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: The internet

Saturday September 24 2016

I’m listening to chitchat on Radio Three about the origins of Radio Three’s previous and original manifestation, the Third Programme.

They’ve just mentioned an article by John Croft called Composition is not research.  I quickly found it on the www, and I want to hang on to it.

First paragraph:

There are, by and large, two kinds of composers in academia today – those who labour under the delusion that they are doing a kind of ‘research’, and those who recognise the absurdity of this idea, but who continue to supervise PhD students, make funding applications, and document their activities as if it were true. Composing, of course, might on occasion depend on research – how do I make an orchestra sound like a bell? How do I electronically sustain a note from an instrument so that it doesn’t sound mechanical? What is the best way to notate microtones or complex rhythms so that they can be accurately played? But none of these is actually the composition of music. Rameau’s harmonic theory was research, and it surely influenced his music (and music in general), but the Traité de l’harmonie is not a musical composition. The development of the pianoforte involved research and influenced music in profound ways, but it was not composing.

I have not read this essay yet.  But the point of this posting is not to say what I think of it, merely to make sure that I do read it.

I have long been interested in the rather misleading idea of musical “progress”.  This seems like it will be closely related to that idea.  Another related idea: music is not science, and new music does not replace old music.  But, I shall see.

Friday September 23 2016

The internet is fighting back against … cats!

Quote:

Cats are colonizers: this is what they do. They have colonized the internet just as they have colonized so many other habitats, always with the help of humans. This is the lesson of Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, a new book by conservation scientist Peter P. Marra and travel writer Chris Santella. From remote islands in the Pacific to the marshes of Galveston Bay, Cat Wars traces the various ways in which felines have infiltrated new landscapes, inevitably sowing death and devastation wherever they go.

Perhaps the most famous case of genocide-by-cat is that of the remote Stephens Island in New Zealand. Before the end of the 19th century, it was home to a unique species: the Stephens Island wren. One of only a few species of flightless songbirds, the wren ran low to the ground, looking more like a mouse than a bird. After a lighthouse was built on the island in 1894, a small human settlement was established; and with humans, invariably, come pets. At some point a pregnant cat, brought over from the mainland, escaped and roamed wild. The island’s wrens, unused to facing such a skillful predator, were no match for the feral cats that spread throughout the island. Within a year, the Stephens Island wren was extinct. It would take another 30 years to eradicate the feral cats.

This is not an isolated incident. Cats have contributed to species decline and habitat reduction in dozens of other cases. Because they’re so cute and beloved, we have little conception of — and little incentive to find out — how much damage cats are doing to our environment. When researcher Scott Loss tallied up the number of animals killed by North American housecats in a single year, the results were absolutely staggering: between 6.3 and 22.3 billion mammals, between 1.3 and 4 billion birds, between 95 and 299 million amphibians, and between 258 and 822 million reptiles.

Most books that get multiple reviews on Amazon get around four stars out of five, on average, because most of the reviews are from admirers and there are just a few from detractors.  This book gets a star average of one and a bit.

Monday September 12 2016

imageI refer honourable readers to the posting I did earlier, about a pink van (miniature version of this pink van on the right there).  And I ask you to note, again, the difficulties that this pink van’s decorators had in making what they had to say fit in with the indentations on the side of the van.  The roller-blading fox has a big kink just under his midriff.  The website information is written in letters too big to fit in the space chosen for it, but they have to be, to be legible.  It all adds to the general air of amateurishness.

But now, let’s see how the professionals deal with similar problems:

image

I was all set to write about how this very “designed” piece of design made all the same mistakes as the pink van, but actually, I don’t think it does.

The thing is, the pink van is decorated in a way that says: this is a flat surface.  Therefore, the fact that, actually, it is not a flat surface is a real problem.

But what the Sky van says is: you are looking through the surface of the van, to this three dimensional wonder-world beyond and within.  Yes, it’s a van, and its outer surface has strange and random rectangular indentations and even stranger horizontal linear interruptions.  That’s because it’s a van.  Vans are like that.  But all these vanly banalities merely happen to be in front of the real picture that we are showing you.

So, for me, this Sky van is a great success.

As for the world it depicts, the show in question is this.  I’ve not seen any of it, but I do recall Karl Pilkington with fondness from that chat show he did with Ricky Gervais, which I seem to recall watching on television, in the early hours of the morning, even though it was supposed to be a “podcast”.  Pilkington himself also remembers this earlier show with fondness, it would seem.

Saturday September 03 2016

One of the reasons I have such a pathologically enormous CD collection is that I fear the power that music holds over me.  I fear being in the position of wanting to hear something, but not being able to.

This morning, on Radio 3, they played a piece of piano music which I liked a lot, both the piece itself and the playing, but did not recognise.  I thought it was perhaps Mozart, played by Brendel, maybe.  It turned out to be Haydn, played by Pletnev.  I just dug around on the www, and here is Pletnev playing that same piece.  Whether that’s the exact same performance I don’t know, but it is playing right now and it sounds pretty good to me.  The piece is snappily entitled: “Variations in F minor”.  Until now, this was not a piece I had paid any attention to.

But I hit the age of musical addiction combined with the money to feed the habit long before there was any www.  For me, having music at my command doesn’t mean knowing about a link.  It means possessing a shiny plastic circle, in a square plastic case.  So, as soon as I had set the radio to record CD Review, as is my Saturday morning habit, I searched through my CD collection (subsection: Haydn), for that Pletnev performance.  No show.  But Amazon informed me that there is a Pletnev Haydn double album with Haydn piano concertos on disc one and Haydn solo piano music on disc two.  I looked again, in the Haydn subsection (sub-subsection: piano concertos).  Success.  I possess the exact same performance thad was played on the radion this morning.  So now, this music doesn’t control me.  I control it.

The question of who is in charge of music and music-making is actually a big deal, historically.  Beethoven’s career, and then later Wagner’s career, were all about Beethoven, and Wagner, being in charge of their music and of their music-making, rather than their patrons or their audiences.  You can tell this from just listening to their music.  Haydn, on the other hand, predated that era, and was dependent upon aristocratic patronage, and this shows in his music.  He would probably not enjoy reading this blog posting, by this annoying and undeserving control freak from out of the future.  But he would not have made a fuss.  Or such is my understanding of his character.

Or, he might have rejoiced that he could have made recordings of his music, in circumstances completely within his control, and that I could then listen to them in circumstances completely within my control.  For me, this is the best of both worlds, and it would be nice to think that it might have suited him also.

Sunday July 31 2016

Don’t get me wrong, it was a very fine day indeed.  Deepest thanks to Darren for sharing it with me.  But, it wasn’t the magical day that the game that Darren fixed for us both to see last year was.

There are several reasons for this relative lack of magic.  For starters, last time around, it was all happening, for me, for the first time.  I had never before sat high up in the Surrey Pavilion like that, so last September I was doing that for the very first time.

The game in 2015 was a semi-final and was very tense throughout, in fact the result was in doubt until the final ball.  The game last Wednesday was a handsome win for Surrey, which was good.  But it rather fizzled out at the end, as handsome wins in sport so often do.

But the biggest difference between this game and the previous one was that whereas, in that 2015 game, a cricket legend by the name of Kumar Sangakkara made a superb century, in this game, there was no megastar super-performance, just a succession of very capable Surrey players doing very well, until the game was won.

The nearest thing to a dominant superstar on show last Wednesday was Jason Roy.  Roy is not yet a cricket legend on a par with Sangakkara, and of course he probably never will be, having arrived only rather recently as an England one day and twenty-twenty star.  But he has made one hell of a start, starts being what he specialises in.  He supplied, for example, the rapid start that England had to have if they were to get anywhere near to South Africa’s huge score of 229 in England’s World T20 must-win game back in March of this year, in Mumbai.  Roy hit four fours in the first over of that amazing and ultimately successful chase.  Then, back in England, Roy did brilliantly in the 50 overs games earlier this year against Sri Lanka.  He shared in the huge opening partnership with Alex Hales that won game two, and in game four he made 162, in another dominant England win.

On Wednesday, Roy got the game started in his usual style by hitting the first ball of the match for four.  And I got a photo of that very predictable moment:

image

And so it continued, for a short while.  But then, Roy got out for a mere 34, and Surrey needed many more runs to set a decent target.  They got those runs, but the day would have been a whole lot more fun if Roy had hung around for longer.

Here is another and much better picture of Roy in action, which shows his face as well as one of his actions:

image

That shot, in both of its two meanings, was shot by a Real Photographer, again at the Oval, last Friday evening, when Roy played exactly the sort of innings that I would loved to have seen him play on Wednesday afternoon.  This was a twenty-overs-each-way game.  Roy again went in first for Surrey.  But this time he stayed in, and slammed 120 not out.  Roy and the formidable Australian, Aaron Finch, shared an opening partnership of 187, and Surrey ended up with 212-4.  This was more than enough to crush Kent, but sadly, it was not enough to get Surrey through to the last eight, because another result went against them.

Darren, having so kindly invited me to accompany him to the Wednesday game, was also at the Oval on Friday evening, when I was busy hosting a meeting at my home.  Perhaps this posting should end now, on that note of, I trust, good humoured envy.  But I want to contrast the events of that game last Friday, which Darren witnessed and which I did not, with what happened in another cricket match, in Sri Lanka, that was happening at the same time.

On Saturday morning, yesterday morning in other words, I followed this other game on Cricinfo. Sri Lanka and Australia were playing out a test match.  Remember those?  The ones that sometimes go on for five whole days?

Sri Lanka, back home but still smarting from their disappointments in England, had got themselves out for a mere hundred in their first innings.  But they then confined Australia to two hundred, and then got a real score in their second innings.  By Saturday morning my time, Australia were struggling to get a draw, on the final day of a rain and light interrupted match.  And in the course of this ultimately unsuccessful struggle, their ninth wicket pair, Nevill and O’Keeffe, resisted the Sri Lankan bowlers for more than twenty overs, without scoring a single run.

Here is a screen snapshot of cricinfo commentary, taken by me during this dot-ball-fest:

image

At that point, during over number 77, and as commenter Viran Salgado pointed out towards the bottom of that bit of commentary, it had already been twelve overs of dottiness with no runs having been scored.  And when the ninth wicket eventually fell during over number 86 the score was still stuck on 161, with the final wicket falling three overs later, also at 161.

In other words, on Friday night Jason Roy made 120 and Surrey as a whole amassed 212, in the space of 120 balls.  A few hours later, Australia, in the passage of play in their game against Sri Lanka that I have just described, faced almost exactly the same number of balls as that, and scored a grand total of: no runs.  And in the course of all this relentless blockage, Sri Lanka managed to take: no wickets.  0-0.  Zero for zero.  Bugger all, for bugger all.

It’s not that nothing happened.  It was riveting stuff.  But this extreme contrast does illustrate how the game of cricket is now changing.

Thursday July 21 2016

Incoming!:

image

Most emails that arrive here at BMdotcom don’t grab me by the throat, but I liked this one, with its attached graphic as above.

I’ve often wondered how they do Chinese (?) writing with computers.  Now I am wondering some more.

My computer didn’t allow me to save this graphic in a different size, but my blogging software did.  Odd.

Thursday July 14 2016

Indeed:

image

The Park in question is Finsbury, the Park Theatre being near to Finsbury Park, and more to the point from my point of view, Finsbury Park tube station.  I was there last night to see a friend perform at the Park Theatre, which she did very well.

That LIFE sign thing is just outside the smaller theatre space, where my friend was performing, at the top of the rest of the theatre.  I do not know why it is there.  Could it be that they hope that people will photo it, and then mention the Park Theatre on the internet?

I suppose the creator of this sign could also have been thinking of that old Blur tune.  But that, I believe, concerns a different park.

Friday June 17 2016

And I’m back to trivia-mongering.  Any day now, I’ll be back to opinion-mongering too:

image

It’s the first picture of these.

Engineer Thomas Selig, 28, set up his camera on a tripod 100 metres away from a cluster of female lions and cubs in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. He then retreated to a safari vehicle to take pictures with a remote control. A lioness decided to make off with his camera, and proceeded to chew it!

Lucky someone had a second camera, to show what happened to the first camera.

Actually, according to what I am now reading, a lot of people never stopped opinion-mongering.

Monday June 06 2016

For years I have wondered how to put videos done by others at this blog.  My problem has always been that they were too big.  560 pixels wide instead of 500 pixels, which is the width here.  This evening, I thought I observed that “Brexit: The Movie”, as shown at Bishop Hill, was the exact same width as stuff at my blog.  So, I rootled around in the source code for the Bishop’s posting of Brexit, and dug up what seemed to be the relevant bit.  It turned out I was wrong about the width.  It was 560, same as it always seems to be, But having got this far I tried just changing the bit in the code where it said “560” to “500”, and that seemed to work.  The video seemed to get a bit smaller.  (I changed 500 to 300 just to be sure I wasn’t imagining it.) I did some more sums, which told me to change 315 to 280, and here it is, 500 pixels wide, fingers crossed:

There is some kind of EUro-metaphor or EUro-moral buried in this story, concerning believing that a straight-jacket was actually tighter and more rigid than it really was, but I’m too tired to be bothering about that.

Tomorrow, I will watch it.

Friday May 27 2016

Nothing much here today, but I just did three Samizdata postings today and yesterday:

Brexit – the argument from confusion.

Dominic Frisby takes on the Edinburgh Fringe

Islam versus cat photos

I have always felt that the fascination with cat photos that has engulfed the internet was somehow more important than just being a matter of cat photos, engulfing the internet.  Now it seems that cat photos are a threat to Islam, and must be forbidden.  For me, cats means pure fun.  No purpose is served.  Other than the purpose (purr-puss) of having fun.  And it seems that there is this crazy Sheikh who also thinks that photoing cats is pure fun also, and that this is why photoing cats should be forbidden.  For him, I guess, fun is never pure.  Quite the opposite.

Thursday May 26 2016

One of my regular automatic google-searches is “face recognition”, and just now this has been alerting me to all the various tricks that are coming on stream for making face recognition not work, by putting on make-up, or spectacles, and such like.

Here is my contribution to this discussion:

image

I know what you’re thinking.  Who might that be?

Exactly.  Although, if you’re are supercomputer, you have probably worked it out.  You have a special programme which tells you to take particular interest in any faces that are trying to not be recognised.

Most of my libertarian friends think that such tech solutions are the front line of this battle.  I have long assumed that the world is moving rapidly towards a state where the question of what is X doing at the moment is technologically answerable, and impossible to prevent being answered.  For me, among other desirable things, libertarianism is the claim that although we can see X saying or doing something we don’t approve of, we shouldn’t legally prevent him or her from doing that, unless it is really, really bad.

In a world of Total Surveillance by the Big Machine, the proliferation of stupid rules and regulations with no huge moral content becomes a problem like it never used to be.  I means rules about things like what you should eat or smoke or, now, say in conversation.  Rules like that mean that we can all now be seen and heard breaking such rules.  (Okay, maybe not now, maybe not yet, but that’s where things are headed.) And that means that anyone who wants to fuck up your life or my life (for an actual real reason that has bugger all to do with the stupid rule actually being broken) can then do it.  Worse, some legislative maniac might demand that anyone that the Big Machine sees breaking this or that rule that he personally is obsessed about, should be automatically fucked over, by the Big Machine, with no human intervention involved.  With a big long list of exceptions, like legislators.  The Big Machine can’t touch them.  Libertarianism has arisen, partly, because it has become ever more necessary to insist on certain principles, principles which were imposed upon the world in former times by sheer ignorance of what other people were getting up to.

The other thing people have to do is develop thicker skins, psychologically speaking I mean, because although legislative pressure is not now a problem for most people, social pressure can become a big problem, for example if you find yourself being mobbed on the internet for some innocuous thing you said or ate.  Just because a million idiots on the internet are screeching that you are an idiot, that doesn’t mean you are, or that if you are, it matters.  When it does matter, bosses should chill, and not fire people just because the mob is screeching.  I applaud, tentatively, the recent tendency to give social media mobsters a going-over, using the same methods on them that they have been using.  Who is this mad bitch?  What has she (it does often seem to be she) been up to lately?  What is her job?  Who is her boss?  Etc.  (In the age of cyber-bullying, I feel that I now understand witchcraft crazes better.)

Another problem is that as something easily mistaken for a state of everyone knowing everything increasingly pertains, that old illusion that everything will accordingly be centrally plannable is likely to keep rearing its very ugly head, and keep on having to be experienced as a disastrous illusion.  (More libertarianism.) The point is, everyone doesn’t know everything.  Nothing like.  We can’t.  Our heads aren’t big enough, and even if they were, knowledge is not like that.  Everyone can known anything in particular that is easy to know (like where X is just now) that they want to know and ask the Big Machine about.  That’s entirely different from actual omniscience.

Friday May 20 2016

For years I have struggled, with the graphics programme I have been using, to crop, not square (an option this programme does offer), and not to a size I specify (ditto), but to a ratio that I specify.  For years, I could not do that.  I repeatedly searched for such a thing, in other programmes, but evidently didn’t pick the right words.

Then, in France, I couldn’t remember the mere name (on such things do decisions hinge) of my regular photo-editing package, so I loaded PhotoCat, basically because it had “cat” in its name and I reckoned I could have Friday feline fun with it (ditto), to see if I could photo-edit with that, and I could, and I could do constant ratio rectangular cropping which was a most welcome surprise.

Thus are decisions made, by computer operatives.  There are two rules for getting things done in the modern world.  (1) Do not unleash solutions upon circumstances which are not a problem.  If it doesn’t help you to do something that you need to do, don’t bother with it no matter how cool everyone else says it is.  Cool is not a good enough reason to be faffing about with something.  (Faffing about to no purpose cannot be cool, because it isn’t, and because another rule is: worrying about being cool guarantees that you won’t be.)

And (2): if it does help you to do just one thing that you do want to do, then, if you can afford the money, the space, the bother, whatever, use it.  Then, when you are using that thing for that one essential thing, then, you can move onwards to finding out if it will do any other merely desirable things.  But, lots of merely desirable things and nothing essential is not good enough.

Using anything is difficult, if you only use it occasionally, to do something merely occasionally desirable.  This rule applies at all times, in all places, and no matter how “user friendly” the gizmo or programme claims itself or is claimed by other users of it to be.  Occasional is bother.  Always.  Don’t do occasional if you can avoid it.

Using anything is easy, on the other hand, if you do it regularly.  This rule applies at all times, in all places, to all things, and no matter how “user hostile” enemies of the gizmo or process claim it to be.  If a convoluted dance around the houses by a complicated route gets you an essential result, then dance.  Convoluted will quickly become imprinted on your brain, and easy, and reinforced each time you (frequently) use it.  This is how rats and ants do things. (Hurrah: other creatures!) They’ll probably outlast us.  Ants definitely.

The above explains why the division of labour was so epoch-making.  When you concentrate entirely on a small but rather tricky part of a big process, you will do it massively better than others attempting this tricky operation only sometimes, in among all the other things they are attempting.  The damn near impossible becomes routine and easy.

So, I prepared for a life of frequently PhotoCatting fixed-ratio rectangles out of my photos.  Using PhotoCat for that one thing.

But then, earlier this week I was cranking up PhotoCat, prior to some fixed-ratio cropping, and it refused to load.  It got to 80%, and then stuck there.  Who knows why?  Was this PhotoCat’s fault?  Was it something I was doing?  Probably the latter, but that isn’t the point.  It didn’t load. So, I went looking for alternatives, and I found one, called: PhotoPad.

And the bad news for PhotoCat is that PhotoPad also does proportional ratio cropping, and does it rather more conveniently, because PhotoPad operates on my hard disc and doesn’t have to be uploaded from the www each time.  Unlike PhotoCat, PhotoPad is not www based, or whatever you call it, which I prefer because you can still use it if the www is out of action.  It’s now all mine:

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That being a snap of a rather unusual form of transport that I snapped, in France.  I like how you can see what’s happening there, like when they zoom in on a detail in a computer picture in NCIS or a movie or something similar.  (Question.  Does art lead life in computing?  Does stuff like the above start out in the movies, just so absolutely everyone can get what’s going on, and then migrate to real life?)

PhotoPad does something else which PhotoCat didn’t do, or not for me, which is rotate much more exactly.  Most photo software seems to want to offer only rotation in 1 degree increments.  If they can do better, they don’t volunteer the fact.  But, PhotoPad does volunteer this.  With PhotoPad, instead of rotating something 1 degree or 2 degrees (or 359 degrees), you can do 1.38 degrees or 1.77 degrees or 358.61 degrees.  You’d be surprised, perhaps, how often that is a desirable refinement.  You can do it by eye, and let the numbers take care of themselves.  Terrific.  Cool, even.

So.  PhotoCat now offers me … nothing.  So, … see above.

Just now, while checking out the PhotoCat link for this posting, I successfully cranked up PhotoCat.  Whatever went wrong before has now gone away.

Too late.

Wednesday May 18 2016

So I was looking at Amusing Planet, the way you do, and looking in particular at a posting about bridges with shops on them, the way I do, and at the top of the piece, it said this:

There are four such bridges in the world.

And the pictures follow: Ponte Vecchio; Krämerbrücke, Erfurt; the Rialto in Venice; Pulteney Bridge in Bath.  (The old London Bridge is, alas, no more.)

But then the bit about how there are four such bridges was crossed out, and this was added:

Update: Apparently, there are a few more. Pont des Marchands in Narbonne, France, is one example.

Narbonne?  I was in Narbonne only days ago, hearing GodDaughter 2 and her pals sing the solo parts in the Mozart Requiem.  Afterwards, we walked beside the river back to the car.  Did I, I wonder, photo this Pont des Marchands?  I do recall bridges, and I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t photoed them.  Here are a couple of Narbonne bridges, that I photoed then:

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So, did the Pont des Marchands figure in my bridge-snapping?

Image google image google.

The Pont des Marchands looks like this:

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I had already copied those two bridge pictures above into my FranceMay2016/bridges subdirectory, but in that directory, there was no sign of anything with shops on top of it.  However, another look through all the pictures I took in Narbonne that evening brought me to ... this:

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The bridge in the front there is the one in the left of the two bridges above.  Behind that little footbridge, could that be the Pont des Marchands, seen from the other side?  Got to be.  Those Ms certainly look encouraging.  Short answer, after only a very little more image googling: yes.

There’s nothing quite like seeing something for yourself.  And the next best thing is when you photo it without seeing it, and then see later that you did see it after all.

Saturday May 14 2016

Today I attended the Libertarian Home Benevolent Laissez-Faire Conference.  Here is the text of the opening speech by conference organiser Simon Gibbs.  And here is a selection of the photos I took, of the event and of the speakers:

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Conference programme here.

1.1: An attender.  1.2: The venue, very good, with a big side window looking out to a small basement level garden.  1.3: Syed Kamall.  1.4 and 2.1: Janina Lowisz and one of her slides.  2.2, 2.3 and 2.4: Julio Alejandro.  3.1: Simon Gibbs and Yaron Brook.  3.2: Brook.  3.3: Kyril and Rob helping with the books.  3.4: LH info, lit up by the afternoon sun through the window.  4.1: Anton Howes.  4.2: Howes and Brook.  4.3 and 4.4: Gibbs, Alejandro, Howes, Brook.

Friday May 06 2016

Travel and learn.

I mentioned in a recent posting that picture editing here in Thuir is different.  This is because I can’t remember the name of the photo-editing programme that I usually use, and am having to use a different one.  And the one I am using is called PhotoCat.  Irritating.  But one very good thing has emerged from all the irritation, which is that PhotoCat can do cropping which follows the original shape of the picture,which with me is always 4x3.  This means that I can now crop a picture and still have the final result the exact same 1000x750 pixels that all my other pictures are, and that means that I can easily do a much smaller version and make.  I could do that with my regular programme, but only with a lot of fiddling about.

PhotoCat also does rotating in a way that takes you straight to the biggest version you can then have, also while preserving the same proportions.

Here, for instance, appropriately enough, is picture of a cat which I took in Castelnou yesterday.  On the left is the original snap.  On the right is the cropped version.

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Whether the picture above actually needed cropping is not the point.  The point is that cropping, while keeping the shape the same, was painless.

As is rotating.  This same cat later did a bit of rotating of its own, so here is the original of it doing that, with my left foot intruding.  And on the right is my rotation of its rotating, also cropped:

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PhotoCat is a web based application, or I think it is.  It works pretty much like you own it, except that if your internet is down, it presumably doesn’t work.

This posting has been done to ensure that I do not forget the name of this programme.  PhotoCat.  By which I mean PhotoCat.