Sigma 18-50 f2.8, Nikon D200

I’ll keep this one brief. If you are at all looking for a lens in the 18-50 range, this one should be all you need. I use it on my D200 and love it. Fast, crisp and versatile. I used it for a wedding recently and found I didn’t need to change the lens at all, but did have to move in closer to the subjects. I used it at a conference recently and found it coped pretty well with the very low light levels. I love the crispness of the image and whilst I can see some slight vignetting in the corners at each end of the zoom range, it is not significant enough to make me stop using it. Go and try it yourself – make sure it is the HSM version, and you won’t be disappointed.

I am now wondering about the 18-200 lens I have written about previously… this new one knocks spots off it at equivalent zoom range, so I might well be looking to replace the older one. Maybe I ought to try the Nikkor 18-200 VR lens… anyone managed to get hold of one for less than £500, and if so, what do you think of it?

Mobile phones on trains

I’ll start by saying I don’t actually mind people using a phone on a train. In fact, I’d prefer people spoke than sat in silence, even if the speaking is to an unseen recipient in a conversation. I also think there are times when a phone on a train is essential, particularly at those busy times when you need to be in touch for work reasons but have to travel to meetings by train.

I’m not worried so much about the London Underground or any other tube based train system. I kind of expect not to be able to use my phone on those. They are, for the most part, underground! I realise that in the Dartford Tunnel you can get a radio signal in your car, but in a tube train you can’t. ’nuff said.

What I really, honestly, absolutely can’t understand is why overground trains have such exceptionally poor reception for mobile phone signals. Even when the train is running through a massively open area, and phone masts are in plain view, my phone struggles to get a signal. Perhaps the train was going too fast… (err, ok, perhaps not).

So here’s my idea and this should work on any electrically powered train.

If the trains had mobile phone ‘base stations’ in each carriage, capable of handling the numbers of phones in use, and those base stations were connected to the overhead cables, surely the cables could be used to carry the data signal to a repeater station that then linked to the main cellular network? It seems as if this isn’t possible – I can’t be the first to think of it, and I’m sure some phone companies will have investigated why this isn’t possible. I’d like to know where I can read about it all and find out why it isn’t possible. If I am the first, and it turns out it *is* possible, then why the heck hasn’t it happened yet?

OK, I’ll come clean. I was on a journey from London Euston to Preston in Lancashire on Friday (yesterday). We went right through the middle of the country, via Milton Keynes, Wigan and so on. I needed to make one five minute call, but it took over an hour to complete with all of the dropped signals and nonsense I had to contend with. I was really quite agitated by it all, and I can’t be the only one to have suffered in this way.

Is anyone doing any research into this, or a feasibility study? I’d love to be involved.

Fastsigns, Chelmsford

I had to pass on my thoughts about this company after they produced some pull up banners for the YHGfL ‘Virtually There’ project launch.

We were asked to create six banners for the day, about four days before the actual event. This is pretty tight to do, but fortunately the artwork was quite simple. I contacted Fastsigns to check that they could produce the banners in time.

They could, and did so at a very reasonable price. I gave the artwork to them on a DVD late on a Thursday afternoon. The signs were ready on the following Monday. Personally, I think that’s pretty good going!

So thanks, Fastsigns – the work was excellent, the client was pleased and the signs helped make the event look good, too. I’d certainly recommend anyone looking for a signmaking company to contact Fastsigns in Chelmsford:

6 Victoria Court
Victoria Rd
Chelmsford, Essex  CM1 1GP

Tel: 01245-350450
Fax: 01245-280022

Virtually There: Learning Platform Evaluation, VLE evaluation

virtuallythereIf you are working in a school in the UK then you’ll almost certainly be aware of the need for every child to have access to an online space or learning platform. However, the sheer weight of information available about the various options open to you is staggering. Some schools are well along the road to having a decent VLE (virtual learning environment) solution, but there are many more who either have not yet bitten the bullet or who are completely mystified as to what a VLE is and why it is necessary.

Working with the Yorkshire and Humber Grid for Learning Foundation (YHGfL), Cleveratom have conducted a research project exploring the extent to which VLEs have begun to be implemented and, more importantly, what the learning journey was for the schools involved and the impact on the people in those schools. The book was accompanied by a DVD which we also created and was launched at Castleford’s ‘XS!TE’ on Wednesday 23rd May. We were delighted to have Stephen Heppell for the day to lead the proceedings and bring his unique insight into learning and global trends in education.

Whilst this book is a landmark moment for Cleveratom, it is also a massively important publication for lots of other folk. It is true to say that we have been involved in establishing, researching, exploring and disseminating information about learning platforms for many years now, including our time at Ultralab. We understand a lot about why schools should have them, the benefits they bring and the ways in which implementing them can be accomplished beneficially. There is no one size fits all solution here, and each school needs to understand the processes involved and know what it is that they are aiming to achieve by setting one up.

We can help with all of that.

If you’d like a copy of the publication, contact the YHGfL team in Scunthorpe and they will send you one for £15. It is money well spent, I think. If you’d like to talk to an independent impartial company about VLEs first, get in touch with me. We will take you through the quagmire of information and lead you to a carefully thought out decision for which software to use.

Images from the YHGfL launch day can be found here. More information about the entire day and the research can be found on Matthew Eaves’ Blog.

Film Review – Zodiac

This weekend I went to Chelmsford Odeon to see Zodiac. I was expecting a reasonably fast paced action thriller, but it really isn’t one of those! This film is based on a true story spanning a time scale from 1968 to 1991 and follows the hunt for the Zodiac Killer in the San Francisco region of California.

It details the frustrations that the police faced at the time and the problems brought about by a lack of communication infrastructure – information was generally posted (some places still didn’t have fax machines back then, remember) and often details were overlooked in the sheer weight of paper and high word counts.

The film depicts the characters supremely well and shows the attention to detail needed to track through the evidence to find the identity of the killer. It was a gripping portrayal of people determined to succeed but thwarted by the legal system at the time, although pretty much each of the main characters is portrayed as obsessive to some degree or another. Maybe that’s what it takes to track down a killer in the mire of miscommunication, fruit-loop wannabe killers, missing witnesses and alcoholic forensic experts! The film draws strong conclusions about the killer’s identity, but frustratingly it ends as an unsolved crime.

Whilst some may look on this film as too long, or not enough action, I found it deeply interesting and was pleased I went to see it. The obvious parallel to the real case is brought out well, when the detective in charge of the case goes to watch a movie… about a killer in California who goes by the name of Scorpio – yep – it was a Dirty Harry film! Clearly the plot for that mirrored some elements of the case.

The ending is one of those where blocks of text come up to tell you about what happened to each of the characters rather than a satisfying end sequence resulting in the police getting their man. Normally I would leave feeling cheated at such endings, but on this occasion it just works. There is nothing too much wrong with this film unless you are expecting it to be just like Dirty Harry, in which case go rent that instead of watch Zodiac. If you like docu-drama type films based on real life then don’t hesitate… go buy your tickets now! I loved it, but then again I am almost obsessive about getting things done ‘just so’!