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.

Rotating bridge proposal

Cody Dock is one of my favourite little spots-that-most-people-have-never-heard-of in London, and here is what looks to be a brilliant idea for a bridge there, by someone called Thomas Randall-Page:

That’s the bridge in its two possible states. Left, people can cross it. Right, bigger-than-small boats can go under it.

I tried to contrive a verbal description of how it works, but have failed. It’s all to do with rotating the square shaped bridge in such a way that its centre of gravity stays steady. But, (a) take my word for it that it’s very clever, and (b) follow the link and see how right I am.

The world does not seem to be building many new big bridges, but it is still contriving little bridges of great inventiveness, if only because they’re cheaper.

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-intenetted. 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.

Now thrive the scaffolders: Videoing Kent v Surrey

That expedition to Beckenham, to watch Kent and Surrey play cricket against each other was fun, what with all the cricket to be watched:

But after ruminating on the photos I took, I now find that one of the more interesting things that I saw and photoed was just off the playing area.

To be more precise, they were to be seen on the far right of the above photo. Here’s a crop from within the above photo that zooms (but only digitally) in on what I am referring to:

That thing that you see there is the sight screen, placed there to enable batsmen to see the balls more clearly as they propelled towards them by the bowlers. Don’t move near this thing when the bowler is bowling from this end. Sacrilege! Delay!

But now, please notice the bit of disembodied scaffolding sticking up above this sight screen, at the right hand end of the sight screen.

Happily, I realised at the time I was there (this does not always happen) that this is something I would be interested in. I took a much closer look:

On the left there, the back of the sight screen, and on the right, the object of my interest.

What is it doing?


Another view of the same gizmology:

I think I spy there no less than three video cameras, which are, like the sight screen, directly behind the bowler as he comes in to bowl. And high enough above the action to see the batsman’s efforts to respond to the bowler’s efforts to see the batsman clearly, without the bowler getting in the way.

Here’s a still from the output of one of those cameras, on the day I was there, which I captured here:

If you watch some of that video, you will note that all the videoing, no matter which end the bowler is bowling from, is from the same end. Which explains why I was unable to find any trace of video cameras near the sight screen on the other side of the ground.

Whatev. Such videoing has absolutely transformed my enjoyment of county cricket. As I type this posting in for the first time, I also have on my computer screen a live feed from the Oval, of the final day of the return fixture between Surrey and Kent. Surrey are struggling, but not out of it yet. In the video capture above we see Sam Curran batting. He’s batter at the Oval now, and a lot depends on him.

It’s been fun watching these video feeds get slowly better, with more stationary cameras being added. The destination that all this is leading to is that all county cricket grounds will be smothered in video cameras (just like the rest of the world) and one guy in a van will be able to edit it all together to the point where you might as well be watching the Sky TV coverage of, say, a World Cup Semi-Final between India and New Zealand, which also happens to going on right now (but which I am not watching because I don’t have Sky). Wow. India, replying to NZ’s (surely) below par 239, are 5 for 2. Rohit and Kohli both gone! Make that 5 for 3!!! Rahul also gone. Cricket. Bloody hell.

But I digress. I’ll end the photos in this posting with a photo of the little tents from where the spoken commentary was done, on that day in Beckenham:

The guy in the blue jeans there is Surrey commentating legend Mark Church.

One of the great things about both video and radio feeds from cricket games these days is that when something sensational happens, you can immediately go there and listen to/watch all the drama, by shoving that line a bit backwards. You couldn’t do that with the old donkey powered radio sets of my youth.

As soon as I’m done here, I will be listening to Aggers and Co yelling with amazement about those early Indian wickets. (Well well, the yellow BBC line, for now anyway, refuses to move back from what is happening right now. Shame.)

Anyway, back to scaffolding. Do I have to insist on what a contribution to modern life scaffolding is now making? Well, I hereby do. And it’s not just for new buildings, or for prettying up existing buildings. Here we see a characteristic use of scaffolding, to prop up some new technology, while they are still working out exactly how to do everything. Where exactly should the kit be? How high? How easy does it need to be to fiddle about with. What is the best way to organised all The Wires!? Until you know such things, use scaffolding, and keep your options open.

See also: rock concerts in sports stadiums. Where would they be, without scaffolding? There’s plenty more to be said about scaffolding. For instance, I haven’t even mentioned, in this, how beautiful it can look. Functionalism in its purest and more elegant form.

Plus, I reckon that there is something a lot like scaffolding on the inside of those canvass hutches where Churchy and co did their radio chat.

Surrey sinking fast against Kent. Sam Curran: out. Also: shame. India now 24 for 4, with the last ball of the tenth over. Karthik out. Matt Henry now has three wickets. This time, for some reason, I was able to shove the line back and hear them describe it. Great catch, they’re saying. And I’ll be able to watch the replay of it very soon at the BBC website. (See the “Aggers” link above. No Aggers today, though.) Thought: This is a situation absolutely made for MS Dhoni.

LOL!!!!: Kent, needing a mere 120 to beat Surrey, 0 for 2 after just five balls. Morne Morkel x2.

However it all ends, this is turning into quite a fun day.


The scaffolders were thoroughly upstaged, I fear, which they must be very used to.

The key moment, near the end, was the running out, by about an inch, of MS Dhoni for 50. NZ win by 18 runs. Tomorrow: England v Australia, to find out who plays NZ in the final on Sunday. (And Surrey lose.)

A bowling machine

This bit of video is all over my Twitter feed just now.

Prediction, the best cricket batsmen are about to get a lot better, because the bowling machines they practise on will be getting a lot better.

And then? A new game will be invented, consisted of bowling machines bowling an identical set of deliveries to competing batsmen, the way they now deal identical hands to competing bridge players.

How soon before robot bowlers compete against robot batsmen?

Note how the bowling machine actually bowls underarm.

But the funniest thing about this robot overlord is how it goes back to its default submissive posture, after it has done its apocalyptic damage.

Drones are expendable

This, from Tim Newman, concerning Trump’s threatened-but-then-not-done (or not yet done) retaliatory war against the Iranians, in response to them shooting down an American drone, strikes me as very sensible:

… Now one of the advantages of using unmanned drones is that shooting one down does not require the same response as if a pilot has been killed or captured. That’s the whole point of using them: while expensive, they are expendable to a much greater degree. …

My guess is that Trump is playing to the gallery, the gallery being the discontented people of Iran. He is trying to show, by cranking up the brinkmanship and thereby drawing attention to what he’s doing, that he is on their side, but that their own rulers, seemingly ready to provoke a war with the USA, don’t care about them. Will this work? Is that even the plan? What do I know?

Certainly, starting a war over the destruction of a mere piece of equipment seems to me very stupid, indeed wicked, and more to the point will seem stupid and wicked to many others besides me.

On a more peaceful note, here is a piece about robots as aerial transporters. Rapid progress is being made here, apparently.

Although, this piece is about robots carrying passengers.

It would seem to me that there is particular merit in using drones to transport mere stuff, as opposed to transporting people. With stuff, what’s the worst that could happen? It goes prang, and some stuff, and a drone, gets lost? Provided the transporting is not done too dangerously over built-up areas, few humans are likely to get hurt or killed. That book you ordered from Amazon will take a bit longer to materialise. Boo hoo.

With the passing of every year, destroying stuff matters that bit less, and killing people matters that bit more, and long may that trend continue. Which means that peaceful drones, transporting stuff which is as expendable as they are themselves, seems like a particularly good plan. Passengers? There’s a lot more to go wrong with them on board.

However, aerial robots seem a basically better idea, to begin with, than robot cars that drive along anything resembling regular roads. I get more and more sceptical about robot cars as each deadline for their mass deployment seems to come and go. True, if you lose power in the air, that’s a lot worse than losing power on the ground. But, the air, for now, unless you’re in a war, is a fundamentally more predictable environment than the ground, because the ground is already so very occupied, so full of people wandering about doing their own deeply unpredictable things, often using their own vehicles. The air, on the other hand, only contains admittedly rather undisciplined birds, but otherwise, mostly, much more disciplined and tightly controlled aircraft. Okay, a few small aircraft sometimes go where they aren’t wanted and that can complicate things. But there are, for the time being anyway, no gangs of drunken pedestrians in the sky.

But, like I say, what do I know?

Stephen Davies on “the most rapid and sustained technological innovation anywhere in the world before the later eighteenth century”

I have recently been reading The Wealth Explosion by Stephen Davies. Its subtitle is “The Nature and Origins of Modernity”. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to think about why the “modernity” that the world now enjoys happened where it did and when it did.

In particular, Davies asks, why did modernity not happen sooner? As he reveals in his chapter entitled “Song China and the Ming Restoration”, modernity very nearly did happen, several centuries earlier, in China. He describes, in the section entitled “Was Song China Close to Being a ‘Modern Economy’?” (pp. 81-85), how very close indeed China got to leading the world out of Malthusian economic stagnation:

Faced with this kind of evidence, a number of historians have argued that Song China was in fact the world’s first ‘modern’ economy and society and that had it continued we would now be speaking of the transition to modernity in the fourteenth century rather than the nineteenth. Certainly, by a number of measures Song China was as developed as mid eighteenth century Europe. Not only that but it displayed several of the distinctive features of modernity outlined in the first chapter, and the direction of development seemed to be for these ‘modern’ features to become more marked rather than less. What though were the modern aspects of China under the Song that have so caught the imagination of subsequent authors?

In the first place, Song China had rapid, even ‘explosive’ population growth. World population as a whole grew throughout the medieval warm period but the growth in China was much more rapid than that found elsewhere. By 1190, China’s population had reached at least seventy three million: seventy years later it had arrived at the hundred million mark. China’s population more than doubled between 960 and 1100. (It had remained stable at roughly fifty million for the previous six hundred years.) As a contrast, world population grew from about two hundred and fifty million to three hundred and thirty million between 960 and the later thirteenth century, an increase of thirty-two per cent. As in the contemporary modern world this process of population growth, which took place throughout the Song dynasty, accelerated as time went on and the rate of increase seems to have been at its most rapid during the last years of the dynasty, in the thirteenth century.

Moreover, this rise in population was exceeded by the rise in output of both agriculture and manufacture, both of which showed again a rising rate of productivity increase as the years went by. So for example, the level of iron output in 1078 mentioned earlier represented a six-fold increase from 806, in the last years of the Tang. In Shanxi in the 1040s annual production of iron amounted to some sixty tonnes per annum but by the 1110s this had risen to three hundred and sixty tonnes per year. This means that what we have in Song China, from at least the eleventh century, is modern style intensive growth, in contrast to the pattern of broadly extensive growth found elsewhere.

This went along with a ‘commercial revolution’ every bit as dramatic as that of eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe. By 1200, all of the institutions of the kind of market economy found in Europe in 1800 were already present in China. These included large firms and partnerships with tradable stock and a whole range of sophisticated financial and banking institutions and instruments. The Song economy had a wide range of forms and varieties of business venture from large government monopolies to major private firms, often organised into confederations, and an enormous range of small private businesses engaged in all kinds of productive activity, including an expanding range of services for the urban population of the empire. Much of the production was decentralised and performed in households or small workshops with the goods being sold to professional middlemen or brokers who in turn sold the products to merchants who distributed and sold them using the dense internal trade network or exported them in exchange for foreign products.

Perhaps most significantly, the changes in agriculture made possible by the legal reforms of Song Taizu meant that there was a clear movement of population from the countryside to the cities and of labour from agriculture to manufacturing. Our best estimate is that by the later twelfth century, between six and seven and a half per cent of the population of Song China lived in cities with a population of over one hundred thousand with a similar proportion living in smaller urban centres, which would make it clearly the most urbanised society on the planet at that time. The capital before 1127, Kaifeng, had a population of over a million, as did Hangzhou, which became the capital after that year. What is really striking is the rate of urbanisation. Kaifeng grew from half a million in 1021 to over a million by 1100. Hangzhou went from four hundred thousand inhabitants in late twelfth century to over a million by 1270. Moreover, urbanisation on this scale was not just a feature of the capital. Guangzhou, Chinas major seaport at this time reached a population of half a million by 1120 and the inland city ofJiankang had a population of two hundred thousand at the same time.

In contrast to the cities of Tang China, which had been mainly centres of administration, these were primarily commercial centres, even if they also housed the imperial court. In contrast to the Tang period when there were a limited number of strictly regulated markets, Song cities had markets and retail establishments on all of their main streets as well as huge commercial markets, which were only lightly regulated. There were also large covered entertainment complexes known as pleasure grounds where games and entertainments would be available until the early hours of the morning. One prominent feature of urban life under the Song was clubs and associations of all kinds. Patricia Ebrey for example cites a document of 1235 that mentions the West Lake Poetry Club, the Buddhist Tea Society, the Physical Fitness Club, the Anglers’ Club, the Occult Club, the Plants and Fruits Club, the Antique Collectors’ Club, the Horse-Lovers’ Club, and the Refined Music Society – all of these in Hangzhou.

Song China also saw the most rapid and sustained technological innovation anywhere in the world before the later eighteenth century. As well as the innovations already mentioned in maritime technology the period saw the invention of the dry dock for repairing ships and of paddle powered vessels for use as tugs or in warfare. Block printing was invented in the eleventh century and movable type printing in the thirteenth – in this case borrowed from the Koreans. There were important refinements and inventions in the area of mechanical devices, particularly the use of belt drives and complex toothed gears. One important element of technological progress in China at this time, in marked contrast to other periods, was openness to and adoption of innovations made elsewhere. As well as the examples of movable type, and the superior varieties of rice imported from Annam, the most dramatic case was that of the windmill, invented in the Middle East and then adopted by the Chinese in the early thirteenth century. Notably, the Chinese did not simply take up the Middle Eastern technology but adapted and improved it.

Perhaps most striking was the increasing use of complex machinery in textile manufacturing. As early as the twelfth century devices were invented for the mechanical spinning of silk, which could be powered by men, animals or waterwheels. The text describing this machine stated that with its thirty-two spindles it could spin about sixty kilos of thread per day. It was very similar in design to the water frame of Richard Arkwright, which plays such a prominent part in most accounts of the Industrial Revolution. The missing ingredient was rollers to draw out the thread as it was being spun but this kind of device was known to the Chinese at the time in the form of the cotton gin, for removing seeds from raw cotton. So far as we know cotton spinning was never mechanised in this way, but its use as a fabric only became common at the end of the Song period.

Alongside technological innovation were intimations of scientific investigation. The key figures here were polymaths, similar to Renaissance figures such as Leonardo, who combined empirical experimentation and investigation with scientific speculation, typically in a wide range of fields and areas of knowledge. The most famous was Shen Kuo (1031-1095) who published much of his ideas and findings in a collection of essays known as the Dream Pool Jottings, covering topics as diverse as mathematics, geology, economics, medicine, and engineering. As this shows, Song China saw investigation and discovery in a range of areas of knowledge, the most notable being mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, medicine (including forensic medicine), and optics (where there seems to have been borrowing from the Arabs).

This was linked to important developments in philosophy and abstract thought. The key here was the ideas of Neo-Confucian philosophers, above all Chu-Hsi (1130-1200). He argued that an essential part of the process of self-perfection (a key idea in Confucianism) was the investigation of ‘material things’, that is empirical enquiry. What we can see here are early intimations of the idea of scientific method, which were as well developed in thirteenth century China as they would be in seventeenth century Europe. As in Europe some four to five hundred years later, there was a mixture of philosophical speculation, magic, empirical investigation, and practical (often commercial) endeavour all mixed together into a single intellectual and physical exercise.

There were also distinctively ‘modern’ developments in the structure of government and in social structure and hierarchy. The change here was a very clear movement from a hereditary elite to a more meritocratic one. Reforms to the examination system by which government officials were recruited made the process much more open and Significantly increased the size of the pool of applicants. By the later years of the dynasty in the early thirteenth century, the number of candidates taking the exams was eleven times what it had been in the early eleventh century and the number who passed was five times what it had been under the Tang. However, the number of government posts hardly increased at all. The result was the appearance of a class of degree holders who formed the local elite, but Were not actual holders of government office. Their Confucian training led them to see themselves as moral leaders of society through the force of example as much as administration. The reforms to the system also meant that it was now rare for the status of being a degree holder to persist in the one family for more than three generations. Despite the way in which educated Confucians tended to look down on soldiers and merchants both commerce and the military also provided routes for upward social mobility. The result of all this was to make society much more socially mobile and to make status increasingly non-heritable, as well as increasing income (as opposed to status) inequality.

The government of Song China was, like that of earlier dynasties, organised on a departmental basis. The main innovation, already mentioned, was the creation of a council of ministers with a deliberative as well as an administrative role and a Prime Minister (the actual title was First Privy Councillor) who headed the administration. The most famous holder of this office was Wang An Shih (1021-1086) who began a major series of reforms between 1069 and 1074. These reforms proved very divisive and led to the appearance of two factions, one known as the New Policies Group that supported them and another, led by another scholar-politician Sima Guang (1019-1086) that opposed them. This division persisted throughout the remainder of the dynasty’s history and so a form of elite party politics came into being, based on this division between reformers and conservatives, which reflected intellectual debates within Confucianism. Song government had a distinctly modern flavour, as it was not household or clan based and operated through a professional bureaucracy. Among its particularly modern elements were several agencies to monitor and assess public opinion, each one using a different method of doing this.

Davies also speaks about his book in this video lecture.

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.