««About me, about the site»»

This is, the personal website of a guy called, perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, Alan.

On this page you'll read a little (not much) about me, and my photography and similar interests, and about the site itself.

Me: oldish, divorced, four children - two of each, all in their twenties. At this moment (mid-February, 2016) my eldest daughter is expecting her first child, which will be a boy, in about three weeks. Everybody in the family is of course very excited about this.

I live in Newbury, a little town in Berkshire, situated 60 miles or so due west of London. I work as a software engineer for a large concern about 20 miles in the London direction, where I've been responsible, with two other guys, for writing in-house software, and I've been doing so for over 20 years. Most of our software these days takes the form of web applications, though we still write and maintain software written in Delphi.

My interests are wide, but first I'll talk briefly about flying. I fly what are increasingly popularly known as "drones", though many of us pilots don't particularly like that word. We prefer UAV (unaccompanied aerial vehicle) or their actual descriptive names - quadcopter, hexacopter. I own two quadcopters and a hexacopter. The quads are a DJI Phantom 2 and a DJI Phantom 3 Professional and the hex is a DJI Flamewheel F550. The P2 has an HD camera onboard, which is stablised only in terms of vertical tilt, but the P3 carries a 4K camera, stabilised in all 3 axes. Leaving aside the video resolution, the differences in stabilisation are enormous. With the P2 only the vertical is maintained, so you're fine with acceleration and deceleration, but if you turn the craft your picture tilts sideways, and all the many tiny flight corrections you routinely carry out are visible as nausea-inducing picture wobble. Footage from the P3 is just stunning - steady as a rock and in beautiful 4K. You can see some footage from the P3 in two of my albums, on the Photos page. The hex, a Flamewheel, I built myself, from about a zillion individual struts, screws, propellers and little electronic black boxes. It doesn't have its own camera, but carries a 3-axis gimbal onto which you mount your GoPro. Because the Flamewheel was such a major (and expensive!) project, I documented every step of the build, and if you like, you read all about it right here.

Let's look at photography. Frankly, it's my obsession. It started over 50 years ago when we were about to set off for foreign parts. My father, a diplomat, had been posted to Venezuela, and invested in our first camera. It was a 35mm fixed lens design, with one of those old-fashioned bubbly glass light meters on the front. Match-needle exposure, but entirely manual focussing: you guessed how far away the subject was and set that on the lens. So here was a pic of mum standing next to a tree, 8 feet away. Then for the rest of the day everybody forgot to focus, and everything was set at 8 feet, and dismally out of focus. Nevertheless, over a number of years, and in numerous foreign spots, that camera was responsible for many thousand of beautiful Kodachrome transparencies.

That little camera, which I still have, started me off. I progressed via a 6x6 120 roll film folding camera, an Agfa Clack (it's on the intraweb!), a Yashica twin lens reflex, a Zenza Bronica, and a huge Graflex Norita (also searchable). All of these were 120 roll film cameras. During my time with the last two I got into darkroom, and very happily developed and printed yards of Tri-X black and whites, and even had a go at colour darkroom work.

Then eventually the Norita was part-exchanged in favour of a Nikon 35mm (can't remember which model) and that took me permanently away from medium format roll film work.

Via one or two other less memorable 35mm film cameras, I arrived at digital. It's unbelievable when you look at modern pixel counts, but my first digital was a Kodak DC280, which proudly boasted 2 whole megapixels! Yet, it was wonderful. No more stinky chemicals and dermatitis - just glorious colour pictures, straight from camera to computer to printer. 2 megapixels or not, a picture taken in decent sunlight and printed to no more than 6x4 postcard size is still a match for something with 25 times the megapixels.

Over the next few years I progressed and increased my pixel count. Next came an Olympus C5050, which delivered an enormous 5 megapixels. Interestingly, it was capable of shooting RAW - the digital negative, if you like. No in-camera processing designed to produce pleasing balanced and sharpened JPGs, no, RAW was quite simply a collection of raw pixels splashed from the sensor to a file, no in-camera fiddling about. A RAW isn't a picture, it's a collection of coloured photons, and you need to 'develop' it, with suitable software. When I first experimented with RAW I came to an early conclusion: here's the best of both worlds, taking pictures and then taking them to the "darkroom". I could adjust colour, exposure, sharpness, contrast in whatever way pleased me.

Soon, the appearance of the DSLR - a traditional 35mm style SLR camera, with proper viewfinder and interchangeable lenses. So I further increased my pixel count from 5 to 6, with a Canon D300, which was the first real DSLR. At this point we've reached the point where I have real pictures to show you, and you'll find pictures from this and my subsequent cameras all represented in my photo albums.

Since I became digital my pixel count has risen and fallen, from 2, way up to 36, and now where I am today, with two 20s and a 24. The 36 was the Nikon D800, and though I invested quite a lot of money in some of the best lenses around, I was never really happy with it. I thought 36 megapixels should look better than they did. So I sold it and moved into Pentax DSLR, first a K5-ii and now a K3. Love the K3.

I'd like to talk about the site for a moment. After years of fiddling about with various personal sites and fooling around trying to get them to look 'right' I think I've finally hit upon a style which pleases me, and you're looking at it right now. We have a fixed background image, full-width of the viewport, which will repeat down the page if the content requires it. This image, different for each page, is of reduced opacity and is slightly blurred, so as not to detract from the page content.

The page content itself is presented over several boxes, or divisions. These boxes feature varying background and border colours, with varying text colours within them. The boxes themselves are slightly translucent, allowing a hint of the background image to show through. The borders are rounded at the corners, by varying degrees. Finally, some of the boxes fade in once the page has appeared.

Apart from the fade-in effect, which I found through research on the intrawebs, and shamelessly stole, all the underlying design and nuts and bolts is my own work. By all means View Source and take a look at the underlying CSS engine behind the pages.

I use Active Server Pages (ASP) for dynamic pages, ie, those which can change or need to be created on-the-fly. The page you're reading now is static - it doesn't change unless I edit it and resave it to the web server. Other pages, the dynamic ones, are driven by ASP. The photo albums home page is an example. The source is a mixture of straight HTML, eg, the boxes, the bolds, the italics, etc. But the thumbnail links to the albums are dynamic, rendered on-the-fly by ASP. There's a mySQL database which says what the album folder is, what the thumbnail picture is, and the wording under each thumbnail picture. The ASP underlying the album index reads the database and, for each entry in it, writes the HTML code to show the details, and shoots it down the wire to you. The advantage of this approach is that if I want to add a new album, I just add a details row to the database, and the ASP will see it and show the new thumbnail and send you off in the right direction when you click it. Similarly, each individual album page contains code which says; read the database and get the wording for the preamble at the top of the page, then get a list of all the pictures in the folder, then display them as pictures, one by one, adding any additional comment under each picture. So, if I want to add an additional picture to an album, I simply send a copy of it to the web server, place it in the right folder, and it will appear automatically, without changing a single line of code. If I want to add an explanatory comment under a picture I just add a row to the descriptions table. But if you View Source on any album page, you won't see the ASP code, just finished HTML, which has been written on-the-fly by the ASP engine on the server. ASP is a great time-saver.

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