Every picture tells a story…

The Sony Photographer of the year award provides a plethora of images and diverse categories to enjoy be they Landscape, Environment, Portrait etc. The winners have just been announced but here’s my selection of fascinating images, captured by skilled photographers, well worth a view.

My Favourites

from the Sony Photography Awards 2021

I was very taken with the other-worldly landscape of the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, by Fyodor Savintsev

Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, by Fyodor Savintsev

Really loved the images from Anas Alkharboutli “Sport and Fun instead of War and Fear”, depicting Wasim Satot’s karate school in the Syrian village of Aljiina, near the city of Aleppo. Absolute magic.

Anas Alkharboutli, Syria

The stunning pictures of Iceland by Simone Tramonte are just inspired.

Iceland, Simone Tramonte

Finally, “Drying Fish” is just mesmerising, by Khanh Phan, set among the rooftops of Vietnam.

Rooftops Vietnam, by Khanh Phan

Cargo Ship goes off-course.

Container ports and giant cargo ships are modern icons of the age. Along with giant cruise ships we are both a little in awe of their leviathan scale and at the same time don’t really understand how they work.

And for most of the time we don’t really need do, they are just one of those facets of live that happen around us and carry on regardless.

Left a bit, oh I meant the other left…

Except when they don’t. So it is that the Evergiven, a huge cargo ship has managed to be blown off-course and block the narrow waterways of the all-important Suez Canal.

A bit more your way…

It almost defies belief that a giant cargo ship can be nudged off-course, and in most circumstances it would probably not have much of an impact,. Unfortunately this happened in the busy trade waterways of the Suez Canal and now the vessel has been stuck for several days, blocking the waterway for all other ships and traders.  Of course at 400m-long (1,312ft), the length of four football pitches, and 200,000 tonnes, it is not a case of a few men pushing it back on track or a tug boat giving it a nudge!

There’s big, then extra big!

The thrill of MARS Exploration

We can all see the Moon, which makes our landing and travels to space so understandable, and also extra-ordinary. Usually we can see Mars as well, that twinkling red planet, caused by iron oxide on the surface, that because of its visibility suggests it is within reach of human exploration, and at the same time confounds us with the ingenuity, resources and bravery needed to reach for the planets.

Mars from the UAE mission

NASA has just landed, yet again, on Mars in February 2021. The latest rover called “Perseverance” (aka “Percy”) is full of latest technology, including an “helicopter” or drone-type thing, that may be able to take flight from its rover base later in the exploration.  Being English and parochial, success is partly due to the parachute being made in England! And hey, those hieroglyphics were intended, not some fake Mars mystery!  Of course getting to Mars isn’t new, since the US orbited Mars for the first time in the 1960’s, Mars has been visited by the European Space Agency and the seminal 2014 exploration by the Indian Space Agency. But in February 2021, while the world is still gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, it seems travel to Mars is even more popular.

First image from NASA’s Peseverance

The UAE’s first spaceship to Mars, “Hope”, is intended to orbit around Mars, showing both close up views as well as the full planet. “Hope” arrived first in early February and started returning fabulous views of the red planet.  China has also reached Mars for the first time, with its Tianwen-1 spacecraft reaching orbit around Mars, a day after the United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission. Tianwen-1 had left Earth last July (same time as the UAE spaceship departed) and has been travelling since. While currently in orbit, it too has a rover vehicle that will be sent down to Mars to explore. For China this follows its historic launch to land on the Moon to retrieve rock and soil samples in December 2020.

Easy bit of Planning…and then it just LANDS.

Our science and technology has developed since the first flights to Mars, so the science and technology that will be returned from these Mars explorations will be potentially enormous. Hurrah for human ingenuity!

Around the world…

The Vendee Globe is just about to be completed by the winning boats, a round the world, single-handed, yacht race. Meanwhile of the thirty-three skippers who entered, eight have had to retire and the twenty-fifth boat is down near Cape Horn, while the winning boats compete to get to Les Sables d’Olonne, the west coast of France.

So imagine whatever you have been doing. Now do it in the cold. With the floor moving underneath you, not just up and down, but side-to-side. And in the wet. With howling winds. Possibly with waves that are battering your boat, in limited visibility and even in the dark. Any you’re probably cold and hungry. Sounds like the challenge of a lifetime to you? Not to me either, thanks very much.

“But, actually, the sort of sailing we are doing is about coping with adversity, it’s about being on your own and it’s about problem-solving.”

PIP HARE

That is why I am in absolute awe of these people challenging themselves. Pip Hare, is the leading women currently in the race, her boat Medallia, is somewhere off the coast of South America. What I truly love about Pip Hare is that she looks like she has turned up at the docks to wave her impressive daughter away on the journey, and her daughter has said “oh mum I’ve got something else to do, do you want to go, it’s all ready”. And she has replied “Yes”. Rather than an aggressive domineering racer, Pip Hare just seems to have rocked up and given it a try. Of course I know that is fanciful. But among all the atypical mega-athletes that are participating, Pip Hare is one who looks just like your mum.

The challenges of just getting your boat to pass through these challenging waters would, you think, be enough, what with being on your own for three months. But videos have shown Pip Hare pulling the rudder of her boat out of the water and fixing it, something normally done with lots of people and large bits of specialist kit, as well as scaling her mast to fix a problem, the mast is about 90m high and the boat is moving all this time. It only takes about an hour to get up the mast safely. So wherever they finish, whenever they finish, it is glorious. Thank you Vendee Globe for such a reminder of the human spirit in these troubled times.

La Tour, no, not Le Tour…

There’s an ever-changing landscape in the new city of Milton Keynes, which for residents is taken as de facto. In 1967 the new city arose from the existing towns of Bletchley, Stony Stratford and Wolverton and while the US-style grid roads with their endless roundabouts provoked ridicule, some fifty years later it is still possible to drive straight into the central shopping area of MK while driving past woodland, lakes and parks. Over these years of sometime frantic development, vast changes have been implemented in MK. The original design plans were viewed to reflect that there would be no building taller than the tallest tree. Of course, our trees have grown, but even so, over the years the planners and developers have moved this interpretation so that MK now has its share of tall buildings, or what are termed landmark buildings.

La Tour Development

Right now there are two monolithic concrete blocks that seem to over-shadow one end of the shopping centre and dominate the skyline over Campbell Park, towards views of the Grand Union Canal and countryside. Apparently the 14-floor concrete blocks, handily they are visibly numbered, are part of the new La Tour hotel which is due to open in 2022. This hotel and conference centre will have a fourteenth-floor sky bar and restaurant, roof terrace and a panoramic lift up to the 43-metre high top floor, where there will be a public viewing area with art installation, to be known as “SeeMK”. Meanwhile the adjacent MK Gallery also provides extensive views if the skyroom is open, as does just standing in Campbell Park!

There is a multi storey car park somewhere

Waiting in line for the next Hyperloop

You know that feeling when some technology comes creeping up behind you, like the internet, and then as it matures you look back and think “well I didn’t see that coming”. Well some precursors to the future do that, and some just roll right on in and say “hiya, watch this”. So it is with the evolving mega-fast transit system, the Hyperloop. Well not really a system, but you know what I mean.

First passengers aboard the Hyperloop.

The technology used is not new. Magnetic Levitiation (Maglev), has been around a while, but the technology used to propel passengers safely, and equally importantly, comfortably, is new and being developed by Virgin, and possibly Musk but in an underground way. The first passenger journey has just taken place at speeds of 107mph, well short of the envisaged 600mph journeys of the future.

While it heralds a compelling view of future fast mass-transit it also has challenges. Not least of which is probably that it would not be much use on our crowded island which is already burdened with dis-connected transport links.

Designing a Hyperloop Hub versus Actual test site

So it may be more cost effective and feasible in a larger country, or indeed in one of the fast developing future cities. Any bets on “Hyperloop Dubai” or  “Hyperloop Kazakhstan” being one of the first?

Faster than a speeding Godwit…

A remarkable natural story of the long-flying Godwit has hit the headlines recently, and rightly so.

Jet-Fighter Godwit

This remarkable bird has been tracked flying from its summer base in Alaska on a non-stop flight to NZ. All 7,500 miles across open ocean, without food, water or stopping.

The bar-tailed godwit 4BBRW (so called as its tagged with blue, blue, red, white tags on its legs) took eleven days to navigate from SW Alaska to a bay near Auckland, New Zealand, having flown at speeds up to 55mph. It’s since been joined by its chums, including 4BWWY, who could have done it quicker if it hadn’t been for those pesky metal tags on its leg!

This remarkable feat must surely be able to tell  scientists a lot about navigation, stamina, body adaptability, all sorts. Truly brilliant.

Head for heights…

Ah forgot the cockerel…

It takes a peculiar bit of English idiosyncrasy that suggests it might be a good idea to climb a precarious stone steeple just to place a gold cockerel on top, but that is just what they have done at Norwich Cathedral.

Yeh, Don’t look down. Is that a maze?

A father-and-son team worked to restore the gilded cockerel so it once again retains its hundreds-of-years bird’s eye view over Norwich. It’s always nice to see a bit of craftmanship and fearlessness in these COVID-aware days.

Bird’s eye view

Wide blue water…

How much of the world’s ocean is mapped? Maybe 90%? Or considering all those deep trenches and difficult-to-get-to areas, maybe less 70-80%?

Maxlimer Transit
Maxlimer Transit

Well this question was raised back in 2017 at the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York City. Then it was 6%.  The coastlines were lit up with data. So, too, were well-traversed shipping lanes. The rest sat in darkness, except for a few pinpricks of light.  In June 2020, the global initiative to map the seabed by 2030 announced that one-fifth of the seafloor is now mapped. There’s a host of good reasons to want to map the seafloor in good detail, from ensuring marine navigation and safety, to fisheries management and conservation, exploration (from undersea cables or energy) to oceanic modelling for future climate change.

The move to map the seafloor is a lesson in collaboration. Gaining data from ships already traversing the oceans is one way. Sharing data, from cruise ships, fishing boats, leisure yachts, anything that can attach data-loggers to their sonar and navigation equipment. Even the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) got involved, by not only recording their transits, but actually changing their routes used to navigate different areas each time.

SeaKit Maxlimer

Of course, with today’s technology there is another way to collect this data. By using an unmanned surface vessel (USV). These drones of the sea are becoming more and more capable. Initially being very slow, and small, they have expanded to have better capabilities. The recent Maxlimer USV left the UK in late July, to map 1,000sq km of continental shelf area, down to about a kilometre in depth. It recently returned to Plymouth after a 22 day  mission having showcased its capabilities, by having travelled 460km (280 miles) to the south-west, travelling slowly at up to 4 knots (5mph), about keen walking pace, to undertake its mapping task, all the while being controlled by SatNav and remote operators. The 11.75m Sea-Kit has the capacity for a payload of 2.5tonnes, and the entire vessel can be fitted inside a single standard ISO 40ft (12.2m) shipping container!

Watch this space being mapped!

The golden era of flying is over.

With the announcement in July 2020 that BA is retiring its fleet of Boeing 747’s, with immediate effect, rather than the planned withdrawal by 2024, it seems the end of an era is over.

Jumbo_747
Boeing 747. Source: The Guardian. Andrew Matthews/PA

These behemoths are so familiar that it is hard to imagine how innovative they were when first released in the 1970’s. To reflect that they are now 50-year old technology is equally surprising. These icons of the skies heralded the boom time of flying where “normal people” could now experience intercontinental flight, and led to flights to far flung destinations like the USA and Australia now being possible.

Soon swarms of aircraft were criss-crossing the skies, and low cost flights became the norm, with people spending more on taxis to the airport than for the actual flight. From enchanted spaces of possibilities airports became the new normal, pragmatic and utilitarian. Finally, becoming like bus stations mere hubs of fast moving traffic. 

The iconic names of travel, Pan-Am, BOAC, faded away and now the original “jumbo jet” is being removed from the skies, to be replaced with more efficient twin jets rather than the four engine jets of childhood travel. There probably never was a “golden era” of travel. But if there had been, then surely it now has gone. 

Jumbo_Ldn
Boeing 747 over London. Source: The Guardian. Steve Parsons/PA