Friday, February 12, 2016

ISS in ♋️

This evening I photographed the International Space Station streaking through the constellation of Cancer (my zodiacal sign, as it happens). The two lighter streaks to the left are airplanes.

The sighting lasted only about 3 minutes: look how much it moved during a 15-second exposure! But for those few minutes, with the sunlight glinting off its solar arrays, it was the brightest "star" in the sky.

This was my first attempt at photographing the ISS. Next time I want to try and capture a longer streak (with a longer exposure), and maybe have some interesting object on the horizon – not just a Cambridgeshire meadow.

If you're interested in spotting the ISS, NASA has a helpful page. Spotting – and especially photographing – the ISS requires a bit of planning, but it's fun. And of course, standing around in the cold setting up the shot helps build character.

Monday, January 25, 2016


Given how many days have elapsed since my last post, it may come as a surprise to some of my readers that I have posted at all. That, however, is not the reason for the title of this post.

While reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – a book, by the way, which I thoroughly recommend – I came across the following passage:
A capacity for surprise is an essential aspect of our mental life, and surprise itself is the most sensitive indication of how we understand our world and what we expect from it.
...which has certain parallels with the quote in my sidebar:
The only appropriate state of the mind is surprise.
Speaking of surprises, I was in North Bengal recently, attending a friend's wedding. My friend had kindly arranged for a car to ferry us between the wedding venue and the guest house where we were staying, some 30 km away. The road connecting the two towns ran through the Buxa Tiger Reserve.

The driver who was taking us back to our guest house on the first night was very enthusiastic about showing us some wildlife. He took the more forested road even though, at that time of night, he was not really supposed to. When we were passing a river, he stopped the car and made us get out and listen for the sound of the 'topke shaap' (a snake which I had never heard of before). As it happens, the topke snakes were quiet that night.

As we drove on, he was saying it was too bad we weren't staying in the area much longer. If we travelled this road regularly for a couple of weeks, he said, there was a good chance we would see a wild elephant. Suddenly, he stopped mid-sentence and brought the car to a halt. We wondered if we had again entered topke snake territory, but no. Not even 30 metres away, our headlights picked out an elephant quietly crossing the road and disappearing into the jungle.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Real Estate Taboo

Taboo (for those who have not played) is a party game where you have to communicate a random word to your teammates, but without using certain other 'taboo' words.

Last week I picked the word 'full', and as you might expect, 'empty' was one of the taboo words. The ensuing exchange illustrates the joys of playing Taboo with friends who are on the housing market:

me: The opposite of vacant.
teammate: Tenanted?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Santa Claus

A conversation I overheard while standing in a Tesco checkout queue:

Father: Let's see what Santa Claus gets you.
Boy: There is no Santa Claus.
Father: Mummy spilled the beans, did she?
Boy: Yes.
Father: Well, as long as you don't tell your sister...
Boy: I won't.
Father: So. The magic has died for you. Well, it happens to everyone, in the end.

Shirley Temple apparently said, "I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph."

Friday, November 20, 2015

Crossing the Bosphorus

In The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, teenaged Ed Brubeck explains to his friend Holly Sykes about Interrail:
A train pass. You pay a hundred and thirty quid and then you can travel all over Europe, for a month, for free. Second-class, but still. From the tip of Portugal to the top of Norway. Eastern-bloc countries too, Yugoslavia and places. The Berlin Wall. Istanbul. In Istanbul, there's this bridge, right. One side's in Europe and the other's in Asia. I’m going to walk across it.
Like Ed, my friend Shekhar and I once hit upon the idea of crossing the Bosphorus on foot.

Accordingly we travelled to Istanbul (by air, not Interrail), and one afternoon we found ourselves on the Asian coast of the Bosphorus, not far from the bridge. A couple of times we asked people for directions, and they all suggested we take a taksi, presumably because it was a long way. Of course our whole idea was to walk from Asia to Europe, not take a taxi, but we were nevertheless touched by their solicitude.

The last group of people we asked for directions did not speak English, but were especially vehement in recommending a taxi. When we insisted that we wanted to walk, they pointed to a nearby police car, then mimed handcuffs. It was thus that we learnt that one does not simply walk across the Bosphorus: the bridge has apparently been closed to pedestrians since the late 1970s.

Ed Brubeck made the same discovery. A few chapters later, we read a postcard from Ed to Holly:
Today I crossed the Bosphorus Bridge! You're not allowed to walk across it so I hopped between continents on a bus with schoolkids and grannies. Now I can say I've been to Asia.