Here's a comic worth taking a peek at: a 12-page preview of Porcelain, a gothic fairy tale. "Set within a world that’s a darkly magical echo of our own. It follows the story of a street urchin, known as Child, who leaves the cold streets of a snowy city behind when she climbs the high wall into the Porcelain Maker’s secret garden in a bid to steal whatever she can." It's 96 pages in print, with downloads apparently forthcoming, though sadly, not for several months.

If you fancy yourself as a writer, or artist, you could try entering BBC Wildlife Magazine's competitions. There are three, all with quite special prizes.

- Travel Writer of the Year will win a ten day safari in Tanzania. UK residents only, closing March 31 2013.

- Nature Writer of the Year can choose from three research expeditions: carnivores of Madagascar, dolphins of Greece, or mammal conservation in South Africa. UK residents only, closing April 30 2013.

- Wildlife Artist of the Year will be going on a painting safari in Botswana. Open worldwide, closing Feb 28 2013.

On the badger cull front, I was interested to see this Farmers Guardian article, noting the visit to Ethiopia by Wales' chief vet, to see for herself the country's vaccination program against bovine TB. It also notes that Wales is officially pursuing vaccination as an element in controlling the disease, rather than culling badgers.

I'm delighted to find that Rabbit Valley is, at long last, taking its first steps into electronic publishing, with PDF and ePub versions of Stories from Elton High, and the first volume of The Chronicles of Jayden. ^_^ Only a couple titles for now, but the intent seems to be to expand on that.

Kickstarters! (Don't run, they're good ones!)

First off, quite a fun little device, potentially with some nifty artistic possibilities - a 3D printing pen. You draw in open air, and the extruded plastic solidifies as it leaves the pen - so you can actually draw 3D objects. =:D

For a game worth backing, you might want to peek at Moonbot Studios' Golem, where you play the titular character, in 16th Century Prague. I'd encourage you to take a look at the concept artwork - it does look most promising indeed, rippling with atmosphere. As far as the tech goes, they're using Unity, and thus will be targeting OS X, Linux, and Windows, so you really have no excuse. =:) Regrettably, it's not looking hopeful at this stage, unless someone manages to give it some heavyweight publicity.

And Ralph Bakshi, of all people, has a Kickstarter running, to fund his next production: "The Last Days of Coney Island, a series of shorts set against the strange backdrop of Coney Island and all its weird characters."

Or, maybe a swashbuckling steampunk Western's more your thing? Cowboys & Engines, "an ambitious steampunk adventure that follows Cade Ballard (Jeff Cannata), the war-weary former ambassador from the nation of Texas as he meets Guinivere Wheeler (Libby Letlow), a woman who proves to be as dangerous as she is charming. When they encounter Professor Nicholas Timéon (Walter Koenig), and learn that his temporal engine, a machine with incredible destructive power, has been stolen by would-be conqueror Dr. Clay, Cade and Guinivere set off to save San Francisco from total destruction." "It was really important to us that the world of Cowboys & Engines feel very real. The characters have human flaws, goals and motivations. The machines are designed as if they really work, with everything carefully executed to be the perfect balance between form and function. The history makes sense, and gives this world a backbone that runs throughout the narrative. We wanted the 1876 of Cowboys & Engines to feel like it isn’t our world… but it could be." .. and they've just announced who'll be playing Dr. Clay - Malcolm McDowell. =:D (I'm obviously pleased to note it's looking good for reaching its goal, though they're not there yet)

Rather a lovely little tale, recalled by Naomi Shihab Nye of her experience being delayed at Albuquerque airport, and hearing a call for assistance from anyone speaking Arabic: Gate 4-A.

It's a game trailer, and also a music video: Drunken Robot Pornography (which, I'll sadly confirm is entirely work-safe), from the same people behind "AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! — A Reckless Disregard for Gravity".

So, it's new lens time. ^_^ As superb as the Nikkor 300mm f/4D is, I'd been feeling I could go a step further. A zoom suggested itself, as there have been times when I'd have liked to be able to pull back a little, such as when a chase breaks out, and suddenly I'm needing to frame two buns, possibly even coming a bit closer to me. But, what? Above the 300mm f/4, there's very few options with the flexibility afforded by zoom - the Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 exists, but even aside from the cost (much better when used, of course), the sheer weight was a concern - 6kg for the lens, plus a good 2kg for tripod and gimbal mount. And then I'd lose the freedom of being able to just edge closer, or to one side, or off to another spot entirely. Or there's the Nikkor 200-400mm f/4 - a very good lens also, but.. not tremendously closer than the existing setup, and still a similarly intimidating price, though feasibly handholdable.

Then I realised there was another option I ought to consider - Sigma's 120-300mm f/2.8. Bright enough to be able to take even a 2x teleconverter and still keep the D90 happy (I notice the D7100's AF module's rated for f/8!), and as a strong bonus, the second version of that lens includes optical stabilisation, permitting shooting at rather slower shutter speeds. Just for fun, I tried one at night, with just the room's 8W fluorescent for lighting, from around 20' away, at full zoom - so that's 600mm, f/5.6, handheld, with an exposure of 1/10th (yes, one tenth) of a second. I think I can say it works. ^_^ It's certainly noticeably heavier, at about 3kg, but not awkward, at least in the brief testing so far - of course, I may be feeling differently once I've been keeping it steady on some buns for several minutes. ^_^;

So, here's the current kit, with the 120-300mm taking pride of place. On both the telephoto lenses, the last section is actually the lens hood; on the Nikkor, it pulls forward, very conveniently, whilst the Sigma's needs reversing and mounting, bayonet style.


Of course, all the equipment's meaningless, against what can be done with it. I'm hoping that as the weather improves, and the days grow longer, I'll be able to catch some memorable moments. The new lens essentially improves upon the detail possible, and the dimmer conditions in which I can still be shooting.

BTW, if anybody in the UK's wanting to try some particularly good coffee, Union Roasted's VDay code for 20% off is still live, as of Feb 27 - enter "LOVE" once you're signed in, and the totals will be adjusted accordingly as you add your choices to the basket. I've enjoyed their coffees several times, and am continually impressed by just how much better any of them are than anything you'll find in supermarkets - even their own, as ones ordered from the site are roasted and ground to order, rather than being sat in warehouses and on shelves for months. They do some good blends, but I lean toward the estates and microlots - makes for a more interesting journey, I feel, when you're tasting the results of one farmer's land, rather than an amalgam of several or many. Two recent ones I was particularly pleased with in the last order were: Cajamarca Honey Bourbon, from El Salvador, and FAF with Joao Hamilton, lot 61, from Sao Paulo. (Made in a company freebie French press the housemate was given - a very basic affair, but it does the job fine)

The NYT recently had quite an interesting article on a recent wide-scale international report, across 175 countries, which concludes that sugar consumption is directly linked to the risk of developing diabetes. It's not simply the calories consumed, but how many of those calories came from sugars (fructose, sucrose, et al). Specifically: "Each 150 kilocalories/person/day increase in total calorie availability related to a 0.1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence (not significant), whereas a 150 kilocalories/person/day rise in sugar availability (one 12-ounce can of soft drink) was associated with a 1.1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence." If you're interested in a more scientific synopsis, one of the paper's authors has an explanation over here.