Craig Varr: Misty Landscape

Saturday was one of those strange days where the weather forecast changed, leaving me not particularly inspired where to go take the camera. But I carried on regardless up to Kinloch Rannoch and climbed Craig Varr. The views on the way up were pleasant: nice trees silhouetted against the sky, views along Loch Rannoch; as I reached the top of the crag, however, the mist came down reducing visibility to barely 100yd with low cloud flowing over the trees in front. 

Descending, below the cloud level, I could see clouds zipping along above Loch Rannoch like a steam-train, the mountains opposite appearing and receding in the mist.

The First Morning of Winter

I spent the morning of Dec 22 – the first day of winter – up Kinnoull Hill. There was beautiful mist rising from the River Tay as it meanders through the Carse of Gowrie.

I experimented with a few new compositions too: semi-abstract views of the hills of north Fife, the motorway/A90 junction and the river north of Perth as well.

My favourite two images were the fairly conventional view from above the cliffs, looking past the folly along the Carse of Gowrie. It’s not that comfortable a location to shoot – to get a clear view of the tower, one has to stand in a gorse bush…

The Least Amount of Landscape

Just to disprove the idea of deterministic landscape photography, as I was driving back from Acharn through Grandtully along Strathtay, the sky took on a most beautiful glowing cobalt-blue colour of dusk combined with the icy diamond clarity of sub-zero late autumn temperatures in the Highlands.

One of those scenes where it took a little work to convert the camera’s recordings back to something resembling what I saw: after dark fell I couldn’t make out what was in the fields beyond the car headlights; there was nothing but horizon and the glow… and one tiny fragment of wispy cloud.

It doesn’t get much more minimalist than this…

Donner und Blitzen

Wonderful amazing weather last night. The thunderstorm started around midnight, resumed sparking silently but continuously in the distance from 2 to 3am and then restarted yet again around 8-9am with jubilant thundercracks and resounding booming rumbles echoing off the clouds.

These photos were made around 2.30am – just the distant lightning illuminating the clouds.


Edinburgh Fog

On Sunday, on a whim, I went down to Edinburgh. As always, the city was fairly heaving but I revisited one of my favourite locations – the Radical Road along the Salisbury Crags, which affords an excellent view from Blackford Hill round to the Parliament buildings.

So I tested the Pen-F’s timelapse video ability for the first time. The camera makes it a breeze: set up the scene (lots of filters to cope with the lighting), set it in aperture-priority mode, 300 frames at 5s intervals, push the button and off it goes. And nature provided! – simply point the camera at the city and watch the sea haar roll in, great low clouds of misty fog, obscuring the castle within minutes.

First time I’ve made a 4K video… unfortunately the results from the camera weren’t quite up to the quality I expected, so I reprocessed all the RAW ORF files on the notebook in bulk (using RawTherapee) and rendered the official video myself with ffmpeg.

I also made a wide panorama – 5 frames each in 80-megapixel high resolution mode; lots of image data, nicely stitched in Hugin as usual.

Discovering SmartOS

Revolutionize the datacenter: ZFS, DTrace, Zones, KVM

What 22TB looks like.

It has been a long and interesting weekend of fixing computers.
Adopt the pose: sit cross-legged on the floor surrounded by 9 hard-drives – wait, I need another one, make it 10 hard-drives – and the attendant spaghetti of SATA cables and plastic housings and fragments of case.
Funnily enough the need for screwdrivers has reduced over the years, albeit more than compensated by the cost of a case alone. I’m sure it never used to make for such a sore back either…
Anyway. Amidst the turmoil of fixing my main archive/work/backup server, I discovered a new OS.
For a few years now, I’ve been fond of ZFS – reliable as a brick, convenient as anything to use; I choose my OSes based on their ability to support ZFS, amongst other things. Just a quick
zpool create data /dev/ada1 /dev/ada2
zfs create data/Pictures
and that’s it, a new pool and filesystem created, another 1-liner command to add NFS sharing… Not a format or a mount in sight.
Of course, Linux has not been able to include ZFS in the kernel due to licensing considerations, so the various implementations (custom kernel; user-space FUSE module) have been less than desirable. So I’ve been using FreeBSD as server operating-system of choice. The most convenient way to control a plethora of virtual machines on a FreeBSD host seems to be to use VirtualBox – rather large and clunky nowadays.
However, a couple of weeks ago I stumbled across SmartOS, a new-to-me OS combining ZFS, DTrace and a Solaris/Illumos kernel, with both its own native Zones and Linux’s KVM virtualization.
There have been a few steps in this direction previously – most memorably was Nexenta, an opensolaris/illumos kernel with Debian packaging and GNU toolchain. That was a nice idea, but it lacked virtualization.
So, this weekend, with a storage server box rebuilt (staying with FreeBSD) and a whole new machine on which to experiment, I installed SmartOS.
Overall, it’s the perfect feature blend for running one’s own little cloud server. ZFS remains the filesystem of choice, DTrace has yet to be experimented with, and KVM is a breeze, mostly since Joyent have provided their own OS semi-installed images to work from (think: Docker, but without the Linux-specificity). The vmadm command shares a high-level succinctness with the zfs tools. Just import an image, make a JSON config file describing the guest VM and create an instance and it’s away and running with a VNC interface before you know it.
There’s one quirk that deserves special note so far. If you wish to use a guest VM as a gateway, e.g. via VPN to another network, you have to enable spoofing of IPs and IP forwarding on the private netblocks, in the VM config file.
      "allow_dhcp_spoofing": "true",
      "allow_ip_spoofing": "true",
      "allowed_ips": [ "" ]
[root@78-24-af-39-19-7a ~]# imgadm avail | grep centos-7 
5e164fac-286d-11e4-9cf7-b3f73eefcd01 centos-7 20140820 linux 2014-08-20T13:24:52Z 
553da8ba-499e-11e4-8bee-5f8dadc234ce centos-7 20141001 linux 2014-10-01T19:08:31Z 
1f061f26-6aa9-11e4-941b-ff1a9c437feb centos-7 20141112 linux 2014-11-12T20:18:53Z 
b1df4936-7a5c-11e4-98ed-dfe1fa3a813a centos-7 20141202 linux 2014-12-02T19:52:06Z 
02dbab66-a70a-11e4-819b-b3dc41b361d6 centos-7 20150128 linux 2015-01-28T16:23:36Z 
3269b9fa-d22e-11e4-afcc-2b4d49a11805 centos-7 20150324 linux 2015-03-24T14:00:58Z 
c41bf236-dc75-11e4-88e5-038814c07c11 centos-7 20150406 linux 2015-04-06T15:58:28Z 
d8e65ea2-1f3e-11e5-8557-6b43e0a88b38 centos-7 20150630 linux 2015-06-30T15:44:09Z 

[root@78-24-af-39-19-7a ~]# imgadm import d8e65ea2-1f3e-11e5-8557-6b43e0a88b38 Importing d8e65ea2-1f3e-11e5-8557-6b43e0a88b38 (centos-7@20150630) from "" 
Gather image d8e65ea2-1f3e-11e5-8557-6b43e0a88b38 ancestry 
Must download and install 1 image (514.3 MiB) 
Download 1 image [=====================================================>] 100% 514.39MB 564.58KB/s 15m32s 
Downloaded image d8e65ea2-1f3e-11e5-8557-6b43e0a88b38 (514.3 MiB) ...1f3e-11e5-8557-6b43e0a88b38 [=====================================================>] 100% 514.39MB 38.13MB/s 13s 
Imported image d8e65ea2-1f3e-11e5-8557-6b43e0a88b38 (centos-7@20150630) 
[root@78-24-af-39-19-7a ~]# 

[root@78-24-af-39-19-7a ~]# cat newbox.config 
  "brand": "kvm",
  "resolvers": [
  "ram": "256",
  "vcpus": "2",
  "nics": [
      "nic_tag": "admin",
      "ip": "",
      "netmask": "",
      "gateway": "",
      "model": "virtio",
      "primary": true,
      "allow_dhcp_spoofing": "true",
      "allow_ip_spoofing": "true",
      "allowed_ips": [ "" ]
  "disks": [
      "image_uuid": "d8e65ea2-1f3e-11e5-8557-6b43e0a88b38",
      "boot": true,
      "model": "virtio"
"customer_metadata": {
"ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1y[...]"

[root@78-24-af-39-19-7a ~]# vmadm create -f newbox.config 
Successfully created VM d7b00fa6-8aa5-466b-aba4-664913e80a2e 
[root@78-24-af-39-19-7a ~]# ping -s 
PING 56 data bytes 
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0. time=0.377 ms 
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1. time=0.519 ms 
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2. time=0.525 ms ... 

zsh, basalt% ssh root@ 
Warning: Permanently added '' (ECDSA) to the list of known hosts.
Last login: Mon Aug  3 16:49:24 2015 from
   __        .                   .
 _|  |_      | .-. .  . .-. :--. |-
|_    _|     ;|   ||  |(.-' |  | |
  |__|   `--'  `-' `;-| `-' '  ' `-'
                   /  ;  Instance (CentOS 7.1 (1503) 20150630)

[root@d7b00fa6-8aa5-466b-aba4-664913e80a2e ~]# 

And there we have a new guest VM up and running in less than a minute’s effort.

Infrastructure and development environments recreated from scratch (partly thanks to storing my ~/etc/ in git) in under an hour.

I’m still looking for the perfect distributed filesystem, however…

Noctilucent Clouds

Noctilucent (“night-shining”) clouds are a rare phenomenon: the highest clouds in the atmosphere, at altitudes between 47-53 miles, consisting of tiny crystals of water ice about 100nm in diameter and requiring very cold temperatures to form. Not fully understood, they are a recently discovered meterological phenomenon with no record of their observation before 1885.

They also make a beautiful display of pale bright fibrous blue against the cobalt velvet of night…

Noctilucent Clouds Noctilucent Clouds

Two views, part of a stitched panorama.

Around the harbour


Dog and I spent this morning walking down to the village, left and up along the cliffs. When in portpatrick, take photos of the harbour, anchor and flag against a lovely blue sky with hint of summe cirrus cloud. It just had to be done again 🙂

Lenticular Clouds


This particular shape of cloud normally requires mountains or hills in order to form, so I was mildly surprised to see a couple of examples of lenticular clouds near Portpatrick yesterday evening – Galloway not being noted for having any hills to speak of, least of all to the north west of here where the wind was coming from.