Holidays in the Age of COVID

We’ve missed out on or delayed a number of trips and holidays over the last year and a half for, you know, pandemic-related reasons. So this summer, in addition to our trip to Lichfield, we arranged a series of back-to-back expeditions.

1. Alton Towers

The first leg of our holiday saw us spend a long weekend at Alton Towers, staying over at one of their themed hotels in between days at the water park and theme park:

2. Darwin Forest

The second leg of our holiday took us to a log cabin in the Darwin Forest Country Park for a week:

3. Preston

Kicking off the second week of our holiday, we crossed the Pennines to Preston to hang out with my family (with the exception of JTA, who had work to do back in Oxfordshire that he needed to return to):

4. Forest of Bowland

Ruth and I then left the kids with my mother and sisters for a few days to take an “anniversary mini-break” of glamping in the gorgeous Forest of Bowland:

(If you’re interested in Steve Taylor’s bathtub-carrying virtual-Everest expedition, here’s his Facebook page and JustGiving profile.)

5. Meanwhile, in Preston

The children, back in Preston, were apparently having a whale of a time:

6. Suddenly, A Ping

The plan from this point was simple: Ruth and I would return to Preston for a few days, hang out with my family some more, and eventually make a leisurely return to Oxfordshire. But it wasn’t to be…

Screenshot from the NHS Covid App: "You need to self-isolate."
Well that’s not the kind of message you want to get from your phone.

I got a “ping”. What that means is that my phone was in close proximity to somebody else’s phone on 29 August and that other person subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.

My risk from this contact is exceptionally low. There’s only one place that my phone was in close proximity to the phone of anybody else outside of my immediate family, that day, and it’s when I left it in a locker at the swimming pool near our cabin in the Darwin Forest. Also, of course, I’d been double-jabbed for a month and a half and I’m more-cautious than most about contact, distance, mask usage etc. But my family are, for their own (good) reasons, more-cautious still, so self-isolating at Preston didn’t look like a possibility for us.

Ruth and Dan in a car, in a car park.
Ruth and I went directly to a drive-through PCR testing facility.

As soon as I got the notification we redirected to the nearest testing facility and both got swabs done. 8 days after possible exposure we ought to have a detectable viral load, if we’ve been infected. But, of course, the tests take a day or so to process, so we still needed to do a socially-distanced pickup of the kids and all their stuff from Preston and turn tail for Oxfordshire immediately, cutting our trip short.

The results would turn up negative, and subsequent tests would confirm that the “ping” was a false positive. And in an ironic twist, heading straight home actually put us closer to an actual COVID case as Ruth’s brother Owen turned out to have contracted the bug at almost exactly the same time and had, while we’d been travelling down the motorway, been working on isolating himself in an annex of the “North wing” of our house for the duration of his quarantine.

Barricade with signs reading "Quarantine: Zombie Outbreak"
I set up a “yellow zone” between Owen’s quarantine area and the rest of the house into which we could throw supplies. And I figured I’d have fun with the signage.

7. Ruth & JTA go to Berwick

Thanks to negative tests and quick action in quarantining Owen, Ruth and JTA were still able to undertake the next part of this three-week holiday period and take their anniversary break (which technically should be later in the year, but who knows what the situation will be by then?) to Berwick-upon-Tweed. That’s their story to tell, if they want to, but the kids and I had fun in their absence:

8. Reunited again

Finally, Ruth and JTA returned from their mini-break and we got to do a few things together as a family again before our extended holiday drew to a close:

9. Back to work?

Tomorrow I’m back at work, and after 23 days “off” I’m honestly not sure I remember what I do for a living any more. Something to do with the Internet, right? Maybe ecommerce?

I’m sure it’ll all come right back to me, at least by the time I’ve read through all the messages and notifications that doubtless await me (I’ve been especially good at the discipline, this break, of not looking at work notifications while I’ve been on holiday; I’m pretty proud of myself.)

But looking back, it’s been a hell of a three weeks. After a year and a half of being pretty-well confined to one place, doing a “grand tour” of so many destinations as a family and getting to do so many new and exciting things has made the break feel even longer than it was. It seems like it must have been months since I last had a Zoom meeting with a work colleague!

For now, though, it’s time to try to get the old brain back into work mode and get back to making the Web a better place!

Passport Photos

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

"Passport Photos" photo of a man with a fire next to him.

“Passport Photos” looks at one of the most mundane and unexciting types of photography. Heavily restricted and regulated, the official passport photo requirements include that the subject needs to face the camera straight on, needs a clear background without shadow, no glare on glasses and most importantly; no smile.

It seems almost impossible for any kind of self-expression.

The series tries to challenge these official rules by testing all the things you could be doing while you are taking your official document photo.

I love this weird, wonderful, and truly surreal photography project. Especially in this modern age in which a passport photo does not necessarily involve a photo booth – you’re often permitted now to trim down a conventional photo or even use a born-digital picture snapped from an approved app or via a web application – it’s more-feasible than ever that the cropping of your passport photo does not reflect the reality of the scene around you.

Max’s work takes this well beyond the logical extreme, but there’s a wider message here: a reminder that the way in which any picture is cropped is absolutely an artistic choice which can fundamentally change the message. I remember an amazing illustrative example cropping a photo of some soldiers, in turn inspired I think by a genuine photo from the second world war. Framing and cropping an image is absolutely part of its reinterpretation.

Darkroom Printing

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One of the benefits of being in a camera club full of largely retired people who were all into photography long before digital was ever a thing, is that lots of them have old film, paper and gear lying around they’re happy to give away.

Last year I was offered a photographic enlarger for making prints, but I initially turned it down because I didn’t think I’d have the space to set up a darkroom and use it. Well, turns out with a little imagination our windowless bathroom actually converts into a pretty tidy darkroom with fairly minimal setup and teardown – thankfully we also have an ensuite so my partner can cope with this arrangement with only minimal grumbling

My friend Rory tells the story of how he set up a darkroom in his (spare) windowless bathroom and shares his experience of becoming an increasingly analogue photographer in an increasingly almost-completely digital world.

Finding Lena Forsen, the Patron Saint of JPEGs

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Lena, then and now

Every morning, Lena Forsen wakes up beneath a brass-trimmed wooden mantel clock dedicated to “The First Lady of the Internet.”

It was presented to her more than two decades ago by the Society for Imaging Science and Technology, in recognition of the pivotal—and altogether unexpected—role she played in shaping the digital world as we know it.

Among some computer engineers, Lena is a mythic figure, a mononym on par with Woz or Zuck. Whether or not you know her face, you’ve used the technology it helped create; practically every photo you’ve ever taken, every website you’ve ever visited, every meme you’ve ever shared owes some small debt to Lena. Yet today, as a 67-year-old retiree living in her native Sweden, she remains a little mystified by her own fame. “I’m just surprised that it never ends,” she told me recently.

While I’m not sure that it’s fair to say that Lena “remained a mystery” until now – the article itself identifies several events she’s attended in her capacity of “first lady of the Internet” – but this is still a great article about a picture that you might have seen but never understood the significance of nor the person in front of the lens. Oh, and it’s pronounced “lee-na”; did you know?

The Wedding – Unanswered Questions

The photos from Ruth & JTA’s wedding are coming soon, I swear. In the meantime, here are a few questions that I’m still puzzling over:

What kind of chord do I think I’m playing?
What does my mother think smells so good; and why does Becky disagree?
Why is Fiona kissing me?
Why is Chris saluting in this picture?
On what subject is Bryn pondering? And did his mighty brain come to a conclusion on the subject?
Why is Owen carrying Robin around? And is this truly the happiest day of Robin’s life?
Who choreographed Matt P and I’s dance moves? And why do we look so awesome?
Who’s just hit Matt R in the back of the head with a snowball?
To whom is Liz threatening fisticuffs? And does anybody other than Finbar even use the word ‘fisticuffs’?
What does that look on JTA’s face mean? No, wait… I know this one…
If Robin is interviewing Tom, why is he using an invisible microphone?
What has startled JTA so badly?

Some or none of these questions will be answered in time (and, perhaps, when you see the whole picture). Keep an eye on the wedding blog for updates just as soon as Ruth and JTA find the time to update it! And I’ll look forward to hearing your caption ideas for some of the “sillier” pictures.

Meanwhile, if you’re among the people who took photos at the wedding and who hasn’t yet given me nice, hi-res copies, please get in touch!

Pictures From The Weekend

I couldn’t (easily) post these pictures while out-and-about, so I thought I’d share them now:

The tailbackon the M6. That’s a serious amount of traffic at a complete standstill, and people million about on the carriageway. In the distance, in the first one, you can just about make out the tops of the emergency services vehicles, despite the low resolution of the picture.

Gareth and Penny’s birthday cakes. Gareth’s is decorated with a small place flying across a blue sky, while Penny’s is shaped like a fairytale castle.

This was the moment during their recollection of their boating holiday that Matt suddenly realised that what Liz was telling him about a “steaking incident” was actually true and not something he’d dreamt.

Claire, Jimmy, and Beth. I don’t think Beth approves of this photo being taken.

A fabulous example of BiCon’s non-assuming, gender-doesn’t-really-matter thinking, in the form of the signs on the toilet doors. Behind these, the secondary signs are the same, except the the “Toilets with urinals” sign has had appended to it “Standing up okay,” and the “Toilets without urinals” sign has had appended to it “Standing up okay, put you might end up pissing on the seat.”

Not only a transgender-friendly statement, these signs also function as a reminder that in an environment where your gender is one preferred by not 50% but closer to 95% of the people present, imposing privacy by something as arbitary as gender is even more pointless than it is in the rest of the world.

The organisers of BiCon run a census each year. I think this photograph of a small part of the survey really does reflect “BiCon thinking” when it comes to the definition of gender and sexuality. One question reads “What term(s) do you use to describe your gender?”, with the following options – female only, female mostly, female somewhat more, female/male equally, male somewhat more, male mostly, male only, none/no gender, androgynous, genderqueer, other (please specify). Where almost any other survey would provide in the region of two mutually-exclusive choices, BiCon’s survey provides 10, which can be used in combination, and the space to define an answer yourself if you’re not satisfied with those available.

BiCon attendees are encouraged to decorate their name badge with stickers showing their affiliation to various groups, causes, ideologies, relationship structures, fetishes, etc. These make really good conversation-starters, but the list on the first day – with about six different “codes” – tends to have no bearing on the final-day list, fully-expanded by people adding their own codes and encouraging one another to make use of them. Click on the list to zoom in.

Some Pictures From My Phone

Some pictures I just extracted from my phone:

ASSA Lock
ASSA are branching out. Not just (experi)mental music, they do locks, too!

Old Nightline Publicity
This sticker was found in the ladies toilets underneath the library on Llanbadarn Campus. I think it might be a little out of date… look at the phone number!

Paul & The Dragon
Paul & his dragon. I’m not sure whether or not the person who sent me this picture wanted it to be put online, so I’ll assume that they did…

The Starling

I have a hard time believing that this story is true: it’s just too crazy – but the photos are good and hard to forge without more resources than your average internet prankster. So, here’s the tale as it was told to me…

There’s a company in the States that sells automatic car washers as a complete solution, including the washing system, cash box, installation of the building, etc. These are completely automated: you drive up, put your money into the machine, then drive through.

In any case; after the installation of a particular one of these machines, the owner noticed that the return from the machine was not so much as should be expected. Diagnostics were run and the cash processor seemed to be okay, so everybody was at a loss. The owner even went so far as to accuse the supplier’s staff of having keys to his cashbox, and returning to the scene to steal the money.

Eventually, at his wits end, the owner set up security cameras to try to catch the thief in the act. Here are some stills from the footage:

Starling on the coin return slot.
The first image. Yes, that’s a starling that’s just landed on the coin return slot.

Starling entering the coin return slot.
And there’s the starling, wriggling in to the coin return slot, where, presumably, it’s pushing it’s way up into the cash box through the return chute.

Starling with coins in beak, leaving the coin return slot.
The starling with some coins!

Starling wriggling free of the coin return slot.
The starling’s dropped a couple of coins, but is still wriggling to get free of the slot with it’s remaining prize.

Apparently, they later determined that it was not one, but several, birds who were robbing the car wash. Following them discovered a cache of loose change on the roof of the car wash and beneath an exposed root of a nearby tree.

So; what do you think – real or fake?