Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Technology

Tuesday September 01 2015

I believe I may have said here recently that I did not care for selfies, although I cannot find where I said this.  But whether I said this or not, it is not entirely true.  There is a kind of selfie that I do like, which is when I am photoing some scene or other, and I am able to sneak a selfie into it, in a small part of the picture.

Partly this is because my understanding is that Real Photographers go to enormous trouble to avoid such selfie effects.  As with PR experts, if the Photographer is the story, or any part of the story, then he isn’t telling the story right.  The Real Photographer is not doing his job, which is to create a photo of whatever he is photoing, not of him, the Real Photographer, photoing it.  The Real Photographer is supposed to be invisible.

Well, fair enough, business is business.  But I am not in business.  I am wandering about, having fun.  If I show up in one of my photos, that’s fine, because that was what was going on in front of my camera.  There was this mirror or this window or this shiny windscreen or whatever, and my face bounced back to my camera off of it.  It happens, and it’s all part of how cameras work and what can happen with them.

Besides which, more fundamentally, I am not trying to persuade you that you were or are actually there.  No.  This is a photo. Photos are different from what you actually see if you are there, that being a great deal of the point of them, and a great deal of the fun of them.  Cameras see and tell you about things that you might very well have missed, if you had merely been there, just as I do constantly miss stuff when I was there taking the photo, and only see later.  It’s not reality.  It’s a photo. Which means that someone stood there, with a camera, and took that photo.  And, sometimes, the camera sees that.  Why is that wrong?

All of which is a preamble-stroke-excuse for the following selfie:

image

I am the bloke in the light green shirt and the dark jacket, reflected in the bus window, underneath the “38” of “38 Victoria”.

Now, I approach my original point, the point referred to in the title of this.  To me, it doesn’t look as if I am standing where I obviously had to be standing.  No, it looks like the bloke in the light green shirt can’t be me, because the bus, all of it, and especially the bit with the reflection of the green shirt bloke, is a bit to my right.  Ergo, green shirt bloke had to have been standing a minimum of about three yards to the right of me, me being the bloke who took the picture.  But, despite all appearances to the contrary, me and green shirt bloke are one and the same.

I presume that this odd effect is the consequence of the lens (there is only one) in my camera being of the very wide angle sort.  This means that the camera takes a very wide view, but then makes the result look not so wide.  Everything that would be seen by the eye as being way off to the side is squeezed into the picture.  And things on the far left, to the left of the photographer at the time, are squeezed into looking as if they were on his right, in the picture.

I don’t think I’d have been able to see this nearly so vividly if this picture had not been, among other things, a selfie.  On the other hand, it was not a selfie in the sense that I deliberately included myself in the picture.  I am pretty sure that just happened, without me trying.

At the time, all I thought I was photoing was a bus, covered in a popcorn advert.

Friday August 28 2015

Incoming photo (which is something I like a lot), from Simon Gibbs, of a sign (I like signs a lot), near Southwark Cathedral:

image

Click on that to get the bigger, unhorizontalised picture, and read more about what this is about here.  Google sends me regular links to anything that is “new architecture london”, and there’s been lots written about this place.

Although, rather oddly, I couldn’t find any pictures of this sign.  Maybe this will change that.

The gimmick is that this is a pub that sprays alcohol into the air.  That was always going to be catnip to the media, social and regular.  “Breathe responsibly”.  Arf, arf. There are already plenty of pictures around of that sign.

I like statues, by which I mean that I like the statues that I like.  Statues that I like don’t read where it says on my blog that I like them, and then say things like “But you never visit”, when I visit.  They don’t say things like: “So, now that you are visiting quite often, what is this?  Where is this relationship going?” In decades and centuries to come, maybe statues will behave in exactly this sort of troublesome way, but for now, they don’t.  They just stand there.

And, they stand there immobile, which as a rather crap photographer, technically speaking, I greatly appreciate.

Here is a recent London statue that I now like:

image

That’s also another in my ongoing series of Great Photos Taken Rather Badly, which you, oh Real Photographer, can now go and take better.  Big Ben won’t have moved.  Nor will the legs of the recently unveiled statue of Mahatma Gandhi.  Today, as I write this, looks like being a lot sunnier than it has been in London for quite a while.

(New Gandhi statue unveiled in “London’s Parliament Square”.  Interesting how hitherto national organs now aim themselves at the whole world.  The media they are a-changing.)

I only recently noticed this Gandhi statue.  For decades Parliament Square had no Gandhi statue.  Then, it had one. 

Not that Gandhi as he was was anything like what he is now cracked up to be.  (Thank you Instapundit.)

Thursday August 27 2015

This combines two interests of mine, the use of containers to make buildings, and the use of colour, to make buildings look more colourful:

image

It a proposal for a bunch of skyscrapers in MumbaiFrank Gehry‘s influence is starting to spread.

But is it serious?  It shouldn’t be.  Making a skyscraper by piling containers on top of each other makes no sense, because the ones at the bottom have to be able to support the ones at the top.  And the ones at the top have to be very light.  The idea of having all the containers of the same structural strength and hence the same weight is foolishness containerised.  The ones at the top will be far too heavy for what they are doing and the ones at the bottom will be squashed flat.

And if you are not piling containers on top of each other, but are merely slotting them into an already constructed structure, then here’s a plan.  Why not save bother by not using big, heavy, lumpy old containers.  The simple fact is, containers are only useful for making regular old buildings of the sort of height that buildings used to be before they invented mechanical lifts and structural steel (even though containers are themselves made of structural steel) and reinforced concrete.

Besides which, it surely only makes sense to make a building out of containers if you can get some leftover containers on the cheap.  There’s no way they could get that many containers by just waiting for them to fall off a container ship.

Tuesday August 25 2015

I had another of those Goodness Me How The World Is Progressing!!! moments the other day, when I read a Wired piece by Brian Barrett entitled The flash storage revolution is here, and in particular stuff like this:

In 2013, Samsung announced a new way of approaching flash storage manufacturing.  Rather than place the cells along a single layer, as had been standard practice since NAND flash was invented in the 1980s, it would stack them vertically.  That allows for much greater density, which gives you much more storage space.

Samsung’s solution, called V-NAND, has seen remarkable gains since its introduction.  In the first year, the company stacked 24 layers on a single die, while in 2014 it managed 36.  The 16TB SSD kicks that up to 48.

Or, in rather plainer English:

By applying an innovative manufacturing technique to existing flash technology, Samsung has created a hard drive that could store well over 3,000 high-definition copies of Mad Max: Fury Road on your MacBook Pro. ...

But that same paragraph immediately continues:

… It might sound unlikely that you’ll ever need 16TB of space or be willing to pay for it. ...

And Brian Barrett then spends the next few paragraphs trying to convince potential skeptics of the “need” for such vastly increase domestic information storage capacity.

I need no convincing.  If there is one thing I have learned from spending the last thirty years mucking about with these amazing gadgets, it is that more power, more speed, more storage capacity will all turn out to be extremely useful, very quickly, and will then quickly become essential.  Things you just assumed would be impossible quickly mutate into near-necessities.

See also this earlier Samizdata piece by me, entitled Why fast and powerful computers are especially good if you are getting old.  And also this earlier piece, simply entitled Progress, also about domestic information storage, in this case concerning an old SD card I found while clearing junk out of my home, which stored the princely info-quantity of 16 megabytes, which is enough for about three photos with my current camera.

Sunday August 23 2015

When I first started noticing new architecture about fifty years ago, glass figured prominently in the ravings of Modernist propagandists, being the means by which buildings made themselves transparent and thereby proclaimed their structural honesty and modernity.

This same glass was routinely hated by those obliged to live or work behind it.  Glass was the means by which unfortunate inmates of Modernism were fried in the summer, frozen in the winter, or had their skirts looked up through by passing oglers.  The heating and air-conditioning bills could be stupendous.  Often, inmates shoved cardboard behind this glass, to diminish its worst impacts.  Glass in modernistic buidings regularly got broken, often deliberately, not least because first generation modern buildings, at any rate in the UK, often brought out the worst in those subjected to it.

How times have changed, by which I mean: how glass has changed.  It is far more varied now, far more cleverly made, far stronger and less breakable, and far more carefully used in buildings.  Which is not surprising given that glass has only grown in importance, and in the percentage of the surface area of buildings that it now covers.

What follows is the whole of a short report, by Chris Jarvis of Sheppard Robson, of a round table conversation in which he participated last May, about the use of glass in building, organised by the Architect’s Journal.

The prose is sometimes rather businessy and clunky, but I found the content fascinating:

Design process

The conversation was focused on the specification of high-performance glazing. More specifically, how fundamental changes within the industry – which include shifts in legislation and the drive for efficiency in our built environment – have resulted in the specification of glass being determined much earlier in the design process.

Glazing is no longer an adjunct that is decided upon once a concept design is complete and planning has been granted. Issues such as orientation, shading and air-tightness need to be considered in the early stages of projects along with the specification of the glass to ensure the target energy performances can be met. Rigorous energy modelling is also important to enable the right glazing option to be chosen for project, site and client.

Availability of data

One of the key challenges in the specification process is the availability of the necessary rigorous data on materials. Currently, there is a feeling across the industry that the level of detailed product information is not readily available across the board. This provokes the question of how can technology be harnessed to collate the necessary technical performance and cost data - which architects, façade engineers and contractors can use - to make the right choices earlier in the process.

New products

A holistic approach needs to be taken to assess all of the above criteria and select the most appropriate single, double or triple glazed units to meet the performance requirements, whilst staying within budget. Triple glazing is not currently a widely used material to boost performance, mostly due to the cost of the product. However, over the next few years this is likely to change: as triple glazing products become more widely used and technology develops to decrease the weight of the product, it will become more viable for projects and client budgets.

However, the use of more advanced, highly tuned technology requires more monitoring after completion to access the efficiency of the product over the lifespan of the building. Currently, rigorous data of how glazing performs after 10 and more years does not exist; how can new products help the industry close the ‘performance gap’ and alert us to poorly performing glass that is ultimately having a major impact on the efficiency of our built environment.

I chanced upon this at the Sheppard Robson website after photoing one of their buildings, the new headquarters of the Salvation Army, near St Paul’s, and then looking that up on the www:

imageimage

It looks good, even if custom build HQs often spell trouble for the organisations which move into them.

While I’m on the subject of glass, several incoming emails have wanted to be sure that I had clocked this:

image

That’s a swimming pool made of glass.  I yearn to photo oligarchical mistresses frolicking about in it, but, no chance.  This will be inside a very gated community, in the vicinity of the new US Embassy in Battersea.  I am optimistic, however, that we might all eventually catch a glimpse of such a thing in a James Bond movie, complete with frolicking oligarchical mistresses.

The above picture, and further details, here.

Wednesday August 19 2015

Indeed.

When I took this snap, this afternoon, ...:

image

... all that I thought I was snapping was a selfie session, done by two ladies with conveniently face-hiding hats of agreeably contrasting colours.

When I got home and saw the above photo on my giant home screen, I got two nice surprises.  First there was the surprise of how well the photo had come out on such a dull day.  But there was also the surprise of what that clip-on thingy is on the iPhone.  As so often, my camera saw more that I saw.

A little googling soon got me immediately to such places as this.  That’s right, a clip-on, fish eye lens.  £10.99.

Only a smartphone camera is thin enough for a lens to be just clipped on like this.  Did you see that device coming?  Me neither.

I’m guessing that taking a selfie with such a lens makes it much more likely that you will be in the picture, which is presumably quite a problem if you can’t see the picture you are taking.  It also gives you a panoramic view in the background.

I wonder if they clocked the bloke photoing them, in that background.

Tuesday August 18 2015

6k writes about a Fairly epic disaster video:

Cranes and bridges. I know who’ll like this one…

That would be me.

But it’s not a happy crane and bridge video. It’s a bit of a disaster…

So I watched the video, and then read 6k’s commentary underneath it, in that order.  6k’s commentary described my sentiments exactly:

Look, because of the title of this post and the title of the video, you know that things aren’t going to end well. But it’s the way things happen almost in slow motion and the lack of any sort of discernible panic that makes this so entertaining.

So slo-mo was it that I checked that the people moving about as this was happening were moving at a realistic speed.  They were.  Which meant that the cranes really did descend this slowly.  It was almost like when the Twin Towers collapsed, in that way if in no other way.

I’m not good at putting up videos here, so you’ll have to follow the link at the very top of this to watch this video.  However, this disaster having been videoed at the time, there was no way the www was not going to supply follow-up stills of the resulting wreckage, and here is an aerial snap that I quickly found, which tells that story very well:

image

Click on that picture to get it bigger.  Follow the link above if you want to see where I found it.

I’m guessing (only guessing mind) that the fact that the cranes were on a boat may have been the straw that caused the camels to fall over onto those houses.

Commenter number one there spells it out, and he says that the water aspect of things was more like a bale of straw:

There is an example of this exact situation in the maritime crane operation safety textbooks. Obviously, they didn’t read those.

Here’s a quick list of safety violations:

1) None of the vehicles were secured on the decks

2) Barges stability was not ensured in any way

3) The cargo was not stabilized from swinging & windage by lines

It’s easy to sneer about how hindsight is easy, blah blah.  But this guy sounds like he might have been able to stop this, had he been directly involved.

Or maybe that should be “pedicab”.

I’m somewhat surprised that I don’t see this more often:

image

By this, I mean the short of slim, attractive woman whom you regularly see paying to exercise on a stationary bicycle, through the windows of exercise parlours.  So, why not put all that peddling to good use, and why not get paid for it?

Something tells me that this is just too much exercise, and of the wrong sort.

But, interesting lady, I think.  I wonder what the rest of her life will consist of?  Something quite interesting, would be my guess.  What she is doing requires not just an above average physique but also a certain independence of mind, to just not be bothered about all the surprised and “admiring” looks she must regularly get.  (To say nothing of all the photos.)

My photo of her is recent, taken earlier this month in Victoria Street.

Monday August 17 2015

A lot of my postings just now involve me showing you photos I took quite a while back, and this one is also one of those.

What happens is, I rootle through all my past photos, and then sometimes get an idea for a posting about a certain category of thing or human conduct or mode of transport or some such thing, and I start gathering photos to illustrate this, in a separate directory.  I am careful to copy photos into the new directory, rather than just transfer them there.  One of my rules is, keep all the photos you took on a certain day on a certain expedition all in one place.  But, no harm in copying from those directories into other ones which are about particular things rather than particular trips or particular times.

However, what often then happens is that I forget about it all.  So, the directory sits there, sometimes for years, and then years later I come across it again.  This happened last night, when I encountered a collection of photographs, assembled in 2010, of photographers who were also holding guide books.  I could tell that I had never used them in a blog posting, because when I do that, I always give photos different names.

Here are four of those photographers-holding-guide-books photos, all of which involve guide books with the word “Londres” on them:

imageimageimageimage

Click to get the bigger pictures.

I’m guessing that both the French and the Hispanics spell London as Londres, with the French calling it Londr and the Hispanics calling it Lon Drez.  But that’s only a gez.

And, yes (google google), I gezzed right:

Londres, the French, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan and Filipino language name for London, capital of the United Kingdom and England

The guide book while photoing thing always appealed to me, not least because even then I was looking for ways to not photo people’s faces, and guide books often achieved that outcome for me very nicely.  But the phenomenon is also interesting because, slowly, it is fading away.  You do still see photographers flaunting guide books, but it is rarer now.

Instead, the smartphone is the new guidebook.  And, of course, increasingly, the new camera, for people like those shown above.  Makes perfect sense.

As for the lady above (in the picture bottom right) whose face I do here display (if you click), well, she was wearing a T-shirt saying, in London’s own language and therefore to attract the attention of Londoners like me: “believe me… i’m incredible”.  Somehow I don’t think it was “incredulous”.  Ergo, she was attracting attention with her own attention-attracting behaviour, ergo she was and is fair game for her face to go up, totally recognisably, (but nearly a decade later) on my blog.

Nearly a decade later because these photos were taken by me in 2006 and 2007.

Friday August 14 2015

Here (thank you Instapundit) are twelve photos of the destruction that just hit the Chinese city of Tianjin.

This one (number 9) is among the most vivid:

image

What (I think) makes this such a remarkable image is that, by showing how totally the cars have all been wrecked, the nature of what hit them is, as it were, permanently recorded, the way it might not have been registered by mere empty ground.  And because they are cars rather than buildings, each one a regular and very small distance from the ground, every ruined car is clearly visible, the way wrecked buildings might not have been.  It’s as if each car is a fire-sensitive cell, like digital cameras have inside them for nailing down light.

Fireball.  Nothing else could have done that.

However much the government of China and its various offshoots and local manifestations might have wanted to keep this amazing event under wraps, modern media, including digital photography, still and video, meant that they had no chance.

Thursday August 13 2015

Yesterday’s posting was about, among other things, a photo I failed to take.  But not long after that failure, I succeeded in taking these snaps.  Which were a lot easier because nothing was moving:

image imageimage image

Not long ago, I photoed another selfie stick clutch.  But the selfie stick clutch above came out better, I think.  Less clutter in the background.  Better light.

That joke card was obviously composed and printed and sold by people who take it for granted that it is the government’s job to make you rich, because the implication is that government cuts make you poor.  But if you have an honest job, then government cuts will make you richer, especially if they knock it off the income tax.  And the graphic design should have been more deadpan.  As it is, it rather draws attention to itself and spoils the comic effect.  But I like it anyway.  Not enough to want to buy it, you understand.  But enough to photo it.

Strictly speaking, that scaffolding is not in Oxford Street, merely visible from Oxford Street.  But when it comes to scaffolding, rules don’t apply.

Wednesday August 12 2015

Today, a truly wonderful White Van sped through my field of vision, but by the time I had extracted my camera from my bag it had been and gone.  But, I remembered the name advertised on it ("Upshot"), and better yet the service advertised ("Ground Based Aerial Photography"), and when I got home I looked the story up. A truly twenty first centurion would have looked it up on the spot.

I even found, at the Upshot website, a picture of the van which I think I saw myself, in Tottenham Court Road:

image

My first thought was that here was an enterprise only made possible by drones.  Well, drones are part of the Upshot story, but there is a lot more kit involved than merely drones buzzing about.

I had to look up the acronyms UAV and ROV.  UAV is Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and ROV is Remotely Operated Vehicle.  I sort of knew those, but needed to be sure.  But yes, drones.

The language at this website is pervasively evasive:

Given the nature of our work we cannot always advertise the scope of our experience, ...

Indeed.  The word “surveillance"s occurs quite a lot.  It’s all a bit creepy.  But then, photography so often is, I think.

But, I did like this photo, of lots of photographers:

image

Click to get it bigger.

Friday August 07 2015

More and more, I find myself interested in not only architecture but vehicles.  Time was when I would always wait for vehicles to move out of the way, while I took photos of more properly photographic things, like buildings.  But vehicles are also interesting.  It is interesting, for instance, that most of the photographers I like to observe still regard vehicles only as an aesthetic interruption, rather than as being worthy of aesthetic reflection in their own right.

A particular category of vehicle I have recently been hoovering up with my Lumix FZ200 is “black cabs that aren’t actually black”.  I chose this particular specimen because this is Friday and there is a big cat involved:

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For Londoners, it’s an obvious fact, a fact not worth discussing, that whereas many black cabs are indeed black, many are not.  But how many of those unfortunates who do not live in London, or who do not even visit London regularly, or who may never have visited London, know that black cabs aren’t necessarily black?  Such persons may be interested by this, to them, unobvious fact.

Okay, not so very interesting, especially if you are a Londoner.  But what do you make of this car?:

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I photoed that soon after photoing the bald selfie stick guy in this earlier posting.

As it sped away I took another photo of this car, which was very blurry but which did just about tell me what its very distinct number plate was.  And I can definitely tell you that the car is this car.  It’s an example of something called “car wrapping”, whatever that may be.  Comments anyone?

Even weirder is this car, which I photoed yesterday afternoon, in Victoria Street, soon after photoing the taxi in picture number one above:

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What on earth is that?  The www told me nothing.

I note that this weirdmobile has a distinctly Middle Eastern flavour to it, including what looked (in other blurrier pictures) like quite a lot of Middle Eastern writing on it, in among the English verbiage.  But what it all means, or what kind of service is being sold or publicised, I have no idea.  Again: can anyone tell me more?

Wednesday August 05 2015

I love to photo tourist crap in tourist crap shops.  And I am able to report a new arrival in the tourist crap shops, or at any rate an arrival that I have not noticed until now.  Yes, they are now selling selfie sticks, in large numbers.  Either that or they are not selling selfie sticks in large numbers, and have reduced them to clear:

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I took that photo today on my way from Oxford Street to Holborn tube station.  I would have taken the tube, but the Central Line currently fails to stop at Tottenham Court Road tube station, so I walked instead.

Later, outside Buckingham Palace, a place I do not normally frequent but tube strikes have peculiar effects on travel habits, I spied a Bald Bloke taking photos of a guardsman.  And he was using a selfie stick.

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What I think we see here is an interesting “other” use for selfie sticks, which is simply for holding your camera-phone more steadily than you might if you merely used your unaided hands.  It is important that selfie sticks can be scrunched up to something quite short, which can then operate as a simple handle.  I am seeing this kind of thing quite a lot, now I come to think about it.

Selfie sticks, hated by opinionated would-be opinion-formers, looking for some stupid new way to denounce the Depravity of Modern Life.  But people ignore the opinionated would-be opinion-formers and just go ahead and use their selfie sticks, whenever they feel inclined.

This guy, with his bright blue hood, looked vaguely academic I think.  He isn’t academic, you understand.  He just looks that way in my photo.