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

Friday March 27 2015

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:

image

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”.

I google susan herbert cushion, and enter a world of cushion kitsch.  Mostly it’s more cats on more cushions, as you can see, but one of the pictures is this:

image

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 ...:

image

… 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?

Tuesday March 17 2015

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:

image

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.

Friday March 13 2015

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.

imageAnyway, 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.

Thursday March 12 2015

I have been reading Peter Thiel‘s book Zero to One.  It abounds with pithily and strongly expressed wisdoms.

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.

Friday February 20 2015

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:

image

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.

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.

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?

Sunday January 18 2015

At that demo a week ago today, there were, of course, and abundance of smartphones being used to soak up snaps:

image imageimage image

And there were tablets being used as well:

image

But more intriguingly, and this was a first for me, I saw smartphones …:

image

… and tablets …:

image

… being used actually to demonstrate.  And as you can see, I wasn’t the only one who was interested.

I’m not sure what this means.  I simply note that it was happening.

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.

Monday January 12 2015

Here, as promised, is a big clutch of photos of signs that I took at the Trafalgar Square demo yesterday.  If you want to, click on a square to get the original photo.  The squares have, in quite a few cases been fiddled out with to make them a bit clearer, but the originals you’ll get to with clicking are exactly as taken.

There were, of course, lots of signs (including many mobile phones and at least one tablet) saying “I AM CHARLIE”, in fact you can see quite a few such if you do some clicking.  But, here are all the signs I photographed that said something else as well, or instead:

image image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image image

Of all of these, my two favourites are “Team Civilization”, and “Down With The Tyranny of The Offended” (in French).  But demos are at least as much about quantity as quality, and I trust the sheer number of signs shown here (there were plenty more that I didn’t get to photo) makes the bigger point.  There were a lot of people turning out to denounce these horrible attacks.

Even the rather or almost completely illegible signs are an encouragement, I think, because what these signs tell us is that quite a few people were present, and feeling strongly enough about it to want to wave a sign, who had never been anywhere near such a demo ever before.

Feel free to reproduce any of these images at will, with or without attribution.  If you’d like bigger versions of any of the pictures, my email can be found here, top left, where it says “Contact”.

Thursday January 08 2015

At the end of November 2014 (on the day that I also took these photos) I made a small pilgrimage to Tower Bridge, the excuse being that I might be able to photo up someone’s skirt through the observation floor that they had recently installed at the top of that bridge, and the reason being that I simply like to go on random pilgrimages in central London, for the sake of what I might see on the way there, there, and on the way back.

As often happens with these small pilgrimages of mine, I got there not at midday, but towards the end of the day.  By which I mean just before and during the ending of daylight.  And the ending of daylight is a very good time for taking photos, especially with a digital camera that is good in low light conditions, and especially if you are someone who likes taking pictures of other photographers in ways that don’t show their faces but do show the screens of their cameras.  At dusk, those screens tend to show up particularly well, as a number of these photographer photos illustrate:

image image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image image

The more I photo, the more I find myself liking to take categories of photos, photos in sets.  At first, my photos of photographers were just photos of photographers.  But soon I was subdividing that huge category, into photographers taking selfies, photographers looking at the photos they’d taken.  Recently I have found myself making further subdivisions, often of photos I have been taking for some while but which I had not been putting into a separate category in my head, if you get my meaning.  So, above, in addition to all the photos of photographer’s camera screens, we see contributions to the photographers taking selfies category (subdivision: couples taking selfies), to the photographers looking at the photos they have just taken category, but also a good addition to the bald blokes taking photos category, and two for the photographers with interesting hats category.

And of course, there is that vast category that has hove into view in the last few years, of people taking photos with their mobile phones.  No less than seven of the above twelve snaps are of people doing this.  This was not a decision on my part, merely a consequence of me picking out nice photos of people taking photos.

My favourite photo of these is the last one of all, bottom right.  The light is nearly gone, but that means that the view of the shot he is taking (with his mobile phone) shines forth splendidly, as strongly as what he is photoing.  And I love that I got what he was photoing as well as his screen picture of what he was photoing.

It was the essentialness of posting that one photo, very late but not never, that made me, while I was about it, also stick up the others, all twelve having already been subdivided into a separate little directory.

Saturday January 03 2015

The error messages have continued, so all I will do this evening is post this.  Back home tomorrow evening, and I hope things work better there.  The temptation to attempt another picture posting is huge, but I will resist.

No I won’t.  That went so well, I’ll give it a go:

I only got this far so you’ll just have to click on this.

Like I said, see you tomorrow.

Tuesday December 30 2014

I have swapped one kind of computing confusion, too complicated even to describe, for another, and am now using a French keyboard, but telling the computer I am using that this keyboard is really British.  This means various letters on the keyboard being in the wrong place, such as the Q and the A, which are where the A and the Q ought to be.  There are other confusions, of a more serious sort.

This is a very peculiar experience for a touch typist like me, because it means that I can now only touch type.  I cannot pause and go find the correct letters, because I do not know them, or not the ones that cause all the trouble.  Only my fingers do.

So it is touch typing, or no typing at all.

Which is better than French typing, but still very imperfect, because some of the regular British things are things which my fingers are not that good at, most notably inverted commas, both single and double.  This is why I said it is in the previous paragraph rather than abbreviating it, and why I am saying it is in this sentence, twice, without any inverted commas to indicate that I am quoting myself.

I seem to recall that faced with this dilemma on a previous French expedition, I had to make do with the computer recognising the French keyboard I was using as French, which meant switching As and Qs, etc.  The alternative arrangement is somewhat better, but only somewhat.

Luckily my fingers know how to do two important things, neither of which are in the same place on these keyboards, namely commas, and full stops.

Another oddity is that the spellchecking in my blog input process demands that all words be recognisably French, and so underlines most words, because of them not being French, thus rendering itself inutile, and yes that is how you spell inutile.  But, sorry about all the other spelling errors in this.

Friday December 26 2014

The gap between my eyesight and the eyesight of my camera grows and grows with the passing of the years, as my eyes inexorably dim and as my cameras inexorably improve.  Even I can regularly manage quite decent shots with my latest camera.  As a result, I become ever more immobilised by having to choose good ones from the enormous piles of decent shots I often come back with, after a day out.

Yesterday was a bit different.  I went to the home of Michael Jennings for a Christmas Day lunch, picture 1.1 being the most striking thing I saw from out of his front window.  The day was lovely, but the light, though wonderful, was fast fading, so Michael and our mutual lady friend and I went out for a short (by my photographic standards) walk to take advantage of it.  Which meant that I took, by my standards, only a few pictures.  Which made it easier to choose and stick up a few half decent ones.

image imageimage imageimage image

Picture 1.2 is my favourite of these.  Thank God for London’s religious diversity.  Much as I loath what Islam says in its holy scriptures, and much as I am critical of people who go through the motions of worshipping these writings, either because they truly believe what those writings say (very wicked), or because they don’t but think that they it doesn’t matter or that they must (also wicked – yes, I mean you, Moderate Muslims – stop saying that you believe stuff that you also say that you don’t believe), I do like that having Muslims in London keeps shops open and taxis running on days like Christmas Day.  Michael fixed a couple of Uber taxi rides for me, and both the drivers had Muslim sounding names.

I don’t know what the church is in 2.1 but it looks pretty behind that leafless tree.  And Tower Bridge always looks pretty to me.

Re those two Tower Bridge shots, I’ve always liked how digital cameras do the opposite of the human eye, and turn urban skies bluer and brighter as they actually get darker.  It’s all those orange-coloured artificial lights, burning relatively brighter as the sun sinks, together with the actual darkness on the ground, impinging upon the Automatic setting.

Wednesday December 17 2014

When it’s finished, it will look, according to the picture on the outside of the site (which is an outdoor hard copy of the first picture here), like this:

image

Here is what it and its surroundings will look like from above.  My home can be found in that picture, this Thing being only a short walk away from it.

But, as of now, in contrast to the above simulations, it looks like this, which I think I somewhat prefer (what with all that lovely scaffolding):

image

Hang on.  Is that a Christmas tree I see up there (in among all that lovely scaffolding)?  Yes it is:

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After I started taking photos of this Thing Under Construction, together with its Christmas tree, one of the men doing the constructing made “stop doing that” gestures.  I was standing on a public pavement.  They were building a small skyscraper with a Christmas tree on the side of it.  Did they think they could keep this secret, and impose martial law for a quarter of a mile around all this?  I just laughed out loud and carried on, and of course they did nothing about it.

Can you spot why “Sculpture” is included in the category list below?