Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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- 3D printed baby in the womb
- A new Morrisons is opening in Strutton Ground next Monday
- Ashes Lag recovery continues
- A Bitcoin vending machine and a Lego photographer (and a Lego Hawking)
- “In order to comply with Google’s regulations …”
- Blue wind
- Don’t judge a new technology by its first stumbling steps
- Me trying to tell Norman Foster and Richard Rogers apart
- I think I may at last have found myself a sofa
- The Met swoops on the Adams Family
- South Bank Architects?
- Colour photography
- Games lovely games
- A quota post (with a quota link to a post about a post about a quota photo) and another quota photo
- Omaha dead
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Category archive: History
From the Preface of Christopher Barnatt’s 3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution:
Within a decade or so, it is likely that a fair proportion of our new possessions will be printed on demand in a local factory, in a retail outlet, or on a personal 3D printer in our own home. Some objects may also be stored and transported in a digital format, before being retrieved from the Internet just as music, video and apps are downloaded today. While the required technology to allow this to happen is still in its infancy, 3D printing is developing very rapidly indeed. Some people may tell you that 3D printing is currently being overhyped and will have little impact on industrial practices and our personal lives. Yet these are the same kinds of individuals who once told us that the Internet was no more than a flash in the pan, that online shopping would have no impact on traditional retail, and that very few people would ever carry a phone in their pocket.
In 1939 the first TV sets to go on sale in the United States were showcased at the World Fair in New York. These early TVs cost between $200 and $600 (or about the same as an automobile), and had rather fuzzy, five inch, black-and-white screens. Most of those who attended the World Fair subsequently dismissed television as a fad that would never catch on. After all, how many people could reasonably be expected to spend a large proportion of their time staring at a tiny, flickering image?
The mistake made by those who dismissed television in 1939 was to judge a revolutionary technology on the basis of its earliest manifestation. Around 7S years later, those who claim 3D printing to be no more than hype are, I think, in danger of making exactly the same error.
I’m guessing that what I saw in Currys PC World, Tottenham Court Road, was the 3D Printer equivalent of those “rather fuzzy, five inch, black-and-white screens”, at the New York World Fair, the first stumbling steps.
I haven’t read much of this book yet, but I have already learned one excellent application of 3D printing, which is to print not the Thing itself, but the mold for making the Thing. You then make the Thing itself in the regular old way. Clever.
LATER: Here is Barnatt’s description of that last thing (p. 9):
A particularly promising application of 3D printing is in the direct production of molds, or else of master ‘patterns’ from which final molds can be taken. For example, as we shall see in the next chapter, ‘3D sand casting’ is increasingly being used to print molds into which molten metals are then directly poured to create final components. As explained by ExOne - a pioneer in the manufacture of 3D printers for this purpose - by 3D printing sand casting molds, total production time can be reduced by 70 per cent, with a greater accuracy achieved and more intricate molds created. In fact, using 3D sand casting, single part molds can be formed that would be impossible to make by packing sand around a pattern object that would then need to be removed before the mold was filled with molten metal.
Like I say, clever.
My scanner turned “molds” into “maids” throughout that piece of scanning. Not clever.
And here is a photo I took yesterday. I once thought that these Evening Standard headlines would by now be a thing of the quite distant past, but they are still with us, for the time being anyway, along with the Evening Standard itself, which has survived being given away and as of now shows no sign of disappearing.
There is something charmingly antiquated about the word “swoop”, isn’t there? This swoop took place - when else? - at dawn, yesterday morning.
Yes, welcome to Operation Octopod. Truly:
Detectives set up a specialist team which worked in secret for months to gather evidence against the gang in an inquiry codenamed Operation Octopod. Most of the 200 officers involved in the raids were not even told of the targets, only given the addresses they were raiding.
This sounds like it might eventually become quite a good story.
Interestingly, this Evening Standard story goes out of its way to say that the family being arrested have not been named. But the link to the story contains these words:
And later they changed the headline above the story on the website, to include the word “Adams”. And indeed, it seems that the arrested family really is called Adams. Expect the phrase Adams Family Values to crop up a lot in the next few days and weeks.
And in a few years, another movie, about London’s own Adams Family and their dastardly deeds.
Mick Hartley’s latest little clutch of photos illustrates one of the things I particularly like about his photography, which is his relish of colour. He even points spells this out in the title of his posting. I have nothing against black and white photography, especially in the decades when it was that or nothing, and neither does Mick Hartley. But there is something rather fetishistic and fake-arty about how black and white photography continues to be worshipped, long after colour photography became easy to do.
Often colour is deeply embedded in the story that the picture tells, as in this photo. This is not one of Hartley’s own, but he constantly picks up great photos done by others on his radar (this one being number nine of these twelve):
No prizes for seeing why I particularly like that one.
But it’s not just the photography aspect that I like. I also like that the anonymity angle is also covered. I more and more tend to prefer anonymity in the pictures I take myself of other photographers, and post here. Often it happens because the camera covers the face of the photographer I am photoing.
I went rootling through my archives for a snap of someone whose face is partially hidden, and found this snap, of which I am very proud. Here, the anonymity job, albeit only partially, is done by a big pair of sunglasses.
I also like the colours in that photo. Snobbery about blackness and whiteness, and especially about blackness, also extends to what colour cameras ought to be, doesn’t it?
One of the things I did today was copy, from one TV hard disc to another, a documentary (fronted by Richard Hammond) about the D-Day fighting that took place on Omaha Beach.
One of the shots at the end of the programme looked a lot like this:
That is one of the photos at the bottom of this page.
I recall flying over the Normandy Beaches, on the way to the South of France. Later in the journey, I took snaps like this one, of the Millau Viaduct, but I don’t recall seeing anything like that cemetery.
As I said in the previous post, my talk about digital photography at Christian Michel’s last night went well, in the sense of me feeling it went well, and it seeming to be well received. I occasionally put my sheets of paper down and extemporised upon some point I was making, but mostly, this was it. No links, no photos, no extras. (They may come later, I hope, but I promise nothing.) Just the bare text that I read out, complete with all the errors of grammar and spelling, of fact and interpretation, that may or may not be present:
I have given several talks in this 6/20 series, but until now this has been because I have had both questions and answers to offer to the assembled throng. I have had theses to present, clutches of facts to pass on.
This time I don’t know the answers. I merely want to know the answers. What is the impact of digital photography? What is it doing to us? Since fixing this subject matter with Christian I have made, I think, some progress in arriving at answers, but only some. Tonight I expect to make further progress.
Luckily, for my purposes, we have all been alive throughout the period of digital photography’s mass use, and have observed it in action, even if we may not always have wanted to. Has anyone here not taken a digital photo? Just as I thought. (It actually says that here. And this.)
I will start my remarks by quoting a remark made by an American whom I overheard about fifty years ago, on the Acropolis in Athens, the place where what is left of the Parthenon stands. I was there trying to do some sketching, a skill I never got any good at but spent a few years attempting. He was doing pictures with his seriously pre-digital camera. As soon as he had finished photoing, he wanted to leave, presumably to get to his next photoing place. But his family were enjoying the Acropolis in the morning sunshine. Said he to his family: “Come one, come on! We’ll look at it when we get home!”
This outburst captures a great deal about what people object to about digital photography, but it also reminds us that photography, by Everyman as opposed to by professionals, is nothing new. Digital photography is partly just the intensification of a process that has been in place in our culture for well over a century. But it is more than that.
Even setting the scale of the phenomenon aside, digital photography is different from the old sort. It was first applied to the real world by NASA, to solve the problem not so much of taking photographs, but of communicating them, from robot spaceships back to earth, without the vast additional expense of getting the robots to fly back home themselves, like World War 2 photo reconnaissance planes. Central to digital photography is that digital photographs are easy to communicate. It is no accident that digital photography has only now become ubiquitous in our culture with the arrival and mass success of the smartphone, which can, just like those first NASA digital space cameras, both take pictures and communicate them. When we speak of “digital photography”, what are the boundaries of the concept? The “digital” bit means that this is photography that goes beyond merely being photography in the sense experienced by that American on the Acropolis all those years ago. Digital photography, as computer insiders have long understood, is only a part of a bigger multi-media picture, and that was always the idea.
One of the ways I have prepared for this talk has simply been to talk with people, both friends and people I just happened recently to bump into. How do you use digital photography? What do you think its impact is?
In the answers I have so far garnered, a number of themes recurred.
Only a tiny few did not use digital photography at all. In one case, this was because he had suffered a particularly painful digital camera robbery, and he just couldn’t make himself resume the activity. All the others who refrained were old, little-rolls-of-film photography devotees. They loved this technology and consequently hated the successor technology that had destroyed the object of their love, in rather the same way that some devotees of vinyl gramophone records hate CDs. This was exceptional.
In all other cases, my respondents used digital cameras with enthusiasm, and often downright joy. They used them in some or all of the regular ways, to take holiday snaps, to take photos at weddings, family reunions, parties, and so on. But another recurring theme also asserted itself. This is the digital photography killer app, different for each person. Everyone does particular work, has particular hobbies, and in almost every case of such a personal angle on the world, digital photography was making a contribution, to their effectiveness or their pleasure or both.
A fine example is a killer app described to me by a gentleman at the previous 6/20 meeting, on the 6th of this month. He regretted being unable to attend tonight, but I will try to recall what he said, briefly but accurately. Basically, he is a butterfly fan. He likes to scrutinise the patterns on the wings of butterflies, which, to him, are of extraordinary beauty and interest. I am sure you can understand.
But he has a problem. Butterflies are notoriously unwilling to stay for any length of time in the same spot. Their wings will often repay long minutes and ever hours of attention, but your typical butterfly only hangs around for a few seconds and certainly cannot be relied upon to stay longer. No problem. Snap. He can then scrutinise the beautiful creature’s wings at his leisure. He can, you might say, look at it when he gets home.
It’s an aside, but I recall the days when butterfly “lovers” could only contemplate the objects of their devotion for any big length of time by killing them. They used to catch butterflies in nets, and pin them onto boards and keep vast collections of dead butterflies in trays with glass tops. I remember such gruesome collections, perpetrated by male relatives long dead, in my grandmother’s house when as a boy I visited her vast home. That the weapon of choice of an ever higher proportion of human hunters of animals – entirely so in the case of rare or endangered animals - is now the camera, rather than the rifle, is surely a step in the right direction for civilisation. Taken literally, my butterfly man’s use of digital photography to immobilise his butterflies was the very opposite of a killer app. It was a let them live app.
Other killer apps spring to mind. My own digital camera killer app, the app that got me started with digital photography, was contriving computer printable photographs of authors whose writings I was engaged in publishing, for the Libertarian Alliance. One of these authors was Christian, as I recall. About fifteen short years ago, using desktop computers to print photographs was as slow and unwieldy as using computers to display photographs on computer screens is easy now, but I was very happy about that. I could do it. All I needed was quite crude black and white pictures, which were not nearly as slow as better pictures would have been to play with, and anyway, all that slowness deterred the competition and made my products look far less domestic in origin than they really were. Later, I used and still use pictures of prominent libertarian personalities to spice up my blog postings, and to boost their prestige and raise their morale.
Intrinsic to digital photography is that digital photographs can be easily processes. This was also why NASA was so keen to develop this technology. Remember those videos of a hopeless image being slowly but miraculously transformed into a miraculous image. I used to muck about with my author photos to make them more photocopier-friendly. Many of my interviewees have talked about how they create images, rather than merely snap them.
Tonight I hope that I will hear of many more killer apps.
One of my favourite digital photography apps is the photographing of other information. An example of this was told to me by Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home, who works in computers, in some capacity or other. He and his colleagues, in the course of their collective deliberations, are in the habit of covering white boards with verbiage and diagrams and such, often including yellow stick-on notes with further cleverness. And, before the meeting adjourns, photos of all this cleverness are taken, for later pondering. Simon and his colleagues are definitely not the only ones behaving like this, and nor are they the only ones who photograph the resulting writing on the wall, so to speak, for later reflection. A merely temporary piece of scribbled brainstorming becomes as permanent as anyone wants it to be. To
Time was when the only people in the world using small cameras to photograph complicated verbiage and complicated diagrams were spies in movies, and presumably spies for real. And to anyone who says that photocopiers have been around for decades, I say, true, but good luck photocopying a vertical surface several yards wide. Digital cameras are actually now better than photocopiers were. Notice, however, that this was not nearly so true just a few years back, because cheap digital cameras couldn’t then handle the detail. Now, they can.
The more people tell me about their personal, particular, digital photography apps, and about the other apps they have heard about other people using, the more I think that digital photography is like literacy, something that is capable of contributing, always significantly and often crucially, to pretty much any project you care to think of. Of course it has to be done right, used intelligently. Any tool can be misused, applied stupidly or excessively. But seriously, is there any area of work or play to which a bit of shrewdly deployed digital photography can not now contribute?
The pleasure that people get from digital photography is obvious, and often highly visible. But the impact of digital photography on work is just as dramatic if not more so, which is one of the reasons I so like Simon’s photoed brainstorm boards. Where would internet selling be without digital photography? How many pictures are taken per day by the construction industry, to record progress, satisfactory or not? Think of all those Russian cars with their permanently active video cameras, ready to record accidents, and incidentally recording meteor strikes for the evening news.
As for the more conventional uses of digital cameras, to take snaps when on holiday or out of hours when on business trips, at weddings and at funerals and school reunions and at Christmas, well, hear this. Several people volunteered that, were they to suffer a computer calamity and lose all their data, the only losses that would really hurt – really, really hurt – would be the loss of their photo archives.
There were grumbles. Just now a big grumble about digital photography, if my recent conversations are anything to go by, concerns people using tablet cameras (a very recent arrival on the scene) to make bad video recordings of live events, thereby spoiling the view for everyone else. This does not mean that it is silly to photograph Big Ben using a tablet, as I myself have had the pleasure of photographing many people do. On the contrary, a tablet is a very sensible way to take photographs or make videos, because with such a big screen, you know, as never before, the kind of picture you are going to get. But yes, tablets can be used in a way that is annoying to others. More fundamentally, what is the point of going to an event, and then not experiencing it, on account of instead making a bad video of it?
More generally, the grumble is that digital photography does not so much record experience as postpone, diminish, and not infrequently utterly destroy it.
But such grumbles are not new. I would say that they are a consequence of the fact that technology is always now developing, which means that at any particular moment mistakes are going to be made. We are all familiar with the nouveau riche phenomenon, which is people who need to learn how to handle money in quantities they are not familiar with, and in particular not to spend it all. Constantly progressing technology gives rise to a similar effect. At any given technological moment there will be people overdoing it with this or that latest piece of kit. Just now tablet computers are being overused at public events. Suddenly people can record absolutely everything, and some do, excessively and inconsiderately, not even maximising their own pleasure let alone anyone else’s. In the eighties, you may recall, the complaints concerned mobile phones, being misused in trains by people shouting endless gushes of banality into them, concerning the progress of their train journeys, in a way that enraged other passengers. But people learned not to behave like this. The tablet wavers at concerts will likewise learn to mend their manners.
As for the claim that photography is an alternative to visual experience rather than an enhancement of it, my own personal experience has been the exact opposite. I have seen far more of London in the last decade than I would have done had there been no digital photography. And thanks to my photo archives I remember far more of what I have seen, with past photos often vividly triggering past visual memories that would otherwise have gone utterly. My most vivid visual recollection of 2013 was seeing, in the far distance, the first few giant cranes of London Gateway, London’s new container port now being constructed on the north bank of the Thames Estuary. They reminded me of my first sighting of Chartres Cathedral from a similarly great distance, which I spied on one of my sketching expeditions in my teens. Had there been no digital photography, I would never have gone anywhere near London Gateway, let alone now have had such vivid mental (as well as digital) pictures of it. My experience is that digital photography is not a substitute for seeing things. It is an intensification of seeing things.
And as I often like to joke, my camera has better eyesight than I do. One of the most pleasurable moments of my photographic expeditions is when I get home, and fling my pictures up on my big home computer screen. I see all sorts of things in them that I did not see at the time, as perhaps my friend Simon sees in his photos of meetings notes. Just as the butterfly man does not have time to see everything he can later see in his photos, I do not have the eyesight to see what I later see in my photos. Ah, the joy of looking at them when I get home! And yes, I am a bit nouveau riche about digital photography myself. Guilty as charged. But far better to be nouveau riche than not riche at all!
It is because of all the varied pleasures to be had from digital photography that it has become such a mass enthusiasm. All mass enthusiasms give rise to grumbles and sneers, from people who accentuate the negative and prefer to ignore or take for granted the positive.
Some negatives, concerning the impact of digital photography and the new media in general on old school journalism have been much complained about, mostly by old school photographers and journalists. Daily news has been replaced by instant news. Boo. Many people prefer looking at each other’s bad photos instead of looking at good photos taken by the old school photographer complaining in his old school newspaper article. I will not spend time on these grumbles, if only because so many others have done nothing but write about such things. Suffice it to say that the news hasn’t ended. The means of communicating it has changed a lot lately, just as it always has.
One of the many plusses of digital photography is that, by supplying an endless stream of humdrum photos of humdrum people doing humdrum things all over the world, it corrects the impression given by the news that the rest of the world is a crazy place inhabited only by crazy people doing crazily newsworthy and disastrous things, all the time.
One of the bigger negatives associated with digital photography is surely surveillance, both by big organisations like governments and the owners of shopping centres and amusement parks and transport networks, and by individuals, just taking photos, moving or still, of friends or strangers, and then internetting them. And of course the latter activity, as Edward Snowden has now confirmed, feeds massively back into the former one. There was a recent 6/20 talk devoted entirely to this topic a few months back, just before it suddenly became a hot news story.
Surveillance has caught on in the rich world, I am convinced, because it really does do a lot of good, in deterring crime and in supplying evidence for prosecution in crimes that it fails to deter. It also, surely, really does diminish speedy and dangerous driving. The question is not whether there are any benefits to mass surveillance, but whether those benefits are worth the potentially horrible costs. It has been much discussed that Britain has the largest population of surveillance cameras in the world, per head of population being surveilled. I think that one reason for this is that in Britain we have (again: many of my libertarian friends will be disgusted by this claim) some of the – quite possibly the - most trusted public officials in the world. (If my libertarian friends would prefer “least distrusted”, I am happy to let them have that concession, but only that.) Trust in public officials everywhere is probably in decline, including in Britain, but in Britain it still remains very high. There is a lot of ruin in a civil service that started out genuinely civil. Thus, the costs in Britain of public surveillance are considered less burdensome than elsewhere, and the cameras escalate, both in number and in effectiveness.
The Guardian’s Laurie Penny agrees with me. Unlike me, Penny travels a lot to many other cities besides London, and she notes that London – especially London’s trains – are now remarkably free of graffiti, compared to other major cities, and in particular compared to the trains in other major cities. She gives surveillance cameras much of the credit for this. Which makes sense to me. Although, as usual, we have to say that just shoving up surveillance cameras and not paying any attention to their output is utterly insufficient. As with all other digital camera apps, surveillance cameras can be deployed both excessively and incompetently. Cameras only work if part of an effective (and uncorrupt) system of crime prosecution and prevention.
But what if the definition of crime gets expanded? What if British public officials are now becoming lest trustworthy so fast that the British public, now so supportive of surveillance cameras, later changes its mind?
And what else are all these surveillance cameras already deterring? Penny speculates that we have entered a new age of self-censorship, of stuffy social decorum, of watching what we say to anyhone, not unlike the one that was abandoned in the 1960s by the Beatles generation, i.e. mine. I think I agree about that also, although another big part of the reason for that is that the economy is not what it was. Would young people now fret about pictures of themselves behaving rowdily in the street, or for that matter at private parties where privately owned smartphones are hoovering up pictures and showing the worst of them to the whole world, if jobs for young people were as easy to come by as they were in the 1960s? Personally I don’t think such pictures are much of a reason to not employ someone, but they do make a fine excuse if you are looking for one.
Going back to that graffiti that Laurie Penny observes the lack of in London (and she is rather regretful), I think I observe another impact of digital photography on graffiti, at any rate in London. Yes, surveillance cameras may have diminished the quantity of low grade graffiti, the sort that is hardly better than dogs pissing on lamp-posts to mark their territory, and which is done – or feels as if it is done - to maximise annoyance to property owners, and urban dread in the minds of more sober and timid and elderly citizens like me. But at the top end of the graffiti food chain, at any rate to my eye, things have greatly improved. The quality of the best graffiti art is now dramatically better than it has ever been before, so much so that art galleries now fall over themselves to sign up street artists, instead of patronising the more usual sort of artists, who are now being left behind by their more populist competitors with their defiantly realistic and demagogicly communicative imagery.
Digital photography is definitely part of this story, in fact I think somewhere in my photo archives I have pictures to prove it, of street artists photoing their works in progress. Think about it. If you have just done an elaborate work of street art, in a place where you know from experience you are allowed to do it, and won’t be prosecuted for doing it, and you can immediately record an approximate likeness of it for posterity, that has to gain you more kudos and social media attention than if you couldn’t do that. Street art is all too temporary, replaced almost at once by more street art. A digital photo of a piece of street art is far more permanent. Does anyone here present think that digital photography means less high quality street art?
The weekend before last, there was another art event in London which surely also owed much to digital photography, which was a festival of ice sculpture. How demoralising it must be to sculpt a masterpiece, and then immediately watch it melt, in London’s demoralisingly moderate “winter” climate. How much more fun if you can photo it in all its temporary glory. That fact has resulted in a deluge of photos in recent years of such ice sculptures, and that results (it certainly did the weekend before last) in a whole new mob of people who have never seen such a thing before (because before, nobody in London bothered) assembling themselves to witness these miraculously kitchy objects. And to photo them with their cameras. I actually went to this ice sculpture exhibition, which was held in Docklands. I had hoped for a decent number of ice sculptures and a decent number of photographers, some of them the artists themselves, for me to photograph photoing them. Alas for my hopes. I only got as far as photoing the truly gigantic and (to me) totally offputting queue of people who had all had the same idea about where to go as me.
I’ll end this very soon. Melting sculptures and excessive crowds of people wanting to see them and to photo them may seem like a pretty downbeat conclusion to this talk, but actually it isn’t really my conclusion. That will come when I finally sort out in mind what that is. Meanwhile, I am greatly enjoying the process. Talking with people about how they use digital photography, and about what they think its impact has been and is and will be, as opposed to merely reading about this on the internet and musing about how I use digital photography myself, has also been, quite aside (I hope) from being somewhat informative, great fun. Asking someone how they use digital photography is a great conversation starter, I have found. And I intend to continue with my investigations.
If forced to offer a conclusion now, I think I would describe digital photography historically, by talking about how future historians might choose to describe the little episode of technological history that we happen to be living through. And I think, like me, that they will emphasise the multi-media nature of digital photography, the way that it operates in combination with other methods of information storage and communication. When will they date the beginning of this story? Perhaps a date they will mention is May 11th 1844, which was the day when the first Morse Code message was transmitted between two different cities, Washington and Baltimore.
Or, they may go back to the origins of the printing press, or even of literacy, or even of talking itself. I have already emphasised the way that digital photography, among many other things, adds a dose of turbo-charging to old fashioned writing, by photographing it. For this is a story with no very fixed moment of beginning, and as of now there is no end in sight. It is a story of the gradual and accelerating increase in the power of us humans to interact with our world, to remember things, and to communicate things. In almost no time, from the evolutionary point of view, we have gone from creatures who struggled to make noises that communicated different kinds of danger to the tribe, to creatures who may very soon be making elaborate objects simply by thinking about them and emitting telepathic waves to magic machines, telepathy being a word I used in the title of a recent blog posting about the kinds of things I would be talking about this evening. Future historians will talk of shared experience, and gaze at our absurdly flat photographs, perhaps on an antique “computer screen”, with the same impressed but slightly patronising amusement and bemusement that we now bestow upon stained glass windows.
But enough. Thanks for listening, and please tell me more.
As my talk deadline (tomorrow evening) approaches, further insights keep rearranging themselves in my brain.
Not long ago, I read Alex Singleton’s new book (he will be speaking at my home on Friday 31st of this month) about how to do P(ublic) R(elations). (Not so long before reading that book, I read another book in which PR meant, throughout, P(hoto) R(econnaissance). How the world keeps changing (see below).)
I don’t recall any of the facts in this book of Alex’s about how to do PR being any sort of shattering revelation. Rather was the book a relentless drip-drip-drip of what is called “commonsense”, that is, of facts which might well be true, which would make sense if true, and which are, in the opinion of one who knows, actually true, as opposed to some other equally commonsensical notions about these or those circumstances, which, in the opinion of the same expert, are not true. Yet Alex telling me all the things he knows about how to do PR hardly begins to turn me into a PR expert, even though I am now at least passingly acquainted with every important principle, or even fact, that he has gathered up during his PR-ing over the last few years, and furthermore now know (or think I know) where to look to reacquaint myself with all these facts.
What distinguishes Alex from me as a PR-er is that he not only has his facts right, but that he also has them, as the saying goes, “at his fingertips”. That is, he knows how to deploy the pertinent fact at the pertinent time, again and again. He makes connections between his facts, and knows, from experience, which fact matters at which particular moment. He has his facts properly arranged and cross-referenced, inside his head. He knows his way around his facts. All I have is an ill-remembered list of facts.
Trying to “make sense” (as I now am) of digital photography is like that. I already know everything about digital photography that I need to know, pretty much, as (I’m guessing) do you. The problem is making sense of what I know, of putting it all together and relating this fact to that fact, in a way that is slightly interesting and surprising, yet also true.
I now find myself thinking about digital photography as part of that wider historical change known by labels like: the Information Revolution. The Information Revolution kicked off, I would say, on May 11th 1844, when the first message between two different cities (Washington and Baltimore) was sent by electric telegraph. It is intrinsic to digital photography that it is photography that can be communicated.
The effect of the Information Revolution has been to unleash a succession of changes in the texture of everyday life, with each successive decade being defined by whatever stage the Information Revolution happened to have arrived at at that particular passing moment. Photography is both an example of such a change, and the means of recording and remembering and celebrating such changes. Photography remembers things like tablets and iPhones, just as in earlier times it remembered and still remembers big mobile phones, antique microphones, dance crazes, the social structure of successive pop combos, fashions in costume and make-up, and so forth and so on. (Photography also remembers successive iterations of the Industrial Revolution, like trains, cars, airplanes and wars.)
Photography remembers, among many other things, itself. Digital photography remembers, among even more other things, itself.
Incoming from Simon Gibbs:
Near the mayors blob
And there was a photograph attached to this message, “sent from my Sony Xperia™ smartphone”:
On the left there, as we look at it, is the Mayor’s Blob that Simon mentions, near the Shard, and a building I am very familiar with, at any rate from the outside. In the middle, something new, which Simon knew I might be keen to check out. So, he photos it, and sends it to me.
Neither Simon nor I are asking anyone to think that this is a good photograph, in the technical sense. Don’t click on it, because it is quite big enough as is. Simon is probably a bit appalled that I am even showing it to anyone, even in the almost total privacy that is BrianMicklethwaitDotCom. But the photo suffices for its purpose, which is not to delight attenders at an art gallery (real or virtual), merely to provide me with information, should I be interested. (Although actually, this is the kind of thing you often do see in an art gallery nowadays, put there by an artist trying, as most artists must these days, to be contrary. “Good” photos are so twentieth century, my dears. Imagine the blurb, as written by this guy.)
I show this casual snap because it illustrates a typical use of digital photography, which is the communication of information, potentially in real time. Me being so hopelessly twentieth century in my uses of twenty-first century tech, I don’t know when he took this photo. It duly arrived on my desk, via my clunky old twentieth century desktop computer. Was it taken only seconds before Simon sent it to me? Perhaps he can tell us. But my point here is that he could have. And like him, I could have been as much on the move as he clearly was, while still as connected to the world as he was.
Here we see photography not as the nineteenth and then twentieth century mechanisation of oil painting, but as a twenty first century amplification of conversation. “Ooh, Brian might like to see that, snap. Hi Brian. Take a look at this.” Try doing that with a twentieth century phone. You could, in this case, after a fashion, but it wouldn’t be nearly so quick, definite and easy.
I am giving a talk on Monday evening at Christian Michel’s about The Impact of Digital Photography, and this is the kind of thing I will be talking about.
Digital photography was, or so I recall reading recently, invented by NASA, not so much to take photos, as to communicate photos, of other planets from robot cameras on space-ships, back to planet earth. Yes.
The logical mid-to-late twentieth century end-point of episodes like this, after you have thrown in a big dash of this sort of stuff, is (see above): telepathy.
I just watched a tv show about hydrogen bombs. One of the things I never, until now, got around to finding out about was how hydrogen bombs work. What I had not realised was that hydrogen bombs include atom bombs inside them, to trigger the “hydrogen” bit.
Basically, they sick a stash of other stuff next to an atom bomb. When the atom bomb goes off, it turns the other stuff into an explosion that is even more spectacular than the original atom bomb explosion. I did not know this. Now I do. Tremble, world. Well no, I still couldn’t make a hydrogen bomb. But I now understand a bit better how others make them.
The funniest moment was when a bloke said that there comes a time when shoving more and more stuff next to the atom bomb to make a bigger and bigger hydrogen bomb stops being worth doing, because the blast is just so huge it disappears out of the earth’s atmosphere. This means, he said, that a bomb this big, when compared to a slightly smaller one, “does no good”.
You can just hear those bomber pilots, setting out for Dresden in 1945, saying: “Come on guys, let’s go do some more good.”
Boris Johnson’s London
Old London photos
On having written about the 1958/9 Ashes series before the 2013/4 Ashes series had started
Tough going in Australia
I’m not the only one who suffers from rightward lean
Jane Austen’s naval brothers
Michael Jennings photoes Cape Bojador
Digital photographers holding maps
Daniel Hannan’s latest book(s?)
The Kelpies of Falkirk
They did not die to make us free
Rob Fisher on old things not looking old
Eurostar before St Pancras
Wedding photography - old and new
A vanished building and a bendy bus
A Strutton Ground shop and a Strutton Ground pub
Otherwise blogging (and a Burgess Park butterfly)
Anton Howes at the Rose and Crown
Algernon Sidney sends for Micklethwait because Micklethwait is wise, learned, diligent, and faithful
The next four Brian’s Last Fridays (including December 27)
The Times of May 24th 1940
Antoine Clarke on life and libertarianism in Britain in 1913
Billy Fury Way
The Alex Singleton blog
Views from Kings College
An old Mini and a new Mini
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
Steve Davies talk last night
Emmanuel Todd links
Cassette iPhone photographer
Wedding photography (6): The Wedding and the Reception
Pictures from Georgia and Warsaw
Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
Wedding photography (3): Technology as sculpture
So painters also used to “take” pictures
Me and the Six Nations under the weather
Classical CDs from Gramex
Bad times for the NHS
Steven Pinker’s description of The Enlightenment
Bomber Command Memorial pictures
How gun control works and how it will defend Libertaria
A camera in each hand
Changing views from the Monument
Remembrance Sunday photos
A review of Detlev Schlichter’s new book (multiplied by 4)
Kevin Dowd last night
76 operas and a monument in the wrong place for Hermann the German
Emmanuel Todd’s latest book - in English
Science can relax about the harm done to it by Climategate
Bizarre History - Johannes Brahms did not murder cats
Do not climb on the Thing!
Pictures of Detlev Schlichter
Shostakovich with cat
Gormley’s South Bank Men
Everything competes with everything
Photographing change from the Monument
Soviet health and safety posters
Let us now trash infamous men
A Spanish geography lesson
Bouncing bombs and spinning cricket balls
Me and Patrick Crozier talk about the banking crisis and its possible consequences
An amazon reviewer defends Alex Ross
October 2007 conversation about modern architecture with Patrick Crozier
St Valentine’s Day talk by me on architecture
Mozart might have become a criminal
Alex Ross on Hollywood film scores
Professor C. Northcote Parkinson on the Edifice Complex
Obamanomics dod not work
English will not last for ever shock
James Waterton on a very smart very dumb Russian
Rockets are a great improvement on balloons
Defeating Islam (2): Conversion to Christianity will trump higher birth rates in Islamic countries
More bridge magic
What if the British Empire had stayed together?
St Matthew reinterpreted
Soros and his money
Links to this and that
Toby Baxendale on what went wrong and what to do about it
Anti-aircraft guns may not have killed many enemy airplanes but they did point them out
Perfectly clear politics
Obama raises the price of tanning
303 Squadron in the movie and on the telly
I do love a steam train on a viaduct
Castro slams Israel
As strong and sweet as the free market itself
Soviet space leftovers
I love television
Photos of things past
Steve Davies lecture - photoing and videoing the lecture - post-lecture chat
One child poster
Everybody draw Mohammed every day!
God is not One
Why my libertarianism has the look and feel of socialism
Why David Hepworth is wrong about podcasting
The cats from out of town that cleared out the rats during the siege of Leningrad
You had a hard disc? Luxury!
Cricket talk tonight
Three more headlines and how the internet remembers it all
Short posting (with short photo) about SpaceShipTwo
ClimateGate roars on and Man(n)-made warming is taking on a whole new meaning
In Gorbachev we trust?
Luxembourg church in hill and Luxembourg footbridge
How building St Peter’s Rome split the Catholic Church and how marzipan was invented in Luebeck
Frank McLynn: “Counterfactual history is the essence of history …”
Polish anti-semitism - a history lesson at last night’s dinner
Death to all who try to tiptoe past our guards while wearing giant baby costumes!
At least libertarianism is understood over there
Alex Ross on Sibelius
The concrete monstrosities of the South Bank may be about to get colourful
Changing faces of Europe
A little archaeology
What Bercow does next
Model T parts flatvert
Tienanmen + Twitter = Teheran
Hislop fluffs the rhyme
What next for Guido Fawkes?
Handel in London – and an angelic tenor aria
There weren’t a billion of them then
Patri Friedman versus Chris Tame
Lawrence H. White on the Scottish experience of free banking
Signs of the times in Belfast
My confusion about free banking
What the previous two postings here have in common
Daniel Hannan and the shape of the media to come
“Vivid characters, devious plotting and buckets of gore …”
Bike made entirely of wood
Long platform ticket
Clay Shirky on newspaper doom
Ancient Sheffield dwarfed by modernity
Professor Dowd and I contemplate a stately home from a distance
Who is Arnold Leah?
Philippa Micklethwait - the Eulogy
Jennings did it
Flat train picture and regular train picture
Another strange Staines statue
Meme for the New Depression
Roll out the Lino
Milk containers ancient and modern
Commenting about the Dowd lecture at Samizdata
“Dying is a fulltime business. You haven’t time to do a lap of honour.”
Making the new look and feel like the old
My parents and my uncle and two aunts
Old postage stamps
Michael Jennings on shoring up the bad old economy versus building a good new one
And here is a real quotation
Quota quotes from Wodehouse
More Englefield Green strangeness
Further thoughts on Karajan’s conducting
P. J. O’Rourke confuses the average with the significant
The Official Story and the Most Confident Alternative
Thoughts concerning FDR’s warmongering nature
Lang Lang crushes Yundi Li!
Billion Monkey hits 40
“I will cause a boy that driveth a plough to know more of the scriptures than thou dost.”
Another pendulum theory
Reasons to be a bit more cheerful
Wingtipping a V1
They aren’t complete idiots all the time
Rock and roll will die very soon!
Monster buildings and monster people
Mahler’s 9th in Vienna in 1938
Another great viaduct
John Carey on Shakespeare and the high-art/ popular-art distinction
Keith Windschuttle on history - truth - Robert Hughes
Billion Monkey lady! – Gherkin! – Monument!
Modernity dwarfed by church
Photo of some foodski
Resizing Slim with Expression Engine
Switching from dumb bombing to smart bombing
A poetic Hornby
Armed is less dangerous
Star and stripe
Terence Kealey on the Wright brothers and their patent battles
Guido Fawkes gets Douglas Jardine wrong
Photos are better
Were any of them really that nice?
Pictures with words
An impulse posting about procrastination
The absurdly derided excellence of British weather forecasts
Voting for Boris?
Slow day here
Billion Monkey Alan Little?
Dominic Lawson on Herbert von Karajan
Celebrating a victory
Ed Smith on how baseball defeated cricket in America
A soundbite to describe Britain a hundred years ago
Cuba before Communism
Theodore Dalrymple on the menace of honest public officials and much else besides
Me talking about the great twentieth century musical divide
Flat viaduct and spiral bridge
“At that moment I suddenly started to view Nagi as an enemy …”
Blogging – the end of the beginning
Fifty million Bible bombs
Books on the go and on a machine
Probably not right - but definitely written
The romance of new technology – or the drudgery of it
Operation Cat Drop and some Hello Kitty Bags
The bridge that was going to make Westminster a fine city and London a desert
Fourteen British viaducts
She’s alive I tell you! Alive!
Socialising with the Social Media
Understanding is the booby prize exclamation mark
Will China fail?
The Emperor Jones
Yes this is cat blogging
Smelling the smoke in the Microsoft machine
A train called Professor George Gray
Che Guevara was a murderer and your T-Shirt is not cool
New word alert
Did Hitler have a plan to conquer the USA?
A conversation - and another outage
A dreadful age
Juan Bautista Alberdi
American war memorial by the sea at St Nazaire
Three … thirty six … sixty one … a hundred a forty eight …
Blogs are not cacophonous
At the dogs
Lots of links
Test match special
Four Billion Monkey snaps!
Cold War winner
Islam was peaceful and tolerant until the Christians attacked it
Emmanuel Todd (5): A CrozierVision podcast
Emmanuel Todd (4): From ideology to economic progress
Alan Turing – dead earth and cold wires
Thomas Edison - from cheat to creator
Alessandro Volta feels electricity on his tongue
The Great Global Warming Swindle debate now begins
Random London snaps from last year
Church dwarfed by modernity
Will twentieth century aerial warfare be repeated by toys?
Susan Hill on not having to be up-to-the-minute about book blogging
Svensmark – for and against
Gandhi on equality for all … except …
Harold C. Shonberg on how to perform Bach
Emmanuel Todd (2): The eight family systems
Micklethwait’s Four Star Theory of the Internet
Emmanuel Todd (1): Anthropology explains ideology
Another link to a friend and that’s your lot today
And further talk at Christian Michel’s about water and power
World War One talk at Christian Michel’s
Islam is evil - and that’s me carrying on normally
Geoffrey Blainey on Ivan Bloch - the man who predicted World War One
Back to the future with the virtuoso violinists
Billion Monkeys and people waving blue things!
Happy day after Christmas Day
History of the Middle East as a moving map
Sullivan and Grove find some Schubert diamonds
Pictures of and from Albert Bridge
Geek girl I like your thinkings - are nice - I want have sex with it
I really hope that the Samsung SPH-P9000 catches on
Alex talks (clearly) with me (not so clear) about classical music
The West disunited versus the Pesky Muslims
Sssssssss!!!! White man! Take my photo!!
The extreme memes spread by moderate Muslims
“Liberty might be defended, after all” - Tom Holland’s account of the Battle of Marathon
A little transport history
A digital SLR that a Billion Monkey could lift!
Alex and Brian’s latest classical music mp3 – Saint-Saëns etc.
Shaftesbury Avenue over half a century ago
Patrick and Brian mp3 about libertarianism and spreading libertarianism
Quota quote – Victor Davis Hanson on the Western way of war
Adriana’s Thing mp3
Debussy denounces Massenet but Puccini follows him
Theodore Dalrymple is an Islamic Fundamentalist and so am I
On trust and obviousness
Brian and Antoine number 9
Giving up rouge for Lisbon
Four stars at Amazon
Skill and Post-Skill
Quoted but not linked to
The dilemmas of defence
Charles Rosen on Richard Taruskin and on the socially unbound nature of some of the greatest music
The problem of long blog postings
Talking about my generation
The Great Gulf War?
Last night’s talk
Thoughts after watching Abbado’s Lucerne Resurrection Symphony
What we eat but not what we say
Rylance’s Richard again
“They needed one another”
Two faces of Horatio Nelson and the excellence of Findlay Dunachie
Civilisation turns its attention to Chinese despotism
iPods From Space
Mitchum - MacLaine – Fonda – and Cota
The old USSR: good for thirty more years . . . then it collapsed