Downloadair – Flickr to HDD

I don’t know how many times I’ll put myself in this position. I have all my photos on Flickr. But I need to have them on a local drive too. I have a partitioned hard drive, and a special folder. And every now and again, my hard drive dies, or I accidentally  delete the folder somehow. An then I have to download all my photos from Flickr again. Which is a whole load more hard work than it should be. You’ll need a third party app, because Flickr doesn’t provide a facility to download your entire photostream.

There are plenty of apps. Most of which haven’t been updated for years. Some of which contain malware. Others fail to download exif data, or turn sets into folders or are otherwise intensely laborious to use. Bulkr is great but costs $30. FlickrEdit, the tool I’ve previously used, is now too buggy. Should you find yourself in a similar situation, I can vouch for Downloadair. Running on Adobe Air, it’s got a pleasant UI, is easy to use and works well.

There are only two downsides. You have to click on each album to download it. I have more than 400, so it took a while. And it adds a string of unwanted numbers to the file name. Very irritating. But it’s free, and does everything else perfectly. It even picks up where it left on mid download if the PC crashes. So I can live with the flaws.

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Death On Grass

Thirty years ago, Torvill and Dean enchanted the world at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo with their rendition of Bolero. Their performance won gold and set records as they scored a set of perfect sixes. Their routine changed ice skating. They creatively elongated their performance to fit the musical score by staying on their knees at the beginning, and they introduced ‘death on ice’ to the sport with their finale, collapsing on to the white stuff as if they’d been shot. It started a trend. Before you knew it, skaters were finishing their dances with more and more elaborate death routines. Appearing to have simply been shot was ‘old school’. Skaters mimicked being mown down by Gatling guns, or from being slashed with a thousand cyanide laced blades. Yes, it became ridiculous. Utterly absurd.

Football has its own version of death on ice. I shall call it ‘Death on Grass’. Others refer to it simply as diving or cheating. The more eloquent commentator refers to it as simulation. But it’s far more than that. It is truly performance art. It’s a dance. It’s a talent. Some are better at it than others. And it is played to an audience of three. True, there may be tens of thousands in the crowds and tens of millions watching at home on television. But the performance is purely for the benefit of the referee and his two assistants on the line. The referee signals his approval of the dance in question by blowing his whistle and awarding the match to the team who performed Death on Grass the best over the 90 minutes.

The evidence that it is an art form and not cheating? Every time you hear someone say ‘well, it’s part of the game these days‘. Or, ‘...I know, but that Robben, he’s just so good at it‘. Or even, ‘…yes, but if you leave a leg out, you know what he’s going to do‘. Even my own argument against diving is an admission. ‘But it shouldn’t be part of the game’. That I say the word shouldn’t as opposed to isn’t is a confession that I know that actually, when all is said and done, it is. And so it continues. Our beloved, beautiful game continues to be shamed and gamed by artists performing Death on Grass.

Some of it is almost Monty Python-esque. Death by shooting, slashing, from a piano dropped on the player from a great height. Death by being shoved in a tumble dryer or from being struck by a bulldozer. Some look like they are in a rabid death throe. Do you remember Indiana Jones and all those lucky escapes he had from certain doom? Did you ever wonder what those scenes would have looked like if he hadn’t escaped? Watch a game of football and all will be revealed. When and where exactly did all this nonsense start? I do not know. But being British I will point an accusing finger at the continentals. Especially the Italians. But you know the Germans are probably at the centre of it all. Bloody Germans. Where will it end? Hopefully before several team mates go so far as to get together and choreograph  ‘death by nuclear blast’.

Football has spent the last week completely focussed on the Luis Suarez biting incident. It shocked the entire sport. You don’t bite on the football field, Luis! You are an animal! But what were the actual consequences of his bite. Not to make light of the trivial bruising to Chiellini’s shoulder, but the consequences to the result were as they should have been. On the field that day, none. After the event, the offender was punished. You could argue that Suarez should have been sent off, and that this might have altered the final outcome. I accept that. But his action in itself did not influence the scoreline.

Last Sunday, Arjen Robben, a world renowned grand master of Death on Grass, treated the world to a special performance of his art form. Which is, technically, every bit against the rules as biting. The consequences? The Mexican football team were knocked out of the competition. He broke the hearts of more than a hundred million of my compadres and comadres. El Tri’s grand Brazilian adventure was cruelly and unfairly cut short. We were deprived further touchline remonstrations and celebrations by Miguel Herrera. We must suffer further games of Dutch Head Kicking football. Yet, as further evidence of how open to interpretation Death on Grass is, there are arguments on both sides, for and against Robben. But as a fan, I’d rather see Suarez take a nibble out of a players should than see a team cheated out of the whole competition. And then there’s this guy. Who shall henceforth be forever known as What The Hell Oh My God guy. But the Guardian has a more composed view…

For the record, my firm opinion is that Robben dived and cheated. Was there a sliver of contact? I don’t care. Robben clearly played the ref, not the game. Who do I blame? Robben, of course. Plus, his manager. Indeed, I blame all managers. I always find the post match interviews galling, having to listen to a manger ranting and raving about how his side were cheated. Here’s the deal. If the referee is fooled, then the only consequence a player might face for his cheating would be via his manager. I cannot recall a single incidence of a player actually having to face any consequences for diving in a Monday morning meeting with his manager. I have, a couple of times, heard a manager say ‘he’ll have a few words’ with an obvious and persistent diver. Who continues diving the very next week. So one assumes those words were ‘keep it up, son!’

Football mangers will continue to bemoan ‘poor refereeing decisions’. They will continue to send teams out who will attempt to create the perfect conditions to goad a poor decision out of the ref. I will continue to mock their hypocrisy. And nothing will change. Until the governing bodies take firmer action. A television referee for top flight football. Who can view the replay, at different angles, and make an informed and more accurate decision. The game can be brought back and the offender punished.

Some people say this would break up the flow of the game. I argue it will do quite the opposite. If the players can’t get away with it, they won’t do it. The flow of the game will be improved. And games will be decided by goals again, rather than by performance art.

The world of ice skating eventually curbed the ever more evocative interpretations of death. The world of football can do the same, if it imposes its will on to the players taking the field. Let’s not forget that football is a game. It’s sport. It’s not, despite Bill Shankley’s assertion to the contrary, more important than life or death. Twenty years ago yesterday, a sad and non-simulated ‘Death on Grass’ type incident occurred. Colombia’s defender Andres Escobar was gunned down and killed, days after scoring an own goal that knocked his country out of the World Cup in the US.

Colombia was not a safe or happy place at the time. This was only eight years after Colombia had been due to host the World Cup themselves, in 1986, but were forced to give the tournament over to Mexico due to a lack of finance to put the necessary infrastructure in place. It was a shame that such a talented team who had such high expectations had to exit in such a fashion. More of a shame that the defeat lead to the death of one of the team’s stars. I watched a movie/documentary called The Two Escobars a few years ago. It was an excellent film. It’s now on YouTube. Enjoy…

 

 

 

The Fuji Heartbreaker

Since selling my Fuji XS-1, I’ve been looking wistfully through the windows of camera shops. I’ve been checking prices on Amazon. As ever, I’ve been reading through the reviews on Photography Blog, Camera Labs and others. I’ll get a new camera. It’s all about exactly what and precisely when. There is my long term object of lust the Sony Nex 6 and its replacement the a6000. There’s also the new Panasonic GX7, which looks fabulous, gets rave reviews but is rather pricey. I really don’t think I’ll buy into the Micro Four Thirds format though. Not when there are cameras with APS-C sensors to choose from.

Why choose a format which has the limited specs of the MFT cameras? I know Panasonic and Olympus credit themselves as pioneering the Compact System Camera form factor, but the original, an Epsom, was equipped with an APS-C sensor way back in 2004. Indeed, that was a fine looking camera. Ahead of its time. But not on my current shopping list.

I do really, really like the new Fuji X cameras though. I keep finding myself drawn to the XE-1 and XE-2. The XE-1 can be had, body only for £299. Then there is a fabulous 50mm f1.4 prime lens to go with it. An extra £400. Which still makes it £80 cheaper that the GX7 bought with a 20mm f1.8 lens.  Am I beginning to waffle now? The point is, I’m working out all the different permutations between price, camera and lens weighed against my (kinda non existent) budget. And then I saw this…

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Begads! The fabulous XE-2 – not the older XE-1, the brand spanking new XE-2 – can be had, body only, for £600. I know a Buy Now Pay Later shop! And the superb 55mm lens is free?! Sign me up to your club Fuji, I’m sold on this deal! I have loved all three of my previous Fujis, but this one would be ‘the keeper’. Love at first sight. I’d walk the XE-2 down the aisle. Any aisle. To think I was considering paying a £100 more for the older model and the 50mm lens!

And then I saw the expiry date of the offer. Bump. Down to earth I came. Too late. How did I miss this awesome deal? I have no idea. But I snoozed. I losed. Please Mr Fuji, let me into this deal! Run it again! Let me join your club! Alas, I suspect I have missed out. But one thing that has become clear in recent months. My next camera purchase will be chosen with a huge degree of consideration to the lens that comes with it. And that if a manufacturer wants me to buy into their format, they’ll have to buy me. With a bribe. Of a free lens. Because the market is competitive and good lens offers abound.

 

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop

For years and years, Adobe Photoshop was amongst the most pirated pieces of software on the planet. Not surprising, really. It was, is, the best photo editor available. And it was so prohibitively expensive, the only way the average Joe could afford it was to steal it. Then along came Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, to complement the original. Another slick and essential piece of gear for the digital photographer. It was cheaper too, but still quite a financial outlay. And, as a result,  just as heavily pirated.

Last year, Adobe tried to crack down on piracy by moving their software into the cloud. Would you be surprised if I told you that cracked versions were on torrent sites within days? Perhaps hours. Invariably, despite software creators doing their darnedest to prevent it, the pirates will find a way round any protection that is put up. It’s a pointless battle.

But I’m really, really pleased to say that Adobe has found a genuinely novel, workable and real world model to help reduce piracy. They’ve made their product affordable. Really affordable, with monthly plans that make sense to even the hardest up snapper. Photoshop and Lightroom are such powerful, yet user friendly pieces of kit, that they should appeal to every enthusiastic photographer. I have signed up today for the Creative Cloud Photography Plan. Available to US citizens for $9.99. Us Brits have to pay an inflated, but still reasonable, £8.78.

I love Adobe Lightroom, which is my primary photography processing and management tool. It’s a work of digital genius. I like Photoshop, which I use less often, but it’s such a powerful tool. I love the fact that I now own them both. Two legit installations on my laptop. The latest editions, and I’ll be getting all the latest updates.  Have you given Lightroom a try yet? You’ll never go back to whatever you used before once you’ve given it a fair run on your PC.

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Half Time

The group stages are done. Sixteen teams have progressed to the knockout stages. Sixteen teams, and one other, have gone home. It has been a fantastic tournament so far. Absolutely fantastic. Of course, it would have been better had England managed to….well, win a game. But I’m a football fan, and the football in Brazil has been of the highest order. I have some opinions to share, naturally.

  • Roy Hodgson should be fired. He might have selected a youthful squad. But then he ruined it by picking Welbeck. Not once, but twice. He has no tactical vision and no idea how to change a game. Worse, he doesn’t even be able to spot gaping flaws in his grand plan when they occur in front of his eyes. The entire nation watched Italy rip us to pieces down the wings from the 1st minute to the last, and he did not even attempt to stem the flow of the Azzuri attacks.
  • Steven Gerrard should retire from international football, along with Lampard, Baines, Jagielka and Milner. I’m a huge Gerrard fan. But at 34, he’s not going to be around for the next World Cup, and the time to start the transition is now.
  • Luis Suarez biting an Italian defender, shocked me, but not disgust me. It was bizarre and he clearly needs help. By all accounts, he’s a really nice down to earth chap off the field. He sure is a talent on it. But the guy is prone to going nuts. It’s a shame. I was cheering on Uruguay as my third choice team behind England and Mexico.
  • The attitude and behaviour of the Uruguay team, press and people in general did both shock and disgust me. Conspiracy? Nothing to see? Chiellini is a snitch? Guys, the dude bit him. On TV. In front of millions. He should apologize, and his team should acknowledge his wrong doing. Suarez brought shame on himself. Uruguay has brought shame and contempt on itself. I hope Uruguay get thrashed by Colombia on Saturday. It’s what they deserve.
  • Shakiras song is a bit meh. But she is Shakira.
  • A four month ban? That is overly harsh. I also find it hard to reconcile an offence which leaves minor bruising at worse being worthy of a greater sanction that a leg breaking challenge.  I know it’s biting. But still. Bruise versus broken leg. I know which I’d rather be a victim of.
  • I am a Liverpool supporter. I’ve loved watching Suarez at Anfield. I would love to see him play there next season. But frankly, if Barcelona or Madrid offer the right money, get shot of him. And bring in Alexis Sanchez and the wonderful James Rodriguez, who looks the finest young player I have seen in a decade. And who would no doubt cost a small fortune.
  • Most of my predictions have gone woefully wrong. But I’m still holding on to my pick for a Germany v Argentina final.
  • I gave Mexico no chance. I’m happy that prediction went wrong. They are doing what England simply seem to find almost impossible. To play as a team, rather than as a collection of assorted stranger. Marquez has been imperious. Their game against Holland in 50/50. Too tight to call. I shall be watching and wearing my Mexico top.
  • Have I bored you yet?

 

Home Is Where The Heart Is

There are a few celebrity spots in and around Bournemouth. Robert Louis Stevenson lived, and wrote, here. Harry Selfridge is buried with his wife in nearby Christchurch. But our most famous dead resident is Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, buried in St Peter’s church in the very heart of the town centre. With her mum, her son, he daughter-in-law and her husband’s heart. Not his liver, lungs or other internal organs. Just his heart. Because home, truly, is where the heart is. Her son found his ticker in one of Mary’s desk drawers a year after her own death. Which begs the question. Was Frankenstein a feature of her vivid imagination, or documentation of her own scientific experiments? Probably the former…

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When I first arrived in Mexico, my (now) father-in-law, asked a genuinely practical question. If I were to snuff it, where should my corpse be delivered? It seemed only right, we decided, to pack my bones in a case and post them back to England. I’ve changed my mind since. They can lay in whichever nation they fall. My preference would be Mexico. And to elaborate on my recent post, I would like my tomb in the chosen graveyard to be a bench. It’s a certain way to ensure I will be the centre of attention on Day of the Dead every November. A place for the living to rest their weary bones on my buried bones.

I would quite like to be kept in one piece though. Rather than have bits and pieces of me stashed away in drawers. Having said that, if I meet an untimely end in England, I am on the Organ Donor list. I’m not sure anyone would want my lungs. But I don’t drink an awful lot, so my liver and kidneys should be in good order. You can actually choose which organs you will or won’t donate when filling out the form. It seems a bit fickle to me. If you’re gone, you’re….well, probably not going to notice which bits get pilfered and recycled. But nonetheless, I have left instructions that my eyes are not to be removed, thank you kindly. I’m just a bit squeamish about my eyes.

A Sunny Sunday Bike Ride

Summer is here, the sky is blue, the scent of freshly cut grass lingers in the morning air, the waft of BBQs fills the afternoon air and the evening brings a happy haze enveloping the woodlands along this part of glorious English coastline. It’s perfect for a bike ride! Come along for an evening cycle with me. And with Runkeeper.

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Let me show you Coy Pond, full of carp. And Branksome Chine, one of many chines that run through otherwise concreted neighbourhoods down to the beach. Under the arches. Over streams and brooks. Till we reach the golden sands of Bournemouth’s long stretch of coastline. Currently densely inhabited by foolishly revealed and slowly burning flesh. Maybe it wasn’t the BBQs that I could smell….

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Racism International Inc

How is Mexico better than the UK, asked no one ever. Well, there’s the weather. And the food. And the chicas. And the friendly faces. And especially the weather. And the fresh fruits. And the racists, too. Let’s big it up for the Mexican racists. They don’t, quite frankly, get the credit that they deserve. How so are Mexican racists better than UK racists, you might wonder. Well, I have no scientific proof, empirical evidence or hearsay to offer. Just personal experience.

I have been the ‘victim’ of racial abuse twice. The most recent episode happened just a couple of hundred metres from home, a week or so ago. I had seen the chap loitering about Westbourne, earlier. White, shaven headed, casual attire, chunky set of headphones stuck on his head. He looked a bit spaced out. Looks can be deceiving. Our conversation was more than simply ‘spaced out’.

Are you English?

Errr…(wondering where this is going)..yes.

No, you’re not.

I’m pretty sure I am.

No you’re f*****g not, are you!

Ok. But actually I am.

There was a strange pause. Where does the conversation go from here? I shrugged and decided to let him finish it with himself, and carried on walking. A moment later I heard him launch into a tirade of colourful language, with the gist being that I should go home to my own country. It was utterly surreal. For those who might be passing this way for the first time, I should qualify, or rather disqualify, his ham fisted attempt at racial profiling. I am white, 6 foot tall, blue/grey eyes, fair haired and when my skin does have any colour to it, after a little too much sun, you would most definitely associate the tone with English Lobster Red. I was born in London to parents born in London to grandparent born in London and so on. I have an unmistakeably English accent.

How did my racist friend get it so wrong? One can only assume that he’d made up his mind that I was a Polish or other European immigrant and felt it unnecessary to remove those bulky headphones in order to confirm his initial prejudice by actually listening to my responses. In the industry of racial ignorance and hatred, the bar for membership is already set pretty low. This guy dropped it on the floor. Dang, he buried it.

Once upon a time in Mexico, I was asked by a homeless chap for some pesos. I had none. After I had walked a safe distance past he started yelling. ‘Pinch ingles!!’ Over and over. Well, at least three times. Was I offended? No, I was thoroughly impressed. He had managed to identify my nationality correctly, and had not gone for the more likely and obvious Yankee critique. See, Mexican racists are better than British racists. They’re smarter, more thoughtful and more considerate. One nil to Mexico.

Racial prejudice is alive and well, everywhere. Sometimes it’s overt. Often it’s disguised by those who attempt to disguise their prejudice as ‘refreshing candor’. You know the sort. The sentence starts with, ‘I’m not racist, but…‘. And then there are those who are simply unthinkingly ignorant. The latter bunch are not necessarily a bad sort. Just poorly informed, or maybe inclined to speak then think, or perhaps just expressing negative experiences of their own.

The ethnic demographic did change noticeably during my time in Mexico. There are now tons of Polish people in the UK. I like them. They are easy to spot. They are the guys who are usually working that bit harder than the others. My racist friend should take note of that when next choosing a recipient for his ignorance. And amend his spiel – go back and work hard and be productive in your own country while I despoil the local environment and waste perfectly good air by my continuing refusal to cease breathing. Personally, I think we could do with a few more Poles and a few less Brits.

There is a downside to all this immigration though. I thought upon returning to England that I’d be safe to use my real name again when out and about.  Hugh Juan could be retired. Alas, it was not to pass. This was a better attempt that some, but it’s not the right spelling. And I do hope Mrs P didn’t notice her new name…

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National Trust Free Pass

My recent post about Chartwell House, Bodiam Castle and Scotney Castle was created because all three locations have something in common. They are all National Trust properties. Mrs P and I are National Trust members and are determined to get maximum value for money by visiting as many places as possible during our year of membership. We love the National Trust. They are a true jewel in this country’s crown.

Good news for you, lucky reader. Assuming there is a reader left out there somewhere. I have a couple of free passes to give away. This is rather short notice as the passes are valid for one week, 23rd to 29th June. But if you have a day or two spare to go out visiting National Trust places, then send me a message through the Contact page. There are bound to be some great places to visit, wherever you live. Providing you live in England, anyway. You can search for potential trips on the National Trust website. The pass is valid for two adults, and two children. Four people maximum.

If you fancy one of these free passes, don’t delay. Send me a message. First come, first served. Then join the National Trust yourself. You can even set off the annual fee against your tax bill.

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Come Rain Or Shine

We Brits like to grumble about the weather. To the casual observer, it may seem like a pointless past time. To the meteorologists amongst you, it might seem bizarre. We rarely suffer from hurricanes or other storms more commonly associated with the tropics. The temperature rarely goes above 25 degrees C. It rarely drops more than a few degrees below zero, although it does get rather chilly up north in mid winter. The floods of last year were an anomaly, and probably wouldn’t be regarded as a serious event in more equatorial countries.

The commonly held theory as to why we Brits spend so much time grumbling about the weather is its unpredictability. It’s impossible to plan ahead. The weatherman on the BBC may make all sorts of promises as to what lies ahead over the next day or two, but he’s guessing. As opposed to predicting. The sun will shine tomorrow, he’ll declare! You hit the beach with your BBQ just in time for a downpour.

I have an alternative theory though. I think we Brits complain about the weather because of its utter predictability. Let me give you an example. The week before last was glorious. Virtually unbroken sunshine all day long with temperatures in the low to mid 20s. Beautiful. I saw it all from my seat in an office. On Friday I strolled out of work a happy man. I had a week off starting now. And a weekend in Kent/Sussex booked to go see some castles and stately homes. The sun, alas, also went on holiday and disappeared for three days. We returned from our short break, and so did the sun, bathing Bournemouth in all its glory. Just as I went down with a cold. The weather is unpredictably predictable.

But the grey, overcast skies did not spoil our trip. It did put rather a dampener on the photography though. A moody sky with dramatic sweeping clouds can be photogenic. A blanket of monotonous grey is not. But such is life, one can but work with what one has. I, perhaps, overworked the filters in Lightroom to compensate. First stop was Chartwell House. A fabulous home set amongst splendid gardens and once home to Sir Winston Churchill. He described a day away from Chartwell as a day wasted. After a few hours of roaming around his former manor, I see his point. There are plenty of his paintings to view in his old studio too. It’s a treasure trove of Churchillian memorabilia for fans of the former PM. Click here to see the album on Flickr.

Then on to Bodiam Castle. It’s a romantic’s dream wedding location. Deliberately left to ruin in one of the earliest attempts to drum up an income through touristpounds and shillings, it’s a castle I once visited as a child. It was enchanting then and remains so today. It was the inspiration of the short break away. It’s well worth a long drive all by itself.  The complete photo set is on Flickr – click here.

The final stop was at Scotney Castle. Which was a two for the price of one sort of deal. You have the grand old stately home. And the old castle, moat et al, in the rather ample and well manicured grounds. This place warrants a longer visit than Bodiam. It was still occupied by the last surviving member of the owning family until 2006. The lady was 99 years old when she finally left this mortal coil. I can’t help but feel 99 is such an unlucky age to die. I know, most of us would gratefully accept that age if it were offered to us in advance. Gratefully? Gleefully! And yet, having made it that far, you’d surely be disappointed not to make the full century. Wouldn’t you?

She was a cat fan. There’s ample evidence of a cat lover all over the property. Magazines, baskets, paintings, ornaments, statues. She owned many cats during her long life and called all of them Minou. All of them except the last one, whom she called Puss Puss. I can’t help but feel that was the jinx that stopped her short of her century. She should have kept the Minou tradition going. Or maybe I’m just being superstitious. Perhaps, being a cat lady, 9 is the key number when it comes to lives. And she had her 99. I don;t know how many lives Puss Puss will get, but the staff there assure us the cat is still doing well and in continuing residence at Scotney. We saw her baskets and food/water bowls. But we didn’t catch sight of the cat. I caught sight of plenty else. Once again, the photo album is on Flickr – click here.

Flower Bay

Isn’t summer just the most fabulous time of year? Here’s a shot I took recently of the bay as it sweeps past Bournemouth to Old Harry Rocks. With early summer wild flowers blooming along the cliff top. I posted this to 500px, where it got quite a few views, likes and faves. I’ve noticed lately that shots I’ve uploaded to 500px have been getting a lot more views than normal. Why, I do not know. I didn’t renew my Plus membership, so I have only the basic free account now. And I stopped creating sets when they changed how sets are displayed on the front page. In fact, it was so ugly I removed all my sets.

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Every now and then I’ll look at the stats page on Flickr too. And every now and again there’s an enormous spike in views. I have no idea why. There is a box showing referrers but they all just come from Flickr. It seems odd that the norm of 500 to 1000 views a day is suddenly and inexplicably interrupted with a 6000+ boom in visitors. But they are all welcome visitors. Especially if they are buying. Which, sadly, they are usually not.

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The World Cup Prediction

Ok, so yesterday I teased you with a wallchart showing how England would triumph in the World Cup that kicks off shortly. This post is to return us to reality. Back down to earth we go. England crash out in the group stages. So who do I think is going to win this World Cup? I think Argentina will play a big part in lighting up the tournament. Don’t be surprised to see Messi finish top scorer. Not just because he’s the best player in the world, not just because he’s surrounded by some pretty talented team mates. Mostly because Argentina have the easiest group going, and he may well have the Golden Boot all wrapped up before the Knock Out stage begins.

If I have to pick a shock, I’ll go for Spain. They may well come up against a Croatia team fully of pacey and fearless players in the first round of knock out games. I wouldn’t be surprised if they faced and beat Italy in the quarter finals. But the semi finals are as far as they’ll go. The Belgians are highly tipped, as are Uruaguay. The former have a fantastically talented bunch of players, but a total lack of unity. The latter are defensively fragile. They’ll entertain, perhaps off the pitch as much as on it. But they’ll both be sent packing early doors.

What about Brazil? I just think they’ll do fine. Until they meet Germany. And it’s the Germans who I am tipping to upset the South American party, with victories over the hosts and their neighbours Argentina in a final that is the ‘decider’. They’ve battled for supremacy in World Cup finals twice before, in 1986 and 1990 and are currently one a piece. So…you heard it here first, as they say.

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The World Cup Dark Horse

Every World Cup throws up a surprise. A team that’s not expected to do anything, who ends up going far. In recent competitions, Croatia, Bulgaria and Uruguay have all had sparkling campaigns. In 2010 I picked Mexico as a potential dark horse. Which was, in hindsight, a bit silly of me. No, silly is unkind. I was simply overly optimistic about the chances of my adopted home.

a :  a usually little known contender (as a racehorse) that makes an unexpectedly good showing

b :  an entrant in a contest that is judged unlikely to succeed

Who could it be this time? There are a few candidates. But in the last few weeks, one nation has struck me as having real potential to surprise the world. That nation? Well, England. Could a case of over optimism be about to strike again? Possibly. I will admit that the closer to kick off we get, and it is just a week away now, then the more one is afflicted by irrational thoughts, hopes and belief. It’s called World Cup fever.

But hear me out nonetheless. I do have a certain amount of rational reasoning here. It doesn’t necessarily follow that we’ll win the trophy, but a good showing could be on the cards. Unlike most tournaments, when  the England squad is sent off to the host nation on a crest of euphoria, with the nation convinced that this will be our time, we have absolutely no expectation this time round that we’ll even get out of our group. We definitely qualify as a dark horse under part b of the description above.

However, Roy Hodgson has gone against what virtually everyone believed he would do. He has cast aside a string of traditional 30 something starters and picked a squad full of young players. It’s the second youngest squad England have ever sent for slaughter a victorious campaign. There’s little experience there. That’s fine.  There’s little taint of failure of previous tournaments either. There’s plenty of pace and energy. And anyone who says England can’t hit the target, clearly weren’t watching the game against Peru last Friday.

We’re going to play in the jungle first game against Italy and it will be a young guy’s game. Hodgson can make the most of Liverpool’s star players at the core of his team. Gerrard, Johnson, Henderson, Sterling and Sturridge have had a fine season. Paul Scholes has it dead right when he says we should play like Liverpool. Unlike most World Cup’s, there’s no expectation, no hype, no last minute injury concerns. We have a few important players. Joe Hart, the goalkeeper, for one. Other players can make mistakes, but the goalkeeper can’t. Well, they can. But it’s ever so costly.

But the key lies with our forward players. Daniel Sturridge seems to have gotten into the goal per game knack at just the right time. In Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana and Sterling we have wide players with pace who can go past people and create chances. And in Wilshire we have a player with a genuinely high level of technique and movement.

Whether or not I am suffering from World Cup fever is beside the point. There are plenty of reasons to have a lot more hope and belief than we had six months ago. I have my fingers crossed. We are, on paper, the third best team in our group of four. Only the top two qualify, so by rights, it should be a short ride for England fans. But truth be told, there’s not a lot between Englan, Italy an Uruguay. It’ll be a fascinating set of matches. And hopefully the springboard for England’s path to glory…

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Fuji v Sony

I’ve been admiring cameras again lately. I’m not in the market for one yet and will have to keep my trusty Olympus PEN EPL1 going until early next year. But then I have an exotic trip planned. Perhaps. And I’ll want a new camera. What to choose? I never did buy any lenses for the PEN, so I’m certainly not committed to any format. But there is on brand I’ve been eyeing up lately. Fuji were latecomers to the Compact System scene. But now that they’re here, they do have a lovely range of cameras and lenses to choose from.

I am a Fuji fan. I love the quality of their images. They have three main models I’d likely pick from. The bargain baby of the range the X-M1. Or the X-E1, which is an older model that can be had for a more reasonable price compared to it’s successor the X-E2. Or the range topping an utterly delicious X-T1. I’ve looked through shots on Flickr which show what the cameras are capable of. Look at these galleries for a selection of samples – X-T1 and X-E1. Fabulous noise free imagery of the highest order.

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So this is a camera lust post about Fuji, right? Well, I do love all three cameras. But there’s a problem. The X-M1 has no viewfinder, and actually I’d really like a viewfinder. I could buy a Sony Nex 6 for less and get a viewfinder. The X-E1? It has a viewfinder. But it’s an older model now and quite frankly the new Sony A6000 is the same price. As for the X-T1….the price!! Over £1300 for the camera and a kit lens! It’s in my dreams but out of my price range. As are all of the lenses in the Fuji X range.

I looked elsewhere. I have given consideration to buying a proper DSLR. Maybe a Nikon 5300 or a Canon T5i, and simply using my cell phone for out and about shots. But I know what I’m like, and you’d see loads of cell phone photos and very few camera shots. All too often I’ll pick the DSLR up, think twice and then leave it behind.

Which brings me full circle. I’m not just a convert to the Compact System format, but very much a preacher. But there is still only one manufacturer who has built a high end model that fulfils the promise of the mirror-less system. That will be Sony. They fit a proper DSLR sized sensor into a camera that can, with the right lens, fit into a jeans pocket. Just about. Although the Fuji X-E1 and 2 run it close.

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Sony lenses can also be had for less, which is another big pro. Here’s a gallery of A6000 (or ILCE 6000) shots. It’s a newer camera, so there’s less to choose from. The images show great noise control, dynamic range and colour. I was already a fan of the previous model, the NEX 6. I’m an even bigger fan of the new kid on the Sony street though. Roll on 2015.