Today Michael Jennings, the creator and still technical curator of this blog, who was in my area for the first time in quite a while, called round and we went out and had drinks. In a Pimlico pub. Indoors. Unmuzzled. With quite a few other people also present. This being the first time that either of us had done this with anyone for … quite a while:
I photoed him and his Lockdown hair, and he told me more about how photography on mobiles is developing. He has an iPhone, which you can just see bottom right of that picture. My mobile only has
one camera two cameras (see comments 1 and 3), but Michael’s iPhone has three, thus making variable and quite impressive zoom possible.
Michael speculated that it may not be long before the whole of the back of his next iPhone but three with be covered in cameras, like: well over a dozen.
The limiting factor on this sort of multi-camera is not the cameras themselves. The problem is processing power. Making sense of the output of such a large camera array will take a lot of that, and also lots of ultra-clever software as yet still being contrived.
And there we have the ongoing story of digital photography, better explained than I have ever heard it before. All that processing power attached to an old-school camera would presumably triple its price. But mobiles already have all that processing power, or soon will, so it makes sense for your camera to be part of your personal pocket Kray computer, that you use for all your other mobile computerising.
Several years ago, the big Japanese enterprises who decide these things decided that they would spend no more money making regular dedicated cameras better, which is why these things haven’t changed in the last half decade. They decided to throw all their photography money at mobile phone cameras.
What I had not realised was how very, very good the mobile phone “camera” (quotes because it will really be cameras plural) is going to be, and how inexorably it will go on improving. 3D images? Oh yes, said Michael. The processing power applied to these camera arrays will make imagery possible of a sort that no single dedicated camera, no matter how complicated and costly, could possibly now contrive.
Which means: that old school cameras, even of the most sophisticated sort, will ever so slowly but ever so surely fade into the history books. And actually, do so really rather soon. In historical time, in the blink of … a camera.
Which further means that the best of all those photoer photos that I’ve been photoing for the last two decades will just keep getting better and better, like old wine. Plenty of other people have photoed such photos, but I know of nobody else apart from me who has made a point of doing this on such an industrial scale.
Here are thirty such photos I photoed in July 2006 and which I displayed here last January. There are plenty more where they came from.
This entertaining photoer habit, on the other hand, looks like it will be with us for a while.
There’s cities, there’s metropolises, and then there’s …:
It’s that mountain at the back that really makes this photo. That and the extraordinary amount of architectural detail.
And then, from the responses, there’s this:
A century ago, London was, or so my TV told me last night, the biggest city on earth.
I blame the Green Belt. This belt (noose?) should be converted into a ring of parks, all surrounded by more London.
So I was at Dezeen, checking if there’s been any big architecture lately (only in China), and I saw this photo:
Why do I make such a fuss about The Wires!!!? It’s because the phenomenon of The Wires!!! is an extreme illustration of the matter of what is seen and what is not seen. The point about The Wires!!! is that they are literally not being seen. There they are. And the Real Photographers are definitely seeing The Wires!!! They put them centre stage. They are saying to the people who write these extraordinary pieces, about buildings with The Wires!!! all over them: Look, The Wires!!! Write something about The Wires!!! But no, the writers don’t see The Wires!!! Or if they do, their Editors are under strict orders not to see The Wires!!! They delete all mention of The Wires!!!
Cities, in particular, abound with things you are supposed to look at, and things that you are not supposed to look at. Like stage scenery that is there to be looked at, and the equipment that supports the scenery or in some way services the scenery, that you aren’t supposed to look at, or even to see. We all look at cities in this way. I do it. I still try to avoid looking at all the poles, for lighting and for signs, that sprout out of urban pavements. (Memo to self: Photo photos that put these things centre stage, in the manner of the above photo of The Wires!!!))
See also: Roof clutter.
What’s strange about the The Wires!!! phenomenon is that there is a stand-up fight going on between the people supplying the photos, and the people commentating, at Dezeen anyway, on the photos. These Dezeen writers are either forbidden to see The Wires!!!, or, even weirder, they literally do not see The Wires!!!
The above photo, and the commentary on it, is the most extreme example of this phenomenon, of The Wires!!!, that I have so far encountered.
Tucker Carlson is one of my favourite political orators just now. Go here, to see and hear him in typically fluent form. Carlson asks and answers the question: Why do Trump’s meetings attract Trump supporters in such vast numbers?
To put it another way: If – if – Trump wins re-election, how will that have happened?
Trump loves America, and all the actually existing Americans who also love American. (If he doesn’t love America, he does a hugely impressive job of pretending to.) Millions of Americans understandably agree with Trump’s American nationalism.
But there is more at stake than merely the future of America. There’s a whole world out here to be considering.
Since the late eighteenth century, the world has been progressing in a spectacular way, despite all the bad stuff we all know about. Around 1780, there was this kink in all the graphs measuring human creature comforts, and things started getting rapidly better, and this fine trend in human affairs has continued ever since, with many interruptions in such places as Russia and China, but nevertheless unmistakeably. Everyday life, for everyone, even and especially for the very poorest people in the world, continues to get better and better. But will that continue? Might this excellent trend even go into reverse?
The best book I have recently read that grapples with those sorts of questions is The Wealth Explosion by Stephen Davies. Davies argues that what kicked off this spectacular explosion was that, when and where it happened, in Europe in the late 1700s, Europe was not politically unified. That meant that when the materials that went into the explosion began to be assembled – progressive technology and all the thinking that went into it, basically – there was nobody in Europe willing and able to stop this. On the contrary, because the various rulers of Europe were all quarrelling with one another, they all had a powerful incentive to stay ahead of one another in this race. In the world’s other civilisations, that didn’t happen, and technological stagnation ruled.
But Davies’s book is not only about the past. In it, he also ruminates upon the future. The big question for him is: What is modernity? Because if we know what it is, we may know better how to keep it in being.
He identifies several processes that might bring modernity to a halt and turn the last two hundred and more years of technological progress into a mere passing phase, like an earlier progressive episode that had happened in China. That episode was ended by a combination of military disaster and a subsequent Chinese ruling class decision to end it. Technological progress was quite consciously and deliberately stopped in its tracks.
One threat to modernity might, Davies speculates, be nationalism, and its associated fixed sum economic fallacies. By reversing international economic cooperation, such nationalism might throw progress into reverse, in the same kind of way that it did when the Great Depression got started, only more so. Trade war, and then perhaps even consequent actual war. That kind of thing. For Davies, good libertarian globalist that he is, Trump and all he stands for looms like a menace to everything good in the world and in its future.
But another threat to progress that Davies mentions seems to me at least as plausible, which is that globalisation will intensify, and create a global ruling class that will then, in the manner of the rulers of Imperial China, all agree that progress, because it is unsettling for the world and in particular for them, is bad and must be stopped. This ruling class might, in contrast, continue to pay lip service to the idea of progress, but will end up stopping it by mistake, in their efforts merely to improve and domesticate it.
I regard the second of these scenarios as a far greater threat to the world than the first. After all, does not Davies himself tell us that it was European “nationalism” that allowed all of this progress to get started in such a big way, back in the 1780s? If the world were now to unify, might that not prevent progress from happening, just as it prevented it everywhere else in the world outside of Europe (with the exception of Japan (which instead became a sort of honorary European country)), at the time when Europe itself was bursting forth into modernity? Ask questions like that, and Trump ceases to be a menace and becomes instead a protector and provoker of continuing global economic dynamism. He is now keeping the world un-unified, by refusing to let America become an outpost of a globalism dominated by quite different impulses centred around places like China and Russia, impulses that could switch off modernity far more thoroughly than continuing national rivalry ever could.
Trump, it seems to me, is a force for continuing global economic dynamism.
Meanwhile I sure hope Trump wins his election. I have no idea what the result of this election will be. I wish I could tell you this beforehand, but I cannot. I can only tell you what I hope, which is that Trump wins it by a stonking majority, so stonking that all those idiot left wing rioters are reduced to a state of spified shock and immobilised immiseration, sitting in their parental homes gibbering with incomprehension, and not a few of them obliging us all by committing suicide, and so stonking that the more civilised Democrats, the sort who prefer indoor corruption to outdoor looting, all decide that they must become Trumpists themselves.
If Trump wins like this, he will also speed up Britain’s escape from Lockdown, because a stonking Trump victory will, among other things, be a victory for anti-Lockdownism.
Like I said, not a prediction, merely a hope.
I get daily emails about “new london architecture”, and from Dezeen, the design website. From these emails alone, it is clear that the profession of architecture is in a bad way just now. Big new buildings just aren’t being built in anything like the numbers they were a few years ago. Even Zaha Hadid, who have been continuing to build big stuff in China, are being flattered by journos eager to keep in with them, not by plugging their latest Big Thing in China, but by writing about that space ship house that the late Zaha Hadid herself designed, several years ago.
The latest Frank Gehry project to get a write-up in Dezeen is a perfume bottle.
But of all the stories that speaks to this architectural go-slow, the one that I find most divertingly bizarre concerns an exhibition in London, organised by some Japanese goofballs, concerning architecture for dogs. Dezeen has noticed this, what with their being so little else of an architectural sort to be noticing, with a story about an architect who has done a sort of table thing that dogs can occupy, or something.
Dogs will get enthusiastic about anything their human bosses tell them to enthuse about. They’ll do anything to oblige. So they happily go along with this nonsense. But really. Could the world of “design”, all cool and calm and sophisticated and minimalist, be more completely at odds with the world of dogs, all enthusiasm and rushing about, sniffing each other’s arses and generally making a totally undignified spectacle of themselves and not caring a toss? To me, it all smacks of desperation. You can hear the wailing at Dezeen: What the hell else is there to write about? Well, I guess it’s dogitecture again.
Photoed by me last Tuesday, in Acton:
See eleven more photos of this mural and further information about it here.
As my title says, I like how Fin Dac has used the details of the surface he was faced with, turning bugs into features.
I’m not the only one who thinks scaffolding is pretty:
That’s not a house that is being worked on by builders. It’s .. a house. It’s finished. Here.
However, when architects start “designing” scaffolding, I think that for me the scaffolding loses a lot of its appeal. A lot of what I relish about how scaffolding looks is that the people who put it up don’t care how it looks. When they start caring, as the designer of this scaffolded house clearly did, scaffolding loses its essential aesthetic purity.
Anther way of putting this is that once architects start designing scaffolding, I fear that it may start falling down.
Apparently some idiots in Japan have tested something they describe as a flying car. What it really is is an aircraft capable of lifting a car. Big bloody deal. Why would you want to combine a car with an aircraft? They’re two different things. Cars are compact, to avoid occupying too much road. Aircraft reach outwards into the air, with big propellers or with big wings, to grab hold of the air and push themselves upwards. Two totally different things. Oh, you can build a “flying car”, that is to say a car which always carries a huge set of wings or propellers around with it. To put it another way, you can make an airplane capable of travelling on a very long runway shared with lots of other vehicles, by, you know, folding up its wings or propellers really really tightly. Yes. And you can make a baby pram that can also mow your lawn, really quietly so as not to enrage the baby. You can make a toaster that can also do the ironing. You can make an umbrella that doubles up as a snooker cue. But what the hell is the point of doing two such distantly related things, both very badly? Why not just do each thing separately, and each thing well?
I tried googling “flying cars are stupid”, for the first time just now. The least silly thing I read was this called that exact thing, by someone called James McNab. McNab ignores the point I just made and makes a whole other point, which is that flying cars would need to be driven by people as careful and skilful as pilots are now, rather than people as careful and skilful as car drivers are now. “You can’t handle flying cars!”, is how he puts it, referring to that movie where Jack Nicholson says “You can’t handle the truth!” Which, now I think about it is actually the same point as my point, but put in another way. Why waste a pilot driving a mere bus with hideously low mileage for half his working day, merely because, if you are rich enough and stupid enough, you could preside over such an arrangement? Makes no sense. We’re back to cars and planes being different.
Another big flying car idiocy is that flying cars will get rid of traffic jams. No, they’ll just create bigger and jammier traffic jams in the sky.
McNab also makes another point, which concerns why people who ponder innovation often start thinking that innovation has slowed down and may soon stop.
One source of innovation pessimism would be if you “invent” something that you think ought to have happened by now, like a flying car, note that it still does not exist, and say that therefore “innovation” itself has stopped. No mate. It was just a stupid idea, that did not happen for bloody good reasons. There’s plenty of non-stupid innovation going on nowadays. You are just fixating on stupid stuff. McNab accuses Peter Thiel, no less, of this non sequitur, when he goes from the non-arrival of flying cars to the slowing down of all innovation.
Interestingly, the writer of a book called The Rational Optimist has since written a book about innovation which ends rather pessimistically, in just this kind of way that McNab talks about. Matt Ridley’s fixation is on genetically modified crops, which don’t now work as well as they could because a lot of governments don’t like them. But those same governments have allowed plenty of other new stuff to happen. One of the features of a successful innovation is that it doesn’t piss off politicians too much. It sneaks under the political radar, and by the time the politicians have noticed it, the people already have millions of the things.
As you can surely tell, I am stream-of-consciousness-ing about this, thinking in internetted words. Which is one of the things this blog is for.
I can still remember the Great Leap Forward that the Panasonic Lumix FZ150 “bridge” camera was. For me if not for all of photoer-kind. For me, the best “bridge camera” I could have was my perfect camera. Tons of zoom, but no faffing about with different lenses to at once capture whatever scene presented itself to me, near or far.
I went rootling through the photo-archives looking for some early photos I photoed with this wondrous new contrivance, looking at the first photo-expeditions I embarked upon, along the River, to the Victoria Docks, or just to Westminster Abbey and Bridge, to photo my fellow photoers, to pick out some photos that brought back the shock of pleasurable surprise I had when I first got my hands on it.
But then I realised I was looking in the wrong place. What I needed to see were not merely some “early” photos, photoed days or even weeks after I got this super-camera. What I wanted to see were the absolute first photos I took with this camera, on January 26th 2012.
And the very first one of all was this:
That scene, of my kitchen window and surroundings as seen from my swivel chair around which most of my life revolves, if you get my meaning. (It’s the chair that does the actual revolving.) I am happy to report that the big grey Thing, bottom left, which was for making ice, has been replaced by a slightly bigger black box, which also makes ice, and also looks after food of many other sorts, including in particular ice cream. Otherwise, nothing has changed.
On each side of the window are CD shelves, and the next few photos I photoed were all close-ups of CDs, edge on:
That was when it hit me, and I believe I can still remember this glorious moment. This was the camera I had been waiting for, all my life. The key point was not just that these were successful photos of distant details. I can tell from the numbering of these photos in the archive that there were no failures. None. All of my first dozen or so photos with this new camera came out fine, even the one of my pop music department, which was where it still is, way off to the left and way up near the ceiling.
Only the following day did I photo anything beyond my front door.
The first outdoor photo I photoed with my new FZ150 was this, dated January 27th, i.e. the following day, just before it got dark:
That’s looking across Vincent Square at the building activity in and around Victoria Street, which has been pretty much continuous, one place or another, for the last decade. Mmmmmm, cranes.
Since then, I have upgraded to the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 and then to the FZ330. But they are both really just the FZ150 with frills added. If my current camera, the FZ330 were to be snatched away from me, and I was given another FZ150 and told that this would be my last camera, I’d not be that bothered. Were I told that I would have to go back to the crappy camera I had before the FZ150, that would be a disaster. Soon after acquiring this FZ150, I wrote about it at some length for Samizdata. This confirms what, up until re-reading that, I had merely remembered. The FZ150 really was a huge step forward.
Hurrah for capitalism. It really is ridiculous that the world’s schools are now cranking out a whole new generation of nitwits, an appallingly significant proportion of whom seem genuinely to want to put a stop to this glorious process.