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: Computer graphics

Wednesday July 26 2017

I have a new camera, and I am not as happy as I would like to be about the photos I am photoing with it.  They often seem vague and blurry, as if seen through a mist.

But then again, the humidity levels during the last week or two have been very high.  Maybe the views have all looked as if seen through a mist because they were seen through a mist.

Here, for instance, is a photo of a favourite building of mine, the big decorated box that is the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, as seen from Westminjster Bridge, which is quite a way away:

image

But I got to work with my Photoshop clone, and beefed up the contrast, and darkened things a bit.

Thus:

image

Which looks a bit better.  I’ve chased away some of the mist.  The trees look greener.  The details of the ROH’s exterior decoration are clearer.

I have a vague recollection of trying to reset my camera, so that it did things more darkly and more contrastingly.  Maybe at that point, I contrived to do the opposite of what I thought I was doing.

But then again, not long after taking that photo, I took this one, of the giant 4 outside the Channel 4 headquarters building at the top end of Horseferry Road, a short walk away from where I live.  I often go past it on my way home after an afternoon of wandering, and so it was that day, nearly a week ago now:

image

That looks bright enough and clear enough, doesn’t it?  That’s without any zoom, i.e. space filled with blurriness.  And without this weather making its presence felt, the picture doesn’t look like it needs any artificial editing attention.  So maybe the camera is fine, and it has been the weather.  And I just made the weather better.

Tuesday July 25 2017

My day was dominated by the acquisition, and then the installation, of one of these.  Which looks like this:

image

Sorry about all the blank white space there.  I’d fill it up with words, if only I knew how to do that.

But despite being the sort of person who is unable to make blog-words move closer to complicated shapes like that one, I made the gadget itself work perfectly.

I picked it up this afternoon from Chateau Samizdata, where all my Amazonia gets delivered in order to stop it being stolen from my place by thieves pretending to be delivery men.  (Only one of my neighbours has to be conned, and they’re in.) And this evening, I got it out of its box and put it all together, and it worked first time.  Now my new computer screen hovers miraculously over my desk, instead of being held up by an idiotically cumbersome and desk-space consuming stand.  I can even open it like a door and get at all the storage space behind it.

One of the symptoms of advancing years is that newly acquired gadgetry, of the sort that consists of about twenty different bits that you have to assemble yourself, just never works without about of week of assembling and re-assembling and effing and blinding.  But this one worked first time, and exactly as advertised.

It helped that the instructions were only in one language, English.  As a general rule, the more professional the instructions look, the worse they actually are.  It’s the difference between instructions written by lawyers who bury the instructions that matter in lots of defensively irrelevant safety instructions that a six year old wouldn’t need to be told, and instructions written, and illustrated, by someone who actually wants you to succeed in assembling the thing.

Maybe I’ll rewrite this for Amazon.

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.

Thursday July 13 2017

Throughout this week I have occasionally had the BBC tennis coverage from Wimbledon on, mostly silently.  My favourite moments so far have both involved Johanna Konta, but on a happier day for her than today.  (Today she was crushed in straight sets by Venus Williams.)

Here, in contrast, we see Ms Konta striding off the court after defeating her previous opponent in the quarter finals, photoed by someone other than just the BBC:

image

And the next screen capture also involves a smartphone taking pictures of Ms Konta.  Moments later, we observe Konta doing the twenty first century version of an autograph, in the form of a selfie, with a Chelsea Pensioner:

image

I am so used to hiding the facial identity of people on this blog that I did the same for Konta in this screen capture, choosing a moment when the smartphone is covering her face.  And while telling myself that if you dress as ostentatiously as that Chelsea pensioner, you don’t get anonymity, or not here.

Oddly, when I did those screen captures, I move the mouse out of the picture, and the stuff at the bottom of the picture, showing the yellow line slowly working its way across the screen, disappeared.  But then it reappeared in the screen captures.

Which is why I show the version of this next bit of BBC coverage in the form of the photo I took of my TV rather than the screen capture of this image.  That latter would have been useless.  Yes, its the view of the Big Things of London, as seen from high up above the Centre Court:

image

Click to get the entire screen.

This primitively twentieth century way of capturing a TV image proved quite successful.  It compared favourably, for instance, with this picture ...:

image

Which I found here, on Flickr.  Click on that link for the original, but I think you will agree that this guy’s photo is actually not as clear the one I concocted with my camera.  It’s the weather.  When he took his photo, it was gloomy.  When the BBC did the Big Things shot that I photoed, the weather was a lot brighter.

Johanna Konta was born of Hungarian parents in Australia and then raised in Australia.  But, what with her family having moved here more recently, and her having got to the semi-finals, she is now British.  Andy Murray, on the other hand, is back to being Scottish.

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?

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.

Monday July 03 2017

More photos of photoers.  I knew you’d be excited.

Ever since the Tate Extension opened about a year ago now, I’ve been popping up to the top of it every so often, to check out the changing scene that is to be seen from there.

But I have also discovered a whole new genre of photo up there, provoked by the big dots on the glass screens that divide the inside of the top from the walkways outside, where you do the viewing from.

Often, these dots give me something to focus on, while still capturing, out of focus, the postures and gestures, rather than the facial likenesses, of the objects of my attention.  Or, the dots, themselves out of focus, provide some visual diversion.

Almost always, the photoers are in silhouette, again good for avoiding facial identifiability.  Also, silhouettes show up pretty well on my current crappy little computer screen, which I think I will soon be replacing.  So now is a good time to be doing this posting:

imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage
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Occasionally, the light behind the photoers is enlivened architecturally, which I like.  But as often as not, not.  And as it happens, I think my favourite of these is 2.1, which features no architecture at all.

But I also like 2.3 and 4.1, which do feature architecture, because of the architecture.

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.

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.

Thursday June 01 2017

Should a tube map look like this, which shows the real places and distances of everything, but is confusing, especially if you are looking at the middle …

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… ?

Or like this, which is the usual way you see tube maps, all designed, with inner suburban distances shortened, to make everything more clear, especially in the crowded middle …

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… ?

Answer, do the map as a .gif and show both, morphing into each other.

Now that TV screens for advertising are becoming ubiquitous at tube stations, seemingly costing hardly any more than paper of the same size (changed by hand from time to time), why not have TV screens at tube stations with .gifs like this on show?  Maybe you could have buttons on them, so individual viewers could switch from one to the other in their own time?  Would this cause arguments between rival viewers?  Revised suggestion: Have three displays on one screen: on the left, real distances; .gif in the middle; “designed” on the right.

Wednesday May 17 2017

Today I had a New Zealand day.

In the afternoon I had a whole lot of fun catching up with Tony, whom I last saw in about 1763.  Well, 1984, to be exact.  Still a long time ago.  Apparently Chris Tame and I and the Alternative Bookshop and all that had a big impact on his early thinking.  Tony is a New Zealander, who lives in New Zealand with Mrs Tony and the three grown-up Baby Tonys, and he is now on a flying visit back to Europe with Mrs Tony.  Message to Tony: here is Samizdata.

And then after that I attended a double talk at the Adam Smith Institute, by two other New Zealanders, about what we Brits can learn from them about how to make the best of Brexit.  Here are four of the photos I took.  On the left, two of the graphics, 1.1 being the one on the screen before they got started, and the other being about New Zealand immigration, which is apparently a lot better system than ours is.

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And on the right, the two speakers.  The first one turned out to be a German New Zealander.  Fair enough.  He talked about immigration, and he knows a lot about that.

The second guy talked about agriculture and about fishing.