Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Chuck Pergiel on White van reflexology
Darren on Two photographers photoing me
Simon Gibbs on Digital photography ballet
Brian Micklethwait on My next camera?
Brian Micklethwait on My next camera?
Michael Jennings on No wicket in fourth over shock
Alastair on A blast from the photographic past
Brian Micklethwait on Photographers by the river
Darren on Photographers by the river
Laban on Out and about with GD1 (5): Stoke Newington's Amazing Castle
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- Weird wide angle lens effect
- Shiny little car
- On clapping in between movements at classical concerts
- Brightly lit against a dark background
- Alcoholic Architecture sign
- Big Ben through the legs of Gandhi statue in Parliament Square
- You can’t make a skyscraper out of containers
- A couple of old squares
- Further spectacular information storage progress (which will immediately become very useful)
- A big Black Cab advert picture for a Samizdata posting
- Designing and building with glass
- White van reflexology
- Photoing down by the river
- iPhone with added fish eye lens
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Category archive: Computer graphics
Just had another rootle in the photo-archives, and I encountered two nice (if rather cheesey (but I don’t care)) photos, which had in common that there were not entirely nice, but that if I cropped a couple of squares out of them, they became a lot nicer. The one on the left is the bottom right hand corner of the original. The one on the right is two thirds of the original with the left one third omitted.
Taken in Jan 2007 and Feb 2008. (Feb: no leaves.)
When I first started noticing new architecture about fifty years ago, glass figured prominently in the ravings of Modernist propagandists, being the means by which buildings made themselves transparent and thereby proclaimed their structural honesty and modernity.
This same glass was routinely hated by those obliged to live or work behind it. Glass was the means by which unfortunate inmates of Modernism were fried in the summer, frozen in the winter, or had their skirts looked up through by passing oglers. The heating and air-conditioning bills could be stupendous. Often, inmates shoved cardboard behind this glass, to diminish its worst impacts. Glass in modernistic buidings regularly got broken, often deliberately, not least because first generation modern buildings, at any rate in the UK, often brought out the worst in those subjected to it.
How times have changed, by which I mean: how glass has changed. It is far more varied now, far more cleverly made, far stronger and less breakable, and far more carefully used in buildings. Which is not surprising given that glass has only grown in importance, and in the percentage of the surface area of buildings that it now covers.
What follows is the whole of a short report, by Chris Jarvis of Sheppard Robson, of a round table conversation in which he participated last May, about the use of glass in building, organised by the Architect’s Journal.
The prose is sometimes rather businessy and clunky, but I found the content fascinating:
The conversation was focused on the specification of high-performance glazing. More specifically, how fundamental changes within the industry – which include shifts in legislation and the drive for efficiency in our built environment – have resulted in the specification of glass being determined much earlier in the design process.
Glazing is no longer an adjunct that is decided upon once a concept design is complete and planning has been granted. Issues such as orientation, shading and air-tightness need to be considered in the early stages of projects along with the specification of the glass to ensure the target energy performances can be met. Rigorous energy modelling is also important to enable the right glazing option to be chosen for project, site and client.
Availability of data
One of the key challenges in the specification process is the availability of the necessary rigorous data on materials. Currently, there is a feeling across the industry that the level of detailed product information is not readily available across the board. This provokes the question of how can technology be harnessed to collate the necessary technical performance and cost data - which architects, façade engineers and contractors can use - to make the right choices earlier in the process.
A holistic approach needs to be taken to assess all of the above criteria and select the most appropriate single, double or triple glazed units to meet the performance requirements, whilst staying within budget. Triple glazing is not currently a widely used material to boost performance, mostly due to the cost of the product. However, over the next few years this is likely to change: as triple glazing products become more widely used and technology develops to decrease the weight of the product, it will become more viable for projects and client budgets.
However, the use of more advanced, highly tuned technology requires more monitoring after completion to access the efficiency of the product over the lifespan of the building. Currently, rigorous data of how glazing performs after 10 and more years does not exist; how can new products help the industry close the ‘performance gap’ and alert us to poorly performing glass that is ultimately having a major impact on the efficiency of our built environment.
I chanced upon this at the Sheppard Robson website after photoing one of their buildings, the new headquarters of the Salvation Army, near St Paul’s, and then looking that up on the www:
It looks good, even if custom build HQs often spell trouble for the organisations which move into them.
While I’m on the subject of glass, several incoming emails have wanted to be sure that I had clocked this:
That’s a swimming pool made of glass. I yearn to photo oligarchical mistresses frolicking about in it, but, no chance. This will be inside a very gated community, in the vicinity of the new US Embassy in Battersea. I am optimistic, however, that we might all eventually catch a glimpse of such a thing in a James Bond movie, complete with frolicking oligarchical mistresses.
The above picture, and further details, here.
I like Palestra House, outside Southwark Tube. It’s a bit trashy and seventies looking, but I like it. Especially in nice weather, as it was when I recently photoed it, on the right here:
On the left is how Palestra House was looking on March 31st 2005. There was a faked-up picture of what they thought it would look like on the outside of the site, but you never really know these days, by which I mean for the last three decades or so. Although, there was an early clue, in the form of the beginnings of the glass cladding, as you can see.
One definition of Modern Movement modernism sixties vintage (as opposed to the later and more stylish versions), would be to say that when it was being built you did know only too well what it was going to look like. It was going to look like … that. And that … was not good.
I think that Palestra House, on the other hand, turned out quite good.
The Helter Skelter began to rise up a couple of years or so back, but then it stopped. Now, the Helter Skelter has been reborn, as the tallest Big Thing in this faked-up picture, in the middle:
The really good news:
At the top, London’s highest bar and restaurant will sit alongside a free public viewing gallery offering vistas over the smaller neighbouring towers, including Richard Rodger’s Cheesegrater, Rafael Viñoly’s Walkie Talkie and Foster + Partners’ Gherkin.
Eat your heart out Shard. Free public viewing platform. You’ll probably have to check in on a website the night before. But even so, good.
I promise nothing, but … expect pictures here of the Cheesegrater, the Walkie Talkie and the Gherkin, from above.
This afternoon I went walkabout, with quite another object in mind than the Shard. But, the Shard was looking peculiarly beautiful this evening, at any rate from where I was standing, on the Millennium Bridge.
At present I am not seeing this picture nearly as clearly as you probably are, because my proper computer (Godot) is ill and my laptop (
Dawkins Judas) only has a very small and inadequate screen.
What I hope you are seeing is the sky looking very earthly, but the Shard looking almost heavenly. The sky looks rough and the Shard looks smooth. The sky looks matt and the Shard looks gloss. Sky behind the Shard is dark, the Sky reflected off the Shard is light. London is dim, but the Shard is bright.
Renzo Piano, who designed this wondrous Thing, saw all this coming. He knew that the Shard would reflect in a quite different way to a merely vertical Thing, and today this effect was to be seen at its very best. I can only hope that my photo gives at least a clue of what was going on.
Indeed. After meeting the extended family and photoing those Dinky Toys, I made my way back to Egham Station via the RAF Memorial at the top of the hill that overlooks Runnymede. Runnymede and a lot else.
In the foreground, the River Thames. To the right, in the far distance, London and its towers, just visible, if you are lucky with the weather. Next to London and a bit nearer, Heathrow Airport, with the Wembley Arch clearly to be seen behind it. Straight ahead, big reservoirs.
And to the left, Windsor Castle:
Click on that little picture to get the bigger picture.
I am having a recurrence of those computer problems I described in this earlier posting, but have discovered that my picture processing programme does function after all, after a fashion. But very badly, and I am posting this picture of Windsor Castle because I remember that picture to be good, rather than because I know it to be.
The pictures I took from the top of the RAF Memorial yesterday seemed to me better than ones I had taken before from this spot, and I suspect that this is because yesterday was the first time I had used my latest camera at this vantage point. But my computer problems struck again before I could check this feeling against actual facts.
So meanwhile, enjoy Windsor Castle, assuming that the picture is as enjoyable as I remember it seeming to be when I looked at it last night.
Incoming from 6k, to whom thanks:
Busy in the lab, but thought you might appreciate this …:
… from here.
It’s old, but maybe interesting.
That’s London, of course, and I cropped the original graphic somewhat, concentrating on the top right hand corner.
Presumably the red bits are where the tourists go. And the blue bits are where the locals are to be found. But how exactly was this graphic concocted? Is it a map of flickr activity? (Should there be a “digital photographers” category below?) And what are the yellow bits?
Colour me purple. I live here, and I’m a tourist.
I wonder if me posting this will help:
And when I say “if me posting this will help”, what I mean is: if me posting this will help me. To take an informed interest in all this stuff, and then to start doing it.
All this stuff being:
That being a link to the posting at Quotulatiousness, in the heading of which those words are to be found, and where I found the above graphic. Mr Quotulatiousness found the graphic here.
I have tended to own cameras from which, had I understood all this stuff, I might have got the occasional much better result. However, the only reasons I owned such clever cameras was that I wanted lots of zoom and a twiddly screen. With all that, they have tended also to be very clever. But I have treated all of them as brainless point-and-shoot cameras. All my thinking has gone into the matter of what I have pointed at and shot at.
Goddaughter One once tried to give me a lesson in all this stuff. Well, correction, she did give me a lesson in all this stuff. But it didn’t stick, at all. One of the categories below is one of my favourites: how the mind works. But perhaps this posting would be better labelled as: how the mind doesn’t work.
One of my favourite buildings that I’ve never seen is the recently completed (quite recently completed - 2008) Oslo Opera House, which looks like this:
Sooner or later, some big public building was bound to be built like this, with a roof that doubles up as a big public open space, where you can walk to the highest spot on the building’s roof, without once having to go indoors.
Oslo Opera has become a new landmark for the city and proved an instant success with both locals and tourists.
And of course, that roof doesn’t have to be the bland and featureless desert that this one is, in this picture. Sooner or later, it will acquire roof clutter! Perhaps it already has.
As entire cities compete with one another for tourists, buildings like this, with walkabout roofs, will surely become ever more common, as ever more tourists search, as I search, for places up in the sky from which to take tourist snaps. It is no accident that I found the above picture and quote at a site called Visit Norway. (Although sadly, this Visit Norway site fucks with the links and causes them not to work, and these fucked links also fuck with subsequent links which are none of Visit Norway’s damn business. This caused me major problems, until I just stripped out all Visit Norway linkage, at which point sanity was restored. So if you care, you’ll have to find the damn place for yourself. I think Visit Norway was trying to help. It failed. Norway, sort this out.)
Even as I praise this building, I make no judgement about what goes on inside it. The point of these “iconic” buildings - horizontal Big Things - you might say, is that they are fun to visit, regardless of their mere indoor contents. See also: Tate Modern. After all, one of the advantages of a roof like this is that the roof can be enjoyed even as the inside of the building can be entirely ignored.
What got me writing about this Oslo building was a recent posting at Dezeen, featuring another proposed building by the same architects, Snohetta (which has a forward slash through the “o") which uses the same trick, of people being able to walk up to the top in a big zig zag. This time it is a museum in Budapest:
And oh look, I went to the Sn o-with-forward-slash hetta website, and here is another Snohetta proposal, using the same trick, for another opera house, this time in Busan, South Korea:
With the design of the Busan Opera, the opera is no longer a passive playground for the elite but becomes interactive, democratic space, responding to the public’s ambitions and interests.
This is architect speak for:
People can walk about on the roof and take photos without having to sit through some stupid damn opera.
And oh look, again. Snohetta have also proposed that a new media centre in Vienna should look like this:
Look again, and you encounter the Barack Obama Presidential Center:
These last two are not so zig zag, but the principle is the same.
London awaits you, Snohettans.
Here is a piece I did here about how Modernism got associated with whiteness. And for most would-be Modernists, Modernism still is white. But, here is another piece I did about coloured Modernism, in the form of Renzo Piano’s very colourful buildings near Centre Point. (Renzo Piano also designed the Shard.)
Here is another photo I took of these, I think, delightful edifices:
And here is a faked-up picture I came across not long ago, which suggests that Piano’s colourfulness may have struck a chord with other architects:
That picture adorns a report about the footbridge that you can see on the right of the picture, the very same one that I saw being installed last August. But I think you will agree that the towers on the Island there are a definite echo of that Pianistic colour.
The great thing about coloured architecture is that you can build the most severely functional lumps, and only worry about brightening them up afterwards. Form can colour function, and then colour can cover up the form and make it fun.
But it need not stop at just having one plain colour. Soon the artists will join in, and there will be giant murals.
If I had to place a bet about how different London will look from now in thirty year’s time, this would be the change I would bet on. Both new buildings and dull old ones will be much more brightly coloured.
I’m guessing that outdoor paint is a technology that has had a lot of work done on it in recent years, and that such work continues.
I will be interested to see if those Piano office blocks become faded, or if the colour stays bright for a decent time.
Interestingly Le Corbusier was a great one for colour being slapped on Modern buildings, but the notion never really caught on. Or rather, it is only now catching on.
As is illustrated in this posting at Material Girls. Where the point is also made that another huge influence on the monochrome association with Modernism was early and black-and-white photography. Even colourfully painted buildings didn’t look coloured in the photos. (One might add that newspapers and magazines only burst into colour after WW2, in the case of newspapers only in the 1960s. Until then, all newspaper and magazine photos were printed in black and white. So even if Modernism was done in colour, its influence spread in black and white.)
Now, colourful buildings tend to look colourful, both for real, and in the photos.
It started with this picture, which I took at the home of some friends a while back. I know exactly how you probably feel about this cushion, but on the other hand, I don’t care:
I love how the TV remote is there next to it. I had no idea at the time, or I would have made a point of including all of it.
But now the www-journey begins. At the bottom right hand corner of the cusion are the words “Susan Herbert”.
Obviously, I click where it says “visit page”, and arrive here. I scroll down, looking for the picture of Bill Murray and the artistic nude girl. I don’t ever find the picture of Bill Murray and the artistic nude girl, but I do encounter this, which is a posting about a big blue horse at Denver Airport. Clicking on “Denver Public Art Program” merely gets me to useless crap about Denver, but googling “luis jimenez mustang” gets me to pictures like this ...:
… and to an article in the Wall Street Journal from February 2009, which says things like this about the Blue Denver Horse:
Anatomically correct - eye-poppingly so - the 32-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture makes quite a statement at the gateway to Denver International Airport.
But that begs the question: What kind of statement, exactly?
“It looks like it’s possessed,” says Denver resident Samantha Horoschak. “I have a huge fear of flying anyway, and to be greeted at the airport by a demon horse - it’s not a soothing experience.”
Many people here agree, calling the muscular steed a terrifying welcome to the Mile High City.
Samantha Horoschak was not wrong. Because, it gets better:
Mr. Jimenez was killed working on the sculpture. In 2006, while he was hoisting pieces of the mustang for final assembly in his New Mexico studio, the horse’s massive torso swung out of control and crushed the 65-year-old artist.
Ah, that magic moment in the creative process when a work of art escapes from the control of its creator and carves out a life of its own, independent of its creator. And kills him.
Is it still there? How many more victims has it claimed? Has it caused any crashes?
I love the internet. And not just because I am quickly able to look up the proper spelling of such words as “posthumous” (which was in the original version of the title of this) and “kitsch”. It’s the mad journeys it takes you on. Who needs stupid holidays when you can go on a crazy trip like this without getting out of your kitchen chair?
I was in Tottenham Court Road this afternoon, searching out a toner cartridge for what I discovered is now an antique laser printer. I had no idea until now how much less toner cartridges cost if you get them on line. Stupid me.
Anyway, it was a chance to photo the BT Tower, the first and still one of the greatest of London’s new Big Things (Big Thing being what BT stands for). Most things in London look better in bright sunshine, or at least I can photo them better. But for some reason, this rule does not apply to the BT Tower. Today’s decidedly muggy weather suited it very well. Because it is quite a way behind those empty trees, it looks dim and grey, instead of bright, and this seems to suit it. Maybe this is because muggy weather makes it look further away, and consequently bigger. Here is my favourite shot that I took of it:
Summer is very nice and well lit and warm and everything, but all those damn leaves get in the way horribly, and ruin all manner of what could be great shots.
Indeed. What on earth was I thinking, posting - on a Thursday, rather than today, Friday, the traditional BMdotcom day for cat-related items - a piece that starts with how computers are rather bad at recognising cats? I only even realised that the cat category should be attached to the posting just now. Oh well.
Anyway, more cat news, which I did deliberately hold back until today, is that the mega-behemothic-super-industry that is Hello Kitty is making a deliberate play for more male customers, with T-shirts decorated with such things as the picture you see to your right. But, will such images repel human females? You can imagine the high level debates that the Hello Kitty high ups (I somehow imagine them to be mostly men) must have been having about this issue, of such fundamental importance to their brand.
More cat news? I need a bit more to be sure that the picture there doesn’t bash its way into the posting below (even though that would be rather appropriate). Well, I am sad to report that for some people, the most interesting thing about the death of Terry Pratchett (good quote that – that’s the sort of thing he will be really missed for) was that he had a cat sleeping on his bed at the time.
Here (pp. 143-5) is how Thiel explains the difference between humans and computers, and how they complement one another in doing business together:
To understand the scale of this variance, consider another of Google’s computer-for-human substitution projects. In 2012, one of their supercomputers made headlines when, after scanning 10 million thumbnails of YouTube videos, it learned to identify a cat with 75% accuracy. That seems impressive-until you remember that an average four-year-old can do it flawlessly. When a cheap laptop beats the smartest mathematicians at some tasks but even a supercomputer with 16,000 CPUs can’t beat a child at others, you can tell that humans and computers are not just more or less powerful than each other - they’re categorically different.
The stark differences between man and machine mean that gains from working with computers are much higher than gains from trade with other people. We don’t trade with computers any more than we trade with livestock or lamps. And that’s the point: computers are tools, not rivals.
Thiel then writes about how he learned about the above truths when he and his pals at Paypal solved one of their biggest problems:
In mid-2000 we had survived the dot-com crash and we were growing fast, but we faced one huge problem: we were losing upwards of $10 million to credit card fraud every month. Since we were processing hundreds or even thousands of transactions per minute, we couldn’t possibly review each one - no human quality control team could work that fast.
So we did what any group of engineers would do: we tried to automate a solution. First, Max Levchin assembled an elite team of mathematicians to study the fraudulent transfers in detail. Then we took what we learned and wrote software to automatically identify and cancel bogus transactions in real time. But it quickly became clear that this approach wouldn’t work either: after an hour or two, the thieves would catch on and change their tactics. We were dealing with an adaptive enemy, and our software couldn’t adapt in response.
The fraudsters’ adaptive evasions fooled our automatic detection algorithms, but we found that they didn’t fool our human analysts as easily. So Max and his engineers rewrote the software to take a hybrid approach: the computer would flag the most suspicious transactions on a well-designed user interface, and human operators would make the final judgment as to their legitimacy. Thanks to this hybrid system - we named it “Igor,” after the Russian fraudster who bragged that we’d never be able to stop him - we turned our first quarterly profit in the first quarter of 2002 (as opposed to a quarterly loss of $29.3 million one year before).
There then follow these sentences.
The FBI asked us if we’d let them use Igor to help detect financial crime. And Max was able to boast, grandiosely but truthfully, that he was “the Sherlock Holmes of the Internet Underground.”
The answer was yes.
Thus did the self-declared libertarian Peter Thiel, who had founded Paypal in order to replace the dollar with a free market currency, switch to another career, as a servant of the state, using government-collected data to chase criminals. But that’s another story.
Yes, just back from a talk at Christian Michel’s. Didn’t drink “too much” wine, but did drink a lot, far too much to still be sober.
Cat news? You want cat news? Okay, the cat news is that lots of people have got into trouble of various sorts because they have too many cats, or killed too many cats, or something along those lines. Google “cats” news, and you can find the details for yourselves.
Meanwhile, here is news of a new Big Thing, in London:
This is the replacement for the Pinnacle.
Everyone commenting on this is angry about it. But then, everyone commenting on new Big Things is always angry. It’s ugly! It’s a joke! It’s random! It’s …
Excuse me while I eat a Sainsbury’s Basics egg bite. Several, actually.
… something else terrible!
But give it a few years, and we’ll all be complaining about how the next London Big Thing is spoiling the view of this Big Thing.