Too many hobbies – Music

I like many people have too many hobbies. Not only that but they all some to want all my free cash. If I had one hobby life would be much easier. My main daybjob is an IT Engineer; that’s my main income, but messing around with computers is also a hobby. My second job and second income is that of a Photographer; Portraits, Portfolios, Weddings and commercial business portraits but its also a hobby.

I love travelling to lovely areas to take landscape photographs, using a mix of equipment including film, small, medium and large format.

I also have a small watch collection, mid tier pieces like SINN, unique pieces like British watchmaker FEARs; with my love of tech there is also an Apple Watch.

Watch Macro with Profoto A10

I have a fountain pen collection from low end Kaweco and TWSBI to higher end Pelikan and Montblanc and my love of coffee could also be called a hobby, I have brewers from Kalita, Chemex and Aeropress and a mid range espresso machine, and believe me once you get into espresso at home it really does become a crazy hobby, and you start buying custom, distribution tools, porta filters etc.

Lastly my love of music, I used to play the guitar, and now play banjo and piano (badly), but enjoy it. I also love listening to music. From popular opera, Beethoven, and Mozart, to pop like the recent Taylor Swift like her Evermore Album, Lana Del Rey, and most 1980’s pop, like the Communards, Duran Duran, Eurythmics and country and folk like Edwina Hayes, Ashley McBryde and even Sheryl Crow.

How do I listen to my music. Well when on the go, its an iPhone and Apple EarPods, its not hifi but its good enough. Sat at my desk in the company office, I may use a higher in ear sennheiser headphones, sometimes with an external battery DAC like the Cord Mojo. I have detailed how I listen in my office at home, A usb out of my desktop Mac, to a Schiit DAC and pre-amp then either to a pair of higher end Meze over ear headphones or my Ruark active speakers.

In the lounge I have may main hifi.

Its a low-end system I have had since my student days, with for now a days a basic Denon amp and a pair of Celestion DL4 stand mount speakers.

Its now fronted by a decent CD player, and a DAC being fed by an old iPad acting as a Roon Ready end point to stream to.

At some point I want to upgrade all of this starting with a dedicated streamer/dac and new speakers. If I was being sensible I should get something like a pair of Kev LS50 Meta’s, but part of me wants a nice set of floor standers but would they be too much for that room.

As always things will have to wait, I have a new studio flash to buy but I keep looking and investigating. As I said at the start – too many hobbies and they all seem to cost too much money.

Fan Boys and Trolls

With the release of the Nikon Z9 the trolls are out in force with some very misleading claims.

Lets get this out of the way, the Sony A1 is an excellent camera.

The Canon R5 and R3 are excellent cameras.

The New Nikon Z9 is an excellent camera.

If a particular camera fits a use case for you and solves problems the others cannot then buy that camera, and maybe acknowledge that others may shoot differently, have different use cases and different problems to solve.

So what is right for one person may not be the right choice for others.

You love your camera and support your brand, fine, just let the rest of us enjoy our choices too.

Coffee: Pour over or Espresso

What is your preferred coffee?

Here in the UK most people drink instant coffee at home, even in this tea obsessed land most tea drinkers have given up with loose leaf tea and now use tea bags.

Here now in the UK we seem to have rediscovered our love of real coffee. By the 1670’s we had over three thousand coffee houses in England. Today it seems we have a Starbucks on every corner, and we all love are milk based caffeinated beverages.

So what do you prefer, espresso or brewed coffee? I have to admit they are very different drinks. Getting good espresso at home is a challenge, requires expensive equipment, and skill. Do you have the time to learn? I think for most people the answer to quality coffee at home is a good pour over, and to leave espresso when your out to the professionals.

a Rant – Keeping Reptiles as a Pet not collecting

Bertie the Boa, less then one year old

Reptile husbandry has changed a lot over the period of time I have been keeping snakes. In the early days, it was considered ok to keep them in small racks or rubs as they are known. Underfloor heating often no thermostat and no light.

If you are keeping snakes to breed to sell, or a pet shop and keeping them for a short period before selling them then a rack/rub system makes sense, you can keep a lot of stock in a small area and there are only going to be there a while before sold.

For those of us keeping reptiles as pets then most of us in Europe keep them in large display cabinets. My little corn snake is in a 1m by 0.6m viv and height for climbing.

He has heating from a ceramic heater, a T5 strip light giving UVB all controlled automatically.

Bertie has a 2m by 0.9m viv, a heater in the centre giving background heat and a heater off to one side to give the hot spot, they are on day/night thermostats and for light there is a daylight UV flood that operates noon till tea and white LED for the day time and dark blue LED for the last few hours at night. Eight hours of daylight in the winter slowly rising to fourteen hours in peak summer.

Both my main vivariums are in the main living room, our snakes are part of the family just like our hounds. They have multiple hides, moss boxes for humidity and rocks to bask on, and branches to climb up.

So what’s my rant about?

Well if you do some research you will find that keeping a pet snake is just putting it in a small box with some heating and water and a hide. No enrichment, no where to climb no real light.

Even the better videos on YouTube talk about a box with no height, no UV. They selectively take aspects of the wild lifestyle and say for example a Ball Python just lives in a dark burrow. Yes those in the desert do during the hot season stay underground but recent studies has shown that 70% of their pray is aboral mammals. That 0.5m high rub is not going to allow it to climb. Heating provided by underfloor heat pads for plastic or glass tanks and light bulbs for wooden viv, this is just not good enough.

Most of the internet and the especially YouTube seems about twenty years behind. Luckly at least here in Europe things are moving forward, enrichment, bioactive enclosures etc are taking off. Lets hope that more of keepers on the internet take notice. Things are always going to be a little biased towards rubs and racks, as most of the experts are breeders and are going to be using rack systems, but we need to up are game and give the best life we can to our pets, and not treat them as items to collect. I collect fountain pens not living creatures.

Fountain Pens, writing with style

Waterman Hemisphere Fountain Pen

Whilst most people reach for biro when needed to take a note, while I reach for a fountain pen.

Most people would consider a fountain pen and out dated piece of technology. I did not enjoy writing while at school, and it was only in my final years I discovered the enjoyment of writing with a fountain pen.

Watch Macro with Profoto A10

My handwriting has never been good, but I found that using a fountain pen slowed me down, I think more as I write and concentrate more, so my handwriting improved.

I will say if you think a fountain pen will improve your handwriting then you may be in for a shock, it takes care and practice, but for me its been worthwhile.

In the picture at the top is a simple Waterman Hemisphere with a medium steel nib. A simple pen to carry with a notebook, hardy and sturdy.

Still Life – Macro Photography

Macro with Elinchrom Flash

While we were in lockdown due to COVID-19 and I could not shoot at all, not even outdoor shoots, I have been shooting a few still-lifes.

Watch Macro with Profoto A10

With macro photography getting the focus and having enough depth of field are all big issues. These shots were taken handheld, the top shot with one of my Elinchrom flash heads and a small brolly, the second a little hotshoe flash on a light stand and a shoot through brolly.

They could all be better, I should have used a tripod, and the objects I chose to photograph were not perfectly clean, but I encourage you to have a go.

Coffee Ratios

Classic Coffee and a Leica

With COVID-19 lockdown continuing I have been using the time to improve my coffee brewing.

Mainly espresso and pour over, but even the odd French press (cafetière).

Coffee recipes are often expressed in various terms, scoops of coffee to cups of water, or fluid ounces (often not explaining whether American or imperial). Oh and what is a cup. In Europe a cup of coffee can be anything from a 4 Oz to a 6 Oz cup. In America in fact the west in general it just seems to keep getting bigger. The biggest issue with measuring volume is the fact that different coffee can have more volume than other, plus it depends on grind size.

Most common now is a ratio by weight, for espresso 1:2, one part coffee to two parts output. So for example 14 grams of coffee (an Italian double), and have 28 grams of espresso.

For pour over 1:15 is often the starting place. So one part of coffee to fifteen parts of water.

So ratio by weight is better but who wants to do maths before making coffee, I much prefer grams of coffee per litre of water, a litre of water being 1000 grams.

As a general rule I start at around 60 g per litre for a pour over and maybe a little more for a French press depending on how I am feeling. It makes the calculations easy, a large mug is generally 250 ml so four mugs is a litre, 30 g for two mugs, 15 g for one mug. Also I grind a little finer for a V60 when making amounts up to 250 ml, a little courser for my Kalita Wave, and courser still for my Chemex when brewing over 400 ml.

Knowing that 1 g equals 1 ml of water you can figure out the size of your favourite coffee cup and using the grams per litre measure quickly make yourself a cup of quality coffee first thing in the morning.

Keeping Reptiles

Timmy the Greyhound

I have kept, cats, dogs, birds, fish, hamsters and snakes.

Currently we have a Ted the Greyhound, two birds, and two snakes; Oz the Corn snake and Bertie the baby boa.

Of all of these reptiles are both the easiest and the hardest. The advantage of the types of reptiles I keep is that they do not need to feed, often for weeks at a time, a big bowl of water can last several days.

Some reptiles are more difficult than others, please do you research, some of my vivariums are over two hundred cm by ninety cm. Not everyone can afford the space for these sizes of vivarium, and if your keeping lizards or some large pythons you will need to dedicate a large room.

The key to keeping them is to do your research. You need to give them the room they need. You need to know the temperature they need to be kept at and whether you need to change that temperature during the day and night and by season.

Often you need to provide a high ambient temperature, a hot spot and a cold area.

Next humidity. This can be a challenge, pick your vivarium carefully, glass, plastic and wood are your options. You also need to consider your substrate. Does it need to increase humidity or decrease it. Will it cause issue with feeding, does your reptile like to borrow?

Lighting, some want heat but not light, others need a UVB source, but also want to be able to hide from the light sometimes.

Bertie the Boa, less then one year old

Lastly making the reptile feel safe; hides in the cold area and hot area is a minimum. Too much glass can make your pet feel exposed, does it need a dark area to hide in.

As I said, research is key. Choose the right pet and know your subject to give them a good life, and you can give each other years of pleasure.

Limited Coffee – oh NO!

Lock down and working from home has meant no visits to coffee shops since March.

And now my coffee grinder has stopped working. To be honest my Baratza Sette 270 gets hard use. Making espresso and pour over every day. Its been a good workhorse. Luckily Baratza products have good support and they offer repair/service and upgrades at good prices.

Baratta Sette 270

So while its away I have been limiting myself to a couple of pour overs each day and a fresh press at the weekend, grinding my coffee by hand with my manual Hario grinder.

I have already had the email to say its all repaired and tested, so it will be back with me in a few days. Until then I’ll be dreaming of good espresso.

Sherwood Pines – Walkies

With lock down easing, we got an email from a friend asking us if we wanted to go on a pack walk in the woods near Sherwood Forest. So with water bottles and collapsable dog water bowl packed off we went.