in at 250m high.

I don’t know if I was expecting Sydney to be bigger, but I was surprised to find that I could see all the interesting landmarks from the harbour bridge north to the opera house east. The view north is right. It was quite spectacular being able to see the whole city beneath my feet.

After that we had a bite to eat and went down to the Sydney Aquarium which was awesome. There were so many interesting fish, lobsters, eels, sharks, seals and even a crocodile (scary things those) and the underwater tunnels were cool – you could see sharks swimming around eating fish.


After a day or two of wandering around, exploring Sydney, light shopping and sleeping off the jet-lag, we decided to go on one of the open-topped city tours. You could hop on and off at various points and really get to see the whole place. It’s interesting to see the mix of old and new buildings right next to each other:


No trip to Sydney would be complete without a visit to the Sydney Opera House. It didn’t look that impressive from our viewpoint but up close you get to see what an amazing piece of architecture it is!


My good lady was a bit sceptical about how big it was so I took the following shot to remind her that it’s pretty big really. I don’t know what sort of enormous building she was imagining!


And looking back along at the city you’ll agree it’s a super-modern place:


All in all I really liked Sydney. It’s a big city for sure, but it’s not a dirty or unfriendly place so far as I could tell. It’s truly a 24 hour city (our time in a hotel in the centre proved that) and yet you’ve got beaches a short distance away (and the famous Bondi Beach of course). And the sunshine helped too. Lovely!


Just About Over The Jet Lag


We spent the last 4 days in Sydney which is a 24 hour city to say the least! Our hotel was smack in the middle of the centre and we can vouch that the place never sleeps – which is more than can be said for us. I think over the last few days we've been asleep more than we've been awake. I reckon it's a combination of jet lag and recovering from work – it really takes it out of you.

Rather than go on about the highlights of Sydney I'll wait until I get home and can upload the pictures – the trouble with my fancy camera is that I need to process all the photos before I can upload them and your average internet cafe doesn't have both photoshop and Capture One Pro installed! One obvious highlight was meeting up with Rosie who's on her world tour just now – she's clearly had a hell of an adventure so far and more to come!

We picked up our hire car yesterday which happens to be one of these huge fake 4×4's that are so popular amongst parents with kids. I'm not sure why we ended up with one as it's about twice the size of anything we need but it does have cruise control and air-con so I'm not complaining! We've come up the coast near Nelson Bay and are staying for the next few nights in a koala-infested forest in a tree house! It's very tranquil although we've not spotted one of these cuddly beasts so far (it is raining so they're probably hiding somewhere). There's a beautiful, quiet beach too that's a mile long and, in true Australian style, is called 'One Mile Beach'.

I've noticed that everything over here is named with a complete lack of imagination. For instance, someone spotted a snake, noticed that it was brown in colour, and named it the 'Brown Snake'. Male kangaroos are renowned for their stink, so they're called 'Stinkers'. It goes on!

Anyway, we're off to continue our quest to find the best cappuccino in Australia – they keep getting better and better and it turns out that Starbucks are at the bottom of the scale here. Later!


I’m Off Down Under For A Bit


Way back in January we thought it would be a nice idea to spend most of December in Australia. It would be cold, wet and miserable in Yorkshire and hot, sunny and relaxing in Australia. Well, it turns out to have been a wise move! It's rained non-stop for days, it's been cold, and apparently it's the exact opposite in Sydney!

Oh yeah, I also forgot to mention we're flying Virgin Upper Class too – which is an even bigger bonus. Not only do we wait for the flight in "The Clubhouse" which is like some futuristic, luxurious apartment, but we get to fly in seats that become fully flat-folding beds. It's a tough life! We're in the lounge just now waiting for our massages (really) and were just sitting next to a rather well known Scottish actor with a fondness for motor bikes. Sadly he was on his way out else I'd have started chatting to him (a lucky escape for him I think).

Anyway, we're off to play pool before our massages so I'll leave you to it. Expect the odd post as we get near an internet connection and I've brought my camera and tripod so I'll have no excuses to come back without a hard-drive full of fantastic photos. Enjoy the rain! 😉


Save The Planet From Us


A great white shark attacking a sealThe best TV program I’ve seen in years is without a doubt ‘Planet Earth‘ by the BBC. As far as I’m concerned programs like this are worth the license fee alone (to be honest it’s one of the very few things I regularly watch).

It’s a nature program narrated by David Attenborough showing the wonders of the planet on which we live. It’s years in the making and contains some of the most incredible footage of the natural world you’re ever likely to see. This week showed great white sharks (above) attacking fur seals off the coast of South Africa in super-slow motion. You just can’t believe how quick, aggressive and powerful these sharks are – weighing over a ton and yet exploding completely out of the water without warning like lightening. Truly amazing.

But at the end of each episode I always feel a bit sad, almost emotional. Watching programs like this shows what an incredibly diverse, beautiful and awe-inspiring planet we live on. But it’s fragile. And the sad fact is that in a matter of generations – the mere blink of an eye geologically – a great deal of these wonders will be gone.

No amount of reducing greenhouse gasses, cutting down on the usage of fossil fuels, recycling or any other initiative will change the fact that this planet is on dodgy ground thanks to us. You can forget some Star Trek Utopian world where everybody does what’s in the best interests of humanity rather than themselves suddenly appearing because in the last 5000 years human nature hasn’t changed at all. We may have nice technology but we’re still barbarians at heart.

You can also drop that idea of space colonisation. Even if there were a planet in the solar system or within easy reach that could support life, we wouldn’t be able to survive there. We’ve had millions of years of evolution that have allowed us to cope with the bacteria and viruses that are ever-present on Earth. The same won’t be said for another planet with a different set of bacteria – think War Of The Worlds only we’re the aliens – same result. You reckon we could be inoculated? Ha! You’ve been watching too much Star Trek: The Next Generation – I’m afraid 21st century medicine is little more effective than that of the 19th century.

And even colonising the moon or Mars is a bit far-fetched. You wonder why manned missions to Mars have been put off for so long? One of the big problems is cosmic rays that are un-stoppable and long term exposure is little understood, but irreversible damage to human DNA is one of the known side-effects. We’re okay on Earth since the atmosphere soaks up most of it, but these rays cut through metal and space suits like a hot knife through butter.

So we’re stuck here. And unfortunately as long as we’re here the natural wonders on this planet are under threat. I’ve been saying for years the best thing that can happen to the Earth is if all the people are removed from it. And that’s why I’m always a bit sad after watching nature programs – we started out as one of the most wonderful creations on this planet and now we’re destroying the lot for our own selfish, short-term gains. Shame on us all.


The Power Of Love


Steve and CarolineI had the pleasure of attending my good friend Steve’s wedding to his sweetheart Caroline at the weekend and it was lovely.

I was lucky enough to work with Steve in my first “proper” job (i.e. not for a University) and learned a great deal from him on both a personal and professional level. For anyone who’s ever heard me utter the words “phenomenal attention to detail”, you can thank Steve for drilling it into my head. His methodical approach to problem solving rubbed off on me and I continue to this day applying the same lessons I learned from him. Although I try to lose my temper and swear a bit less! 😉

I remember when he first met Caroline. They were set up at a wedding they both attended and he came back beaming about what a lovely girl she was. And he pretty much carried on talking about her from that point until the day he moved in with her! When I first met her I was taken aback at firstly how damned attractive she was and secondly what a lovely girl she was – funny, intelligent, genuine, a real catch. Steve had clearly been doing something right!

However the best was yet to come. Having moved down south to be with her, every time I met up with them again it was plain to see the positive effect she was having on him. It’s rare to see two people who become so much more than the sum of their parts. And great guy though Steve was I realise now there was a part of him missing until he met Caroline. To see the story have a happy ending and be there as they were married was a real honour.

Oh yes, and it was a good excuse to finally buy myself a dinner suit and learn how to tie a bow tie properly. Trouble is, I can’t think of anybody else I know who’s likely to get married so it may be a while before I get to wear it again. Although you can wear dinner suits to christenings can’t you? 😉 (And before you ask, I don’t mean for me).


I Also Convert Images


Just to prove I don’t spend my spare time only working on John’s Background Switcher, I’ve just released a new version of the cleverly named John’s Image Converter. It’s a simple, one-dialog application that’s sole purpose in life is to resize pictures – which can be quite handy if you want to resize a large photo for use on the net and you’re too impatient for Photoshop, Windows Paint or whatever else to fire up.

John's Image Converter

New in version 1.1 is improved image quality (I’m reusing some of the code from JBS to this end) and the ability to rotate the picture as you convert (you can see from the thumbnail if it needs rotating or not). For me it’s a handy little tool as it saves me a lot of hassle and time. Next I’ll add folder conversion and maybe some sort of cropping…


The Dangers Of Chocolate


While eating a meal at some friends the other night I managed to accidentally bite the inside of my mouth, which was rather painful. It always surprises me (although it shouldn't) how good human teeth are at chewing through the inside of your mouth – I guess the inside of my mouth is no different than a steak cooked rare so there's nothing stopping my teeth slicing their way through, that's what they're for.

As with all cuts to the mouth, it takes a while to heal and every time you eat an apple or biscuit, you get stabbed in the wound and feel a sharp pain. But that's nothing compared to chocolate.

I was eating a snickers bar and a piece found its way onto the wound and it was searingly painful – like acid burning! That set me thinking so I tried various different things to see what hurt the most. Irn Bru (which you'd think would do loads of damage) was fine, just a little stinging. Salt obviously hurt quite a bit, but that was a good pain since it dulled the pain afterwards. A satsuma (or was it a clementine?) stung a little but it was only short-lived. The apple, as I mentioned, hurt but that was more from being stabbed by the skin of the thing. Terrible decaf coffee from my work vending machine has no effect aside from the heat and dreadful taste. Bonjela, which has long been my treatment of choice for mouth ulcers and the like, is rather painful for a short time too, but as with salt it does it some good so it's not a bad pain.

So chocolate is still the winner on account of the pain and lack of positive benefit from the pain. Any other suggestions before it heals up?


How to default to Search Companion with Windows Desktop Search 3


Much though I love the newly released Microsoft Office 2007, one thing bugged the hell out of me. To get search to work in Outlook (and search is handy if you want to find specific emails from 6 months ago with work you were supposed to have done by now) you need to install Windows Desktop Search 3. This is all well and good until you decide you want to search for files on your hard drive. You click ‘Search’ and this comes up:

Windows Desktop Search where I don't want it

Yep, it’s replaced the standard Windows search companion (and the friendly dog). That’s all well and good, except it’s an indexed search so doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s really on disk. And since by default my program files folder isn’t indexed, it never shows any results no matter what I search for – until I go in and change the settings then wait for it to get around to indexing the folders.

There’s a link at the bottom of the tab to use the trusty old search companion, but it means clicking it every time. Oh, and before you ask, no, there isn’t an option to disable this irritating integration in WDS! I hate it when software comes along and arrogantly replaces existing functionality with itself and gives no way to remove it. I only put the thing on so Outlook would be able to search emails, not to make me click more buttons to search for files!

Of course, you can in fact turn it off, as a little digging has turned up. Simply open RegEdit (hit Start > Run then type ‘regedit’). Go to the following node:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER/Software/Microsoft/Windows Desktop Search/DS

Then double-click on ‘ShowStartSearchBand’ and set the value to ‘0’. Close that and you’re done, the next time you click ‘Search’ in explorer, the old, reliable search companion will appear. This applies to operating systems before Windows Vista, since Vista has far better search that actually works! (Okay, now someone will say it just uses WDS and I’m an idiot – wouldn’t be the first time).


I Don’t Need No Fancy HDR! Okay, Why Not?!


I’ve resisted playing around with some of the fashionable “photography” techniques to be found on places like Flickr because I’m a bit old fashioned in a way. I’ve always had the mindset that I want to capture a scene as you see it in reality, not some super-saturated, better-than-life version. However every now and then I soften a bit and try new things. One of them is HDR (or High Dynamic Range) photography.

The idea is that you take several photos of the same scene, ranging from very underexposed to very over-exposed (the photos, not the photographer). Then you use some software to glue them together that picks the best bits of each shot and produces an image that is perfectly exposed. Then it can do some fancy tone mapping that produces something quite amazing. This means you can take impossible pictures that a camera could never produce in a single shot, such as directly into the sun and on very bright days with dark foregrounds. Like this one:

Impossible Exposure

I must confess that it does look pretty cool. Thing is though, it’s unreal – the actual scene didn’t look anything like this and was a bit of a nothing shot really. But with a bit of software jiggery-pokery I was able to produce something quite impressive. Nice though it is, it’s not the sort of thing I plan on doing much – it’s art in its own right but it’s not what photography is all about for me. Unless of course I can’t think of anything else to take a picture of at the time!


It Isn’t Easy Being A Teenager These Days


It isn’t easy being a teenager these days. For starters, your body hasn’t finished developing yet. You’re probably suffering from acne and no matter what products you see advertised on TV, none of them work. Your weak and puny body probably makes you feel inferior compared to Hollywood hunks like Brad Pitt (but you’d never admit it to your mates). If you’re a girl you probably hate what you see in the mirror and wish you looked like the girls in glossy magazines. Oh and you think you’re fat even though you are literally skin and bones (the bad news is you most likely won’t ever grow out of the negative self-delusion).

Worse than the physical aspects is the fact that your brain hasn’t finished developing either. This means you have no empathy – you are incapable of appreciating other people’s points of view. It’s not a deliberate thing, it’s just the part of your brain that figures these things out doesn’t work yet. This is why your parents keep telling you you’re “selfish and don’t think of anybody but yourself” when you don’t think you are. Hint: they’re right, you just don’t have the capacity to see it (and some people sadly never do). You’re also barely in control of your emotions, that’s why you have mood swings and temper tantrums. These emotions are all new to you and you haven’t had much chance to understand and come to terms with them.

You hate school, you hate the teachers and you feel like everybody is telling you what to do and what to think. And worst of all, you think you know it all and it should all be up to you. Your only respite is being out with your mates. Perhaps there’s a comfy bench on the corner of your high street you like to hang around on. Maybe you’ll down the odd bottle of cider or do something harder so your mates think you’re tough. It’s all just a laugh really and there’s no harm in it, you’re just letting off steam.

Except when you’re hanging around with your mates, everybody you see looks at you like you’re a criminal. Just because you’re wearing a hooded top (so you can hide your embarrassing acne from the world) doesn’t mean you’re about to rob someone. But people don’t give you a chance, they treat you with no respect, like you’re scum, like the real trouble makers who wear hooded tops. And after a while you start to act that way, if they’re going to treat you like dirt, you might as well treat them the same way.

You see, what bugs me is that I used to be a teenager. When I see a bunch of them hanging around making a bit of noise, I remember doing exactly the same thing. But apparently Britain is in danger of becoming a nation fearful of its young people. Since adults spend so little time with teenagers in the UK (as opposed to countries like Germany and Italy) they see them as a threat and are unlikely to intervene if they cross the line instead of remembering that teenagers are in fact still just children pushing their boundaries (as children do), instinctively trying to find their identity by breaking out of their parents mould. The thing is, if you just let children do what they want as they grow up, never giving them limits, then they’ll really turn into everything you fear.

Sort of a vicious circle really. I guess life doesn’t get any easier once you’ve grown out of the acne and stopped being a teenager!

Update (July 2023): This article was written in 2006 and looking at the world of 2023, it’s even worse with social media, constant communication and economies suffering from the effects of rampant wealth inequality. I really should write a new version of this but in the meantime, trust me, it REALLY isn’t easy being a teenager these days!