Sunday, 19 December 2010

Jan van Veenendaal in the Himalayas


James, Keith, Jim, Adriana, Jan and Steve at breakfast at the campsite before the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India.

A Friend from the Himalayas

It's hard to believe that Jan (foreground right) died this week whilst out for a run. This is us a year ago whilst trekking in the Himalayas. Our thoughts are with his sister, pictured here above him, and with the rest of his family.


L to R. Adriana, Keith, Jan and Jim  below the pass on the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. This is after Jan had somewhat recovered from his fall. We are just about to go over a 5000m pass.

I didn't know Jan that well as I first met him on a trekking trip to the Himalayas in the Autumn of 2009. Those four weeks together is all the time I knew him. Nevertheless I was grieved to learn of his passing. he'd had a heart attack earlier this year but by all accounts had recovered well. Well enough to be out running.


This is the crew. from L to R: Jim, Adriana, Jan, Keith, me and James taking a break at the Shepherds Huts. This is only our second day on the trail.


L to R. James, Jan, Jim and Adriana (with porter) struggle up the hill. Keith and another porter wait nonchalantly at the top!


At the pass at 5011m. The porters gather on the left and L to R, me, Jan, Adriana, James, Jim and Keith. On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India.

As it happened Jan didn't have a lot of luck on this trip and hurt himself in a fall whilst descending down through some rice paddies. As he fell he twisted his knee and got a dead leg.  he was half carried down to the road and then was able to hitch a ride in a local bus into the small town of Ghuttu, about 5km down the road.

It was clear the next morning that he wouldn't be able to continue with us so it was decided that he would take a taxi around the mountains and rendezvous with us four days later in Gauri Kund. One of the porters would accompany him and make sure he found suitable accommodation there and had his needs dealt with. The day of the fall is described here.

It's a great pity he missed these days as they included a rest day out on the mountains and a memorable game of cricket with the porters. On the other hand he also missed a terrible drenching and a miserable night camped in a boggy cow pasture.

When we did finally meet again he seemed in reasonable shape and a much better mood. It must have been grim stuck in Gauri Kund with nothing much to do. The next day he re=joined us on the trek for a miserable climb up the pilgrim trail to Kedernath. he must have been tempted to take some of the transport facilities available to the pilgrims but he manfully resisted. He could have been carried in a basket, carried on a mule or carried by four porters in a palanquin - essentially a sedan chair! But like the rest of us he slipped and slid his way in the constant drizzle the 14km up the mountain.

Fortunately we left 'civilisation'  a couple of days later and continued our trek into the mountains. he came with us all the way, including camping in the snow, going over a 5000m pass and managing some treacherous climbs and descents.

Top bloke. He'll be missed, not least the next time I'm sat around a camp fire in the mountains somewhere with his sister and brother-in-law, Adriana and Jim.


Jan is on the rooftop here, facing us in the middle. This is the day of his fall when we are contemplating what to do.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

How Flickr Could Work

Commenting in a Group

Yesterday I described how tedious the current Flickr User-Interface is for the simple job of adding a photograph to a group and then commenting on a few photographs from that group.

This is practically the raison d'etre of Flickr. Why is it so painstakingly tedious?

This is how it could be.

So first things first. Here is the Flickr page with my image. Remember I want to add this to a group and then comment on some other photographs in that group.

To add this photograph to a group I click the 'Add to Group' button. (Click 1).

Notice that there is a dedicated button for adding the photograph to an 'Invite Only' group, another for adding to an "Admin Moderated' group and yet another if removing the photograph from a group.

This click brings up a box which lists all the relevant groups I can join and no others.

The list only contains the group I'm interested in. That means no 'Invite Only' groups, no 'Admin Moderated' groups, certainly no groups to which this photograph is already a member and preferably no groups to which I've already added my quota of shots.

To select the group I require to add the photograph to I click it. (Click 2).

My photograph is now in this group.

This brings up the group page, and shows the grid of most recent photographs in the group. Now I can choose a photograph to comment on. I'm assuming this is a group that likes you to comment on a number of photographs in the group when you add one of your own to it. In this case the group likes you to comment on two others.

To select the photograph I wish to comment on I click it. Click 3.

This brings up the following page. This page is not like any you can see on Flickr at the moment.

This page shows me three things I'm interested in and no others. The photograph I want to comment on. If I click on it I get the black screen big version. If I click on the Title of the photograph I go to the usual page which gives all the photograph's details and shows all it's comments etc.

I have a reminder of which group I'm commenting in. If I click this I go to the usual page which gives all the group details.

And I have the comment box. If I start typing it starts appearing in the comment box. When I'm ready I hit the 'Post' button and the comment is added to the photograph. (Click 4). As if by magic the comment is appended with the text 'Seen in Group X' and is perhaps also appended with the icon of the group. If it was up to me I would disallow any html in this comment box.

The interface now returns to the group page.

 I can now select another photograph to comment on.

The advantages of this interface are:

a) it's quick and simple
b) it encourages you to look at the photograph you are commenting on
c) it encourages proper comments not merely 'Seen in Group x'
d) it doesn't waste bandwidth by downloading tons of unnecessary stuff
e) it cuts out large graphics in comments
f) it cuts out animated gifs in comments

To facilitate this type of interface I'd add a couple of boxes to the group page for the group admins to manage. Like this ...

a) a text for appending to comments made for the group
b) an icon for appending to comments made for the group
c) a radio button indicating whether the group was 'Regular', 'Invite Only', or 'Admin Moderated'.

Nothing more needs to be added really. Wouldn't it be a pleasure to add comments to photographs if it was this easy?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

How Flickr Works

Commenting in a Group

I’m going to describe in mind numbingly boring detail how the current Flickr User Interface works when you want to add your photograph to a group and then comment on some of the photographs in that group.

The aim is to indicate how tedious the whole process is and how you have to jump through hoops to achieve something as simple as this.

I’m describing, by the way, one of the most fundamental aspects of Flickr. You upload a photograph, you want to add it to a group and being of a friendly disposition you want to add some comments to a number of photographs in this group. Some groups, in the interests of receiving feedback, like to insist on this. You will often see “Post 1 Comment 3” lines attached to Group descriptions. Normally I like groups where they ask that you comment on a maximum of 3 other photographs when you post in that group.

I find commenting on more than 3 too onerous a task.

The other consideration is that many, if not most groups, like you to suffix your comment with a tag which indicates where you saw the photograph in question. This is normally in the form “Seen in the X group”. This is often supplemented by a graphic. Often these are horribly large, or worse, incorporate some nasty flickering animated gif nonsense. I’ll address the issues of this tediousness later.

So first things first. Here is the Flickr page with my image. Remember I want to add this to a group and then comment on some other photographs in the that group.

To add to a group I click the “Action” drop down menu. (Click1) and select the “Add/Remove from group. (Click 2)

This brings a pop-up of the list of groups that you belong too.

You will have to scroll through this list to find the group you need.

Some points can be made here:

    a)    this list includes groups that the photograph already belongs too. These are at the head of the list so you will have to scroll past all of these first to find a suitable group to add to.

    a)    this list includes all those groups to which you’ve already added the maximum of photographs for some given period of time. The most common is “1 Photo per Day”. You wont know this until you try it. Nicely tedious.

    i)    this list includes all those groups which are “Invite Only” e.g. you have to wait until you are formally invited before you are allowed to put your photograph in the group. There is no indication that a particular group is of this type unless the group admins have thoughtfully included this fact in the name of the group. You’ll have to tediously scroll past these groups whilst searching for a group to add to or you will incur the wrath of the group administrator when you accidentally put your photograph in an invite only group without an invite.

    i)    this list includes all those groups for which photographs have to be moderated by the admins of the group before they are allowed in the group. There is no indication that a group is of this type. You will never know if your photograph is accepted into the group unless you go back later and have a look. This process can take days, weeks, months even years.

Once a suitable group has been chosen then select it from the list (Click 3).

The name of this group will now appear in the list to the right of your photograph on the page. In this example it appears just above the line “ and n more groups”. It could just as easily appear below the line “This photo also appears in”. You never know which one. It’s just to keep you one your toes.

OK, after all this palaver, the photograph is now in the group you selected. Lets go about adding some comments to other photographs in this group.

We need to see some examples of photographs from this group so first select the group name from this list (Click4). This click doesn’t take you there but does show you photographs before and after yours in the group. I hope that’s useful to you because it isn’t to me.

Select the group name again (Click 5).

Finally this brings up the group page, and shows the grid of most recent photographs in the group. But this isn’t what I need either. What I’m looking for is the “Seen in Group X” code that I can append to my own comment. I like to be friendly.

Select the Group name again (Click 6).

This brings up the groups home page. Somewhere on this page is the code I’m looking for. So scroll down and find it and when you find it cut and paste it into your clipboard.

Then hit the “back” key to get to the previous page which shows the photographs. (Click 7).

We’ve seen this page before. This time it’s the page we want.  Choose a photograph to comment by selecting it’s icon (Click 8).

The photograph appears. Now we have to find the “Comment Box” to add our comment. We would like to look at the photograph and add our comment at the same time but this is not possible, so unfortunately we will abandon looking at the photograph and go in search of the comment box which is at the bottom of the page. If this photograph has had a lot of comments the bottom of the page could be some way away.

Loading a lot of comments takes a lot of time. because many comments are loading with large graphics this also adds to the amount of time it takes to find the “Comment Box”.

A keyboard short-cut will take you to the bottom of the page but it might get you there before the comments have fully loaded. You may have to press it several times. You see the “Comment Box” and you have to click inside it before you can type your comment. Click 9) Just before you do, some more comments come in and the box scrolls down and you inadvertently click something else. This may or may not take you to another page and you may have to spend some time getting back to where you were. I hope you are enjoying this.

Sometime it’s even worse as the comments come flying in separated from the graphics associated with them so the “Comment Box” is actually bouncing up and down the screen and you are desperately trying to click inside it so you can make your comment. It’s exciting really. Like a computer game ... from the ’80’s.

Eventually your screen settles down and you’ve clicked inside the box. You can’t see the photograph at the moment. It’s at the top of the page. Can you be bothered to go back and have another look? Did you see it in the first place? Often I’ve pressed the keyboard short-cut to get to the bottom of the page before the photograph ha even appeared.

Usually I just paste in the “Seen in Group X) code that I cut earlier. Thinking of something fresh to say now does not come easily. I’m getting a bit frazzled. Click the “Post Comment” button and the comment is posted. (Click 10). Finally.

Smartly Flickr reloads the photograph page you’ve already seen and reloads all the comments, you’ve previously ignored, and adds your comment at the bottom, which you already know about. So click the back page button (Click 11) to get back to the group page so you can select another photograph to comment on. If you can bear it.

So after a dozen clicks, some serious scrolling, some cut and pasting, some shooting to the bottom of the page shenanigans and some hallucinogenic page bouncing you have finally managed to add one comment.

I call it Flickr Fun. Don’t you?

Tomorrow a look at how this interface could be improved. Really?

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Night Time Canoeing

A Full Moon over Beynac

In the summer of 2009 I was guiding a canoe trip in the Dordogne region of France with my fellow guide Paul. We had two couples doing the trip but Greg and Lisa got hung up on doing a night paddle. It was plain to see that a full moon was coming up and I think this gave them the idea to suggest a canoe in the dark. It's not something that's on the schedule nor something that I've done before, though I have quite often paddled at daybreak to see the sun rise.


After stringing them along for a couple of days Paul and I considered the request and worked out when best to do it. We decided against a night paddle on the Cele as this is a narrow stream with many small obstructions which would be difficult to negotiate in poor light. That left the Dordogne river which we normally paddle for three days. The problem here was just dealing with the logistics of where we would start and finish the paddle and how we would get to and from these places to our accommodation. After some thought we decided on the section betwen Roque-Gageac and Beynac. This would be about an hours paddle on a section of river which flows fairly fast but which has no obstacles and which has easily recognised landmarks along the way.

On the day we normally paddle this section we go from Montfort to Beynac via Roque-Gageac and Castelnaud. When we arrived at Roque-Gageac in our three canoes (Mike and Todd, Greg and Lisa and me; Paul was driving) we left one canoe there and Greg and Lisa joined Paul in the minibus. The other two canoes continued downstream to Beyna to finish the day as normal.


That evening, after dinner, we tied a canoe to the roof of the minibus and drove the short distance up to Roque-Gageac from Beynac. Even though it was dark we had to wait an hour or so for the moon to rise so we had a wander around the small lanes at the back of the village and then found ourselves walking a track to a view point above the river.

We left the minibus in the car park and launched the two canoes into the dark water as the full moon rose above the valley. Greg and Lisa were in one canoe and Paul and I were in the other. It was quite easy to see our way on the river and it was easy to navigate in the dark. The river is quite wide here. The town and cliffs at Roque-Gageac were lit up, as were the castles at Castelnaud and Beynac. All in all it was an easy and pleasant ride down to Beynac which we all enjoyed.

The only unfortunate note of about the trip was that I didn't take any photographs. It's difficult to take night shots from a moving canoe!

This year it was also a full moon whilst we were at Beynac so I was determined to try and get a night-time shot. However this year no-one else wanted to go out on a midnight paddle so I was forced to do it alone. It's probably not a good idea to go paddling on a river at night on your own and the problem was exacerbated by the fact that I would have to paddle upstream to get back to my starting point.

Just below Beynac the river splits into three channels and I new that there were several gravel bars where I could disembark and set up my tripod to take some shots looking back at Beynac. During the day I had paddled from Montfort to Beynac (as usual) with our guests. On this trip we only had three; Alan and Kristin in one canoe and Ashley and me in the other. When we arrived in Beynac I suggested to Ashley that we could explore the channels just below Beynac before finishing for the day. I knew we would have to paddle around the islands and back upstream but I thought we had a good chance of spotting some wildlife in the backwaters.

The channel on river left is the main stream and flows quite fast. The channel on the right is narrower and slower. I've often paddled this section in the early morning and very often seen Coypu (Myocastor coypus) here - also known as Nutria, Ragondin or Beaver-Rat. Once I also disturbed a pair of Eagle Owls (Bubo bubo). You can guarantee to see Mallard Ducks ((Anas platyrhynchos), Grey Herons  (Ardea cinerea) and Kingfishers (Alcedo atthis). The middle channel is not always navigable as it can get very shallow when the river is low and is generally where all the flotsam and jetsam get washed up.

On this late afternoon Ashley and I took the channel on river right and drifted down the narrow channel, ducking under trees and gliding past a limestone cliff wall. Inside we had to negotiate around several gravel bars and we nosed our way into a couple of dead-ends before re-joining the main stream. We didn't see any Coypu, though we did come across a pair of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor).

To get back to Beynac we sneaked up the side of the main channel and kept out of the fast water. About half-way up we came to a connecting channel which took us into the centre channel. I took this wasy as it looked calmer and easier to paddle and could also provide us with a glimpse of the wild-life. In fact this channel was extremely shallow and weedy although we discover that is was a refuge for Grey Herons and we saw about a dozen of them. It looks like this could be a hidden heronry. As we continued upstream the way became weed clogged and too shallow to continue paddling. Instead I hopped into African Queen mode. That's me as Humphrey Bogart and Ashley as Katherine Hepburn. Fortunately I had tied a rope to the front of the canoe so I was able to jump out and pull the canoe through the watery weeds for a hundred yards or so until we reached open water again. The reason Ashley didn't walk is because she had a bad leg. But I always enjoy this kind of splashing about anyway.

Once I was back in the canoe we were able to paddle the final section of the centre channel until we came to where the river split and Beynac was a mere few yards away. the river runs quite fast here but we were able to ferry across the fast water and then edge up river bank until we could beach the canoe. I would find out later that I really needed Ashley to help me on this upstream paddle.

So after dinner that evening I decided I wold re-trace the paddle I had done with Ashley so that I could get the night time shot I was thinking of. No-one else wanted to paddle but I was confident I could manage alone and in the dark. Carolyn (my co-guide) helped me carry the canoe down to the water and I jumped aboard with my camera bag and my tripod.

I slipped across the fast water and took the centre channel which I knew got shallow very quickly. I beached here and set up my tripod to get several shots of Beynac all lit up with the castle high above and the moon rising above the castle. It took me several exposure to get everything right. I was slightly disappointed that I had come earlier as the moon was already quite high. After deciding I was happy with the shots from here I though I'd like an alternative view which omitted all the street-lights along the river bank and just gave me the moon and the castle. To this end I paddled upstream out of the centre channel and turned the canoe back downstream to take the right channel.

After 50 or so yards I ran the canoe aground and hopped out to get the shots I wanted. It was perfect, from this point of view I could see no street lights at all.


After several minutes messing about with several different exposures I got back in the canoe and started to re-trace  my route back upstream. It proved difficult as the river was flowing faster than I thought and I could scarcely make any headway.  after tem minutes of creeping upstream I decided that this was too much effort and I would be better off hauling the canoe instead.

I took the canoe to the edge of the island and jumped out and began to pull the canoe, using a rope, through the shallows. This went well for a while until I had to drag the canoe around a sunken log. At this point I had to wade deeper and was surprised when I sunk down to my waist! Once around that obstacle I continued pulling the canoe until I got to the head of the island where the channels split.

It was obvious now that I wouldn't be strong enough (with no Ashley to help) to paddle directly upstream so instead I ferried across to the right bank and again jumped out to pull the canoe up to where I could leave it for the night. Eventually I was able to drag the canoe out and tip it over before walking up the steps and entering the hotel dripping wet and laughing.

In future I will take a bit more care about paddling at night and will probably not do it alone again!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Back at Home

Another canoeing trip to France is over

I've just returned from another canoeing trip in the Lot and Dordogne area of France. It was a lot of fun especially when canoeing at night under a full moon. (photographs from this excursion will come later). This trip was spent in the company of Carolyn (my co-guide) and our guests Ashley and,  Kristin and Alan.


Friday, 10 September 2010

A visit to the Ardennes

Camping and Canoeing

A couple of weeks ago Kristine and I borrowed the boys of Dharminder and Dominique to take them camping and canoeing in the Belgium Ardennes.

Sebastien, Charles and Alexander had a great time even though the weather was not always good. We camped on the other side of the Lesse river from the railway station at Gendron-Celles for three nights. WE did some hiking up and down the river banks for the first couple of days and explored the Roman ruins near Furfooz.

On our final day we took the train up to Houyet and hired two canoes to takes us all the way down to Anseremme - a distance of about 21kms. Kristine had Alexandre in her boat and I had the two twins. The river is relatively easy but runs quickly in some places. In two places you have to negotiate a steep drop. The kids enjoyed these and were fearless in crashing down through the stopper wave.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

With the Rapha Condor Sharp Pro Cycling Team

Cycling Portraits

I spent a couple of days with the cycling team as they prepare for the Tour of Britain.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Even more Canoeing

Canoeing on the Dordogne

The last of the three rivers we paddle on is the Dordogne. We paddles from Cazoules to Montfort on the first day, exploring the islands along the way and sometimes stopping off for a swim.


On the next day we continue down to Beynac, past Roque-Gageac and Castelnaud.




On the final day we paddle down to Soriac. Sometimes we have an early morning paddle and hike before breakfast. Afterwards we visit the castle at Beynac, paddles down to the Chateau Milandes for a look around there before the last lazy paddle downstream.




Thursday, 22 July 2010

More on Canoeing

The Cele River

We spend three days paddling down the Cele River in the Lot region of France. In fact, at the last, we join the Lot River at Bouzies to finish.

The first day we put in at Eulalie and paddle down to Marcilhac and have to negotiate a series of barrages (small dams).


Before the paddle we do a walk high above the river to admire the views.


Our second day takes from Marcilhac down to Cabrerets. We take the chhute over the dam at Marcilhac but have to portage around the one further downstream.




On our third day we first the caves and paintings at Peche Merle before shooting the chute over the dam at Cabrerets and paddling down to the Lot.

We finish off the day with a riverbank walk to St. Cirq Lapopie.


Monday, 19 July 2010

Three Canoe Trips Behind Me

Canoe France

As usual I've been away in the Perigord/Dordogne/Lot regions of France guiding a series of canoe trips. These trips are run by Battenkill Canoe and I work as  River and Trail Guide.

The 12 day trip is spread over three rivers; the Vezere, the Cele and the Dordogne, with a rest day between each.

The first day on the Vezere goes from Montignac to St. Leon-sur-Vezere and passes several small but dramataic chateaus.



The second day, from St. Leon down to Les Eyzies, passes some famous sites known for Troglodyte dwellings for many thousands of years.


It's then a rest day where we visit Sarlat and Rocamadour.



Friday, 21 May 2010

The First Butterflies of the Season

Late spring Early Summer

This time of year brings out the new and fresh first butterflies of the season. That is, not counting, the battered individuals of some species, that hibernate as adults through the winter.Most species make it through the winter as eggs, caterpillars or chrysalises - and of course I mean Ovum, Larva, and Pupa!

So here are some of my shots from this year, both from the garden and the nearby Nature Rserve at Hof ter Saksen.

Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines)

Who's Looking at You, Kid?

This one is perching on Honesty (Luneria annua) in the garden. This butterfly is only around in the spring and this is only the second time I've had one in the garden. It's a female too as it doesn't have the characteristic orange wing tips of the male. In any case the males are notoriously hard to photograph as they spend most of their time patrolling for females. I've had them bump into my chest when walking along trails!

Green-veined White (Pieris napi)


This is also perching on Honesty (Luneria annua) in the garden. These whites can easily n=be mistaken for Small and Large Whites but the strong veining on the underside of the wings is characteristic.

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)




These are amongst the first butterflies around here and can often be the last too as they sometimes have three generations in a summer. When fresh the fiery copper colour is really striking and catches the light. I don't know what it was doing on a Dandelion clock!

Brown Argus (Aricia agestis)




The Brown Argus is actually a member of the family of Blues (Lycidae) and this species can easily be confused with the female of the Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus). I saw no Blues at all on this day so I'm pretty confident it's a Brown Argus.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)


This is the typical Chocolate and Cream livery of the Speckled Wood in the north of Europe. In the south it's more Orange with yellow markings.

Small White (Pieris rapae)



One of most common butterflies and often confused with the Large White. Obviously you are not to call it a Cabbage White! Please.

Comma (Polygonia c-album)


Easily recognised by the raggedy shape of it's wings.

Peacock (Inachis io)


Very often they are early harbinger of spring as they hibernate as adults (Imago) through the winter. The eye-spots on the wing make it easily recognisable though I read that a recent survey in the UK found that 70% of people didn't know it's name. Shocking!

Holly Blue (Celestrina argiolus)


This one is seen here perched on Holly and trying to feed on the tiny Holly flowers which are barely open. This species is usually the first of the Blues to be seen in spring