Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Category archive: Software
Or should that be smart batphone?:
He is also holding a weapon, a knifey thingy. somewhat like this.
Photoed by me in Trafalgar Square last Friday.
Keeping things nice and face-recognition-hostile.
This computer upheaval I’ve been having lately was caused by me running out of computer storage space and my existing computer storage space having to be replaced. All the informational clobber that had been stored on the old two terrorbite disc had to be shifted onto a new four terrorbite disc. This took longer than was anticipated. That is what was happening over the weekend.
Today something else happened. The new computer arrangementspent the whole day noisily chuntering to itself, about something or other, in a way that I found most troubling. Was this chuntering the new normal? Is this it? Is the new four terrorbite disc just permanently noisy? And then, finally, early in the evening, the chuntering suddenly stopped. And my computer sent itself an email saying that it had been doing some backing up, of the sort that happens at the beginning of every month. Thank goodness for that. There has since been no more chuntering. There will presumably be occasional bursts of chuntering in the future, but when they happen, I will be able rationally to hope that the chuntering will soon cease.
In amongst all this chuntering, I went on a short photo-expedition. It was short because I forgot to take my camera. There was chuntering when I left. There was chuntering when I returned. But thanks to being back so very soon, I got to hear the blessed moment when the chuntering ceased, and to note the email that manifested itself at this wondrous moment of incipient silence.
Last weekend and all through this week, despite still not being totally well, I have been doing lots of socialising. I now face more. This Friday I have a meeting at my own home (Michael Jennings speaking about Australia). Today, my cricket buddy Darren and I are going to see Surrey v Gloucs at the Oval. Plus, The Guru and I are, in the midst of all this, trying to fix a visit by him to see to my big old home computer ("Dawkins" is the name I think I gave it), in time to beat the Windows 10 For Free deadline, which I think is on Friday also. So, blogging here during the next few days may be more perfunctory than usual. It may not, but it may.
On the other hand, blogging doesn’t need to take that long, and while doing this apology-for-not=blogging posting, I also concocted another blog posting. See below.
This is why I make a point of promising nothing, so very frequently. Once I have promised nothing, my immediate inclination is to break that promise. Whereas, if I promise something, that is all too likely to be the promise that will get broken.
First, this, which was the graphic on the front page of today’s pro-Remain Daily Mirror, and reproduced at Samizdata, which Natalie Solent reckons sends a somewhat ambiguous message. I agree. Because REMAIN is in the biggest letters, it looks like it could be saying that if you vote REMAIN, you’ll be sucked into a black hole. As you will, by the way, if enough people do this. This is indeed the fate that awaits us all, in the event of a REMAIN victory. One of the reasons why this graphic only works when misunderstood, is that when misunderstood, it becomes true!
The thing is, the EU is a lot nearer to being like a black hole than us leaving the EU is. For that message, they needed something more like an endless desert, or a huge tundra, or maybe some grim maritime scene, doom-laden as far as they eye can see.
The enormity of this decision is, I feel, appropriately reflected in the deranged graphics which occurred when this picture got loaded up. Samizdata usually centres pictures automatically, and also makes them smaller automatically, if they need to be smaller. That doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.
In the comment thread on that posting, I mentioned that it was raining. Which it was, torrentially. But alas, it soon cleared up, thereby not dampening down the London (= Remain) vote as much it might have if it had rained with less violence but greater steadiness. I mean, they even managed to have a shortened game of cricket at Lord’s, after the rain had stopped.
And on the right there, Elizabeth Hurley, who will have voted Leave by now, that being the picture she Twittered yesterday along with her support for Leave. There she stands, wearing only high-healed sandals and a Union Jack cushion, or that’s how it looks. Thankyou Guido. She was probably right that this would get noticed, and would aid the cause she favours. But I bet the Leavers have been circulating their own interpretations of this rather odd picture. Is the picture recent, I wonder, or does it date from way back?
At least it is upbeat and optimistic in atmosphere, unlike that black hole.
For years I have wondered how to put videos done by others at this blog. My problem has always been that they were too big. 560 pixels wide instead of 500 pixels, which is the width here. This evening, I thought I observed that “Brexit: The Movie”, as shown at Bishop Hill, was the exact same width as stuff at my blog. So, I rootled around in the source code for the Bishop’s posting of Brexit, and dug up what seemed to be the relevant bit. It turned out I was wrong about the width. It was 560, same as it always seems to be, But having got this far I tried just changing the bit in the code where it said “560” to “500”, and that seemed to work. The video seemed to get a bit smaller. (I changed 500 to 300 just to be sure I wasn’t imagining it.) I did some more sums, which told me to change 315 to 280, and here it is, 500 pixels wide, fingers crossed:
There is some kind of EUro-metaphor or EUro-moral buried in this story, concerning believing that a straight-jacket was actually tighter and more rigid than it really was, but I’m too tired to be bothering about that.
Tomorrow, I will watch it.
One of my regular automatic google-searches is “face recognition”, and just now this has been alerting me to all the various tricks that are coming on stream for making face recognition not work, by putting on make-up, or spectacles, and such like.
Here is my contribution to this discussion:
I know what you’re thinking. Who might that be?
Exactly. Although, if you’re are supercomputer, you have probably worked it out. You have a special programme which tells you to take particular interest in any faces that are trying to not be recognised.
Most of my libertarian friends think that such tech solutions are the front line of this battle. I have long assumed that the world is moving rapidly towards a state where the question of what is X doing at the moment is technologically answerable, and impossible to prevent being answered. For me, among other desirable things, libertarianism is the claim that although we can see X saying or doing something we don’t approve of, we shouldn’t legally prevent him or her from doing that, unless it is really, really bad.
In a world of Total Surveillance by the Big Machine, the proliferation of stupid rules and regulations with no huge moral content becomes a problem like it never used to be. I means rules about things like what you should eat or smoke or, now, say in conversation. Rules like that mean that we can all now be seen and heard breaking such rules. (Okay, maybe not now, maybe not yet, but that’s where things are headed.) And that means that anyone who wants to fuck up your life or my life (for an actual real reason that has bugger all to do with the stupid rule actually being broken) can then do it. Worse, some legislative maniac might demand that anyone that the Big Machine sees breaking this or that rule that he personally is obsessed about, should be automatically fucked over, by the Big Machine, with no human intervention involved. With a big long list of exceptions, like legislators. The Big Machine can’t touch them. Libertarianism has arisen, partly, because it has become ever more necessary to insist on certain principles, principles which were imposed upon the world in former times by sheer ignorance of what other people were getting up to.
The other thing people have to do is develop thicker skins, psychologically speaking I mean, because although legislative pressure is not now a problem for most people, social pressure can become a big problem, for example if you find yourself being mobbed on the internet for some innocuous thing you said or ate. Just because a million idiots on the internet are screeching that you are an idiot, that doesn’t mean you are, or that if you are, it matters. When it does matter, bosses should chill, and not fire people just because the mob is screeching. I applaud, tentatively, the recent tendency to give social media mobsters a going-over, using the same methods on them that they have been using. Who is this mad bitch? What has she (it does often seem to be she) been up to lately? What is her job? Who is her boss? Etc. (In the age of cyber-bullying, I feel that I now understand witchcraft crazes better.)
Another problem is that as something easily mistaken for a state of everyone knowing everything increasingly pertains, that old illusion that everything will accordingly be centrally plannable is likely to keep rearing its very ugly head, and keep on having to be experienced as a disastrous illusion. (More libertarianism.) The point is, everyone doesn’t know everything. Nothing like. We can’t. Our heads aren’t big enough, and even if they were, knowledge is not like that. Everyone can known anything in particular that is easy to know (like where X is just now) that they want to know and ask the Big Machine about. That’s entirely different from actual omniscience.
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.
Another French picture, but this time taken in Paris, by my friend Antoine Clarke (to whom thanks):
That would be La Defense, unless I am much mistaken, that being Paris’s new Big Thing district.
I cropped that photo slightly, to moderate that leaning-inwards effect you get when you point a camera upwards at tall buildings.
The email that brought the above snap to my desk, earlier this month, was entitled “warmer than when you were here last”. When I last visited Paris, it was indeed very, very cold, so cold that water features became ice features (see the first picture there).
Today, Antoine sent me another photo, also suffering somewhat from leaning-inwards syndrome, and also cropped by me, more than somewhat. See right.
Mostly what I think about Antoine’s most recent picture is: What an amazing crane! So very tall, and so very thin. It’s amazing it even stays up, let alone manages to accomplish anything. I don’t remember cranes like that existing a generation ago, but maybe that’s merely because no towers that high were being built in London. Not that Antoine’s crane is in London. It is somewhere in America, but where, I do not know.
I just did a bit of googling for books about cranes, and if my googling is anything to go by, books about construction cranes and their history are a lot thinner on the ground than are construction cranes. When you consider how many tons of books have been written about the buildings that construction cranes construct, it is surprising that so little is written about the mighty machines without which such construction would be impossible.
It reminds me of the analogous profusion of books on the history of science, and the comparative neglect of the history of scientific instruments.
As I think I have written before, one major defect of my blog-posting software is that I do not get an accurate picture of how the final blog posting will look, and in this case, whether there is enough verbiage on the left hand side of this tall thin picture of a tall thin crane, to prevent the picture of the tall thin crane impinging upon the posting below. Hence this somewhat verbose and superfluous paragraph, which may not even have been necessary, but I can’t now tell.
Today I attended the Libertarian Home Benevolent Laissez-Faire Conference. Here is the text of the opening speech by conference organiser Simon Gibbs. And here is a selection of the photos I took, of the event and of the speakers:
Conference programme here.
1.1: An attender. 1.2: The venue, very good, with a big side window looking out to a small basement level garden. 1.3: Syed Kamall. 1.4 and 2.1: Janina Lowisz and one of her slides. 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4: Julio Alejandro. 3.1: Simon Gibbs and Yaron Brook. 3.2: Brook. 3.3: Kyril and Rob helping with the books. 3.4: LH info, lit up by the afternoon sun through the window. 4.1: Anton Howes. 4.2: Howes and Brook. 4.3 and 4.4: Gibbs, Alejandro, Howes, Brook.
Travel and learn.
I mentioned in a recent posting that picture editing here in Thuir is different. This is because I can’t remember the name of the photo-editing programme that I usually use, and am having to use a different one. And the one I am using is called PhotoCat. Irritating. But one very good thing has emerged from all the irritation, which is that PhotoCat can do cropping which follows the original shape of the picture,which with me is always 4x3. This means that I can now crop a picture and still have the final result the exact same 1000x750 pixels that all my other pictures are, and that means that I can easily do a much smaller version and make. I could do that with my regular programme, but only with a lot of fiddling about.
PhotoCat also does rotating in a way that takes you straight to the biggest version you can then have, also while preserving the same proportions.
Here, for instance, appropriately enough, is picture of a cat which I took in Castelnou yesterday. On the left is the original snap. On the right is the cropped version.
Whether the picture above actually needed cropping is not the point. The point is that cropping, while keeping the shape the same, was painless.
As is rotating. This same cat later did a bit of rotating of its own, so here is the original of it doing that, with my left foot intruding. And on the right is my rotation of its rotating, also cropped:
PhotoCat is a web based application, or I think it is. It works pretty much like you own it, except that if your internet is down, it presumably doesn’t work.
This posting has been done to ensure that I do not forget the name of this programme. PhotoCat. By which I mean PhotoCat.
I’ve already done one posting about the walk that GodDaughter One and I did along the New River (further reaches of) last Saturday, and as I result I learned (thank you Natalie) about Pollarding. Here is another posting, about a duck which GD1 and I observed that day on the New River, and this time what I hope to learn is what make of duck this is.
Here is the duck:
Here are a couple of shots of the duck with his Mrs.
Here’s one of those shots where the principle of a good photo photoed badly is taken to its outer limits. You can see what I was going for and how great it might have been, but you can also see that it didn’t work:
Don’t bother clicking on that one. No point in that being any bigger, is there?
To compensate for the above failure, here is a final head shot of Mr Duck:
I don’t usually post pictures of wildlife on this blog, basically because I feel that I don’t have anything to contribute. Other people – a lot of other people – do this several dozen times better than I ever will. But this duck genuinely interested me. Until I saw it, I had no idea that such a bird was to be seen in the vicinity of London, looking like it had just flown in from Africa or Brazil or some such luridly colourful place.
And whereas, when you have a question about the modern world, you can usually now just type that question into a computer and up comes the answer in just a few seconds, that doesn’t work when you have photoed a fancy-looking bird. I’m sure that this will come, but unless I entirely missed it, the time when this works is not with us quite yet. I cannot now just stuff this photo into my computer and say: What brand of bird is this?
Perhaps this can already be done. In which case a commenter can tell me this, and tell me the result that he or she got when he or she carried out this procedure. He or she can tell me both about photo-searching, and about the duck. Win win.
Blog and learn. That’s the plan, anyway.
After writing the above, I tried typing “fancy duck london” into the www and asked for pictures, and a picture appeared in among all the irrelevant nonsense that looked like what I saw. So now, I know the answer:
Specimens frequently escape from collections, and in the 20th century a large feral population was established in Great Britain; ...
Mandarin duck. Blog and learn.
Last night I dined at the new and rather temporary home of Samizdata, where I took this photo:
Click on this to get it larger.
These really are very tasty crisps, and I strongly recommend them. I immediately decided that I would try to serve some of these at future iterations of my last-Friday-of-the-month meetings. So, I took a note of these chips, with my camera.
When I pondered the impact of digital photography, way back when that was, this ability to photo not only mere prettiness, but also information, loomed large.
I mentioned how my friend Simon Gibbs and his workmates all use their smartphones to photo the mass scribblings on a whiteboard after a brainstorming session. The man making the thumbs-up sign in the above photo told me about a new app that he now uses at work which takes a picture like the ones Simon and his pals take, and smartens it up, so to speak. It translates handwriting, that is to say, into proper computer text (presumably computer text you can scan), and arranges everything more neatly and more readably. Impressive. And I’m guessing that the existence both of smartphones taking photos, and of apps like this that can make even more sense of such photos, changes what gets written on the whiteboard, now that more coherent text will be better recorded and processed. I’m guessing that handwriting improves somewhat. But does this app, I wonder, subtract somewhat from the informality of the process? And might that undermine creativity?
I wonder what this app would have done with my Tyrrell’s veg crisps photo.
I photoed Mr Thumbs-Up’s smartphone, where the logo for this app was to be seen, but alas, the smart-focussing in my camera was not smart enough to focus on this image. It was all a blur:
There’s no point in me showing you a larger version of that, is there? How sad that my photo-note of an app for processing photo-notes should be so useless.
I should have included more stuff off screen for my camera to focus on. As I later discovered when I took some other photos off of his smarphone, of how my blog looked on his smartphone. Those photos came out better. But that’s for another posting.
My photos of London contain may oddities, which I sometimes only notice later, and often only much later.
Take this photo, for instance, which was one of the first I took from the top of One New Change, on the second of two visits I made in the early summer of 2012, on May 22nd:
I like it. Big Ben, seen through the Wheel, the Wheel presumably being what I thought I was photoing at the time. Outstanding roof clutter, right next to the Wheel. The pleasingly eccentric Oxo House, slightly nearer to us. Good stuff, albeit rather dimly lit.
But what about that big photo-within-the-photo, of what looks like the late Lord Mountbatten, standing next to a young man who looks vaguely like a young Prince Andrew, underneath where it says “Sea Containers House”? What on earth is that about?
Image google “Mountbatten Sea Containters House”, and all quickly becomes clear.
The largest ever photograph of the Royal Family has been unveiled on a prominent South Bank building in the heart of the capital to celebrate the Queen’s upcoming Diamond Jubilee.
When finished, a day or two afte4r I took my photo, the complete photo on Sea Containers House looked like this:
I caught the process of this photo being contrived at its very earliest stage. And yes, that is a young Prince Andrew.
The only thing I remember about all that Jubilee fuss in 2012 is that, for some reason or other, I pretty much ignored it. I think I may have watch the boats on the telly. Had I paid more attention, it would have been obvious to me soon after I took my photo of that photo what had been going on.
Google is wonderful. Also very sinister. Very sinister because so wonderful.
For me the interesting stuff is about why they may not be falling quite so often in the future:
We’ve already reached the next step in safety. Crane manufacturers are now trying to build in new automatic features to keep disaster from striking their equipment. Modern-day mobile cranes have load moment indicators that, when they are properly programmed, act as limit switches. These switches limit operators from moving loads deemed too heavy for the crane. The high-flying tower cranes have controls to limit loads in various places on the hoist line, depending on the function of the crane at any given point.
Tower and mobile cranes now can come equipped with video cameras to show views of the loads and work zones in the operator cab - the newest cranes include this technology in “head-up displays” that require no looking down to see the images - to manage blind lifts. Additionally, crane operators can expect to use anti-collision systems to stop a crane from moving outside its engineered zone.
The most recent crane malfunction I can find having happened in London was this one, in Ealing. Nobody hurt.
Different story altogether when a crane recently fell over in Mecca. Death toll: 107.
This prang, on the other hand, was not a crane collapsing, rather was it driven into by a helicopter. Ever since that happened, in January 2013, London’s construction cranes have all had bright red lights on the top of them. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “red light district”:
Those cranes are across the river from me, photoed by me last November. Not the best photo you’ve ever seen, but it does the job of showing you what I’m talking about.
Six years ago I submitted a paper for a panel, “On the Absence of Absences” that was to be part of an academic conference later that year - in August 2010. Then, and now, I had no idea what the phrase “absence of absences” meant. The description provided by the panel organizers, printed below, did not help. The summary, or abstract of the proposed paper - was pure gibberish, as you can see below. I tried, as best I could within the limits of my own vocabulary, to write something that had many big words but which made no sense whatsoever. I not only wanted to see if I could fool the panel organizers and get my paper accepted, I also wanted to pull the curtain on the absurd pretentions of some segments of academic life. To my astonishment, the two panel organizers - both American sociologists - accepted my proposal and invited me to join them at the annual international conference of the Society for Social Studies of Science to be held that year in Tokyo.
I wonder what Hemingway would have made of “On the Absence of Absences”. (Hemingway, for those not inclined to follow links, is a programme to make your writing clearer.)
Presumably someone has also written a program which churns out this kind of drivel automatically. Google google.
The creators of the automatic nonsense generator, Jeremy Stribling, Dan Aguayo and Maxwell Krohn, have made the SCIgen program free to download. And scientists have been using it in their droves.
At the moment, this sort of drivel just marches on. This is because people who oppose the drivel have to convince the drivellers to stop, which is hard. And, being opposed to drivel, they usually have better things to do with their time. The trick is somehow to reverse the burden of proof, to put the drivellers in the position, en masse, of having to convince the rest of us that their drivel is not drivel. At that point, they find that they have no friends, only public contempt. Everybody, including them, thinks that it is drivel. And nobody thinks it worth bothering to even try to prove otherwise.