Monday, 16 August 2021

Horntail Snail

This is fast becoming Sroyon's Backyard Fauna Blog (in-joke), but fear not, I have a non-faunal post in the works. (By "in the works" I mean I had an idea for a post about a month ago which should, by rights, take me about 15 minutes to write, but I still have not done it. I am slow.)

Speaking of slow, I saw some snails last night, crawling around after the rains. Ran inside, grabbed my camera, macro lens and flash (off-camera, for more dramatic light) and fired off a few shots.

Mike Johnston says that in a dog photo, the nose should be in focus (though I tend to focus on the eyes – sorry Mike!) But what about a snail, specifically, one that's crawling away from the camera: shell or antennae? Even at f/16, I couldn't get its entire body in focus. But snails are patient subjects, so I tried both. Which do you prefer?

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Monsoon Feast

After heavy rain in the last few days, large numbers of unidentified winged insects emerged in our backyard. Other animals had a field day, picking them off in midair and on the ground. In the space of about fifteen minutes, I saw white-throated kingfishers, sparrows, common mynas, pied mynas, common tailorbirds and (I think) an oriental garden lizard – all preying on the luckless insects.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Shunbun no Hi: Solargraph

My latest hobby is making pinhole cameras from household waste, recording images on film or photosensitive paper. I don't know anyone in person who is into pinhole photography, but thanks to social media (mostly Facebook groups), I've connected with, and gotten a lot of advice and tips from, the very helpful worldwide community of pinhole photographers.

A few months ago, when I was a total newbie, a photographer from Oaxaca, Mexico even offered to do a one-on-one Zoom session to answer some of my questions and show me her studio. At one point I said something like "I didn't understand this design, but as you know I'm a beginner..." She chuckled and said, "Yes but I can tell you're enthusiastic. By this time next year you'll have made at least ten pinhole cameras."

I laughed at the time, but I already have six, and I'm planning a seventh.

My latest pinhole camera is made from a beercan. The goal is to create a solargraph: an ultra-long exposure stretching over weeks, months or even years, capturing the Sun's trail across the sky.

I thought Spring Equinox would be a nice day to set it up, and accordingly I tied it to a betel-nut tree behind our flat. (I added arrows to show the pinhole in the first pic, and the camera in the second.)

My camera, as you can see, is made from a can of Kingfisher beer. A few hours after setting it up – coincidence of coincidences – I saw an actual kingfisher sitting on the wire just behind it. Perhaps it was the same bird which featured in my last Shunbun no hi post.

Happy equinox, everyone.

Friday, 8 January 2021

Sunbird and Crows

I once posted a photo of a sunbird through the patterned glass of our windowpanes. If you were hankering for a clearer view, you're about to get your wish… six years later. It's unlikely that this is the same bird, though; this one flew into our verandah recently.

But I do like our patterned windowpanes, and views of birds therethrough (I had to check if this is a word; not that I would have refrained from using it if it weren't). So here is one of crows outside our kitchen window.

The first photo was taken with a full-frame DSLR; the second with my Google Pixel 2. It's a mid-range phone, and outdated – at least by smartphone standards. But it takes excellent pictures, and of course, it's almost always with me. In the last couple of years, I've taken some phone pics which I'm quite pleased with.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Independent People

I like having few material possessions, so the vast majority of books I've read in the last ten years have been either ebooks, or paper books borrowed from libraries. Once in a while, I like a book so much that I buy a copy for keeps.

One such book was Independent People, a novel by Halldór Laxness. I got it from a library eight years ago and immediately bought a copy. But I haven't re-read it; perhaps I never will.

Sansho the Bailiff is a 1954 Japanese film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. In a New Yorker article, film critic Anthony Lane wrote:

I have seen "Sansho" only once, a decade ago, emerging from the cinema a broken man but calm in my conviction that I had never seen anything better; I have not dared watch it again, reluctant to ruin the spell, but also because the human heart was not designed to weather such an ordeal.

Monday, 7 September 2020

Protip: AutoHotKey

All told, I must have wasted several hours of my life googling "en dash", "em dash" and "degree symbol", just so I could copy them into whatever I was writing. My laptop doesn't have a numpad, and in any case, remembering alt key codes is a pain (the degree symbol, for example, is Alt+0176). That said, there must be any number of other ways which are more efficient than my Google method, but until recently, I am embarrassed to say, I was too lazy to look them up.

But then one day I did, and AutoHotKey, a free, open-source program, entered my life. The program itself is tiny (6 kilobytes), and simple to use. You just have to create a .ahk file which associates an easily-remembered key combination with the desired symbol (I use Ctrl+Alt+D for the degree symbol, for example), and tell your operating system to run it on startup. Now I am not saying that this is the best way to do this; I haven't researched this in any detail. But if you find yourself wasting time as I did, or using typing ordinary hyphens or "degrees" when you'd rather use the proper characters, find some way – AutoHotKey or whatever else – break free, and live your best life.

This is the second protip on this blog, or at least the second one identified as such in the title. If or when I add more, I will elevate it to the status of a series (you can see the other series at the bottom of the sidebar).

Series, in my scheme of things, are different from tags (also in the sidebar); the latter are simply a way of organising common themes. When writing my last post, I realised I don't have a tag for movies. I guess I thought I don't watch or write about movies enough to warrant a tag, but the evidence says otherwise. So here you go.

Speaking of punctuation, eleven(!) years ago, I wrote a rather smug post, not-so-subtly implying that I was morally superior for using curly quotes as opposed to straight quotes. I have since got my comeuppance not once but twice. First, I switched my default typeface to Verdana which (to my eye) has ugly curly quotes, which meant I had to fall back on straight quotes. Now, I write for a photography website which uses a WordPress editor, and this editor converts all straight quotes to curly quotes, using its own warped understanding of what is appropriate.

So if I write, say, 8×10" (adopting the widespread practice of using straight double quotes to denote inches), the editor converts it to 8×10” (curly double close quotes). To forestall the substitution, I have to type it as 8×10″ – the technically-correct but rarely-used double prime symbol (on some browsers/​typefaces it looks like one of the other two symbols, but it's actually different). The double prime symbol does not appear on a standard keyboard, but oh well – AutoHotKey to the rescue.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020


I've been watching a lot of movies lately (well, three or four a week, which is a lot by my standards) through a British Film Institute subscription. This summer they're showcasing Japanese films, and I watched two of them back to back: Ghost in the Shell (1995), an animated cyberpunk film by Mamoru Oshii, and Early Summer (1951), a quietly understated household drama by one of my favourite directors, Yasujirō Ozu.

The movies couldn't be more different – science fiction versus domesticity, chaos versus order, fast-paced action versus a film where nothing much happens ("Plot bores me," Ozu used to say, and his grave bears a single character, 無 (mu) meaning nothing).

Here's a screenshot from Ghost in the Shell, taken from a 3½-minute montage of the futuristic city where the story is set. The sequence, which is fortunately on YouTube, has to rank among the best few minutes of animation I have ever seen. Its ostensible purpose is to set the tone – in a sense, the city itself is one of the principal characters in the movie – but I also get the sense that for a few minutes, the artists and animators were given licence simply to show off, like the solos at the end of Abbey Road.

And below is a still from Early Summer: a trademark tatami shot. It's a multi-layered composition with an abundance of objects, but somehow Ozu still contrives to make it look elegant and minimalist. How does he do it?!

I'm glad I can enjoy these two very different movies, with their very different aesthetics.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Shunbun no Hi: Kingfisher

My blogging has been intermittent of late (to put it mildly!) and one of the more regrettable outcomes has been that I missed my annual Shunbun no Hi (spring equinox) post for the first time in 9 years – missed it so spectacularly that we are now closer to solstice than to equinox.

Anyhow, better late than never! Say hello to our backyard visitor: a white-throated kingfisher, incidentally, the state bird of West Bengal. Gotta love a bird whose binomial name includes the word halcyon.