Monday, 31 October 2011

Article writing

Most of today I was writing an article for my photo tips website about geotagging.

I also started going through my emails, I have a big backlog due to not being able to check them while away.

Billy had finished the Communist Halloween video while we were away, so a good job it was finished in time for Halloween:

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Scotland Day 9 - Travel back home

Today I got up at 6.15am, then we had breakfast at 7.30am. I had Scottish breakfast Sausage, Bacon, Tomato, Mushrooms, Fried Bread, Scottish Potato bread, Baked Beans, and some toast, along with a cup o' tea. Mauser had the same, except without any mushrooms or fried bread.

After breakfast we left the hotel and went into Inverness. Mauser had to get some petrol in Inverness as the car rental company charge you extra if the car isn't returned with a full tank.

We found the bus station, which is near the train station car park where we had to leave the car. Since we had about 20-30 minutes before our bus was due, I went off for a very quick walk to see if I could find any souvenir shops. We hadn't bought any souvenirs other than a Cairngorms pencil and Edinburgh Castle notepad for laddie, so wanted to get some 'proper' souvenirs.

Unfortunately I could only find one souvenir shop nearby, and that was closed (actually nearly all the shops were closed - it was before 9am and on a Sunday).

We got the bus to Edinburgh at 9.10am, which arrived in Edinburgh at 12.40. Partway through the journey we thought the bus was going to be very late as the clock in the bus showed 12.40 when it was still quite a way from Edinburgh. But actually it was just that the clock in the bus hadn't been put back an hour.

In Edinburgh we struggled for a bit to find a way to the station, as it is located underneath a bridge. We stopped to the south of the bridge, and Mauser saw some stairs that we could use to get down to the station. Before going down to the station, Mauser waited with the bags, and I went off to try and buy some souvenirs.

Unfortunately I only had £10, and I couldn't remember the PIN for my credit card. I had meant to check the PIN before we left for Scotland, but the credit card company's website was down for maintenance >:[

The shop sold a range of teas: Scottish Breakfast Tea; Thistle Tea; Heather Tea; Whisky Tea; and maybe some others I can't remember. They had a packet of Whisky Coffee in the window, but I couldn't see this for sale in the shop. Ideally I would have liked to get a nice quality scarf, Whisky coffee, a collection of the teas, some Walkers Shortbread, and a Nessie plush. But since I only had £10 I had to get a £5 scarf, £5 whisky tea (I thought this seemed more Scottish than the other tea varieties), and I also got some cheaper non-walkers shortbread with a spare £1.10 I had.

I went back to Mauser, and we made our way down the steps to the station, which was quite difficult with my heavy suitcase. Then we went through the station (and down more steps) to find the train we wanted and the platform it was leaving from.

We caught a train heading to Reading that stopped in Sheffield, but a large number of seats were reserved. We managed to find two seats that were free until York. Then when the train got to York we had to vacate our seats and stand out in the area by the doors. There were some other passengers there as well who must not have reserved seats, and then an old drunk woman came in and started babbling on about how a man had said she kicked him when she hadn't.

We got off at Sheffield as planned, then had to go up and down more steps with the heavy suitcase to find the correct platform for the train to Leicester. We caught the train to Leicester, and didn't have any problems with seats being reserved on that train. Then we changed at Leicester for Harborough. Putting the big suitcase in the luggage compartment and then retrieving it when you get off is quite a do, so we just stood in the doorway area with our bags since it was only one stop.

It was about 7.00pm by the time we arrived back at Harborough station. McRad picked us up from the station, and gave us a lift home. Pulling the heavy suitcase with no handle all the way home would have been very annoying otherwise.

We had some tea and I unpacked the case, then went to bed about 9.30pm.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Scotland Day 8 - Inverness & The falls of Foyers

Before breakfast today we were trying to see if you could get down to the shore of Loch Ness anywhere. I found a walk for Foyer Falls mentioned a path that goes down to the shore. I also found mentions that you could access the shore in Fort Augustus, but no actual directions on where in Fort Augustus to go to get to the shore. At breakfast we asked the B&B owner if she knew of anywhere, and she said she didn't know of anywhere nearby, but since we were going to Inverness, there's a pub nearby called the Dores Inn where you can access the shore.

After breakfast, we went off to Inverness and did a walk along the River Ness. We stopped to eat our lunch (a slice of yesterday evening's Jalepeno and minced lamb pizza) in a picnic area by the bay. A man came up to us and pointed out a dolphin in the river, so we looked and saw the dolphin surfacing a few more times.

Only a little further on, a woman called us over to point out a seal (or it might have been a sealion, I can't remember now) in the river. It was quite far away, and just looked like a small brown blob. She said that there was often an otter that bobs up and down, and also the dolphins swim along the river, further into Inverness.

Carrying on our walk, we went further into Inverness, and took a detour to see the castle. One part of it looked like it had builders working inside it, and the other part was a court. As we walked up the river we could hear loud bagpipe music, singing, and a Scottish bloke announcing. We never saw what it was, but it appeared to be a large and well attended event in a stadium that was equivalent to a non-league football team stadium.

Going across the islands in the river, there were various tents and things set up. Near the end we saw a poster saying it was for Halloween on the Ness Islands, and it looked to be organized by the Scottish Highland Council.

We finished the walk by soon after 2pm, so went off to see the Foyer Falls. It was a really nice area, with great autumn colours and great falls. Unfortunately it was raining quite a bit, so I only took a few photos and my camera got quite wet. There was a building with a plastic wallet on the side that had local maps in it you could buy for 10p. These appeared to have been printed and helpfully marked up by hand, so we bought one of these, just leaving 10p in a smaller plastic wallet that was there.

Using the map we saw how to get down to the shore of Loch Ness, which is something that is not possible around most of the Loch. We followed the map and got down to the shore, and took some misty rainy photos looking down the Loch towards Inverness.

After our walk we went to the Dores Inn, which was very popular. All the tables in the restaurant area were already reserved, but we managed to get a table in the bar area. After some more people without reservations had filled up the rest of the tables in the bar area, some people who arrived later had to be turned away.

I had a vennison loin with sweet sauce stuff, and Mauser had a red wine marinaded lamb shank. For pudding we both had Apple and cinnamon with custard (though we ordered it with ice cream). I had a drink of Ale (Farr I think it was called), that had a nice fruity flavour. Mauser had a pint of Coke since he was driving. The food took a while to arrive, but was good sized portions (especially the puddings), and very nice. Although the price was quite good by restaurant standards, £20 each for a main course, pudding, and drink still seems a bit much to me.

We went back to the B&B and then watched a film called Loch Ness. It was very predictable and cheesey, and we didn't recognise any of the locations. I think that most of it (apart from being filmed in a studio) was probably filmed at Fort Augustus, which we didn't explore very much when we were there.

I sorted today's photos and wrote this blog post, then went to bed at 00.00 BST (today time) or 23.00 GMT (tomorrow time).

Friday, 28 October 2011

Scotland Day 7 - Abriachan Forest & River Beauly

Today we weren't going to get up early, but we did mean to be up in plenty of time for 8.30 breakfast, but neither me nor Mauser were woken up by my watch alarm. I woke up at 8am, so we were up in time for breakfast, but I didn't have enough time to have a shower.

After breakfast we went out to the Abriachan Forest trails, and did a walk there. Unfortunately the first bit of the walk there was a sign saying No admittance due to forest work. So we were stuck for a bit wondering what to do. After spending some time looking at the trails map in the car park, it looked like one of the trails went down to the same place as the other one that was blocked off. So we went down there, and it did. It actually turned out that quite a bit of the start of the walk was just going to see things near the car park, before you got onto the real walk.

The walk went through the forest for a bit, then came out on an open hill, where it was very windy. Then a lot of the walk was just down a trail used by Forestry commission vehicles, which wasn't as nice as a proper footpath going through the forest. We also went down to see a Whisky still, but it was just a small wooden building cut into the hillside, with nothing inside it other than some seating, so quite boring.

After completing the walk, we went off for our next walk along part of the River Beauly. To get there we had to down single track roads from the Abriachan forest trails car park, and Google navigate wasn't very good at giving correct directions. I think that probably we could have actually just gone along single track road a small part of the way and then gone along an A road if we had planned the route ourselves instead of using Google Navigate.

The river Beauly walk was nice as well. It was lucky that Mauser had his phone with multimap on as the walk directions said to turn off right down a boggy track into a wood, when actually you needed to turn off right through part of a field and then follow the path along the edge of the wood and the field.

There was a nice sunset on the drive back to the B&B, Mauser did try to stop so I could get some photos, but all of the parking spots are unmarked and you only see them when it is too late to stop. The only one Mauser did manage to see in time to stop at turned out not to be a parking place, but actually a road to a farm. So I didn't get any sunset photos.

The rest of the evening I copied and sorted today's photos, then wrote yesterday's and today's blog posts. Mauser went out to the takeaway and bought a 'Mexicano' pizza. It had lots of Jalapeno pepper slices on it, and was really hot. It also had a lot of nice stringy cheese.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Scotland Day 6 - Cairngorm

Today we got up early and had breakfast at 7.30am, which is the earliest you can have breakfast at the B&B, and normally they only do breakfast from 8.30am.

After breakfast we headed out to Cairngorm mountain, via Tesco in Inverness. There was a really nice sunrise with golden coloured clouds, but I couldn't take any photos as we were driving through Inverness at the time. When we got to Tesco we bought some food, but when it was time to pay they said it was more than we thought it should be.

We had 2 packets of Walkers Sensations crisps, which were meant to be 2 for £3, but one of the packets Mauser had chosen wasn't going through like that. So I went back to get a replacement packet, which was at the opposite end of the shop. I checked, and the packet Mauser had got was the only one that wasn't in the promotion, all the rest were. So I got a different packet and went back to the tills.

Then when I got there I found a member of staff had taken the other packet (which was in the promotion) away, so we then had to wait for them to come back before we could pay and take our shopping away. So although it was meant to be a quick stop, it actually took quite a while.

Mauser then drove us to the car park on the Cairngorm mountain. As soon as we got out of the car, it was really windy, and the wind was quite cold. At Mauser's behest I didn't take my tripod or most of my other photography stuff because it obviously makes hill climbing easier the less stuff you carry. I pulled most of the dividers out of my bag, to make room for storing my coat etc. in my bag when I got too hot.

But as it turned out, the wind was so strong that I didn't need to take any of my clothes off at all. I wore Jeans, T-shirt, a fleece, a thin waterproof jacket, a scarf, gloves, and one of my Russian ushanka hats. This kept me not too hot and not too cold, apart from it was quite cold when standing still in the wind and not moving.

The wind was really strong, around 60mph according to the person in the base station that Mauser spoke to. It made it really hard going, even on the flat bits, and I nearly fell over a few times when caught by a strong gust.

We detoured off our intended route by about a mile because the route we were meant to take was not a marked footpath. So we had to just walk across part of the mountain to get to where we were meant to be. Thankfully for this bit the wind was more at our backs, pushing us along, which made it easier.

If it wasn't windy most of the route we took would have been quite easy going. We didn't see anyone else along most of the route, though saw one group, and one person along the cliff edge area. When we got to the top, there wasn't anyone else there. We ate some crisps, then started down the mountain as the wind was too cold to do much eating.

Going back down, we walked past a line of cairns from the top, and then came to a cobbled path, which led down to the top funicular railway station. This route was probably easier than clambering up the side we went up, though it was reasonably steep and would have still been a hard workout for the thighs I suspect.

When we got to the funicular railway station, we decided that rather than pay £7.20 each for the railway back down, we'd just walk it as it looked on the map like it was only a couple of miles. So we walked down, probably the easy route up. It was a large track, it seemed a lot shorter than the route we had come up, and there was comparitively little wind (though it was still windy). Since it was downhill with no obstacles (like rocks) it was easy going for us back down to the car park.

Back at the bottom, we went into the shop, Mauser bought some postcards, and I bought a pencil for Laddie. We went into the cafe, and Mauser asked if they did tea and coffee to go, as we wanted 2 large teas to take away. But the woman answered Mauser's question by going off and making a (small) tea and a (small) coffee to go. So I had a tea and Mauser had a coffee.

We took the drinks back to the car, then Mauser drove back along the road and we stopped at a nearby Loch. Someone leaving the car park gave us their parking ticket, which was lucky as we didn't even realise it was a pay & display car park. We had our drinks and the rest of our crisps sitting on some tree roots on the edge of the beach around the loch, which was very nice. We also had some Boosts, which we had eaten a bit of on the mountain. It was quite strange as even though the Boosts were in Mauser's bag, they seemed to have become frozen while we were on the mountain. The caramel was really hard to bite through, and it would crack rather than being soft. The normally soft biscuit stuff was also solid as well. Very strange and different to eating a normal Boost.

The sun was setting at the Loch, so we didn't spend too much time there, but rather started back to the B&B while it was still light.

We got back to the B&B, and then checked out what the weather was like and the route for Ben Nevis, which we were planning to walk tomorrow. Amazingly, there is a website specifically for what the weather on Ben Nevis is like. The wind there was listed as something like 55 / 75 mph, so stronger than it was on Cairngorm mountain. The route also was about the same length as the Cairngorm one, but was described as being one long steep route, which sounded like it would be very difficult in the wind.

So we decided not to go up Ben Nevis, and spent quite a bit of the evening trying to decide what other walk(s) to do instead. I also looked up Urquart castle, which is nearby, to see if was worth visiting. From what we had seen from the car park when we checked it out before, it didn't look like there was much to it really. Most of the reviews were very positive, but only mentioned that the opening video was really good and informative. The positive reviews didn't seem to say much about the actual ruins. There was also one negative review, and they did talk about the ruins, and said they weren't that great really, and there are better castles in Scotland you can visit for free. So we decided not to visit there.

After sorting out a couple of walks to do tomorrow (problem is there is too much choice), I went on Civ IV for the rest of the evening.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Scotland Day 5 - Meall Fuar-mhonaidh

This morning we had a full Scottish breakfast again, except that I had fried bread instead of Bacon, and Mauser had the same as yesterday except without Fried bread, Haggis, or Black Pudding.

We went out in the car to a walk, but Google navigation led us the wrong way. It did take us to a car park, but then wanted us to continue up a gated track. Instead of going back the correct way, we decided to just walk from there. We followed the google instructions to where it had suggested we drive to get to the proper car park at the start of the walk. This took us down an unused track that had bits of tree going across it, so stupid instructions. Mauser checked his multimap map, and it was clear on that what the correct route was, so he was annoyed he didn't check multimap before following the Google navigate instructions.

After a bit we came to the start of the walk proper, which was up Meall Fuar-mhonaidh. The ground was quite wet and muddy, but when we got further up the mountain, it became really boggy. You had to keep deviating from the path quite a bit to try and get round the larger / deeper patches of bog. It was also quite a trixy walk as you kept thinking you were nearly at the top, then you'd see there was actually another higher peak further on ahead.

Most of the walk up was cloudy, and it rained for a bit. But when we eventually reached the top at 1pm (we started about 9.30am), the weather changed to more sunny with cloudy spells.

On the way back down I slipped over on some of the wet boggy grass, so that was annoying. Thankfully I got bits of fine moss (moss spores?) on me rather than mud, and by the time we reached the bottom the wet patches had mostly dried out.

We reached the car at about 4pm, then went to the takeaway at Drumnadrochit to get some fish and chips. We went back to the hotel next so I could go to the loo. We had been trying to decide where to eat our dinner, and eventually decided on some picnic tables that aren't very far from the B&B. So we walked there and ate our fish & chips. We had a nice view of the hillside with horses on it, and also the river running next to us.

After eating our dinner we walked along the road and track a bit, which goes along the Great Glen Way. After a bit we came to an area where you could see the river better (no trees in the way), then we went back to the B&B as we didn't want to do too long of a walk, especially since we didn't know where the track actually went to.

At the B&B I copied and sorted today's photos, then wrote yesterday's and today's blog posts.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Scotland Day 4 - Drumnadrochit and Fort Augustus

This morning we got up about 7am, and had a full Scottish breakfast of toast with butter, Haggis, Scottish potato cake, Baked Beans, Tomato, Mushrooms, Bacon, and Scottish Breakfast Sausage. Mauser also had fried egg, fried bread, and black pudding as well. For drinks we had a couple of cups of tea each, and Mauser had an orange juice as well.

After breakfast we set out on a walk, which was nearby so we didn't need to drive anywhere. The walk was very nice with lots of autumny trees and a large waterfall, though the instructions we had for the walk were very confusing and made us go the wrong way and have to backtrack a few times. The instructions kept talking about different coloured markers, but had the marker colours down wrong in a few different places. If we'd followed the instructions but ignored the bits about coloured markers we probably would have done the walk okay without ever going the wrong way. The only other problem with the walk is that the weather was quite dreary for most of it.

We came back to the hotel from the walk and had a short rest while I copied the photos to the laptop. After that Mauser drove us out to a woodland walk near Fort Augustus. The walk was nice, but again it wasn't sunny. It rained for a bit, but there was a nice view of the sunset light coming through the valley below, like sunbeams, except horizontal purple sunbeams.

When we'd finished the walk it was getting dark. We went to Fort Augustus, which is meant to be a small village worth visiting. In the Scotland book it said there was a reasonably priced restaurant there, but when we found it, it was closed. It looked they were only open during the day and didn't serve evening meals, though there were no open times displayed.

We had a walk round Fort Augustus in the rain, and there was a nice set of locks there, a bit like Foxton Locks, though larger, not as many, and not as steep. There were a few food places, but all the reasonably priced places seemed to be closed, and the places that were open were quite expensive. So we went to a mini-market there, which was also very expensive. We bought some fudge and pain au chocolats. Then when we were going back to the car we saw another mini-market, so we went in there, and they were much cheaper. Doh! Also, they sold the same pain au chocolats and the previous shop didn't give a receipt, so it could have looked like we were nicking them from that shop.

We went back to the hotel and just had a pot noodle and the last of some Raspberry sponge cake we bought from Tescos in Edinburgh. I copied and sorted the photos from the walk near Fort Augustus, then for the rest of the evening I wrote the blog posts for our trip so far (excluding today's).

Monday, 24 October 2011

Scotland Day 3 - Travel to Loch Ness

This morning we didn't bother getting up early. I had a shower, but then someone else went in the bathroom after me, so Mauser couldn't use it (we didn't have an en-suite). We packed our bags, hung around doing nothing for a bit, then caught the bus towards the city centre.

We then walked to the bus station, which thankfully wasn't too far, with my annoying rolling case. We made sure we had plenty of time as we thought we might as well get there early since otherwise we would just be waiting at the hotel doing nothing. We caught the bus okay, and there were some really nice views on the way to Inverness. Big hills covered in colourful autumn trees and rivers winding their way through the hills. There was also one bit where there were a few fields of haybales with loads of pheasants in, and a few of the haybales had pheasants sitting on top of them. Unfortunately my camera 450D doesn't autofocus accurately enough for me, it always seems to front focus quite a bit. So I have been using liveview with contrast detect autofocus. But this didn't work either when shooting through the bus windows (the weather was dark and dreary, which probably didn't help either). So I didn't get any photos from the bus trip.

At Inverness we walked to the trains station, then waited round for ages for the car rental person. After a bit Mauser phoned them, and then they said they would come, as if they were waiting for us to phone them. But Mauser said it didn't say anything about needing to phone them on the booking email with all the details that they had sent him.

After getting the rental car, Mauser drove us to our B&B near Loch Ness. After meeting the lady who owned the guesthouse and getting all the info, we went out on a walk towards Urquart Castle, which the lady said would be nice for photos at sunrise or sunset.

But when we got to the castle, we found the hill was blocking the sun from lighting the castle (though the hill on the opposite side of the loch was lit). Also, there seemed to be no way to get to the castle except down a track that said no access. Looking inside the visitor centre (which was closed), Mauser saw there was some stairs inside the visitor centre that went down, so it must be that you have go down through a tunnel from underneath the visitor centre to get to the castle. Since the castle only opens at 9am, and closes at 4.30pm, I'm not sure how you'd get any nice sunset or sunrise photos of it? You can photograph it from above, but it's not a particularly great view in my opinion.

We then walked along the road for a bit, trying to find a footpath on Mauser's phone that looked like it went to the top of the hill. But we couldn't find it, so had to go back.

We went back towards the B&B, then carried on walking downwards as the B&B lady had said that there was a restaurant with decent food on the right. We didn't see the restaurant, but there was a walk around some woods at the bottom, so we did that. It was quite dark now though so we couldn't appreciate the autumn colour of the trees. On a post it had said there was no formal access to Loch Ness from the footpath, we found the informal access was by a fallen over tree that crosses a river. Mauser suggested we not try it as it wasn't worth me falling in trashing up my camera stuff or him falling in and trashing his phone. So we just carried on round the circular walk.

After walking through the forest we walked along the road a bit more to see if the restaurant was down there. Eventually we came out near the main village of Drumnadrochit. Walking up the road there was a pub called the Fiddler's Inn, but it was quite busy and looked like it only sold drinks, particularly Whisky. At the top of the road, I went left to see if there were any restaurants / pubs around there, while Mauser went to the right. I didn't find anything, only the entrance to Nessieland. Mauser found a restaurant in a hotel, but it was empty, and quite expensive. So we went back down the road and came to a take away, so we bought some Burgers and chips. Then we carried on down the road to the part of the village where our B&B was located. On the way we passed the restaurant the lady had said about, we thought she had meant it was right from the B&B, but she must have meant right from the south end of the road.

We managed to get back to the B&B before 8pm, and fill out our breakfast slips so we could have a nice cooked breakfast in the morning. We ate our dinner, Mauser had a Cheeseburger and I had a Chilli burger with Cheese. But my burger was exactly the same as Mauser, except that it had chilli sauce. Mauser said that he normally asks for Chilli sauce on his burgers, so a good thing he didn't, or it would have confused the bloke if he ordered a cheese burger, then said he wanted to make it into a chilli burger.

I copied the evening's photos to the laptop, then we went to bed quite early.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Scotland Day 2 - Edinburgh

Today we got up at about 6.45am and then went out about 7am. We walked out to Holyrood park, and did the walk up to the peak. The first bit was very hard with a lot of steep stone steps, and they were a bit slippy as it had rained.

We went back down the other side of the hill and saw the ruins of an old chapel, then went down to a large pond / small lake at the bottom. There were lots of pigeons in one area all having a wash, but the swans would come and annoy them.

Next we walked to the palace of Holyrood, but didn't go in. We walked along the Royal Mile from the palace to the Castle. We spent quite a while in the castle, then walked down to Hanover Street to catch a bus to the Royal Botanic Gardens. We should have been able to catch a bus before that but Ramsay Lane and The Mound (where the bus route was meant to go) were both closed to traffic.

At the Royal Botanic Gardens it was free to get in but we had an expensive cup of tea, £1.80 each. It was a good cup of tea and well needed though. We looked round the Royal Botanic Gardens for a while, then left at 5.45pm as it closed at 6pm. We got the bus back towards North Bridge, then walked along North Bridge / South Bridge to find the cheap Cheeseburger and pie shop we'd seen the other day.

Unfortunately they had sold out of Cheeseburgers, and didn't have any Haggis pies left either :( . So we both bought a Scotch Pie instead, though Mauser probably would have bought a Scotch pie anyway. They were 95p each. We also went to Tesco, but this time the larger one, and bought a pot noodle and some croissants.

Further on Mauser thought it might be better to have chips with the Scotch Pies than the Pot Noodles, so we bought some chips for £1.80, though after that we saw another shop selling chips for £1.50. We walked back to the B&B and were very glad about having the hot chips to go with the pies, which were only warm.

After eating and copying all the photos to the laptop we went out again in the evening. We got the bus partway down the street, then walked to Greyfriars to see the Greyfriars Bobby statue. I took a pano there, though it took quite a long time as a drunk New Zealander was talking into the camera like he was on TV, and then hung around for ages trying to talk to Mauser.

I tried to take a photo of Greyfriars Church, but it wasn't lit at all, and I couldn't get my camera to focus correctly. The 18-55 IS lens I was using has no manual focus distance markings, liveview was black even at ISO1600 with a 30s shutter speed, and the viewfinder isn't good enough for manual focusing, especially in light so dim. When I was just giving up a tour came round to the front of the church, talking about the story of Greyfriars Bobby.

We walked down various streets and along behind Edinburgh Castle, and saw a couple of Churches off Lothian Road. Then we walked round Charlotte square, which reminded me of the large posh squares they have in London, with a small park in the centre. We then walked back along Prince's Street, and finally caught a bus from North Bridge back towards the B&B. I copied the rest of the photos, then went to bed about 12pm. I didn't feel too well, and was sick a tiny little bit in the room's sink. But after that I felt better.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Scotland Day 1 - Travel to Edinburgh

I got up at 6.15am and then Clare gave us a lift to the train station at 7.15am. Unfortunately I didn't have time to pack properly, but thought I'd got everything I needed.

The sun was rising as we left, and was a nice purple colour, though the sun didn't actually start to rise above the horizon until we had left on the train. The train journey was quite nice, going through some interesting looking places. The East Midlands Parkway station had a power station next to it, and later on we saw power stations further away on both sides of the trainline.

There was also a place in Yorkshire, which I can't remember its name, but had a large Victorian station, when I didn't think it was a major town.

We switched trains at York, and got the train to Edinburgh. Durham had a nice looking cathedral. Going through Newcastle it had some nice bridges going over the Tyne. Berwick upon Tweed looked a very nice picturesque seaside town as well.

When we got to Edinburgh station we had to try and figure out which exit was nearest the way we wanted to go. Then we went to our hotel, using Mauser's phone's GPS for navigation, though most of it was all along one long road.

I had brought a wheel suitcase but the pull-out handle at the top was broken. It had a cloth handle at the top, so I thought this would be okay. But actually it was very awkward and I kept hitting the case into my legs. My arms also got worn out quite quickly. My slingbag would keep sliding off to the right if I was pulling the case with my right hand since I had to lean down to hold the case handle. So this was another problem.

Eventually we reached the B&B, so I was very relieved. The woman at the B&B showed us some info about the buses and where nearby attractions were. After putting our stuff in our room we then walked all the way back to the city centre.

We walked up Callow Hill where there were a couple of large monuments and good views over the city. Next we walked down and went along Prince's Street, which is the main shopping street. The street was currently closed and covered with roadworks as they are installing a tram system. We walked up The Mound, which goes to the Royal Mile, and saw the way to Edinburgh Castle, and a large church, which is now 'The Hub'.

We walked along the Royal Mile to the long street around where the street changes from being North Bridge to being South Bridge. We walked along the street and saw a takeaway on the other side of the street offering Cheeseburgers for £1.30, so crossed over to have a look at it since it was about 6pm and we were hungry. But before we got back down to the pie shop (we had to walk up a bit past it to get to a crossing), we saw a restaurant that did oriental meals for reasonable prices. Since it is always difficult to buy from foreign restuarants in foreign countries (since the staff don't always speak English), it seemed sensible to eat at a foreign restaurant here as the staff would speak English. So we had a meal there, they did Japanese, Chinese, Cantonese, and various other asian dishes. I had a cantonese dish that was Pork, with a sauce that was meant to be spicy (but wasn't very hot actually), vegetables, and rice. Mauser had one that was Pork, Chicken and Prawns, along with vegetables and rice. We got a free pot of green tea with the meal, and it cost £6 each including a £1 tip. The staff all seemed to be Chinese, but spoke good English. I don't think that there would be any advantage food-wise in eating at a restaurant in China.

After our meal we walked back down the street, and then carried on along the Royal Mile, until we got to the Scottish Parliament, which is a modern architechturaly styled building. Nearby was Holyrood Palace, but this was closed, and wasn't even lit up at night. We walked part-way up Abbey Hill, and saw the 'bath house' of Queen Mary.

Then we went back along the Royal Mile until we reached North Bridge / South Bridge, and then went back up there towards the guesthouse. On the way we popped into Tesco to buy some breakfast for tomorrow morning. We had decided not to have breakfast at the B&B as it was an extra £5 per person, and we weren't sure whether we were going to be around at breakfast time or get up too early for it.

Carrying on up the road towards the Hotel, we found there was also a Lidl, and another Tesco, which looked a bit larger than the one we had bought our food from. When we got to the B&B I copied across the day's photos and sorted the panos using Lightroom (trial) as Mauser's laptop doesn't have RAW preview support in Windows Explorer. Then we went to bed.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Urgently trying to finish Halloween video

Today I was taking the photos for the communist Halloween video, then urgently processing them. Then laddie can put the photos together into a video before Halloween while me and Mauser are away in Scotland (leaving tomorrow).

It was quite difficult taking the photos as we are using real grass for the graveyard, and the models kept falling over. It was very difficult to get them to stand up on the grass. If I did it again I think I'd just order lots of green plasticine, and use that as 'rubbish looking but easier to pose models on' grass.

That took all day so I only had enough time to pack the essentials for our holiday tomorrow, and didn't have time to check I had everything I needed / wanted for the holiday.

These photos are from the 20th when I was finishing the figures off:

Karl Marx and hands for the different models that didn't have hands made yet
The completed crew - Karl Marx tramp body, Karl Marx, Donald Rumsfeld, Lenin, Chairman Mao, Maggie Thatcher, Rupert Murdoch, Ronald McDonald, Sir Fred Goodwin, Adam Smith

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Plasticine modelling

I spent most of today doing plasticine modelling. I need to try and get all the models finished and the story photographed before Saturday when me and Mauser go off to Scotland. I managed to finish off tramp Karl Marx, and also do normal Karl Marx and the boy today.

Quite a few of the models don't have hands, so I've still got that to do before I can photograph them.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Photo processing

I spent most of today processing some photos. For some of them they looked very drab compared to what I remembered capturing, so I spent quite a while trying to improve them. Then I found that the camera had been set to auto white balance (I reset it recently), and this is what was causing the problem. Doh!

I also spent quite a while messing around with some of the infrared photos to try and change their colours a bit. I can get the sky to turn blue by swapping the blue and red channels in the channel mixer, but it didn't give the foliage the orange tint that you see in so many false colour IR photos. I think that maybe the orange tint effect occurs if you use a filter that also lets through some visible light.

I did some gardening work as well, filling up the pond, and removing some of the compost from the compost bin.

I did some more modelling, working on Karl Marx' tramp body. Since I needed to put rips in his trousers I had to make him some legs first, and then put the trousers on top of the legs. Here he is with one leg trousered up:

In the evening I watched 'Bend of The River' with Mauser and Bo, which was quite good. After that I spent ages checking my emails.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Not enough time / stuff takes too much time

Today I wrote 2 articles for my photo tips website, and that took all morning and most of the afternoon. For a small part of the afternoon and most of the evening I did sculpey / plasticine modelling. In the evening I also watched an episode of Boukengers with Belly.

I had wanted to process some photos and sort out a website / mysql issue as well today, but didn't have enough time.

This is the two armatures (middle and left) I made yesterday, and today I added the fimo shoes to them. The middle is for Karl Marx as a tramp, and the left is for Karl Marx in a suit.

This is some of the figures made so far over the last month or so. The boy on the left is actually an old Lenin body that doesn't have an armature, the boy's real body isn't made yet (you can see his armature in the above photo).

 And this is some more, on the right is Lenin's body that I was doing some more work on today.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Photo description researching and writing

Today I processed some photos from a few days ago, added descriptions to the photos I took yesterday (still need keywording and processing though), went on Animal Crossing and saw KK, and made a couple more armatures for plasticine models.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Going on a walk and unbranded battery is rubbish

Today was nice weather so I went out on a walk.

I received the £2 part-refund for my cheapo canon LP-E5 battery today, so I charged it up and then tried to put in the camera. But it wouldn't go all the way down into the battery slot. The battery has 3 little slots that 3 metal pins in the camera slot into. On either side of the slot the battery has a metal contact, and I found that one of these contacts was bent into the middle of the slot, which was why it wouldn't fit into the camera properly. I tried bending the contact back into place using a pen knife, but it would always get bent again when you tried to put it in the camera. Strange that it worked okay in the charger though.

So it looks like I wasted £4 on a rubbish battery. I ordered an official canon one from Amazon for £22 this evening, shouldn't be any problems with that.

I also saw an ad in the latest edition of Pop Photo (which I get through Zinio) for a device called Professor Kobré's Lightscoop. The images in the ad showed what a great difference it made, so this intrigued me. I checked online and found this review: Professor Kobre’s Lightscoop Review. This review also shows before and after photos with a pretty amazing difference.

The lightscoop is just a mirror that bounces your camera's pop-up flash onto the ceiling to give a much more natural and diffuse light. This is a pretty standard way of shooting with a speedlight / flash when indoors. So I was quite amazed by the photos in that review that show a comparison between a speedight that looks to have been bounced from the ceiling and the lightscoop. The lightscoop photo is far superior.

Since both the lightscoop and the bounced speedlight should be essentially doing the same thing, I wondered how this could be. After reading about how the lightscoop requires you to use camera settings of a large aperture e.g. f/2.8, ISO800, and the shutter set the max flash sync speed (1/200s - 1/250s usually), the only thing I can think of is that different camera settings were used for the bounced speedlight photo. If the speedlight photo was taken using a smaller aperture or lower ISO value, then it could be that ambient light is contributing more to the lightscoop photo, and giving it the better look.

When I looked at the photos on the lightscoop website, I noticed most of them seem to have quite nice warm skintones. So I think the secret of the lightscoop might be something to do with allowing more ambient light to effect the exposure (thanks to the shallow aperture and high ISO). It certainly seems to give great results though.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Working all day on something and then getting results that don't make sense

Today I received my 16GB Dane-elec SD card from 7dayshop. My first thought when I got it out the packet and looked at the back of the card was that it looked very much like a Toshiba card. And it turns out that it is: Toshiba appoints Dane-Elec to distribute memory products. When I formatted the card in my 450D, it only registered the card as being 14.8GB.

I thought there was some reason for this but couldn't remember why, so did a quick google to find out. Apparently manufacturers use 1 GB = 1,000,000,000 bytes, when actually 1 GB = 1,073,741,824 bytes. So this what accounts for the difference.

I formatted the new memory card in my 450D, and noticed that there was a 'low level' format option on the card formatting menu. So I tried to find out what this does, and as far as I can see it is supposed to be used if your computer has some problems reading the memory card. Apparently the folder structure on the card can get messed up or something and a low level format solves this.

Anyway, while searching for info on what the low level format option did, I found this post, which covers how someone fixed autofocus issues with their 450D by doing a full reset of the camera. So I thought I would try that since my 450D still doesn't autofocus correctly.

I also received the Kingston memory card reader from 7dayshop today. The design seems to be pretty rubbish, it has a large plastic outer casing with the actual card reader bit inside being retractable. Possibly this makes it less likely that the card slots would get dirt and dust in. But it makes the reader much larger than it needs to be, and I never had any trouble with dust in the card slots on my old reader.

As well as this it has a really short (1 inch) usb cable, though will probably be suitable for use with a laptop. It comes with a USB extension cable to allow use with PCs. But it would be better in my opinion if it just used a standard mini USB jack and came with a mini USB to USB cable. This would allow cable sharing (though not at the same time) with other devices that also use the standrd mini usb connector.

Now I need to have the card reader with its built-in 1 inch USB cable, the longer USB extension cable, and a mini USB to USB cable (for connecting my GPS) on my desk. Whereas before with my old card reader I only needed the mini USB to USB cable as I could use the same cable for connecting both the GPS and the card reader.

Yesterday I received the new LP-E5 compatible battery for my 450D, but it was only 1600mAh when the photos for the product on Amazon showed 2000mAh. I contacted the seller and they offered to refund £2 of the price. Though I haven't actually received any confirmation from amazon about the part refund yet.

Most of today I was working on trying to compare some different ways of storing and displaying filenames for my photo website, but my tests seemed to give weird results, so I posted on Sitepoint forums hoping for some guidance.

In the evening I did some more sculpey / plasticine. I still have quite a bit more to do though.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


This morning the weather started off overcast, but then cleared up to a blue sky so I went out for a walk. Then it became overcast again so I came back home in time for lunch.

In the afternoon I worked on writing up the cinnamon whirls recipe. I also searched ebay and amazon for a piping bag and some spoon and cup measures. Searching for the cup measures took a long time as there are lots of different makes and how sturdy they are seems to be an issue. The main issue though was that Clare (who wanted the cup measures most) wanted US size cup measures (1 cup = 240 ml) whereas a lot of the product listings seemed to be for UK size (250 ml) or didn't say the size at all.

In the evening I watched Boukengers with L and did some more plasticine / sculpey with L.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Being undecided

Today I was finishing off a photography article. Then I wondered what site was best to post it to. So I spent quite a while checking the different sites I'm signed up with, and my own site, and trying to see how likely people are to see the article depending on which site I put it on.

In the end I decided to put it on Snipsly, which has a PR of 4.

In the evening I watched an episode of Boukengers with L and also did some more plasticine.

Monday, 10 October 2011


Today I was mainly writing some photography related blog posts. I also topped the pond up, cleaned up some leaves in the garden, and cut all the dead flower heads off the Buddleia.

In the evening I watched Wild Style with Mauser. It had a really rubbish story and acting, really they should have just made it into a documentary. It was still quite good though as the story was only a small part of the film.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Buying more photo stuff

I was looking today for a spare camera battery, SD card, and a new multi card reader (my old one can't read SDHC cards) for when we go on holiday to Scotland in a couple of weeks.

For memory cards I opted for a Dane-elec Pro-line 16GB SDHC card, for £14. An 8GB card was £9 and a 32GB card was £21. So the 32GB card is cheapest per GB, but I didn't think I'd ever make use of the full 32GB, and if the card got corrupted or lost, loosing 32GB of photos would be quite painful.

On the holiday I will probably shoot using my existing Sandisk 4GB card first, then switch to the new 16GB card when the 4GB card is full. I'll be taking a laptop and hard drives for copying / backing up the photos each day, so that will give me 20GB worth of space each day, rather than for the whole trip.

Before deciding on the Dane-elec branded card, I did some research and found this handy guide to branded SD card speeds compared. I also checked reviews, 7dayshop Professional branded SD cards didn't seem to be very reliable, but the Dane-elec cards have a good rep as far as I could see.

Likewise, many of the cheap card readers seemed to be unreliable. There were plenty of reviews on one of the ones I looked at on Amazon saying that they had to contact the seller, who sent them out another one because the first one they had was faulty. So I thought it was better to pay a bit more and went with a Kingston branded one.

For the camera battery, there are a few unofficial batteries listed on Amazon. The official battery was listed at £20, and has a capacity of 1080mAh. There is also an energizer branded battery listed at about £13, also with a capacity of 1080mAh. Then there is a Neweer (Chinese) branded battery for about £4, which, according to the back of the battery in the product photo, has a capacity of 2000mAh.

So I went for that one, it actually ended up about £5 including postage as it was from an Amazon seller rather than Amazon themselves. Will be interesting to see what it's like, unless it blows up the camera.

In the afternoon today I also played on the two player latest downloadable levels for Portal 2 with L. In the evening I did some sculpey painting / plasticine model making.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


Lately I have been processing, describing, and uploading some recent photos. I have also done a bit more work on getting a feed working for my photo website.

Today I made some Cinnamon Whirls with L, went on Animal Crossing to see KK, and did most of the weekly update for my pog website. (It still remains to publish the update and update the facebook page and twitter accounts tomorrow).

Monday, 3 October 2011


This morning I tried to see if I could improve my mysql query for retrieving the info needed to build a feed for my photo website. I thought that maybe I could do a sort and limit on the subquery, but when I tried this I got an error message
#1235 - This version of MySQL doesn't yet support 'LIMIT & IN/ALL/ANY/SOME subquery'
(this is with MySQL 5.4, while I think most webhosts are still using 5.1).

Trying to find if there was any disadvantage to running DISTINCT on a query (or sub query) you are then going to GROUP BY the same column, I found this helpful article at Stack Overflow: What's faster, SELECT DISTINCT or GROUP BY in MySQL? In short, the answer is that if your column has an index on they will both be the same, otherwise DISTINCT will be faster.

After modifying my feed to include the image as HTML in the content tag, I found the image wasn't showing up. I did some testing, and found that on Firefox at least, if you include a summary tag, then the html in the content tag isn't included.

Flickr, RedBubble, and Picasa don't include a summary tag (possibly for this reason), so I just removed the summary tag. Next I looked at what size the images should be. Picasa uses a max width/height of 288px. Flickr uses 240px, and RedBubble uses 550px. Since my existing thumbs are 150px, and my small size is 500px, I think I will go with with the larger 500px size images.

After lunch I went out to help someone with their computer. For the rest of the afternoon I processed a few photos.

In the evening I watched Point Break with Mauser.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Cooking and feeding

This morning I updated my pog website. After church I cooked dinner.
In the afternoon I was doing various stuff on my comp. One of them was making sure my VMs I use for testing websites on the different IE versions were all up to date. But strangely when it came to running Windows Update, I got a message that I needed to add various domains to the trusted sites options in IE:
See which updates failed to install To continue, you must first add this website to your trusted sites in Internet Explorer.
The site cannot determine which updates apply to your computer or display those updates unless you change your security settings to allow ActiveX controls and active scripting. The best way to do this without lowering your security settings is to make this site a trusted website. Your security settings will continue to block potentially harmful ActiveX controls and scripting from other sites but you will be able to get updates.
To make this site a trusted website:
  1. In Internet Explorer, click Tools, and then click Internet Options.
  2. On the Security tab, click the Trusted Sites icon.
  3. Click Sites and under Add this website to the zone, copy and paste these website addresses. You can only add one address at a time and you must click Add after each one. Note that you may need to uncheck "Require server verification (https:) for all sites in this zone."
    • http://*
    • https://*
Note: The asterisks and different addresses allow your computer to work with the site, no matter how you try to access it from your computer or the Web.
However, even after adding these sites to the trusted sites list, and restarting the machine, I still got the same message. It seems a bit strange that microsoft have decided to make it difficult to check for updates - I'd have thought they would want people to keep windows up to date.
After this I looked at feeds on some different photo galleries, and they seem to take quite a different approach to that suggested in the IBM article An overview of the Atom 1.0 Syndication Format. Rather than using

<summary>A picture of my new car</summary>
<content src="/mypng2.png" type="image/png" />

for the content (which doesn't display the image in FF and IE), the sites I looked at include the the image and summary as HTML for the content. The sites I looked at were Flickr (example feed), Red Bubble (example feed), and Picasa (example feed).

I also noticed that they use category elements for tags, and use encoded HTML e.g.
<div> converted to &lt;div&gt; rather than wrapping the HTML in CDATA tags.

After that I started making some more chocolate horns, but this time using an English recipe that uses pastry instead of bread.

I looked at using <category> tags for my feed, and found this article: Representing tags in Atom, which while good, doesn't come to any actual conclusions about a standard recommendation. Studying the same feeds as earlier, Red Bubble uses:
<category term="photography"/>

Flickr uses:
<category term="road" scheme="" />

Picasa doesn't use the category for tags, just specifying that it is a photo.
Wordpress uses:

Personally I like suggestion #1 from the aforementioned article best (e.g.
<category scheme=""
          term="foo" label="Foo" />

But I don't currently have any way for people to view a list of tags or photos with a certain tag on my website. So although I could use the above representation, the scheme URL would either lead to a 404, or I could put up a blank page there, which would be just as useful.

So I think what I am going to do for the moment is use RedBubble's method. Then if or when I add the ability to browse photos by tags, I can add in the scheme url, ala Flickr and Edward O’Connor's suggestion 1.

Now I knew how I wanted the tags formatted, I just had to look at how to extract them from the database and format them appropriately. With MySQL you can only have scalar values, so you can't select each image record with the keywords as an array. Instead you can:

  • Select the keywords as an array by doing a separate query for each record you want keywords for
  • Select the keywords and the record ids in a single query, then use the record ids as array keys when pulling out the rows e.g.
    $result = query('SELECT img_keywords.img_id, keywords.Subject
    FROM keywords
    LEFT JOIN img_keywords ON = img_keywords.keywords_id
    WHERE img_keywords.img_id IN (list of ids you want records for or a subquery to select records here)'
    while($row = $result->fetch_assoc()){
    $images[$img_id]['keywords'][] = $row['Subject'];
  • Select the keywords for each record as a comma separated string (using GROUP_CONCAT), then explode this into an array in PHP.
  • Don't try to get the keywords in an array, and just get them formatted how you want in the query (using GROUP_CONCAT)

There may be other methods you could use as well, but I think in theory that the last option above should be the most efficient, though I don't really like it as it is mixing data with presentation/markup.

Anyway, when I added the code for that last method to my query, the query was taking about 1s!!! So I spent quite a while trying to find out what was wrong. I looked at suggested keyword table structures and indexes, but it was actually the way my query was structured that was slowing it down.

This was the original query (before adding in anything to do with keywords / tabs, this took 0.056s to run:

SELECT, images.Headline, images.filename, images.Rating, images.url_name,
SUBSTRING_INDEX(imageData.ImageDescription, '\n', 1) AS summary, imageData.GPSLatitude, imageData.GPSLongitude, imageData.GPSAltitude, DATE_FORMAT(imageData.Last_updated,'%Y-%m-%dT%TZ') AS Last_updated
FROM images
LEFT JOIN imageData ON =
LEFT JOIN img_categories ON img_categories.img_id =
LEFT JOIN categories AS node ON = img_categories.categories_id,
categories AS parent
WHERE node.lft BETWEEN parent.lft AND parent.rgt
AND = 14
LIMIT 0,25

By moving the part of the query that selects all matching image ids into a subquery, the time was dramatically cut to around 0.0025s.

SELECT, images.Headline, images.filename, images.Rating, images.url_name,
SUBSTRING_INDEX(imageData.ImageDescription, '\n', 1) AS summary, imageData.GPSLatitude, imageData.GPSLongitude, imageData.GPSAltitude, DATE_FORMAT(imageData.Last_updated,'%Y-%m-%dT%TZ') AS Last_updated
FROM images
LEFT JOIN imageData ON =
WHERE IN(SELECT DISTINCT img_categories.img_id
FROM img_categories
LEFT JOIN categories AS node ON = img_categories.categories_id,
categories AS parent
WHERE node.lft BETWEEN parent.lft AND parent.rgt
AND = 14)
LIMIT 0,25

Finally, I also tried using the subquery just to select the category ids we wanted to show images for, and then selecting the image ids that match these in the main query, but this didn't seem to have any benefit over the above, with the run time still around 0.0025s.

SELECT, images.Headline, images.filename, images.Rating, images.url_name,
SUBSTRING_INDEX(imageData.ImageDescription, '\n', 1) AS summary, imageData.GPSLatitude, imageData.GPSLongitude, imageData.GPSAltitude, DATE_FORMAT(imageData.Last_updated,'%Y-%m-%dT%TZ') AS Last_updated
FROM images
LEFT JOIN imageData ON =
LEFT JOIN img_categories ON img_categories.img_id =
WHERE img_categories.categories_id IN(SELECT DISTINCT
FROM categories AS node,
categories AS parent
WHERE node.lft BETWEEN parent.lft AND parent.rgt
AND = 14)
LIMIT 0,25

Now when I add in the code to get the keywords, the query is much faster than the 1s it was taking previously - 0.0035s, a massive difference from a simple change.

SELECT, images.Headline, images.filename, images.Rating, images.url_name,
SUBSTRING_INDEX(imageData.ImageDescription, '\n', 1) AS summary, imageData.GPSLatitude, imageData.GPSLongitude, imageData.GPSAltitude, DATE_FORMAT(imageData.Last_updated,'%Y-%m-%dT%TZ') AS Last_updated,
CONCAT('\n') AS tags
FROM images
LEFT JOIN imageData ON =
LEFT JOIN img_keywords ON = img_keywords.img_id
LEFT JOIN keywords ON = img_keywords.keywords_id
WHERE IN(SELECT DISTINCT img_categories.img_id
FROM img_categories
LEFT JOIN categories AS node ON = img_categories.categories_id,
categories AS parent
WHERE node.lft BETWEEN parent.lft AND parent.rgt
AND = 14)
LIMIT 0,25

If you're good with MySQL, then the above may come as no surprise, but I had been under the general impression that it's more efficient to keep everything in one query than to have to use separate queries or subqueries. I will probably see if there's anything else I can do to improve it a bit more tomorrow.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Going on a walk and cooking

This morning we all went out on a family walk. It was really hot!

Most of the afternoon and a bit of the evening I was making Chocolate Cornets with L
In the evening I also watched Bouken Rangers with L, cut out some pogs in Photoshop, and went on Animal Crossing.