Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sammamish at Sunrise

DSC06937Delta called late last night to ask if I was aware that I’d left my passport on the plane.  It seems that the case slipped from my bag sometime during the overnight flight, and my usual survey of the seat and floor hadn’t noted the absence.  ‘second time in two months (the first was when my tablet got pinched in the Tokyo lounge): I need to be a bit more careful as I get up and move.  (Many thanks, too, to an honest ground crew).

Jet lag was in my favour, though, and clear highways meant that I drove down to SeaTac and back before the sun rose.  There was mist in the Sammamish Valley, cold air over warm peat, steel blue waters against a brilliant rose sky.  I pulled in for an early walk across the frosted fields and along the still river.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A million miles, and counting

millionmilesDelta Airlines has awarded me Million Miler status, recognizing my loyalty and resilience.   I’m awarded Silver status for life and my choice of carry-on luggage or earrings.  The airline has tiers up to 7 million miles, but this feels humbling enough as one  measure of my life.

It’s a distance equivalent to two trips to the moon and back, forty trips around the world.

At the normal cruising speed of 500 mph at 35000 ft altitude, I’ve spent 2000 hours, a full working year, sitting in airplanes.

At a cost of Fare = $50 + (Distance * $0.11), I have spent over $100,000 on tickets.

DSC06904 (1024x683)This comes as Delta (and other airlines) are trying to make it more difficult to earn Milage Qualifying Miles, the basis for awards like this.  Loyalty programs used to simply bank miles flown, then added minimum spends to qualify for different levels. 

Starting this year, miles earned base on ticket price paid.

DSC06901 (1024x682)‘Self-financing, I look for bargains where I can find them, and the change means that, where last year I was a Diamond medallion member, this year I will barely clear Silver with a similar travel schedule.

It doesn’t matter much, I don’t measure success by loyalty cards  But I used to qualify for matching miles, complimentary upgrades andup-in-the-air lounge access, all very welcome bonuses that I do miss.  A bit like George Clooney in Up in the Air, the game no longer motivates.

The one angle that I do still play is to book the KLM-code flight rather than the Delta-code on equivalent flights.  I like the cachet of flying under a Dutch label, and Delta still credits me with miles flown if their name headlines my ticket.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Looking at lighting

DSC06835Since getting my new camera last April, I’ve focused on improving my composition. Worobiec’s Photographic Composition and Excell’s Composition, both given to me as gifts, have both been great guides.  At their suggestion, I’ve been experimenting with different angles and heights, aligning different parts of the scene with the intersection of thirds in the frame.  You can follow my evolution on Instagram.

All of this has led me to think more about the photos I take, framing what is best in a scene rather than cropping later.  It’s makes a difference: I feel like my landscape and still life photos are becoming more interesting and evocative.  Portraits and street scenes are still difficult, but I’m working on how I can better compose them.

And I’m starting to understand how light and contrast also matter.

Light creates colour and shadow, giving warmth and relief to objects and scenes.  Just moving a desk lamp around an object can alter the picture’s mood and appearance.  For me, the angle of the light presses or lifts the subject (below, my sequence fiddling  from high light [positions to low).  Some angles look more ‘natural’ than others, others make the subject look ‘startled’.

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Professional photographers think about lighting from three points: the main light that gives illumination and contrast, (key), a second to soften the shadows (fill) and another to give outline and depth (back).  While I’m not adding lighting to a scene, I am watching where I stand and how the subject is lit in these three ways.  Is the face lit or shadowed?  Is the background too bright?  Are my steepest light / dark differences at the picture’s focus (this, from painting classes).

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Another change has been in choosing the time of day that I take pictures.  I like the dramatic contrasts and vibrant colours that  come from having low, filtered light, natural at sunrise and just after sunset.  I try to get out during the ‘golden hour’ when the camera gets vivid blue skies and orange lights: an hour later, the scene changes completely.

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Finally, there is the issue of photographing coloured lights.  A rainbow of hanging lamps invariably photograph as monochrome white lights.  I thought that getting closer and reducing background light might help, but these results from a London alleyway are scarcely changed.

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Wikihow offered relevant advice on photographing Christmas lights:  Use illuminated backgrounds, get closer, and adjust the camera settings.  It helped a lot with getting strings of lights to resolve and to photograph better, but I’m still trying to find the right solution for capturing vivid colour.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Weer op de weg

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On the road again, as Willie Nelson’s song goes, and so am I.

I’ve got a one-week / five-city tour on tap, spanning two continents from the UK to the Netherlands, Germany to the US.  It begins at the train station, as all good journeys do.  It also begins with the DLR down for maintenance, passengers filling the alternate-bus and wondering whether the diversion is cover for a security threat.

The events in Paris have unsettled people more than usual.  I think people make an easy equivalence between UK and French capitals: one a target, both a target.  This event, in particular, leaves an uneasy feeling that any innocent night out could end in tragedy.  Dinner discussions of What To Do lead to heated debates DSC06675 (1024x683)about immigration, then to meta-conversations about whether this is an appropriate topic for dinner.

And the signs in the subway are starting to feel a bit surreal.

For my part, I’ll stick to my keeping a low-profile life and avoid crowded public markets, stations, and events.  I favor some sort of sanctuary zones as an alternative to having migrants flow randomly across the Med and between unwelcoming train stations.

On immigration, I worry about the right-wing groups ramping up competing rhetoric, as they are in the US.   But the solutions from the left are too weak: quota systems to allocate refugees can only account for a fraction of those coming.  I think that the Schengen free-passage rules may soon be changed.  Geert Wilders is reasonably asking for a vote on the matter and Sweden is tightening its borders.

Finally, I don’t know how people can avoid talking about events once they buzz into someone’s smart phone, although turning off  the news during dinner is appropriate.  I disagree with those who feel that if it doesn’t affect them directly, they shouldn’t be bothered with it. is   feel like I need more than my usual precautions, but I can feel Europe stirring to protect itself.

DSC06681 (1024x679)London City Airport, and my flight  is delayed for two hours by gales over Amsterdam.  Everyone is checked in, sent back, checked in a second time, blowing eddies of families around the airport.  The hop over is finally, uneventful, I drop into the Netherlands, Christmas displays already lit across Schiphol.

Daily commuting by train between Maastricht and Dusseldorf makes no sense, the border crossing at Venlo always takes an extra hour each way because of the little spur route that connects the NS and DB systems.  I start searching for a rental car, and find one on Avis that is 95 euro for three days.  A steal.

The counter attendant tells me that they DSC06682 (669x1024)can’t beat the price: in fact, there are no cars for rental no matter what my computer says.  I place the order and watch my new booking pop up on their terminal.

Would you like an Upgrade to a bigger car?  Now there are extras; I’ll stay with what I have.  The clerks start an animated discussion in Dutch about the stupidity of computers and tourists, than smile and ask (in English) for my driver’s license. 

I give them my Dutch one and smile sweetly.  ‘Gotcha.

DSC06685 (1024x683)I’m actually given a lovely car, all the trimmings, and head south on the A2.  It’s been years since I used to do this regularly when I worked for Corporate.  The road is wider and faster than it was then, the construction projects around Utrecht and Eindhoven all completed.  To the south, though, the roads are closed for new projects, routing me an hour around to the east to arrive in Maastricht very late.

DSC06689 (672x1024)But Bert’s open, there’s a good Bier van de maand, and weather along the river is surprisingly warm.  The bicycles drift past, the conversations flow around me, it’s all familiar and personal again.

‘nice to have you home, offers the ober in Rantree, smiling. 

“Good to be back,” even if only for a few days.