Sunday, 25 September 2011

scaly breasted Lorikeets

went over to visit dad this arvo and he had the usual bevy of screeching Lorikeets in the back yard.

The Rainbow Lorikeet is done to death on the internet so I thought I'd put a few images up of their slightly smaller *(but not to be pushed around) relatives the Scaly Breasted Lorikeet.

love these little guys...

Panasonic GH1 - Canon FD 200f4 via adapter

Thursday, 22 September 2011

its life Jim but not as we know it

Understanding living things can be hard. Sometimes things that don't appear to be living can be.


In this post I will argue why we should consider large bureaucracy and corporation as actually living things. They are not actually made of the same stuff that we are familiar with living things being made of, but they are none the less alive. I think its important to understand these creatures, grasp how they perceive the world and perhaps then we can begin understand their cognition.


I have often argued that people are unable to comprehend what they can't see. We build a variety of tools to enable us to see into things which are beyond our ability for observation in part to allow us to see and understand more.

Microscopes are a good example of this principle. Before we were able to observe the microscopic we had no idea what were bacteria or how much of what modern medicine is built upon worked or that it even existed.

In my blog I occasionally make reference to a concept that I call "The Machine". In this article I will attempt to explain what this concept is. The Machine is not just a mechanism, The Machine is actually a kind of living organism but one which certainly not entirely organic and transcends a couple of layers of conceptuality. This is what makes the concept difficult to grasp and for many it will seem just some sort of fancy.

So what is a living thing? Seems at first like an easy task to identify that which is living and that which is not. I would like to venture a definition; I think that anything which can:
  • make an observable change on the world
  • reproduce
  • make a decision
  • die
is a living thing. Seems pretty obvious, but perhaps many will struggle against this definition set when I apply it in a moment.

How often have you heard some politician or company director or person employed in some role in a company, say
"I didn't want to do it, but I had no other choice in my role"
Quite often I'm sure.

People have struggled for as long as we have written records (and probably longer) to understand what is it that makes a person or an animal alive. The various sciences have grappled with the question and we have uncovered many things about the nature of the bodies of living things to expand our understandings. While we understand much about biology, biochemistry, anatomy and even the electro-chemistry of nerves we just don't know why people are alive or why they die.

In this essay I would like to turn the question around, instead of looking at us I'd like to look at things outside of us, things we can't see but yet like the common cold know exists. We often call them systems.

Lets start with a system called Government.

Once upon a time in history we were manged in less complex groups and had a person who was our leader. We might call this person a King. Eventually the area of power under the control of a King grew too large and he called upon others to administer his authority for him.

This can become so large as to overwhelm the King and others in the system that the King has created. Eventually those who the King gave power to realise that they command more power than the King. So when something occurs to give them reason they can challenge his authority and even wrest power from the King.

Since I'm Australian and since Australian government derives its existence from the English government I thought I'd examine the this history (not because its special in any particular way).

In 1215 members of the King of Englands system Barons rebelled against him and forced him to sign the Magna Carta. This essentially took power from him and imposed a codified system of written ideas called laws.

These laws removed his power to act in any way that he wished and imposed upon him punishments (punishments upon the King!) if he resisted these laws.
a committee of 25 barons who could at any time meet and overrule the will of the King if he defied the provisions of the Charter, seizing his castles and possessions if it was considered necessary(wikipedia).
So for the first time in English history the King, the person who ruled the land according to his will, was subjugated to rules written on paper.

I would guess at this point that some are saying: But these are just rules, just writing, they are not living, they are not something which can constitute as a living thing.

This is true, they are just a set of rules. But then so too are all the chemical reactions which define how our bodies work. These rules of chemistry and physics can also be used and manipulated to effect us and our thinking. Anti depressant drugs are a good example of this.

Lets consider a system with some very simple rules. Imagine a checker board for a game, but one which only has white squares. The rules of our game are simple,

  1. if a checker exists on our board then that square is "alive" and if no checker is on a square then that is "dead"
  2. Any live square with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if caused by under-population.
  3. Any live square with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
  4. Any live square with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding.
  5. Any dead square with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live square.

This is essentially the rules of the game called Life by John Conway. It seems very simple, just a set of rules or laws governing what happens to the checkers. It also defines a method of spawning new life and a circumstance where death occurs.

gliderYet from this simplicity of rules comes something which if we represent it as it moves through time we see something amazing. Sometimes things seem to be alive, like the walker represented here to the left.

The graphic at left is an example of stepping though these rules and showing how this "thing" moves across the board in a simple movement behavior. Sure, its not living, perhaps its not even real ... but then when you look at the biochemistry of just one part of your body (say insulin production) that doesn't look alive either.

The same set of rules with enough pieces to act upon can make amazing things. For example:

this combination of rules and its effect on the pieces creates a system which is self perpetuating and grows forever.

So is this a machine? Well classically we call things made of metal that use energy and go round and round machines. Stuff like this classical representation of a 4 stroke engine. It used to be harder to think of a machine as being something just composed of rules.

It is in fact exactly that when you look at it from an engineering or scientific perspective. The engine is a collection of the rules of thermodynamics, chemistry and physics.

By applying these rules (collecting things together in the correct manner) we can create a machine.

Since the advent of computers it becomes perhaps easier to understand that a system can in fact be just a collection of rules, after all programing languages are actually just descriptions of what to do and what decisions to make.

Clearly computer programs require computers to operate them and equally our government system requires humans to execute the instructions and do the tasks.

So people have become the base hardware for the machine which we run and execute.

If this sounds like something out of the matrix, or something out of fiction which could not be possible; ask yourself this question:
Can you imagine a person doing something that that don't want to do but have to do it because its their job and that they are compelled to do this by law?

so what about reproduction?

gliderWell consider that the English Government started colonies in Australia, when on 13 May, 1787, the First Fleet of 11 ships set sail for Botany Bay. They intended to establish a colony. That would require governance and that governance was clearly going to be modeled on that of England. The English government had successfully spawned a child. This child then became children with the creation of additional colonies of New South Wales, Victoria and so on.

Eventually some years later these colonies consider unification and the creation of a new governing body; the Federal Government was spawned in 1901.

When it comes to rules for the system to have complex morphology have a look at the list of legislations below, each one of them being far more complex in nature than the simple 5 rules which defined the operation of the "Life" simulation above.

If Government is a living thing then clearly Government is a very complex living thing.

It is not however only Governments which can be considered as living things. Companies too (especially under corporate law) are legal entities; they hold property, employ people, and make decisions.

So it would seem that we already have in our midst an organism which lives, yet does not breath and can not be easily touched. It shapes our lives and controls us in ways which expand with the rules which it creates.

If you doubt this then consider this article in a UK news paper where a child is accused of being racist by calling a boy ‘broccoli head’ and another was said to be homophobic for telling a teacher ‘this work is gay’. The article goes on to mention:
Schools are forced to report the language to education authorities, which keep a register of incidents.

and that
In total, 34,000 nursery, primary and secondary pupils were effectively classed as bigots because of anti-bullying rules.

The school can keep the pupil’s name and ‘crime’ on file. The record can be passed from primaries to secondaries or when a pupil moves between schools.

And if schools are asked for a pupil reference by a future employer or a university, the record could be used as the basis for it, meaning the pettiest of incidents has the potential to blight a child for life.

This does not sound like the sort of reaction a human would have on how to treat their kids but yet this is the reaction that the machine has for sorting us out.

What about this?
Arthur Mills, a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons, is accused of causing serious burns to the faces of two patients and superficial burns to another after a drill he was using overheated.
At least one of the incidents was referred to the Dental Council, which upheld the complaint about the burning.
It makes these findings in only 2 per cent of cases but still recorded no reprimands on his registration. He practises with no warning to the public.

It sounds more like a system protecting its component parts rather than something designed to look after humans.

I believe that there are far more examples and comparisons I could make to support my argument that Government and Corporations are actually living things, but rather than do that I'll leave you with a couple questions.

How do you negociate with such a machine?
Will it listen to you?
and can it be directed by human will?

holding the system responsible or even punishment of the system

If we decide that we don't like the party in control of government and we vote them out, does that change the machinery of government or just put it on a different PC?

As it stands at the moment we have very little understanding of this life form. We as yet are perhaps uncertain that it is a living thing, but make no mistake this thing can control our lives, alter the environment and exert influence.

The simple rule based system above called 'life' created stuff not so much different to observing bacteria growth, look again at the list of rules below which form our Acts of Law in Australia and tell me that does not form the basis for even more complex interactions. Combined with the execution on the human computing platform I think its almost certain we have something alive here.

*List of Australian Commonwealth acts (and don't forget the State legislations either!):
* 1901 - Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (No 2 of 1901)
* 1901 - Customs Act 1901 (No 6 of 1901)
* 1901 - Excise Act 1901 (No 9 of 1901)
* 1901 - Pacific Island Labourers Act (No 16 of 1901)
* 1901 - Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (No 17 of 1901)
* 1902 - Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 (No 8 of 1902)
* 1903 - Judiciary Act 1903 (No 6 of 1903)
* 1903 - Defence Act 1903 (No 20 of 1903)
* 1904 - Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 (No 13 of 1904)
* 1906 - Designs Act 1906 (No 4 of 1906)
* 1908 - Quarantine Act 1908 (No 3 of 1908)
* 1914 - Crimes Act 1914 (No 12 of 1914)
* 1918 - Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (No 27 of 1918)
* 1928 - Transport Workers Act 1928 (No 37 of 1928)
* 1938 - Passports Act 1938 (No 15 of 1938)
* 1942 - Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942 (No 56 of 1942)
* 1948 - Australian Citizenship Act 1948 (No 83 of 1948)
* 1958 - Migration Act 1958 (No 62 of 1958)
* 1959 - Banking Act 1959 (No 6 of 1959)
* 1960 - National Measurements Act 1960 (137 of 2008) [1]
* 1961 - Marriage Act 1961 (No 12 of 1961)
* 1968 - Copyright Act 1968 (No 63 of 1968)
* 1973 - Insurance Act 1973 (No 76 of 1973)
* 1973 - Seas and Submerged Lands Act 1973 (No 161 of 1973)
* 1974 - Trade Practices Act 1974 (No 51 of 1974)
* 1975 - Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (No 52 of 1975)
* 1975 - Family Law Act 1975 (No 53 of 1975)
* 1976 - Federal Court of Australia Act 1976 (No 156 of 1976)
* 1976 - Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 (No 191 of 1976)
* 1980 - Crimes (Taxation Offences) Act 1980 (No 156 of 1980)
* 1982 - Freedom of Information Act 1982 (No 3 of 1982)
* 1982 - Taxation (Unpaid Company Tax) Assessment Act 1982 (No. 119 of 1982)
* 1984 - Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (No 4 of 1984)
* 1986 - Income Tax Act 1986 (No 108 of 1986)
* 1986 - Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 (No 125 of 1986)
* 1986 - Australia Act 1986 (No 142 of 1986)
* 1988 - Extradition Act 1988 (No 4 of 1988)
* 1988 - Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988 (No 64 of 1988)
* 1988 - Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 (No 106 of 1988)
* 1988 - Privacy Act 1988 (No 119 of 1988)
* 1988 - Higher Education Funding Act 1988 (No 2 of 1989)
* 1989 - Lands Acquisition Act 1989 (No 15 of 1989)
* 1990 - Patents Act 1990 (No 83 of 1990)
* 1991 - Social Security Act 1991 (No 46 of 1991)
* 1992 - Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (No 135 of 1992)
* 1992 - Radiocommunications Act 1992 (No 174 of 1992)
* 1993 - Native Title Act 1993 (No 110 of 1993)
* 1996 - Workplace Relations Act 1996 (No 60 of 1996)
* 1997 - Telecommunications Act 1997 (No 47 of 1997)
* 1997 - Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (No 17 of 1997)
* 1998 - Charter of Budget Honesty Act 1998 (No 22 of 1998)
* 1998 - Native Title Amendment Act 1998 (No 97 of 1998)
* 1999 - Federal Magistrates Act 1999 (No 193 of 1999)
* 2001 - Corporations Act 2001 (No 50 of 2001)
* 2001 - Intelligence Services Act 2001 (No 152 of 2001)
* 2003 - Intelligence Services Amendment Act 2004 (No 57 of 2004)
* 2004 - Corporate Law Economic Reform Program Act 2004 (No 103 of 2004)
* 2004 - Australian anti-terrorism legislation, 2004, incorporating:
o 2004 - Anti-terrorism Act 2004 (No 104 of 2004)
o 2004 - Anti-terrorism Act (No 2) 2004 (No 124 of 2004)
o 2004 - Anti-terrorism Act (No 3) 2004 (No 125 of 2004)
* 2005 - Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 (No 127 of 2005)
* 2005 - Repealed Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Act 2005 (No 153 of 2005) - (Repealed by Parliament, 2008).
* 2009 - Fair Work Act 2009 (28 of 2009) [2] (Passed as Replacement to repealed Act No 153 of 2005)

SS Australia

SS usually means Steam Ship however sometimes I wonder if it means Sinking Ship

A fellow blogger writes some very interesting posts about economic issues over here and has written a good summary of why Australia can't really have something like the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Norway.

Two graphs from that essay sum it up.

Firstly the levels of current account balance for:
  • Norway
  • China
  • Germany
  • Japan
  • Saudi Arabia
  • and Australia

Being below 0 isn't a good thing, it means we're spending more than we're saving.

So while you may be asking why we don't save anything it all comes down to the same problem many households have ... we spend more than we earn.

and it seems to be getting worse. So while we copy the UK and the USA in their dance with debt I really don't think its a smart thing to be copying. That's the problem here in Australia ... we only focus on countries who speak English.

Thanks Cameron for the leg work there!

no limits to growth

people who object to the Thomas Malthus "limits to growth" concept and insist on there being no limits to growth seem to insist on seeing things in a blinkered way.

They insist on the ignorance of a balance of the equation which logically must exist. You see for every benefit there must be some cost. There is no free lunch for long.

So (in my view) while it is perhaps possible that the human population can go on and on growing that it will come with some costs and changes if we are to avoid population corrections like famine or disease.

I read an interesting article in the SMH this morning about exactly one of those sorts of changes to the human condition. The American author Jonathan Safran Foer is one of the anti-meat eating campaigners who is now a full on vegan campaigner.

poultry_stuck13_1He writes that the 'factory farming' of meat products (something which springs from the industrialisation of farming which is part of the industrial revolution) is both abhorrent and environmentally destructive. I happen to think he's right. Its clear however that if we are going to feed our population we need to employ strategies like this or quite simply we could not feed our population.

His premise is clearly that we cant tackle our population problem and that need to be ethical in the way we source our food. So for him vegetarian is the only logical choice.

This is where I feel we fail, we don't know how to address our swelling population. Instead we turn to ways to supply it and encourage growth, perhaps because some people get richer that way.

Some quotes from the article:
Modern industrial farming comes at the cost, Foer says, of animal welfare, the environment and our health. In Eating Animals, he writes of chicken factory farms in the US where "illness is always rampant; suffering is always the rule … death is invariably cruel".

One of the worst aspects of factory farming is not just its practices, Foer says, it's that most of the meat is produced this way.
"We have something that is the most destructive thing we do to the environment, to animals and, at some point, the most destructive thing we do to ourselves and we have virtually no alternative. That's really surprising to people."

So perhaps there are no limits to growth, but if everything comes at a cost then the cost of growth is to hide our terrible ethics and pretend that we are nice and lovely people while eating our chicken nuggets.

As western nations approach the sorts of population densities of places like India and China we will have to make greater changes to how we do things in order to provide food for ourselves. Even more so as places in Asia start trying to supply their own populations with food.

Perhaps we'll eventually have to turn to solutions that appeared in science fiction, but then we have to ask ourselves ... will we still be people even if we are the same species?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

broken nest

I noticed this morning that the bird wasn't on the nest. So I thought I'd pop down quickly and get a quick shot of the nest

Looking at the picture I noticed what seemed to be the first signs of the egg breaking. I though that this was a little early and could mean a problem.

Sure enough a closer look with a longer lens reveals the egg has been pecked.

I'm expecting this to be the currawongs. These are vastly increased in number around here due to local 'goody-2-shoes' dopes who have migrated here from Sydney or Melbourne to retire. Not knowing a currawong from a crow from a wren think its nice to have a bunch of birds around their house and feed the bloody things.

So now we only have large black birds which after the kitty cats these people move in with do their best at destroying the local small bird population.

Monday, 19 September 2011

can't add up

Got my power bill today and with it came some "news letter" filled with helpful ideas on which products I should spend money on to save money.

Wow, that's so helpful. Leading the helpful advice was the page

Cutting Down Can Add Up

This suggested that:
according to the 2011 Origin Index research* [ya gotta love those stars] 63% of Australians look to conserve energy, but around half of the country don't understand how the basics can help reduce power consumption.

So they're saying we're too thick to work out how to save energy ... well after speaking to people for some years and asking stuff like how much energy does your X use or how much do you pay per kWh for power, I can't say I doubt their research.

However they do precious little to help this building of capacity within the community and instead foist up some confusion and (when you go to their site) outright misinformation by implication.

Lets start at the bottom of this segment as its my favorite, the "solar heat pump".

Now if you go to their website they list the Dux Airoheat heat pump under solar systems, and here in this ad they imply that linkage by

1) putting it on the same page as the Dux Solar Hot Water
2) criteria such as "no solar panels required" and "a great solution where your roof shading does not permit solar hot water"

Well guess what ... no wonder it doesn't need panels BECAUSE ITS NOT SOLAR

It is infact just an electric system, one which uses the principle of a Sterling Engine, which is also used in many reverse cycle air conditioner units.

The only way (and man is it remote) that this system can faintly be called solar is that if you live somewhere hot then that heat will help to drive the system in heating the water up. Of course if you live somewhere hot its likely to be caused by the sunshine, so I guess in some way it could be solar. Strangely it seems to qualify for the STC solar rebate ...

right ... good one. I would be quite simply stunned if you can find out such a simple description of that system as I've just given. I can only surmise that the reason for that is if you put enough bullshit around something you'll perhaps get the punters to believe in it.

Now the next point is costs.

Now lets assume that this system uses no power (unlikely if not impossible) at the pay off of $145 per month (assuming you get the rebates) it will take ten years to recover the costs of this system compared to just the power bill that my regular hot water system uses on off-peak power.

My off-peak hotwater typically 133 kWh of energy per month, even at the current charge for that (11c per kWh) I only pay $16 per month.

Next we need to look at something else ... heat. To maximise the effectiveness of this technology you need to be heating the water when the air is at its hottest.

Uhm, that would be during the day right? Well surprise surprise off-peak power is normally supplied at night ... which will lessen the effectiveness of it.

Then there is the noise, if you read into it more these systems use a fan (just like air conditioners) which generate noise. A bit of googling around will show you that there are a number of people who have had to remove their system because neighbors complained about the noise from the fan. So just be careful in tight urban areas where houses are built occupying 90% of the land area.

The real solar system

I notice that you have to cough up $5000 for the system and while you may feel warm and fuzzy about the energy savings (and the reduction of drain on the power grid) you'll notice the little bit I marked in red: "electric boosted solar hot water" ... yep, you'll be paying some money for those cloudy or rainy days ... so just like my solar floor heating, its only part of the answer.

I hope none of this breaks down or blows up in the decades it takes to brake even ...

So I guess that its lucky for Origin that customers can't add up or they'd be wondering why the hell would I spend this money on something like that?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The New Hospital

The new hostpital is being built to the west of my home. You can see the cranes over in the sunset.


Its perhaps a sign of both the growing population and the spread of high rise development here. Its designed to perhaps replace the one which was to the east of my place which was built in the 1980's to augment the one which was built there way earlier.

I live in a beautiful place, which of course means that greedy bastards come here to make money out of selling the natural beauty to people looking for somewhere to retire to. In every environment creatures find unexploited niches and exploit them. So it didn't take long before other creatures realised that tourism from afar was a "good thing" and "developing" the place took on new meaning.

The Gold here is on the coastal real estate, and the beaches and local geography is actually about as good as it ever gets.

In that shot above I've tried to minimize the intrusion of the development on the scenery, but in reality its more like this


Of course people how live in places like this:


are not disturbed by the high rise because its still less than they have, plus its what they see on TV when they watch Hawaii five Oh or CSI somewhere. Perhaps worse if they've come from Asia. They often don't have the faintest clue that the place once looked quite different.

Its only the people who have lived here for their lives that can tell you that "Sure the Goldie looks like an overdeveloped slag with pockets of lovely areas still in it, but you know, it wasn't always so"

Looking at Southport from the sky you can see (in the red) exactly which areas are going to get another high-rise in the near future.

the place with the arrow at the bottom is the pair of houses pictured above.

You can see by the shadows the high-rise already there. When you add to this new construction to the already high population of the region it does not take a scientist to work out we've got growth problems.

Strangely there is very little planned development for infrastructure such as roads and nothing I'm aware of for water (except for the Desal in Tugun) and the existing dams and flood mitigation devices in Brisbane.

While the Coast may be "Famous for Fun" its more infamous for just being a showcase of exploitation and greed; pushing around the locals while fat cats make money.

Its like the old Vulcan logic "the needs of the many out weigh the needs of the one" transformed into "the greed of the few outweighs the needs of the many"

Saturday, 17 September 2011


Modern society is generating a mass population of weaklings. I feel that its gone so far now that we've tipped past where its actually even healthy. Now I don't expect anyone to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger and carry a log on their shoulders (as in this clip)

but seriously we bought a small gazebo in a box which was marked "two person lift" the other day and it made me laugh. Have people really become such lame assed weaklings that they can't lift something as small and light as this without "warning" printed on it?

The box was not big and didn't weigh more than 6Kg.

My wife is not anything like Arnold (weighing about 60Kg or about 130Lbs) and as you can see here carries it without the need of a "team lift"

Add to this the mania of "workplace health and safety" mandating in many of our workplaces you can't pick up anything more than 10kg and its only further tipping the scales of us being less likely to do ANY activity in our daily lives which may lead to developing or maintaining your fitness.

Sometimes I find myself hearing my grandfathers words come out of my mouth.

Poppa was a grazier and worked on properties all his life. He was a tough wiry sort of fella who loved to play tennis and work on his garden.

I don't recall him saying this particular thing, but I'm sure he had his ideas about what was making us too soft back when he was telling me to stop being so lazy. He was a man how wasn't afraid to walk 2Km into town to get groceries, or haul something around by hand.

Meanwhile today everyone starts up their car to drive 2Km into the shops and then spends another 5min trying to get a park and fuming at all the other cars. People pay money to go to the gym where they ride stationary bicycles and think I'm crazy for riding a bicycle to work.

The entire occupational "work place health and safety" nutjob we've foisted upon ourselves sees a consolidation of this thinking with the local wine shop having more and more cartons of wine being boxed in 6 rather than 12 ... because 12 would be too heavy to lift. The machine of government is doing a good job in subjugating us and making us weaker.

While the intention is to protect us, I'm sure this can only have a negative impact on our health and fitness as people.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Strawberries as a metaphor

Often things in Australia seem driven by bigger is better. Noone here seems to have any clue on what things should actually taste like and so we have stuff on sale in the supermarkets which has little or no resemblance to what it may have been originally.

Strawberries are a good example of this.

Supermarkets also seem to prefer things which give them lower spoilage, so producers are encouraged to produce bigger and brighter things which last longer on the transport -> shelf gig. How it tastes seems to be secondary (if at all any consideration).

This huge strawberry is typical of what seems to be prized here. Its big, its red and crunches like an apple when bitten into.

While it may be bitter and sour that's just because it needs more whipped cream or some sugar.

Isn't that how food is meant to be? Tasteless and needing tomato sauce or something sweet over it to "bring out the flavour"

Once upon a time Strawberries were little fellas ... like this

They had delicious flavour and were sweet all on their own. They don't however transport well so that rules them out in feeding up to people who are living in cities.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Camera systems - limits desires and wishes

musing missive

Readers of my blog may know that (among other things) I've ruminated about wanting a full frame 35mm camera for some time. As a nearly disengaged Canon EOS user, I still keep an eye on the auction for the prices of a 5D (first version) and ponder about the benefits to me in my photography of the fuller frame size.

I have mainly organized my camera gear around the 4/3 format and have moved away form EOS (read sold my stuff) to facilitate that. For almost everything the 4/3 format seems to me to be the best compromise of:
  • light weight and compact
  • lower cost
  • high quality images
  • access to great optics outside the camera system
Since the majority of my photography benefits from this set, I've abandoned APS digital SLR and moved to 4/3. Perhaps part of this is that coming from 35mm I felt that the APS size was fraught with compromise. My lenses didn't look right on that format, wides and normals were no longer that (due to the 1.6 multiplier) and wide APS specific zooms were both bulky and expensive.

Recently someone posted a comment on my post about "shallow normals"
I have been thinking about full frame for a while for the same reason in part (also resolution). Unfortunately it means either ponying up boatloads of cash or switching systems to Canon and still ponying up lots of cash (though not as much). Of course, film still works well for me in my trusty film SLR, but I need a good scanner to really make it work. My flatbed is lackluster.

and it started me thinking again (not that I stop for long) about what I'm missing with my existing 4/3 camera system, and that is of course shallow depth of field with a "normal" lens.

If I want infinite depth of field I'll choose a compact digicam and just about every photo will have exactly that: everything in focus. Its a bit dis-interesting if you ask me. What makes some pictures jump out is that ability to focus on the subject. In fact its so important a concept we actually incorporate it into our language:

Bill, you have to focus on the job if you're going to get it right.

Just to recap on what it is which makes a shallow depth of field, it is in the main the ability to open up the aperture to a large diameter. It is not (as is commonly thought) just the F-Number. A normal lens for Full Frame is 50mm, and a typical aperture for shallow would be f2 or so on that system (f1.4 even better). So being able to open the lens aperture to 25mm wide or more will give a nice shallow field of focus. This is a diameter of half the focal length of the lens. Smaller formats make this difficult to achieve because (for example) on a 4/3 system a normal is about a 25mm. So such shallow normal would need to be 25mm in diameter, which makes for a lens diameter equal to that of the lens.

As it happens a shallow normal on full frame (or bigger) is as cheap as it gets, but on smaller formats becomes increasingly difficult and expensive to achieve.

Most of what I like to photograph is in the wide to normal area. In the ten or more years I've been using Digital I've waited for the time when digital can allow me to completely replace my 35mm film bodies and replace them with Digital. While it can do most of what I want to do, it doesn't do everything.

Its a little strange to me that in the twelve years after buying my first digital camera something which will more or less replace my 35mm camera has not emerged. What has happened however is; I get better telephoto than I've ever had (and for a much lower price), by using Digital I get better control over the process than I've ever had, get access to images quickly, and get in the main much better images than I did before.

I'm pretty clear in my mind now that smaller formats are better for telephoto, and larger formats are better for wide. The image below is a wide angle taken with 6x12 format on 120 roll film.

I just would not have been able to achieve that with a smaller format.

So when I'm thinking of using my longer lenses, 4/3 format is what I would reach for, but when it comes to "normal" to wide I struggle with the limits of the smaller format.

Clearly with telephoto getting shallow depth of focus is easy.

Hey, fellas, there's seeds here again!In fact it can be so shallow you can miss the target and get a useless image. If you look at that image of the Tit there the tail feather was already out of focus.

I would argue that had I used a small digi cam for this shot and had the background in focus that the shot would be far less interesting, you eye would not be drawn to the birds body (well ok, butthole) and the background would distract rather than enhance.

The same is true I wanted to use a normal lens (not tele, not wide), many images look better having shallow depth of field. For example in this image below which was taken with my 50mm f1.8 on my full frame camera when putting a family member to rest.

The focus is on the subject that really drives your attention to the matter and the background is not lost, it remains in the picture yet focus is not on it.

This is what can be done with a shallow normal and smaller formats just don't have access to this because it is a function of angle of view, capture format and aperture diameter (not f-stop).

Modern (read young or only "digital native") photographers are usually completely ignorant of this because they don't think in sensor size as commonly as film photographers thought of film format sizes. In fact if you think "full frame" is large (and you don't know much about large format) then I suggest you read this post.

For example, this is 35mm negative overlaid on 120 roll film in 6x9 format.

Kirk Tuck on his blog is currently re-discovering what the advantages are of shallow normal lenses in portraiture using 120 roll film cameras (which are the format in black and white in that above image). On his format a shallow normal still needs 20mm aperture diameter. His 80mm is a normal and f4 is a 20mm diameter.


So many things are about compromise, taking photographs can be too. So for me then, what holds me back from going for a 5D which would give me full frame and access to shallow normals?

I can summarize this as size, weight and money.

Despite selling most of my EOS and EF stuff I have kept the following:
  • EF24 f2.8
  • EF50 f1.8
  • two EOS film bodies (like really, wouldn't get anything for them)
For quite a while the twin pair of 24mm and 50mm were my main pair of lenses. Since going digital I have acquired the following:
  • Olympus 21mm f3.5 (gosh I love this lens on full frame)
  • Olympus 50mm f1.8
  • Olympus 100mm f2.8
  • a bunch of Canon FD stuff which I use on my 4/3 system
Essentially for me to go with a with an EOS 5D I'd need to add $1200 mostly what I'd gain would be shallow normal (and shallow wide). I could just use 35mm film for those specific shots and keep using my existing 35mm bodies (which would be 2 EOS film bodies as well as an OM body or two).

One thing that the 4/3 stuff has in its favor is low price. You can get a used G1 for peanuts and I could go buy a new G2 right now for less than $300.

The irony is that while the bodies are cheap in 4/3 the lenses are not. While a 50m f1.8 is under $200 for almost every full frame system, the equivalent in 4/3 is double that: around $400 (or more here in Australia).

The options of the 4/3 system has spoiled me in price expectations in some ways, as I struggle to feel that a used 5D (which is a 7 year old camera) is worth the extra $800

As well as the additional cost that I'd be lumbered with a blob of a camera. I've had 10D and 20D and trust me the micro 4/3 camera allowed me to breath a sigh of relief for carrying on hikes. This comparison of the G1 with the very useful 14-45 lens fitted to a 10D with a lightweight fixed focus lens like the 50mm f1.8 shows the difference in both bulk and weight (check the numbers on the scales)

And comparing the 10D and the 20D are about the same size an so when comparing them with the 5D we see that there is not much difference in size between all of them.

In some situations the size of a camera like these is not an issue, but in other situations it is. Hiking is one such situation as is attending a function. Just recently I've heard people suggesting that in street photography the bigger cameras are obtrusive and put people off, while smaller cameras are tolerated.

So size does matter, both camera and capture format. I've previously observed that the G1 and the older Olympus 35mm OM cameras are actually the same size. In these pictures the camera taking the shot does not change location, and the cameras are placed in exactly the same spot

the G1


and the an OM-10 35mm film SLR:


So if they can produce small phones with the electronics to power an 8 megapixel camera, then I'm quite sure that a camera the size of the G1 is entirely possible.

If I could get that then I would not hesitate at all. It would be ideal if we could have different sensor sizes available in the same body size so that we could have an excellent situation: we could extend what our lenses covered by just changing bodies.
  • my 21mm would be an excellent compact wide
  • my 50mm f1.8 would be both a great shallow normal (on FF) AND a portrait lens (on 4/3)
  • my 200mm f2.8 would be the great compact and light weight effective 400mm that it is
  • my 300mm f4 would be the great effective 600mm that it is
that would take the angst out of the decision for me.

So in the mean time I'm probably unlikely to move towards the Canon 5D despite the allure of the shallow normal in my photography. I'll leave you with one last shallow normal shot, to your health!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

a conversation about magpies

A discussion on 612 ABC's facebook page contained a great comment

"Angela Cartwright: I have a great idea, kill all the sharks, kill all the bats, kill all the swooping birds, kill all the snakes, kill all the possums, kill all the bush turkeys! What a lovely city/country we would have then. When did we stop loving our land?" When did Australians (othre than aboriginals) love their land? All the plans were weeds for the first settlers and animals weird freaks of nature. Cut it down and bring in proper plants from the old world! Build houses and more houses to replace the last koala habitats! Build artificial islands and sandbanks to make the beaches and harbours more functional!..

I wonder the same myself, as I blogged a while ago about Koalas.

No one seems to want to alter the nature of urban development, despite general agreement that its both costly and increasingly difficult to provide infrastructure to these sprawling urban areas.
So while roads are not allowed to threaten the Koala population that relentless urban development is. So areas just around where I live which were once like this:

are bull dozed over and turned into this:

There are certainly other models of development than this, which if we are to live in the area and not destroy the very reasons we find it beautiful need to be explored.

This will require planning and community involvement. I hope that this can happen so that we don't have to say good bye to both the Koalas and the natural beauty of the region.

Relaxing before the clamor

Just the other day I noticed a spotted dove building a nest outside my kitchen window.

This morning I see the new soon to be mum and dad resting and relaxing in the beautiful spring morning.

Soaking up the sun and taking it easy. Perhaps they know that soon it will be chirping hungry mouths and not a spare moment.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Quote of the day

"Remind me to write a popular article on the compulsive reading of news. The theme will be that most neuroses and some psychoses can be traced to the unnecessary and unhealthy habit of daily wallowing in the troubles and sins of five billion strangers."

Jubal Harshaw

now, go have a look around Facebook or the news sites

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Spotted Dove

I notice this morning looking out the window that our local spotted dove has chosen to make a nest just outside the window.

sorry about the scruffy shot, but while she's setting up the nest I don't want to disturb her ... which also means we'll be putting off the fence construction for a bit

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Kindle Surprise

The KINDER Surprise is a chocolate egg.

It has a little toy inside which is the surpirse...

The Kindle surprise is when Amazon takes the excellent Kindle e-book reader with its great easy to read eInk display and fucks it over into yet another version of the iPad.

But this will be no iPad beater, as it looks to be dumbed down on price and use older versions of the Android OS.

So they'll loose full daylight reading, loose high battery life and loose what differentiates them in the market.


What makes this worse is I am just about to buy a Kindle 3G because I love the screen so much for reading ebooks. Looks like I better go get my dodo before Kindle manage to kill it off.

This is so typical of consumerisation, where a good product gets killed by exposure to non savvy markets and then the savvy who steered the sheep to it abandon the product.

Ozzie Cultral Cringe

Good old Ozzie Cultural cringe.

I read this piece this morning and found myself in some agreement with the author (Nick Bryant) who seems to be a Pommie "come to gods own earth" to observe our politics. However I think he's missed the mark on an important aspect.

Personally I think that observations from outsiders can be valuable, and with the English being so culturally similar to us (compared to say the Chinese) it can be quite insightful. The relationship between "mother England" and Oz-tray-ya has been a fraught one, at times a good mother son relationship, at other times the sort which would have the police remove the children for their own protection (should such exist between nations). None the less it is within this frame of reference that we see the basis for the "cultural cringe" which was once so commonly discussed and effected life here in Australia. I think Henry Lawson's quote from that above reference sums it up nicely:
The Australian writer, until he gets a 'London hearing', is only accepted as an imitator of some recognized English or American author; and, as soon as he shows signs of coming to the front, he is labelled 'The Australian Southey', 'The Australian Burns', or 'The Australian Bret Harte', and lately, 'The Australian Kipling'. Thus no matter how original he may be, he is branded, at the very start, as a plagarist, and by his own country, which thinks, no doubt, that it is paying him a compliment and encouraging him, while it is really doing him a cruel and an almost irreperable injury

Clearly Henry had it first hand as well as any of use ever had it dished out.

Now getting back to Nick's article, he suggests that previously the Britts thought of Australian PM's as "rougher around the edges, with prodigious drinking capabilities, and a penchant for giving the entire country a day off at times of national celebration" (wonder if he's thinkin of Bob Hawke?). I think Monty Python thought the same thing:

With the PM Quoted as saying to the Queen:
"It's hot enough to boil a monkey's bum in here, your Majesty," he said and she smiled quietly to herself. "
sums it up nicely really.

Nick observes that a couple of changes have occurred in the Labor party, firstly that Kevin Rudd differed from the stereotype and was "well briefed but with the personality we associate normally with Nordic prime ministers or EU agriculture commissioners" and "the Rudd phenomenon was a personality cult without a personality" (hardly a truer word spoken if you ask me).

This then extended to surprise that we'd then get a female PM citing the reaction of "Strewth, there's a sheila running Oz" was how my former paper, Britain's Daily Mail, described her rise.

It is of course interesting that she managed to take power (from Kevin Rudd) rather than be elected. Nick seem to think that we've moved from Cultural Cringe to Political Cringe, which is possible but I don't think its the real explaination of the issue.

Instead I think that its exactly the same thing which drove the Cultural Cringe and made manifest by a significant change of fortunes (and I mean money here) of a demographic of the Australian population: the bogan.

I think if we look to the Wikipedia definition of Cultural Cringe as "an internalized inferiority complex which causes people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the cultures of other countries. It is closely related, although not identical, to the concept of colonial mentality, and is often linked with the display of anti-intellectual attitudes towards thinkers, scientists and artists who originate from a colonial or post-colonial nation" that we go a long way towards understanding the issue.

Add to this Isacc Asimov's quote:
Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.
which dovetails nicely in with the way of the Australian Bogan. Looking closely at that above definition of Cultural Cringe we see the theme anti-intellectual emerge. Others too have made the observation that this is key to the things Bogans like. Another author (who specialises more in satirisation of these observations observes:
Anti-intellectualism the bludgeoning device the bogan deploys against the nerds of the adult world. It affords the bogan the opportunity to validate its poorly-informed opinion on complex issues, by stating that a lifetime of studying the subject at hand actually serves as an impediment to any ivory tower elitist’s analysis.

The bogan believes its knowledge of the ‘Real World’ (which is limited to Today Tonight, explosive domestic arguments, and last summer’s trip to Dreamworld) trumps the intellectual’s access to the university’s considerable research resources and decades of wide reading within the field. This is because the Bogan is a moron, but yet can’t stand to be wrong, even about things it only has a passing interest in.
I feel that the mining boom with workers being paid well over double the national average, has had a large hand in this. Combined with the destruction of manufacturing and its replacement with housing construction as some sort of "industry" has meant there is a rise of highly paid "tradies" who have essentially sub high school education and some training in an area like Plumbing, brick laying, household electrical wiring or simple concreting. This pool of "skilled workers" are now earning significantly more than the factory workers of the 50's and often more than the well educated and once previous holders of the middle class.

The Bogan is now representative of the new middle class in Australia.

A number of social and media factors has combined with TV education (along the lines of "Australia has Talent") to form a group who no longer have any inferiority, consider themselves fantastic, and have a misshapen view of how much they know.

This is the reason we now have what Nick identifies as Political Cringe.

I believe that this is the reason we have the constant polling on popularity, the need for twitter updates per second on political identities and the absolute lack of analysis of what politicans do or parties do.

As the ignorant are running the nation now in the manner of "Australia's Got Talent" I wonder when we'll have $1.95 SMS your vote on "who's most popular PM" ?

Friday, 2 September 2011

bogus bose headphones

Back a year or so ago my work offered to buy me a set of noise canceling headphones. I was a little skeptical and thought I'd try them out first before asking the office to cough up $500 for a set (yes, they're bloody dear aren't they)

So I bought a set of Bose QC-2 headphones on ebay, and I was amazed how well they worked! They were fantastic.

Now I'm a bit of a fusspot with this sort of thing, having been trained as an Audio Engineer back in the 80's and being a bit of an amateur recorder. I was impressed how well the Noise Cancellation (NC) worked and I have compared them to Sennheiser and Sony offerings.

The genuine thing works well, you turn them on and the ambient noise just drops away like a coin down a well. I'm guessing they drop the background noise by something like 28dB (but it would be hard to know if it was on the A scale or what) and as its active it will depend a bit. This essentially means you can use much lower listening levels (to preserve your hearing) in a noisy environment and hear the audio well while still not hearing the background noise. You really do need to try them to appreciate how good they are.

Quite simply if you're not stunned then they're probably copies.

I accepted the work ones, and due to tight (personal) budgets at the time sold my others to a workmate. Recently I have decided to acquire another set for outdoor field recording and have been shocked to find that the last 2 in a row I've bought of fleaBay have been fakes.

So just a word of caution out there. There are quite a few assholes out there knowingly selling shit copies to the unwitting.

Here is an auction showing the sort of thing you may find.

Quick give away is low price, and little feedback points.

If you haven't tried the originals you may not know that you're getting crap. The originals are really really good ... these ones you can 'barely notice' something has happened when you turn it on.

I'll update this blog post more with more details what the originals look like, but warning signs are:
  • if they can't prove they are genuine
  • if the seller only has a few points of feedback
  • if the case is not original the original case
  • if no case then that's sus ... noone would toss out the original case
then its a cheap knock off and you'd be as well off to get a set of cheap Sony's off DSE.

The original case is not only handy but beautifully made. There are cheapies on the market but they are not like the original case.

I'll post more info on my headphones to update this post next week (when I'm back at work)