Nov 012013

Like many other people I was saddened to learn of the death of Lou Reed this week. It was like another piece has been chipped away from me.

I took the time to listen to a few tracks, most notably the version of Perfect Day released by the BBC in 1997 to support Children In Need and featuring a myriad of stars.

I also fondly recall Lou’s appearances in one of my favourite movies – Wim Wenders’ Faraway, So Close! – where he sang Why Can’t I Be Good.

I happened to be in a HMV music store on Monday and it was playing its own tribute with a track that I instantly recognized but could not remember the title. I had it on a compilation double cassette tape – remember them? – called Sounds of The Sixties or something along those lines. One of the other tracks from the compilation that sticks in my mind is My White Bicycle by Tomorrow, which I have just discovered was Steve Howe’s band before he joined Yes. What would we do without Google and Wikipedia?

For several days, the melody of the Lou Reed track has haunted me. Finally, today, I checked out iTunes to see if I could come up with the name. I called up Velvet Underground and stared at the list of tracks. None of the titles listed leaped out at me. I thought I was going to have to work my way down the list until I found the track in question. But then I had one of those inexplicable moments. Something deep in the recesses of my mind prompted me to click on Venus In Furs, part way down the list, and it was the track I had heard in the store.

The search for employment continues. I was invited for an interview at 48 hours’ notice. The interview was scheduled for 2:30 pm on Thursday and would have involved a four-hour train journey. Unfortunately, I had a medical appointment on the same day. I had been waiting two weeks for this appointment and was loathed to cancel, so I contacted the company and asked if I could reschedule the interview.

Here is the reply:

Unfortunately we are only holding interviews on Thursday at this stage, I have another interview slot at 9.15 if this would be more convenient.

I also enquired about getting my travelling expenses reimbursed. It would have cost me in the region of £70 to attend the interview. I was told that the company was not in a position to reimburse travelling expenses. I also gained the impression the interview was a preliminary one to draw up a shortlist for a second interview. So had I been successful and made it to the shortlist, I could have had to spend £150 attending both. I think £150 spent on Lottery tickets may have produced a better return.

I did a bit of research and learned that the US parent of the company in question paid out $158 million in dividends in 2012. Further research revealed that the company in question was not a particularly good employer to work for. Journalists are routinely made redundant in order that the directors can pay themselves huge annual bonuses. I think I dodged a bullet there.

It is no coincidence that all of my former colleagues at The Birmingham Post who have remained in the UK, with the exception of two, are no longer working in the regional newspaper industry. I now know the reason why.

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Aug 142012

Like millions of people throughout the world, I have been transfixed for the past two weeks by the Olympic Games in London.

Being British, I am naturally proud of Great Britain’s success in the games, the most successful in terms of gold medals since 1908.

Watching the athletes perform, one can only admire their feats of performance, the dedication and hard work that has gone into achieving Olympic success. One might be forgiven that these sporting heroes are one-dimensional personalities, single-mindedly devoted to their chosen sport to the exclusion of everything else.

The Guardian newspaper presented some of Britain’s medal winning competitors in a slightly different light that goes to show these people have a fun-loving side just like the rest of us.

Brilliant or what? I think so and this video makes me even more proud to be British.

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Jun 072012

I am in the process of renewing my permanent residency in the United States. Many people have asked me why I did not opt for US citizenship instead. I told them I was not interested and events in London celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee explain why.

When I watched on Tuesday morning CNN’s coverage of the carriage procession through London, the scenes that played out on my TV screen brought a lump to my throat. The Queen with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in the 1902 State Landau, escorted by the Household Cavalry – Blues and Royals to the front, Life Guards to the rear — was a sight uniquely British and filled me with pride.

The balcony scene at Buckingham Palace, with the RAF flypast, the Feu de Joie by The Guards and the three cheers for Her Majesty sent shivers down my spine. Why? Because I am British and proud to be so.

At the end of the Diamond Jubilee concert, ABC broadcast the highlights on Tuesday evening, Prince Charles expressed the sentiments of the nation. He said that the Queen had made us proud to be British and I totally agree.

The crowning glory to the concert was one of the best renditions of God Save The Queen I have ever witnessed, even if few people knew the words of the second verse, followed by a truly spectacular firework display. The fireworks were accompanied by extracts from Handel’s Coronation Anthem — Zadok The Priest; Holst’s Jupiter/I Vow To Thee My Country; Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, more popularly known as Land of Hope And Glory; and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. The Holst and Elgar pieces, capturing the essence of Britain and what it means to be British, stirred my soul and tugged at my heart strings.

From these distant shores, it is easy to see that monarchy is the glue that holds the nation together. The Queen has provided constancy throughout my lifetime. I was born a few days after the Queen’s Coronation on June 2, 1953. While Presidents of the United States and British Prime Ministers have come and gone, the Queen has remained in place as head of state, aloof from the mire of politics.

In some ways the Queen is the granny to the nation, while the Prime Minister is the parent. And when the parent does things that the nation dislikes, granny is always there to offer comfort and solace. She never passes judgement on the policies and actions of political leaders or tries to undermine their authority. She simply helps to make the nation feel good about itself.

To become a US citizen, I would have to swear an oath of allegiance to the American flag. I simply could not bring myself to turn my back on Britain’s pomp and circumstance; propriety and decorum. In swearing such an oath, I would be betraying my heritage, my loyalty to Britain and all she stands for. No thanks.

As Ronald Searle, the creator of the St Trinian’s cartoons, once said:

You can’t simply put on a nationality like a jacket. I remain extremely English whatever happens.

And the same goes for me. I will stick with my permanent resident status and continue to come under the auspices of Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State.

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Jul 172011

When the Copa America was due to start at the beginning of July, I checked out the TV coverage. South American teams are always a joy to watch, playing a brand of football where the emphasis is on skill.

The schedules of ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel quickly revealed that they were passing on this competition. My last hope was the Spanish channel Gol-TV but it too offered no coverage. It looked as if I was destined to miss out.

On Saturday night, I saw The Guardian’s report on the Uruguay versus Argentina match and learned that Uruguay had won 5-4 on penalties to reach the semi-final stage of the competition.

I was both pleased an annoyed. Pleased that my favourite team of the last World Cup, Uruguay, had won through; annoyed that I had missed the opportunity to see the likes of Forlan, Suarez and, of course, the best football player in the world, Lionel Messi of Argentina.

I did a Google search, typing in “Copa America on TV USA”. The search threw up an entry on by, entitled Copa America 2011 TV Schedule: What and When to Watch. Perfect.

I discovered much to my chagrin that the entire competition had been televised live on the Latino Univision channel. I do not speak Spanish but when the likes of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil are playing I can put up with the Spanish commentary..

The schedule revealed that Brazil were taking on Paraguay this afternoon, with Chile versus Venezula kicking off in the early evening.

Brazil create an unexplainable ambiguity in me. I am the first to admit they are one of the best footballing sides in the world but they are perhaps too good and machine-like, tending to sweep opponents aside with ease.

For that reason, I did not tune in when Brazil’s match kicked off at 3:00 pm. But 30 minutes later, growing tired of sorting through images taken yesterday, I decided to sample Univision’s coverage.

I joined the match with the score at 0-0.

With Paraguay playing in red and white stripes, as a Stoke City supporter I find myself drawn to supporting them. And the similarity between Paraguay and Stoke City extends beyond red & white stripes. Paraguay play like Stoke City. They have an organized defence, closing men down quickly, and hitting long balls to lone striker Valdez. Right back Veron with his shaven head even reminded me of Stoke’s full-back Andy Wilkinson.

Paraguay defended brilliantly and when Brazil did penetrate the wall of red and white shirts, they found goalkeeper Justo Villar in unbeatable form.

In the hour of the game I saw, he pulled off five brilliant saves to keep his side in the game. On the one occasion when he was beaten, a teammate headed off the line.

The scoreline remained at 0-0 until full-time. Thanks to Villar’s heroic display. In cricket, one can describe a captain’s innings, alas football has no equivalent phrase but captain Villar certainly led from the back.

In extra-time, the game boiled over and Brazil’s Leiva and Parguay’s Alcaraz were sent off – the former for an over-the ball challenge; the latter for wading in with his fists to exact justice on behalf of the injured party.

The period of extra-time ended 0-0, although Valdez did have the opportunity to snatch victory in the closing minutes but he opted to volley a shot rather than bring the ball under control and pick his spot.

But more drama was to follow in the penalty shoot-out. Brazil, usually the masters of every footballing skill, were suddenly reduced to mere novices. First, Elano took a kick that had the trajectory of a field goal in the NFL.

Barretto stepped up to take Paraguay’s first spot-kick and the chance to pile the pressure on Brazil. He put his shot wide of the left-hand post.

Then Villar reproduced his unbeatable form of the previous 120 minutes, diving to his left to beat out Thiago Silva’s spot-kick.

Paraguay’s Estigarribia powerful shot gave his country the lead.

Brazil’s Santos had the chance to restore parity but blazed his shot high over the bar and then turned away and pointed at the penalty spot and an imaginary divot.

Riveros blasted into the roof of the net to give Paraguay a two goal advantage.

When the hapless Fred fired wide of the post for Brazil, it was game over. Copa America champions were out of the 2011 tournament in the most dismal of circumstances – four penalties taken and four penalties missed.

After the game, Paraguay’s jubilant captain Villar paid tribute to his team’s fighting spirit.

“It is difficult to analyse,” he said. “Brazil were much better and we had to defend ourselves.

“We had almost no opportunities to score, but we fought a lot. Order and focus were the keys of the game.”

The last sentence was straight out of an interview by Stoke City manager Tony Pulis.

For Villar’s sake, I am glad Paraguay won. I am also glad that I found the live coverage on Univision. It was a cracking match, entertaining throughout and with a dramatic finale.

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Jul 062011

Like millions of Americans I spent part of Monday evening watching the Fourth of July fireworks.

In previous years, my wife and I have headed to a vantage point in Riverside, Jacksonville, to watch the display.

This year was different. My stepdaughter and her husband have recently moved into a high-rise apartment across the St Johns River from downtown Jacksonville. The apartment unfortunately does not overlook the river but it is located close to the heart of the action.

We sat on the Riverwalk and watched the barges loaded with the fireworks glide into place.

The barges are positioned about half a mile apart. We sat about a third of the way from the barge to our right.

When the display started, the fireworks burst almost overhead; the loud bangs reverberating off the apartment buildings. It was an awesome spectacle.

What followed after the fireworks display was equally memorable and I had the perfect view from the apartment’s balcony on the 18th floor.

I had heard of the term “gridlock” but never before witnessed it.

The traffic along Riverplace Boulevard was backed up in both directions as far as the eye could see. If Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office had a plan to deal with the traffic, it clearly wasn’t working.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

A police motorbike blocked off access straight ahead along Riverplace Boulevard in order to allow cars to exit the parking lot of the Crowne Plaza. That made sense, although a parking lot to my right did not receive such preferential treatment.

When 75 percent of the cars on the Crowne Plaza parking lot had left, the police officer moved his motorcycle and then proceeded to control traffic at the Flagler Avenue/Riverplace Boulevard intersection. That too made good sense and the traffic started to flow a little more freely.

Five minutes later, the police officer left his position, climbed on his motorcycle and drove away. It could have been that he went to answer an emergency call but surely other police officers were held in reserve for just such an eventuality. It looked to me as if he had come to the end of his shift, simply pulled up sticks and left. The scene at that intersection then resembled chaos, it was everyone for themselves. Turn lanes were used by some drivers to gain a 50-yard advantage over those people stuck in the regular lanes.

This event occurs every year. I should imagine the number of people who turn up is pretty much the same each year – a lot. The roads certainly haven’t changed in the past 12 months, so it kind of baffled me why Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office hadn’t devised a plan to deal with the volume of traffic. Well, it had and it was inadequate.

Among the cars stuck on Riverplace Boulevard was a Mini Cooper with the checkered flag roof, which stood out from the rest of the vehicles, making its progress easy to monitor. It took the Mini Cooper 25 minutes to cover 100 yards.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

For Jacksonville’s finest, this was not their finest hour.

These shots were all taken at ISO 1600 and then processed in Photoshop CS3, using the noise filter. I did an overall noise reduction and then reduced the noise in each of the three colour channels. The results would probably not stand up to being printed at a size larger than 10 x 8 inches.

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Jun 292011

A documentary on Amelia Island on the PBS channel the other week got me to thinking about going to Fernandina Beach. The place has been visited several times but never with my DSLR.

At this time of the year the heat can be oppressive in northeast Florida and there is always the threat of thunderstorms, which is no bad thing because the build-up to a thunderstorm makes for an interesting sky. The important thing is not get caught out in one once the rain begins – it is the equivalent of someone turning on a tap or faucet, as they say in America.

By late afternoon, the heat starts to subside so that walking about is not quite so unpleasant as earlier in the day and, from a photographic point of view the light is so much better as the golden hour approaches.

We parked up at around 5:00 and the clouds were starting to get dark out to the west. Time was limited but there is nothing like a deadline for concentrating one’s mind.

An obvious focal point at Fernandina Beach is the St Marys River, with the Rayonier cellulose mill, the marina and the port facility. The marina provides access to the jetty alongside the river where a number of large motor yachts are usually moored.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

I watched one such vessel being refueled and also happened to notice the diesel pump when the operation had finished. It read 1,000 gallons and a cost of $4,999.00. That was just one tank. The boat seemed to be heading out but I was mistaken. It was simply turning round to gain access to its second fuel tank.

I guess if you can afford a luxury motor yacht, you can also afford the cost of filling her up. That amount of fuel would keep my car running for about four years.

How the other half lives.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The impending storm held off and we eventually headed to dinner at the Crab Trap seafood restaurant – I bet you would never have guessed from its name — on N 2nd Street. I can recommend the coconut shrimp.

By the time dinner was finished, the clouds had become dark and menacing, a stiff breeze was rustling the palm fronds. Rain was imminent and we made it to the car across the street just as the first drops of rain began to fall. The subsequent deluge came as we headed to Interstate 95.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Jun 262011

I have been having a problem with my right eye since Wednesday evening. My diagnosis, courtesy of a search on Google, is a posterior vitreous detachment, which causes floaters and an intermittent flashing light in my peripheral vision.  I go to the Florida Retina Institute tomorrow to rule out a retinal tear or worse a detached retina. Hopefully, I will get things sorted out.

I am fortunate from a photogaphy point of view that my focusing eye is my left one even though I am right handed. To be honest I think I am probably left handed but when I was taught to write at school I was told to pick up the pen in my right hand and duly did.

Yesterday, I came across a blog site called Running After My Hat, which in turn led me to this amusing video clip of B.B. King, singing One Shoe Blues, which was written by the creator of the video– Sandra Boynton.

Jun 202011

A sudden spurt of activity yesterday evening saw me overcome the impasse that dogged me for two days and halted work on the latest gallery for Calvin Palmer Photography.

The photographs that comprise the Canary Wharf gallery had been selected weeks ago and last week, once my birthday was out of the way, I decided it was time the gallery was presented to the public in the hope of generating some sales.

The process of creating a gallery involves resizing the images and then producing the html pages, which includes titles for the images, captions, descriptions and keywords.

One image was tentatively titled but the title was about as exciting as the controls on a washing machine. Oh, it was functional and accurate but hardly inspirational and certainly not befitting a supposed creative mind.

The problematic image. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The more I tried to come up with something more inventive the slower my brain functioned. Of course temperatures of 90 degrees plus do not help when it comes to creativity. Come mid afternoon and I am enveloped in a kind of warmth that speaks to one thing and one thing only – sleep.

Experiencing the summer heat of Florida, I can see the sense of the siesta in Spain and Latin America countries.

In theory, air conditioning should provide the ideal environment for an Anglo-Saxon like me to remain productive but in an old house, it remains very much a theory. The A/C unit upstairs cannot maintain a temperature lower than a couple of degrees of the ambient temperature. It will run and run quite merrily but its impact on the room temperature is zero until the temperature outside begins to drop. And that usually occurs around 9:00 pm.

But being English, I soldier on with a mad dog for company. How else would you describe a Chihuahua?

Actually Brandy, the name comes from her previous owners, is a lot smarter than the breed is usually given credit for. I think it took a certain degree of intelligence on her part to unwrap several Hershey Kisses left in a bowl at Christmas to get to the chocolate. Although it was the pieces of silver paper left on the carpet that gave her away.

Perhaps I should have given the task of coming up with an interesting title for the photograph to the dog; on second thoughts, perhaps not.

As usual it took the heady combination of coffee and a cigarette to deliver the goods. I had just stepped outside on the back deck with a mug of coffee in hand and a Winston in my mouth and before I could light the cigarette, the title came to me in a flash.

Once I had smoked the cigarette, I dashed to my Mac Pro and completed the html page for that particular image. I then worked steadily for the next hour or so finishing off the titles and captions for the remaining images in the gallery and it was ready for posting for worldwide viewing.


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Jun 162011

Returning to the theme of the inferiority of LCD screens, as compared to a viewfinder of a DSLR when it comes to the ease of viewing camera settings, I picked up my Leica D-Lux 3 yesterday to take a shot of the haze hanging over Jacksonville.

Wildfires in Florida and Georgia have filled the air with the acrid smell of wood smoke for the past three days. Yesterday the smoke formed a haze that reduced visibility at street level.

I decided to use the little Leica, thinking that I would probably need its zoom capability to frame the shot. Indeed, I ended up shooting at the equivalent of 42 mm.

I set the camera to Aperture Priority and framed the shot. I could tell from the image on the LCD screen that it looked somewhat overexposed. I looked at the f-stop and it was almost impossible to read. I eventually managed to discern it was f/4.0, which should have given a decent exposure.

I took a second shot and once again the image looked washed out. There was only one thing for it – set the camera to Program AE mode and let it work out the aperture and shutter speed for a perfect exposure. Success!

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved. B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro.

While there is a lot I admire about the Leica D-Lux 3, the problem with reading information on the LCD has plagued me from the start. And the 207,000 dots LCD screen doesn’t cut it in the bright sunshine of Florida. Many a time, I have virtually shot blind, being unable to compose my shot on the screen because of the reflection from the sun.

Using the D-Lux 3 yesterday did remind me, however, of what a superb camera the Ricoh GRD III is. Its 920,000 dot LCD screen really does stand up to bright conditions and the choice of an amber colour to depict aperture, EV compensation and ISO also helps to make the information easily readable 98 percent of the time.

The strengths of the compact Leica are its lens, image processing engine – Leica seems to handle blue skies like no other camera – and optical image stabilization rather than sensor shift.

But with its larger sensor, fantastic user interface, and customized settings, the Ricoh GRD III leaves the D-Lux 3 standing. The improved D-Lux 4 and D-Lux 5, both boasting large sensors, might equal the GRD III in terms of image quality but would still be hard pressed to match Ricoh’s handling.

Jun 132011

As an experienced photographer I like to think I have all the bases covered when taking a shot. Most times I do but every now and again, I am prone to a moment of madness, forgetfulness or call it what you will. Senior moment is the phrase I like to use.

On Saturday, I attended a social function at a gated community on Fleming Island, which afforded me access to Doctor’s Lake and the chance to fire off a few shots.  It was a bright sunny day. I lined up my first shot in aperture priority mode  and the camera told me I needed to set  a smaller aperture. I turned the aperture wheel to f/5.6. That wasn’t enough for the conditions. Eventually, the camera was happy with an aperture of f/8.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved. B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro.

Now in all the time I have owned the Ricoh GRD III, the smallest aperture I have shot with is f/6.3. I just assumed that surrounded by a large area of water on a bright day, light was reflecting off the water to create even brighter conditions than normal.

It is to the credit of the LCD screen of the GRD III that I was still able to frame my compositions with ease. Reading the shutter speed, aperture and ISO setting was a little more difficult. And therein lay my problem.

The day before I had been shooting indoors and ramped the ISO setting up to ISO 400. Usually, when I get the camera ready for my next shoot, I first delete the previous files and check the camera settings. On this occasion, I did the former but forgot about the latter. I was shooting in bright sun with ISO 400. Small wonder that I was having to use f/8. It was only when I came to work on the RAW images that I discovered my oversight.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

This kind of scenario sums up why I much prefer to shoot with a camera with a viewfinder. On my Canon 40D, I would have noticed the high ISO setting instantly and made the necessary change. But the small numerals on the LCD of the Ricoh don’t always register, especially following cataract surgery. And I refuse to wear reading glasses because I would be constantly putting them on and taking them off for each shot. My distance vision is good.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved. B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro.

In a nutshell, that is many a photographer’s dilemma. We don’t always want to carry the weight of a DSLR with us, particularly at a social function, and so resort to compact cameras where we are reliant on the LCD screen. Like I say, the Ricoh GRD III LCD does an excellent job 98 percent of the time and is a thousand-fold better than the LCD on my Leica D-Lux 3 where both settings and composition are in the lap of the gods on a bright sunny day.

Ricoh’s GXR camera comes with an EVF, at a price, which does contain the same kind of information visible in the viewfinder of a DSLR. Maybe that is a compromise worth making to avoid my kind of senior moments, although I have my doubts whether I would take to an electonric viewfinder. My only experience of using one was with a Panasonic LC1 camera in a pawn shop. It was better than nothing but I didn’t like it. Of course EVFs have made rapid strides since Panasonic’s early model and Ricoh’s EVF has the second highest resolution after the EVF for the Olympus PEN cameras. Maybe it is time to check out EVFs again.

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