Friday, 30 March 2012

Sunshine, early spring, Ealing

Returning from Scotland, I popped into my parents for the weekend. I arrived in Ealing on a hot Friday morning to witness spring fully under way; cherry trees along St Stephen's Road heaving under the weight of glorious blossom (above) and trees bursting into leaf (right). Spring reaches Warsaw several weeks later; while London is experiencing shirtsleeve weather, Warsaw is still shivering (+6C) with rain and sleet to come. Still, the later spring's arrival, the more welcome it is.

This time last year:
Cycling to work - the season starts

This time two years ago:
Five weeks into Lent

This time four years ago:
Swans pay us a visit

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Appropriate dress for Glasgow

After our event in Glasgow today, the speakers, hosts and sponsors were invited to a excellent Indian meal at Mr Singh's Taste of India (just off Sauchiehall Street). On the way, our party managed to break into two groups. While waiting for the others, we stood shivering on the corner; it had been a warm day, but by the time the sun had gone down, with a west wind rising,

I felt distinctly under-dressed in shirt and suit. But the locals' approach to dress is simple: if the sun shines (and it very rarely does in Glasgow), it must be the height of summer. So the fashion must suit the season. Below: A group of Glaswegians sets off for a night on the toon.

Temperature a mere +8C, with wind chill factor, it feels like +5C (the English language still lacks a word for temperatura odczuwalna). It would not get any warmer on their journey home from pub, club or restaurant!

An Edinburgh taster

I had around two hours this morning for sightseeing in the sunshine - took many shots, too many to process properly (all those converging verticals!) so here, before I set off for an afternoon and evening in Glasgow, are some taster photos of Edinburgh enjoying glorious spring sunshine.

Above: the National Galleries [pl.] of Scotland. Below: a characteristic view of Edinburgh's skyline - turreted Victorian tenements jostle with church spires, imposing government buildings and chimney pots. Notice the scaffolding mid-frame; Edinburgh is an ongoing work-in-progress - there's always something being renovated. It will never stand still.

Below: looking up towards The Mound, a huge man-made slope leading down from Castle Hill.

More pictures and researched captions to follow on return to Warsaw. Edinburgh is a beautiful city offering much delight to the eye, rich in British Imperial history. An absolute must-visit.

Since my last visit, the new tram line running down Princes Street has been laid, ripped up again and is now being re-laid, proving that fuszerka is not the unique speciality of Polish public sector infrastructure development. A taxi driver told me that Princes Street will finally be ready in 2014.

All over the city, rebuilding work is going on; lovely old buildings covered in scaffolding. It is of course something that is ongoing. There will never be a moment when a historic city is 'done' - and photographers can relish every single turn. Select, zoom in, crop - and you can remove the eyesores. But on the ground, the city - indeed every historic city - will have views blighted by closed thoroughfares, scaffolding and construction work.

This time two years ago:
First long bike ride of the season

This time three years ago:
Life returns to Jeziorki

This time four years ago:
Early spring dusk

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Sunny Scotland

Two words that don't naturally go together, but I arrived in Scotland to record high temperatures for the time of year (yesterday's top temperature was 23.9C). Indeed, right across Europe, there were cloudless skies.

The WizzAir flight from Warsaw arrived at "Glasgow" Prestwick an hour and a quarter late, but what a landing! The pilots earned a well-deserved round of applause from the passengers by touching down on the runway almost unnoticed. Above: just before going over the fence, a clearly-delineated shadow of W6 1323 speeds over a ploughed field - an indication of the strength of the sunshine and clarity of skies.

Despite good rail connections, it still took three hours to get from Prestwick to Edinburgh via Glasgow, changing from Central Station to Queens Street. And in both cities, people dressed for high summer (rare are the days even in July when temperatures get towards the mid-20Cs).

It will be a busy day tomorrow - I'm unlikely have much time to blog my pics of Edinburgh; I hope to have some with you at the weekend.

This time last year:
The iconic taste of Marmite

This time two years ago:

This time three year ago:

Rare Czech visitor at Okęcie airport

Last year, the Polish Air Force withdrew from service or grounded all its Soviet-era VIP aircraft. The three-engined Yak-40, once a frequent sight in Polish colours over Okęcie Airport, is now a rare visitor. The one pictured below, 0260, belongs to the Czech Air Force, and is the one of two remaining examples in use by the Czechs (the other being a Yak-40K cargo variant).

For an aircraft that's 33 years old, it looks (from this distance at least) remarkably well looked after. Noisy and polluting, the Yak-40 will soon disappear from European skies altogether.

The shot was taken as I was boarding the WizzAir flight to "Glasgow" Prestwick, Wednesday 28 March (I have retrospectively uploaded this post for the record).

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sunset shots, year's first cycle to work

Now that the clocks have gone forward and there's an hour's extra light in the evening, it's high time to get the bicycle out of the garage and cycle to work. Well, part of the way - too much to do the whole thing in one go, so I let the tram do the bits without cycle paths - Wyścigi to Pl. Konstytucji. 20km is not a bad run for the first ride to work of the year... On the way home, I divert down what will be the Moscow-Berlin expressway (Warsaw's southern bypass). The sun is setting - time for photos. Click to enlarge.

Above: looking towards Berlin, 600km to the west. Below: looking towards Moscow, 1,200km to the east. The same bridge in both photos - the viaduct carrying ul. Poloneza over the S2.

Below: looking westwards along the railway line that connects the Warsaw Metro with the outside world. Note the weird shadow within the lens, reflecting the triangular warning sign upside down just beneath it.

This time last year:
I wake up to more snow

This time two years ago:
Poland's trains ran faster before the war

This time three years ago:
Winter in spring: surely this must be the last snow?

This time four years ago:
Surely THIS must be the last snow?

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Views of - and from - a bridge

Well, here they are, snaps taken on and around Most Północny, just a few hours after it was opened to traffic. Yet the 1.15 billion zloty bridge is not finished. Indeed, the main road has been opened, not all the slip roads are finished, the tram bridge is still a long way from completion, the cycle- and foot path alongside the tram line is also a work in progress.

looking east along the bridge towards Białołęka. Note the flags - along with the red-and-white national flags and the EU flags - the yellow-and-red of Warsaw.

Still, it's churlish to harp on about what's ready and what's not - the key thing is that another major piece of transport infrastructure has been built and is starting to be used. While tens of thousands of people turned up last night for the fireworks, this afternoon, traffic was light, local sightseers rather than transit.

Above: We are a long way from the centre of town. In the middle distance, the road lights of the S7 - the main Gdańsk-Warsaw road as it enters the capital from the north as the Wisłostrada, beyond that, the Las Bielański, and on the horizon - the city centre.

Above - the turn-off for the north, on the Bielany side of the river. Note the pristine acoustic screens - how long before they're covered in unsightly graffiti?

Above: tram loop, which is yet to take trams onto the bridge. Below: tram line, which will take trams across to Młociny. And at Młociny, a magnificent multi-mode transport hub - trams, buses, Metro and Park+Ride.

A sunny afternoon, though with a cold wind blowing down from the north; below the bridge, the Vistula itself was choppy.

And now that northern Warsaw's river crossing needs have been satisfied, it's time for the city authorities to turn to the issue of the southern bridge - which one day must take the S2 across the Vistula, linking ul. Puławska with the road the Moscow.

This time last year:
Crossing another Vistula bridge on foot
[25 March evidently attracts this activity!]

This time three years ago:
Look at the snow! LOOK AT THE SNOW!

This time four years ago:
Summing up at the end of Lent
[I see I'd reduced my blood pressure then from 142/93 to 133/89 and pulse from 102 to 70. This year, my blood pressure is averaging 122/81, pulse 69. Getting fitter!]

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Call it what it is - Most Północny.

Warsaw's newest bridge opens to traffic tomorrow. A much needed crossing that links the north-eastern suburbs of Białołęka and Tarchomin with Bielany and Łomianki on the western side of the river. The city's eighth, the bridge has aroused controversy as to its naming. About a year ago, the city authorities launched an online plebiscite as to whether citizens wished to name the bridge Most Połnocny ('Northern Bridge') or Most Marii Skłodowskiej- Curie for Poland's two-times Nobel Prize winning scientist.

On the basis that four syllables are better than nine*, I plumped for the former. As did the majority of Varsovians taking part. And what did the city authorities do? They ignored the wishes of the people totally and insisted on foisting the name on the bridge. The decision is unpopular not because Varsovians do not hold their city's most famous daughter in highest regard, but because it's so long-winded. And because in popular usage, the planned bridge was universally called Most Północy long before any urzędas dreamt up the idea of naming it after a person with a long name.

In any case, the naming or re-naming of Warsaw landmarks after famous people is not particularly popular. I don't know of any Varsovian who refers to the airport, eleven years after its renaming, as Międzynarodowy Port Lotniczy imienia Fryderyka Chopina. It is, and will always be, Okęcie. And Rondo Babka, please, not Rondo Zgrupowania Armii Krajowej imienia Radosława.

Will people eventually take up Most Marii Skłodowskiej-Curie, or will it remain Most Północny? Okęcie is still known as Okęcie because it was thus for 67 years before the name was changed. As for the bridge - it was formally christened before its opening. Time will tell.

Pics of and from the new bridge tomorrow.

* say it: 'MOST Mar-EE-ee Skwo-DOFF-skyay-Kee-REE'

This time two years ago:
What's Polish for 'commuter'?

This time three years ago:
Four weeks into Lent
[What? Only 18 press-ups?!]

This time four years ago:
The fate of urban wetlands?

Friday, 23 March 2012

Google Street View comes to Poland

As of Wednesday, Google has activated Street View for Poland - or more precisely for major Polish cities and the roads linking them. (To see Street View go to>Mapy; drag the little orange human icon to the upper-left on to the map; the areas highlighted in blue are covered by Street View (the blue dots are individual photos uploaded by users which can be looked at as well). Below: areas of Poland covered by Google Street View.

The beauty of Street View is the ability to take a virtual tour of a city or along a major highway, click by click. A marvellous way of getting to know a place, but hugely time-absorbing. Below: the centre of Warsaw - the Palace of Culture and its surrounding. Google photographed the city from June to August last year; note that Zlota 44 to the left of the Palace has not been topped off.

Below: out here on the perimeter, there are no Google Street Views more than a few hundred metres away from the main roads. Ul. Sarabandy (below) and Pozytywki are covered, but not Trombity. I'm not a privacy nut, but I'm sure that properties within Warsaw's borders not covered by Google Street View would command some price premium.

Google Street View is brilliant - so help yourself to a tour of the city; you can also virtually visit Kraków, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk/Tri-City - indeed, right out the the very end of the Hel peninsula - below; the furthest extent of Google Street View, where the footpath at the end of ul. Kuracyjna meets the beach.

It will be some time before Google comes back to Poland, the photos are already dating. Look at the public debt clock (below) on the corner of ul. Marszałkowska and Al. Jerozolimskie; some 72 billion zloty (€18 billion) less than it is as I write, a mere eight months on. Plenty of old advertising campaigns (that PKO BP one in the background), the 'Offices to let' sign hanging outside our office on ul. Nowogrodzka.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Prime lens or zoom?

Inspired by having had a go with the Nikkor 45mm f2.8 pancake lens kindly lent to me by Tomek, I decided that a fixed focal-length (or prime) lens is worth getting, though one with autofocus. So last week I bought a Nikkor 35mm f1.8 lens.

Given the DX sensor on both my Nikons meant that whatever lens I was going to buy would have an effective focal length one-and-half times longer than its nominal length, I decided to go for the 35mm rather than 50mm prime lens. This would give me the equivalent of 52.5mm focal length on a full-frame camera, just a tad longer than a so-called 'standard' lens.

If you need shallow depth of field, a wide-aperture ('fast') lens of f1.8 or f1.4 is useful – for portraits. No good for street photography, where the you want to get a much into focus as possible. Being able to gather enough light at a fast shutter speed in dark conditions can be obtained by opening up the aperture (and losing depth of field) or by increasing the ISO (sensor sensitivity) at the expense of grain.

Digital camera are getting smarter. My 2006 vintage Nikon D40 produces decent images with a 6 megapixel sensor. Bear in mind that the new Nokia 808 PureView mobile phone has a built-in camera with a 41Mpx camera. Or, more conventionally (thanks Bob!) the Sigma SD1 Merrill DSLR with 46Mpx. Why so many megapixels , when a mere five or six gives you a decent image?

The answer is what you can do with such a huge number. Blow up the picture until it's big enough to cover your living-room wall from ceiling to floor. Now, assuming you don't want images quit that big, it means that you can zoom digitally rather than optically and still get outstandingly sharp images.

ISO ratings are rising; my D40 offers me 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 ISO. The latter, incidentally, is this highest ISO rated film you could commercially buy in the old days. Current digital cameras offer 6400, 12,800, 25,600, 51,200 and now (with boost) even 204,800 ISO on the new Nikon D4. That's nine stops more than the 400 film ISO that I used to use for street photography on my Leica M3. That grain on 204,800 ISO film would make it unusable. But image noise reduction technology makes digital high-ISO images visually acceptable. And nine stops... there are only seven between f2 and f32.

And vibration reduction (Nikon's VR) or image stabilisation (Canon's IS) allows you to hand-hold at three to four stops slower shutter speeds without signs of camera shake. VR/IS might reduce the effect of motion in the camera, but not of the subject. Here, you will always get motion blur if you shoot a moving subject, no matter how good the VR or IS technology gets.

These factors taken together (more pixels, higher ISO and VR/IS) means that the quest for ever-faster lenses has ceased to be mainstream. Unless you are hunting for a specific quality of image ('bokeh' – the quality of light points that are out-of-focus), fast lenses are no longer necessary for good low-light photography. In other words, I can no longer see the need (as I once did when shooting film) for an f1.4, f1.8 or f2 lens. That extra stop or two of exposure can be bought by using higher ISO or slower shutter speed. And

So what does the 35mm f1.8 do that either my 18-55mm or 18-200mm lenses don't do? Low light? Let's take a real-life situation... Below: photo taken on the corner of ul.Krucza and Al. Jerozolimskie. Nikon D80, 35mm lens (52mm equivalent) at f2.0; 1/15th sec; 640 ISO. Now, the shutter speed here is dangerously slow; it should not be shorter than 1/52nd sec for this lens (without VR, the reciprocal of the equivalent full-frame focal length is the longest shutter speed you can hand-hold without risk of camera shake). Depth of field with the lens focused out to around 15m is shallow - a mere 30m, so the detail in the distance is out of focus.

Below: The unmodernised underground passage at the western end of Warszawa Centralna station. Nikon D80; 18mm (27mm equiv. full-frame) at f3.5; 1/20th sec; 320 ISO. The VR allows steady hand-holding with this lens at 1/7th sec, so it's within the comfort zone. Depth of field is from 4m all the way out to 72m. Nothing's out of focus.

So - having bought the 35mm f1.8 lens, I shall have to find uses for it outside of night-time photography - despite it being a whole two stops faster than my zoom, it loses out on lack of VR. Please let me know if you have any practical photographic applications for a fast lens!

I would say that for 90% of applications, an 18-200mm VR lens on a DX-format DSLR is the one lens worth buying. Something at the wider end, though not going fisheye, zooming out to 16mm or even 14mm is useful for big architecture or cramped interiors; a lens zooming to 400mm useful for wildlife, aviation or sports. Nikon will soon be bringing out a 18-300mm lens - this shall be very interesting, although I think the company should have stretched the zoom at the wide end (a 16-200mm would have been even more useful).

This time last year:
Warsaw's failed bid as City of Culture, 2016

This time two years ago:
Stalinist downtown at dusk

This time three years ago:
The End of an Age of Excess?

This time four years ago:
Snowy Easter in England

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Welcome to spring

At 05:14 GMT (06:14 here in Warsaw), the sun crossed the equator (i.e. the suns rays beamed vertically down upon the equator for a brief moment before sweeping northwards). Spring has arrived several hours earlier than usual because this is a leap year. Winter has finished, in the astronomical sense at least. Past years have shown that wintry phenomena have a habit of returning well into April, indeed last year Warsaw experienced snow as late as 4 May.

So here it is - at last, and helpfully, the sun's shining as if to celebrate this morning, though outside it's a mere +4C. We have have survived another winter; now spring, summer and golden autumn await. Six months of warmth and light.

For a detailed summary of the winter of 2011-2012, let me direct you over to Student SGH's blog, where once again he presents a meteorological record of how southern Warsaw was treated by the climate.

Finally - let me call for an end to winter time. It's a waste of evening daylight. In midwinter the vast majority of us in the Northern Hemisphere wake in darkness, leave home in darkness and leave work in darkness. So an hour one way or another makes no difference. Where the difference does matter is from late January until late March, when the receding dusk could lift our spirits were it to give us some daylight after working hours.

"What do we want?"
"No return to winter time!"
"When do we not want it?"
"Not in the wee small hours of Sunday 28 October 2012, nor ever again"

This time last year:
Giving way or standing firm?

This time two years ago:
Summerhouses near Okęcie

This time three years ago:
A truly British icon

Monday, 19 March 2012

Scrub fire, Jeziorki

As I got off the 209 bus, I could see dozens of blue lights flashing in the cool Jeziorki dusk. I strolled up Karczunkowska to see no fewer than six fire engines plus attendant fire service vehicles. Obviously a serious conflagration. The firemen, both from town (with Solidarność banners on their vehicles) and from the volunteer fire brigade at Nowa Wola (without banners), were wrapping up their hoses and getting ready to go. Below: some of the fire engines.

What had happened? Tomek Daniecki sent me a photo his daughter Misia took on her mobile phone about 40 minutes earlier. Apparently, someone had carelessly made a bonfire in the fields between Karczunkowska and Nawłocka, which had spread out of control through the tinder-dry scrub, fanned by strong hat-removing winds.

Above: the blaze looks serious - getting right up to the walls of houses. Still, despite the distance from the hydrants along the main road, the firemen had the fire extinguished efficiently.

This time last year:
Airbus A380 visits Warsaw

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Motive power for fossil fuel trains

Some anoraky snaps for that tiny minority of my readers with an interest in railway engines. Below: running light between Okęcie sidings and Konstancin-Jeziorna, a former East German Ludmiła (BR232 309-5) now owned by East-West Railways, passes the signal box at W-wa Jeziorki station.

Below: a pair of ET-21 electric freight locos standing at W-wa Okęcie sidings, both in liveries of different private operators - PTK and DB Schenker. The 'Telewizory' would have brought full coal trains up the electrified lines from Silesia to Okęcie, where diesel locos such as the Ludmiła, Gagar or Tamara (as well as the Polish SM42s) would pull the trains to Siekierki power station.

Below: having emerged from the new viaduct (the S79 has yet to built over it), a pair of Orlen Koltrans M62 Gagars return light from Okęcie, where they dropped off cisterns full of aviation fuel.

This time two years ago:
Coal locos running light, W-wa Dawidy

This time four years ago:
Sleet and wet snow

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Green for St Patrick's Day

The Palace of Culture was one of 31 iconic landmarks around the world to be illuminated in green to mark St. Patrick's day, joining the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Sydney Opera House, Brussels Town Hall, the London Eye and Table Mountain. This was a global initiative by Tourism Ireland to promote the country abroad. Poznań's new football stadium, where Ireland will be playing in the first round of the forthcoming Euro 2012 football championships, was also lit up in green.

Today the temperature topped 20C, the town was bursting with people delighted by the warmth and sunshine; spring is tuż tuż, though looking at my blog for past years, winter can yet make an unwelcome return at any time between now and early May.

The palace in green was something I had to photograph! I was in town this afternoon with my Canadian cousin Adam, and after taking in Nowy Świat, Krakowskie Przedmieście, the Old Town and New Town, we popped by the Palace.

Sadly, as befits most public sector operations, the viewing gallery on the 3oth floor closes at 18:00, robbing tourists of the chance to see the city at night from one of its highest vantage points. It also robs the city of a useful revenue-earner as I'm sure ticket office takings would far exceed staff costs, especially on summer evenings. Ale im się nie chce.

Left: the Palace of Culture yesterday, illuminated in its more usual lavender.

Big billboards: for or against?

Evidently they work. Towards the end of the 1990s, billboards covering entire buildings began to emerge in Warsaw. At first, they would cover façades of building undergoing remont, the money from the advertising contributing towards their cost. But advertisers' appetites for mega-format outdoor ads could not be satisfied by a handful of properties that happened to be in the process of being done up. The Universal S.A. office building (below, which for the last nine years is awaiting demolition prior to replacement by a newer development) has been a long-standing massive billboard.

Further along Al. Jerozolimskie, the corner of ul. Krucza (below). To the left, a privately-rented block of flats, an ad a mere four stories high. Across the road, Dom Handlowy Smyk, a lovely piece of functionalist architecture (built 1948-52) is hidden from view by massive billboards. More examples of Warsaw's mega-adverts here and here.

Below: flats on the corner of Al. Jerozolimskie and ul Marszałkowska, also covered by an ad for a TV programme. This form of outdoor advertising is becoming more and more prominent. The question is - should it be allowed? Gazeta Stołeczna is publishing critical articles, saying the mega-billboards make our city look ugly, block sunlight coming into people's flats and, at night when the ads are illuminated, they make it difficult for tenants to sleep.

I'd qualify that. Some buildings should not be covered up because they are architecturally significant (certainly the Smyk buiding, that defied the Socialist Realist orthodoxy of the time). But generally, plain 1960s wielka płyta blocks have no redeeming features, and the
Mad Men opening credits-type urban vista pleases my eye.

The problem lies with the individual liberties of the people in the flats. They are paid, indirectly, through reduced rents (the money goes to the housing co-op allowing them to pass on savings to their tenants). Even if a majority of tenants want the billboard, there will be a minority who are annoyed by the ads, the blocked windows and glare at night.

How to square this matter is a tricky problem for all concerned. Question is - do the rest of us, citizens, passers-by, object, or even care? Please fill in the poll at the top (active for a week).

Poll result:
42% of readers call for a total ban on large format advertising, 50% want to see the large billboards on some buildings only, 3% are in favour of no restrictions, 3% don't care one way or the other.

This time two years ago:
Lenten recipe with prawns

This time three years ago:
Polish economy - recession thwarted

Friday, 16 March 2012

Neo-classicism, Stalinist style

Is this ancient Rome? Are we in Athens? No, this is Warsaw's ul. Wspólna, home to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Socialist realist architecture of the highest order; a purely decorative colonnade (no, not a fizzy drink made from animals' colons) that acts as the building's façade.

Built between 1951 and 1955, the glory years of High-Stalinist SocReal, the building, two streets south of my office is quite something, yet is off not widely known because Wspólna is a rather narrow street, so there's no vantage point for a decent vista, and photographs of the frontage can only be partial.

Still, for the growing number of enthusiasts of this style of architecture (associated in the minds of those who lived through those terrible times with the brutal stupidity of the regime), this is certainly a building worth seeing.

Above: detail of colonnade - socialism - bringing classicism to the masses. Incidentally, the lack of straightness of horizontal lines - my new 35mm f1.8 Nikkor distorts like Pravda. But more on that in another post! Below: view of the west wing of the building, shot from ul. Grabowskiego. It's a shame there isn't a better place to photograph it from.

Those with Google Earth installed on their (fast) computer, do take a look at this building, though first switching on '3D buildings' feature.

Above: supplementary entry, late June 2012. Now I have a 10-24mm zoom Nikkor I can do things like this!

This time last year:
A week into Lent
[Easter was very late]

This time two years ago:
Afternoon-dusk-night in the city centre

This time three years ago:
Spey St. Veyder's

This time four years ago:
Wetlands waiting for the spring

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Clean sensors for my Nikons

Regular readers may recall my refusal to leave my cameras for sensor cleaning at a camera repair place off ul Grzybowska - the lady at the counter told me to take the strap off my Nikon D40 before leaving it. Now, I found a much more amenable camera repairer, and having had the sensors on both my Nikons clean, I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

The shop is called Serwisfoto, located on Al. Jerozolimskie 113-115 (up the steps past Grand Kredens and along the first-floor walkway).

I dropped my D40 off on Monday at 10:30 and was delighted to get an SMS at 14:30 to say that it was ready for collection. It cost not 125 złotys (as quoted on Grzybowska) but 60 złotys. My D80 was dropped off on Wednesday evening just before the shop closed, and I got an SMS shortly after 11 today saying it was ready. Also 60 złotys. And I didn't even have to take the straps off the cameras.

The difference before and after was startling - I no longer have to painstakingly remove blemishes using the clone-stamp tool in Photoshop, which is especially tricky in cloudscapes.

Above: before the sensor was cleaned, on my D40 (click on image to enlarge). The blemishes are most apparent on a clear sky, some more than others.

Modern Nikons (and most digital cameras you can buy new today) have some kind of sensor-cleaning device that vibrates dust away. Cameras of the D40 and D80 generation don't have this gizmo, and while care should be taken when changing lens (hold the camera's lens mouth face down in a dust-free environment) this is not always possible in the field. Plus - and this is most noticeable in the D40, when zooming a long zoom lens (like the 18-200mm Nikkor), air gets sucked into the body. I can feel the wind rush on my eye when zooming in quickly, this will also draw in tiny particles into the camera that may settle on the sensor. So a good cleaning every once in a while (when the blemishes become a nuisance when processing the image) is required.

I can thoroughly recommend Serwisfoto for outstanding value and service.

This time last year
Changing seasons and one's samopoczucie

This time two years ago:
Stunning late-winter beauty
[these are among my most gorgeous winter photos ever]

This time three years ago:
Lenten fare - Jeziorki gumbo

This time four years ago:
Digging up Dawidowska

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Muddy feet

It's hard to maintain any semblance of sartorial elegance in a city which at this time of year provides many opportunity for a mudbath. This morning I walked from a bus stop unhelpfully called 'PKP Okęcie" (it should rather be '350m from PKP Okęcie') to the station itself. Across the work-in-progress S79 expressway (the footbridge visible on the Google Earth image taken eleven and half months ago is still not complete), along a path of cracked concrete slabs sinking into the mud and driven over by construction vehicles with muddy tyres. (Footbridge here: 52°10'3.57"N, 20°59'8.54"E).

I board the Warsaw-bound train with shoes caked in mud. Around me, other passengers with equally filthy footwear. Some make an attempt to remove the mud with paper handkerchiefs, a futile exercise. Jak się wysuszy to się wykruszy, a Polish saying that mud should be left to dry off so that it will crumble away naturally, suggests a passive approach to the problem of outwear cleanliness.

The sad thing is that the roadbuilders think that getting rail passengers across their roadworks is PKP's problem, and PKP believe it's the roadbuilders' problem. And look at the footbridge on the map. It does not even reach the station. It crosses the S79 - and that's it. No budget to stretch the thing across to the platforms.

Above: looking south from the path leading from the road to the station. No country for well-dressed men.

This time last year:
Cycling and recycling

This time two years ago:
Winter clings on to the forest

This time three years ago:
Toyota launches the iQ
[Can't say I've seen many on Poland's roads since!]

This time four years ago:
Old school Łódź

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Nikkor pancake lens - a user or collector?

A big thanks to near-neighbour Tomek, who kindly offered me the chance to test his Nikkor 45mm f2.8P pancake lens. A rare item, much sought after by collectors, it is based on the classic Zeiss Tessar design (four elements in three groups) which allows it to be as compact as a lens possibly can be on a DSLR. Here it is below, in silver.

So - enough drooling over its Hasselblad lens-like looks - time to get it out and about, fastened to my D40 for lightness of weight. Eddie and I decide to visit the new Lidl supermarket which has opened on ul. Puławska, on the corner of ul. Cymbalistów. (Incidentally, the store was built at an amazing tempo.)

Above: corner of ul. Trombity and Karczunkowska. The 45mm lens gives the equivalent field of view of 67.5mm on a 35mm or full-frame FX-format camera. On my DX-format camera, it brings objects nearer; I find myself having to take a few steps back to compose, being used to working at the wide end of my zooms. If you have an FX camera, the angle of view is very similar to the human eye.

Above: house on ul. Cymbalistów. The setting sun and darkening sky create dramatic lighting, which the lens captures nicely. Converging verticals not such a problem as on wider-angle lenses. It's a manual focus lens, though unlike my old manual focus Nikkors (28mm f2.8, 55mm f3.5 macro and 105mm f1.8), the metering works and you can alter the aperture through the camera.

Having been to Lidl (not a patch on Auchan, I must say), Eddie and I march home. The sun is about to set over the far end of ul. Karczunkowska (above). To early to say what I think of the lens, but seeing the prices on eBay (around $600 which works out at 2,000 złotys) I can see that collectors prize it over users, a lens to lay down like a vintage wine and watch its value appreciate.

Also - the fabled sharpness of the lens is not something I can see on the 6 megapixel sensor of my D40. It needs a 24 megapixel sensor (as on the rumoured Nikon D3200) to do the lens justice!

This time last year:
Old Town, another prospect

This time two years ago:
W-wa Śródmieście - commuters' staging post

This time three years ago:
Filthy ul. Poloneza
[Three years on, nothing's changed...]

This time four years ago:
A sight that heralds the coming of spring

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Orwell's Politics and Language and Poland

Moni received a letter today from the Mayor of Warsaw. I'll cite it here in full.
"Na podstawie art. 26 § 5 pkt 1 ustawy z dnia 17 czerwca 1966 roku o postępowaniu egzekucyjnym w administracji (Dz. U. z 2005 roku Nr 229, poz. 1954 z późn. zm.) z chwilą doręczenia załączonego odpisu tytułu wykonawczego następuje wszczęcie egzekucji administracyjnej celem wyegzekwowania należności wyszczególnionej w tytule wykonawczym.

Kwotę wynikającą z należności objętej tytułem wykonawczym wraz w kosztami egzekucyjnymi 51,40zł należy wpłacić na rachunek bankowy organu egzekucyjnego. Na dowodzie wpłaty należy podać numer którego wpłata dotyczy.

W przypadku nie uregulowania należności wyszczególnionej w załączonym odpisie tytułu wykonawczego zostaną zastosowane środki egzekucyjne przewidziane w art. 1a. pkt 12 lit.a powołanej ustawy o postępowaniu egzekucyjnym w administracji.

Dodatkowe informacje dotyczące wszczętego postępowania egzekucyjnego można uzyskać w siedzibie Urzędu Warszawy, Biuro Podatków i Egzekucji, ul. Kredytowa 3, II piętro...
What's it all about? We really can't tell. It sounds serious. "Execution proceedings". Six very official stamps. Four official signatures. But then a piffling sum of money - just over ten quid. A phone call to Moni establishes that she was caught without a ticket on a tram (after six years with a quarterly travel pass, she had got out of the habit of buying a ticket for each trip when coming home from Łódź). OK, fine paid, lesson learnt.

But could this letter not have been written more simply? Is it not beyond the wit of the city authorities to write a letter saying something like "You have failed to pay the correct fine on time and have been fined a further 51.40 złotys - please pay immediately or face court action"? Why all this chapter-and-verse nonsense?

George Orwell has the answer. In his 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language (a mere eight pages, well worth reading), he posits that circumlocutions, pretentious and abstract words, passive voice, needless repetitions, are used as an instrument to conceal. Behind the legal bluster of the letter quoted above is an over-staffed office, with too many people involved in unnecessarily bureaucratic revenue protection procedures (it must costs 80 grosze to bring in one zloty in fines). No one has audited this process. Would it not be cheaper and more effective to send SMSs first - and then heavy legal letters to that tiny minority that doesn't pay up at this stage?

Orwell and Winston Churchill did most to change the course of the English language in the 20th Century. And, three decades after their finest hours, the Plain English Campaign came along making it impossible for a British civil servant, bank, insurance company or law firm to trot out this kind of gobbledegook that still passes as formal language in Poland these days.

Three relevant rules, then, from Orwell's essay:
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, do so.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Churchill, who "mobilized the English language and sent it into battle" was also one for short, powerful words. The two Englishmen exposed the fashion for consciously complex writing for what it is - an attempt to belittle or befuddle the reader, to assert superiority over the reader. In communist Poland, this was part of the armoury of sociotechnika - keeping the Party in power and the people in their place. Times have changed by the drętwomowa [numb or stiff language] of the past still holds sway in the high offices of the land.

Time to change it. Time for a Plain Polish Campaign.

Thanks to Anon for a link to a Polish Radio programme (in Polish) about Polish official language (to listen, click here).

And thanks to fellow-blogger and near-neighbour Student SGH for having a decent crack at the above letter, which I'm elevating from status of comment to part of this post...

"Pursuant to article 25, paragraph 5, section 1 of 'Administrative execution proceedings law', dated 17 June 1966 (Journal of law no. 229/2005 with further amendments), administrative execution, aimed at collection of amount due set out in enforcement deed, takes effect when the execution deed is delivered.

Amount due stipulated in the execution deed, along with execution charges of PLN 51.40 should be paid into the bank account of the executing entity. The payment receipt should contain the number the payment refers to.

In case the debt set out in the attached excerpt from the execution deed, the enforcing entity shall resort to further execution proceedings, listed in article 1a, section 12, letter a of the
herein mentioned law on administrative execution proceedings, to collect the debt.

Further information on the execution proceedings can be obtained at Capital city of Warsaw's Tax and Execution Bureau head office...

Ul. Profesorska after the remont

Regular readers may recall ul. Profesorska in Powiśle (photographed here two years ago before its refurbishment/ renovation/ restoration or simply remont). There's a new gate, and the characteristic pre-war enamelled street-name sign has been faithfully recreated.

Here they are right, for comparison. One can see a reasonably high degree of fidelity, though that white border looks non-original and the typeface is not 100%, but in general I'm delighted that it's not gone the way of so many other pre-war street-name signs.

Left: the gate is unlocked so let's step through and walk down the refurbished steps, down the skarpa, and see what else is new...

I like Warsaw's steps; unusual features in a flat town whose contours are broken up only by the Vistula escarpment, which runs along the left (west) bank of the river.

Profesorska takes you from 98m above sea level (at the ul. Myśliwiecka end) to 88m (at the Hoene-Wroński end). The steepest part, the steps, lose 5m in altitude in just 20m.

Right: the building at the bottom of the steps has has a tasteful remont too. The current Google Earth image of this building, taken on 1 April 2011, shows the roof under canvas (copy and paste the grid reference into the 'Fly to' search box 52°13'27.21"N, 21° 1'57.51"E. And turn '3D buildings' on!

Below: looking up Profesorska, one can see the quality of the restoration work.

This time last year:
A late start to Lent
[Hmm... reading that post I can see the benefits of starting to exercise long before Lent starts. New Year's resolution for 2013 will have to be to start on 1 January.]

This time two years ago:
Midway through Lent

This time four years ago:
Pace of spring's approach accelerates