Skycam

Here is another way I might get those high up views of London that I am always searching for:

DPReview review here:

In my own experiences, aerial shoots have proven difficult to pull off. The window of shooting time was limited, the cabin was cramped, and the first time I ever stuck my camera out the window, the lens flew off and I miraculously caught it in mid-air. It was also roughly $250 for an hour.

But within the past couple of years, aerial photographers have been introduced to a burgeoning market rife with little flying machines that don’t require passengers, don’t need fuel to operate, and can fit inside a cubic foot. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the era of user-operated photography drones is upon us, and it’s already kicking into warp speed.

I’m guessing that the technology of it would be beyond me, and the legality of it a minefield.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Tower Bridge before it got covered in stone

If you’ve not been there before, I recommend visiting Handpicked London. I’ve just been browsing through it, and found my way from it to Photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed are found in a skip, from December 2011, which I do not remember noticing at the time. (The first two of those are Facebook links, and maybe they don’t last. You have to register, is what the second one just said.)

These photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed have been unveiled after a stash of hundred-year-old photos were found in a skip. The 50 sepia pictures, the most recent of which date back to 1892, reveal in incredible detail the ingenuity behind one of the capital’s most popular tourist destinations.

One of the photos:

Hybrid modernism. Modern in its manner of creation. Ancient in appearance. An architectural style with a lot of mileage in it.

LATER: More stuff from me about towers here.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Lining up the Strata with the Shard

This is one of my favourite Big Thing Alignment shots, to be observed by emerging from Oval tube and walking north east along the A3. Do that, and you soon see Strata in the distance, and directly behind it, the Shard, thus:

These shots are two of many such that I took on June 25th 2012.

On the left: the heart of the matter. On the right: the context. Often, when you have a zoom lens, you show the zoomed shot, and neglect how it actually looked, along with all the other stuff you could see. When I say “you” I of course mean “I”.

I worked out that this shot might be there for the taking by looking at the map. Strata is at the Elephant and Castle, which is the big yellow roundabout in the middle of this map:

And the Shard is at London Bridge railway station, top right.

What this shows, I think, is another contribution made by technically rather poor photographers like me. We may not take our pictures that well, from the point of view of using the right cameras, lenses, f numbers, and general technical jiggery pokery. But we often take great shots, as in, we often take great shots rather badly. A technically better photographer might see this posting, and say to him or herself: Hey I like that shot. I’m going to go out there and do it again, properly, while crediting the person who first did the shot and thus showed me that the shot was gettable.

(Are Real Photographers reluctant to do this kind of copying-stroke-improving of amateur shots, for intellectual property (and hence money) reasons? Is there a sense in which, photographically speaking, I now “own” this view?)

A similar point could have been made in the course of this posting, which also included a map showing how that shot happened, and where to go to get it. That too was a great shot, done just about well enough to show what a great shot it might have been, but only just.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The text of my talk for Christian Michel last night on the impact of digital photography

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:

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

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 on, 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.

Continue reading The text of my talk for Christian Michel last night on the impact of digital photography

A Strutton Ground shop and a Strutton Ground pub

Photos mature with age. The most commonplace snaps can turn into something a bit more interesting, with the passing of time.

Consider this one, one of the very first that I took with my Panasonic Lumix FZ150:

I know. It’s a shop.

But the thing is, it’s now boarded up. That photo was taken in January 2012. In January 2013, this happened:

The administrators to Jessops face a battle to rescue any of the company’s 192 shops after leading camera makers tightened the terms on which they sell products to the company following a downturn in the market.

Rob Hunt, joint administrator for PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: “Without the support of certain people, we are looking at complete closure.”

Jessops has since made a partial return to life, but so far, that Jessops, which is in Strutton Ground, near where I live, has remained shut.

In the years just before it closed it had an unbearably “helpful” shop assistant, who behaved like he’d been on some mad American training course in how to relate to customers. He wouldn’t leave you alone, and instead would engulf you in loud, totally fake bonhomie. I used to browse around in there from time to time, occasionally buying things like batteries and SD cards, and pondering my next camera. But because of this person, I stopped going there. Was I the only one, I wonder?

Talking of Strutton Ground, did you know that the Goon Show first saw the light of day in Strutton Ground? Yes, on the top floor of the pub at the far end of it from me. I saw this in a TV show about Spike Milligan.

I guess that’s probably more interesting than a Jessops closing. I’ll see if I can dig out more photos of things that have changed, that are rather better than that one, taken longer ago.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Panoramic view of London from the top of the BT Tower

Further to what Alastair James said about the panoramic views of central London from Blythe Hill Fields, incoming from Rob Fisher:

Seen this? It’s a gazillion megapixel panorama taken from BT tower. You can zoom in a lot.

I think maybe yes, but it’s good to be reminded of such things.

Plus, I learned something, which is that I must check out these brightly coloured buildings just past Centre Point:

I wonder how such technicolor baubles as these will look in fifteen years time? Drab? Naff? There’s a definite 1970s feel to quite a lot of architecture these days, especially for some reason in the vicinity of the Dome. Look out for (although I promise nothing) further postings here about that rather distressing trend.

There’s lots more stuff happening around Centre Point, in connection with Crossrail, so lots of stuff to photo there. Or at least to try to photo. Sometimes building sites can’t be seen no matter what you try.

Regarding the London panorama, this is but one of many such urban views, there being a website devoted to such things, panoramicly showing you cities all around the world. How long has that been going?

There’s even an app. Above the button for that, it says:

Now with motion-sensitive panorama viewer!

Does this mean that you can hover two hundred feet above yourself? Taking virtual snaps as you look out from your virtual dirigible? If so, cool. And probably cool whatever it is.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Alastair James on Blythe Hill Fields and smartphones

Immediately after my first relaunched Last Friday, the one at which Sam Bowman spoke, I suffered a dose of success depression. This is when you achieve a goal, and then feel not happy but empty, because deprived of the goal. The event had gone well. But I expected a little too much from it by way of immediate good consequences. A wise friend who attended the evening later told me that good results would indeed happen, but more gradually than I had been assuming, and that is now starting to happen.

One of the better consequences of these events is that because I send out emails to anyone I half know or know of who I think might be interested in attending, I have re-established contact with a number of friends and semi-friends who I was in danger of losing touch with.

One such, Alastair James, a libertarian friend from way back, recently sent me an email which included this:

I know you mostly like shots of one thing (often with some clutter in the foreground), but if you are also interested in panoramas I wonder if you’ve ever been to Blythe Hill Fields in Lewisham. I think it has some of the best views in London of Canary Wharf and the City but I rarely see it mentioned.

For years I have been nagging people to tell me about good spots to photo London from, but mostly without success. And now that turns up, pretty much unsolicited, merely through me being in touch with Alastair and discussing his son’s sporting triumphs, they being the reason that he often finds Fridays rather hard to do.

As it happens, I had never heard of Blythe Hill Fields, but it immediately sounded very promising, the clues being in the name. A hill, with nothing in the foreground getting in the way, just fields. Ideal for wandering around on, to find the best shots, and so, yesterday it proved.

I immediately found out where Blythe Hill Fields is (from Google maps), identified the nearest station, Honor Oak Park, and soon discovered (from this train website) that there is a train direct to Honor Oak Park from Victoria, which is very near to me. I also learned (from a weather website) on Monday evening, that the short-range weather forecast for Tuesday was, in a word: superb. Not a cloud in the sky, they said, and so it proved. So, a superb forecast in the other sense also.

Yet again, we see here the working through of one of my favourite Laws, which says that new methods of communication (in this case the internet) do not replace older methods of doing things (in this case going there). Rather do the new methods complement and as likely as not reinforce the older methods. Writing gives people more to talk about. Printing makes writing massively more productive, and gives rise to masses more talk. Television adapts books and sells books and provides yet more conversation fodder. Email makes meetings, at which we can all talk to each other some more, far easier to organise and publicise. And now the internet makes wandering around London (also the world) massively easier.

This posting is already getting rather unwieldy, so I’ll hold the photos I took at and around Blythe Hill Fields yesterday for another posting. Instead let me finish up this posting by quoting and commenting on another bit of the Alastair James email, which further emphasises the point about how the internet makes travelling easier, and in his case more fun:

BTW I recently finally got a Smartphone and I find it much easier to follow blogs since I got it – I’ve always felt guilty sitting in front of a PC reading a blog that I’m doing something unproductive. Anyway I just wanted to say that I’ve been reading yours and how much I enjoy it!

You might be surprised to learn what a difference declarations of that sort can make to the morale of a blogger like me, who doesn’t now get many comments, still less comments like that. Without my Fridays, I never get to hear that, which is a perfect example of a somewhat delayed effect that my friend in paragraph one above talked about.

But note also the smartphone thing. Presumably Alastair now uses his to read blogs in circumstances where more serious work would be difficult, such as while travelling.

I am myself currently engaged in buying a smartphone, helped by my friend Michael Jennings (who is giving the next Friday talk this Friday – do come if you want to). Whereas for Alastair James a key app is reading blogs on the move, for me the killer app is definitely being able to learn exactly where I am at any point in my various wanderings, and how to get to where I want to go to next. It would have come in quite handy yesterday, but because of some serendipity that occurred without it (more about that later), I am actually quite glad that yesterday I did not have Google maps with me. That’s another story, for which stay tuned.

I suspect that Alastair and I are not the only ones now, finally, kitting ourselves out with smartphones. I sense a general society-wide stampede in this direction, as the iPhone works its magic. The iPhone defines what a smartphone is, and all those for whom money is no object get one. That tells the Taiwanese copyists what to copy at half the price, and now they have pretty much got there.

I will also be buying a “bluetooth” (Michael J says that will work) keyboard, much like the black keyboard in this posting (scroll down a bit), to go with my smartphone, the idea being that I will be able to type stuff in as well as read things. (That keyboard is also a straight copy, in black, of an Apple keyboard, incidentally. Again with the Apple influence.) A smartphone screen too small for typing, you say? My very first computer, an Osborne, had a screen that was hardly any bigger, and I loved that. Osborne equals a very stupid version of a smartphone, plus a keyboard, plus half a ton of electro-crap that is no longer needed. Discuss. I feel one of those ain’t-capitalism-grand postings for Samizdata coming on.

The trouble with my current laptop is that, like the Osborne if with less extremity, it is still quite heavy. This means that I don’t always have it with me, in fact I pretty much now never have it with me, because when I do take it with me on my travels I often never actually use it, and in the meantime greatly resent its weight. The idea is that I will always have my smartphone with me (obviously), and always (fingers crossed) with the keyboard. So whenever a blogging opportunity beckons, when I am out and about, I will be able to respond.

The smartphone I am getting also has a rather good camera included. It’ll be interesting to compare that camera with my present one.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Separating the men from the toys – the future of warfare and of sport?

Another thin picture (see also this posting) of unmanned aircraft, the MQ-9 Reaper:

Here. Bigger (recommended). Recent article, which includes another great photo here. Our guys said gimme in summer 2008, so they have them now? Thank you Instapundit.

Who would have thought it? The future of warfare is blokes flying radio-controlled toy airplanes. At present it’s still men against toys, with the toys winning, but soon all nations will have them, and millions of others besides.

This was how chess got started, wasn’t it? First men killed each other. Then, they said, why don’t we just use sculptures of men, and move them remotely? That way, nobody gets hurt. I think I smell a whole new sport here. Imagine it, fat blokes at an airfield having aerial dogfights, where the losers lose their airplanes, but nobody dies. Great TV! Watch those dogfights! Superstar controllers will be feted in the media. And, they won’t die. They’ll have dual scores: kills, and killeds. Nerd heaven.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Katrina as art – and Katrina as proof of What I’ve Always Said

Today I went looking for Katrina coverage, and found this weirdly beautiful photo. What do you reckon it is?

Answer:

A row of school buses sits in floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005 east of New Orleans.

I found it at this New Orleans website. (In a few days that link will probably make no sense, but as I write this now there is a great list of Katrina photos you can rootle through.)

There sure are going to be some fine coffee table books when everything has been cleared up.

And here, I found this quote:

WDSU Channel 6, an NBC affiliate, moved its operations to two sister stations, one in Jackson, Miss., and another in Orlando, Fla. With some interruptions, it got back on the air and presented news and weather programming on its Web site as well. “The Web played a big role in all of this,” said Tom Campo, a spokesman for Hearst-Argyle, the station’s owner.

The Internet, as a decentralized communications network, can be more resilient than traditional media when natural disasters occur. “Owning broadcast towers and printing presses were useless,” said Jeff Jarvis, a consultant to online media companies. “The Web proved to be a better media in a case like this.”

Which surprises me. I would have thought that internet communication, being so heavily dependent in most instances on publicly supplied electricity, with no emergency back-up supplies, would collapse in an emergency, leaving the Big Old Media still functioning and feeling ever so slightly smug about it. Apparently with Katrina it was rather the opposite. Mind you, I only know this because I read it at the New York Times website.

Main lessons: if you are planning to be hit by a hurricane: be rich, and live in a rich country, with emergency services about which it makes sense to be optimistic. Own a car, don’t keep all your wealth in your house, pile what you can of it that is in your house into your car and get out of there.

Note that me quoting that bit about the media, and saying Be Rich, is a particular example of a general law, which is that when unexpected things happen, people will wallow, as quickly as they can, in what they already believe or want to believe. Some have said that Katrina proves that Global Warming is bad, and that the USA deserves a soaking for having caused Global Warming. Others have denounced those who said that as evil opportunists. Both of which opinions are what they both already thought anyway. I’m no different.

Writing about catastrophes for big readership places like Samizdata is very hard. What if you say something tasteless or stupid? Here, if I am tasteless or stupid, who cares? I mean, what are you going to do? Cancel your subscription? What I think I’ll do is copy and paste a particularly eloquent comment that someone left on an earlier Samizdata post, and make that into a posting in its own right. (Update: done.)

To anyone who chances upon this who is in any way badly affected by this catastrophe: bad luck mate. I hope things improve for you quickly. If what you have suffered in uncorrectable, like your granny drowning or something terrible like that, well, just bad luck, I guess.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog