Wednesday 27 August 2008

Dragons over Fen Drayton Lakes

Click on the slideshow for full images in Picasa online album

Early afternoon on a blustery day, the sun shines through ragged clouds hurrying across the sky over the RSPB reserve at Fen Drayton Lakes. Approaching the lakes, first one lonely marauder patrols the skies, then more appear till, on a small sunlit bridge, the Stansted of Dragonflies appears. Basking on the wooden railings are Common Darters in varying colours from greeny browns to reds, whilst thin flashes of blue indicate their relatives, the Damselflies.

This was a good opportunity for macro-photography with a 80 - 300mm equivalent telephoto lens and a 25mm spacer. The main challenge was focal depth which was countered with a reduced aperture as the light still permitted a 1/200s exposure.

Damselflies fold their wings together over and along the body; Dragonflies spread them out horizontally.One of the key indicators for individual species is the wing venation, with small triangles and colour patches on fore and hind wings being of particular importance.

The walk extended over three miles and it was with reluctance that I dragged myself away from a second session with the living helicopters at the end of the afternoon.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Egyptian Letters from the British Museum

click on the slideshow to get to Picasa album that can be viewed full screen

We are quite priveleged to have institutions such as the British museum, where you can not only enjoy the exhibits but also photograph them. It was with a sense of anticipation that I therefore entered the imposing museum in London. I had no preconceptions subject wise and soon discovered the first delight at the inner Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, designed by Foster & Partners.

The giant quartzite 1400BC head of Amenhotep III in the courtyard led to the lower Eqyptian Gallery. Low light was the main challenge without a tripod. Using a telephoto lens (80mm-300mm equivalent) almost exclusively led to appreciation of a few individual objects, from the limestone Horus head to the giant scarab.

With a lifelong interest in Calligraphy, however, I was drawn to the hieroglyphs in stone and later, on wood and papyrus in the upper galleries. the added challenge to low light was reflections on the protective glass casings or frames on the latter exhibits. Again, rather than necessarily photograph entire subjects, I concentrated on elements or details.

Three trends immediately became apparent; the existence of parallel scripts (hieroglyphics & hieratic) right from 3000BC, the effect of different substrates and media and the considerable variation in quality and style.

Indeed the biggest surprise was that rather than the hieroglyphics preceding the invention of a more abstract writing, the hieratic script used for legal and priestly documents was already developed and in use at the start of the first dynasty 3000 yrs ago. Hieroglyphs existed in parallel and were mainly used in monuments and religious documents, where there was also a cursive hieroglyph script.

Writing in stone using a chisel or scraper versus painting or writing on a surface with ink also impacted on the representation of the hieroglyphs. Glyphs could be carved into the stone or made to emerge in bas-relief. Soft stone like limestone presented different challenges to working on granite. On papyrus or wood, the thickness of the pigment, the nature of the brush or pen allowed a wide variety of strokes that could be millimeter precise or flow more cursively with the hand in the act of writing.

Egyptian scribes and artists worked as part of a team and there was a trememendous millenial tradition of utilising consistent styles to demonstrate continuity and timelessness. And yet a closer look reveals tremendous variation in skill, style and attention to detail! One set of carvings exude sophistication and quality, whilst another is much coarser. Composition and style might be set but the slight changes in the proportions and spacing of glyphs or letters and the subtle flow of the strokes by different scribes are recogniseable.

New knowledge impacts on perception and a return visit to the Museum would now result in a different set of photos, perhaps following up on some of the themes discovered.

Mind you, there are also other ancient scripts contemporary with the Egyptions to pursue such as the Cuneiform and Meroitic, not to mention the derivative Demotic.


1. Wikipedia gives an excellent introduction to all the scripts mentioned here.

2. Cyril Aldred " The Egyptians" 3rd edition 1998, ISBN 0500280363, pp 204-207 gives an insight to the artists and scribes and how they worked, including 4h morning shift, lunch break 4h afternoon shift, skyving optional and servants to do the houseowrk.

3. Denys A Stocks "Experiments in Egyptian Archaeology" 2008, ISBN 0415306647 p96, available online on Google books, describes how flint tools might have been used to cut hieroglyphs.

Sunday 10 August 2008

A useful addition to the tools of a peripatetic business-person

Do you find yourself traveling more and wanting to do work en route whilst equally wishing to minimize the amount of weight you have to carry around without excessive expenditure?
I finally reacted to finding myself in this situation by purchasing an ASUS 4G, with a Linux based operating system, as a minimal laptop. I've been pleasantly surprised at the versatility, but how well would it hold against the critical review by a visiting teenager?
Richard Krahnstรถver generously offered to give me his considered opinion. Here are his pros and cons;
  • Not for gaming, mainly office applications
  • Screen too small for precision work and design (although can be attached to larger screen)
  • Problems with WAP enablement (wpa, solutions exist but novice would have difficulty knowing how to sort them out)
  • Not so easy for the novice to download and install other linux based software.
  • View it as a specialised tool
  • Good for office applications
  • Portability – hard-back book size and less than 1kg in weight
  • Communication via Skype or Messenger
  • Acess to media sites such as Picasa and YouTube.
  • Good enough to present final work
  • An extra-dimensional Mobile
  • Good for information gathering on the web due to wireless and cabled connections
  • speed of use
  • Linux is advantageous – simple menu structure, restricted set of options increases efficiency
Richard considered the Asus a good tool for office related work and even giving presentations.
I might add that the communication elements such as chat software, VOIP via Skype and accessing online social networking sites were readily used by all my younger visitors and family over the Summer break. The slower processor and the limited solid hard drive space seemed of little consequence as people adapted effortlessly to the capabilities of the machine.
I personally found that in addition to the expected office applications, the Asus in conjunction with Picasa was excellent for downloading and quick screening of the innumerable photos i take professionally and for pleasure.
One unexpected benefit of the compact nature of the Asus for someone approaching a more mature age was, that I could work on it on my lap comfortably using my bifocals, whereas i needed separate spectacles for the large screen office PC!
If you want something more than a mobile, with a reasonable keyboard but without the weight and all singing all dancing functionality of a high range lap-top, Then seriously consider an Asus 4G or similar familiy member.
This article was written and uploaded to the internet using the ASUS 4G, without any great difficulty.