Saturday, March 29, 2008

...and the weekend of the lions (coming soon)

Coming soon: a weekend in Ankara with Lion sculpture on both days. Can you tell where it is yet?

Anatolian hands

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

...and the beginning of lent

So, the beginning of lent is a strange time. It sits in between Lent and the Carnival straddling as it does the time of plenty with all its bacchic dionysiac hang-overs and the austere and Christian fast which brings us to the greatest holiday in the calendar: Easter.

The dome of the Omorphoklisia church with kite in the background.

It is usual practice for the municipality to provide the "Koulouma" (a word derived from the latin cumulus), the surplus of whatever is left that has to be done with for Lent. It's common for the municipalities to provide food suitable for fasting in open spaces where kites may be flown, for that is our custom.

We decided to visit Veikou Park, belonging to the municipality of Galatsi (a suburb of Athens built by refugees from and named for the Romanian Town of GalaĊ£i), not least because the park is close to a 13th Century church which I have read about and want to visit, but have not had the chance to do so. The view from a distance was brightened up by the large number of kites in the sky all with their happily streaming tails. We parked about a mile from the church and walked up to it, then crossed opposite towards the park where there was all sorts of crazy stuff going on, things being bought and sold and people thronging and whatnot.

We bought our kite from a Roma at the entrance - a fancy schmancy affair in the shape of a bird, with a 3D body. The seller set it up for us leaving me to carry around this huge bird with more than 1m wingspan complete with bits of wooden rod sticking out (I would have had someone's eye out on one of them, but I was being careful).

On our way up the hill, we passed many of the people who are by their presence and nature helping to increase the cultural diversity of Athens. Extended families were sitting and picnicking, some with their women in headscarves, some with their women in saris most with meat on their plates thereby indicating their "otherness". It was quite exciting to be here at the beginning of the breaking of the homogeneity of the Athenian cultural make-up and it was interesting to see the Albanian balloon seller trying to persuade the Kurdish family to buy a balloon for their little girls.

We flew the kite - it soared and took us to the limit of our line - we wanted to have had more line and more time. For all my previous attempts to get kites in the air - this is the first time I can comfortably say that I have flown a kite properly. And I am hooked!

Now it is time to start preparing the messenger and the parafauna for next time!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Oregon Scientifc helmet cams: ATC1000 and ATC2K compared

Once upon a time, what seems now like a long time ago, but isn't, I read about the Oregon Scientific helmet cam on the NSS caving forum. One of the gear-heads mentioned the ATC1000 which was just out at the time and I bought one and played around with it.

About six months later I bought the upgrade model ATC2K. So, seeing as I had promised this to the guys over at, time for my side by side comparison, here goes:

ATC1000 on the left, with AAA cell, right the ATC2K with AA cell

The ATC2K improves on many of the ATC1000's "problems" for caving. For me, these are waterproofness of casing / behaviour in low light / battery issues / mount. We'll go over these one by one.

The first is the more rugged and more waterproof casing. A side by side comparison of the two cameras shows that the older model is far longer than the recent one, but thinner and more cylindrical.

The ATC1000 is rated only splashproof (although mine has survived a brief total dunking) whereas the ATC2K is rated as being waterproof to 3m. The ATC2K also has a shadow guard (peaked front) for reducing flare and has a more rubbery feel than the ATC1000s very plastic look. Both have received their fair share of knocks and scrapes while attached to my helmet, without any problems or malfunctioning. After about 8 months of use (and this is connected to the mount also) the front end of my ATC1000 came off, making it no longer splashproof. I have submerged my ATC2K to about 4 or 5m without problems.

Behaviour in low light, next. The ATC2K is very much better at acquiring an image is low light. I don't know whether this is a CMOS issue, or a result of different hardwired software in the camera. The ATC1000 shoots at 15fps and gives a very smooth image with many tonal ranges. The ATC2K shoots at 30fps and gives a more contrasty (sometimes blocky) image. Whether the trick to achieve the increase in fps also necessitates loss of image quality I am not qualified to say. How this links in to the fact that the ATC2K will give a better balanced image in low light I also don't know. For someone who has not seen the image quality of the ATC1000, the quality of the ATC2K is not noticeably bad. The fact that it will capture an image, when the ATC1000 will not is what is important to me.

Comparison in low light and external conditions

Comparison in street conditions

Comparison in cave conditions

Battery issues: size and lifetime! The ATC1000 takes four AAA cells. The amount of recording I could get out of new alkalines varied from about 45 minutes to 75 minutes depending on the subject and the amount of time the camera was on standby. The lifetime of some otherwise pretty good Ni-MH batteries was not so good, ranging from 30 minutes to no more than 60 minutes. The cost of new batteries per hour recording or the inconvenience of carrying many spares was unsatisfactory. Further, it is almost impossible to change batteries without a pen or a safety pin to release the latch, especially when wearing gloves. The ATC2K takes two AA cells, much cheaper and much easier to find. The battery life was close to two hours for alkalines or well over one hour for Ni-MH rechargeables, meaning that you have to open the back more frequently to change memory card than to change batteries. So with the ATC2K you get many more hours recording for the buck. Another thing is that the battery indicator comes on when you have about 10 or 15 minutes of recording time left, giving plenty of warning. On the ATC1000, it would often come on immediately before the camera died. I am curious what the TFT screen on the back of the ATC5K is going to do to battery life.

Mount issues: The ATC1000 did not have a satisfactory system for mounting the camera on a helmet - the system required leaving the clasp in place on the helmet and sliding the camera in and out, something which may have sped up the detachment of the front cover of the camera. After a few uses like this, I decided on using inner tube rings to keep the camera attached to the helmet, something which worked well enough as long as I jammed a toothpick in there as well to keep the axis parallel to my line of sight. The mount for the ATC2K is much more handy, having a clippy system allowing you to detach the whole camera from the female mount with ease. I have the female part permanently fixed to my helmet and clip the camera into it whenever I want to. It sticks out from the helmet quite a distance but this is easy to get used to. As I wanted to be able to alternate place of mounting between helmet and elsewhere, without having to take off the helmet so as to undo the strap, I wrote to Oregon's customer support about getting more female clippy parts, but I received no response.

Some words about Oregon's customer service: there ain't none. You buy the camera, and that's it. If you want to contact them by e-mail, they'll never answer you. I have sent repeated mails to Oregon about various questions and none have been answered. I once sat in an automated telephone queue for 40 minutes never getting through to the support staff. Oregon are crap - if you buy something, from that moment on you have to come to terms with the fact that you are on your own. This is not the sort of customer services I have come to expect from across the lake. People interested in the ATC3K and ATC5K coming soon, should keep this in mind.

One more thing - after about 11 months of use, my ATC2K developed a patch of dead pixels or something, which was not on the exterior of the camera but which created a dead spot a few pixels in diameter. I have tried to reach Oregon about this as well, but with no joy.

Monday, March 03, 2008

...and the alcohol induced blackout

So, I have spent part of this morning, still nursing a dodgy stomach and a slightly groggy head, reading such gems as: "subjects are capable of participating even in salient, emotionally charged events-as well as more mundane events-that they later cannot remember" and "far from losing consciousness, the literature suggests that it is possible for individuals to experience blackouts while appearing only moderately intoxicated to the outside world". Tell me about it.

The last time this happened was back in the mid nineties, at that famous boatie dinner where they served a carrot soup for starters and then no one (apart from RVM) remembers anything at all. It is not good waking up and not knowing how you got home, how you got those bruises, what you did and what you said. Especially if the last time this happened, you were told that you had kicked a fellow from the vet school in the face (hi, Rachel).

So, I figured out for myself that some time between 3:18 and 3:24, I blacked out. I have photographs I recall at 3:18 and photographs I appear in but do not remember being taken from 3:24 onwards. On one level, it feels like I had a chance to get things out off my chest, that lack of alcohol would have inhibited. On another, it is scary to think that my own memories of everything I have been told that I said and did are gone forever and cannot come back.

Apparently, when the blood alcohol content hits an upper limit the capability of the brain to form long term memories fails, because the alcohol interferes with the transfer of messages from the short term to the long term memory. It's like its being relayed to a tapedeck with no tape in there.

It is all just a blank and this is scary. When the guards are down, we open the way to the monsters from the Id to come rampaging through to the real world. It seems they did to some extent.

Well, I remain groggy and confused. While my first two blackouts were five years apart, the second and third were more than ten years apart. I hope the next one will be so far in the future that it won't happen.