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

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Category archive: History

Tuesday March 24 2015

I’ve been reading Paul Kennedy’s Engineers of Victory, which is about how WW2 was won, by us good guys.  Kennedy, like many others, identifies the Battle of the Atlantic as the allied victory which made all the other victories over Germany by the Anglo-American alliance possible.  I agree with the Amazon reviewers who say things like “good overview, not much engineering”.  But this actually suited me quite well.  At least I now know what I want to know more about the engineering of.  And thanks to Kennedy, I certainly want to know more about how centimetric radar was engineered.

Centimetric radar was even more of a breakthrough, arguably the greatest. HF-DF might have identified a U-boat’s radio emissions 20 miles from the convoy, but the corvette or plane dispatched in that direction still needed to locate a small target such as a conning tower, perhaps in the dark or in fog.  The giant radar towers erected along the coast of southeast England to alert Fighter Command of Luftwaffe attacks during the Battle of Britain could never be replicated in the mid-Atlantic, simply because the structures were far too large.  What was needed was a miniaturized version, but creating one had defied all British and American efforts for basic physical and technical reasons: there seemed to be no device that could hold the power necessary to generate the microwave pulses needed to locate objects much smaller than, say, a squadron of Junkers bombers coming across the English Channel, yet still made small enough to be put on a small escort vessel or in the nose of a long-range aircraft.  There had been early air-to-surface vessel (ASV) sets in Allied aircraft, but by 1942 the German Metox detectors provided the U-boats with early warning of them.  Another breakthrough was needed, and by late spring of 1943 that problem had been solved with the steady introduction of 10-centimeter (later 9.1-centimeter) radar into Allied reconnaissance aircraft and even humble Flower-class corvettes; equipped with this facility, they could spot a U-boat’s conning tower miles away, day or night.  In calm waters, the radar set could even pick up a periscope. From the Allies’ viewpoint, the additional beauty of it was that none of the German systems could detect centimetric radar working against them.

Where did this centimetric radar come from?  In many accounts of the war, it simply “pops up”; Liddell Hart is no worse than many others in noting, “But radar, on the new 10cm wavelength that the U-boats could not intercept, was certainly a very important factor.” Hitherto, all scientists’ efforts to create miniaturized radar with sufficient power had failed, and Doenitz’s advisors believed it was impossible, which is why German warships were limited to a primitive gunnery-direction radar, not a proper detection system.  The breakthrough came in spring 1940 at Birmingham University, in the labs of Mark Oliphant (himself a student of the great physicist Ernest Rutherford), when the junior scientists John Randall and Harry Boot, working in a modest wooden building, finally put together the cavity magnetron.

This saucer-sized object possessed an amazing capacity to detect small metal objects, such as a U-boat’s conning tower, and it needed a much smaller antenna for such detection.  Most important of all, the device’s case did not crack or melt because of the extreme energy exuded.  Later in the year important tests took place at the Telecommunications Research Establishment on the Dorset coast.  In midsummer the radar picked up an echo from a man cycling in the distance along the cliff, and in November it tracked the conning tower of a Royal Navy submarine steaming along the shore. Ironically, Oliphant’s team had found their first clue in papers published sixty years earlier by the great German physicist and engineer Adolf Herz, who had set out the original theory for a metal casement sturdy enough to hold a machine sending out very large energy pulses.  Randall had studied radio physics in Germany during the 1930s and had read Herz’s articles during that time.  Back in Birmingham, he and another young scholar simply picked up the raw parts from a scrap metal dealer and assembled the device.

Almost inevitably, development of this novel gadget ran into a few problems: low budgets, inadequate research facilities, and an understandable concentration of most of Britain’s scientific efforts at finding better ways of detecting German air attacks on the home islands. But in September 1940 (at the height of the Battle of Britain, and well before the United States formally entered the war) the Tizard Mission arrived in the United States to discuss scientific cooperation.  This mission brought with it a prototype cavity magnetron, among many other devices, and handed it to the astonished Americans, who quickly recognized that this far surpassed all their own approaches to the miniature-radar problem.  Production and test improvements went into full gear, both at Bell Labs and at the newly created Radiation Laboratory (Rad Lab) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Even so, there were all sorts of delays - where could they fit the equipment and operator in a Liberator?  Where could they install the antennae? - so it was not until the crisis months of March and April 1943 that squadrons of fully equipped aircraft began to join the Allied forces in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Soon everyone was clamoring for centimetric radar - for the escorts, for the carrier aircraft, for gunnery control on the battleships.  The destruction of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst off the North Cape on Boxing Day 1943, when the vessel was first shadowed by the centimetric radar of British cruisers and then crushed by the radar-controlled gunnery of the battleship HMS Duke of York, was an apt demonstration of the value of a machine that initially had been put together in a Birmingham shed.  By the close of the war, American industry had produced more than a million cavity magnetrons, and in his Scientists Against Time (1946) James Baxter called them “the most valuable cargo ever brought to our shores” and “the single most important item in reverse lease-lend.” As a small though nice bonus, the ships using it could pick out life rafts and lifeboats in the darkest night and foggiest day.  Many Allied and Axis sailors were to be rescued this way.

Monday March 16 2015

Do you get bored with my obsession with photographing photographers?  Well, such photos are easily skipped.  It’s not like you have to read a whole chunk of stuff before you realised that the posting was of no interest to you.

Meanwhile, here is a cropped-out chunk of a photo I took on August 18th 2007, which tells me that, quite aside from photoing photoers being enormous fun at the time, photoing photoers will continue to be enormous fun far into the future, for as long as I have a future:

image

That’s right.  The lady is taking a picture with a small, cheap digital camera.  And she is, it would appear, on the phone, with her phone (one of the old-school folding sort) jammed between her raised-up shoulder and her ear.  You would never see such a thing now, because the two gadgets would now be one and the same gadget.

You get a similar thing when you see people simultaneously photoing with and wired up to and listening to the same phone, a “phone” that would have been two separate pieces of kit a while back.

Things that will change, like cameras and phones and music machines, are more interesting to photo than things that will not change any time soon, like Big Ben.

Friday March 06 2015

Libertarian Home have been having their meetings in several different venues of late.  Last night’s event was in the Prince of Wales, Covent Garden, which is on the corner of Long Acre and Drury Lane.  I got there a bit early, and filled the time by strolling along Long Acre towards where the old Alternative Bookshop once was, hoping for photoable diversion, and I was not disappointed.  Through a window, just across the road from Covent Garden tube, I spied, and photoed, this:

image image imageimage image image

I’m pretty sure I don’t like it, but it’s definitely a Thing worth photoing.  This time I remembered to photo enough information about the place to be able later to identify it.  The outside didn’t actually say what the place is, merely the address.  But that was enough for googling purposes.  It turns out this is a Fred Perry place, where Fred Perry and Co ... does things.  And this wooden Thing is a combination of reception desk, seating and window logo.  The Fred Perry enterprise makes, I assume sporty stuff and in particular sporty clothing, although that’s only a guess.  That Fred Perry website is all design but bizarrely little information.

It would be a lot more logical to have a reception desk, some seating, and a company logo in the window, each separate, each doing their own job, each replaceable as and when, or if decreed to be imperfect in some way.  Why do all these things need to be connected?  They don’t.  They need not to be connected.  And the reception desk bit must be very inconvenient actually to do receptioning on.

Thinking about this some more, this Thing makes me think that the Fred Perry enterprise is all about “design”, way beyond the bounds of intelligence or sanity or usefulness.  The website exudes the same atmosphere.  It tells you almost nothing, very prettily.  The whole company seems like one of those arrogantly stylish twats whose attitude is: I don’t have to explain myself.  I have your attention.  I am not going to deign to use it by actually talking to you.  I am wonderful and wonderfully stylish me.  That is enough for mere you.  Consider yourself lucky to be even seeing me.

But then, I guess that I am not their target demographic.  I am neither sporty (as in actually doing sport), nor stylish (as in myself wanting to look stylish).

While trying to find some kind of link to this enterprise, I learned that Fred Perry, the man himself, Wimbledon tennis champion in the year whenever it was, was also the 1929 world champion at ping pong.  Blog and learn.

Thursday March 05 2015

Here is another bit from a book which I found particularly interesting, having just purchased and started to read the book in question.

In the Preface of A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain, Marc Morris writes that the first question everyone asks is: Was that Edward the Confessor?  No.  He came much earlier, before the Norman Conquest.  Question number two was more interesting, because it has a more interesting answer.  It concerns evidence:

The second question that has usually been put to me concerns the nature of the evidence for writing the biography of a medieval king, and specifically its quantity.  In general, people tend to presume that there can’t be very much, and imagine that I must spend my days poking around in castle muniment rooms, looking for previously undiscovered scraps of parchment.  Sadly, they are mistaken.  The answer I always give to the question of how much evidence is: more than one person could look at in a lifetime.  From the early twelfth century, the kings of England began to keep written accounts of their annual expenditure, and by the end of the century they were keeping a written record of almost every aspect of royal government.  Each time a royal document was issued, be it a grand charter or a routine writ, a copy was dutifully entered on to a large parchment roll.  Meanwhile, in the provinces, the king’s justices kept similar rolls to record the proceedings of the cases that came before his courts.  Miraculously, the great majority of these documents have survived, and are now preserved in the National Archives at Kew near London.  Some of them, when unrolled, extend to twenty or thirty feet.  And their number is legion: for the thirteenth century alone, it runs to tens of thousands.  Mercifully for the medieval historian, the most important have been transcribed and published, but even this printed matter would be enough to line the walls of an average-sized front room with books.  Moreover, the quantity is increased by the inclusion of non-royal material.  Others besides the king were keeping records during Edward I’s day.  Noblemen also drew up financial accounts, issued charters and wrote letters; monks did the same, only in their case the chances of such material surviving was much improved by their membership of an institution.  Monks, in addition, continued to do as they had always done, and kept chronicles, and these too provide plenty to keep the historian busy.  To take just the most obvious example from the thirteenth century, the monk of St Albans called Matthew Paris composed a chronicle, the original parts of which cover the quarter century from 1234 to 1259.  In its modern edition it runs to seven volumes.

I say all this merely to demonstrate how much there is to know about our medieval ancestors, and not to pretend that I have in some way managed to scale this mountain all by myself.  For the most part I have not even had to approach the mountain at all, for this book is grounded on the scholarly work of others.  Nevertheless, even the secondary material for a study of Edward I presents a daunting prospect.  At a conservative estimate, well over a thousand books and articles have been published in the last hundred years that deal with one aspect or another of the king’s reign.  For scholarly works on the thirteenth century as a whole, that figure would have to be multiplied many times over.

Sunday March 01 2015

The other day (to be more exact: on this day) I described England as a “dead team walking”, in the currently unfolding Cricket World Cup.  So, if England now turn around and start winning and winning well, well, that’s good because hurrah England.  But if England carry on losing, and losing badly, then hurrah me for being right.

How to snatch happiness out of thin air: be a prophet of doom proved right.  There are other ways to place a bet besides spending money.

This explains a lot about the world, I think.  Basically, as Steven Pinker has pointed out in the first half of that excellent (because of its first half) book of his, everything (approximately speaking) is getting better, slowly and with many back-trackings, but surely.  Yet to listen to publicly expressed opinion, both public and posh, you’d think that everything was getting worse, all the time.  And it’s been like that throughout most of recorded history.  But people are not really that pessimistic.  All that is really happening is that people are predicting the worst in order to be happy if the worst happens, and also happy if the worst does not happen.

Wednesday February 25 2015

It often happens with me that, while rootling around in the archives for one picture, I stumble across another which strikes me as worth showing to the massed ranks of BrianMicklethwaitDotCom’s readers.

Pictures like this, for instance, which I took at the top of the Monument, in November 2012:

image

Small, blurry, totally recognisable.  Definitely a Big Thing.

As for all that wire netting (which I believe dramatically lowers the cheese content of the above shot), well, here is another shot, of how matters at the top of the Monument used to be not so long ago:

image

I took that in July 2007.  (Note the pleasingly dated camera.) The change from prison bars to wire netting, which happened soon after that, was presumably because of different versions of health and safety.  Originally there was neither, just some waste high railings.  See this hand-done photo “by Canalleto (after)”, whatever that means.  (His production line, but not him, maybe?) And see also this picture.

Monday February 23 2015

This coming Friday I have another of my Last Friday of the Month meetings at my home in London SW1.  This coming Friday is, after all, the last Friday of the month, so the logic is inexorable.  Every Friday (even if the last Friday of, say, December 2014, happened to be Boxing Day, as it was) there is a Last Friday of the Month meeting at my home.

I have been having email problems, in the form of people using gmail suddenly not receiving my emails, so even if you thought you were on my list but hear nothing via email, be assured that this meeting will happen.  Try emailing me (which should work) and then telling your spam filter not to reject my reply, which you will have to do despite it being a particular individual reply.  I know, crazy.  I hope to write more about this problem in a posting at Samizdata, Real Soon Now.

Or, if you intend coming to this particular meeting, you could leave a comment below, and I will respond saying message received and look forward to greeting you.

Anyway, this coming Friday (Feb 27), Pete Comley will be talking about inflation.  He has recently published a book on the subject, which you can learn about in this posting at Comley’s website.  And you can hear what Comley sounds like and a little of how he thinks by listening to this short interview with Simon Rose of Share Radio.

image

The thing about Comley is that he takes a long-term - very long-term - view of inflation.  He began a recent talk I attended by discussing inflation at the time of the Roman Empire.

And in the long-term, there are not one but two major influences on inflation.  There is, of course, the supply of money, by the powers that be who have always insisted upon supplying money.  And when they make too many coins, too many bank notes or create too much bank credit, the price of regular stuff in shops goes creeping, or rocketing, up.  But there is also the demand for that regular stuff.  In particular, human population fluctuates.  At some moments in history, population shoots up.  At other times it falls, or at the very least the rate at which it increases falls.  Just now, in country after country, the birthrate is falling, and that has consequences for inflation.

Before you say it, I’ll say if for you.  Many simply define inflation as the first of these two processes but not the second.  Inflation is what money issuers do to the money supply.  A price rise caused by rising demand is simply not inflation.  It is a mere price rise.  Fair enough.  It certainly makes sense to distinguish these two processes from each other, however hard it may be for consumers to do this when both are happening to them.  And if you do that by restricting the definition of inflation in this way, then be aware that Pete Comley’s talk will be about inflation thus defined and about price rises sparked by rising demand, and for that matter about price stability caused by static demand.  (He says, by the way, that we might be about to enjoy just such a period of price stability.  And although you can never be sure about such things, better handling of the recent financial crisis, and we might have got there already.)

There is also the question of what causes money issuers to inflate, in the second and more restricted sense of inflation.  They seem to do this more at certain historical junctures than at others.  Inflation, restrictively defined, does not just cause bad economic experiences; it is itself caused, more at some times than at others.

All very interesting, or so I think.  Libertarians like me tend to be quite well informed about recent monetary history and about the evils of fiat currencies, the Fed, the Bank of England, and so on and so forth.  We tend to know a lot less about similar episodes in the more distant past to what he have recently experienced.  In general, we are more interested in the fluctuating supply of money than in the way that population fluctuations influence prices.

Pete Comley has a small but particular soft spot for me, on account of me having been the one who drew his attention to this book about the long-term history of prices (The Great Wave by David Hackett Fischer), which seems to have had quite a big influence on his latest book, which is called Inflation Matters.  It certainly does.

Monday February 16 2015

Incoming from 6k, with apologies for taking so long to post it:

Re your Bayeux Tapestry post, please find attached a 500x18px copy of that very wide/long (9917px) version on the site you linked to.

image

Would a photo thinned to 18px in height be a record for BrianMicklethwaitDotCom?

Probably.

For some idiot reason, when I first came across the big image, sideways scrollable, at that site liked to above, I couldn’t seem to manage to download the image, and gave up, hence my request.  All I got was the entire page.  Just now I tried it again, and succeeded at once.  That kind of thing often happens with me.  6K mentioned a resizing site.  But of course, resizing images is something I do all the time, with my regular photoshop-clone.  My problem was not having the image file in the first place. (I now realise that I did download the image, several times.  I just didn’t realise where it had gone.  That also happens to me a lot.)

6k also mentions another Bayeux Tapestry sighting he recently made, of bits of it redone with Lego.

Sunday February 15 2015

While half-watching the rugby yesterday I was also half-rootling-around in my photo archives, and I came across a photo of a carpet.  I had put it in a special separate directory, on its own, but then forgotten about it.  It had a rather interesting message to impart.

Click on this …:

image

… to get the bigger carpet.

But whose carpet was this?  This is where the internet comes in.  I googled “true hearts and warm hands” and immediately learned that this is the motto of the Worshipful Company of Glovers.  Turning to images, I found no other pictures of the actual carpet, but scroll down to the “Glover’s window” here.  The same graphics as on the carpet.

As for my picture, I took it on November 6th 2006, at an event organised by the Globalisation Institute, now long gone.  The event was attended by, among others, the Prime Minister.  Most of the pictures I took, including those I took of the Prime Minister, were very bad, because my camera was no good in poor indoor light, such as prevailed that evening, somewhere in the City of London.

Did you know that Shakespeare’s father was a glover?  If you didn’t you do now.

Wednesday February 11 2015

One of the better kept secrets of the popular entertainment industry of the modern world is how very good certain people are at faking reality, with quite small but very well made models.  Thoughtless people say they can always spot such fakery.  But the truth is that they only spot what they spot.  What they don’t spot, they don’t spot.  Obvious, if you think about it.  The same principle applies to things like men wearing wigs.  We can only see them when they are done badly.

So, I’m guessing that not everyone in Hollywood will be pleased about the internet presence of this guy, who contrives pictures like this ...:

image

… by doing this:

image

I found out about Michael Paul Smith from this Colossal posting, which is also where I got the above photos.

Much of the success of such fakery is to do with the camera being in the right place.  In particular, it needs to be low enough to see things from the same angle that a human would see them if the scene was real.

I remember first working this out when, as a kid, I went through a model railway magazine phase, a craze I caught from my best friend just a few doors away in Harvest Road, Englefield Green.  Most of the pictures in those magazines were obviously of models, but this was not because the models were always badly made.  It was because the camera was looking down on the scene, just as you do when you are looking at a model.  On the few occasions when the photographer would take the trouble to get his camera at real eye level, so to speak, it was amazing how realistic everything could suddenly look.

By the same token, and being only an occasional flyer, I have never yet tired of the thrill of looking down at the ground, preferably at built-up areas, from an airplane in the process of taking off or landing.  Everything looks like toys.  Really, really well made toys.  Your frequent flyers have got used to the idea that this is really just boring old reality, seen from above.  But to me, what I see from an airplane is something totally different from reality.  It is an entire world, painstakingly faked in miniature, for my personal entertainment.

Tuesday February 10 2015

Lynn writes about English history, and recommends this book about the Norman Conquest of the eleventh century, which sounds good and which I immediately ordered from Amazon, together with this book, which also sounds good.

Lynn mentions the Bayeux Tapestry, which is apparently one of the key sources for what happened during the Norman Conquest.  I knew very little about this, but the Internet answers all questions and answers most of them quite quickly.  Lynn herself links to a site about a Victorian copy of the Tapestry (in Reading (I had no idea about that)), in her next posting.

It turns out that the Bayeux Tapestry is the ultimate in horizontalised (that link is to a clutch of horizontalised viaducts here) graphics, as in wide but thin top-to-bottom.  It is 230ft wide.  And it is 20 inches high.  You want wide and thin?  I do.  That’s wide and thin.  Here is a picture of the actual Bayeux Tapestry, as it is now displayed, that makes it look like a giant Metro advert.

In a perfect world, I would be able to find a giant long and thin graphic of the entire thing, which you could scroll through horizontally.  And, guess what.  It is a perfect world.  Thank you note 3, here, towards the end.

Anyone know how I could shrink that down to 500 pixels wide?

Friday February 06 2015

Pride of place in David Thompson’s ephemera today, and pride of place this Friday at Bmdotcom, goes to the cat who changed her mind.  She stepped out, with just the one paw.  She pawsed.  Paw cold cat!  She pawed cold water on the original plan and retreated back into the warm.

In other cat news: Why cats like to hide in boxes.  It’s because they like to hide.  They’re not good at conflict resolution.

So rather than work things out, cats are more inclined to simply run away from their problems or avoid them altogether. A box, in this sense, can often represent a safe zone, a place where sources of anxiety, hostility, and unwanted attention simply disappear.

I’m not the only one doing frightful cat puns.  Belfast Telegraph headline:

Why Cats is still not feline its age after thirty years in the limelight

Guardian headline:

Cats take centre stage at Perth’s first internet cat video festival

More cat news from Oz, this time transport related.  Brisbane Times headline:

Uber delivers cats on demand with UberKittens

Finally, the New York Times reports on work by Professor Matthew Ehrlich on the history of media coverage of cats.  From the Ehrlich’s abstract:

This article critically examines the Times’ cat tales in the context of the cultural history of journalism and the academic study of human–animal relations, also known as anthrozoology. Trends and themes in the coverage indicate that cats have been used and portrayed as commodities, heroes, villains, victims, women’s best friends, and urban symbols. The stories demonstrate how and why animal news should be taken seriously by journalism scholars. Not only does it offer insight into our evolving relationships with animals, it also provides a provocative means of thinking about where journalism has been and where it is heading.

Critically examines?  He just wants to get lots of internet mentions.  This is mere academic postmoggyism.

Time to stop.

Tuesday January 27 2015

Lexington Green, here:

What if … ?

What would a history of the British Empire look like if it did not use the “rise and fall” metaphor?

What would that history look like if it examined not just the political framework or just the superficial gilt and glitter, or just the cruelty and crimes, but the deeper and more enduring substance?

What if someone wrote a history of the impact of the English speaking people and their institutions (political, financial, professional, commercial, military, technical, scientific, cultural), and the infinitely complex web of interconnections between them, as a continuous and unbroken story, with a past a present … and a future?

In other words, what if we were to read a history that did not see a rising British Empire followed by a falling Empire, then a rising American Empire which displaced it, but an organism which has taken on many forms over many centuries, and on many continents, but is nonetheless a single life?

What if we assume that the British Empire was not something that ended, but that the Anglosphere, of which the Empire was one expression, is something that has never stopped growing and evolving, and taking on new institutional forms?

What if it looked at the unremitting advance, the pitiless onslaught, universal insinuation, of the English speakers on the rest of the world, seizing big chunks of it (North America, Australia), sloshing up into many parts of it and receding again (India, Nigeria, Malaya), carving permanent marks in the cultural landscape they left behind, all the while getting wealthier and more powerful and pushing the frontiers of science and technology and all the other forms of material progress?

What if jet travel and the Internet have at last conquered the tyranny of distance which the Empire Federationists of a century ago dreamed that steam and telegraph cables would conquer? What if they were just a century too early?

What if linguistic and cultural commonalities are more important than mere geographical location in creating political unity in this newly shrunken world?

I recall musing along the same kind of lines myself, a while back.

The important thing is, this mustn’t be advertised first as a plan.  If that happens, then all the people who are against the Anglosphere, and who prefer places like Spain and Venezuela and Cuba and Hell, will use their ownership of the Mainstream Media to Put A Stop to the plan.  What needs to happen is for us to just do it, and then after about two decades of us having just done it, they’ll realise that it is a fate (as the Hellists will describe it) accompli.

Because, guess what, we probably are already doing it.

Friday January 16 2015

Here:

Sadly Jacob Rees-Mogg is not taking part, his cat wasn’t feline up to it. The big pussy. ...

Etcatera, etcatera.

Guido keeps going on about the Guidoisation of politics.  But he, it would appear, is on the receiving end of the ever rising tide of internet cat references.

imageMeanwhile, another outing here for the only cat reference I saw at the Charlie Hebdo demo in Trafalgar Square last Sunday.

Guido has of course been all over that story.

I’ve just been listening to Christopher Hitchens reading out what is apparently one of the chapters of his book God Is Not Great, and there is a cat reference in that also. Although down on dogs, it seems that the Muslims have tended, historically, to be nicer to cats than the Christians, because Christians have been in the habit of associating cats with the Devil.

Good grief!  More Guido moggy-blogging.

Thursday January 15 2015

Here’s a nice coincidence.  There I was writing about how I went from being, in my teens, a bad pen-and-ink picture-maker to, from around 2000 onwards, a far happier digital-photographic picture maker.  And here is a picture that captures that kind of metamorphosis perfectly:

image

It’s one of these pictures by Christoph Niemann.  Niemann’s pictures bring to mind that phrase used by one of the alter egos of Barry Humphries, Barry McKenzie, who described paintings as “hand done photos”.  These pictures really do only work as photos.  Until they are photoed, the job is not done.  But the hand-done bit is essential to what they are.

One thing about these pictures that I particularly like, apart from the basic fact that I like them, is their very favourable effort-to-impact ratio.  For my taste, too much of the picture-making displayed at Colossal consists of stuff that is quite nice to look at, but which took an absurdly huge amount of time and effort to contrive.  Also, there is often no logical or even meaningful connection between how the pictures are contrived and how they end up looking.  So, you’ve made a table cloth out of seeds.  Clever you.  But, why?  Niemann’s pictures answer this question perfectly.

But then again, the internet being the internet, if your elaborately pointless pictures catch people’s fancy and thousands glance at them, then I guess that, if you put in a lot of time and effort, you may well reckon than all the time and effort was worth it, especially if you had fun spending it and doing it.  And of course it is digital photography that transforms a laboriously produced one-off item of visual art that took far too much time and effort to do, into a mass experience that it made sense to spend a lot of time and effort doing.  But, most of these intricate sculptures and pictures at Colossal are just sculptures and pictures that were then photographed.  Niemann’s pictures are real Hand Done Photos.

As for me, between being a bad pen-and-ink picture maker and an okay-to-good digital photographer, I endured a big interval during which I made hardly any pictures of any kind.  My pictorial enthusiasm expressed itself in the design of pamphlets, and graphic design generally.  Basically I became a desktop publisher.  (I even earned money doing this.) First I just did publishing, on a desktop, paper-scissors-glue-photocopier.  Then computers arrived, and I was an early adopter of “desktop publishing”.  Then the internet arrived, and drew a big line under all that stuff.  I shovelled all my pamphlets onto the internet, and became a blogger.  And, I bought my first digital camera.  At first, blogging and digital photography did not mix very well.  Now, they mix very well indeed.