Vortex Razor HD telescope

When you start getting serious about birding you will want to get a telescope. If you want to look at waders (shorebirds, in North American parlance) and see more than just grey dots you will need a ‘scope, and it’s also the only way of getting the close-in views you need to confirm your identification of difficult birds. On a recent trip to Cyprus we were able to identify several sub-species of yellow wagtail because we could “grill” them at length from far enough away that we didn’t spook them.

There’s a direct relationship between price and quality, so as the birding mania bites deeply you may start thinking about one of the top-end telescopes. I had a decent mid-range ‘scope that served me well for several years, but there were many times I had to look through my mates’ Leicas, Swarovskis, Zeiss’s and Kowas to see things that the good old Opticron was missing. The issue with upgrading is that the really good telescopes are eye-wateringly expensive. Buy a new top of the line Swaro and you won’t get much change back from £3000.[1] The best ‘scopes are clearly superior equipment, but they are priced like other kinds of man toys (e.g. golf clubs) – you pay a significant premium for the bragging rights of owning the best.

There was a niche to be filled for a ‘scope with optical quality to match the best, but without the same level of greedy mark-up. Enter the Vortex Razor HD.

Vortex Razor HD, Sahara Desert near Merzouga
Vortex Razor HD, Sahara Desert near Merzouga

 

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The best chocolate brownies ever (Recipe)

Chocolate Brownies (Jane Kaduck) These are the Best Brownies Ever, but don’t skimp on the ingredients! Use butter (not margarine or any other substitute) and good chocolate. Baker’s is the standard but you could push the boat out a bit more and go for Valrhona.

1.  Melt: 4 sq unsweetened chocolate with 1 cup butter

2. Sift together: 1 ½ cup white flour, ½  tsp baking powder, ½  tsp salt

3.  In a large bowl: Cream together: 4 eggs and 2 cups white sugar Beat in: 2 tsp vanilla, 1 Tbsp corn syrup Then beat in melted chocolate/butter, followed by the flour mixture.

4.  Bake in a greased 9×13 pan at 350F for 20 – 25 minutes. Brownies are done when they test done (with a toothpick) about 2 inches from the edge of the pan (not the centre).   (They continue to cook in their own heat after removing from oven).   In British ovens you may need to cook an extra 5 minutes or so with a piece of aluminium foil draped loosely over the top to prevent over-browning on top.

Top Tip: Don’t overcook these brownies. They should be very moist, Cool.  Frost with chocolate icing if desired.

Chocolate Frosting Melt: 3 heaping tbsp cocoa powder, 2 tbsp butter, 1 ½ to 2 cups icing sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 tbsp (approx) milk. Beat together.  Add more icing sugar/milk to achieve desired consistency.

Venice Overview

Venice from San Giorgio Maggiore
Venice from San Giorgio Maggiore

We are just back from a long weekend in Venice. It was Lynn’s first visit, and barring a two hour dash through with Hank Adams and Scott Larese in 1998, mine as well. I’m going to post some restaurant reviews and a “Venice How-To” guide over the next few days, so this one will be just an overview aimed at first time visitors

So first, why should you go to Venice? It seems to be on everyone’s bucket list and if you have the chance to make multiple trips to Italy you should certainly include it sooner or later. However it’s important to know where it fits in the priority list.

Point number one – Venice makes a nice weekend trip but it ain’t Rome or Florence. The city itself is unique and attractive but it does not have anything like the megawatt artistic and cultural attractions of those places. And it has some significant disadvantages, which I will get back to in a moment.

There are three first rate things to see in Venice: the Basilica San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale (aka the Doge’s Palace), and … Venice itself. Beyond that there are a number of good-but-not-great galleries and museums, some interesting churches, and a lot of very swish and usually very expensive shops selling the best of Italian design, fashion and jewelry.

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Road cycling – In order to go faster you have to go faster

Cycling and the importance of speed training

Riding long distances at moderate speeds is a good way to build up a base, but if you want to ride fast you have to push yourself. Racers do this in a structured way using tempo and interval training, but if you’re a recreational rider you can just build speed training into your normal rides.

  • A few ideas: If you see a rider ahead of you in the distance, make a hard effort to chase him or her down.
  • On one of your normal cycling routes, find a section of 10 or 15 km that starts after you have had a chance to warm up well. A loop is ideal. Zero out your computer and then ride hard with a target in mind – e.g. maintaining an average speed of 30 kph. Check the computer at the end of the section and note how fast you went. Once you can do this without blowing up adjust your target upwards by 1 kph.
  • Pick a target speed for specific points on your regular routes. No matter how tired I was I always tried to hit 30 kph at the top of the short hill leading past the Woodsman Pub in Fernham.
  • Put in a few sprint efforts during a ride. Telephone poles work well for this. While riding at a normal pace, pick a telephone pole in the distance. When you get to it sprint all out to the next pole, then spin easily for a bit before speeding up to your cruise pace. Repeat as necessary.
  • Best of all, ride with a group where you have to push fairly hard to keep up. (Make sure you can find your way home if you get dropped!)

One last point. Don’t do hard efforts every day. Speed training takes a lot out of you. If you don’t rest sufficiently between hard days you will end up going slower and be grumpy to boot!