A slight interruption

Earlier this evening, at around 7pm London time, there was a brief interruption of service here, lasting around ten to fifteen minutes. This happened during the process of updating the security certificate. I think I have that approximately right. An error was made, and then speedily identified and corrected.

Apologies if you were inconvenienced. The good news is that this is not the sort of problem which is at all likely to happen again.

In general, I hope you will agree, the new blog has been very solid. I expect that to go on being the case.

Gallery means that you decide

One of the many things I love about this new WordPress blog of mine is that I can now do things like this …:

… a lot more quickly. Thank you “Gallery”.

All of the above photos were taken within a few moments of each other, in the vicinity of Battersea Power Station, just over a year ago. Then as now, this place was being transformed.

But there is much more involved in the Gallery improvement than the fact that I can shove up a clutch of photos more quickly than before. Equally important to me is that you now have a lot more control than you used to. You can now spend no more time looking at these photos, unless you want to, than I did when I photoed them. You no longer have to choose between having a quick gander at the above snaps, and having a life.

The difference is that, now, you can click on the first photo, look at it for as much time as you like or as little time as you like, and then click on the arrow on the right, and get straight to the next one. Click click click. I know, I’m rediscovering the wheel here, but if you have been depriving both yourself and your potential readers of wheels for about a decade, wheels are a big deal.

Because you can click through all these photos so speedily, I feel comfortable showing them to you in such abundance. These are not oil paintings, unless you want them to be. I don’t assume that you’ll be wanting to linger over these snaps. Feel entirely free to do that, if you feel inclined to scrutinise any of them at any length of time, but I don’t expect this.

An obvious question arises: If I like the idea of you clicking quickly through the above snaps, why not a video? Well, number one, a video deprives you of control. But also, what I find fascinating about photoing is the extreme difference between how a camera sees things, and how the human eye sees things. Basically, a video camera sees things more the way that we humans do. Our eyes, like video cameras, roam over the scene in front of us. They don’t look at the scene once, the way a camera does when it takes the one photo, and nor does a video camera. A video shows us what’s really going on. It goes behind and beyond those mere appearances.

A photo is something else entirely. It’s a photo! And that makes videos, to me, from this point of view, less interesting.

Horizontalising a toy train photo

My excuse for inviting myself to visit Rob and his family last Sunday was to check out the toy trains I’d given to them. For years, I had been keeping this stash of toy trains. So, when I heard that Rob and his family were acquiring their own train layout, and that it was starting to be constructed in their loft, I thought: maybe they’d like them. They did, and they now do. The ancient little tank engine that was included in this clutch is now very “analog”, while the new way to control trains is all “digital”, but apparently the analog train responds to the more primitive commands issued by the digital controller, with sufficient enthusiasm to remain welcome in its new home.

I hate just chucking stuff like that into the bin. I’m so glad these trains have a new home, where they will be loved and properly looked after.

And of course, when there on Sunday, I had to take photos. Not, alas, in the attic. A bit hard to get to. But at least in new surroundings:

As on the old blog, I want here to be able to do a blog posting where the above photo, the original, can be clicked to from a horizontal slice, of this sort:

Here at the new blog, this took a bit of contriving. But it got done, as you can tell if you click on the above slice.

Blog and learn. About everything, but in particular about how your blog works.

The curse of Having To Do Something Else The Same Day (and gauze in the early morning light)

I am writing this at 5am, and will shortly be going back to bed. That’s another Getting Old (see the “Categories” below) thing. I now typically have to get up in the middle of the night, to piss and to cool down, bladder and temperature control being two things that have cumulatively deserted me, as I have Got Older.

Also, as with most of this week’s evenings, I have something I must go out and do this evening. That always puts the kibosh (spelling?) on the day. There’s something about having Absolutely Nothing To Do For the whole day, until I next go to bed for real (i.e., at this particular time) in the very small hours of Saturday morning, that enables me to really get stuck into something, like a piece of serious writing (this not being that) or even merely thinking seriously about something, that I really like. Contrariwise, the knowledge that if I do get really stuck into something now, it might go on and on into the evening, at which point I would then have to cut it short, and go off to do something else, makes me fear getting stuck in in the first place. Even though I have many hours before I have to go off to do that other thing.

Factor in the something-here-every-day rule, and I think you can see how I need to get blogging out of the way as soon as possible. Blogging, of even the most trivial sort (this being that) is something that you can’t guarantee to finish at any particular hour. It takes as long as it takes. What if I find I want to stick up a photo? And what if that photo leads to other photos? What if I want to link back to an earlier posting, from the old blog, which I haven’t yet shovelled across to here? What if Surrey suddenly start doing really well at cricket, and demand my attention, in among me trying to contrive this blog posting? There’s so much to get complicated, and to gobble up all that now seemingly endless time.

Here is a photo that I want to stick up here, now, of the early morning light coming in through the scaffolding and the gauze outside the window of my living room:

That wasn’t actually photoed just now. It was photoed at this time in the morning, earlier this week. The time of day is the point, not the date of the day. The photo is all about how you can see through gauze if the gauze itself is not lit up, but not so much if it is.

Here is another early morning gauze photo, also one I photoed earlier:

The point of that photo being that despite the gauziness of the gauze, if you can persuade your camera to focus on the far distance, through the gauze, it’s like the gauze isn’t there. The gauze might as well be a perfectly cleaned lens of filter, for all the interruption it imposes. It changes the nature of the incoming light, but not the clarity of the photo. If anything, by reducing the mere quantity of light, it clarifies the picture, just like a regular filter. That red clutch of a table and chairs can be entirely seen, with no gauze in the picture at all, just less light and therefore, probably, less glare all over the place. But the gauze is there. Just not having any effect on what my camera seems to see. How about that?

Here is a photo of the gauze, similar to the first photo above. But this is not about the contrast between the lit gauze and the unlit gauze, merely about how very gauzy the gauze is:

Enough. (Although actually, let me add, I (LATER:) made the first version of the above gauziness even gauzier by “sharpening” it, in my photoshop-clone. Much better. (Much gauzier.))

But now, I have to photo-process the above photos, just to get them the right size, and then load them up into the blog. This all takes time. I also need to give the above a read-through and correct, which also all takes time. By the time this trivial blog posting is done, over an hour (a phrase which had to be changed from “the best part of an hour”) will have elapsed. Had I been doing all this in the knowledge that in two hours, say, I’d have had to stop and go out, it would have been very stressful. I might have had to stop before completion and just hope that that the bits of this blog posting were pickable-uppable later. As it is, all I did was delay some resumed sleep, let my feet get a bit colder than is convenient, and my bed get a bit colder than will enable my feet to warm up again, all of which is easily corrected with a hot water bottle. No problem.

Really. Enough.

I have now freed up the entire day, for important but non-urgent stuff. Bliss. Come to think of it, I have other important and urgent stuff to deal with. Now much easier to fit in. Bliss of a different kind. (ENOUGH.)

Welcome to Brian Micklethwait’s New Blog

Yes, welcome.

I’ve already shovelled quite a few postings from the old blog to here (see below), and I now intend that many more will follow (so that if I refer back to an old posting, you won’t have to be bothering with the old blog). But as of today, that old blog stops getting any new stuff, and this is where I’ll be doing all my personal blogging from now on.

The old blog didn’t completely collapse, but as the subtitle of this blog says, it stopped working properly. I was still able to do postings there. But, among many other defects and difficulties, the commenting system went to hell, as all those who stuck with that old blog will surely have been noticing for quite a while. Basically, any comment of any sort, whether authentic or from a spamster, triggered an army of sex-obsessed robot commenters, who just commented away for ever until I expunged it all. That definitely shouldn’t now be happening here. So, feel free to add your truly authentic comments now, on this or any other posting here (including on any of the old postings copied across), as and when you feel inclined.

There’s lots else I could be saying in this first real posting here, but all of that can wait, other than the one thing which I really must say now. Which is: deepest thanks to my friend Michael Jennings, who set this blog up for me. All errors of taste here are my fault rather than his, and in general, I didn’t make it easy for him. But he has made it all a lot easier for me. And I trust, for you.

Welcome to my new virtual home.

Alexa gets the bird (fruit, ice cream, light bulbs, a kettle ….)

This is definitely my favourite Other creatures story of recent months. Months because this was reported on before Christmas, and I’ve only just got around to mentioning it here.

Parrot used Amazon Alexa to order items while his owner was away:

So far Rocco the African Grey, from Didcot, Oxfordshire, U.K., has demanded treats such as strawberries, watermelon, raisins, broccoli and ice cream.

He has also ordered a kite, light bulbs and even a kettle.

Rocco likes to dance too and tells the voice-activated device to play favorite tunes. Sometimes they are slow numbers, but he generally prefers rock.

Where is voice recognition when you need it?

Alexa needs a setting, for junior members of a household, for whom she is allowed to play musical requests, but from whom she is not allowed to take purchase orders.

You’d think that with lots of kids in the world, many causing havoc, Alexa would be able to make the necessary distinctions. But it sure is entertaining when she doesn’t.

Reflection reflections

I basically picked last night’s quota photo for alliterative reasons. QUota. QUantum. As we bloggers say: heh. No long essay was required to present that little joke, if joke it even was.

In the course of my search late last night for a suitable QP, I came across other photos which seemed suitable for showing here, but which demanded little essays to explain what it was that made them suitable. And I was too knackered for that, having spent yesterday working on this talk for Christian Michel’s 6/20 soiree, and then in the evening giving the talk.

In particular, late last night, I encountered in my photo-archives this remarkable (I think) photo, which I took in Regent’s Park in March of 2012, as it was getting dark, when on my way back from taking photos on and from Primrose Hill:

What I find remarkable about that photo is the contrast between how very red the reflection in the water of the lights on the BT Tower is, compared with how very un-red the actual lights themselves are, as photoed through the mere air.

You often get this with reflections. In photos, I mean. Your actual eyes make adjustments as they scan the scene. What I would have seen, with my eyes, when photoing the above photo, is quite bright red lights on the tower, and a similarly bright reflection.

But my camera, on automatic, doesn’t think like this. All my camera is concerned about is the overall balance. It has to pick just one balance and apply it to everything. And because a reflection is involved, it often ends up picking a balance where the actual view is very light and bright, but the reflection contains all the action. I often do this-and-this-same-thing-relected photos with a glass window doing the reflecting. And often what you get with that is a completely blank white sky, but then in the reflection you get all the distinctions between quite light and not so light, quite blue and not so blue, that you don’t get in the bit of the photo that is directly of the sky.

And that’s what surely happened with the above photo. The redness got lost when we were just looking at the lights themselves. But the water darkened and strengthened that same redness, and made it really red.

On the day, I was more interested in the birds swimming around on the water. The next eight photos in that directory are of ducks and geese, and the final three are of a swan. After that I called it a day, what with daylight having ended. I only really noticed this reflected redness thing last night.

Most Real Photographers have to have the skill of knowing at once when they’ve photoed a good photo, and why. We unreal photoers can take our time.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Another niche market for robot vehicles

During our recent chat about transport (already mentioned her), Patrick and I talked about robot cars. I expressed particular skepticism about their supposedly forthcoming arrival en masse on the roads of our cities. We mentioned, in contrast to the idea of robot cars immediately conquering our cities, the fact that robot vehicles are already in successful operation in certain niche situations. We were able to think of two such. They already use giant robot lorries in the mining industry. And, Amazon already has robots wizzing about in its warehouses. Both environments have in common that they are wholly owned by the operator of the robots, so if the humans in the place need to learn the habits of these robots and to give them whatever assistance and whatever slack the robots need, then such humans can simply be commanded to do this. Unlike in big cities.

More recently, I met up again (LINK TO THE OLD BLOG) (as in: more recently than that meeting), with Bruce the Real Photographer, and mentioned that Patrick and I had been doing recorded chats, mentioning in particular our robotic ruminations. And Bruce then told me about another niche use that robot vehicles have apparently been occupying for quite some time time now. It seems that in Spain, a country that Bruce knows very well, the tyre company Michelin has a big testing track, and on this track, robot vehicles drive around and around, testing Michelin tyres.

You can see how this would make sense. The robots can travel at exactly the desired speed, along a precisely preordained route, and thereby, say, subject two only slightly different sets of tyres to the exact same “driving experience”, if you get my drift. Getting humans to perform such perfect comparisons would be very difficult, but this is exactly the kind of task, and in general the kind of operation, where robot vehicles would be ideal. And, reports Bruce The Real Photographer, they are ideal.

Me having just written all that, I wonder if Google has anything to say about this Michelin testing operation. Not a lot, it would seem. They are far keener to sell their tyres than to tell us the details of how they test them, which makes sense. But, this bit of video seems like it could be relevant. And this …:

… would appear to be the particular place that Bruce mentioned, because he recently tried – I don’t recall him saying why – but failed to get in there and see it. To take Real Photographs perhaps?

And here is another bit of video about how Bridgestone is using robot vehicles to check out tyre noise.

So, testing vehicle components. An ideal job for robot vehicles. Robots are very precise. They don’t get tired. And you can use a special track where all the humans involved are on their best behaviour.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Transport chat with Patrick Crozier (and sorry for the delay telling you about it)

With blogging, excellence is the enemy of adequacy, and often what you think will be excellence turns out not to be.

Eight days ago now, Patrick Crozier and I had one of our occasional recorded chats, about transport this time. Train privatisation, high speed trains and maglevs, robot cars, that kind of thing. I think it was one of our better ones. We both had things we wanted to say that were worth saying, and both said them well, I think. Patrick then did the editing and posting on the www of this chat in double quick time, and I could have given it a plug here a week ago. If I have more to say about transport, I can easily do other postings. But, I had some stupid idea about including a picture, and some other stuff, which would all take far too long, and the simple thing of supplying the link to this chat here was postponed, and kept on being postponed.

Usually, this kind of thing doesn’t matter. So, I postpone telling you what I think about something. Boo hoo. But this time I really should have done better.

There. All that took about one minute to write. I could have done this far sooner. Apologies.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog