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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Software

Friday April 08 2016

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:

image

Here are a couple of shots of the duck with his Mrs.

imageimage

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:

image

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:

image

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.

Tuesday March 29 2016

Last night I dined at the new and rather temporary home of Samizdata, where I took this photo:

image

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:

image

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.

Tuesday March 08 2016

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:

image

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:

image

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.

Sunday February 28 2016

Popular Mechanics has an interesting article about Why Cranes Keep Falling.  (Thank you Instapundit.)

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”:

image

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.

Saturday February 27 2016

Here:

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.

Yes:

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.

Monday February 22 2016

There’s a really good piece at Samizdata, posted earlier today by Michael Jennings, about Why a traveller loves Uber.

In a piece I did a while back about Uber, I speculated that a typical way that people will first get the Uber habit is when they visit a foreign city, where they trust the local taxi drivers about as far as they can spit them.  So, they use Uber.  Michael, with massively greater recent globetrotting experience than me, bangs this point home.  We libertarians do love to talk about Uber.

imageOne of my regular visit sites, Dezeen, recently featured a story about the redesign of the Uber logo, which resulted, critics mocked, in a new logo that looked like an arsehole.  Uber’s head of design then immediately stepped down, to spend more time with his family.

This might be true.  He was tired, and had been spending lots of long hours away from home, working on the design of the arsehole.  That could be it.

What on earth possessed these designers to dump the U and go with a near-O instead, like they were changing the name from Uber to Ober, Oil of Ulay (now Olay) style, I cannot imagine.

None of this logo nonsense will change anything.  Uber is great, no matter how they choose to logotomise it.

Sunday February 14 2016

There have been times, which I prefer not to remember with links, when a bit of heckling from this programme would have improved my writing, and it would probably have improved this sentence, maybe by chopping it up into two sentences, or even three or four, or five, especially in the first or first few sentences of postings, when I tend to go round the houses like a drunken milkman, which is a bit unfair to milkmen, but there you go.

Via here, and here.

Tuesday December 08 2015

Two other people’s screens while avoiding their faces photos, taken on a muggy evening last September:

imageimage

The one on the right is okay, because Westminster Abbey looks more interesting on someone else’s screen than in does in a regular photo, or in real life come to that, I reckon.

But the one on the left is really nice because the lady with the matching pink iPhone case and pink spectacle frames is photoing one of those little assemblages of modern architecture of the sort I especially like.  There are all those apartments across the bridge approach from where James Bond’s bosses live, and to the right of these apartments (which already look rather tatty from close up but which look much better from afar) we observe the Spraycan.  The Spraycan will soon, I believe, be joined by other towers, as that whole part of town erupts with activity sparked by the new US Embassy a bit further up river.

And, she is holding a map.  Does she not know that she could whistle up a map on the phone she is photoing with?

And here are two more photos of people photoing, taken within the same short time-frame as those above:

imageimage

The total amount of anonymity supplied to these two dudes is about right, but is, unfortunately, rather unevenly distributed.  Dude 1 on the left is not showing us his screen, but I do like how I used that lamppost to prevent any machine from being able to spot him.  Although, we can all see where the photo was taken, thanks to that road sign, which I also like including in photos.

But could a machine maybe identify Dude 2, on the right, perhaps from the rather blurry and shadowy image on his screen?  A human who knows him would know him from that photo, but that isn’t the question.  Here’s hoping that no machine will be interested.

Trouble is I like the photo too much to keep it to myself.  You can even see the Wheel, on his screen.

Photo-screens come into their own, as objects of photography, when the light fades.  They stay bright.

Fascinating point made in this piece at Libertarian Home by Simon Gibbs, about how and how not to educate computer programmers:

I am skeptical of whether formal education teaches programming, or whether programming is an innate aptitude. My computer science education is certainly a part of what made me a good programmer and I have met very good people who have retrained from other industries and become successful programmers. I have also met people who have had years of training and still lack the fundamental skill of breaking a process down into steps, despite passing various exams and tests. I graduated with such people and not with dramatically higher grades either. Formal education seems ill suited to capture, transmit, and assess the nuances of this particular skill. The ease with which code is plagiarised is one factor, as is the process of mugging up for exams, but the real problem is that the skill itself is a form of implicit knowledge which you cannot simply write down.

Further, learning to program is not an easy process. It is damned hard and no single resource or bootcamp or whatever will help you navigate a route by which you can deliver value. You have to get there on your own and that is, by definition, not something that anyone else can easily help with.

I can remember that, when I education-blogged, the above rumination was the kind of thing I would seize upon.

What Gibbs says sounds like the point that I have recently been making, generally and in particular in connection with this book (about PR (by another friend of mine (Alex Singleton))), that learning how to do something like play the violin (or do PR (or computer programming)) is fundamentally different from merely reading a book about how to play the violin (or reading a book like this one about how to do PR).  Most people will never be able to play the violin well (or do PR well), no matter how much else they are able to learn about playing the violin (or doing PR).  By writing a mere book about how to do PR, Singleton has not given away his personal-professional crown jewels by teaching thousands of others how to replace him.  On the contrary, his crown jewels are his “innate aptitude” (honed by much practising) for combining and deploying all the PR techniques he knows of and knows how to do, when solving a PR problem.  He has turned himself into a PR industry go-to media guru (which means he gets to advertise himself free) and made himself even more employable, in a kind of PR positive feedback loop.  After all, the better Singleton is at doing his own PR the better he’ll probably be at doing yours.

Gibbs also makes it very clear that he reckons himself to be a good programmer, in a way that many rivals, clever in all sorts of other ways, will never be.  He too does some good PR for himself, even though it’s incidental to the main point of his piece.  To learn which, read it in full, by clicking on the link at the top of this posting.

Thursday October 29 2015

From the Washington Post, yesterday:

What if your self-driving car decides one death is better than two - and that one is you?

The piece also asks if it is only a matter of time before regular driving is banned.  I think this will happen in lots of places, and driving a car will become like riding a horse. It will be something you do only for fun.  I probably won’t live to see this, but I probably will live to see it quite widely discussed.

Thursday October 22 2015

Vanity Fair piece about Frank Gehry.  Key paragraph:

Things progressed slowly from there, as the architect continued to work more audacious swooping and compound curves into his designs. Eventually he found himself hitting the outer limits of what was buildable. This frustration led Gehry on a search for a way to fulfill his most far-reaching creative desires. “I asked the guys in the office if there was any way they knew of to get where I wanted to go through computers, which I am still illiterate in the use of,” he explains. Gehry’s partner, Jim Glymph - “the office hippie,” in Gehry’s words - led the way, adapting for architecture a program used to design fighter planes. As Gehry began to harness technology, his work started to take on riotous, almost gravity-defying boldness. He dared to take the liberties with form he had always dreamed of, fashioning models out of sensuously pleated cardboard and crushed paper-towel tubes. He always works with models, using scraps of “whatever is lying around” - on one occasion a Perrier bottle. “I move a piece of paper and agonize over it for a week, but in the end it was a matter of getting the stuff built,” he tells me. “The computer is a tool that lets the architect parent the project to the end, because it allows you to make accurate, descriptive, and detailed drawings of complicated forms.”

“Frank still doesn’t know how to use a computer except to throw it at somebody,” ...

I smell a classic two-man team there.  Gehry dreams it.  And this guy called “Glymph” (ever heard of him? - me neither - I got very little about him by googling) works out how to actually get the damn thing built.  To quote myself:

Even when a single creative genius seems to stand in isolated splendour, more often than not it turns out that there was or is a backroom toiler seeing to the money, minding the shop, cleaning up the mess, lining up the required resources, publishing and/or editing what the Great Man has merely written, quietly eliminating the blunders of, or, not infrequently, actually doing the work only fantasised and announced by, the Great Man.

Glymph now seems to be on his own, although you can’t tell from the merely institutional appearances.

In general, the role of the Other Sort of Architect, the one who turns whatever some Genius Gehry figure wants into something buildable, and which will not be a mechanical disaster, seems to be growing and growing.

image

I found that picture of Gehry’s epoch-making Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao here.  The VF piece identifies this as the most “important” building of our time.  Architects love it.  The public does not hate it.

Friday October 16 2015
Wednesday July 08 2015

You can lose a test match on the first morning and England are well on the way to losing the first Ashes test in Cardiff, having already lost three wickets before lunch.  England’s trouble is that their top four have none of them been in proper form of late, and the Australian bowlers are all just that bit too good for them to be able to solve this problem by batting themselves into some form against them.  It will only get worse.  If it gets better I will be delighted, but also surprised.  As of now, I expect the result to be much as it was two years ago, when England shaded it three nil, except that it will be three nil to Australia, or something like that.  This time, Australia are better, and England have less good batting (Bell has got worse basically) and two top bowlers who are two years more knackered, plus no Swann.  So, England will lose.  Anything better than that will be a bonus.  We shall see.

And before anyone says I was plunged into doom by these three wickets, I was already pessimistic when it kicked off.  I just wish I had put this an hour and a half sooner.

My mood is not helped by me still having to rely on my stupid laptop and it is like wading through sewage.

Also, I began the day with a Rameau harpsichord CD that had been on pause, and since it is one of those annoying CDs (a triple CD actually) without the tracks and timings on the cover, just in the inside booklet, it is hard to note where I am it in, so a CD started needs to be finished.  And Rameau on the harpsichord, at any rate this particular Rameau on the harpsichord, was very minor key and lugubrious.

Every damn morning the laptop seems to insist on doing a “scheduled scan” (which always discovers nothing but takes for ever)..  This is the sewage aspect.  At least things on that front are now a bit better.  (I was reminded about that by a little box bottom left saying Scan Completed 0/0 0/0 0/0 0/0 blah blah blah.)

Last night I watched a very depressing documentary about the holocaust, The Allies knew.  But they didn’t believe it, or didn’t want to.  My newly purchased milk is already going sour.  There is a tube strike that has caused the entire tube to shut for the day.  The weather for the ASI boat party this evening looks like being very grim and grey.

At least England haven’t lost another wicket before lunch.  88-3.  Not good, but not catastrophic.  Or not yet.

Wednesday July 01 2015

Yesterday I wrote here about the twenty-first century social obligation to use a mobile phone when meeting up with someone, because of the problems this solves and despite the problems this creates.  Hence the need for me to take my mobile phone with me when going photowalkabout with G(od)D(aughter) 1.

But, on Saturday evening, the evening before GD1 and I went on our walk, I was very nearly deprived of my mobile phone, by which I mean deprived of the ability to make use of it.

What happened was that, while I was also out and about on Saturday evening, a baritone-singing student friend of mezzo-soprano-singing student G(od)D(aughter) 2, sought the help of GD2.  His mobile had run out of puff and needed a recharge.  GD2 uses an iPhone, but Baritone has an Android mobile, so Baritone could not use GD2’s recharger.  What to do?

Between them they decided that I and my Android recharger might be the answer.  I guess that GD2 then rang me on my immobile home number and discovered that I was out.  Then, knowing my aversion and incompetence as a mobile phoner, and especially as a reliable receiver of incoming mobile messages, she did not not attempt to ring me on my mobile.  Or, she did try my mobile and I did not answer.

For various reasons that I still don’t understand and which in any case do not now matter, Baritone ended up coming to my home, armed with GD2’s key to my home, and having made his entrance, he “borrowed” my mobile phone recharger.

I want to emphasise that the above quote marks are not sneer quotes.  They are confusion quotes.

For, what exactly does it mean to “borrow” a mobile phone charger?  What GD2 meant, when she assured Baritone that it would okay for him to “borrow” my phone charger, was that it would be okay for him to charge up his mobile phone, using my charger at my home.  As indeed it would have been.

However, Baritone misunderstood this assurance to mean that it would be okay for him to “borrow” my charger, as in: take it away and make use it throughout Saturday evening, in other places besides mine.  I don’t believe that Baritone would have done this without that assurance from GD2, as he understood it.  After all, whereas charging up your mobile in situ is socially very okay, taking a charger away without permission is surely a twenty-first century social gaff of the first order.  But, Baritone thought that he had permission to do this otherwise unacceptable thing.  GD2 is adamant that she gave no such permission, but I believe that Baritone genuinely thought that this unusual procedure was, in the light of GD2’s assurance, okay.  He made this clear in a written thankyou note he left on my desk.

And it normally would have been okay.  Had I not been going on an expedition the following day with GD1, then the charger could have made its way back to my home some time on or around Sunday, and all would have been fine.  But, for all the reasons that were explained in the previous posting, I needed that charger by quite early on Sunday morning at the latest.

So, despite GD2s protestations, I acquit Baritone of wrongdoing.

But then again, Baritone is a baritone.  And baritones often behave very badly, quite often at the expense of notably virtuous mezzo-sopranos.  So maybe I’m being too kind.

All was speedily corrected by GD2, who was rather insulted by the profuseness of my thanks when she brought my charger back at 8am on Sunday morning.  Of course I got your charger back.  (See what I mean about virtuous mezzo-sopranos.)

It was just as well that I did get it back.  In addition to using my mobile for all that meeting up at the start of the day, I also used it for its map app, and to tell me how Surrey were doing against Gloucester.  Very well, as it happened.  Nothing like your sports team winning to keep you going when you are knackered.

However, I now understand better why people have cameras with mobile phones built into them.  What with my bag and all, I was having constantly to choose between knowing where I was, and photoing it.

Surrey are on a bit of a roll just now.  This evening they beat Gloucester again, in a T20 slog at the Oval.  Surrey needed a mere six runs from the last four balls.  So, how did they get them?  The last four balls went: wicket, dot, dot, six.  In English that’s: probable Surrey victory, possible Surrey victory, almost impossible Surrey victory, Surrey victory.  I got that off my laptop, but I could have got it from my mobile, if I had been out and about.  Provided it hadn’t run out of puff.

Wednesday May 20 2015

A few months back my computer got a going over from The Guru, and I immediately started receiving more internet advertising than hitherto.  At first this continued because I merely didn’t know how to stop it.  But now, I find myself interested by this advertising.

I like old-school advertising, the sort that has no idea who you are or what you like, not even a bad idea.  I learn from old-school advertising how the world in general is feeling about things, which is interesting and amusing information.  (This is, for me, one of the pleasures of walking about in London.  (Soon this pleasure may also vanish, because of embedded spy cameras.  Soon, I may find myself looking at adverts for classical CDs and history books (and drones – see the rest of this), whenever I walk past a billboard).)

But I am now starting to enjoy new-school, internet advertising, where your most trifling internetted thought results in adverts appearing a little while later, for related (or so the internet thinks) products.  Sometimes, it’s just crass, like a salesman barging into a conversation at a party and changing it.  Fuck off jerk.  But I am starting to enjoy this sort of advertising, sometimes.

So, for instance, all my droning on here about drones - arf arf - has resulted in adverts for this miniature contraption appearing on my computer screen:

image

As you can see from this picture, this drone is very small.  It is also very cheap.  But does it have a camera on it?  Could you even attach a camera to it, or would that make it too heavy and crash it?

The last drone posting here was about a drone noticed by 6k that costs $529 dollars.  But the above drone costs a mere £13.78.  It is as cheap as that partly because you get it in the form of a kit rather than completed.  But there must surely be a factory in China where people are paid 10p a go to assemble such things.  I could surely buy a completed Eachine Q200 40g Carbon Fiber FPV Quadcopter Multicopter if I wanted to, rather than have to make do with an Eachine Q200 40g Carbon Fiber FPV Quadcopter Multicopter Frame Kit.

Kit or completely, I have no intention whatsoever of buying such a thing any time soon.

I can’t help thinking what gadgets like this, so small, so cheap, will do to photography, in a place like London.

A lot of what this blog is about is the texture of everyday life, and how that is changing.  (I mean things like down-market computer stuff and smartphones and CDs.  And advertising, see above.) Well, these drones are not yet a Big Thing about which old-school moany newspaper articles are being written about how the twentieth century was better, blah blah.  But, they soon will be.

If I ever do get a drone to take photos, you may be sure that I will make a point of photoing the other drones.  Although that’s assuming I’d be able to make something like a drone actually work, and I now assume the opposite.  Maybe I will compromise, and photo all the drones I see from the ground.  So far, I have only seen drones for real in shop windows.  But give it a couple of years …

And oh look, the mere fact of me working on this posting, embedding links into it, caused another advert to present itself to me (for this only slightly more expensive drone (and this one you don’t have to assemble yourself (it’s like it read my mind!))), when I switched to reading something Instapundit had linked to.  The advert has vanished now and been replaced by something for Walt Disney (?), but I screen-captured it before it went:

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Adverts at blogs are a rich source of horizontality, I find.