Monday, 27 March 2017

Perspectve Correction, iPhone SE and DxO Perspective

I upgraded to an iPhone SE recently and I use it to take photographs. I take landscape / cityscape photographs, which means I’m doing so from odd angles and often with a tilted phone. The camera is an f2.2 with 29mm lens (which means: it has the same optics as a 29mm lens would on a 35mm film camera) and that gives horrible perspective distortion. This goes away if I zoom in on details, or take pictures of a scene which is “flat”, but shoot down a narrow road and it’s going to look awful. Like this:


Whereas I want it to look something like this

 

That takes software, and software costs money. Real Photographers are used to paying hundreds or even thousands of pounds on lenses and camera bodies (the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV body alone is £3,000 and high-quality lenses go for £1,000). £120 a year for Lightroom and Photoshop, or £105 for the Lightroom 6 download is nothing. I'm not a Real Photographer: for me, software competes with books, movies and CDs. Which is how we consumers do price comparison, but sometimes we miss the point.

My iPhone SE will have cost me a few hundred pounds after the 24-month contract is over. To get the best out of my phone and hence that money, I need to spend a small-ish - compared to the cost of the phone - amount on perspective-correcting software. And I will take more pictures, which is the point of have a camera in my pocket all the time.

So now, look!, I've convinced myself to shell out. I am not tempted to do image-editing on my iPhone. Photos offers basic editing facilities already, and even a quick experiment convinces me that my eyes are no longer young enough to be reliable enough to make those kinds of adjustments. So I’m only going to do stuff on the Mac, or maybe the iPad.

For reasons that have to do with spontenaity, I have SKRWT on my iPad. SKRWT is as good as the reviews say it is. I can transfer pictures to it from my phone using Air Drop. Which is every bit as easy to use as it says it is. So I could do my picture editing on the iPad, and it gives me as large an image as I get from Picasa on the Mac Air. (Just pretend I never said Picasa.)

Now for the Mac Air. SKRWT is iOS-only, but there's something that looks very similar, from DxO Perspective. It gets good reviews, so I installed that to handle the images that are already on the Mac.

This is what DxO can do. Here’s an original…



and here’s a correction using the rectangle tool and some cropping


That was the photograph I wanted. To get that au naturel, I would have needed a medium-format camera, as even a 35mm full-frame / film would not have let me get the whole frontage in at that distance.

I’m sold.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Female Privilege: It's Not About The Crazy, Not The Babies

I have read the following sentiment once too often:
the reality is that female privilege is the incessant undercurrent of culture, derived from the fundamental premise that governs all social organization and policy: women are more reproductively valuable than are men.
I’m not sure if Heartiste is saying only that, right or wrong, American society has that fundamental premise, or, that societies are rightly governed by that fundamental premise. So I will give two answers.

First, if American social organisation and policy is driven by “mo’ babies”, the USA is screwed. As screwed as any country importing warm bodies with no skills because population decline.

Second, here’s why. Reproduction is not the valuable activity: reproduction just gives you babies. Babies are raw material, not the finished product. The valuable finished product is a contributing, co-operative and considerate adult member of the society and the economy. Any idiot can produce babies, and most do, but it takes real skill, and both parents, to raise a decent young adult, especially in post-industrial societies where long periods of education are needed for the children to even begin to have the skills needed to be productive. Only warriors can train warriors, only hunters can train hunters, only fishermen can train fishermen. The last thing a small society needs is a large bunch of growing boy children without enough men to train them to be men. Fertility is like a lot of things: it’s only a good thing if it’s kept between limits. Unrestricted baby-making is a liability. Valuing women as baby-makers isn’t privileging them, it’s sensible resource-husbandry, along with keeping the cows watered.

Female privilege is a thing. However, it has nothing to do with babies. It has to do with there being a critical mass of psychiatrically damaged women and women who decide to act crazy to get their way. One feminist harridan in a lecture theatre can be stared down: five can wreck the whole proceeding. And once it becomes clear that crazy gets its way, deliberate displays of insincere crazy becomes one more weapon in the armoury.

I live in England, and while there’s a healthy tradition of, um, bawdy behaviour amongst English women that makes Saturday nights worth avoiding, not so many of them are actually crazy. Britain has its dysfunctionals, oestrogen-dominants, adventuresses, bitter girls, shrews, princesses, psychopaths and other misfits, who behave badly a lot of the time. There are so few of them that they can be dismissed as “weirdos and head-cases”, kept out of organisations where important work is done by sane people, and the average clueless man will have a low probability of meeting one.

Heartiste is in America.

America, land of obesity and medicalised psychiatry, has a proportion of hormone-imbalanced and damaged female souls that, to go by the obesity and DSM-V stats, and even allowing for extensive co-morbidity, may be as high as one in three. Crazies are going to be almost everywhere in employment, and almost everyone is going to have to deal with one at least once a day. The natural instinct to back off and placate the crazy woman is going to be kicking in on a daily basis. In fact, it may never kick out. In which case, American men are going to be tolerating all sorts of bad behaviour all the time. Crazies use feminism and liberal ideology because it suits their need to bully, confuse and browbeat. America is what happens when a society has a large number of crazy people with the vote. Someone is going to pander to them, and they will in return vote en bloc for anyone who gives them money and feeds their troubled souls. It looks like privilege, but it’s really just one giant freak show.

What Heartiste and many others call “female privilege” is a mixture of three things: a) a bunch of legal privileges in employment law, and some presumptions in Family Law which are designed to stop un-supported mothers and excess babies being a burden on the taxpayer; b) the instinct to back off and placate the crazy woman; c) men tolerating calculated crazy in their personal lives. Female privilege is mostly men putting up with behaviour from women that they would never accept from another man, and women exploiting that to the hilt and half-way up the handle as well.

Nothing to do with babies.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Yet Another Therapy Totally Misunderstands Addicts and Drunks

I had a good hearty chuckle on the District Line into Hammersmith the other Saturday morning. Quite a sustained chuckle, in fact. Therapists! Dont’cha just luv ‘em? Richard Bandler and John Grinder to be specific, in their book Reframing: Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the Transformation of Meaning.

The claims I am making would be outrageous to anyone in AA, andalso to the belief systems that most therapists have been taught. Theyare not incredible if you approach addiction from an NLP standpoint.From that standpoint, all you need to do is 1) collapse anchors on the dissociation, 2) get communication with the part that makes him drink, 3) find out what secondary gain—camaraderie, relaxation, or whatever—the alcohol gets for him, and 4) find alternative behaviorsthat get the secondary outcomes of alcohol but don't produce the damage that alcohol does. A person will always make the best choiceavailable to him. If you offer him better choices than drinking to get all the positive secondary gains of alcohol, he will make good selections
Why was I chuckling? Because there was no secondary gain. Not for me. I didn’t drink to get relaxed. I never felt camaraderie after a couple of pints. I have no idea what any secondary gain of drinking is. I drank for the buzz: I drank to get slightly drunk, but not because of what being slightly drunk did for me, because it usually didn’t do a thing. I got drunk because it was a good feeling in and of itself. I got drunk because I liked the buzz, but sometimes I would have to get through a couple of drinks before that hit. The first cigarette was usually pretty horrible as well: but the third was just fine. Chocolate and ice cream are good from start to finish, just not very buzzy.

Most therapists are ordinary people and have as much understanding of addicts and drunks as they do of complex one-forms. Addicts do stuff for the high, and it doesn’t matter if the addiction is to drugs, booze, sudoko, chess, programming or gardening. I cook because I need food: but if I cooked because I just love flames and knives and ingredients and utensils and chopping and sample-tasting, because being in the the process made me feel good in that special way, then that would be addiction. It’s just not called that when the process produces something and seems to take a lot of energy and skill. Because capitalism.

But now I have a question. If on the one thing I do know about, they are incredibly wrong, are they also incredibly wrong in the rest of their book? Or did they just step way, way outside their expertise?

I read the book because someone whose blog I follow had it on his “must-read” list. Now, of course, I’m wondering about the others on that list.

Monday, 13 March 2017

What To Expect After The A50 Declaration

The FT told me over the weekend that A50 could be triggered in the week commencing 13th March. I'm going to explain why you should not believe what you're going to see, hear and read in the early months of the negotiation.

The EU has long wanted two things: its own armed forces, and the ability to tax EU citizens directly. The EU bureaucrats have also long reckoned they could sell this to the member States, most of whom have small armed forces and would welcome the chance to hand off the task of managing them: France and Germany would agree on the basis that a) they were the "someone else" and b) Britain was never the "someone else".

Britain would never agree either to an EU armed service, or to Federal taxation. That's "never" as in "out of my cold, dead hands", not, "in return for some extra fishing rights". The EU bureaucrats have known this all along, but it hadn't mattered until the Accession countries joined and 2008 happened. That made a Federal Europe seem almost inevitable, and at some point, some EU officials explained to some UK officials that Federal taxes and armed forces were going to happen, and that when Britain was the last hold-out, it would be reminded sharply that the European Court of Justice works for Europe, not Justice.

That, as I have suggested before, is the point: the EU wanted Britain out, and Britain wanted out of the EU. All the rest is theatre for the benefit of the 27, and the associates, such as Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

Why is all going to be theatre? Because a sizeable chunk of the economy of the UK is owned by EU companies, and a collapse in the UK economy would not help the cash flows and share prices of those companies. Because the European operations of Japanese and other non-European companies are only viable if they have access to the UK and Europe, but not if they face punitive costs for trading with the UK or Europe. Then it would make sense to supply from their home base operations, shipping being plentiful and cheap. Because making it difficult for UK service industry firms to sell in Europe would mean those firms would buy European companies through which to do business. Because there isn't a town in Europe which can, in the next two years, build enough office space housing and transport infrastructure to take a serious chunk of the work being done in the City of London. It would not be long before those towns realised they had simply created "London on the (insert name of river here)", that brought no new jobs, but a lot of resentment, to the local residents. Also, modern financial markets can't work under the laws of most European countries, which don't believe in finance or markets.

And also because if I was a politician in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, the V4, or Poland, I would not want to deal with a population that no longer had the hope of going to the UK to get work. The UK can get workers from China, India, the rest of the Anglosphere and South America to replace those from the EU. The EU can't create three million jobs in two years.

So, no, I'm not expecting a negotiating bloodbath. I'm expecting the UK to pay directly for things like Europol and Erasmus, and to pay increased customs duties to replace some of the donations we make to the EU now.

I'm expecting a whole bunch of melodrama and posturing. The CBI will claim that any change to anything will cause the collapse of the FTSE 100 and mass unemployment (oh, wait, they do that now). The Trades Unions will claim that workers' rights will be thrown in the dustbin and henceforth we will all work for free (oh, wait, they do that now). The UK fishing industry will be threatened with extinction (oh, wait...) and at some stage something to do with beef and sausages will be briefly important. Many companies will use leaving the EU as an excuse to hike prices, even when there is no reason their costs will increase (oh, wait, companies put their prices up or their quantity and quality down because… any reason). It's not for the UK's benefit, but for the EU's. They will bang on about "no access to the single market" and how what the UK is going to get is so much worse that "single access" because that's what Brussels sells. Then they will start haggling about quotas for Somerset brie and whether Canary bananas can be sold to the UK (yes please!). What's important is boring stuff like paperwork and certification processes, and nobody will haggle over those, and nobody will notice nobody haggling over them. Haggling over that stuff would be really dumb.

I'm expecting negotiations on fishing to go on forever, but then, negotiations on fishing have always gone on forever. The EU's daily business is trade negotiation, but it doesn't feel like it because it is perceived to be internal bureaucratic wrangling. So of course we will be negotiating on this and that for decades, because we always did and being part of the EU didn't change it.

I'm expecting the French customs to create huge delays and queues on Day One when the UK finally leaves, but anyone who doesn't expect that hasn't been paying attention to anything.

It will all be theatre. All for show. All to throw some work to some bureaucrats and their chums in the trade-negotiation business. (Those people must have thought Brexit meant Christmas forever and their pensions secured, and the British government has been signalling to them that it isn't going to be like that. Why else were they talking about doing a deal in two years?) All to tell the other 27 countries and the associates that they too will get a terrible deal if they dare think of leaving.

A50 gives UK industry two years to make deals everywhere else in the world, and a business that currently trades with Europe and doesn't start looking for customers elsewhere in that time also deserves to go broke. I'm expecting a number of businesses to go broke. Because some businesses are run by bad managers.

As a good Popperian, I will specify the conditions under which I will abandon this hypothesis: when European companies start selling their UK investments. If that happens during the A50 negotiations, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Monday, 6 March 2017

February 2017 Review

For a month of twenty-eight days, February lasted a long time. Mainly because it was cold. If you asked me, I would have said I did nothing all month except go to work and stay home because it was too cold to go out, or stay out. However, that wouldn’t be true.

I saw the Pina Bausch Masurca Fogo, Eva Yerbabuena’s Apariencias and the Gala Flamenco, all at Sadlers Wells.

I’m not going to attempt to describe these. I sat through all three shows entranced and fascinated, and in the case of the Gala, astonished at the virtuosity and energy of the dancers, and the interplay between the dancers, singers and musicians once the solos have begun, and all the have to guide them is their talent, skill and knowledge of the genre. For a long time now, Flamenco is where you go if you want to see and hear improvisation at its best.

It took me years to get round to seeing Bausch’s work on stage, and there’s nothing like it. As time goes by, it may simply vanish. According to Amazon, there are no DVD’s of her work. Someone should put that right tout de suite, as they say in Wuppertal.

I had a WHOLE MONTH when I didn’t visit the dentist.

I got serious about pull-ups. That required doing close-grip front pull-downs of heavier weight session after session, and in the last week of February, I managed 3x1 narrow-grip pull-ups. I weigh 95 kilos and I’m 63. Call my nephew when you’re doing that at my age. The point isn’t that you can knock out sets of 10 wide-grip pull-ups, so sets of one are a joke to you, it’s that this is the first time in my life I’ve managed a pull-up. The point is change and improvement.

I saw just one film, It’s Only The End of The World at the Curzon Soho, and I got all the way through Elementary S4. I finished the Antoine Doinel’s with L’Amour en Fuite.

I’m working my way very slowly through the 650 pages of Clemens Meyer’s Bricks and Mortar; finished Michael Negnevitsky’s Artifical Intelligence, A Guide to Intelligent Systems; read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, Gregory Zuckerman’s The Greatest Trade Ever, and Hammond Innes’ The Wreck of the Mary Deare.

I moved into the back bedroom to sleep. I have residual hyper-vigilance, and dripping rain sets it off. The rain drips on the front of the house, not the back. I can sleep right through the central heating boiler firing up, but those water drops wake me right up.

I upgraded the home network, and the car passed its MoT for another year. So not a bad month really, except for the whole too-darn-cold thing.

Monday, 27 February 2017

The War of Art, or Grinding It Out Is Not For Everyone

One of my favourite stories is about Bobby Kennedy. When he came into work and had no energy and no idea where to start, he would just take the first piece of paper from the In-Tray and deal with it. Then the next one, then the next, and lo and behold it was half-past ten, the time was passing productively, and he was doing his job.

My second favourite line about this stuff is from The Player, when the Studio Head says to Griffin Mill: “You can’t quit. You have eighteen months on your contract and I will sue you for breach if you don’t show up to work every morning. With a smile.”

At some point in everyone’s life, we learn to show up and grind. True enlightenment comes when we learn to do it with a smile. Took me longer than it should have. The trick, and I swiped this from someone, is not to do the work you (think you) love, but to love the work you do. The surly English tea-shop owner of 1960 TV comedy has been replaced by the bright and chirpy Spanish or Eastern European girl or boy behind the counter. Except that they are probably graduates, who would rather be employed in London than out of work in Madrid. They decide to do the job well because the alternative is to be a grouch, which is bad for them and bad for the customers. They learn to get on with the other people at work and take some pleasure from their company.

The advantage of going into an office to work is the focus it provides. You’re there to work, and maybe use the phone to arrange for the guy to repair the boiler. You don’t have to do anything else. Like listen to your spouse, or mow the lawn. The opportunity for procrastination is reduced: you can’t make a start on re-painting the back bedroom.

If you want to know why people who read novels are different from people who don’t, and people who write novels, or anything else much, are different from both, then a little meditating on the process described by Stephen Pressfield in his The War of Art will tell you.

Everything this little book says about the process of the solitary writer is true. Well, except for the mystical nonsense about Muses at the end. It describes a process that is not even deferred gratification, because there is no gratification at all. Show up at the laptop, hammer away for four-five hours, stop when you start making mistakes, go do other stuff, and repeat tomorrow. Rain or shine. Ignore the outside world, just write. So what if you miss the bit where NASA discovered life on Mars? All to produce a product which maybe five thousand people might read. If you're lucky. There can be no anticipation, no daydreams, as those are the distractions of amateurs. Solitary, unrewarding, with no guarantees of income, recognition or even pleasure. At least the middle manager, preparing slide decks proposing products that never get made, gets paid for doing it, and maybe even complimented on the presentation and told to keep up the good work. The writer just gets rejected. And not paid.

As described in The War of Art, the artist’s life is one long low-odds campaign, one long solitary training session. I had the sense that when he does get to hold the Oscar trophy, it’s too late, the fruit is withered, the wine is sour, and as a pro, he knows it means nothing tomorrow. Winning an Oscar doesn’t guarantee getting produced. It might not even guarantee a meeting.

This is the life of someone on the fringes of the economic and social world, at least until he gets rich, or unless he's a fun guy to be around. That sense of being on the fringes, of holding on to the economy by a frayed string, of living a life with few rewards and little anticipation (anticipation is a chunk of our enjoyment of an event, perhaps all of it in the case of Aston Villa supporters) and of unrewarded, unrecognised effort, all that is going to seep into his characters and the fictional world he creates. There's going to be something empty about it, something slightly desperate. And his readers are going to feel this, even if they can't identify why.

People who read literary fiction identify with this world-view: they are on the emotional or economic fringes themselves, They don't identify with the world ordinary people live in. Ordinary people who do read, read Chick-Lit, detective novels and thrillers. And a few writers can create fantasy worlds that feel whole and rewarding, but those are few and far between, as for example, Tolkien and Pratchett.

That's the by-the-way insight of this piece. Back to the mainstream.

Showing up is not enough on its own. It's not even a start. Woody Allen was being ingenuous when he said "Ninety per cent of success is showing up." Since almost one hundred per cent of people show up every day, year after year, and don't win Oscars or even decent salaries, it must be the ten per cent that matters. What the show-up-and-grind merchants are saying is that the ten per cent, the talent, ability, intelligence and ambition are wasted if we don't show up and grind. I guess they are exposed to a number of clever, glib people who think that creativity is easy, and that writers have easy lives, and they want to point out that writers too are virtuous, industrious workers.

I've said before that sobriety is only for people who have a problem with drinking (or as part of a training regimen), and that emotional sobriety is for people who have a strong tendency to associate with dysfunctionals. I want to add that the grind-it-out attitude of the War of Art is only for people who have chosen vocations that pay badly, offer very little appreciation, have a high level of insecurity, and little or no opportunity for working with others. Most tradesmen have (what we used to call) mates, assistants or partners. It's not the attitude for a barista, a nurse, an analyst, a paramedic or anyone else who works as part of a team, with people who can do things they can't. If you're having to grind it out, and you're not a writer or some other creative type, then change your employer, your supervisor, your job or your attitude.