Kite flying and strange ant-ics

Milvus migrans lineatus.


The Black kites are out and about. The light was OK-ish today but not great. A couple were doing acrobatics nearby but the only image I managed of a Kite actually upside down was so blurred I deleted it.

Here are two passable images from an afternoon sitting on the terrace reading Catherine the Great (Robert Massie) with one eye whilst keeping the other on the local bird life.

Let us prey.

Wing-Commander Kite


The challenge with these chaps is that they fly a little too high, very rarely coming in exactly at eye-level. This means you have to dial in a fair chunk of exposure compensation to see any detail on the underwing. That creates “noise”, broadly speaking the digital equivalent of grain in film terms. This can be aesthetically pleasing in many circumstances but rarely when photographing birds. The noise reduction algorithm in Lightroom 3 is better than nothing (ho gor mo!) but not brilliant……..

Unless of course you are lucky enough to get the kites banking with the sun shining on the their underbits. “Bandits at 4 o’clock, Algy,” screamed Wing Co Kite as he banked and evaded the Messerschmitts coming at him out of the sun. You can see what generation I grew up in. We probably still have the Lion and Tiger annuals somewhere in the place.  As a child I used to get very confused when people talked about the Mekong Delta. I thought this was something to do with Dan Dare and The Mekons. The Eagle-eyed amongst you will note that Dan was not in Lion or Tiger but Molesworth 1 used to take  the comic in question but I only ever got to see it second-hand. Chiz!

And as a bonus today, for those of you who can’t be bothered to go to my Flickr page and haven’t befriended me on Facebook, here is a velvet underground groupie.

Velvet Ant


This is none other than Ms. Velvet Ant. Insecta Hongkongica suggests this should be Radoszkowskius oculatus but another source suggests Odontomutilla uranioides Mickel (Mutillidae: Euphutinae: Odontomutillini). According to Insecta Hongkongica if it is R. oculatus then it is rare.  As this is wingless it is a female. BTW, John Cale is not in the picture. And just to confuse you and me further, velvet ants or Mutillidae are wasps not ants. Now how stupid can taxonomy get. Fancy calling a wasp an ant! Why not Velvet Wasp? And Mutillidae sound pretty nasty to me. This is what the all-knowing Wikipedia says:

They are known for their extremely painful sting, facetiously said to be strong enough to kill a cow, hence the common name cow killer or cow ant

Now they tell me!! I spent twenty minutes coaxing this little chapess to stand still so I could take her passport photo and 8 hours later I find out I was in danger of being exterminated by a wasp, pretending to be an ant that has a sting like a dalek. I should have called for Dan Dare. Anyone who can deal with The Mekons could sort out a Wasp Ant Cow-killer.

So ends another fun-packed day in the life of your blogger.

To end, let me assure you  that Massie’s book is outstanding and highly digestible. I am well over half way through and Catherine is already Empress and absorbing herself in the matters of High State. A great fan of the Enlightenment philosophers it seems. Me? I’m more of a Sturm & Drang man myself. I’m off to buy some anti-venom. TTFN.



Christmas is coming, Ama-zon is getting fat

I had a splurge this morning. I am now well into Julia Lovell’s The Opium War, which I have to say is more digestible than the Rushdie, and there is a queue waiting to be read.

Although I still have Children of Dust (Ali Eteraz) and Our Lady of Alice Bhatti (Mohammed Hanif) waiting on the Kindle I went onto Amazon at lunchtime and splurged on 4 new additions to the digital library:

The New Decade by George Friedman is a work setting out how the US Presidents should  approach their next decade of power. I am not a great political animal but I find the interplay between the developed and developing world so fascinating and important that I think this is worth tackling.

Then I plumped for Steve Jobs. I don’t know much about the man and he seems worth exploring as one of the foremost entrepreneurs of recent years.

I was then delighted to discover that more of Kamila Shamsie‘s works have been made available for the Kindle. So I downloaded Broken Verses.

Finally I spotted an eponymous biography of Catherine the Great, by Robert Massie. I have looked before for a biography of this historic figure, without joy. Massis’s work is therefore most welcome and timely. It has strong reviews all round.

I have been writing my own (very short) retrospective, simple advice for those starting out on corporate life. It builds on a training presentation I gave to colleagues before I left my final job.  In it I say:

I was asked recently to recommend three books that an aspiring reader should search out. My suggestion was to find a mix rather than focus on one particular area. I see no special virtue in reading only text books or books intended to rev up your intellectual horsepower. It is a bit like saying that only classical music is worth listening to. I love Baroque music but I will equally happily listen to blues, rock and a multitude of other genres. I have listened to Brendel play live and I have listened to Clapton live. So with reading. Be open-minded and explore areas new to you. Do not eschew lighter matter. For example, I enjoy reading Ngaio Marsh, P G Wodehouse and Kamila Shamsie, authors from different eras and cultures. If you have a hobby, read around it. Do read the FT (or the WSJ) and The Economist. Explore the blogosphere. There are some high quality bloggers out there. Most however probably don’t merit your readership. Be very selective. You need to see life from different perspectives, not all of which you may like or agree with. But if you see the world through only one lens you will be culturally poorer, less effective as a global resource and blinkered in your outlook on life. 

© Andrew Hardacre 2011

This is the philosophy that drives my reading. What drives yours?

And to finish here are just 4 of my favourite reads.

Worth reading more than once.