Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Road Trip and Lessons Learnt

Recently I was on a week long road trip across France, to the Alps once again. We love to drive to the mountains, and catch some skiing at this time as the days tend to get longer and the temperature starts to climb. After all, it is officially Spring time. How wrong indeed ! It was cold, and snowed for several days, heavily for one and full cloud cover on the other days. Luckily the sun came out towards the latter part of the trip and it was glorious!

I carried two small digicams with me on this trip, my Ricoh GRD II and an older Canon IXUS 800IS which ended up in the bin when I got home. That's another story, perhaps later. Oh yes, and the camera on my mobile phone. Its only a 2 MP camera, but it got the shots below because I had it out whilst driving through Paris (I know you shouldn't be operating a phone whilst on the wheel!) and up in the mountains.

Driving across France for me is a dream. The roads are magnificently smooth and (usually) the traffic is light except coming in and out of Paris. I try to avoid the peak periods i.e. Saturdays when everyone is either going up or coming down the Alps, as it is changeover day. This time we arrived at our destination on a Sunday, it was a breeze. The autoroute stops serve great food, look out for the L'Arche stops, they have particularly tasty menus. By the way, do you how much petrol costs nowadays?! 1.55 Euros per litre! A round trip of 1600 miles back to London worked out to about £150 which isn't bad considering I had 4 other occupants in the car, but the motorway tolls were a killer, another £100 approximately for both ways.

View of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe

I learnt two things from this trip. It was pretty uneventful until the return leg. Firstly, never trust digital cameras. Whatever make or cost. While skiing on the last day, the Canon IXUS decided not to operate anymore. It was fine the morning, fine at lunch time, and that's it. Pressing the OFF button brought on a whirring noise and the lens would not retract. I dreaded it. I had read about the ERROR 14 on certain Canon digicams, but never thought it would happen to mine! Despite removing and replacing the battery numerous times, it just would not retract, and nothing works. Dead, kaput.

Its out of warranty and it will cost more than its worth to fix it, and who says it won't happen again. That's why its in the bin, as I type this.

Secondly, I also learnt that mobile phones can kill your remote key blip for your car. My wife had the key blip in her jacket pocket with her mobile phone and one minute its working and the next, it just could not zap a jackrabbit within a hundred yards. Nothing. The car was locked, and no matter what position and contortions I tried to be in to zap the car open, it just would not respond. We were going to pack the car for the return trip and if I couldn't get the car opened, we were going no where.

Opening the door with the metal key meant that the alarm would go off, and I wasn't a popular bunny that evening! A quick long distance call to Toyota in the UK confirmed my fears. The zapper had indeed stopped zapping. The code had been erased!

On my return, I trawled the internet to find if i can avoid paying Toyota £60 to recode the zapper, someone out there must have a solution. Within 30 minutes, I found it! Eureka! Thank you..thank you..whoever you are that translated the re-coding from a German Toyota manual..I printed it out and followed the instructions to the letter..and..tada..! I now have a working all singing and dancing zapper!

It is quite complicated, the procedure involves opening and closing the drivers down plus inserting the blip in and out of the slot in a certain pre-determined sequence, plus you have to be chewing gum and whistling "I'll be home for Christmas'' at the same time wearing blue it wrongly and you might have a dead car or get ejected into the air like a baddie in a James Bond car.

PS. Anyone wants to know the sequence email me...


Tracy Tan said...

hi steven! can you advise me? am looking for a basic dslr or a compact with semi auto functions. am moving up a bit but would prefer not to spend a lot. i am still not serious about photography but would like to take the shots with the blurry background (sorry for the layman terms :)

svllee said...

Hi Tracy,

Thanks for dropping by. Sure, I will have a go. It really depends on your budget. Looking at the type of images you like photographing, people and places and food! I would recommend you go for either of these :

Canon EOS 450D, Nikon D60, Olympus E420

You may be able to get their starter kits with short zoom lenses, but these are invariably crappy and slow and you won't get the kind of 'blurry' background you are after. Incidentally, the blur is called bokeh, a Japanese term. For good bokehs, you need a lens which has a large opening, ie. aperture size, F1.4 to F2.8 is a good start. Usually these kind of lenses are pricey, but for example in the Canon range you can pick up a good 50mm standard lens with F1.8 quite cheaply or better, the 50mm F1.4.

Ebay has some used ones for sale.

The above cameras should not cost you more than £500. Forget about those compact super zooms you read about. Pointless.

Do let me know what your choice will be and see those pictures! Have fun!

Tracy Tan said...

tks! i know i can't go wrong if i ask you. i've copied the info you gave on my pda so that i will have ready info when i shop around.

i'll let you know once i get it...keep you posted...

Alvin Lim said...

alps....i so so so want to go there :( but no time for it. :( hope i can go there one day. was looking out from the window (frmo the plane) on my way to rome...saw the's very very nice.