Marking time in March 2004
Packing my camera bag
It’s easy to set out the principle: Not too much, but not too little. Nice aphorism, but what does it mean in practice?
I have no doubt where to start. The newer of my two Canon F-1 bodies, built in April 1977. The F-1 is a climax in the evolution of the mechanical single lens reflex 35mm camera — robust, precise and modular. With a Nikkor 28mm PC (perspective correcting) lens and a gridded viewing screen, this is my first choice for taking pictures of buildings.
I’ll want some other wide angle lenses, wider and/or faster than the PC lens: Certainly the 24mm f/2, probably the 17mm f/4, and perhaps the 35mm f/2 — they all have their uses.
For pictures of people I prefer the Canon T90 body and some longer lenses — the 85mm/f1.8, say, and the 200mm/f2.8. And a 300TL speedlite, of course. And my lightest tripod — this is supposed to be a highly portable outfit.
And the film scanner, and the SCSI adapter for the laptop, and the cables, and the film holders, and the film filing stuff…
And I will take my digital point-and-shoot camera, so I can get pictures onto the web straight away….
[After thinking about all that, I went out and bought a Canon 300D digital SLR. I’ll pack one camera (not 3), one lens (not 6), and no scanner. It’s a rather flimsy plastic thing, but impressive in what it can do…]
Robotic lumberjacks under water
A chainsaw-wielding robotic submarine is roving beneath Lois Lake in British Columbia, Canada. But it is not a prop left over from a sci-fi movie.
Rather, it is chopping down a forest that was left submerged decades ago when the valley was flooded by a hydroelectric dam. After it cuts the trees, they are floated to the surface, where they are dried out and sold to mills for use in furniture and construction, like any other lumber.
Trees left standing in flooded forests die, but they do not rot because the water keeps out oxygen. Worldwide, some 200 million trees are thought to be standing on the floor of hydropower reservoirs.
Fruit crate labels
Making a split cane fly rod
I know nothing of fly fishing, but I enjoyed Thomas Penrose’s description of making a rod. Like a violin maker, Penrose carefully selects his materials, precisely shapes and assembles them with hand tools, and makes an instrument of delight.
Evidence of humanity
Today I noticed my name in an unexpected place—a list of 50 Random Sites on Witold Riedel’s blog. Thanks Witold for declaring me human.
Making a violin
A violin is one of the most subtle and wonderful artefacts that can be made of wood. The best violins are still made using tools and materials that were familiar to Giuseppe Guarneri (1698-1744) or Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737). I enjoyed Derek Roberts’s step-by-step description of making a violin.
Mapping political donations
Another map of New York City (enough, already!). This one plots 2004 presidential campaign donations, building-by-building along the streets of the city. The size of each dot indicates the amount given by occupants of each building. The blue dots are Democrat supporters (770 Park Avenue gave $50,000). The red dots are Republicans (top score: 85 Broad Street, $29,000).
There is also a more detailed map of Uptown New York.
OK, just one more collection of New York maps that I couldn’t resist mentioning: Professor William A Bowen’s Digital atlas of New York City — about a hundred maps plotting population, race, ancestry, income, poverty, education, household type, and commuting patterns.
On Friday in the dentist’s waiting room Margie found this in a Reader’s Digest:
I can tell you, taking 11 years to write one book is a killer financially, a blow to the base of the skull mentally and physically, hell for your family, a slovenly imposition upon all concerned—in short, an inexcusable performance verging on shameful. Nevertheless, that was how long it took me to write one book, a novel called ‘A Man in Full’. Eleven years. My children grew up thinking that was all I did: write, and never finish, a book called ‘A Man in Full’.—Tom Wolfe
Swedish hunting backpack
This elegant, soft and very durable reindeer leather pack is ideal for storming both wooded and urban jungles. The single padded strap is carried diagonally over the left shoulder, the additional stabilizer strap has two plastic buckles to prevent the pack from moving around during use, perfect for biking. Padded back panel, main compartment with large zipper, side compartment lined with water resistant fabric and a set of leather loops for the transport of small game, phone pocket attached to shoulder strap.
Dan Price’s moonlight chronicles
The Morning News has a delightful interview with Dan Price, artist, writer and publisher of The moonlight chronicles.
After working as a photojournalist for 10 years I sold all my cameras and began documenting my own little life instead of everyone else’s. Using a pen and paper I was able to document what I was seeing without a machine between me and the subject. If you draw lots you can become very addicted to that peaceful state of being. It’s definitely my drug of choice!
Mapping MPs’ votesThe Public Whip is a UK website that follows the voting behaviour of members of parliament. The site has a clever vote map to represent the historical pattern of voting. Each MP is represented by a dot (red for Labour, blue for Tory, yellow for Liberal Democrat, green for others). The dots of MPs who voted similarly in the past are clustered close together. You can zoom into the map to see more detail, and you can select particular MPs for closer inspection.
We’ve chosen a dissimilarity measure which depends on the number of votes the same way, and the number of votes against one another, between two MPs when they both vote in the same division. If every time two MPs vote in the chamber they always vote the same way, their dissimilarity measure is zero. If they always vote on opposite sides, when they both vote, their dissimilarity measure is one. The actual function is: [Number of votes on opposite sides] / [Number of divisions in which both voted].
Our cluster analysis calculation was done using Multi-Dimensional Scaling. The mathematics behind this is available in many textbooks, and on the web. The calculation itself, as opposed to the proof that this calculation gives what you want, is reasonably simple to describe. Although most people won’t understand it, it’s important to mention it openly in case they do.
It ought to be a rule that the public does not accept any computational result unless the computation is itself publicly available. The analogy between computer algorithms whose output has a bearing on, say, government policy, and the law, is close. We do not tolerate being subject to laws that are secret and unpublished, regardless of whether we understand them; we can hire a lawyer if we don’t. The same should be true with computational results which can sometimes hide a great many errors and fudge factors that should not be present.
Scaling the underground
Thanks to Jason Kottke for pointing out a collection of maps of subway systems of the world, presented on the same scale.
Just mentioning those few subways I have ridden, Paris and London have the more or less typical spider’s web form…
…but Singapore has a pattern all its own.