Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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- The outdoor map next to the Twelvetrees Crescent Bridge over the River Lea
- Marc Sidwell on experts
- Guess what this is
- Robots build a bridge
- The Robert Stephenson statue at Euston
- Cruelty to a fake animal – kindness to a fake animal
- Shopping Trolley Spiral beside the River Lea
- An Underground sermon
- Rubbish blogging
- Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East
- Opera North’s Ring
- An important game and only a game
- Making blue by copying tarantulas
- An old person television set
- Battersea from Clapham Junction
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Category archive: Travel
Africa is big, and Africa’s rivers don’t help in cutting these huge distances down to size.
More from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography (p. 119):
Most of the continent’s rivers also pose a problem, as they begin in high land and descend in abrupt drops which thwart navigation. For example, the mighty Zambezi may be Africa’s fourth-longest river, running for 1,600 miles, and may be a stunning tourist attraction with its white-water rapids and the Victoria Falls, but as a trade route it is of little use. It flows through six countries, dropping from 4,900 feet to sea level when it reaches the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Parts of it are navigable by shallow boats, but these parts do not interconnect, thus limiting the transportation of cargo.
Unlike in Europe, which has the Danube and the Rhine, this drawback has hindered contact and trade between regions - which in turn affected economic development, and hindered the formation of large trading regions. The continent’s great rivers, the Niger, the Congo, the Zambezi, the Nile and others, don’t connect and this disconnection has a human factor. Whereas huge areas of Russia, China and the USA speak a unifying language which helps trade, in Africa thousands of languages exist and no one culture emerged to dominate areas of similar size. Europe, on the other hand, was small enough to have a ‘lingua franca’ through which to communicate, and a landscape that encouraged interaction.
I’m guessing that Africa’s famed natural resources (although not of the mineral sort – those natural resources just suck in thieving foreigners) also helped to split the population up into lots of little enclaves, by making it possible for quite small communities to be economically self-sufficient. Not very self-sufficient, as in rich, but sufficiently self-sufficient not to die out but instead to keep ticking over.
How to say that I am at home alone over Christmas without you feeling sorry for me? I can’t do it, but please: don’t. In exchange, I won’t feel sorry for you that you are reading this instead of having “fun”.
Each to his or her own, but I love it that holidays, for me, really are holidays, rather than just burdens of a different sort to the more usual ones. Don’t get me wrong, burdens are often well worth bearing, as when I visit GodDaughter 2’s family in Brittany, and must bear the burdens of living in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar facilities and unfamiliar routines and with the fear of inflicting various sorts of offence and inconvenience upon everyone, with them being too polite to say. But, these are still burdens. This Christmas, as is my usual habit, I have been ensconced in my little snuggery, with no burdens at all.
I haven’t been fobbing you people off with nothing but silly old photos because I’ve been gadding about around town, catching up with friends and family and attending swanky functions. No gadding about. I’ve been fobbing you off with photos because I have been relaxing, even more than usual.
Here’s another silly photo, to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I haven’t found any Merry Christmas messages out in the streets lately, so here is a Christmassy photo that I think I took in Oxford Street, definitely in December 2008:
Which tells me that I was fascinated by Bald Blokes Taking Photos for quite a while before I had worked this out in the fully conscious part of my head. I love how green he is.
On Christmas Day itself I will not be alone, for I am to have a Christmas lunch with friends. This will bring with it the burden of having to travel across London on Christmas Day, which basically means two very long walks. (I don’t know how to Uber, since you ask. I’d rather walk.) If I come across any Merry Christmas messages while walking, and manage to photo them, I’ll pass them on.
That fog and gloom that I mentioned yesterday seems to have been a more than merely local circumstance. It caused Travel Chaos and got national media attention. Follow that link and see pictures of airplanes, trains, cyclists and people, in fog.
Or stay here and enjoy a few more of my foggy photos, or cranes with their tops in the clouds, and roof clutter with more distant roof clutter just that little bit vaguer than usual. Westminster Abbey looking very vague:
Quite a contrast with a day like this.
By the way, that peculiar red spike (2,1) is on the top of the Channel 4 headquarters. And while looking for a photo that includes this spike, I have just discovered that C4 might be about to leave this building and go to Birmingham. Blog and learn.
Today I visited Tottenham, and I intend to return tomorrow, both expeditions having been prompted by these two weather forecasts:
That I have already decided this evening where I will be going tomorrow, and that I already knew last night what I was going to do today, is typical of how I now do these expeditions. Trying to work out, in the morning, where I’ll go that day, given that the day is turning out nice, tends not to work so well. Being old and tired and physically lazy, I have to have an interesting and attractive destination in mind as soon as the day starts, in order to force me out the front door soon enough for the expedition to amount to something.
In this respect, I am turning into my Dad. When I was a kid I used to tease my Dad about all the planning that would go into family expeditions, and he used to justify this with questions starting with the words “What if?” What if, we get into an accident? What if, one of us gets sick? What if, the trains are disrupted? We need a plan capable of taking care of everything. I used to think he was being over-cautious, and that we ought to just get started and deal with problems as and when they happened, which they mostly wouldn’t.
Well, as I get older, I become less good at adapting, by which I mean that I can change a plan in mid plan, but that it takes longer and is more stressful.
But more fundamentally, I now suspect that my Dad may have needed his plan just to get him going at all. Without a plan to drive the expedition forward, with artificially created deadlines and reasonably enticing objectives, maybe he just wouldn’t have been able to muster the energy he needed to lead us forth into the world at all. Like me, he knew that he would be happier if he did get stuck into an expedition, and would be depressed if all he did was sit at home doing this or that amusing but trivial thing. So, he would devise plans to make himself do what he wanted to do. My Dad’s plans were not as he sold them to me, mere precautions. His plans were energisers.
But maybe that’s just me.
I recommend clicking on this:
What’s so entertaining about what you get is how commonplace the building is. How small. How suburban.
Ah, but if you go down to the basement, and if you can persuade them to give you the key to the purple door (which they won’t but you never know your luck), then in the act of entering, you step through a wormhole and find yourself at the huge BIS base that orbits around Alpha Centauri, which is like the Clapham Junction of our part of the Milky Way.
Meanwhile, this deceptively humdrum little place, disguised as a mere space travel fan club, is to be found a short walk across the river away from my home.
I took my photos of this building and its amusing sign on the same day I took this photo and these photos and this photo and this photo. That was a good expedition. Not as good as the expeditions the inner core of the British Interplanetary Society go on, from time to time (think about that), but good.
I already showed here some pictures I took in August, in and from Epsom.
Here is another, which shows the whole of central London:
Click to get that original size, 4000 pixels across, but the sky, as above, removed.
Most of the well-known views of London are from the north looking south or from the south looking north. This is from the south west looking north east. Given that quite a lot of the river, the bit between Vauxhall Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, actually flows south-north rather than east-west, you get some rather unfamiliar ordering amongst the Big Things, with the Post Office Tower, for instance, being quite a way to the left of most other Big Things, on account of it being further “north”, but actually a bit away to the north east. I knew you’d be excited.
Here is what the original shot looked like, with the sky kept in. Not a cloud in the sky. Ah, summer. It’s amazing how abruptly the summer seems to have ended. One moment it’s daylight until nine in the evening, now it’s dark at six, and the clocks haven’t even gone forward yet.
Continuing with snaps taken ten years ago, in Quimper and nearby spots, the French love their Harley Davidsons. Here is one:
And moment later, I zeroed in on one of this particular Harley Davidson’s details, a lady wearing a yellow top and blue trousers, listening to music, with evident pleasure:
It’s not the first time I have photoed a Harley Davidson in France. I still recall this photosession fondly, which happened five years later.
The directory with all the snaps I took in Quimper and surrounding places, ten years ago, contains some fine images.
And some rather weird ones:
Okay, Citroens made of wood is not that weird. Certainly not in France.
But those really rather realistic black baby dolls is something we surely don’t do nearly so much over here. I’m guessing we have too much of a history of what you might call derogatory black dolls, unrealistically racist dolls, and that means that all black dolls are now tainted in our eyes, even much more realistic ones like the ones in that picture. They evoke a tradition and a way of thinking we would prefer not to be reminded of, or worse, to be thought to be perpetuating. When the British are being sentimental about black babies, they do it in those (I think) ghastly charity fundraising telly adverts.
But what do I know? I’m just thinking aloud. Maybe we do have lots of dolls like these in British shop windows, and I merely haven’t noticed them. But, my first reaction when I say these black babies was, as I say: weird. Certainly striking enough to take several photos of.
In September 2006, in other words exactly ten years ago, I was in Quimper, which is in Brittany. And today, looking for a quota photo, I looked through the photos I took on that expedition. As it happens, I was blogging only very lightly at the time, and I didn’t get around to posting many of the shots I took on that trip. Here is one. There’s another in this. And that was about it.
So here, now, is another of the photos I did on that trip:
… I’m a sucker for a photograph which includes a lighthouse, ...
If he clicks on the above shot, he’ll get to just the lighthouses in that shop window picture, a lot bigger. Sadly, the picture, even in its original and unshrunk size, is a bit blurry and hard to decypher, although I could when I really tried.
Neither of the two Bénodet lighthouses - not this one, which is called “Le Coq”, nor the other bigger one - is in that group portrait of lighthouses at the top of this. Even the big one is not big enough, I guess.
LATER: 6k responds, with some dramatic detail about the second lighthouse from the left in the poster. He also explains what the circles mean, which had me puzzled.
Here in London, when a pedestrian sees a red light saying don’t walk across a road, it usually looks something like this:
Or like this:
Those being from the archives.
But yesterday, I was in a place where the corresponding red lights look like this:
Definitely horse-riding country. Although, perhaps strangely, I saw no real horses.
I was in that part of outer London known as Epsom. Having disembarked from a train at a station called Tattenham Corner, I found myself in … Tattenham? … and then kept on for a bit and emerged, just like that, into the open countryside. And I saw things like this:
That being, I’m pretty sure, in the foreground, the actual, original, Tattenham Corner, around which the horses and their riders go, in races.
But if, instead of making your way towards that big grandstand to watch the racing, you instead turn right, up a slight hill, through various clumps of trees, you eventually come out the other side of these trees, and you find yourself enjoying a distant view of London.
I did not come to Epsom in order to photo pedestrian lights or sporting architecture, although I did do this. What I came to Epsom to photo was scenes like this:
And like this:
And like this:
When I took these shots, the scenes I was shooting were so far away that it was very hard for me, with my ever more terrible eyesight, to work out what I was photoing. I only learned that I had photoed The Wheel when I looked at that shot on the screen of my camera and enlarged it, and hey, that looks like The Wheel.
As for Wembley Arch, I do vaguely remember thinking that I saw a shape that might be that, but I wasn’t sure until I got home.
And even then, these distant views of London weren’t that good, on account of being too distant and my non-SLR camera being too primitive. Epsom is a long way away from London.
The above explains, as not promised in the previous posting, why I was in Croydon yesterday. Getting by train from London to Tattenham Corner meant, for me, going from Victoria to East Croydon, and then changing to the Tattenham Corner train.
I half had in mind to break the journey back to Victoria at Battersea Park station, which also has fine views of London’s Big Things, but I slept through Battersea Park, and anyway, it was getting dark.
Today I was in Croydon. Not for long, but I was in Croydon. While in Croydon I took photos.
Like this one, of No. 1 Croydon:
And like this one, of a buildlng which was being modified, but whose name I did not catch:
Why was I in Croydon? I had my reason. More tomorrow, or some day, or maybe never. I promise nothing.
I’ve been suffering from something a lot like hay fever. Yesterday, the doctor gave me some anti-hay-fever spray to spray it with, up my nose, which I hate. My symptoms are: aches and pains that wander around all over the left side of my head. I knew you’d be excited.
But, from the same doctor who wants me to spray chemical effluent up my nose I learned that if you get something stuck in your throat, which is what set all this off, they recommend: coca cola. I did not know that. So last night, when I went out for drinks, someone offered me a drink, and I though, no I’ve had enough (what with the headaches and so forth), but then I thought: yes, get me a coca cola. Apparently it clears out stuff in your throat by dissolving it. How come it doesn’t dissolve your entire mouth? (Maybe it does.) But whatever, it felt like it worked, and I’m drinking more coke now.
Last night, at that drinks gathering, I heard something else diverting.
We were having a coolness competition. What’s the coolest thing you’ve done lately? That kind of thing. I contributed the fact that my niece is about to become the published author of a work of crime fiction, which is not bad, and which I will surely be saying more about when this book materialises. It will be published by a real publisher, with an office in London and a name you’ve heard of, which intends to make money from the book and thinks it might. More about that when I get to read it. I usually promise nothing but I do promise that, here or somewhere I’ll link to from here. It would be a lot cooler if it was me who had accomplished this myself, but it is pretty cool even from a moderately close relative.
But another friend from way back whom I hadn’t seen for years trumped this, with something which in my opinion made him the winner, not least because he did the thing in question himself.
Remember the Concorde crash in Paris, back whenever it was, just before 9/11. And remember how the other Concordes all got grounded for ever after that crash. What you may not recall quite so clearly is that the other Concordes were not grounded for ever immediately after the crash. That only happened a few weeks later. And my friend told us that he took a trip on Concorde, on the day after the Concorde crash. How cool is that? Very, I would say. There were many cancellations, apparently, but he was made of sterner stuff, which is all part of what made it so cool.
I know, a bit of a ramble. It comes of me being somewhat ill. Illnesses can be cool, I suppose. But this one, which is just uncomfortable enough to be uncomfortable, but which hasn’t actually stopped me from doing things, merely from doing them energetically and enthusiastically, definitely isn’t cool.
Here is a photo taken by a friend with her mobile, of a construction site in New York, complete with cranes:
I love it when friends send me snaps of things they know I will like.
I am particularly glad to see New York construction cranes in action. After doing that posting about how there has been no construction in the southern end of Manhattan, mentioning absence of cranes as evidence of no construction, I started to wonder if, in New York, they do things differently. I wondered if they built skyscrapers without using cranes, but just lifting all the stuff up the building, as they built it. Or something. But of course they use cranes in New York, same as everywhere else.
Just to be quite sure about that, I googled “construction cranes new york”. And I was greeted with scenes of crane carnage like you would not believe.
Apparently cranes in New York occasionally fall over, and this is the one time when the average person is interested in them. As a result, the average person has a totally distorted idea of the positive contribution made by construction cranes to modern society.
I already showed you some Narbonne bridges, snapped during my France expedition. Here are more bridges.
Are these first lot of bridges really bridges, or are they just buildings with holes in the bottom of them to let people through? I reckon these make the cut, but once the buildings start really piling up on top of the holes …?:
I’m doing these bridge photos in sets of three, and next is a clutch of photos of a set of three bridges that connect the town of Ceret to the other side of the local river. Picasso spent time in Ceret, because of the light. (I also photoed Renault Picassos.)
The regular shot of these bridges is from below, as you can see if you click on the second of these photos. But I was with people who were in a hurry, so I only got to photo the bridges from the other bridges, or in one case, the shadow of a bridge, from the bridge. And oh look, photographers!:
In the first of these next three bridge photos, there are three more bridges, by my count. They’re in the seaside town of Collioure. The other two are in Perpignan, where, just like in Quimper (where I have also visited these same friends (G(od)D(aughter)2’s family) – they have houses all over the place), there is a river flowing through the middle of the town with multiple bridges over it.
Finally, here are some rather more modern bridges. First there is one of the main motorway from France to Spain, which carries a lot of lorries.
The motorways of Europe may, I surmise, be the place on earth where robot drivers have their first seriously big impact. Robot cars are too complicated, and to start with, what will be the point of them? But robot lorries will be able to travel a lot faster than regular lorries, for a lot longer than regular lorries, on roads that are the most controlled and predictable roads in existence. European motorways carry colossal amounts of freight, unlike in the USA, where a lot freight goes by train, Europe’s railways being full of passenger trains. And there’s nothing like a sight of this particular motorway, handily shown off by being placed on the side of a mountain in full view of the local and non-charged version of the same road, to see all this.
In the middle below is a hastily snapped shot from a bridge as we drove over it, over a newly constructed high speed passenger railway, again connecting France to Spain. Brand new railways lines have a certain pristine charm, I think, with the gravel under the tracks yet to be blackened by constant use.
Finally, we have what may well be my favourite South of France bridge photo of them all, on the right there. This is one of those unselfconsciously functional footbridges, which more and more abound in towns and cities (London has many such bridges), and which join work spaces off the ground to other work spaces off the ground. This particular footbridge is in Perpignan.
Quite why such bridges, which have long been around, are now proliferating is an interesting question. Maybe it is just that organisations are getting bigger, and demand bigger buildings, and connecting two buildings by a footbridge of this sort turns two buildings into one building, at any rate for certain purposes. If two bureaucracies that live across the road from each other merge, then a bridge joining the top floors together is the logical first managerial step. This allows the new bosses to commune with one another, without having to trundle up and down and across the road all day long, rubbing their shoulders with the unclean shoulders of their underlings. Lower footbridges bridges enable functional specialisation to proliferate among lesser personages.
But, what do I know? My point is, I like such footbridges. And whereas most of the other bridges in this posting are the sort that feature in lots of other people’s photos and in picture postcards, these Brand-X urban footbridges are only a Thing because I say they are. Which is a major purpose of truly good photography. Truly good photography doesn’t just celebrate the already much celebrated; truly good photography offers new objects of potential celebration.
So now I will celebrate this Perpignan footbridge some more:
For years I have struggled, with the graphics programme I have been using, to crop, not square (an option this programme does offer), and not to a size I specify (ditto), but to a ratio that I specify. For years, I could not do that. I repeatedly searched for such a thing, in other programmes, but evidently didn’t pick the right words.
Then, in France, I couldn’t remember the mere name (on such things do decisions hinge) of my regular photo-editing package, so I loaded PhotoCat, basically because it had “cat” in its name and I reckoned I could have Friday feline fun with it (ditto), to see if I could photo-edit with that, and I could, and I could do constant ratio rectangular cropping which was a most welcome surprise.
Thus are decisions made, by computer operatives. There are two rules for getting things done in the modern world. (1) Do not unleash solutions upon circumstances which are not a problem. If it doesn’t help you to do something that you need to do, don’t bother with it no matter how cool everyone else says it is. Cool is not a good enough reason to be faffing about with something. (Faffing about to no purpose cannot be cool, because it isn’t, and because another rule is: worrying about being cool guarantees that you won’t be.)
And (2): if it does help you to do just one thing that you do want to do, then, if you can afford the money, the space, the bother, whatever, use it. Then, when you are using that thing for that one essential thing, then, you can move onwards to finding out if it will do any other merely desirable things. But, lots of merely desirable things and nothing essential is not good enough.
Using anything is difficult, if you only use it occasionally, to do something merely occasionally desirable. This rule applies at all times, in all places, and no matter how “user friendly” the gizmo or programme claims itself or is claimed by other users of it to be. Occasional is bother. Always. Don’t do occasional if you can avoid it.
Using anything is easy, on the other hand, if you do it regularly. This rule applies at all times, in all places, to all things, and no matter how “user hostile” enemies of the gizmo or process claim it to be. If a convoluted dance around the houses by a complicated route gets you an essential result, then dance. Convoluted will quickly become imprinted on your brain, and easy, and reinforced each time you (frequently) use it. This is how rats and ants do things. (Hurrah: other creatures!) They’ll probably outlast us. Ants definitely.
The above explains why the division of labour was so epoch-making. When you concentrate entirely on a small but rather tricky part of a big process, you will do it massively better than others attempting this tricky operation only sometimes, in among all the other things they are attempting. The damn near impossible becomes routine and easy.
So, I prepared for a life of frequently PhotoCatting fixed-ratio rectangles out of my photos. Using PhotoCat for that one thing.
But then, earlier this week I was cranking up PhotoCat, prior to some fixed-ratio cropping, and it refused to load. It got to 80%, and then stuck there. Who knows why? Was this PhotoCat’s fault? Was it something I was doing? Probably the latter, but that isn’t the point. It didn’t load. So, I went looking for alternatives, and I found one, called: PhotoPad.
And the bad news for PhotoCat is that PhotoPad also does proportional ratio cropping, and does it rather more conveniently, because PhotoPad operates on my hard disc and doesn’t have to be uploaded from the www each time. Unlike PhotoCat, PhotoPad is not www based, or whatever you call it, which I prefer because you can still use it if the www is out of action. It’s now all mine:
That being a snap of a rather unusual form of transport that I snapped, in France. I like how you can see what’s happening there, like when they zoom in on a detail in a computer picture in NCIS or a movie or something similar. (Question. Does art lead life in computing? Does stuff like the above start out in the movies, just so absolutely everyone can get what’s going on, and then migrate to real life?)
PhotoPad does something else which PhotoCat didn’t do, or not for me, which is rotate much more exactly. Most photo software seems to want to offer only rotation in 1 degree increments. If they can do better, they don’t volunteer the fact. But, PhotoPad does volunteer this. With PhotoPad, instead of rotating something 1 degree or 2 degrees (or 359 degrees), you can do 1.38 degrees or 1.77 degrees or 358.61 degrees. You’d be surprised, perhaps, how often that is a desirable refinement. You can do it by eye, and let the numbers take care of themselves. Terrific. Cool, even.
So. PhotoCat now offers me … nothing. So, … see above.
Just now, while checking out the PhotoCat link for this posting, I successfully cranked up PhotoCat. Whatever went wrong before has now gone away.