Friday, 28 March 2008

Time to remember

Over the Easter break, I attended the 50th Jubilee celebrations for James Hargest High School / College in Invercargill. Just for the record, I was not a first day pupil. In fact, I didn’t even come close. I arrived in the 9th year of the schools existence just as the founding principal stepped down and a new principal started.

But what do I remember about my days at James Hargest? Although I remember some of the academic struggles, it is more involvement in sport that fills my memories. As I look back, I realise that we had many different sporting options available to us. I played rugby, indoor basketball, and tennis. I also participated in athletics and harriers (cross country running). There was also murder ball in the gym during physical education classes and touch rugby on the tennis courts during the breaks. Around those, I managed to fit in some experiments with printing photos in the school darkroom and just to ensure that I was fully occupied, there was the after school job.

As I recall our 1st and 2nd fifteen rugby teams did quite well in their respective competitions but it was the practice games between the 1st and 2nd fifteens that I recall most. Part of the reason was that I played centre or wing for the 2nd fifteen and my cousin played on the opposing wing for the 1st fifteen. My cousin was a sprinter and we knew that the only way to ensure that he didn’t score tries was to take out their centre with the ball or tackle my cousin as he received the ball. Our game strategy was therefore one of marking our opposing player and ensuring that we were in their face as they received the ball. The 1st fifteen of course returned the favour. I usually received the ball as the opposing centre reached me so strategies for avoidance or getting rid of the ball quickly were at the front of our mind. If I did get past their centre, there were always the forwards providing the inevitable cover so it was then usually into a ruck and a repeat of the process.

I have to admit that at times, we felt that we were just the punching back for the 1st fifteen. They wanted to practice their defence or attack moves so the game would be stopped and portions replayed so they would get their moves and defence correct. The 2nd fifteen consequently learnt strategies for defending or attacking to outplay the 1st fifteen strategies but more because we had to rather than because we were being taught to. Still they were great memories.

In my last year at school, I took to riding motorbikes. Initially, this was a Suzuki 50 but I migrated to an AJS 500 single cylinder which I rode with pride. Most of the time, I rode with a couple of mates and we explored the roads of Southland on our underpowered bikes. It is one of these motorbike riding friends that I remain in contact with. I lost touch with most others until the reunion.

The reunion like so many other things recently reminded me of so many things that have been left to fade in the memory banks. It was strange having people who I hardly recognised coming up to me and saying that they were a good friend at school. My memories have faded and I struggle to recall but there are some recollections still there.

Friday, 14 March 2008

The nature of prophecy

I like to read the Old Testament prophets. Why? Despite the time in which they were written, they continue to have meaning today. There are some attributes of a prophecy that we need to keep in mind. A prophet’s message will usually include some message of judgement and also a message of hope but more importantly, a prophecy speaks to the past, the present, and the future.

A message of judgement should tell us what is wrong and what needs to be done in order to change the situation. They are messages of warning that we can either listen to or ignore but if we ignore then we should expect the consequences carried in the judgement. Likewise messages of hope come with conditions. If you hear a prophet saying all will be well but not providing the conditions that will make all things well then question the legitimacy of that prophet. The chances are they are just trying to sound pleasing to the ear. A prophecy usually grates and is uncomfortable because it is challenging us to think about our situation and what we need to change to improve that situation.

In Jeremiah’s prophecy, he talks about how Israel had compartmentalised God. Their faith was built around rituals that happened in the temple. Their god had become limited to the confines of the temple. When the temple is destroyed, they begin to bemoan that their god has been destroyed. Jeremiah has to remind them that God isn’t constrained by the boundaries of the temple or the national boundaries of Israel. God is everywhere. They should be prepared to settle in the land where God has placed them and seek the prosperity of that nation. They need to learn to live their faith and to be able to seek God in new surroundings. This may mean standing up and being critical of things that the current nation is doing if it is not in keeping with what God desires. What they shouldn’t expect is that the new nation will help them to live out their faith. That is something that they have to work out.

This focus on place had developed to a point where the people no longer saw their faith as influencing their daily lives. It was something that was compartmentalised to the meetings in the temple. God had to shake them out of that complacency and force them to rethink what faith is about. Maybe there is a warning here for those who attend church on Sunday but ignore what it means to be a Christian in the workplace.

There is another message in Jeremiah that is that we can’t simply blame current circumstance on previous generations, governments, etc. (i.e. the sins of the fathers will be visited upon their children and the next generations). There is an element of truth in the idea that we are victims of circumstance but only if we allow ourselves to be. We make choices. We take actions. These help shape where we are and what we are doing now.

Let me describe this in terms of my own situation. I am currently unemployed or more correctly, I am not earning an income by choice. I am effectively a full time student while I write up and submit my PhD. If ensuring that earning an income had been my priority then I would have accepted an offer from Massey University of a demotion to senior tutor or I would have actively gone out to seek a new job. I choose not to because I wanted to complete what was started seven years ago and was almost completed. I was conscious that a decision to take on new work responsibilities would have meant additional pressures that, based on past experience, would have caused me never to complete the PhD.

Now I could argue that the reason that I am unemployed was poor decision making and poor marketing of the department that I was working for or any number of other issues that helped lead to the decision of its closure. They were factors but in the end, I made a decision and I actively sought the outcome that I have got.

Now some would argue, as my supervisors have, that getting the PhD will open up new work opportunities. Yes, if I want to continue in academia then I need to complete the PhD but there are no guarantees that having the PhD will ensure a future in academia or that having obtained the PhD, I will be able to continue on the research path that I have started down. I would actually like both but I have not seen any positions advertised that would give me that opportunity to do both. What does this mean?

I could blame circumstance but as Jeremiah said to Israel, you need to take responsibility and take actions to bring about what you want to see happen. For us, that has already started. We made decisions to go to some conferences and to go to Finland last year because that would open up opportunities in our research area. We are likely to continue to make such decisions even though we are advised against it by supervisors and possibly others. You don’t promote your work by being hidden in a corner. You have to take actions to promote it.

Coming back to prophecy, if you disagree with the direction of the government or of world leaders, they are not going to change or consider your perspective unless you take action to put it before them. The prophets are simply those people who believed that this is what God wanted them to say and then got up and said it. Often they weren’t listened to but that didn’t stop them saying what they believed would happen or saying what people should do to avoid it happening.

How strongly do you hold on to your convictions and do you believe that what you have to say is of value and can be used to change the world?

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Photography Equipment

I am a bit of an amateur photographer having brought my first single lens reflex (SLR) camera with my first pay packet back in 1975. Prior to that I had used a 35mm camera recommended by a professional photographer as a good beginners camera.

Having carried my camera backpack round the world a few times and realising that I wasn’t using most of its capabilities, I decided to purchase a compact camera. Over the last week, I realised just how different the compacts are from a good SLR camera. My camera combinations are a Canon EOS 300D and a Canon SX100 IS. For the EOS, I currently have just two lenses but I also have a range filters including some for close-up photography. The SX100 IS is a nice camera and includes a 10 times zoom giving a focal length range from 36 to 360 mm (35mm equivalent). With the standard lens on the EOS, the range is focal length range is 18 to 55 mm (possibly 28.8 to 88 mm 35mm equivalent) and with the zoom lens 110 to 460 mm (35mm equivalent). For many applications requiring a zoom capability the SX100 IS will do the job but not always but at 18mm, the EOS has a wide angle capability that is missing from the SX100 IS capabilities. But in most situations the zoom capabilities of the SX100 IS are adequate.

During last week, I have wanted to take photos in an indoor velodrome. Cyclist are moving around the track at speeds of 30 kph or more and ideally you want a sports photography mode. The SX100 IS has a good range of shutter speeds and it can be set to shutter speed priority but sports mode. Added to that, the aperture range is limited with the consequence that without using the built-in flash, the shutter speed is too slow. The included photo shows the impact. Note that the camera defaulted to ISO 200, shutter speed of 1/100 second, and aperture of f/4. Increasing the ISO setting would have enabled the use of a slightly faster speed but I am not convinced that the camera would have done the job. The ISO setting relates to the speed of the film. A faster ISO speed means that les light is needed to capture the same image. As I didn’t have the EOS 300D with me, I couldn’t attempt a comparison but past experience in the evening at an outdoor velodrome tells me that it is easier to get action photos with the EOS and standard lens even in low light.

Another experiment today was with taking photos of insects. In this situation, I wanted to limit the depth of field so a combination of zoom and large aperture should do the trick. This was using the standard lens with the EOS. This proved much easier to do with the EOS than with the SX100 IS. First off the SX100 IS quickly wouldn’t focus on the subject when using the zoom so I had to move further away. The consequence is a greater depth of field than the EOS 300D. The focal length was under 10mm while the EOS photos were over 40mm. Theory has it that in order to reduce the depth of field, you should have a long focal length and the widest aperture possible. (reported camera settings were: shutter speed 1/200s, aperture f/3.2, ISO 80, focal length 6.7mm (40.2mm 35mm equivalent), macro mode)

When reviewing the photos, I realised that the default ISO was only 80 so I increased it to 400 and took some more shots. This time, I tried to ensure that I used a longer focal length. Notice the difference? (1/100s, f/3.5, ISO 400, 12.8 mm (76.8 mm), macro mode)

I have the EOS 300D set by default to an ISO of 400 but it was also easier to set a longer focal length straight off so that I was zooming in to get the effect that I wanted. Even though the aperture is smaller than the SX100 IS, the longer focal length of the lens while closer to the insect delivered the results that I was after. (1/500s, f/5, ISO 400, 42mm (67.2 mm)

Just to prove that most of the problem is the photographer’s techniques and not the camera, I attempted some silhouettes. This proved easier with the SX100 IS because it doesn’t have a view finder and could place the camera in a better angle. You have to use the view finder on the EOS 300D so it was more difficult to get in a position that got the photo that I wanted. Here is the image from the SX100 IS. This was taken in the evening light where the earlier photos were taken in overcast conditions. (1/640s, f3.5, ISO 400, 14.4mm (86.4 mm), macro mode)

While taking the earlier set of photos, a cicada landed on the deck next to me and since it behaved rather tamely and allowed me to get close, I took a number of shots with both cameras. Again, it was easier to get closer and obtain the focus I wanted with the EOS 300D but notice the narrow depth of focus band. Also it appears as though I got closer to the cicada with the EOS 300D than I did with the SX100 IS. This is more a factor of the ability of the camera or lens to focus at shorter distances.

The SX100 IS image (1/320s, f/4, ISO 80, 8.2mm (49.2mm), macro mode)

The EOS 300D image (1/800s, f/5.6, ISO 400, focal length 55mm (88mm))