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

Saturday July 22 2017

So there I was on Westminster Bridge late yesterday afternoon, and I encountered a pair of Real Photographers, taking Real Photos of The Wheel.  I persuaded them to let me take this shot:

image

It was only when I got home that I noticed that strange object on the top of the camera.

Close-up:

image

What is that?

On inspection, it look like a multiple set of spirit levels, so I typed something about “camera spirit level” into Google, and immediate got offered things like this for sale.

This being:

FOTYRIG Hot Shoe Level Three Axis Triple Bubble Spirit Level For Any Standard Hot Shoe Including Canon and Nikon Digital and Film Cameras

Although the one I saw may not be the exact same brand of triple spirit level, this is definitely the kind of gadget I was looking at.

image

Description:

- Quickly and easily adjust your camera angle so that all your photos come out perfectly leveled.
- The three axis levels provide even greater and precise control. It helps you achieve a finer degree of accuracy in capturing the perfect image.
- Used for panoramic photography, photo stitching, architectural photography, and perspective control.
- A must have when shooting with a tripod! Just slide the bubble level in your cameras hot shoe! - Works with Most of DSLR cameras with a standard hot shoe mount.
- Made of lightweight, clear acrylic.
- Size: 25mm (1") x 25mm (1") x 25mm (1").

Photo and learn.  Blog and learn.

I sympathise about the need for a spirit level when photoing The Wheel.  Unless you are exactly sideways on or exactly in line (so it looks like a tall and thin tower), knowing exactly which direction exactly upwards and exactly sideways are cab be very difficult.  Whatever decision you make can look wrong, and whatever you do feels wrong at the time.

Wednesday July 19 2017

The internet has worked out that I am interested in the Samsung S24F356 Full HD 24” LED computer screen, and is bombarding me with adverts for it:

image

Click on that to learn more.

This is an I Told You So posting.

Here is what I said, back in 2014, about Google Glass, when they tried getting some idiot fashist woman involved in trying to selling it to other posturing idiot fashists, and someone called Robyn Vinter said Google Glass would never catch on, because, in her opinion, Google Glass wasn’t cool:

I think that the writer of this piece, Robyn Vinter, makes the very common error of saying that a piece of kit won’t catch on because, in her opinion it is, in a general sort of way, not nice or not good.  I know it’s only a jokey piece, pandering to ignorant prejudice and general technophobia, but it contains a serious and wrong idea about how technology gets established in the wider world.

Technology doesn’t catch on because people like Robyn Vinter think that it’s cool.

Technology or software, or whatever, catches on because it solves a particular problem for a particular group of people, and they start using it.  People like Robyn Vinter then say: ooh, how very uncool you are.  And the people using the thing say: guess what Robyn Vinter, we don’t care what you think, we are finding it extremely useful, to do what we want to do.  If you don’t think we look cool, this is entirely your problem and absolutely not our problem at all.  Gradually other uses for the thing in question accumulate, and quite a few people use it for several different things and get really excited and try to use it for everything, because they now like it so much.  If enough uses are found, then the alleged uncoolness of the thing just gets overwhelmed by people using it, in public, in full view, and to hell with the coolists.  If the coolists still want to write articles about how uncool this thing is, even though thousands of their potential readers are now using it, then they are pushed aside and other writers willing to say that it’s cool after all are told to write that instead.

So the question is: will Google Glass be useful enough?  Basically, it would appear to be a screen that you can use while you are doing something else, to do computer stuff and regular stuff at the same time.  Sounds extremely useful to me, for ... various things that I now know not of.  But I am sure things will turn up that it is very useful for, even essential for.  Work, basically.  Not strutting about in the street.  No.  Getting worthwhile things done, more efficiently, faster.  That kind of thing.  We’ll soon see, anyway.

And now, at Dezeen, I read this, entitled Google Glass resurrected as a tool for hands-on workers:

Following a two-year hiatus, the Google Glass augmented-reality headset has made a comeback, and is being targeted exclusively at businesses.

I told you so.  Google Glass still hasn’t properly caught on yet, but at least Google are now setting about making it catch on in a way that might succeed.  (Perhaps a Google-person even read my 2014 blog posting.)

Work.

Tuesday July 18 2017

Again, nothing much here today, but there is something by me over at Samizdata, entitled ”The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism”.

My quest for a new computer screen, alluded to here some days ago, lasted rather longer than I thought it would.  But at least I got a Samizdata posting out of it all.

I also finally managed to finish and submit a short summary of this talk by Marc Sidwell, which I will inform you of again when it is posted.  This talk happened nearly a year ago.  I personally did not take this long to summarise it, but I did take a few weeks longer than I had hoped.  And, I fear, promised.

Wednesday July 12 2017

Everything involving computers is easy if you know how to do it and you do it often.  Everything involving computers is hard, if you only want to do it very occasionally, and if you don’t know (or don’t remember (which comes to the same thing)) how to do it.  Words like “intuitive” and “user friendly” are thrown about a lot when people like me say things like this, but they are bullshit.  It’s either very easy, or nearly impossible.  “User friendly” just means being presented with an incomprehensible lump of informational overload, in prettier letters and prettier colours and more prettily designed.

Why are computer things hard?  It is because computers can do so many things.  This means that whenever you are trying to persuade your particular computer to do something in particular, that it doesn’t usually do, you have to thread your way through a multi-page questionnaire, in the course of which you tell it: no, I don’t what that, or that, or that.  I want this.  And at any point in this Q&A obstacle course, you may find yourself confronted by a page of things to pick from none of which seem to have anything to do with what you are trying to tell the damn computer to do.

In the Army, I believe, they used to (and perhaps still do) call this: dumb insolence.  Dumb insolence is the offence of taking every word in the orders you have been given with extreme literalness and just waiting, dumbly insolent, to be given different orders, and meanwhile carrying on with what you had been dumbly and insolently doing, even though you know (because of the shouting) that this is not what is really wanted.  You shout at the computer to just use a bit of common sense.  I want this, you moronic machine.  Nothing.  Just the same old screen, and if you click on any of it, you get another page of irrelevance, or perhaps the right page but the exact same dilemma.  None of it seems to have anything to do with what you want it to do.

The fact that the more computers can do, the more there need to be people around who know how to tell the computers to do whatever very particular thing is actually required, rather than all the other things that the computer is now capable of doing, bodes extremely well for the employability of humans in the months and years and decades to come.  But meanwhile, if you happen not to know how to get the computer to do what you want, you can only hope and pray that at some future moment, the answer will drop into your lap.  Someone will tell you.  Your computer will suddenly, out of the blue, volunteer something relevant.  Or, it has been so volunteering all along, but because of all the other garbage it was also volunteering, you didn’t notice, but then, miraculously, you do notice, and bingo.

What brought all this on?  Well, my computer recently had some attention from the Guru and also some upgrades, and in among all this the computer changed its way of opening photos, which for me is a big deal.  I open a lot of photos from my archives, in fact I do this every time I am doing a quota photo posting, which is a lot, and when I do this I am usually in a hurry.  So, just when I really don’t need my computer to be misbehaving, it has been misbehaving.  The problem has been that instead of using “Windows Photo Viewer” to show me a photo that I click on, it instead decided to use something called “Photos”.  Quite different and lacking one crucial ability, which is the ability to take me from a photo up on my screen in “Photos” to the directory the photo is in.  “Windows Photo Viewer” can do this.  “Photos” can’t, or not in any way I know how to make it do that isn’t immensely complicated, every time.

How to correct this?  For about a week I couldn’t.  The internet, as so often, was no help at all.  It said that this was easy if blah blah, but if blah blah blah bah, then contriving the answer I wanted was really difficult and involved blah blah blah blah blahdy blah blah blahdy blah.  If you get my meaning.  (Which turned out not only to be incomprehensible, but also wrong.  See next paragraph.)

And then, the answer dropped into my lap.  I saw a page I didn’t recall seeing, with a question that I hadn’t noticed before.  I was allowed the option of opening a photo “with” a different programme.  But then crucially, I was also presented, in a way that I either hadn’t been shown before or that I hadn’t noticed before, with the option to put a tick in a box saying: always open the photo with this progranne that you have just chosen to switch to.  Problem solved.  My computer now opens photos, just as it always did, with Windows Photo Viewer, unless otherwise instructed.  Which I now know how to do, but will soon forget.  Which won’t matter.

The idea that computers are getting steadily more “smart” is a half truth.  Yes, they can do steadily more and more with each passing year.  But the more they know how to do, the stupider they get at actually doing it for you.

And oh look.  Just before posting the above, I was checking out an SD card that I used in my camera today, having forgotten to put my regular SD card back in it.  And this irregular SD card turned out to have a bunch of photos on it that I took in the summer of 2014, in France.  And it turns out that the French also have something that sounds to me a lot like Dumb Insolence, although I think it’s more like “polite rudeness” than that in your face deadpan British sneer.  You decide:

image

Whatever the exact translation, I bet this “douce insolence” is how French personal computers behave, when you a trying to make them do something new, and they just won’t be told.

For some reason, that was on the front window of a shop, called “Agatha”, in the Rue Gustave Thomas de Closmadeuc, in the town of Vannes, on the south coast of Brittany. A perfume perhaps?

Sunday July 09 2017

One of the things personal blogs are for is blowing off steam about this or that petty unhappiness that life has just thrown at the blogger.  Today, that is what this blog is going to be for.  As for you, what could be more amusing than reading about the misfortunes of others, in this case me? Other people’s misfortunes are the stuff of comedy, even if they aren’t actually that funny.

So yesterday I dragged myself through London’s current wave of tropical heat-haze weather to PC World Tottenham Court Road and picked out a new computer screen.  You ask: Why not buy via the internet?  Answer: So if it goes wrong, I can take it back.  It has gone wrong.  It’s fine in every way, except on the right of the screen it overheats something awful.  Clearly something bad is going on in there, which only stops when I unplug it.  (For some idiot reason it doesn’t seem to have an on/off switch, or not that I can detect.) So today, I will have to take it back, through the same heat-haze.

I will get my money back.  I’ll have no trouble convincing them it’s not right.  All that will have to happen is for it to be plugged in.  What I won’t get back is the time and grief and sweat and misery of taking it back.

I plan to keep the free HDMI cable that came with it.  That will be some compensation.  I’m guessing that when something like this happens, they don’t try to reassemble the complete package of things I bought, screen plus all the extras, because mending the screen would be a colossal waste of time and money.  They will just write the whole thing off and dump everything, perhaps dishing any useful extras out to the staff.  So if I hang on to an extra, they won’t care.  This won’t fully compensate me, but it will be something.

I wonder: Do they have a system which might enable me to dump all those useless screens I have accumulated?  (Follow the link above (or more conveniently, scroll down to the posting before last)).  That would be very helpful.

This probably hasn’t been miserable enough for your taste.  Too much emphasis on what I can successfully rescue from this very minor mess.  Too little in the way of accumulating catastrophe climaxing in a genuinely major mess.  Blogger has problem.  Blogger sorts problem as best blogger can.  Not really comedy gold, I realise that now.  When a blogger uses a blog to cheer himself up and actually accomplishes that, it stops being so funny.

So now you is the one who is rather miserable, and I is the one who is laughing.  Oh dear.  How sad. Never mind.

Friday July 07 2017

As you get old you have to get used to chucking things out, things that get ever more elaborate, and, you would think, worth more and more.  But actually, they are pure useless junk.  The trouble involved in mending them, thereby turning them into unreliable and out-of-date versions of whatever thing they are, is not worth the trouble.  Buy a new one.

Computer screens, for instance.  Here are three that I now, still, possess, of three different, gradually-receding-into-techno-history vintages.  But it would make as much sense to say that they now possess me.  None of these three screens works.  They pay no rent.  They live in my home, for nothing.  I plan to evict them, real soon now.  There’s a Westminster Council number I can ring, or so I seem to recall, when last I cleared out all my obsolete junk electronic toys:

imageimageimage

Nobody wants a second-hand computer screen, even if for you it still works.  Why are you getting rid of it?  Maybe you suspect that it is about to stop working.  Even the suggesting of this drains the thing of all value to anyone else.  If it doesn’t even work for you, it is useless times about five.

Put it this way.  I am about to buy a new screen.  I am not going to buy a second-hand one.  A second-hand screen would be overpriced at zero.  I want a brand new one, a truly nice one, with a warranty which will tell me how much use I can reasonably hope to get from it before it conks out and joins the parade of uselessness pictured above.

Would you like to pop round to the BMdotcom home and take one of these screens away with you?  Of course you wouldn’t.

Thursday July 06 2017

Indeed:

image

Normally I’d explain.  Where, when, what, blah blah.  But the heat is so hot that I cannot bear to spend any more time next to my computer stroke fan heater than I absolutely have to.  Commenters are welcome to explain everything if so inclined, which I know they won’t be.  On account of the heat, and on account of not being that bothered.

My bedroom is cooler, and it is to that that I will now repair.

Sunday July 02 2017

One of them being taken by the people in my photo, and the other being taken by me, of me:

image

Taken on Westminster Bridge, in March of last year.

I’m standing in their screen, behind them, in case you were wondering.  MeaIwhile, I am wondering if they photoed me photoing them.  I don’t know what the V sign gesture is about.

I surmise that one of the many differences between photoers like me and Real Photographers is that Real Photographers abhor any trace of themselves in the photos they photo, whereas photoers like me rather like it when you can see me in the photo,although preferably rather dimly.

I am off socialising now.  I find that having already done my duty here makes socialising a lot more fun.

Saturday July 01 2017

Indeed.  My proper screen has conked out, just while I was rebooting, on the instructions of Windows 10, which lead me to fear that my computer was screwed.  But the Guru suggested that the symptoms I was seeing, namely my screen being blank almost all the time, and just occasionally saying things, was perhaps the screen. So, with much difficulty (and much dust) I swapped my misbehaving screen for another, very inferior one, which I acquired a while back to be a visual aid at my meetings, but which I never use, for anything, until now.

And I am being reminded of why I never use it.  It is terrible.  It is small, too yellow, just horrible.  It is rather small, but despite that, great swathes of it on each side are blank, just not being used.  No doubt I could fix that, if I knew how.  But if I did that, I might get used to this screen, and that can’t happen.

Not so very long ago, this screen I’m having to use now would have felt like a miracle.  Now, it feels like a punishment.

Wednesday June 28 2017

This is one of my favourite statues in London, and this is one of my favourite photos that I’ve taken of it, one of quite a few over the years:

image

Photo taken just before I took these.

What would Beau Brummell have made of the smartphone?  And of these smartphoners?

More about the statue, where it is exactly, who did it, and so on, here.

Also: Longmire and Edward Green.

Saturday June 24 2017

Yesterday, I was outside Kings Cross Station, and while there I tried to photo one of London’s more amusing little buildings, which looks like a lighthouse.

The camera I have had for the last three years still works, after a fashion.  But it is misbehaving, in ways that cause me to miss crucial photos.  So, I treated myself to a new one, which is very fine, but very complicated to operate.  Which partly explains why, instead taking a still photo of this lighthouse building, I made a movie which merely included the lighthouse building, lasting twenty one seconds, by mistake.

Here is a screen capture from that movie, paused at a moment that makes it look a lot better than it mostly was:

image

This short movie also contained pictures of passers-b at crazy angles, of the pavement in front of me, along with occasional snatches of my bright blue bag.  (I’d happily show the whole thing, but as of right now, I don’t know how that works.)

But, the interesting thing was that there was also a soundtrack.  So, it was a real movie, rather than a silent movie.  You can hear those passers-by shouting, in some cases with their lips moving in perfect time with their shouting.

Hollywood, be very afraid.  Because, perhaps I will try repeating this, while pointing my new camera back at me (for which the twiddly screen (it has a twiddly screen (all my cameras have twiddly screens)) will be very handy), and with me saying something coherent.  Or maybe someone else cleverer than me.  Or both.  Or more.  But, I promise nothing.

The lighthouse building is in the middle of the above screen capture, and in the distance (this kind of situation being why I do love a zoom lens).  More about this building, and in particular about its recent renovation, here.

Tuesday June 20 2017

Why do people get so angry about other people who photo their food before eating it?

Here is a pizza that I photoed, before eating it, when we all went out to dinner following GD2’s end of third year singing recital:

image

And very tasty it was too.  Thank you Da Mario‘s, if that’s how you say it.

Does the very thought of me taking the above photo, in a restaurant, annoy you?  Why?  Seriously, why?  By this I don’t mean: stop feeling annoyed you fool.  By why I mean why.  What is this feeling?

I’m not sure I can prove it, but I am rather sure that a similarly small but definite spasm of annoyance is felt when the same people who disapprove of food photoing observe other photoers using selfie sticks.

Yes, I think I have it.  What food photoing and selfie sticks have in common, beyond the obvious fact that both involve photoing, is that both practices are very visible.  If they bother you, they are hard to ignore, like a slight but irregular noise when you are trying to get to sleep, or people shouting near you in an already noisy (but predictably so and thus ignorably so) tube train.

The fact of these practices being so visible is what amplifies the annoyance.

Getting back to that food photoing thing in particular, why be annoyed?

Could it be that photography has now become something very different in recent years, but that some people need to do some catching up?  The marginal cost of the next photo you take is now: zero.  The marginal cost of the next phone communication you send: also zero.  So, taking and sending a photo of what you are about to eat is of no more consequence than just telling someone you are about to consume a rather good pizza, over the phone, with mere words.  A pizza photo says, quickly, what is in it, what sort of pizza it is, how big, and so forth, just as you might if you were talking about it.  A photo thrown into the conversation is just illustrated chit-chat.

But photography, traditionally, has tended to be a much more slow, solemn and artistic and expensive thing.  And the more artistic and cultured you are, or think that you are, the more you will know this.  Do these damn people think that every damn food photo they commit and emit is some sort of eighteenth century Dutch still life painting?

Well, it kind of is, or kind of can be.  But basically, no.  If you think they think this, you’ll think them very silly.  But, they don’t think this.  What they are doing is not Big Art, even if at its best casual photoing can resemble Big Art.  What they are doing with their food photos is small talk.

Could that be something to do with it?

Also in play are the more ignoble feelings aroused by others (a) enjoying themselves (b) not caring who knows it, and (c) not caring, in particular, about you and any moans you might have about what they are doing and how they are drawing attention to themselves.  You just know that if you said to them: Excuse me, would you mind not doing that? - they’d say something along the lines of: yes we would mind not doing that, get stuffed.  Eat you own damn food and stop complaining about us photoing ours, you idiot.  And they’d be right.  And you’d know it.

Sunday June 18 2017

Yes, time for another collection of photoer photos, taken by me a decade and more ago.

Usually, if anything on a camera twiddles, it’s just the screen.  But there was a brief moment, just over a decade ago, when a tiny few cameras had lenses that twiddled.  The thinking presumably being that by storing a lens at right angles to its position when in action, a more powerful, because much longer (or maybe that should be deeper), lens could thus be deployed.

Here are eighteen photoers using such cameras.  That sounds like a lot, but it represents pretty much all of the photoers armed with this particular sort of camera that I managed to photo, ever.  Barring a very few that I missed when trawling through my voluminous photo-archives.

The idea never really caught on.

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There seem to be four basic models involved.

These are: the Nikon Coolpix 995, the Nikon Coolpix S4, the Nikon Coolpix SQ, and the Kyocera Finecam SL300R.  Everyone shown above seems to be using a variant of one of those three models.

What the mobile phone (I think) in the penultimate photo is, I do not know.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why such devices never caught on.  I would have thought that, then and now, this design or something like it would enable you to fit a lot more photographic bang into your pocket than would be possible otherwise, in cameras where the lens and the processing are all done in the one untwiddling and hence photographically very thin object.

I suppose another way of phrasing the same question would be: How the hell do the cameras in phones work, and work so well, what with them being so thin?

Saturday June 17 2017

I just did a posting at Samizdata about the flypast over London today, that went with the Trooping of the Colour.  That I photoed from my roof, insofar as I saw it.

I stuck up a lot of Samizdata-friendly photos there, but my favourite flypast photo was this, of a couple of planes seen through some foreground roof clutter:

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You may say: not very remarkable.  But I say: this is not the kind of thing I usually see from my roof when I go up there with my camera.  For me, this is remarkable.