We were on the train to Birmingham International and we got talking to an elderly couple. They claimed that last year you had to pay for a lot of the food and drink samples. Mercifully that wasn't the case today.
Most of the food and drink producers were giving away small free samples. If we bought some of everything we liked, it would cost a fortune and we wouldn't be able to carry it home. We had to be fairly selective but still came away with a heavy load of wine, cider and spirits.
On the food side, the most impressive free sample was something called Chipstix. These were spiral cut potatoes which were deep fried then sprinkled with seasoning. The stall was promoting the franchise rather than trying to sell the food directly to the public. It made good novelty food and would be a fun alternative to chips, possibly as a side-dish in a pub or cafe.
It was foggy this morning as we drove to the hamster show. Along the M6, we knew Birmingham was out there but couldn't see any sign of it.
The Christmas hamster shows are always a bit special compared to the normal meetings. The hamster club puts on a buffet which always goes down well. There is usually a good turn-out which means more competition which usually means our hamsters don't do as well as normal. We only won the one trophy, for our Winter White hamsters.
I recently received an email from somebody called Ben, telling me about his new website about Coventry. It's called It's All About Coventry and aims to be an honest, realistic and useful guide to the city.
There are "What's On" listings as well as reviews of shops, bars and restaurants. You can also add comments to any of the articles and reviews. It looks like it is going to be a useful site for both visitors and residents.
I've been intending to experiment with HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, where images maintain details in both the shadows and highlights. Normal photography has a fairly low dynamic range, so if you want to have good shadow detail, highlights are usually over-exposed.
Normally, HDR software requires 3 bracketed exposures but this usually requires a tripod to ensure all 3 photos can be easily aligned and merged to give the HDR image. I thought I would try to come up with a shortcut to allow me to get results close to HDR but without the need to take multiple images or carry a tripod.
My method requires a digital camera which can produce a 16 bit colour file. I use the 'RAW' image format on my Nikon D40, and then convert it to a 16 bit uncompressed TIF using the ViewNX software which came with the camera. Other cameras should be suitable as long as a 16 bit image format is available.
Download the HDR Maker macro and copy it into the ImageJ plugins directory.
Install any software necessary to load or convert RAW images from the camera. ImageJ has plugins to handle a lot of different image formats.
This is obviously biased towards Nikon cameras, the D40 in particular. Instructions for other cameras will vary.
Set the camera to take RAW images. One way of doing this on the D40 is to go into the Shooting Menu and select Image Quality and choose NEF (RAW) or NEF(RAW) + Jpeg.
We will need to get a wide range of intensities recorded, so we'll use low contrast to reduce the amount of detail lost in shadows and highlights. On the D40, there are two main ways of doing this. In the Shooting Menu, choose Optimise Image. From there you can either select Softer or go to Custom and set Tone Compression to one of the low contrast options.
After transferring the images to the computer, use the ViewNX software (which comes with the camera) to convert the raw NEF file to a 16 bit uncompressed TIFF file.
Load ImageJ and open the 16 bit TIFF.
Go to the Plugins menu and select 'HDR Maker'.
The dialogue box gives options for shadow/highlight values. The defaults are 25% and 75% which means the darkest 25% of pixels will be lightened slightly and the lightest 25% (100-75) will be darkened.
The next options are dodging (lightening shadow areas) and burning (darkening highlights). Higher values have a greater effect.
The blur value is related to the sharpness of the area where the lightness adjustment takes place. Good values range from 0.9 to 50, and vary depending on the image.
The saturation value refers to the percentage of pixels which will be set to the extreme light and dark settings after processing.
The default values are only suggestions and will not work for all images. Feel free to experiment and try different values to obtain a good effect.
The image above shows the output of the macro. The original photo is on the left, and has detail in the sky but the shadows are very dark. The middle image is the output from the HDR Maker macro. The image on the right is the original photo with the brightness and contrast increased to show detail in the shadows. This has resulted in losing all detail in the sky. Click on the image for a full size version.
The images used above are only to illustrate the procedure, rather than examples of good photography. The HDR macro is an early version and needs more development. The main problem is the lack of contrast in the shadow areas. I tried different values for shadow/highlight/dodge/burn but couldn't get an image which gave 'punchy' detail such as in the right hand image. With any luck I'll be able to sort this out in a future version.
Here are some more squirrel photos from the town centre. A lot of the squirrels have become quite fat - it looks like people have been feeding them a lot recently.
A Messy Eater
Squirrel busy hunting for peanuts.
I don't know whether the tomato harvest has been poor this year or whether there has been a shortage, but I have noticed the price of tinned tomatoes has gone up recently. It is most noticeable at the 'bargain/value' end of the market, where the cheaper tins have doubled in price. Strangely the price of tomato puree has stayed the same.
We've had quite a tiring weekend. We were down in South Wales for a friend's wedding. The welsh weather didn't disappoint - it rained most of the time. The wedding was indoors so that didn't matter much. Apart from the bit in the conservatory where the roof leaked so there were buckets placed to catch drips.
It was a long drive down to Wales and back and I'm still feeling a bit tired so this will be a short post.
(Entry backdated to when the photo was taken)
A photo of the newlyweds having their first dance. I don't know about you, but I always think newlywed looks like it should be a welsh word or place name.
This started off with a pack of Iceland frozen scallops. The pack came with several small disks of herby butter. I started by following the cooking instructions on the reverse of the pack - to gently fry the scallops in 2 of the disks of butter for about 10 minutes.
I lifted the scallops out of the pan and then fried one finely chopped onion and half a leek, also finely chopped. I added one cup of risotto rice and a glass of white wine. When the wine had been absorbed I stirred in a cup of stock. Whenever the rice had absorbed the liquid, I kept adding more until it was cooked.
When the rice was cooked I added the scallops and the rest of the butter which came with them. Emma grated some parmesan which was also stirred in. Some parmesan was kept to sprinkle on top for serving.
We usually avoid using a lot of butter and full fat cheese. A lot of our risottos or paellas are made without butter and they are usually reasonably good, but adding butter does make a difference. Tonight's risotto was very smooth and creamy with a subtle flavour. Every now and again, it's worth pushing the boat out and doing something like this.
Lidl seemed to have a lot of cheap veg today so we decided to have a roast veg to accompany our tea.
I always underestimate how long roast veg takes to cook but this time I decided to give it over an hour in the oven just to make sure all the veg cooked ok. The carrots and celeriac went in first along with a sprinkle of salt and some chilli pepper. After about a quarter of an hour I added the fennel and then another half hour later added the peppers and onions. I then left it to cook (at gas mark 7) for yet another half an hour.
I'd got the timing almost perfect this time. Some of the bits of celeriac were a bit hard but if I'd chopped them a bit smaller they would have been ok.
Some photos from the firework display in Longford Park tonight.
Click on the thumbnail to view the image
I've been hearing Stephen Fry's voice a lot recently. We've been watching his TV programme where he's visiting all 50 American states, but we've also been hearing him on the radio. There is a set of adverts which gets a lot of airplay where he encourages people to get the flu jab. The adverts all follow the same pattern:
Having the flu is compared to an annoying situation, then having the flu when you suffer from a particular complaint is likened to 2 annoying situations. One such advert compares having the flu to having a neighbour's dog bark constantly. Then having the flu while suffering from heart disease is compared to: the neighbour's dog barking while he plays the saxophone.
My first thought was 'how does the dog play the saxophone while barking?'. The second time I heard the advert I realised he probably meant the dog barking while the neighbour plays the saxophone. I would have thought that Stephen Fry of all people would have been concerned by the disconnected pronoun in the sentence. Either that or I'm just easily confused.
I spotted this on the BBC News site. From the page:
When officials asked for the Welsh translation of a road sign, they thought the reply was what they needed. Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council said in Welsh: "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated".
One of the pepper plants in the garden had some very small peppers on it, which were increasing in size very slowly. The recent cold spell has put an end to that. The plants are on their last legs. The leaves have gone all limp. The plants might have survived if I had somewhere warm to put them but we don't have a greenhouse.
On a happier note, I've moved the leeks from the tub they were in, and planted them in the space where the gladioli were growing. This means the garden is finally set up with vegetables on one side, and quail and flowerbeds on the other.