Motoring magic from the wonder age of deco – part 2

The other Saturday I spent a few hours in downtown Napier, New Zealand, where the annual art-deco weekend was in full swing.

'Art Deco' car parade, Napier, February 2014.

‘Art Deco’ car parade, Napier, February 2014.

For a few days the town turns into party central, celebrating the rich and famous lifestyles of 1930s Hollywood. There’s a lot of cosplay. And  a lot of tourists. I overheard a couple of them – done up in period costume down to the cloche hats – chatting in German, something like: ‘Ich muss ganz ein Eis kaufe mir’. I don’t go in for the dress-ups, nor did I attend any of the set-piece events such as a 1930s picnic or the tours. It’s my home town after all. And I’ve (literally) written the book on it.

Crowds along the balcony of the 1932 Masonic Hotel, an early streamline building.

Crowds along the balcony of the 1932 Masonic Hotel, an early streamline building.

But I did make the point of going to see the vintage car parade. They spanned the gamut from the First World War through to the early 1940s. Few of them actually appeared on New Zealand roads at the time – the country imported mainly British. And none of them, I suspect, were in quite the sparkling order they are now. But that wasn’t the point …was it.

Quintessential modernism - streamline-age Cadillac convertible.

Quintessential modernism – streamline-age Cadillac convertible.

Passing the Buick...

Passing the Buick…

The art of deco.

The art of deco.

Parasols and sun.

Parasols were vital wear in 33 degree C heat (91 degrees F).

My camera really didn't capture just how much the cars glowed in the sun.

My camera really didn’t capture just how much the cars GLOWED in the sun.

Something tells me this is a 1936 Packard.

Something tells me this is a 1936 Packard Super 8.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: Writing tips, science, geekery…and more.

It’s Golden Age Hollywood party time!

My home town – Napier, New Zealand – styles itself ‘Art Deco capital of the world’ with reason. Between 1932 and about 1940 the central city was completely rebuilt to the latest styles – Chicago school, Spanish Mission, Streamline Moderne and more – after a devastating earthquake.

Party time in Napier's main 'art deco' precinct, February 2014.

Party time in Napier’s main ‘art deco’ precinct, February 2014.

It was a unique heritage. Unfortunately most of the best was knocked down in the 1980s, before the value of this unique collection of small ‘art deco’ buildings was recognised. However, the rest have been saved and restored.

Today that heritage – and the lifestyle we’d like to imagine went with it – is celebrated with an annual summer party, a three day weekend of 1930s Hollywood-style fantasy action. The streets fill with restored vintage cars, the Warbirds arrive with their awesome T-6 Harvards (Texans), Spitfires, Mustangs, Avengers and the like. And everyone has a great time.

I made the effort to get there this year. Here are the first couple of photos. More soon.

I don't think any of these cars actually featured in 1930s Napier...but hey...

I don’t think any of these cars actually featured in 1930s Napier…but hey…

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More deco posts, more writing tips, and stuff.

A quarter century of fun with digital image manipulation

Normally I don’t edit the photos I take, other than minor straightening, colour correction, scaling and adding copyright watermarks. But I realised the other day that I’ve been using image manipulation software in various flavours for about 25 years.

So this time I thought I’d have a bit of fun. I took this photo on a blustery grey-ish day in the South Wairarapa.

Original photo taken at 1/160, f.8 and 18mm focal length. Then dealt to. Who needs Instagram when you have Photoshop?

Photo taken at 1/160, f.8 and 18mm focal length. Then dealt to on the computer. No Instagram.

It’s purely filtering – the apparent fringing on the top right is an artefact of the process I used.

Can anybody guess what I did? Clue: not all the picture is actually filtered; and the effect is mostly a digital rendering of a well known film-photographic technique. You could, I think, do much of this in a darkroom with trays of chemicals and a stop-watch, old-style. But the computer’s faster, cleaner and not so smelly.

Your thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More writing tops, science geekery and history. Watch this space.

Coffee… from the age of dieselpunk

While on holiday in Napier, New Zealand the other week, I stumbled across this. An Airstream trailer turned into a coffee cart for the Silver Bullet Coffee Company.

Coffee cart on the Marine Parade, Napier.

Coffee cart on the Marine Parade, Napier.

Airstream coffee cart on Napier's Marine Parade.

Airstream coffee cart on Napier’s Marine Parade.

I am a huge fan of these streamline stylings. You?

I am a huge fan of these streamline stylings. You?

The cart opened in November 2013, and although the caravan it’s built around dates to 1976, it’s an Airstream – which makes it pure mid-century. Post-deco, but definitely not Swedish Modern or 1970s kitsch. I am a huge, huge fan of mid-twentieth century stylings – especially the streamline shapes that defined the age. Call it dieselpunk. Thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: Essential writing skills, writing tips, more science geekery – yes, including that custard-lightspeed trick as soon as I get some photos. And more. Watch this space.

Enjoying the art deco fantasy of Napier, New Zealand

I’ve spent a few days prowling the downtown streets of my home town, Napier, New Zealand, capturing its art deco heritage.

The Sun Bay, memorial to the 258 who died in the devastating quake of 1931.

The Sun Bay, memorial to the 258 who died in the devastating quake of 1931.

I’ve been writing on it for years – Random House produced my first book on the history of this city, back in 1997. The downtown collection of modernist buildings emerged from a devastating earthquake of 1931, which prompted wholesale reconstruction. Most of it, broadly, was complete by 1938-40, although the Anglican cathedral did not reopen until the early 1950s.

Modernist buildings on the corner of Hastings and Tennyson Streets, Napier, New Zealand.

Modernist buildings on the corner of Hastings and Tennyson Streets, Napier, New Zealand.

Initially, architects had grand plans for block-spanning buildings, Spanish Mission style along the lines of Santa Barbara. But Depression-era financial penury put paid to them, and instead owners rebuilt, individually, as they could afford it. The result was one of the best collections of small modernist-style buildings anywhere in the world. The book I wrote on the quake and its outcome, back in 2001, is long out of print. But I can still walk the streets of my home town and take photographs. Enjoy.

Detail of the Thorp building. When I was a kid, this was a shoe store. Then it became a coffee shop. Now it's empty and up for lease.

Detail of the Thorp building. When I was a kid, this was a shoe store. Then it became a coffee shop. Now it’s empty and up for lease.

The Market Reserve building, centre here on Tennyson Street, was the first to go up after the devastating 1931 quake - it had been authorised before the disaster and would have been built anyway.

The Market Reserve building, centre here on Tennyson Street, was the first to go up after the devastating 1931 quake – it had been authorised before the disaster and would have been built anyway.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More deco fun. Regular posts resume next week – watch out for writing tips, science geekery with custard, and more.

Welcome to 2014 from the art deco capital of the world

Welcome to 2014! I thought I’d share some photos I’ve taken in the last few days from the art deco capital of the world – Napier, New Zealand.

Tom Parker Fountain, Napier.

Tom Parker Fountain, Napier. This dates to 1936. At night the water glows in rainbow colours, Hollywood magic style. I knew the guy who used to change the light bulbs.

Former T&G Building (1936) on Napier's Marine Parade.

Former T&G Building (1936) on Napier’s Marine Parade. The cars take tourists on ‘period’ tours of the city’s heritage.

The Paxie building in Hastings Street, Napier, Christmas 2013.

Detail of the Paxie building in Hastings Street, Napier.

Studebaker at large. Restored 1930s cars are a common sight around town these days.

Studebaker at large. Restored 1930s cars seem to be a common sight around town these days.

This year’s already stacked for me, certainly writing-wise. I have a book in press and others to finish and get to publishers by deadline. More on that soon. And I’ve got a lot of blogging fun planned, including more writing tips, science geekery and other fun stuff. Including revealing how to measure lightspeed with custard. Watch this space.

What have you got planned for 2014? I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

A small tribute to my favourite model

This holiday season I thought I’d share a picture of my favourite model.

A photo I took of the Corgi Thunderbird 2 model I've had since forever... And it's not tilt-shift. This is what happens on a focal length of 190mm at f 5.6, natural light with exposure time of 1/100.

A photo I took of the Dinky Thunderbird 2 model I’ve had since forever… And it’s not tilt-shift. This is what happens on a focal length of 190mm at f 5.6, natural light with exposure time of 1/100.

It’s the Dinky Thunderbird 2 with Thunderbird 4 in the pod and click-to-extend elevator legs. I’ve had it since forever, and apparently it’s classed as ‘vintage’.

Every bloke of A Certain Age is a fan of Thunderbirds… right? And it’s being re-made, even as I speak, right in the city where I live, by Weta Workshop. Cool.

Happy holidays everybody…and I hope none of you need to call International Rescue any time soon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

It’s Christmas. Again.

It’s Christmas again. Where has 2013 gone? Why, the way every year does – quickly, in a sea of good intentions and reorganised plans.

MJWright2011

I hope everybody has a wonderful festive  season. Whether it’s snowing or high summer. And that, somewhere along the way, we get the chance to bring a little more cheer to the lives of those who are less fortunate.

For me and She Who Must Be Obeyed, it’s a Christmas with family. I am trying not to succumb to the temptation to write. We’ll see.

Have a good one, everybody – keep safe, and here’s to a great holiday season.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

NaNo Writing Prompt No. 4

This week’s writing prompt is a photo I took near sunset one evening on Rarotonga.

Tropical islands have a magical feel for writers. There were many reasons why Robert Louis Stevenson spent time on Samoa. One of them was the inspiration he felt in the tropics. Rarotonga isn’t very exotic for New Zealanders – but it is for a lot of other people. What do you think of when you see this scene, with the lagoon lapping against coral sand and the glorious sky as the sun sets? Could you imagine characters from a novel in a place like this?

I took this near sunset on a day when it wasn't raining, just outside our little unit.

I took this near sunset on a day when it wasn’t raining, just outside our little unit.

This is the last NaNo writing prompt – and I hope your writing goes well for you.

Watch this space for more writing prompts in the next little while. 

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Why is the sky blue? And other annoyingly rhetorical questions

I am often bemused by people who use ‘why is the sky blue’ as rhetoric – often to symbolise some question for which there is no answer.

Actually there is an answer, and we’ve known it since 1871: ‘Rayleigh scattering’. It’s also why sunsets look red and orange. The effect is named after John William Strutt, Third Baron Rayleigh (1842-1919), the British physicist who discovered it.

The phenomenon works like this: incoming sunlight, which contains light of all wavelengths and hence colours, is scattered by molecules in the upper atmosphere. The increasing density of atmosphere itself also acts as a scattering mechanism.  The wavelength of light mostly scattered (technically, absorbed and re-emitted) is at the shorter end – blue and green, creating the diffuse glow across the whole sky which, to the human eye, usually looks light blue.

Other wavelengths are scattered when the light comes at a direct angle, which is why the Sun appears yellow (but don’t look – it will damage your eyes).

This scattered light is also polarised. That’s why a polariser on your camera produces such a dark blue at certain viewing angles relative to the sun.

Oriental Bay - named after one of the original colony ships that arrived in 1840 and a popular walk for Wellingtonians today.

Oriental Bay, Wellington – an image I took with full polarising, creating false-colour blue in the sky.

When the sun angle lowers, and the light is passing through a thicker layer of atmosphere, more of the blue wavelengths are scattered and only the longer wavelengths are obvious – orange and red – hence the colours of sunset, gradiating to a darkening blue above.

Blue sunset on Mars - for the same reason skies are blue on Earth. An approximately true colour image by the Spirit rover at Gusev Crater, 2005. Photo: NASA/JPL, public domain.

Blue sunset on Mars – for the same reason skies are blue on Earth. An approximately true colour image by the Spirit rover at Gusev Crater, 2005. Photo: NASA/JPL, public domain.

This scattering effect is true everywhere – not just on Earth. It varies slightly because atmospheric compositions differ, and the oxygen in our atmosphere is a factor. However, if you were dangling from a balloon in Jupiter’s atmosphere and looked up, you’d see blue sky there, even though the air is mostly a poisonous mix of hydrogen, helium and traces of other stuff like phosphene. Even the sky of Mars is blue – we’ve imaged that blue slice-wise through the upper air. It appears pink from lower down, looking up, because suspended dust in the atmosphere scatters the longer wavelengths. That’s still Rayleigh scattering. And Martian sunsets are blue – for exactly the same reason.

Mars imaged in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope - with blue cast due to Rayleigh scattering. Cool. Photo: NASA, public domain.

Mars imaged in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope – with blue cast due to Rayleigh scattering. Cool. Photo: NASA, public domain.

Earth’s sky appears blue, I might add, to us. Humans are lucky; our colour vision is based on three receptors. Many animals use two, which reduces the palette of colours they can see. (Of course, most of them also have much better night vision: swings and roundabouts).

So there you have it. Next time anybody idly gets rhetorical and asks ‘why is the sky blue’, you can go all Sheldon on them with an annoying literal answer. Or talk about Martian sunset colours, but I suppose that comes to the same thing really.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013