Anton Howes on how printing got started

Anton Howes has been asking himself Why Didn’t the Ottomans Print More? In the course of sketching an answer, he says interesting things about how printing did get started in Europe:

When we think of the invention of the Gutenberg press, we often associate it with the spread of the Reformation a few decades later. We imagine presses hidden away in people’s basements, where ordinary citizens might churn out subversive tracts. The printing press, with the benefit of hindsight, seems inextricably linked with the spread of heresy, radicalism, and revolution. Yet in the late fifteenth century, before the Reformation, it was a technology that usually enjoyed, and perhaps even required, extraordinary encouragement from the authorities. Printing presses on their own are huge and heavy, even before accounting for the cases of type, the moulds or matrices required to cast new type when it began to wear out, and the punches used to make the moulds in the first place. It was a costly, capital-intensive business, requiring huge investment before you could print your very first page.

Many of the very first printers were either directly funded by rulers, or else obtained special privileges from them. The Gutenberg press didn’t immediately spread from Mainz to the major nearby cities of Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Würzburg, or Koblenz, as we might expect, but leapfrogged them all to Bamberg, where one was set up by the secretary to the city’s prince-bishop. Many of the much closer and larger cities don’t seem to have got their first presses until decades later. Even Venice gained printing earlier, in 1469, when its senate granted a five-year patent monopoly to a German to introduce the art. And when the printing market became over-crowded, Venice also granted temporary monopolies over the printing of particular texts — an extraordinary level of interference in an industry, which was only justifiable in light of the major up-front costs of deciding to print a book.

Such policies were soon replicated abroad. The first press in France was set up by the university of Paris, and the king granted citizenship to the foreign workmen who installed it. The first Italian press, too, was introduced with the support of a cardinal to the monastery of Subiaco, after which it moved to Rome. When it ran into financial difficulties after printing too much, it was bailed out by the Pope. And as the press spread even further afield, the greater the encouragement it required. Far-off Scotland in 1507 granted a monopoly to two printers not just over the use of a printing press, but over all imports of printed works too.

Are you thinking: internet. I am. That also kicked off as an official, government-sponsored project, did it not? Only later did it spread outwards, to mere people, to do more disruptive stuff, which now looks like it may include reversing many of the original nationalistic impacts of printing.

Governments start by seeing only the advantages to themselves of whatever it is, only later to discover that others become empowered also.

See also: drones.

The Howes thesis is that, at first, the Islamic world didn’t so much suppress printing as merely fail to encourage it, at the time when it needed encouraging. And I guess that once printing then got into its disruptive stride, then it became clear what a threat it might be to established beliefs and established government, and the Islamic discouragement, so to speak, kicked in.

I have just signed up to give Howes £100 a year. This may not got on for long, but it’s something. This item of person-to-person internet support is a first for me. I wonder how many such supporters he has?

London from the air – in 2005 and in 2020

I’ve written here a few times about London City Island, and how a sort of mini-Manhattan of unspectacular but decent looking apartment tower blocks have been built on it.

Well, here are a couple of aerial shots that show that having happened. Here is how things in that part of London were looking in 2005:

And here is the same view now:

This blog actually knows a couple of people who have regular jobs doing tech stuff, but who also in their spare time own and operate photo-drones, and who sometimes visit London. These two are really good photoers, even if they may not be quite your Real Photographers, in the sense of making their living photoing, all their working life. I wish I could tell you that it was one of them who did the above photos, but actually, these photos were done by Jason Hawkes, who is as Real a Real Photographer as you could ever wish to drool over the photos of. (Besides which, no drones in 2005.)

The above two photos are just one pair of before-and-now, 2005-and-2020, photos featured in this amazing Guardian collection of photos of London from the air, with commentary by Hawkes himself attached. All you can do here is scroll back and forth between one such pair, reduced in size to fit here. If that amused you at all, you really should click on the Guardian original, and then scroll down and click on each photo to get the other version. There are, by my count, thirteen of such photo-pairs.


Although this wondrous Guardian offering is a “mainstream media” story, there is no way that it could be shown in all its glory in a mere newspaper. Was any of this in the actual Guardian, the one done with paper and ink and sold in shops?

Drone photos in the outer suburbs

And by outer suburbs, I mean the outer suburbs of London. Just the other side of the green belt:

I came across these on the Facebook page of a friend (Facebook friend and friend for real). I didn’t think I knew anyone possessing a drone, with a camera, which he has been using to take aerial photos of the non-countryside, near London, but it turns out I do. I really like these photos, especially the one of the midget reservoir.

I am blogger-friends with 6k, who displays the occasional drone photo. But that’s in Africa. Africa is like another continent.

If I tell you that it’s the River Thames in those photos, that narrows it down quite a lot, but not too much, I trust. That approximate location aside, I am of course being deliberately vague about telling you anything more about my near-London friend than that he’s my friend, and that I thank him for permission (just in case you were wondering) to reproduce some of his recent set of drone-photos here. The vagueness is because who knows what sort of trouble I might get him into, maybe with some non-friendly neighbour, if I was not so vague? I agree, it’s most unlikely that anyone will give a damn about me “publishing” these photos, but what if they do?

I wouldn’t dream of attempting anything like this inside the green belt. But if my friend wants to drop by and give it a go …

I would absolutely love to accompany him and his drone on a photo-expedition, just to see for myself exactly how obtrusive and obvious it all is, or not as the case may be. Just for starters, how noisy are these things? Does everyone in the vicinity of a drone which is doing its thing know it’s there? Can they then look for it, and see it? Or are drones like my friend’s one too small to see from any distance?

Someone sent me an email plugging this drone guide, a while back. I’ve not read it. Maybe I should.

Robot insects on the march

3D printed flexoskeletons. In English, that would be “a cheap army of robot insects”:

Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a new method that doesn’t require any special equipment and works in just minutes to create soft, flexible, 3D-printed robots.

The innovation comes from rethinking the way soft robots are built: instead of figuring out how to add soft materials to a rigid robot body, the UC San Diego researchers started with a soft body and added rigid features to key components. The structures were inspired by insect exoskeletons, which have both soft and rigid parts—the researchers called their creations “flexoskeletons.” The new method allows for the construction of soft components for robots in a small fraction of the time previously needed and for a small fraction of the cost. …

But what could an army of such robots actually do? The most obvious immediate applications would appear to be military. They could be what I’ve already said: an army. Of miniature kamikaze bugs, or some such horror movie type thing.

I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of a hive of these little thingies.

Another fun thought: See the second category in the category list below.

Drone photo of a Roman amphitheatre

Built by the Romans at Caerleon, which is near Newport in South Wales:

Photo supplied by Gareth Blayney:

Courtesy my drone.

Drones are good for photos like that. Not so good, I speculate, for photos like the one I recently posted here.

Helicopter photos of London

Incoming from 6k:

Hi Brian

Hi 6k.

Hope you’re well.

I am, and likewise. Although, I usually know how you are, because you often blog about this subject. My recent favourite in this genre was the one where you included a chart of your stress levels for an entire day when there was a football match in the evening, involving your team.

Been a while since I’ve been in touch, but I am (of course) still reading BMNB dot com every day.

Good, good.

I only had to look at the title of this one – London’s Imperfect Geometry Revealed in Aerial Photography by Bernhard Lang – to know that I had to send it your way: enjoy!

Given 6k’s keenness on photoing with a drone, I half expected these aerial photos of London to be drone-photos also. But I guess it makes just as much sense to use a helicopter, given the amount of grief you’d surely get if you launched a drone into London’s sky. For starters, you can’t go within a kilometer of an airport, which rules out a big chunk of London near to London City Airport.

If you want to, make a start on drone law by reading this.

Meanwhile, my favourite of Herr Lang’s snaps was, of course, this, with all its bridges:

I make it eight of them.

My personal record is seven bridges, and all of my seven bridges are to be seen in the above photo by Lang. Only the nearest bridge (Waterloo Bridge) in his photo is missing from my photo. Not only that, but Lang’s photo also includes the spot where I did my photoing from, in the bottom left corner of his photo. This was the top of the Hotel ME, which is at the western end of the D that is made by The Strand and The Aldwych. Follow the link to my earlier posting at the start of this paragraph and you’ll also encounter a map which shows this. 6k thought I’d enjoy, and he was not wrong.

I’m not sure I agree about London’s geometry being “imperfect”. I know what this means, but it is these very “imperfections” that distinguish great cities from boring ones. Rectangular grids make for urban uniformity. “Imperfections” make a city far more interesting. But that’s a whole other posting.


I like photos that look like abstract art but which are really of something real.

To quote myself (underneath the August photo there, of London Bridge station seen from above):

I tend not to admire Modern Art. It takes itself far too seriously for my liking. But I love it when real stuff resembles Modern Art. Explain that to me, somebody?

Still working out the answer to that one.

So anyway, it would appear that these guys, agree with me. They call themselves AAA (they arrange the AAAs more aaartfully than this), which stands for Abstract Aerial Art.

Quote (from this):

Taken from a top-down perspective, every aerial photograph we take is of a real place on our planet. We like to compose our images as artworks rather than traditional photographs. Other than slight colour and contrast enhancements none of our images are manipulated in any way. As we always say, “the point is not to work out what it is, but to show how weird and wonderful the world can look from above”.

Actually, not quite my attitude. I like explanations, locations, etc. But, I still like these images.

Here are a dozen (I picked four, then nine, then twelve) that I especially liked:

Here’s the equipment the AAA guys use. Drones. Calling 6k. (The link at the top of this posting is to an earlier posting I did re another of 6k’s drone-photos.)

Drones replacing sheepdogs (and some embedded video about this)

This is the first time I’ve tried embedding a bit of video in this blog. Let’s see how this works:

Seems to have worked. Another major improvement of this blog over the old one, especially important for me at moments like this, is that when I press “Save draft” and them “Preview”, I get a preview of exactly how things will end up looking. The old blog, for some idiot reason, couldn’t or wouldn’t do this. Not exactly. Well, maybe it could have, but I couldn’t make it.

I found this news report, about how drones are replacing sheepdogs on the farms of New Zealand, here. This is definitely the most interesting “other creatures” thing I learned about during the last seven days. I first got a clue about this story when semi-watching a BBC4 TV documentary about the wildlife of New Zealand. They must have digressed into not-so-wild life.

According to the above video, drones haven’t yet learned how to function when it’s raining. So sheepdogs, for the time being, are still useful when it’s wet. But work is surely progressing on that, and the days of sheepdogs as workers on farms are surely numbered. These things can take a long time, so it will be a big number. But, a number.

Sheepdogs will not completely die out. Like horses, they will survive as sporting entertainers. And drones will give viewers a much better view of all the action.

LATER: I just realised it’s Thursday today, rather than Friday, which is the day I usually focus especially on cats, dogs, etc. Well, no matter. I’m probably the only one who noticed, so I’m not even going to apologise.

A drone at the Oval – and what drones will replace

I took this photo at the Oval (sorry the Kia Oval), on July 23rd 2012, when I and Michael Jennings were watching England lose by an innings to South Africa:

All very regrettable. England lost all twenty wickets, but South Africa only lost two wickets. Hashim Amla got a treble century. Boo hoo.

But, take a close look at the rather odd stick-like thing sticking up over that big stand in the distance. Not the big flyswatter, which is for floodlights. No, I mean the rather insect-leg-like thing to its left, as we look.


That’s a simple crop-and-expand of the first photo above.

Then as now, I was interested not just in cricket, as in: Is my team winning? (It was not (see above)). I also was already interested in the means by which cricket is televised or video-internetted. I know this, because at about the same time I was photoing the above photo, I also photoed this photo:

Imagine spending your entire day, which on that particular day was a pretty hot day, doing that.

Okay. Now, fast forward to the Oval exactly seven years to-the-day later, July 23rd 2019, when Darren and I visited the Oval, to watch Surrey get beaten by Middlesex in a T20 game.

Once again, that my team was losing was very regrettable, but once again, I consoled myself by photoing other things besides the actual cricket, as already recounted in this earlier posting.

And the most interesting thing, by far, that I photoed that evening, was this:

I owe the spotting of this contraption, which hovered throughout the entire game over the same part of the ground as the 2012 crane-photoer did, to Darren’s sharper-than-my eyes, and to the fact that he reads this blog and knew that I would be interested. I would be amazed if I discovered that it was actually not videoing the game that Darren and I were watching, even if it was only panoramic views, for now.

It is surely only a matter of time before drones start being used to video games like the one I saw at Beckenham, where I also photoed video cameras.

And scaffolding. Drones don’t need scaffolding.

I’m guessing that the drone problem just now is keeping them absolutely still, or alternatively, moving them in exactly the required manner, the way crane-photoer has long been doing. But if humming birds can solve this problem, I presume that drones can, and that actually, somewhere, they already have.

Googling for drones-cricket etc. tells me that this is a technology that is bowling ahead, so to speak. For instance, it says here, in connection with the recently concluded Cricket World Cup, that:

The drone camera provided by Batcam will also provide stunning visuals of all venues across England and Wales.

“Batcam” link added.

So, as Darren suggested, it is quite probable that the TV picture in this posting was done by a drone, rather than by a bloke at the top of a crane.

Which means that the Big Alignment described in that posting (the Shard and the BT Tower) may have been no accident. Maybe the drone lined them up right next to each other on purpose.