Archives for posts with tag: Blackrock Castle

This weekend I was mostly playing around with my new camera. It’s a Panasonic Lumix LX7 and it has a gazillion different functions and features. Do you remember the days when most cameras had two functions: Wind and Click? They got rid of the first one, but they replaced it with 15,000 new ones, including “Quick AF”, “Multi-Expo”, “Flash Synchro”, “Wind Cut” and “Debt Cancellation”. (I made the last one up. Would be good, though).

So I took some photos. Don’t ask me to repeat these, since a) the functions are buried somewhere around page 100,334,456 of the manual, and b) I possess the memory faculties of a distracted goldfish.

Macro photos

Coin Macro 1

Here I was trying to experiment with close-up items and a short depth of field. The camera does not need any special lenses. I haven’t quite got the hang of it yet.

Toy Effect


This feature is offered in “Creative Control” mode: an option that gives your photo an Instagram type feel. This picture was taken near Blackrock Castle in Cork. The effect tends to highlight objects in the centre of the photo, dimming them towards the margins.

Astro Photos

Taurus Jupiter Pleiades

This photo was taken using Shutter Speed Priority. Using a tripod, I set the shutter speed to 8 seconds and pointed the camera at one of my favourite parts of the sky. As a complete novice, I’m quite happy with the outcome. The photo, incidentally, was of the Hyades in Taurus, the planet Jupiter in the middle, and the Pleiades to the right.

Time Lapse

This video is a composite of 50 photos taken this morning, while the sun was rising. The time-lapse feature is somewhat limited, in that you can only take 50 photos, and it cannot be converted to video without resorting to video-editing software, such as iMovie. As a result the sequence here finishes somewhat abruptly.



The Panorama feature is quite impressive. You aim at the start point of the picture and as you move across the scene, the camera takes multiple exposures, quickly stitching them together into a coherent image when you have completed shooting.

Impressive Art

PhotoImpressive1This feature is part of the “Creative Control” mode. It accentuates bright colours while giving the clouds an oppressive shade. The output here is quite striking.

More to learn

I still have a ton to learn – depth of field, exposure, white-balance, ISO, auto-focus and high-speed movies to name but a few. It’s clear that as far as photography goes, this Toto is not in Kansas any more.

The verdict

This camera is compact, lightweight, yet sturdy. It’s packed with more features than I could possibly imagine and it’s pretty daunting learning about it all at the beginning. If I had one gripe, it is the batteries: the camera runs out of juice a good deal faster than I would have expected. A spare battery is a necessity if you are doing any worthwhile photography.

These things considered, I like it a lot. It suits where I am, having slightly outgrown the world of basic point-and-click. Now that I have had it for a few days, I now feel I’m glimpsing the world of grown-up photography. It’s exciting, to say the least.

I had the privilege of speaking at the First Friday’s at the Castle in CIT Blackrock Castle this weekend. My talk was “Hoaxes and Hysteria in Astronomy”, where I took a sceptical look at Astrology, UFO’s and the Moon Landing “Hoax” conspiracy theory.

I first spoke about astrology. To understand why astrology is wrong, you need to understand how it originated, and how astronomical discoveries since the 1500’s have completely overturned the basis of the belief system. It also gave me the opportunity to present Phil Plait’s frequently posted diagram:

Then I gave a potted history of UFO’s and our culture’s fascination with all things extraterrestrial. Part of it featured Orson Welles’ infamous radio broadcast that panicked half of America in 1938. Here is the first piece of the radio show. Even now, over 70 years later, it still works as a monumental piece of broadcasting.

Orson Welles later described why he did it:


While a great many people claim to have seen UFO’s, there has never been any hard evidence provided. UFO reports have been plagued by problems of mistaken identity, delusion and hoaxes. One of the best hoaxes was crop circles: initiated by two drinking buddies in the south of England.

I then spoke about the widespread perception that the moon landings of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were a hoax and that NASA staged a cover-up of monumental proportions. There have been many rebuttals, most comprehensively done by the Mythbusters team.

Personally, I love Michell and Webb’s take on it.

At the end of the talk, I got around to my Baloney Detector Kit:

That last one, the “lone mavericks” suffering for their ideas, is particularly true. There have been far, far more wrong-headed lone mavericks” in history than the tiny number of people who have eventually been proven right.

Finally, if you have managed to read through to the end, here are some useful links should you wish to know more.

  1. : Phil Plait waxes lyrical about his wonderment of the universe, while regularly debunking the widespread misinformation.
  2. : If you hear a strange tale or you get an email that sounds fishy, check this website out. It will give you some food for thought.
  3. : The Skeptic’s Dictionary is a tremendous resource for people who want to understand the scientific view of modern delusions and weirdness.
  4. : The James Randi Educational Foundation has been fighting baloney for years. There are plenty of resources there for budding sceptics.
  5. : Brian Dunning has created a comprehensive list of ten-minute podcasts debunking all sorts of strange ideas. You name it, it’s probably there.

We run regular “Skeptics in the Castle” meetings in Blackrock Castle, where experts are invited to talk about the reality behind modern misconceptions, fads and strange beliefs. Check out our website We are also on Facebook and Twitter.

A stray tweet in TAM London a few weeks ago has lead to my setting up, with three other comrades in arms, Cork’s first Skeptics group in the city.

We are busy working on the agenda and details for our first meeting, which will take place in Blackrock Castle on Thursday next, November 25th at 8pm. We have a Twitter account and a Facebook page already, some posters on the way and a website in the works too, where we can post all sorts of stuff and nonsense.

The group is part of the global Skeptics in the Pub movement, where people come together to share stories and to discuss a wide range of topics, from pseudoscience to proper science, medicine to alternative medicine, parapsychology to psychology, and goodness knows what else.

I just want to say that I’m really appreciative of the work everyone is putting in. We have Dylan Evans from UCC lined up to do a speech on Alternative Medicine on Thursday and I’m hoping I can get a few more people to talk to us over the coming months. We hope to meet every month in Blackrock Castle. The Castle has a great café with a full drinks license. We couldn’t have asked for a better location and meeting room.

If you have any ideas or suggestions on what else we can do to get the group off the ground, I’m all ears.

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