2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Stock Image: Orangutan. Image: 25982051

Stock Image: Orangutan. Image: 25982051.

An orangutan or a politician?

Royalty Free Stock Images: Chickadee on a feeder. Image: 26357699

Royalty Free Stock Images: Chickadee on a feeder. Image: 26357699.

Lovely way to attract birds to your garden: hang some feeders on trees.

Stock Images: Chickadee on a branch. Image: 26357634

Stock Images: Chickadee on a branch. Image: 26357634.

Lovely little Chickadees in Arkansas!

Trans America Challenge

My good friend Alex Flynn (www.alexflynn.co.uk) is aiming to traverse the United States of America by bike, foot, swimming, kayaking, climbing and if necessary crawling(!) later this year as part of his 10 Million Metres cause. Alex is 40 years old, a father of three young boys and has Parkinson’s Disease. Undaunted by the diagnosis, he has set himself the goal of raising £1 Million to help fund research into finding a cure for Parkinson’s by running, cycling and swimming 10 million metres across the planet over the next few years.

What is amazing about Alex is the fact that he wants every penny donated to go to the charities and he refuses to take any percentage of the donations for the not inconsiderable expenses incurred in covering the 10 million metres. This means that he either funds the cost of undertaking events around the world himself or, if he is lucky, obtains sponsorship from individuals and companies that are willing to back him.

In the past he has been fortunate to receive some generous sponsorship from sports equipment suppliers in the form of gear that he can use during his expeditions as well the loan of vehicles from Volkswagen for support crew and some financial backing from the deVere Group, which helped make the 1457 mile London to Rome run in 2011 a success.

Alex devotes an amazing amount of time training for ultra-distance events and works all hours of the day promoting the cause and trying to gain financial support for his challenges and raising awareness for Parkinson’s disease and those afflicted by it. I really do not know where he finds the time or has the energy to do what he does! Undeterred by the number of times he has been told, “Sorry, we do not have the budget to assist you at this time but we wish you every success in the future with your ventures”, Alex soldiers on and keeps on going in the quest for financial and logistical support for his mission.

Alex isn’t famous and doesn’t have the luxury of an agent or professional organization to sort out the immense amount of planning needed to set up the complicated itinerary undoubtedly needed to run, cycle and swim across a major continent.

We have all seen the amazing endurance events that various celebrities have achieved in the past few years and been blown away by the amount of money they have raised for very worthwhile causes.

It is rather sad though to realize that the amount of money raised is directly related to the celebrity status level of the person involved in the fund-raising activity. The more famous you are, the greater the publicity, the more support you will receive, and thus the greater the amount you will raise. Surely, the cause for which the the fundraiser is undertaking an arduous event should be the most important factor in the equation rather than the level of fame of the participant?

Alex Flynn is as deserving a fundraiser as any other out there …. no, sorry, that’s wrong; he is MORE deserving than most because he is afflicted by the disease for which he is fund-raising to find a cure AND he works his butt off organizing support and logistics for the events AND busts his ass completing some of the most gruelling physical challenges one can imagine.

His latest planned venture, the Trans America Challenge, is a massive 3,563 mile undertaking. Even though there is a lack of financial and logistical support at this moment in time, Alex has said he is going to start from California at the beginning of September 2012.

I don’t think any famous celebrities would consider doing this.

This is why I have so much respect for Alex Flynn and why I urge anyone who reads this to think seriously about what they could do to help make the Trans America Challenge a reality.

Are you or your company in a position to provide logistical support/mobile accommodation facilities across the USA? Are you interested in just turning out on the route to give encouragement? Do you know any cycling clubs or running clubs that want to get involved? Whatever you think you can offer, even if it is just ideas and contacts, then get in touch with Alex (contact@alexflynn.co.uk).

Oh, and if you are a famous celebrity ….. that would be ever so good!

Rotunda in Houston, Texas, USA

A memorial rotunda near Hermann Park, Houston, Texas

via Rotunda.

This is an awesome little memorial dedicated to Cancer Survivors with lots of positive and encouraging statements on plaques around the inside of the outer wall. You can find it near the Houston Museum of Natural Science…. Go and visit a place that inspires hope…..

Photographing Butterflies

Red Postman Mimic Butterfly resting on a flower

Photographing butterflies in the dark undergrowth of the tropical environment poses a few problems! Firstly, it is dark and difficult to see the subjects and it is difficult to select a fast shutter speed which will capture fast beating wings and fluttering insects that never seem to stay still for very long. Oddly enough, the other problem that occurs is one that not many people think about; butterflies fold their wings up when they rest on a leaf, rock or a branch, so the vibrant colours on the top side of their wings is obscured. Occasionally, and I mean only occasionally, will they open their wings while resting, usually just before they take flight and it is easy to miss the shot!
The Cockrell Butterfly Centre at the Houston Museum of Natural Science is a great place to take photos of tropical butterflies although it can be exhausting due to the tropical temperatures in the atrium. I went there armed with a 70-200mm f2.8L IS USM lens and my 5D MkII to take photos and had a lot of fun walking round trying to get crisp, bright images of the many different types of butterfly that were in abundance. After a while it occurred to me that a 400-800mm f1.2 lens would be a better choice but, yep, you’ve guessed it, they don’t make one of those and if they did it would be mega expensive if they did!
Finding a spot to sit and wait for the butterflies to settle close by was the best bet, preferably away from the main routes taken by all the other visitors. I decided to use a flash on manual, either full or 1/2 power, adjusting the aperture by metering and a bit of trial and error. The shutter speed was kept at 1/200 sec which was the maximum and seemed to freeze most of the butterfly movement reasonably well. Once I had a working distance and settings optimized I then just had to compose and shoot away, checking images and making finer adjustments according to the lighting conditions around the butterfly house.
For the purposes of identifying the types of butterfly I photographed the information cards which could be borrowed or bought from the museum.
I was quite pleased with the results of my expedition and managed to get some interesting “macro” images which were of a reasonable standard in terms of depth of field and detail after cropping during the editing process.
Go and have a look at my Butterfly Images Collection of images and give me some feedback on how I did!

Thanks
John

Red Postman Mimic Butterfly resting on a flower