Archive for April, 2009

A Road Trip to see Malcolm Taylor

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 9, 2009 by yammerman

With the family at home for Easter, I decided to embark on a day out on my own to the border between Wales and England. It is here that Malcolm Taylor, one the most highly regarded Leica repairman, lives and who I had recently sent a couple of lenses. I had spoken to him several times on the phone and he had always been most helpful and clearly has a huge knowledge about all things Leica.  All reports on the internet suggest fine craftsmanship and attention to detail.  Here is an example of his work and I believe he has even been used by Leica for some of their restoration work.

dsc_00023My Leica IIIF with 50mm Summitar

It is as well that I took the sat nav with me as I doubt I would have found the place. It was a long way up a single track road, north west of Leominster on the England side of the border.  The kind that has stuff growing in the middle, that signals you are now off the beaten track.  It is a curious things about these navigation devices that, while they share with maps the ability to show you the way to your destination, they don’t really give you an idea of the path you have taken.   I found it oddly unsettling  that I did not really know the route I was on.   No matter, it was a beautiful day and after speeding past sheep and daffodils in equal measure,  I finally found myself in the great man’s company.


dsc_0002My Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron DR

 He showed me my repaired Summicron DR 50mm  and explained the intricasies of the work he had carried out.  A new front element and various bench tested adjustments.  All the while I was keenly aware that the room had the feel of an eccentic professor’s study.  Any number of cameras lined the shelves, table and desk, some assembled but most not.  There was a 10×8 camera with a make-shift handle and some very old huge brass lenses so he does not confine himself to Leica.  He is a proper engineer, unlike my good self, and seems a man driven to achieve quality.  It is an odd combination; this quest for technical perfection on a farm amidst the beauty of the English borders. I for one find it very reassuring in the digital age ,where convience has won the battle against quality, there exists this kind of purist.  I felt like I was letting the side down when he used a technical term I failed to grasp.  He had me scurrying to the internet on my return to check the Inverse Square Law as my lack of knowledge was met with some disbelief.  It is impossible to imagine a day on which Mr Taylor would ever be dumbed down.    

We then discussed the work he is doing  to code older leica lenses to work correctly on the new Leica M8 digital bodies.  Malcolm is not a man to cut corners and has the abilty to engrave these on the mounts of various lenses. There  is some dicussion on the internet as to whether Leica hold a patent for this and how they will react to third party coding.  So far his experiments using his loyal customer base as guinea pigs have been a success, so he may offer this service soon.  He allowed me to fondle a Nikon RF that I’d never seen before and how I wish I could afford one.   I spent a happy hour in his company and a more charming and interesting fellow you’d be hard pressed to find.   As we stepped outside he seemed rather pleased I was driving a Skoda and, contrary to most peoples’ view, regards them as a company with a fine engineering tradition.   He informed me that the spindle for the London Eye was made by those good people of Skoda which is a very impresssive piece of triva.   My only regret is I didn’t ask him more about how he got into all this and I failed to get a peak at his workshop.  Maybe when my M2 and IIIf need servicing I’ll call again.

From there  I went  to visit Presteigne the home town of Ian Marchant , well known writer and broadcaster.   His address suggests a Square,  but it is in fact more of a small rectangle.   Imagination and reality seldom agree, like a face that does not match the voice.  Naturally he was not at home but the old lady next door encouraged me to go in and shout up the stairs and was certain she had seen him earlier.  I was even encouraged to ask in the cafe at the front but they were none the wiser.  So I had a wander around, what is a very fine little place just waiting to star in a TVdrama about where the high tide of the 60’s washed its participants.  You don’t have to have seen Ian in the Cafe to know he’d be right at home here amongest the secondhand brickabrack, books and organic bread.  To visit such a place and drive through the spring sunshine of the borders is to be reassured that some parts of Britain have yet to be tainted with the deconstructed bling of fast mood, slow brained, all consuming  mediatropolis nothingness …… summed up best in my song Reaction Contagion .  We are all guilty, mind, as earlier it had been a shock to discover the words “no network coverage” on my phone as I stood outside Malcolm’s Taylor’s door.

It was left only for me to drive home accompanied by the sat nav lady who didn’t want a cup of tea in Builth Wells but urged me on home to a mug of peppermint tea ….. I kid you not.

Return of the Engineer

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7, 2009 by yammerman

Once upon a time in a land faraway, I caught the wave that was to become the personal computer revolution. I transformed myself from a deadbeat who repaired urine encrusted toilet pipes into a caped crusader with a tool bag, otherwise known as a service engineer.  I have Thatcher to thank for persuading the  British Oxygen Corporation to set up the electronics school in Hammersmith that was to change my life.  I got straight A’s, a perforated ulcer and a brand new career.  Thus began the 10 year period of my life when I actually had a proper job.

I proved remarkably successful at this profession, which involves driving about happily listening to the radio while interspersed with periods containing scowling and ranting customers.  I had the skill set to enter an office armed only with a bag of the simplest tools, get straight to the heart of the matter, and ask “Who sold you this then?”.  The term “winging it” was invented for such endeavours.  I realised after a while that, though it did involve some engineering, it was mostly listening, talking and intuition.  People whose lives depend on science, it seems to me, understand the true magic and superstition that rules our universe.  Never mention a bad customer; they will place a call and “five minute jobs” will last all day whereas the nightmare challenges that five companies have failed to solve will turn out to be turning off the screen saver on the server.  The favourite fix of any service engineer must surely be turning it on at the mains.  It only dawned on me later how lucky I had been to be on the frontline of what was a major revolution.  It still goes on but without me, as in the end I tired of the endless grumpy customers who held me personally responsible for every crap piece of code and Heath Robinson printer that they had been advised to buy by their consultant. 

This week though I was reminded of that earlier incarnation as I finally decided to install the continuous ink system I had bought.  It had sat on the shelf for a while as my Canon 6000D used up the ink it had currently installed.    Naturally, as an engineer, the last thing I wanted to do was read the manual, but I broke the habit of a lifetime to discover that the author’s grasp of the written word was on a par with my own.  His advice to place the set of ink bottles on the right, while showing a picture of them on the left, did little to raise my spirits.  The pictures and words did match enough occasionally that I was able to at last attempt a print, only to discover that 3 of the 6 lines were not functioning.  Back to the manual and the box and I found some washers that might or might not improve things.  The manual was a little hazy on this point but as “others do accordingly” I thought I’d give it ago.  This procedure almost went with out incident until I printed when I discovered that all was not well as my universe was awash with magenta.  Now one of the reasons that I nearly didn’t make it into electronics school was something called “spatial awareness” and of course this failing had reared its ugly head once more.  Whoops, mixed up the magenta and photo magenta; and that word ‘photo’ makes a bigger difference than you might imagine.  Anyway it was easily reversed, but the printer seemed keen to hang on to the change and, although now a mere caste, it was still present. 

Days past while I attempted to rid my images of that tell tale hint of magenta, but all to no avail. In the end I went through cleanings, deep cleanings, bottom plate cleaning and all manner of installing and uninstalling. In desperation I turned to the internet but the suggested solution of raising the ink reservoir produced a flood of black ink. The final desperate act involved trying to flush through blocked lines with a syringe. The ocean is blue as was now most of the insides of the printer. At this point, as I held my head in my blue hands, I decided to surrender and removed the whole damn lot from the machine and went back to single cartridges. The “continuous” part in the title of this product clearly refers to the problems you will have trying to get it to work. I’m sure finer souls than I have succeeded but life is too short, so a veil must now be drawn over the whole sorry episode.

You would, after this, think I’d steer clear of the whole technical thing but another problem requiring resolution had been fermenting.  My son received a DS Lite for his birthday last year and as these things are agents of the devil it drove him to the point where I believe he quite reasonably hurled it across the room.  I advised anger management while I held in my hands its broken top screen.  It was left to rot until recently when I discovered the good people of Hong Kong produce the parts at amazingly cheap prices.  The Nintendo Corporation must be raking it in as the top screen cost a mere £4.99.  When first broken, I had tried to fix it but thought it probably wasn’t worth it.  But at those prices my old engineering instincts were twitching.  James asked me what the chances were of success and I realised the pressure was on in a far more personal way than it had been 20 years ago.  I went as high as 60- 40 and as low as 50-50 in our discussions and it is a pleasure to see that his maths has improved to the point where he considered the first option a whole heap better than the latter.

The part arrived and so, clearing the decks, I set about disassembling the little beast.  You Tube has made this sort of thing so much easier – a whole bundle of videos to help.  Today’s kids have it so easy; in my day it was a manual, a telephone, and your imagination.  At first it seems very complicated but actually it’s rather simple; the tough part is the cable that goes from the bottom to the top. I had to build and rebuild it a few times before I thought I was at the point to apply power.  Naturally it turned on and then went off and I thought I’d wasted my time.  But I just had that old feeling I could get it to work and after 4 or 5 attempts, I finally got the cable seated correctly and it burst into life.  My moment of huge satisfaction was short lived as I discovered that the touch screen wasn’t performing the touch part of its name.  The cruelty of the Gods to damn me with a second fault.  So back to the drawing board, I ordered a new touch screen for 99p. James is playing with the half working machine but wonders when it might work with a stylus. It has struck me that I could sneak out, buy a new one and pretend I’d fixed the old one to become immortalised as “super dad”. But that would be wrong, as we both await the post in anticipation of the glorious fix ahead. Actually I’d be surprised if it does fix it but you have to hope when you look in those pleading 9 year old’s eyes.

Finally The One Camera Challenge hit the buffers as the small problem that I glossed over in the last post became a nagging Moby Dick of a problem.


 This I believe is a light leak, although advice gained from the Rangefinder forum suggested maybe a film flatness problem. However, to a greater or lesser degree, most of my images have this crescent shape in them and it’s not adding very much to their quality. I tried carefully inserting the film, using the case, took it in the darkroom with a flashlight to find light leaks, but there was no cure. I’m going to send it to Newton & Ellis in Liverpool who specialise in Rollei’s in the hope they can magic a fix. Maybe a 70 year old camera just can’t bear to cast its gaze upon our modern world, which is a shame because I’ve really enjoyed using it these past couple of weeks.

A catalogue of frustration and it may well be the gods’ method of punishing me for my lack of specialisation and constant flitting from one thing to another. Having read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I should know better, but as a slapdash perfectionist I’ve pretty much grown used to this low level of messing up.  The truth may be that it is not the creative side of doing stuff that I enjoy but the problem solving and why, suddenly in my late 20’s, the PC revolution was a perfect place for me to be and why I flourished. Now, in photography, I have found that combination of art and science which allows me to tinker till the cows come home. There are bound to be screw ups along the way but also some fine and dandy moments too, which hopfully this blog will cover in equal measure.

I think that may be enough babble for the moment.