Around Glen Affric 3: Morning Sunrise

I first visited Glen Affric in September 2006, more or less 10 years ago. Not long after, I discovered the joy of standing at my favourite bench watching the sun rise behind the distant mountains, its light casting shadows of the trees on the mist. Since then I’ve been longing for a second chance at the same scene – and this year, with a bit of good timing, I think I managed it.

And another behind-the-scenes 360-pano selfie of what it’s like to be there…

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Around Glen Affric: Trees

Having contemplated the role of water in the landscape, the second aspect by which to contemplate Glen Affric is the trees. Home to the largest Caledonian Forest reserve, the place boasts beautiful naturally-seeded old Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) trees, their orange-brown bark full of gnarly character; there are also birch and juniper to be seen.

The river walk forms a small circuit around an isthmus connecting Loch Affric and Loch Beainn a Mheadhoinn; it is best taken anticlockwise from the carpark, descending to the river and then returning back through the pine forest.

This particular morning I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful autumn light, but also by how the snow on Sgurr na Lapaich melted in the less-than-an-hour it took to walk around.

Those are the official landscape photos – this is the immersive 360-degree panorama showing what it’s really like to be there:

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Driving away from the favoured river walk, I just had to stop to admire the birch trees by the roadside, glowing vibrant autumnal yellow gold and orange back-lit by the sun.

And just for amusement, a selfie from the Nice Place itself at the start of the river walk route:

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Around Glen Affric: water

I had a short holiday at the start of last November, a few days spent in Glen Affric. There are several aspects why it’s my favourite part of the planet, but for the purposes of this post, we consider the role of water in shaping a landscape, eroding its way through rocks to form river, gorges and waterfalls.

First, the impressive 150-foot drop of Plodda Falls from the top:

Second, some of the cascades in the River Affric, part of the way around the River Walk, rich autumn colours glowing in the morning sunlight:

And finally, a couple of 360-degree panoramas, partly to offer a behind-the-scenes view – they take a little while to download once clicked:

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eBay + PayPal: Considered Harmful

I forget exactly when I made my first purchase from eBay, but given how my PayPal account was registered in 2005, my usage of both sites certainly dates back over 10 years.

Most of my transactions were simple purchases – old-fashioned (M42-fit) lenses for various cameras, although there were a few sales (again, mostly old camera gear for which I had no use).

Over that time, as a humble consumer, I accumulated a 100% positive feedback score of 92.

Now this is the part where the story turns sad.

Offending lens

Last year, thinking to experiment with what it might do for my photography, I bought a 25mm f/0.95 lens. It arrived, perfectly functional; it was just that we didn’t really get along. The lens wasn’t particularly sharp – had glowing edge halos wide-open – and not even f/0.95 gives sufficiently narrow DoF to be interesting in the landscape – it just makes the whole thing look soft.

So I put the lens back on eBay. It sold first time, for a significant proportion of the initial cost. Bingo, I thought, wrapped it up and posted it off using eBay’s global shipping programme on its way to Germany.

Nearly a month later, however, the buyer opened a request to return the lens, claiming it was broken.

Well it wasn’t, when it left here, of that I’m certain; I just don’t have a photo to prove it, unfortunately. Either it was broken in transit or the buyer was clumsy with it himself.

Here’s where the problems start. eBay’s website is old and clunky. Every single email they sent with links to “see more details” were links to, their German site, requiring me to enter my eBay login details on a page written in German. (“Einloggen!”) Pretty obviously, this was not going to happen – in equal parts, it looks like a phishing scam and I wouldn’t have the German with which to follow through even if I did log in.

Coupled with this, the buyer’s return request did not appear in eBay’s regular messaging system – it’s a semi-related sub-system of its own.

I requested what support I could find on eBay; a lady called me back within a couple of minutes and said it was up to me to try and sort matters directly with the buyer and then I wouldn’t be able to do anything for a fortnight when I could raise a case. I mentioned the language barrier, but subsequent emails persisted in sending me to

I never did get the chance to raise a case; with their language barriers, clunky old-fashioned website and “support” system that goes to extreme lengths to keep users locked in reading FAQs instead of establishing contact with a human, to all intents and purposes eBay denied me any right to reply.

During this time, Paypal adjusted the balance on my account – set it to -£286 when it had been at zero previously, citing the ongoing ebay dispute. I emphasize that this was before eBay had stated any resolution on the matter; they simply adjusted the balance out of the blue. During this time the website would not let me make any amendments to the account; given how this happened before resolution on eBay, I limited potential damages by pulling Paypal’s direct-debit mandates with my banks.

The buyer sent me a rude message demanding to know “what was wrong with me” that I would not reply to the return request. He then opened a case himself. Again, I had no right of reply due to the same language barriers.

After a mere 48 hours more, eBay claimed to have “made a final decision” and found in the buyer’s favour. At that point I managed to see the details of the case the buyer had raised; he had included a photo of the lens showing distorted shutter blades and a note from a local shop certifying it was broken. Of course that doesn’t prove anything; it just confirms it was broken and from what I can make out of the serial number, eliminates the chance of it being a scam to replace the lens.

Paypal claim to have “buyer protection” but say nothing about protecting sellers. There was nothing I could do apart from send Paypal a cheque for the outstanding amount and terminate both accounts as soon as possible.

Today I noticed eBay had allowed the buyer to leave me negative feedback – the first and only such event in over 11 years’ dealing with the site – while still denying me the opportunity to respond, only presenting the options to leave him positive feedback or “leave feedback later”.

Having trouble logging in? Not really, any more; no.

Unsurprisingly, I find this all horrendously unjust.

Closing both accounts has resulted in a veritable flurry of emails (19 today alone, at the last count) confirming removal of various bank accounts, credit cards and the termination of ongoing payment arrangements (Skype, two streaming music services, a grocery delivery company, two DNS registrars, Yahoo, Facebook and a few more).

I never made a profit selling goods on eBay – at best swapped objects for a fair consideration and often took a slight hit using better postage than required.

So what’s to be learned from the experience?

First, as a geek by trade, I look back a few years to a time when we were talking about Web-2.0 versus Web-1.0. eBay’s website is clearly a product of the Web-1.0 era, and not just with its layout: it uses whole-page impressions where AJAX would be more appropriate; with sub-systems for “returns” bolted-on to, yet incompatible with, the existing “messaging” system; with no single sign-on and nationality-specific sub-sites. It is an ghastly accident of feature-creep instead of design.

Second, as a human being, I’m deeply concerned by the faceless bureaucracy and lack of control. We get accustomed to “just stick it on eBay”, reliant on there always being someone who wants stuff. Contrarily, there are also local shops with whom one can come to part-exchange arrangements.

eBay and PayPal represent the first and largest and best-known steps towards a digital economy. It is easy to be suckered into thinking it necessary to have accounts with them for ease of shopping and transferring money around the place. However, when I see how unjust the systems are, stacked against honest sellers, I can have no further dealings with either site.


And the process of rejecting them both, of realising that my ebay feedback score is not a significant measure of life, is wonderfully liberating.


Update 2017-01-18: forgot to say that, on the original auction, I had checked the box saying my policy is “no returns”. Why do eBay allow that if they proceed to completely ignore it based on the buyer’s say-so?

Along Loch Tay

It’s a classic viewpoint – at the head of Loch Tay standing on the shores at Kenmore, looking down the length of the loch past the Crannog and island to mountains in the distance. Even without dramatic contrasty sunlight, it didn’t disappoint.

For the record, these were both 8-second exposures, around f/4.5 and ISO 400 using a Nisi circular polariser filter to balance the light between sky and reflection. Both images are a pair stacked for noise-reduction.

Around the Black Mount

Detail of blades of grass poking throuhg a frozen Lochan na h’Achlaise, Rannoch Moor.

At the end of November I spent a happy Saturday afternoon driving out to the Black Mount area in Rannoch Moor, with photos in mind.

Didn’t help that I left the main camera battery at home in the charger, so was limited to the spare. Well, it makes one think when even turning the camera on to compose through the EVF uses finite battery life, especially in the cold. Lots of “pre-visualising” going on to keep the film-throwback photographer purists happy.

There were plenty of cars zooming along the A82 but a little stroll out into the bogs resulted in some nice landscape.

The crowning joy of the photographic excursion, however, was the total cliche scene of the Buachaille from the River Coupall. It’s sufficiently well-known that folks groan when it appears in photo-club competitions. The composition is more or less fixed, with varying extremity of weather conditions providing the value-additions to the photo.

This time, I spotted a little wisp of mist coming up Glencoe as I turned off down Glen Etive. There were only two other folks at the location; they said it was their second attempt that day as, on the way down the glen, there had been 20-30 folk milling around.

Funny how such an iconic landscape location still has people who will shoot it in suboptimal light.

We took a few photos, and dusk fell, with glorious shades of warm purple tints and an orange sky.

My temporary companions departed, leaving just me – well into post-sunset dusk blue-hour – at which point the wisp of mist rounded the base of the mountain underlining it in white to match the waterfalls in the river. And that is the shot of the day.

Buachaille Etive Mor from the River Coupall, Glen Etive

Stob Dearg – Buachaille Etive Mor from the River Coupall, Glen Etive

Hogmanay 2016/2017

Happy new year! I saw the year in from Blackford Hill looking at the fireworks over Edinburgh Castle.

Watching folks arrive was almost like a scene from Lord of the Rings – this line of torch lights processing along the hillside track, reminiscent of the last march of the Elves.