Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Most recent entries
- Hirst’s Hymn outside the Tate Gallery
- To Covent Garden (3): Cat that looks a bit like a dog
- To Covent Garden (2): Rough roofs – smooth roof
- Christmas tree with scaffolding
- Santa’s tired helpers
- To Covent Garden (1): The twisty footbridge
- Trousers keyboard
- Cameras photoing the Wheel (in 2007)
- Was Guy’s Tower a key building in the architectural history of London?
- Photo-drone wars to come
- A link and a photo of a photographer
- Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science
- Sign blocked by surveillance camera
- My digital photos on his TV
- ASI Christmas Party photos
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Category archive: Photography
In October, I posted this, provoked by seeing a drone in a London shop window. I said stuff like this:
Something tells me that this gadget is going to generate some contentious news stories about nightmare neighbours, privacy violations, and who knows what other fights and furores.
What might the paps do with such toys? And how soon before two of these things crash into each other?
I should also then have read and linked to this piece, published by Wired in February. Oh well. I’m linking to it now.
Sooner or later there will inevitably be a case when the privacy of a celebrity is invaded, a drone crashes and kills someone, or a householder takes the law into their own hands and shoots a drone down.
Quite aside from privacy issues, what sort of noise do these things make? That alone could be really annoying. (Although that link is also very good as a discussion of privacy issues. Noise is only the start of their discussion.)
My guess? These things will catch on, but at first only for niche markets, like photoing sports events, or, in general, photoing inside large privately owned places where the owner can make his own rules and others then just have to take them or leave them. Pop concerts. If they’re not too noisy, they might be good for that.
This is always how new technology first arrives. Ever since personal computers the assumption has tended to be that the latest gizmo will immediately go personal, so to speak. (Consider 3D printing.) But actually, personal use is, at any rate to begin with, rather a problem. At first, the new gizmo finds little niche markets. Only later, if at all, do things get personal.
Which is why, I think, the first two sightings I have made of photo drones have each been in shop windows, the first in the window of Maplins in the Strand (see the link above), and the most recent, shown below, in the window of Maplins in Tottenham Court Road:
And a creepy Christmas to you. I guess this is the gadget of choice of “Secret Santa”.
Which reminds me. Now is the time I start taking photos of signs saying “Merry Christmas” to stick up here instead of sending out Christmas cards. Will I find a weirder “Merry Christmas” than that? Quite possibly not.
I am looking forward to photoing one of these things out in the wild.
Like half of London, it would seem, I’ve been suffering with a cough and a cold and a headache, finding it hard to sleep. For some reason it all gets worse at night, especially the headache. Why?
So a couple of incoming emails from Simon Gibbs, concerning some of the pictures I took at that Cost of Living Debate which he organised last October, really cheered me up.
The first email said that one of the pictures I had taken, of one of the speakers, had enabled Simon to flag up, on YouTube, that speaker’s videoed performance, more attractively than might otherwise have been possible. A photo was attached…:
... which Simon described thus:
One of your digital photos on my TV, via the Virgin Media YouTube app.
Then, very soon after that email, another one, longer:
I managed to make some more appear.
The video quality is okay, but the camera was pointing statically at the whole panel. You zoomed in on individual speakers while in action (or at rest), then I was able to crop and add titles and the resulting thumbnail is better than any individual frame of the video.
Here “better” means “better able to encourage someone to click from a list of videos through to the video itself”, meaning they will stand out from the crowd.
And another picture was attached:
I am delighted that my photoing obsession has assisted Simon in his much more strenuous activities. And I got in for free.
Which reminds me that I should long ago have done my own selection of snaps from that evening, and stuck them up here. I may yet do this, and maybe quite soon.
I have had a Samizdata postings slump recently. I haven’t done many such postings lately, and very lately none at all. This is something that I have kept meaning to correct, for something like the last fortnight, but each day I think, well, another day won’t hurt, not that much. Each passing day adds the same small amount of silence to the silence total, but a diminishing percentage of silence to the silence total. Thus, each day of silence feels that tiny bit less culpable than the one before.
But today I snapped out of it, with a posting about photography. Not fun photography, of the sort I mostly do. Photography in and around Israel, photography that tells important lies about Israel.
Here is the picture at the top of the article I linked to:
And see also: this Samizdata posting of mine from way back, which includes a recollection about an anti-Enoch-Powell demo organised by a Daily Telegraph photographer.
Yesterday, encouraged by the weather forecast (which predicted a window of weather excellence in the midst of the otherwise dark and dreary weather that had been prevailing until yesterday and that has resumed today), I went out photo-walking. The mission was to check out that viewing platform at the top of Tower Bridge. How does that look from below? I will tell you all about that later, maybe. (I promise nothing.)
Within seconds of stepping outside my front door, I knew that this was going to be a very good day for photoing, because of the light. Photography is light. I like lots of it, but I don’t like it to be too bright, and I don’t like it all going in the same direction. Yesterday was such a day.
If you are a Real Photographer, and if the sort of light that is readily available is not what you would like it to be, then you contrive what you do like, or you fake it - with clever filters, Photoshop, blah blah - processes that you know all about. I am not a Real Photographer.
On the right there is one of the very first shots I took, a shadow selfie, which included a lady walking past me in the opposite direction. It’s not really proper to stick photos of strangers up on your blog - photos of strangers complete with their faces, photos of the strangers complete with their faces who are doing nothing to draw attention to themselves - no matter how obscure your blog may be. But, photoing their shadows and sticking that up is definitely okay.
And here are two more pictures I took early on in my perambulations, just after I had emerged from Tower Hill tube station. I start with them simply because they are vertical rather than my usual horizontal, and hence it makes sense to display them next to each other:
Here is a report from when that statue was unveiled, in 2006. It is not the war memorial that it resembles, more like a peace memorial, for people killed while doing building work. Good. This is the least that such unlucky persons deserve.
As for the Shard, it was looking particularly beautiful yesterday, like a ghost of its regular self. It was all to do with that light.
The Thing in front of the Shard is the highest of the four towers of The Tower of London. The Tower of London is an odd way to describe it, what with their being so many towers plural involved. I’m guessing they built one big Thing, called it the Tower of London, and by the time they added all those little towers, the name had stuck.
However, after reading this, which says things like this, ...:
It is not clear exactly when work started on the Conqueror’s White Tower or precisely when it was finished but the first phase of building work was certainly underway in the 1070s.
Nothing quite like it had ever been seen in England before. The building was immense, at 36m x 32.5m (118 x 106ft) across, and on the south side where the ground is lowest, 27.5m (90ft) tall. The Tower dominated the skyline for miles around.
… I would like to revise my guess. It would seem that the four little towers on the top were there from the start, and that to start with it wasn’t the Tower of London at all. So, what I want to guess instead is that now that the Tower of London is surrounded by London as we now know it, what we tend mostly to see of it is the four towers at the top. But, for many centuries, the Tower of London was indeed seen by all those within sight of it as the one Big Thing (which merely happened to have a few spikes on the top), London’s first Big Thing, and for many decades, its only Big Thing.
A new student accommodation building is currently being erected on the far side of Westminster Bridge from me, i.e. next to the equally rotund hotel in the middle of the roundabout there.
There is a rule in architecture (which I just made up), which says that if you build a very big and very boring lump, but put another very big and very boring lump of the same shape next to it, the result can be quite pleasing. Think Twin Towers. They seem to be following this rule here.
I have been photoing the erection of this erection ever since erection began. Here are two of my latest snaps of it, taken last Friday. The picture on the right was taken from right next to the little roadside sign that you see on the bottom right of the picture on the left.
It’s hard not to interpret that two dimensional picture as three dimensional, I think you will agree. After all, the real building above the sign is also only a picture, in my pictures, and that looks suitably three dimensional, even though, in my pictures, it is actually every bit as flat as that sign is.
Subtitle for the photo above left: This is not a building. Subtitle for the photo above right: These are not buildings.
The other day, I forget which one, I worked something out that had been confusing me. Why, given all the fun I get out of photography and given all the time I spend doing it and thinking about it, have I not immersed myself in all the technicalities of photography? Why is it that the only setting on my camera that I regularly use is the one called “Automatic”? Why am I no nearer to understanding manual focussing than I was a decade ago?
The answer is that it is the point-and-shoot sort of photography that strikes me as the most interesting sort of photography now happening. Not in art galleries where the latest black-and-white photos of plague victims or under-age African soldiers are on display, in photos that cost more to buy than paintings and took more trouble to produce. That is all so twentieth century, and even, actually, nineteenth century. What counts now, for me, are the photos you can take with your mobile phone camera, or with the jumped-up mobile phone camera that I use, and the sort of photos that regular people are now able to take, of regular stuff rather than of foreign catastrophes that someone will pay them to take art-gallery standard photos of.
In short, I take point-and-shoot pictures because I like to be part of history, and this is where the history of photography now is. (If you disagree, realise that what you are reading is not an argument. It is a description of a feeling.)
What I have is called a “bridge” camera, but all that this means is that it is a bog-standard point-and-shoot camera that takes somewhat better photos when you go click, and which has a twiddly screen, and a lens that can go from close-up to mega-zoom without any faffing about with multiple lenses. I have the best cheap camera that I can get, rather than the cheapest proper camera. Oh, you can set my camera on manual and go all Real Photographer with it. But if you want to do that, you should have a proper Real Photographer camera, not a bridge camera, and you should have a rucksack full of lenses, each perfect for each oh-so-carefully-taken shot. What “bridge” means is the best camera you can have without having to give any thought to “photography”. Instead, you just think about the picture. More precisely, you think about what you see and which of the things that you see are the most interesting, and why.
My camera is not really any sort of “bridge”. Bridge suggests that I am going somewhere with it, somewhere different, as in different from the technical point of view. But I’m not. Technically, I am staying right where I am. If I am getting better at photography, it is because I am getting better at choosing what to point my camera at.
A bridge camera is rather like “crossover” music in that respect. Crossover music is not for people who are actually doing any crossing over, from one sort of music to any other sort of music. Crossover music is its own sort of music. The people who like crossover music (and there’s nothing wrong with that) are people who like crossover music and who will continue to listen to crossover music, with no actual crossing over from any other sort of music to any other sort of music happening at all.
No links, because I thought of this all by myself.
It’s one thing to see a photo-drone reviewed in DPReview, and costing the best part of a thousand quid. It’s quite another to see one in the flesh, in a London shop window, on sale for less than four hundred:
Photoed by me through the window of Maplin’s in the Strand, late this afternoon.
Here are the details of this gizmo, at the Maplin’s website.
Okay, that must be a very cheap camera, but even so, this feels to me like a breakthrough moment for this technology, if not exactly now, then Real Soon Now. Note that you can store the output in real time, on your mobile phone. Something tells me that this gadget is going to generate some contentious news stories about nightmare neighbours, privacy violations, and who knows what other fights and furores.
What might the paps do with such toys? And how soon before two of these things crash into each other?
A few days ago, my beloved Panasonic Lumix FZ150 started misbehaving. An immobile black blob, the same blob every time, started inserting itself into all the pictures. Disaster. I shook the camera to see if it might be a superficial problem like a bit of gunk which further shaking might move to a harmless spot, but the black blob never moved, not by one pixel. I am sure this could be mended, but I didn’t have time for that, because last night I was about to attend that Libertarian Home cost of living debate, for free, on the clear understanding that I would take lots of photos.
Besides which, I hate not having a camera on me at all times. Who knows what unimortalisable dramas I might have to endure while being bereft of the ability to photograph them?
So, I immediately went out and bought another camera, from a shop. I chose the FZ150’s smarter younger brother, the Panasonic Lumix FZ200. This camera was a bit costly, yes, but, having been around for a while, not as costly as it might have been. And, it works better than the FZ150 in low light, or so everyone who cares has been saying. At indoor meetings, for instance.
I had hoped that the FZ200, being so very similar to and merely a bit better than the FZ150, would use an identical battery, which would mean that I would then have two spare batteries for the FZ200, in addition to the one it came with, on account of me having bought a spare for the FZ150 when I bought that. Alas, not. The FZ200 has its own somewhat different battery, and that meant I needed yet another spare battery. Now that SD card space is infinite, it is batteries that are now liable to run out, what with all the snaps you can now put on your infinite SD card. One battery, for a big event or expedition, is not now enough.
So, I ordered an FZ200 battery via Amazon, and paid extra for it to arrive yesterday, instead of just whenever.
And it did arrive yesterday. Once again, just as happened with that book that reached me the day before yesterday, the fundamentally important thing got done. I wanted the book and I got it. I wanted a new back-up battery, pronto, and I got it. Good.
An email arrived first thing yesterday morning, saying that the battery would arrive between 11.54 and 12.54, and that I should be in at that time, to sign for the package when I received it. Excellent. This email was identical in format to the ones telling me about how Macmillan Distribution (MDL) would be delivering the book that they had been promising, but I recognised the email about the battery as genuine, because it had lots of Amazon verbiage at the top of a sort that always signifies genuine Amazon business. Again, good. I was all set to write an admiring blog posting about this latest delivery service, the one that delivered the battery, an enterprise called DPD.
Saying when a delivery will be made, to the nearest hour, is a huge step forward, when the receiver is householder in a household rather than an office worker in an office. An office can have someone present throughout any given day, to receive incoming items and generally communicate with the outside world on behalf of all workers based there, present or absent. But the idea that a householder should be expected to wait around all day just to sign for one incoming delivery is, frankly, contemptible. As soon as a delivery person knows approximately when he’ll be arriving, and the chances are he will know this first thing in the morning, that information should be communicated to the householder. This used not to happen, but with these two delivery enterprises, it did. As I say, this is a big step in the right direction.
In both of these cases I did get this message. The book was promised between 8.30 and 9.30, and it arrived then, by which time I just about believed that the book emails were genuine. This battery was promised between 11.54 and 12.54, and it arrived then, just as I expected it to.
But all this fuss and palaver about timing becomes rather superfluous if all that the delivery person actually does when he arrives is leave the thing, unsigned for, in whatever place near to the householder he considers sufficiently near. The whole point, as insisted upon in both emails about this, of stating a specified time of arrival, is to make sure that I, the householder, was present in person, to sign for the thing. But in neither of these two cases was my presence, as it turned out, actually required. My buzzer, the one outside the front door of all the flats where my flat is, is working fine. I checked, using a visiting friend to hear it when I myself went downstairs and buzzed. Yet neither of these two delivery persons deigned to use this buzzer. They knew the number. The book deliverer even found his way right to my own personal door. But, no buzzing.
Let me spell it out. Both delivery companies told me I had to be there during the hours they each specified. Failure by me to sign would mean no delivery and further palaver while re-delivery was negotiated. These proclamations may have been offered in good faith, but they were false. I did not have to be there.
I got what I wanted. But if the original supplier wanted proof that I had received the items in the form of my signature, then DPD and MDL, in the form of the two delivery persons, would be unable to supply this proof without faking it. Were my signatures forged on little electronic devices, I wonder?
In the case of the DPD person, the person who did not even try to get my signature had, according to the DPD email, a name: “Mark”. I had been anticipating something better from “Mark”. Sadly, not.
The basic problem here, I think, is that the service supply chain is too long and is out of control. Suppliers of products promise in all sincerity that products will be delivered in exactly the manner they promise. But the person they are depending on to keep that promise doesn’t care about that promise, or not about all of it. He knows that, so long as the punter gets his hands on his precious thing, then whether any signing happens is, as far as the punter is concerned, a secondary matter. Being commanded to be somewhere you didn’t actually need to be is annoying, yes, and this is what happened to me, twice. But not getting the thing is something else again. Had one of these items (especially the battery) not arrived when stated, then you can be sure that I would have been complaining. But complaining as in trying to get my hands on the damn battery, not complaining as in just marking the whole scenario out of ten, after my basic problem (getting the battery) had been entirely solved.
By the way, when I enabled the graphic decoration of one of the Macmillan Deliveries (MDL) emails, the email then proceeded show me a picture of a DPD van. Either Macmillan are all mixed up with DPD, or else Macmillan stole the DPD email and neglected to expunge DPD from it. Or something. I really do not care.
But that’s typical. Who the hell was I dealing with here? Who, in the event that either of these items had not turned up at all, would I have had to direct my seriously angry complaints? As opposed to these mere grumbles about a basically satisfactory state of affairs, underneath all the crap.
When you have a major complaint to aim at one of these complicated supply chains, then you could well be screwed. It may take you many hours or even days to find out even who to complain to, let alone how to gouge satisfaction out of them. (Although, to be fair to Amazon, they take responsibility for everything that they do or that anyone unleashed via them does, for and to you, which is all part of why I bought that battery through Amazon rather than by some other cheaper but less dependable means. (The previous sentence is a short explanation of why Amazon now rules the world.))
But (and to get back to my point before all the brackets), when it comes to lesser complaints, complaints about blemishes on a system that basically works pretty well, well, this is why blogs were invented. With a blog posting, you can slag off the entire universe. You don’t have to be bothered with which exact bit of the universe it was that did you wrong. You can just tell your story. Then, instead of you begging the universe to correct things, the universe, if any of it cares, has to convince you that there was no problem and to convince you to stop saying it.
In case you are wondering why I have gone on at such length about a basically rather minor problem, the answer is that I am optimistic about problems like this actually being solved. A business often does a basically good thing, but rather crappily, while they struggle to get it totally organised and running totally smoothly. People buy whatever it is, but sneer at the crap, because it is crappy and because they can. The businesses then hears all the sneering and gets it sorted and gets even better. Compare and contrast: the government.
This is a point I have made here before. Follow that link, as you now don’t need to, and you will read me deriding a plan to refer to a Big London Thing as the “Safesforce Tower”. Salesforce is a perfectly decent business, which does whatever it does. But it had a silly plan to change the name of a Big London Thing from something sensible to something very stupid. And guess what, what with all the complaints about this plan from me and from multitudes of others, that ridiculous circumstance has now been corrected. Not in the way I would have liked. Salesforce has still not been shamed into civility. But nearby politicians have forced civility down Salesforce’s throat. And the Heron Tower will not now be officially called the “Salesforce Tower”.
Although, London being London, this tower might now actually be called the Salesforce Tower, unofficially, in perpetuity, as a joke, given that no other joke name now obviously suggests itself for this rather ungainly erection.
By the way, it turned out that one battery sufficed for last night’s meeting. But, I did not know that this would be the case beforehand, and had I only had one battery I would not have felt free to take as many photographs as I did feel free to take. With public meetings, it’s a numbers game. The light is bad and people are constantly moving about, so half your pictures will be rubbish right off, if only because someone was blinking at the time. The trick is for the other half of your pictures still to be a large enough collection for you to be able to pick out a few truly good ones. So, the spare battery was useful, even if I didn’t make any actual physical use of it.
I realise that very few readers indeed will have read right to the end of this ridiculously long-winded and repetitious posting. But, having written it and having posted it, I feel better.
Here is another way I might get those high up views of London that I am always searching for:
DPReview review here:
In my own experiences, aerial shoots have proven difficult to pull off. The window of shooting time was limited, the cabin was cramped, and the first time I ever stuck my camera out the window, the lens flew off and I miraculously caught it in mid-air. It was also roughly $250 for an hour.
But within the past couple of years, aerial photographers have been introduced to a burgeoning market rife with little flying machines that don’t require passengers, don’t need fuel to operate, and can fit inside a cubic foot. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the era of user-operated photography drones is upon us, and it’s already kicking into warp speed.
I’m guessing that the technology of it would be beyond me, and the legality of it a minefield.
Earlier I showed you a old facade being carefully preserved. Here is another:
But where exactly is this facade. The photo was taken in May 2012, and I didn’t take any note-taking shots of where this was. And I cannot now find any mention of it on the www, only a website of the enterprise that constructed it. (This I learned by taking a closer look at the stuff at the bottom of the picture than I am according to you. My original pictures are really very large.)
I like to think that I am becoming a better photographer as the years go by. What I mean by this is not so much that the photos are getting technically better. They are, but that is largely down to the cameras I use getting better. What I mean is that I am, I hope, getting better at deciding what to photo, and better at recording what I photoed.
Maybe that is an idle boast. But maybe what is now only a boast will, because I have here written it down, will become an influence on actual practice in the future.
A fun bit of news on the cats front today illustrates how seriously the oh-so-serious Guardian now takes the whole cats thing, along with the rest of the media after a decade and more of cattery on the internet.
A cat-blogger lady called Jackie Smith has done a book of cat pictures, called Cat Walk:
I don’t think Cat Walk is book about cats. It’s about learning to see beauty within arms reach. It’s about hunting for words like a mouse hunts for cats. It’s about walking, but not really covering distance. The same paths are travelled, but each time the light, the season, the thoughts inside make it different. It does have something to do with the character of cats, but also to do with writing, looking, seeing, being in a place.
This man should be told.
My favourite bit is where she says “It’s about hunting for words like a mouse hunts for cats”. Because it’s not enough to hunt down the right words. You have then to arrange them in the right order. I mean, a mouse hunting for cats? That’s some mouse you got there lady.
My current camera, a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, has been my best ever bar none, and it has resulted in my longest ever period of not looking at new digital cameras since I first started looking at new digital cameras. Oh, the FZ200 did cause me a twinge of annoyance. But the FZ150 was basically the answer to all my prayers.
But now, this Canon SX60 HS has well and truly got my attention:
What that has is 65x zoom. (My FZ150 has 25x.) 65x zoom! 65x!!!
I already know, because I have seen pictures like the one above, that this Canon SX60 HS has a twiddly screen This for me is a deal breaker, if a camera doesn’t have it I mean. I’ll be reading the reviews to see if it seems any better in a general kind of way, and in particular at picture quality (which, after all, is what it is all about), and if they say it is better, generally and particularly, then I will be very tempted.
The Guru was finally able to deliver God/Godot this evening, but he only just finished, so time only for a quota cat, photoed by me in Tate Ancient yesterday:
More about that picture here. It’s by David Hockney.
I didn’t know that you are allowed to take photos in the Tate, but I did so with increasing confidence. There were official looking people well able to intervene and stop me, if they had wanted to. But, they didn’t. Interesting. Was that always the rule, or is it only recent, in response to an irresistible tidal wave of students taking notes with their iPhones?
Yes, I love it when that happens:
Congratulations to Jackie D for capturing it.
One of David Thompson’s latest clutch of ephemera.