Saturday, June 28, 2008

Vanishing Point

I just finished watching Vanishing Point. A strange, but strangely compelling movie. And very, very typical of the flower power time. I can usually spot the time of a movie to plus/minus two years, and this one just reeked to high heaven of 1971/72. The love and pot, mired in nihilism and tragedy. Deeply black.

Also typical: the hero is somebody up against the authorities. If you think about it, it's a bit odd: aren't the authorities representative of most of us? If they aren't, why don't we elect some who are? Why do we always see heroes in outlaws, when outlaws by definition are against the rules that we have collectively chosen?

Gil Bates

So I hear Bill Gates retired Friday. I'm confused, didn't we hear this twice before already?

My brother, 1969

Thanks to Alan, a reader at tOP, I have finally found the famous picture of my brother that Henri Cartier-Bresson took in 1969 in Paris. Good picture too, usually titled "Sidewalk Cafe, Boulevard Diderot".

Around 1981 when I was merely a teen, I showed my mother a book of HC-B's photos, and she suddenly got spooked out of her mind because this one showed my much older brother, who had died the year before. And indeed it looks exactly like him, and he did work in Paris in that period and could be counted on to kiss ladies at any opportunity.

For those not familiar with Henri Cartier-Bresson, he is/was perhaps the most famous photographer in the world next to Ansel Adams, and one I look to more than Adams because of HC-B's street photography style in which he caught the perfect composition in the perfect moment. Apart from André Kertész, very few photographers have ever had the control over the composition that Cartier-Bresson had.

Pascal sez:
So, Big Bro also had a keen eye for pretty lassies, aye? Must be in the genes...
Just had a more "hands-on" approach than introverted (and less trouble-prone) Eo. ;-)

Yep. Like our father, who was really hands-on indeed. Dad and his girlfriend once visited one of my early art exhibitions in Copenhagen, and one of my friends turned up on rollerskates, a pretty and delightful girl. In the way he later referred to her, it was clear that he thought she and I was an item. He simply couldn't imagine any other relationship with a pretty woman.
And I let him believe it, partly because it boosted my geeky ego, and partly to make him feel better. I suspect my parents sometimes speculated I was gay because I never brought home any girlfriends. :)

Update: my older sister wants me to find a photo of her from a famous photographer. She was in Toronto in 1969, so if you have any leads... (she was a hot young woman in the time of the miniskirt and see-through blouses, so it should be worthwhile).


Stellarium, a planetarium for your computer.

I like the constallations artwork, nice and subtle and simple.
I haven't found a setting for setting the app as your desktop, but you can have it running behind the other apps, get the same effect, a starfield (and possibly constellations) slowly rotating past.


I've enjoyed all of Pixar's movies so far, so I'm looking forward to Wall-E.

I hope, though, that animation, both 2D and 3D, will someday soon go beyond the family audience limitations. One of the exceptions was the Heavy Metal movie from 1981, that was fun. Although that one mainly went for the sex and violence, not so much the subtlety of story/character/themes which distinguish films for adults.

According to Gizmodo's review, it seems Wall-E may actually be a couple steps in this direction:
"Immediately, we realize this isn't your typical kiddie cartoon. No pop culture jokes? No instantly-recognizable celebrity voices? A decimated, humanless landscape full of towers of garbage and decrepit buildings? A lonely robot trying to learn about love and humanity through centuries of its trash? This looks more like a beautiful, haunting sci-fi movie than a children's movie, because that's exactly what it is."

Here's a LEGO Wall-E made by Pixar animator Angus MacLane.
(I'm not a LEGO geek, but I play one on TV. I mean, some of my friends are.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Photographers in UK

The debate about photographer's rights continues in UK.
"The right to take pictures in public has once again hit the headlines with reports that a lifelong bus spotter has quit after wrongly been labelled a 'terrorist and paedophile'."

This whole thing falls under the "moral panic" thing I posted about recently.

Nikkor 14-24mm

If you enjoy reading about ultimate-quality products, take a gander at the new Nikkor 14-24mm zoom lens. It's expensive and huge (one kilo!), but according to all reports, it may be the sharpest super-wide-angle zoom ever produced. And it's really super-wide-angle. It's a full frame lens, so even the long end -- 24mm -- is in the super-wide range.

I almost wish they'd made it a 4.0 lens, though. It might have been half the size and weight, and speed isn't essential with a super-wide. They could also have given it Vibration Reduction. Admittedly this is also not essential with a wide lens, but it could more than make up for a slower lens in most situations, I'm guessing.

I find it interesting that after decades of disappointing wide-angle lenses from Nikon and Canon, suddenly they produce such a lens as this, which beats them all to hell and back in sheer sharpness, and it's a zoom to boot (traditional wisdom claims zooms can never be as sharp as fixed lenses, much less sharper). I wonder what changed in lens design. (The pocket camera lenses are also suddenly way sharper, in my experience.)

article - article - article
(the last review has a fun style. It's not often you read words like "limpid", "furtive" and "fruitage" in technical reviews!)

From the last linked review: "At 14mm, the Nikon 14-24mm gives us a whole new level of performance: it's not so much that it rewrites the rules, it doesn't seem to be aware of what the rules are . . . sharp, vignette-free corners at 14mm / f2.8? No problem! With performance this good at f5.6, I think we've just found a lens that may challenge the Leica 15mm f2.8 for the title of ultimate ultrawide."

Adwords imprecision

I was told once that one of the best sources of revenue for the post office is over-franking. And I suspect a similar thing is true for Google Adwords. Behold: I made a search for "ZF lenses", which are made by Zeiss for Nikon cameras. (Manual focus high-quality lenses.) And not one, but three spectacles stores put their ad on top, because apparently their key words settings make them pop up whenever anybody search for "lenses" no matter what kind of lenses it is. What a waste, the wonderful thing about Adwords is exactly that you can be precise about targeting your public.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Full frame Nikon

The evidence is piling up: a new, smaller and cheaper than the D3 (but neither small nor cheap overall) Nikon full frame camera is coming (or at least being announced) next week, called, oddly, the D700. (There is very little rhyme or reason in the naming schemes of most technology manufacturers. At Nikon, the high end cameras have 1 digit, the low end has two digits, and the mid range has three digits.)

Seems it will have pretty much the D300's body (a very solid and fast one), but with the sensor of the D3 (lauded for its exceptional low-light capabilities).

I've no doubt it'll be a huge hit, even though it'll probably be priced at something like $3,000.

Lots of e-mail

David Pogue on handling lots of e-mail.

Unlike David, I do empty my e-mail inbox, and not just once a week, I empty it many times every day. Of course I don't use it as a to-do list, and my life is much simpler than David's, deliberately so.
Uh, I don't mean I designed my life to be different than David Pogue's specifically. :) I mean since the nineties I aimed continually to streamline my external life to give me more time for my internal one.

Terry Pratchett on religion

Terry Pratchett had a mystical experience, article.
Very good article. I think the headline is a bit off, though, it makes it sound like Mr. Pratchett has suddenly "gotten religion", which clearly is not the case. The "now I think [God] might exist" line is contrary to what he is actually saying. Newspaper editors should really be more careful about the truthfulness of their articles and especially their headlines. They clearly see the truth as an acceptable casualty in the war for the public's interest.

Interesting how it's newsworthy that Terry had a small mystical experience. I have them all the time, but I don't often report them, because they are usually either private or hard to explain. Interestingly I've had a few very much like Terry's over the years.

Update: disrelated, here is a fun interview with Pratchett, performed by Neil Gaiman, with whom he wrote the wonderful "Good Omens". (I think it's fun that they've been friends since they were both unknown, and now they are both huge names. That can't happen very often.)

Adolescent Sexuality blog

"This blog is an on-going conversation about adolescent sexuality, and all of the nuances and social issues inherent to the topic. I believe… that parents have to talk to their kids about sex… that everyone has sex, and should therefore know about sex."
- Adolescent Sexuality blog by Dr. Karen Rayne

Sounds like a healthy attitude. It is a mystery to me how the current US administration and apparently a big portion of the citizenry thinks that the way to protect somebody against mistakes in an area is to keep them ignorant about that area.

DHL "service", Big is the new lousy?

I'm starting to wonder if a company can actually become too big to have decent customer service?

I had to return something to Amazon, and pleasantly they even pay for return shipping, and gave me a DHL label to print out.

I requested a pickup today, but the day is getting on, so I wanted to ask if it's happening or not.

  1. There was no phone number in the confirmation email I got.
  2. When I went on their site, it was hard to find any contact info.
  3. And even harder to find a phone number.
  4. When I found it: look at all these ridiculous options to choose from. I have no idea what any of it means.
  5. So I called the top one. And after sifting through various phone menus, none of which covered what I needed, I chose the closest one, and the girl told me:
  6. Amazon returns can't be handled by phone. I have to use the email address given in the confirmation email. Wha? [Update: well, they did actually answer very promptly to the email, and gave a phone number too.] [But then they don't seem to answer the phone there.]
... Do they really need to have different "teams" to handle parcels to be delivered, parcels which have been delivered, etc? One would imagine that with an intelligently designed software system, any operator could pretty much handle any request.

I'm not sure about the "big company" thing. I've occasionally had excellent service from very big companies, and lousy service from very small companies. But still I'm reminded of Seth Godin's "Big is the new Small" concept. Unlike a couple of decades ago, there really is no upside for either the company or the customers to a company being huge. Apparently all the huge companies are suffering. Of course I am not really sure why and how it was an advantage once but isn't anymore.

blankphotog said:
"Dumb is the new smart," as anyone who has been an employee of a call center knows from experience. They would rather their customer service be specialized, dumb and invisible, rather than have long calls that might actually solve customer issues.

gary w yahoo said...
Very true, blankphotog. I've worked for Convergys (call center farm) and was told to get off the line many times while solving a customer problem.

Ants, nature's garbage men

Ants, nature's garbage men. Thanks to Kay.

Gates Windoze rant

I once read an interview with Bill Gates, where the interviewer asked him about some troubles the interviewer had with Windows. With his usual arrogance, Bill Gates answered: "Maybe you're doing something wrong. Did you think about that?"

I wonder how he would react if somebody told him that when he himself rants about Windows usability. [Thanks to Bert.]

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tuna Ferit

Youse have caught on to the fact that I write entries with graphite on paper before posting, but I may give it up after seeing what Tuna Ferit can do with that medium.

Acknowledging in email

When somebody does something for you, it's nice to say "thank you". On the other hand, if it's their job, maybe they then may gets dozens of mails per day just saying "thank you", so that may irritate more than help. Does anybody have a useful rule of thumb as to when to say thanks over email?

Kenny Harris

Thanks Cafe Philos for pointing to Kenny Harris. I like his work, good light, good compositions, and it doesn't have the prevalent idea that the subject is important. Often there's barely any subject at all, merely a framework for light and lines. Like I attempt myself in my photos sometimes, he looks at what is in between the things people usually look at.


KabelYaache commented:
And you're STILL not writing a blog on a certain topic. You're a blog babbler.

I beg to differ. The header is saying "opinions and notes on life, art, and technology", and I stick strictly by that!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Moral panic

Pascal pointed to an interesting psycho sociological concept, the "moral panic".
"In sociology, a moral panic is a reaction by a group of people based on the false or exaggerated perception that some cultural behavior or group, frequently a minority group or a subculture, is dangerously deviant and poses a menace to society."

It is good to know that a term exists for this phenomenon, which has been making me uneasy for a long time. It tells you a lot about the supposed rationality of man.

Firefox three

Firefox 3 for Mac was a seventeen MB download. That seems very compact, considering that Netscape 3 was a thirty MB download, and that was ten years ago!

Do all those people at Mozilla/Firefox really do all that work just for personal gratification, or to stick it to Microsnuff, or what's going on?

Monday, June 23, 2008

New Sony sensor

Sony has developed a new type of digital camera sensor, claimed to be more sensitive.


The sheer impermanence of everything on the Net still strikes me. I just sent a group mail to my affiliates collected through a few years. And within twenty minutes almost 500 "delivery failure" messages came in! And they're still coming.


I've tried all the online resources I know of, but I haven't found a definition for "Conradian". Does anybody know a resource which can help? (It seems it refers to a writer last name of Conrad, but I haven't found out what it actually means.)

It was used in this article, which talks about the death of factual journalism.

George Carlin is dead, alas

George Carlin is dead, alas. Wired article (includes his Seven Words rif on video).

The ConferenceBike

Who would have guessed that one of Eric Staller's most commercially successful products would be a far-out idea like the ConferenceBike? But he tells me it is, and I'm delighted to hear it.

Water your elderly

More water improves the mood and health for the elderly. Article.
"While most people's systems can adjust to insufficient water, frail old people are far less equipped to cope."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Baby is sixty

The world's first computer, "Baby", is sixty. Weighed a ton and had 120 bytes for memory. Not megabytes, not kilobytes, just bytes. I can't even imagine how you can do anything with 120 bytes.
Apparently the computer revolution was sparked near where I live, in Manchester. Watch the video, it's fun.

Update: Alex points out that Baby was also the mother of the earliest known recording of computer-generated music.

I like how the more formal name for Baby was "Small Scale Experimental Machine". These days a "small scale" computer is something you can hide under a fingernail.

We'll always have Paris

In the Lego Death Star comments, Through The Lens points to this model of Paris, built by one man.
I am amazed, I wouldn't even have the patience to build the smallest building in it.

(Behold the Tricolore... it's remarkable so nationalistic many French are.)

Pascal said:
Monsieur, you build a life-size Lego Little Mermaid, or one at any scale bigger than a standard issue fish-tailed character from a Harry Potter 4 box set, and then you may give lessons in nationalisticism.
Your irony makes me so angry, I think I am going to swear. Ratatouille! Camembert! Château-Laffite! Escargot aux champignons! Omelette du fromage! Chocolat fondu! Bêtises de Cambrai! Crème de la crème! Bleu Auvergnat! Cuisses de grenouilles! Bœuf bourguignon! Escalope flambée! Moules marinières! Sauce béchamel! Raclette savoyarde! Crêpes sautées! Anisette! Apportez-moi l'addition!
Aah, after zees leetle vente, I feel match bettair!
Au fait, ce n'est pas moi sur la photo. You'll notice that this gentleman, although admittedly handsome, cannot possibly hope to compete with my natural charming je ne sais quoi.
Might be my refined talk, might be my legendary modesty, who knows?

I can confirm that beyond Pascal's overwhelming modesty, his je ne sais quoi simply... I don't know.


"It is the wretchedness of being rich that you have to live with rich people."
-- Logan Pearsall Smith

Sez who?!
If Logan is tired of rich people, what stops him from packing a suitcase and getting an apartment in the cheap end of town?

OK, I suspect this is in fact a witticism from Mr. Smith, but like all good wit, it's based on a truth. And I'm always amazed at the now-I'm-supposed-to's that people will willingly enslave themselves to. They'll do something just because that's-what-you-do.

Just for one example, often you'll see somebody who has a goal and a lifestyle which is completely anathema to getting and supporting a family, but who nevertheless gets one anyway.

Eric Staller

Another amazing artist found thanks to A Dark Roasted Blend: Eric Staller. He is one of the rare artists whose talent is so diverse that he can't be confined to one style, and not even one medium. It takes guts to follow such a flighty muse, since it tends to be an unwelcome choice commercially. The natural conservatism of the world and the art world tends to reward the artist who "finds himself" and then sticks to "himself", dangit.

I always had an allergic reaction to this demand to "find yourself" as an artist. It completely ignores the fact that some of the greatest artists in the world are also some of the most diverse artists.

Eric Staller says:
Thanks Eolake. Your comments about the art world are spot-on. I certainly would have had more commercial success if I had stayed with one form of expression ( I was having great success with my photography but still moved on). My ConferenceBike sales now help offset the pain of underwriting some of my more expensive projects.
please consider ordering my book.