BEDA: Climbing

This is why I haven’t posted for a few days…

I went rock climbing in the Wye Valley, on the border between England and Wales, at the weekend. Here are a few pictures.

I’d love to tell you about the trip and how awesome it was, but if I’m honest I’m really tired and have lots planned for tomorrow.

BEDA has been a bit of a fail, but I’ve still blogged more this month than I have in any month, ever – so that’s got to be something. I am still committed to writing 30 blogs, one for every day in April. Besides, I still haven’t covered all the things I wanted to.

BEDA: Mean Girls and Wicked

It was brought to my attention that the comments system wasn’t working on the blog. And there I was thinking that I hadn’t had any comments because no-one was reading. Well you’ll all be glad to know it’s working now, so you can comment to your heart’s content!

Last night I went to see Wicked, the West End Musical at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. While it was the second time I have gone to see Wicked, last time was five years ago, so a much needed refresher was in order.

About a month ago I let slip that I’d never seen the film Mean Girls, and apparently that’s a big deal, because for the next few weeks I was pestered by almost everyone I met, guys and girls alike, to take the plunge and watch it. So I did. And it’s fetch.

Now while Wicked and Mean Girls may not seem immediately irrevocably linked, there are a lot of parallels you can draw between the two. They both portray a teenager, who is deemed an outcast by her peers, trying to fit in to a new university/college. Trying to be popular by being someone they are not, and ultimately realising they are happy with who they are. In my eyes, a very typical girly plot. But they both brilliantly capture the essence of the battles young people face with peer pressure and discovering themselves. A subject matter I, like most, played out in real time during my university years.

The reality is that “grown-ups” are just as much a child inside as teenagers. When you start in Year 7 at secondary school, those big kids in Sixth Form look like real impressive people. And when you get to university, you think those postgrads must know everything. But the reality is that once you’ve reached that age, you realise that they were just the same all along. Sure, they might have sat a lot more exams, or been to more parties, or travelled to more places, but they’re not these idols that we make them out to be.

I remember my dad giving a speech at his 50th birthday party saying “I’m still waiting for the day I feel like a grown up” and that’s it for me. That’s what this life is.

Like Elphaba in Wicked who finally gets to meet the wonderful wizard of Oz, only to find out that he’s spent his whole life just trying to be accepted, to be popular. At the expense of what she believed in. Elphaba looked up to the wizard for what he’d achieved, without thinking that he might not be “perfect”.

It’s like the whole story about exposing Boris Johnson, well just because he’s mayor doesn’t mean he has to live a “model life”. I’m sure he’s done some superbly stupid stuff in his time.

Just like Psy after Gangnam Style got a billion views, when he was asked about how much he enjoyed his success he said it was a burden. He never asked to be this role model. Now he has to be perceived as “perfect”, and PC, or his life will be ruined – sounds like a life already ruined.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that watching all these girly shows will make you crazy. No, not really. What I’m really trying to say is that it’s called a role model for a reason, because it’s a model. It’s not real. It’s another impossible ideal. Get drive from it, be inspired and motivated, but don’t idolise it. Don’t compare yourself to it negatively. Don’t change who you are to become it. As Oscar Wilde once said

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

until tomorrow x

 

BEDA: Sunny Day Albums

oh my blog!

Sun! Quick, put on your shorts and have a glass of Pimms, this might be the only day of summer we get! And while you’re sunbathing on your B&Q sun lounger, may I suggest the perfect soundtracks to get your muscles loose…

Home Again
Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again. If you’ve never heard of Michael, then you need to. Voted BBC Sound of 2012, his music is perfect funk/soul.
These Streets
Paolo Nutini – These Streets. Cool, acoustic, Scottish.
Love is a Four Letter Word
Jason Mraz – Love is a Four Letter Word. I think we already established my addiction to this album earlier on in BEDA, so no surprises here.
In Between Dreams
Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams. More acoustic goodness.
Continuum
John Mayer – Continuum. While he may be womaniser of the century, his music is perfect for lazing around in the garden.

 

And lastly, the song I was so hyped about a week ago has finally been released! Well… the radio version at least. After only 48 hours of sale, it managed to get to number three in the UK singles chart! I warn you that it’s catchy.

[youtube http://youtu.be/5NV6Rdv1a3I]

BEDA: Photography 101 Part Deux

Yesterday I explained the basics I learnt about how to use a camera on manual mode while talking to Xav over dinner in Paris. After dinner, we took our cameras and went down to the river Seine to see if I’d learnt anything. Here are the results…

Note: in each photo’s description I’ve written the camera settings I used, as well as an explanation as to why that makes the picture look how it does.

I hope you found that interesting and it inspires you to try manual mode next time you’re on holiday or just on a day out. Until tomorrow x

BEDA: Photography 101

Sun is shining in the sky, there ain’t a cloud in sight. It’s stopped raining, and I’m blogging every day, don’t you know?

Since I  got a shiny new Sony NEX-5 camera a couple of years ago I’ve started trying to take photos on manual mode a lot more. Taking control of your own focus and exposure settings is a great way to experiment with depth of field, that look you see in professional photos when the background is all blurry. For night-time cityscape shots too, where failing to hold the camera still will make for a very blurry photo, tuning the shutter speed, ISO and aperture settings yourself will help greatly. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I have been investigating for a while, and I find it fascinating what a difference a couple of settings makes to the overall look and feel of a photo.

Step one is to understand the jargon and what all the different settings at your disposal do. I struggled with this for ages until Xav, one of my friends who runs his own photography business, used a water tap analogy to explain it all to me over dinner in Paris. And that’s how I’ve remembered it ever since.

Imagine all the water flowing through a tap is light coming into your camera. Now imagine the time the tap is open is the shutter speed, because the longer you have your tap open for, the more light your photo will have. Now think of the width of the pipe as your aperture or F-stop, A wider pipe will let more water in than a thinner pipe in the same amount of time. In other words, a wider aperture lets in more light to the camera than a small aperture given the same shutter speed.

Shutter speed is how long the sensor in your camera is exposed to light when you take a picture, so for dark shots you might want a slow shutter speed to give light longer to get into the camera. The interesting thing about shutter speed is how it blurs your image. Lots of sports modes on cameras set a very fast shutter speed because otherwise a fast-moving object will be blurred in the final photo due to it moving while the shutter is open. With a faster shutter speed, the subject won’t be blurred. And this goes for taking photos without a tripod or rest too. If you use a slow shutter speedi.e. the tap is open for a long time, then if you are shaking the whole frame will be moving. That’s where that blur comes from. So if you’re taking night-time shots without a tripod, try and keep your shutter speed down and opening your aperture instead to compensate, i.e. using a wider pipe instead of keeping the tap open for longer.

Aperture is the size of the gap at the front of the lens that the light can go through. So a higher aperture is a bigger gap. The thing to remember about F-stop is that it’s 1/aperture. In other words, an open/high aperture is represented with a low F-number. Confused, so was I. So here’s a diagram.

F-Stop vs. Aperture (from Wikipedia)

Aperture is also the key ingredient to getting a shallow depth of field, those photos with the sexy blurry backgrounds. An open aperture (think low F-number or a wide pipe) gives you a nice, sexy, shallow depth of field. As opposed to a closed aperture (thin pipe, high F-number) that gives a flatter look to pictures. Flat is very good for landscape shots, or when you want to give the illusion that the foreground and the background are very close to each other, called forced perspective. Here’s a great video about how they used forced perspective to portray Gandalf’s height in The Lord of the Rings.

There’s one more key piece to this puzzle and that’s something called ISO. ISO is the sensitivity of the sensor on your camera to light. So you can imagine that a high ISO means it’s very sensitive, and a low ISO means it’s not. In our tap analogy, ISO is like the water pressure in the pipe. A lot of pressure and no matter how wide the pipe, or how long the tap is open, you’re always going to get a lot of water. The caveat here is that high ISO‘s introduce a lot of noise into the photo because the camera is more sensitive to the inevitable inaccuracies in the sensor itself. When shooting, ideally you want to keep the ISO as low as possible to reduce the noise, but that’s not always possible.

This is why you always see so much light in photo shoots and film sets, because ultimately the more light you have to work with, the less you have to worry about ISO noise and shutter speed blur. The less you are restricted, the wider your creative window to play with depth of field, blur (if you want it or not) and other effects. This should also explain why a tripod is very valuable, because then shutter speed can be adjusted freely without having to worry about being able to hold your hand still to get that perfect shot.

In the next blog post I want to show you some examples I’ve found of when you can use shutter speed, aperture and ISO to great effect in different conditions from night time panoramas to fast action to sunsets.

Part two here.

until next time x

p.s. I am aware that I am a few days behind myself at the moment. I’ve realised I’d rather spend a bit longer writing a better post than trying to rush something out every day. I will still be trying to post every day, but if I manage to miss the odd one then I will still be posting 30 blogs, one for every day in April, they just might not all be written in April…

BEDA: My experience with Git and Bitbucket

Every day you say? I guess that includes today then. Warning: today’s post contains 100% geek talk. You have been warned…

<geektalk>

Since the beginning of April I have started using Git as a version control system for my code. And there goes half of my readers…

As some of you can imagine, my PhD involves a hell of a lot of coding, predominantly in C++, using Eclipse, but also occasionally Visual Studio (which I must say is 1000x better than Eclipse, if only I coded in Windows more!) I also dabble in MATLAB, for drawing graphs mainly, and because I am a lab demonstrator for a course that codes exclusively in MATLAB. Recently, the odd bit of PHP (because it’s really good at HTTP and XML stuff), Java for Android app development and MySQL for odd bit of database gubbins.

As you can imagine, when a project gets going the complexity of merely managing all these tools across multiple platforms and devices can become quite a job in itself. For which Dropbox comes in very handy. But Dropbox can only really store the latest version of your code, which can be a pain if you break something after a day’s work as is too often the case. This is where version control, and Git in particular for me, comes in.

In essence, version control is a way to keep track of changes to your code as you write them, always allowing you to go back to an old version if need be. Even better, version control systems can handle your code “branching” so their are several active versions being worked on at the same time – like if you want to work on a new feature, but you don’t know how it will affect the rest of the code. Then, once you’re done with a branch and you want to put it back into the main version of your code, the version can do that for you – managing all the pesky differences in the files so you don’t have to worry about any progress being lost from either branch since the split. This isn’t just useful for coding projects, but really any project – websites, books, large collections of documents. And the more people working on a project at once, the more valuable the tool will be for managing progress and making sure nothing gets lost or broken along the way.

Those in the know will know about Git and SVN, and the eternal debate as to which one is better. I ended up choosing Git not because I needed the flexibility of a distributed system, but because it’s the new kid on the block and it’s got a big following since its release. My past experience suggests that the older, and therefore more common, standard is probably going to be superseded by the new kid at some point, and the only reason it’s a slow process is because people have got used to one system, and the hassle (and risk) of migrating their data is just not worth it – after all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But as I have no allegiance to either side,  I opted for the new kid. If that decision comes back to bite me at some point then so be it.

Next I needed to find a place to store my central repository, for which I was recommended Bitbucket.org. Having used Atlassian‘s bug tracking tool Jira extensively while on placement, I knew I could trust that the interface would be clean, and the product would work very reliably. And I got started. At first it took a while to get a hang of the commands, all a little confusing for a newbie, so I’ll spell it out here:

  • Pull – get’s the files from Bitbucket and puts them in your local repository ready to work on.
  • Commit – The action to save a state to your local repository.
  • Push – update’s Bitbucket with all the changes you’ve made.

All this fetch, check in, checkout, merge, etc. stuff is usually not required (at least that’s what I’ve found). And I’ve found it to work really well!

Capture

That is the view showing my most recent commits. The beauty of Bitbucket, as well as allowing you to do all the version control-y things like reverting back to an older version of your code, is that you can make issues that you intend to fix or a list of features you want to include, and then reference them in your commit message – which then automatically provides a link to that issue so you can see the history. Pretty cool.

There’s also a wiki function so you can make notes about what you are doing, but I haven’t really played around with that yet. I haven’t even created a branch for my code yet, I feel like there’s still a lot of potential to uncover. Even then, this step has already allowed my workflow to be far more structured, as it encourages you to comment on what each commit does – a very helpful way to see how you’re getting on. It’s also effortless to sync my code between my work machine, my laptop and my home desktop just by using Git commands to get the most up-to-date version in minutes. No more syncing issues!

</geektalk>

until tomorrow x

 

BEDA: Thoughts On Ideas

Clearing through the backblog…

Recently I’ve been having lots of ideas about how to be more creative with my spare time (when I have any)! Right now I’m spending a lot of time with friends, going swimming, climbing and tonight, for the first time, trampolining. But my creative side has been slightly neglected. I guess I’ve made a few videos like Japan Stop Motion, The Arrest and Only Flirt in Flirt, but I want to do more! I’ve also been meddling with WordPress plugins for a local church, but that’s all said and done now too. So I kind of feel between projects… but that’s not because I’m short on ideas! I have tons…

Turn the WordPress plugin I developed for the church site into a customisable plugin that anyone can download and use on their site. This would be more for my benefit to see what the process of submitting a plugin is like.

Further develop my undergraduate project into a more fully-featured mobile phone app that can be used for visitors to the University to get more information about the buildings they’re looking at.

A video series called Secret Guildford, where a different guest every week shows the audience their favourite places to go in Guildford. The idea being that everyone has their own “secret guildford” based around their interests and tastes – mine centres around drinking… figures. There’s nothing I know like this and I think it would really benefit local businesses too. Out of all the ideas, this one is possibly my favourite.

Get better at playing the ukulele. I’m still playing it a few times a week – sometimes to the distress of my housemates – and I’ve got a load of chords and strumming patterns under my belt, but I’d like to get better at picking, and palm muting. I’d also like to write my own songs, but one step at a time…

Develop a new android app. I got the bug during my project last year, but I’ve yet to get an idea that entices me enough to write something new… I guess ideally it would be computer vision-related, but I dunno.

So yea, I should really pick one or two and get to it! Until tomorrow x