Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

INDEX

This season, I’ll be mainly wearing….

in General , Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Nobody comes to this blog for fashion tips. Let’s face it, nobody comes much at all. But now, for my small but highly select audience, here’s a new direction for snowhenge dot net!

Well, probably more of a one-off really, but I really can’t not give recognition where it’s due to the wonderful Aether Apparel of Los Angeles, USA.  Around 18 months ago, I’d never heard of Aether, but Luchiana, my significant other, was trying to find a winter jacket for me that (a) I would actually like, and (b) I could realistically wear to work. She discovered Aether, and by all accounts the person she spoke to was very helpful, understood what she wanted, and recommended a “Barrier” waxed cotton jacket. I duly received this on my birthday, and it was an instant hit.  It’s light, warm, without being hot, puts up with all winter weather it’s been subjected to, and looks and feels great.

Aether website

We soon followed up with more orders for Aether fleeces, sweatshirts, summer shirts, even swimming shorts.  Several friends have caught the bug too. The designs are classy but understated, and just feel great to wear. And, crucially for me, they are not emblazoned with huge logos. In fact you have to look very hard to see any branding at all. This is fashionable but durable outdoor clothing which I imagine builds its reputation more by word of mouth than flashy marketing. Their stuff is not cheap, but it isn’t particular expensive either, and it is excellent value for money.

Having said that, the marketing is also very nice. It’s photography-heavy, with a lot of moody outdoor shots and some very nice work, albeit quite stylised. Indeed, the first catalogue I received together with my jacket featured one spread with bits of Hasselblad V series and Fuji cameras prominently displayed.  They had me hooked!

Aether catalog

hook, line & sinker!

Aether’s marketing includes the Journal, which seems to mainly promote stuff from other companies that they’ve discovered and like, as indeed does their Twitter feed.

On top of this, they have a level of customer service which I have to say I’ve rarely encountered, and if then, only in the USA. I wrote an email a few weeks back asking about wear on the sleeves of my Barrier jacket.  I soon received a long and helpful reply, explaining what I already should have known, i.e. how to care for a waxed jacket.  Oh, and as a last point, Tamme just mentioned they’d like to send me a new jacket.  This is a company that actually means what they say when they promise a lifetime guarantee.

Drm 2014 07 16 P7160052

My new Barrier jacket. Counting the days to winter!


(oh, and if you’re too young to get the reference in the title, this should explain it)

 

Should I stay or should I go ?

in Site Admin , Wednesday, July 09, 2014

I recently received my annual web hosting invoice for this site. This, together with domain name registration, costs me around £100 per annum. And, by the way, if you’re looking for a reliable independent web hosting service with excellent technical support, full features and non-USA hosting, I can safely recommend Meirhosting.

The reminder that all this costs money as well as time gives me cause to reflect on why I’m doing it. My data on Google Analytics makes quite depressing reading: I get very low traffic, my most popular posts are the few dedicated to gear, and the least popular are those talking about photography and photographers in general. Earlier this year, the stats were trending upwards. Now they’ve slumped.

Googleanalytics

Lies, damn lies, and statistics. According to Google’s monthly view, of the 40-odd visitors I get daily, 75% are new. So they don’t come back :-(

Awstats

AWStats shows a similar story - the levels are pretty flat.

I’ve maintained a website since around 1996. I registered the snowhenge domain in 2001, I think, and the earliest version of snowhenge.net went live in or before August 2001, according to the Wayback machine. I added blogging through MovableType in mid 2003. My first post was made at 04:32 PM on 17th July 2003. Apart from a pause of a few months in 2007 when I transitioned to Expression Engine, and switched hosting, I’ve been adding material fairly constantly. So far there are 673 blog posts. There have been several design overhauls and refreshes, but the current look has been around for 4 or 5 years. The photographic content has changed over time, as I tried to improve presentation and focus, and the non-photographic stuff has dwindled to very little. The one constant in all of this, though, has been the flatlining statistics.

Sng2003

The Grey Period: snowhenge.net in early 2003

My original motives for having a web site included a large part of experimentation with web technologies, which fed into my various “day jobs”. This is now gone, my day job has no need for such frippery. So it is now essentially a platform for publishing and talking about photography, and the arcana surrounding photography. The question is, then, is it working? At present the answer has to be no. There’s very little conversation, although what there is tends to be of above average quality, and statistics on my galleries show little interest from the outside world.

So why so little traffic? A number of reasons spring to mind: the content is uninteresting, I’m not an engaging writer (or photographer), it’s all too self-serving, it’s all too idiosyncratic or weird, the presentation is poor. Or, also, I have no reach, I don’t publicise the site well, my search engine optimisation doesn’t work, I don’t network enough. Or the site performance is bad and the navigation is confusing. Or the Disqus comment platform is unpopular and puts people off. Probably a combination of all of these factors means that the site fails to get noticed in the vast ocean of similar voices clamouring for attention on the web.

So what next? Should I just call it a day? It would be a shame, after close to 20 years of uninterrupted web presence, then again you could say after 20 years of failure I should have got the message. I could run a survey to see what my audience thinks, but there’s a bit of a snag in that plan. And then again, I’m not even sure I could keep up with things if I started getting a lot of feedback.

It’s clear that one criticism could be that the site is too generalist, that is has a split personality. This is true enough, but it’s not accidental. It reflects my personality: I’m not just interested in photography - far from it - and not even in one particular field of photography. Personally I find that photographer “portfolio” sites get boring pretty quickly, however good the photographer is. I like to understand some of what makes the artist tick, not just photographers, but writers, musicians too. And I’m interested in science, and in much else. So the somewhat “warts and all” approach is me basically trying to create the type of website that I’d enjoy visiting. Seems I’m in a minority! One reason I axxed my Facebook page is that I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable about the wide cross-section of “friends” I had: I felt that by posting stuff on say, Antarctic science, I was letting down people who followed me as a landscape photographer.

The ultimate goal of snowhenge.net is to promote my photography. That isn’t working, and the years are ticking by. My feeling at the moment is that I’ll give it another year, and seriously put some effort into improving traffic. I don’t hope for thousands of visitors - I’m happy if just one person gets some benefit from an article I post - but I don’t want to carry on shouting into the void. So in the coming weeks I need to settle on some realistic expectations and measurable objectives, and work out a plan for achieving them. If trends start to improve, fine. Otherwise, in one year it will be time to call it a day.

This is the point where, ironically, I ask for feedback. It would be great to get any opinions, suggestions thoughts, advice on all of this, but also just to let me know that you’re reading my writings and getting some sort of value out of it.  There are many blogs which I read frequently, but never comment on. Maybe it’s a similar story here.

Hey, maybe the problem is that all my posts are too long ?

Unlike

in General , Thursday, April 24, 2014

Over the past 5 years or so, I’ve blown hot and cold on Facebook. Or rather tepid and cold. I’ve never much liked it, I find it fundamentally invasive and cynical. Basically it’s another advertising agency, like Google, and it’s users are it’s product, which it sells, with no holds barred, to advertisers. But a few years ago I had to engage on a professional level, when building applications (an awful experience), and so I kept up my public profile.

Most of my posting has been generated from this website, so most of it is essentially photography-orientated. But the majority of my Facebook Friends are probably not very interested in this. At the same time, I’m finding a lot of content pushed at me is various kinds of soft and not so soft selling. Certainly, there are people I want to remain in contact with who I only really “see” on Facebook, and I’ll be sorry to diminish that, but really, we all have each other’s email addresses, and, Heavens forbid, phone numbers, and I’m really starting to feel that Facebook has a corrosive influence on me. I’m spending too much time checking in, and getting far too distracted.

Of course, it’s about as easy to check out of Facebook as it is from Hotel California. You can deactivate any time you want, but you can never leave. And that’s another very disturbing trait.
So I’ve decided, I’m opting out. Back to the relative basics of email, and maintaining my “brand”, if that’s what I want, on my own website, with my own rules, and no advertising. I’m sorry if anyone feels slighted by this, but I’m not hiding. Even if you don’t know my email address, Google certainly does. And of course thanks to Facebook’s evil data retention policy, I could always change my mind.

But for now, I’m trying to find the passage back, to the place I was before.

A bakery in Antarctica

in Antarctica , Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I’m delighted to announce the publication of what I think is my first ever “guest blog”, over at The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning.

A bakery in Antarctica: David Mantripp Guest Blogger | The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning

I hope you enjoy, and also the rest of the highly entertaining, informative website.  My review of the book is working its way up the to-do list.

 

The Aurora Programme saga: Part 4

in Antarctica , Saturday, January 18, 2014

As a working scientist, publications keep you employed, and employable, and in our case, good field data was vital fuel to these publications. We had invested a lot of time, effort, and ultimately reputation (not to mention risk) in our fieldwork, and this led to a degree of friction with what we inevitably saw as the quixotic, ego-driven Amundsen’s Tent sideshow. It was something we were happy to co-exist with, but when it became clear later in the day that practically everything, up to and including the safety of the expedition team was secondary to The Tent, it led to serious tension and strong words. I am still convinced that it was largely due to the insistence of the Aurora’s captain to depart immediately that a disaster was averted. As the ship sailed rapidly north, it was ploughing through slushy frazil ice that would very soon turn to solid sea ice. The Aurora was not able to break through such ice, and furthermore was easily the last ship in the region. A few days later could have seen it stuck fast. This was a fate which Kristensen only just escaped several years earlier in the Ross Sea, in similar circumstances. It was not a situation which an experienced polar expedition leader should have gotten into, and certainly the kind of risk which Amundsen himself would have avoided.

Some of the story of the Aurora field season had preceded us on our return to the UK, and the Establishment’s tenuous relationship with the Programme had all but broken down. It seems that various agreements had been broken, various bills unpaid, and everybody wanted to wash their hands of any involvement. On the scientific side it was, perhaps, a qualified success, but it was clear that there was to be no repeat, and the foundations we had laid were not going to be built upon.

In some ways the judgements were unfair. The fatal blow to the Aurora Programme was probably struck by the combination of airfreight delays and the Montevideo dock workers. These and the later problems with sea ice seriously curtailed the time remaining. Then again, without the dock strike we’d probably just have got stuck in sea ice earlier and longer. The other issues included over-ambitious goals, underfunding, and a ship right at the extreme edge of its effective range. The Aurora Programme was sometimes unlucky, but all Antarctic expeditions need to factor in a lot of contingency. And actually, one could also argue that when it really mattered, we had been very lucky indeed.

All in all, the operation was a toxic blend of brilliance and neglect. The staggering feat of actually getting the expedition off the ground and overcoming all of the obstacles placed in its way to get into the field cannot be overstated. The Blaenga base was a masterpiece of Norwegian ingenuity and logistic skill. Monica’s logistics manager can take a lot of credit for the way he managed such a disparate group of people with humour and patience, but there was no question at all that the driving force was Monica herself. But on the other side, the scrappy surveying of the Twin Otter’s fateful depot strip was unthinkable. Any other field party would have checked, and checked again, ten times over, and marked out a perfectly safe strip, before asking an aircraft to land in such critical circumstances.

Later in 1992 we presented the results of our field work at the first ERS-1 congress in Cannes, France. Although our new Department Head was not particularly impressed - he was of the opinion that theoretical modelling could solve everything - my talk on the range validation of the radar altimeter was well received, and at least one eminent remote sensing scientist went out of his way to commend our methodology. The work helped to lead to a three year European Commission funded project which I led to establish a climatological baseline for the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf.

Jeff’s work with the scatterometer and associated experiments led to two published papers, which was a pretty good result.

Ant archive dmsp 0292

Jeff Ridley in his improvised field laboratory.

Aftermath

Although I criticise the “Establishment” for its lack of support for the Aurora Programme, in one very important respect, this proved to be sadly justified. The crew of the Aurora, although perfectly ok people, were normal Norwegian sailors. They had no understanding of, or interest in, the Antarctic Treaty. Wildlife protection was not a concept they were sympathetic with, and waste disposal basically meant chucking stuff overboard, even in Antarctic waters. When this became known back in Norway it caused quite a scandal, and as Expedition Leader, and owner of the vessel, Monica Kristensen had to take responsibility for this. But as a woman, even in Scandinavian society I’m not sure she had much sway over the seamen.

In 1993/94 Monica Kristensen made a further attempt to reach Amundsen’s Tent, this time without the hindrance of a scientific programme. I assume she and her team departed from Blaenga, but I have few details. Apparently they wanted to fly an excavator to South Pole to dig and the area they claimed to have found a cavity. This again required laying fuel depots for an aircraft, and this time it went badly wrong. In fact I have very little knowledge of exactly what transpired, but I do know that it ended in tragedy, in the Shackleton Mountains, with the death of Jostein Helgestad [uRL] in a crevasse field.  The report from the United States Antarctic Programme [URL] (USAP) team which rescued the 4 person party, hundreds of miles from the Pole, makes it bluntly clear that they had put themselves, and the USAP personnel, in considerable danger. It also states that the Kristensen party had no idea of how to travel over crevasses, or how to rope up.  I find this quite hard to believe - Monica herself certainly had plenty of experience of overland polar travel. However, it does correlate somewhat with an experience I had on Filchner Ice Shelf, where our team had encountered a mildly crevassed area near Snowhenge and roped up to cross it, using techniques I was taught at BAS.  A Norwegian party which had joined us for a few days looked at us in disbelief, jumped on their snowmobiles, and simply accelerated hard, trusting in momentum to cross any rifts.

These days I have little contact with my former crew-mates. Jeff Ridley now works at the UK Meteorological Office, and has helped me with writing this saga. Elisabeth Isaksson is now with the Norwegian Polar Institute in Trømso. Me, after developing what I thought was an interesting proposal to explore past behaviour of ice streams as proxies for climate change, backed by senior colleagues of the Australian Antarctic Division, was not given any support by my boss, I decided I’d had quite enough of academic backstabbing and went off to enjoy industry backstabbing instead. Probably I should have dug my heels in, but what the hell.

Ant archive dmsp 0297

Me, in desperate need of a haircut, and ready to go home

I don’t think Blaenga was ever used again - I think not. However, I have found a photo on the web of one of the huts deeply buried in snow, in 1996. Quite a sad sight.

Blaenga in 1996. Photo by Manu_mdq at Panoramio

Monica Kristensen, it seems, ended up in some kind of exile as the manager of a mine in Svalbard. These days, however, she has reinvented herself as a successful writer of Nordic crime thrillers - so far only translated into German as far as I can tell. But I doubt that she’s ever contrived a tale of a character quite as unique as herself.

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