Photography, Ancient and Modern

19th century studio camera, with bellows for f...
19th century studio camera, with bellows for focusing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I looked up the date when photography was invented I was surprised that it was first tried in 1800, if you allow the word to mean the capturing by some means or other an image created by some means or other!

While optics were known and understood well before this time, no one apparently thought of using glass to create images of views, people or anything else. If they did, there appears to be no record. Also the technology didn’t exist to record any image so created, so it would have been pointless to do so anyway, though artists may have been able to benefit from an image projected onto a canvas as a guide.

The geometry of a pinhole camera as seen from ...
The geometry of a pinhole camera as seen from the X2 axis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So before “the camera” we had “the camera obscura”. A camera obscura is basically a darkened room with an image created by a pinhole camera projected onto a white screen.  They are fascinating to visit and I highly recommend visiting one.

When the means for creating an image (a lens) came together with a means of capturing the image photography was born. At first the techniques were hit and miss with wet plates coated in chemicals to capture the image and simple lens to create the image, and a long exposure time.

Brownie2 lens
Brownie2 lens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But techniques and technologies quickly improved and exposure times came down. In the early days, when sitting for a photograph, the long exposure times meant that braces had to be used to prevent the sitter from inadvertently moving and spoiling the photograph.

The image of a photographer in those days was of a man hiding under a dark cloth doing mysterious things with his camera, maybe firing off a tray of flash powder to record the image on a glass plate, then dashing off to his “dark room” to process and fix his image onto the glass plate with dangerous chemicals. The end result was an image with light and dark reversed, a so-called “negative”.

New dark room, Boston Camera Club, Bromfield St.
New dark room, Boston Camera Club, Bromfield St. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of these early cameras were works of art, with shining brass trimming, great leather bellows and polished wood bodies and plate holders, all mounted on a substantial tripod. Great brass screws could move the lens closer to or further from the body which held the plate and often could move the lens up and down or from side to side to compensate for perspective distortions.

Several things eventually brought photography in reach of the man in the street. Firstly, it became possible to record the images onto a strip of plastic, which meant that the camera only had to be loaded once in a while. At the same time, it became possible for you to hand your film to the local chemist or apothecary and have the films developed and positive images printed on cards.

English: J. J. Williams, Portrait of Hawaiian ...
English: J. J. Williams, Portrait of Hawaiian woman. Print from glass plate negative. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rise of mass production allowed cameras to be produced very cheaply, and the Box Brownie arrived, costing two British pounds. Anyone could be a photographer. To be sure corners had to be cut, so the Brownie was a simple box with small and very simple lens, and the shutter was simply a plate that usually blocked light from entering.

On pressing the shutter lever a spring was tightened until the plate flicked over, giving the lens a brief look at the outside world. The film strip was held on one spool and transferred to another. A window in the back of the camera showed the backing strip of the film and you would the film on until the next number showed in the window.

Kodak SIX_20 'BROWNIE' E
Kodak SIX_20 ‘BROWNIE’ E (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The user aimed the camera by using a crude “viewfinder”. This was simply a window in the top of the camera which allowed the photographer to look down on a tiny mirror which reflected the view in front of the camera. It was around a centimetre wide and pointed only more or less in the same direction. To switch from landscape mode to portrait mode you turned the camera over and looked into a similarly minute viewfinder!

Of course things rapidly moved on from there. People loved the Box Brownie and soon handheld cameras of all sorts appeared. Some had two linked lens arranged piggy back style as in the Rollieflex, and some had a single lens, like the Hasselblad. Those two were high end machines, and featured switchable components and high quality lenses and other accessories. They tended to be favoured by professional photographers.

Hasselblad 500C
Hasselblad 500C (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most other cameras were built on a different design, though. Most featured a eye level viewfinder, and cheaper ones usually didn’t have interchangeable accessories. Most moved away from the spool to spool system to the 35mm cassette. Really cheap cameras eventually had a drop in cassette system.

Two other big changes were the introduction of colour film and the single lens reflex system. Many photographers used to monochrome film were appalled by the advent of colour film and swore never to change to it. Most amateurs adopted it with enthusiasm of course. Eventually everyone (almost) used colour.

Empire-Baby camera
Empire-Baby camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The single lens reflex system allowed the photographer to see exactly what he was shooting as the viewfinder looked through the same lens through which the image was captured. Generally the viewfinder was eye level but the Hassleblad was an exception retaining the waist level view point.

The more expensive cameras had knobs, dials and buttons all over them, but the cheaper varieties had only a few, and some did not have any controls. All used film cassettes and most had flash devices for low light level conditions.

English: A very popular collectible made even ...
English: A very popular collectible made even more popular by its appearance in the 2nd Harry Potter movie. This is just a cool camera, from its impressive dials and gears, to its nifty two-tone skin and bright chrome trim. This example is shown topped with the clip-on selenium meter. Because of its shape (and weight), the Argus C3 is affectionately known as “The Brick”. Made from 1958-66. Polski: aparat fotograficzny Argus C3 Matchmatic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then along came digital. Film disappeared, to be replaced by flash storage. Most cameras lost their viewfinders, which were replaced by small screens covering the whole of the back of the camera. Many settings could be set using the screen and a few buttons, and the cameras sizes shrunk. Some these days are credit card size.

But now, it seems that the so called “compact digital cameras” have briefly had their day. Every smartphone has an embedded camera, and people are not buying the compacts. Some smartphones now come with Leica lens technology.

English: Leica III camera with both the Clear ...
English: Leica III camera with both the Clear and Amber lens attachments. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The result? Billions (if I’m not mistaken) of absolutely atrocious photographs spamming the Internet. From cute cats to drunken revellers, everything is now floating around out these. But I’m optimistic. Real photographs and real photographers are still out there. Somewhere.

 

 

About Mums, and a little about Dads too.

Mother hen with chicks02
Mother hen with chicks02 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wrote about cuteness a couple of posts ago, and this started me thinking about mothers, both human and animals and how the bonds that they form with their offspring.

Many animals do not look after their offspring, just casting their fertilised eggs into the seas like many fish or placing their eggs on a food plant as butterflies and moths mostly do. However, many animals do look after their eggs and young offspring, often for extended periods of time.

Danaus Plexippus, Monarch Butterly, picture ta...
Danaus Plexippus, Monarch Butterly, picture taken in NewYork, October 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is common for the mother of an animal to look after it rather than the father, but it is not uncommon for the father to look after the offspring, and more commonly both parents will look after their progeny.

For example, the egg laid by most species of Kiwi is incubated by the male member of a pair of birds. Also, in the Seahorse, the female deposits her eggs inside the male’s “brood pouch” and the young of the Seahorse develop there.

Once young animals are born, often the female parent will take care of them for some time after they are born, but this is not a definite rule. Sometimes the male parent is around and provides some support and protection, and even if the male parent is around, he may remain fairly distant, with the female doing most of the caring for the young animals.

A common sight is a mother hen closely followed by her chicks, with the aloof cockerel strutting around the farmyard. In a pride of lions, the nucleus of the pride consists of the females and offspring while the associated males remain close.

English: Four Lionesses take down a bull cape ...
English: Four Lionesses take down a bull cape buffalo in the central Serengeti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In humans, the so called “nuclear family” is common, at least in Western cultures. A nuclear family usually consists of a couple and their children living in a single house, and is a relatively recent phenomenon, with extended families being common in many cultures, including Western cultures, until fairly recently.

In such a nuclear family, the father goes out to earn money for the family every day, leaving the children in the care of the mother for the day. Such role separation and assignment could be seen as “natural” and “obvious”. This can be problematic when the couple are not male and female, when role assignment is trickier.

Guarani nuclear family of Mato Grosso do Sul, ...
Guarani nuclear family of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brasil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is likely that there is an instinctive drive for a mother to care for her children and for the father to be assigned the role of provider for the family. Certainly this tendency for children to be cared for by the mother and for the father to fill another role can be seen in most societies, even those without the concept of the nuclear family.

In a family consisting of a couple of same sex parents, this role division is not well defined and indeed such couples may decide to share both provider and carer roles within the family group, which could speculatively lead to kids who are unclear about the distinction between the carer and provider roles.


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Kids are resilient though, and being more willing to share the roles when they grow up and form their own, probably heterosexual, relationships and families may even be an advantage. That’s not to say that the father in a heterosexual couple whose parents are also a heterosexual couple are not capable of caring! The roles in Western societies are not so strictly defined that a father cannot be a carer for some of the time, and that a mother cannot be a provider.

Regardless of such quibbles, mothers tend to be more caring and nurturing than fathers in Western societies. Both boys and girls tend to go first to Mum when a knee is scraped or an elbow bashed, and they go to Dad for the resolution of disputes, such as when a sibling has stolen a favourite toy and won’t return it.

This is probably because the mother has more invested in the children than the father. She has carried the child for nine months, culminating in a painful delivery, while the father has watched on and the only pain that he has suffered was when his spouse squeezed his hand too hard during a contraction and left nail marks in it. Of course, I am drastically under valuing the support that the mother has received from her spouse.


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Mother have a close bond with their children, and we can see it in modern society, where a couple is not always “till death do us part”. When a couple splits the children more often seem to go with the mother, although there are blended families where some of the kids are the father’s and some are the mother’s.

Mothers can be particularly close to their daughters, but they are even close to their sons. No other person has changed your nappy (diaper), clothed you, nursed you through minor ailments, and fed you from the moment of birth until you leave home. Step daughters and sons can sometimes have difficulty getting as close to step mothers, and this can cause issues.


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Poor old Dad. He gets the affection, the love, but usually not to the same depth as the children love their mother. Actually, I think that the bonds that form between a man and his kids are just as deep as mother love, but they are manifested in different ways. Dad is the one that the kids look to for protection much of the time, Dads tend to be the ones who encourage the kids to stand on their own feet.

The difference is that Dads are in general more able to form relationships at a distance. He may mainly see his kids in the evenings and at weekend. Modern life has pretty much forced a hands off approach to parenting for Dads. When a split up comes it is frequently easier for a father to move away from his children, painful though it may be than for a mother to move away from them.


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Breaking up a family is always difficult, but with nuclear families it is more difficult. In an extended family there are always granddads. grandmas, cousins and aunties and uncles to take up the slack. The modern child doesn’t have quite so much support. It’s a wonder that, in general, they still turn out OK.

English: This is the photograph of an extended...
English: This is the photograph of an extended family belonging to the Pais-Prabhu, a Mangalorean Catholic clan hailing from Falnir in Mangalore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Holidays

English: Holiday in village
English: Holiday in village (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I should imagine that going on holiday, for many people would be a relatively new thing. While those with money might decide to shift operations from home to another location, which might or might not be near a beach, those who work from them would mostly have no respite from day to day toil, since their employers would still require looking after as usual.

As ordinary people became wealthy, and the old social structures faded away for the most part, it would have become more usual for ordinary people to go away, just as their employers used to.

Rangiputa, Karikari Peninsula, Northland, New ...
Rangiputa, Karikari Peninsula, Northland, New Zealand. Rangiputa is a beach and bach (holiday home) community on the west side of the peninsula (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The word “holiday” itself is a  contraction of “holy day”, and on holy days there were celebrations and less formal work. The word has come to mean a day on which one does not have to work. Most countries these days would have statutory holidays on which which people would not have to work. There may be other restrictions, such as legislation that shops should remain closed.

It’s understandable that some countries require shop closures, as this means that shop staff get the holiday too, but many countries these days allow shops to stay open if they wish and some of the best retail days are on statutory holidays. Usually shops that stay open are required to compensate staff who are required to work.

English: Brixham - Harbourside Shops These sho...
English: Brixham – Harbourside Shops These shops mainly cater to the holiday trade who visit the harbour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Holidays are disruptions to normal schedules. When one goes away, one is in a different environment and one has to make do. Even something as simple as making a cup of tea may be complicated by the need to find a spoon, a cup, and a teabag, not to mention the need to figure out the operation of a different jug!

These things are not an enormous issue, and in fact draw attention to the fact that one is on holiday. All schedules are voided and one can do whatever one wants. Often this may amount to doing nothing.


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A “holiday industry” has evolved, which provides accommodation, and resources for those temporarily away from home. It also provides entertainments or “attractions” if the holiday maker doesn’t just want to lay on the beach. The holiday maker may do all sorts of things that he or she doesn’t usually do, from the exciting (bungy jumping or similar) to the restful (a gentle walk around gardens or maybe a castle visit or may a zoo).

These facilities are all staffed by helpful people who arrange things so that the holiday maker can enjoy his or her self without worries. These people are of course employed by the facilities, but many of them enjoy their work very much anyway. It’s a sort of bonus for helping people.

English: Ultra Dynamics Dowty Turbocraft water...
English: Ultra Dynamics Dowty Turbocraft waterjet boat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Holiday makers must also be fed, and this has become a huge industry too. In any seaside towns so-called fast food outlets can be found in abundance, along with more up market restaurants and cafés, for more leisurely eating. For many people one of the advantages of being on holiday is that one doesn’t have to cook, and one can choose to eat things that one doesn’t normally eat.

Holidays can be expensive. Since we are close to the Pacific Islands, like Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, many people fly out to the islands on their summer holidays. This means flight and accommodation has to be booked and paid for.

English: Great Frigate Birds (Fregata minor) o...
English: Great Frigate Birds (Fregata minor) on Johnston Atoll, Pacific Island Wildlife Refuges (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the holiday makers arrive at their destinations, they have to pay for food and entertainment. Other expenses may be for sun screen cream, snacks, tours, tips, and the odd item of clothing which may have been accidentally left at home.

Holiday entertainment may comprise guided tours, or visiting monuments or zoos. Amusement parks are often an attraction as are aquariums. All this can cost a lot, but unless you are content to veg out on the beach, you’ll have to pay for it. Even vegging out on the beach comes at a cost, from sun protection through to drink to offset the dehydration caused by the sun.

English: Roller coaster, M&Ds Theme Park, Stra...
English: Roller coaster, M&Ds Theme Park, Strathclyde Country Park The larger and older of the two roller coasters, at the very southern end of the park. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, why do we throw over the usual daily regime, and drag our family on an often uncomfortable road, sea, or plane trip, to a location where we know little of the environment, which will cost us money, to spend the days traipsing from “attraction” to “attraction” spending more money and feeding on often costly food of unknown quality or provenance?

Part of the answer is that the daily regime becomes boring and descends into drudgery. Removing ourselves from the daily regime allows us to escape that drudgery for a while. As far as the cost goes, well, one is prepared to spend a certain amount of money to escape the drudgery for a while.

Money for All
Money for All (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Removing ourselves from the usual means that we can try the unusual. We may try Mexican food, or Vietnamese food. Or even Scottish cuisine if we choose. The world is our oyster.

We can try sports and pastimes that we have never tried before. Bungee jumping. Skiing, water or snow. We can visit a “Theme Park”, ride a roller coaster, or other ride. We can scare ourselves and excite ourselves.

Skiing
Skiing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We can experience different cultures, different scenery, but at the end of the day we know that we will be returning to our mundane lives. We have at the back of our minds the cosy ordinariness of our usual lives, as a sort of safety harness.

We know our comfortable house will be there for us to return to, and while we may enjoy the beds in our hotel, motel, holiday home or tent, we look forward to the return to our own beds. We look forward to drinking the brands of coffee and tea that we prefer and fill the fridge with the foods that we prefer to cook.

English: Hotel room in the Waldorf Hilton, Ald...
English: Hotel room in the Waldorf Hilton, Aldwych, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few people would want to live in hotels and sleep in strange beds as a way of life, but there are some people who do so. While we enjoy being on holiday, as a break from our usual lives, we would probably not want to live that way for an extended period. Those who do are unusual people.


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Spring is in the Air

English: Graeme Crosby at Pukekohe race track ...
English: Graeme Crosby at Pukekohe race track in New Zealand on 17 April 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the race track of the year, spring is the bendy bit just before the long fast straight of summer. You have left the tedious long drag of the back straight of winter and you are looking forward to being able to blithely put the foot down before, eventually braking for the twists and turn of autumn.

Spring promises a lot, daffodils, apple and cherry blossom, even the first flush of grass that requires you to dig the mower out of the shed or garage. It carefully doesn’t promise sudden drops to what feels like arctic temperatures and gales that knock trees over! One term for spring weather is “changeable”. It doesn’t promise equinoctial gales, though apparently there is no real evidence for any such thing.

English: Beautiful yellow Hibiscus flower 'Gol...
English: Beautiful yellow Hibiscus flower ‘Gold Blush’? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we pass the magic date of September 1, it becomes officially spring, but no one told the weather. We try and persuade ourselves that the weather this week is better than the weather last week, and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

As spring wears on the signs of the approach of summer start to appear. The length of the day increases, and spring flowers start to blossom. I like to watch the deciduous trees come into leaf. First the buds swell, and then they burst into vivid green clusters of leaves, firstly quite pale as the leaf’s internal factories start manufacturing chlorophyll, and then darker green as the chlorophyll builds up in the leaves.


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Some trees, like the cherry and apple trees seem to favour blossom over leaves at the start of the blossoming season. The little new leaves are there, on the apple trees, but they are overshadowed by the mass of blossom. Cherry trees appear to be all blossom. They are not the only ones – magnolias trees blossom before bearing leaves. The rather showy magnolia flowers appear before the leaves and quickly fall apart to carpet the ground with rapidly btowning petals.

Daffodils spring up, again promising better weather to come, and temperatures do start to slowly rise, but not without a few cooler spells as a nod back to winter. On the warmer days, I’ve seen Monarch butterflies tempted out of hibernation, but it’s a dangerous time for Monarchs. I seen those that failed because they are caught by a cold snap or because they have exhausted the reserve built up in the autumn, lying dead on the grass.

English: Ice in the dunes At the end of a bitt...
English: Ice in the dunes At the end of a bitterly cold snap the pools above the tideline were all frozen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other birds and animals become more active, like the Tuis brawling in the trees like a bunch of youths fuelled by testosterone. Moreporks become more active in the night, though their calls never really stop the whole year round. All birds ramp up their activities.

Spring is a time for lambs. Usually they will have been born for a month or more when spring starts, but late comers will still be found and the early comers are still quite small, leaving them very vulnerable to a late cold snap.

English: Spring Lambs Signs of Spring in the f...
English: Spring Lambs Signs of Spring in the fields (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I’ve made Spring appear bleak, it isn’t really. The lengthening of the days as well as the increases in temperature make the nicer days very pleasant, and one can slowly, layer by later, reduce the stifling amounts of winter clothing, with the prospect, round the corner, of the much lighter styles of summer.

With food being shipped around the world these days, the so-called summer vegetables can be purchased the year round, though in the depths of winter some vegetables attract premium prices, and out of season produce can be somewhat lacking in flavour. But soon enough more local vegetables come into season and prices fall and flavour improves.


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I just noticed that the Vernal (spring) Equinox is nearly here. It will be on September 23 at 8:22pm NZST. This of course means that the day and the night will be approximately the same length, 12 hours, on that day, and from then on until the Autumnal Equinox in March days will be longer than the nights. Nights will shrink to 8 hours and 50 minutes at the Summer Solstice.

We move to daylight saving time (NZDT) at the end of the month. The clocks go forward so we lose an hour in bed! Never mind, it’s another sign that summer is on its way. The dog will enjoy getting his food an hour earlier too.

English: Raw feeding: Golden Retriever eating ...
English: Raw feeding: Golden Retriever eating raw pig foot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the autumn we expected the temperatures to start to fall, but if they don’t for a day or two, and summer temperatures persist, we sometimes call this an “Indian Summer”. I don’t think that there is a similar term for a late cold period except perhaps a “cold snap”. Of course, there may well be an unseasonably warm period in early spring, which causes plants to bloom or animals to come out of hibernation early. Hopefully this would not be followed by deep cold, which would spell disaster for the animals and plants.

English: Indian Summer
English: Indian Summer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Weather forecasting is not capable of predicting the onset of cold or warm periods, but long term trends are able to be predicted, though only in terms of probability. One such prediction involves something called the El Niño Southern Oscillation, and the effect leads to changes to the patterns of  weather over the country. The western areas tend to get more rainfall and the eastern areas tend get less, to the extent that drought conditions ensue. It is likely according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology that the current El Niño effect may continue into next year.

While this promises a golden summer in the east of the country and a wetter time in the west, this is not good news for dairy farmers, who have been struggling as a result of the global downturn in dairy prices. Farmers who plant crops will also be hit, as they will need to provide water from other sources, such as bores, irrigation schemes, or they may even have to truck water in. Lack of water will also affect power generation, and also tap water.


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It seems strange writing that, since at the moment we are experiencing a period of wet weather over much of the country as a low pressure weather system has stalled over the country, becoming disconnected from the systems that move lows and highs across the country. So we are stuck with wet weather for the next few days.

Never mind. This may, hopefully, be winter’s last gasp. We are probably tracking through the first chicane of spring, and the rest of the season will see a general improvement until we turn the final corner and accelerate into summer.


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How do I get from A to B?

Ngaio Tree; Português: Mulateira. Portimão, Po...
Ngaio Tree; Português: Mulateira. Portimão, Portugal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We had reason to visit another suburb today. It wasn’t until I was sitting waiting for some traffic lights to change that I thought about how I was navigating from home to destination.

We just got into the car and drove there. I didn’t consider the route in advance, and it seemed that I just pointed the car and we got there. Obviously I knew the way, as we had been there or through there a number of times in the past. But I didn’t have the destination in mind from start to finish, at least not consciously. I’m not sure that I had it in the forefront of my mind at all.

English: Driving Route 40 to El Chalten was pu...
English: Driving Route 40 to El Chalten was pure driving pleasure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I knew that it was in that direction though, and that did not leave a lot of route options. I did have a general feeling that I should go south, in this instance and that really only leaves two options, the back road, or the motorway. The back road is a lot prettier!

I made the choice to take the back road but it was not, as I said, at the forefront of my mind, as I was doing other things at the time, like finding my keys, my phone, my wallet and these things occupied the forefront, while the decision about which route to take was more background.

English: Mind the dip Looking down the road is...
English: Mind the dip Looking down the road is a hidden dip. The farmers are busy with the harvest while the weather stays dry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the route was chosen more of less in the background, but not subconsciously. Much the same process happened on the way there, and at each junction or turning point, I didn’t have to consider at the front of my mind which direction I should drive. I just did it. Some part of my mind knew that to get to our destination I had to turn right, or go straight on or whatever.

This is good because the front of my mind was doing the driving, keeping the car on line, signalling, accelerating or braking, keeping us safe on the road. Except that it wasn’t right at the front mind, since I was also talking to my wife about various things. Christmas things from memory.

English: Two motorcycle trailing off the brake...
English: Two motorcycle trailing off the brakes through Tooele Turn at Miller Motorsports Park. Rider on the white bike is Warren Rose, Rider of the green bike is Dave Palazzolo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been driving for many years and I’m confident that if needed the driving part of my mind can instantly oust the things currently in my mind should the unexpected happen. Many year ago, when I used to smoke, I was driving with a friend and an emergency happened. When it was over I realised that I was no longer holding my cigarette. Meantime my friend was scrabbling between his legs where my cigarette had ended up when the driving part of my mind grabbed precedence and the cigarette holding part was temporarily ousted.

The route planning part of my mind would not suddenly get control like that, fortunately. That would be highly dangerous. I could if I had wanted have brought the route planning part of my mind to the front, but it wouldn’t say much except “turn left at the next junction”.

Turn Left, Turn Right
Turn Left, Turn Right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have on occasion made a navigating mistake. I’m going to A and the route to B is the same in part. Suddenly I realise that I have missed a junction and will have to backtrack. It seems that the route finding part of my mind spends much of the time dozing and checks in only infrequently, sometimes missing the turning point or ritually following a more usual route.

It also seems that the information it keeps is like an instruction to take an action at each decision point rather than the whole route from home to destination as well as a general direction, less well specified. GPS guidance systems seem to work this way too in that they instruct you to take an action at each junction without setting out the whole route each time.


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The model of the mind that I’ve used above, of various parts of the mind at various levels of “forefrontness” or consciousness is nothing new. The need to make a part of the mind the one at the top of the conscious levels, suddenly as a result of a danger, or selectively by choice, as in route following reminds me of the way that computer programs

Computers have several methods for navigating through programs and reacting to things that happen when they are running. One big part is called “handling errors”. Dividing by zero is an error and if the computer reaches a point where it has to divide by zero something needs to be done. The program can report the error and gracefully stop, or it can take some action to fix the error and then carry on.

English: A Texas Instruments TI-86 graphing ca...
English: A Texas Instruments TI-86 graphing calculator displaying an error message, indicating that the user or a running program has attempted to divide by zero. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Computers handle error by means of “interrupts”. Whether the errors is software (eg divide by zero) or caused by hardware connected to it (eg input/output errors) the computer stops what it is doing and runs a bit of program that handle the errors by sending a message or fixing things up. The bits of program that were running are suspended and after the error is handled the bits that were running may be given back control.

The mind seems to work in a similar way. When an emergency arises the current part of the mind that is at the forefront gets suspended and the emergency is handled by another part of the mind. A pedestrian steps into the road and you react by standing on the brakes “before you know it” as the saying goes. As soon as the emergency is over, the conscious mind takes over again.

a short .gif of the Taiwanese animated pedestr...
a short .gif of the Taiwanese animated pedestrian road crossing sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You do indeed react “before you know it”, one might say instinctively. But humans have not been driving cars for much more than one hundred years, so it appears that the reaction is not instinctive in itself, but is an instinctive reaction to a danger that has been learned. We seem to have this fast reaction to events which is instinctively based but can be applied to learned situations, which is much more flexible than hard-wired instincts would be.

So, pondering on how I get from A to B has led me to conjecture that there are parts of the mind which are forefront in our minds and other parts which are not directly in the forefront but which can be brought to the forefront in an instant, when an event happens. It is evident that these parts are only partially backgrounded as the mind as a whole has some aware of the location at the time, but they do act semi-autonomously, that is until the pedestrian steps out onto the roadway.


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Evidently there are parts of the mind that are less foregrounded and more backgrounded. When the part of the mind that is concerned with driving wants to signal or change gear, another part of the mind which controls the arms and legs wakes up and make the limbs move as needed.

I’ve spoken above as if all these different levels are discrete states, but I think it more likely that is a continuum from the foreground of the mind to the background or a least the series of levels of consciousness are close enough togerther to appear so.  The mind is a complex and wonderful thing.


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[Comment: After finishing this post I went looking for other discussions of the same topic. I first found this Wikipedia article which has the issues mentioned in the article’s header. Interestingly the implication in the article is that there is a single level of consciousness at any one time. This I do not agree with. Another article I found was a little better, I feel, but only because it acknowledges that several levels may be active at the same time, but divides them into three levels with well defined scopes. I feel that it is a lot more complex than that, with all sorts of sections of the mind at all sorts of levels being active at the same time. Neither article deals with the issue of one section of the mind apparently seizing the highest level when an external event triggers it.]

Electric Cars

English: Three converted Prius Plug-In Hybrids...
English: Three converted Prius Plug-In Hybrids Charging at San Francisco City Hall public recharging station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a perception that electric cars are greener than petrol-driven cars. While I would not like to give the impression that I am against electric cars, as I am actually in favour of them, long term, in the short term I see some issues with them.

Firstly, consider the auto mobile. There are 250 million of them in the United States alone. That require a huge infrastructure which we don’t often consider. Firstly the crude oil is extracted from the ground using huge drills. While the technology is fairly basic, a lot of planning goes into a well before the hole is drilled, and then the drilling rig, and the workers are brought in and eventually crude oil flows.

Detroit Electric car charging
Detroit Electric car charging (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It flows, ultimately to refineries where, apart from fuel oil, many other oil based products are extracted. The fuel is then trucked around the country or to other countries and ultimately to petrol supply stations (or gas stations as they are referred to in North America). Special equipment, the bowsers, are used to load the fuel into the cars.

The cars also require lubricating oil, which can be purchased in the petrol supply stations. More often the lubrication oil is supplied at special workshops set up to cater for the auto mobile users. These have special equipment to attend to and repair internal combustion engine. Replacement parts are manufactured and distributed to these workshops.

English: Inspector on offshore oil drilling rig
English: Inspector on offshore oil drilling rig (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In contrast the fledgling electric car industry is small. There are few recharging stations, and the repair stations for electric cars are currently few and far between. Technicians who can work safely on electric cars are rare.

For electric cars to compete directly with petrol engined cars the infrastructure for electrical cars needs to match the current infrastructure for the petrol cars and that will require significant investments from someone. New electrical charging stations will need to be created or petrol supply stations will have to give up some space to electrical charging stations.

Shell gas station Uddevalla
Shell gas station Uddevalla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While charging stations are being created, there are less than 10,000 world-wide and a few thousand in the US. In the US there are approximately 3 charging points per station, so there are relatively few places to charge electric cars.

Charging an electric car at an outlet takes a minimum of 10 minutes and to do it this fast requires special equipment, for which special expertise is required. To provide this expertise requires special training, comparable to the expertise required to deal with petrol bowsers. Cross-training of petrol bowser experts in electrical outlets is of course possible, but the expertise is sufficiently different that a whole new pool of experts will need to be built up.

Bowser at Ariah Park, New South Wales, Australia.
Bowser at Ariah Park, New South Wales, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When an electrical car requires repair for any reason, it will need to be taken to a mechanic who knows how to deal with one. It’s likely that some repair locations will switch to electric rather than petrol, since the equipment is so different, though these days the petrol repair locations already use sophistic electronics in the diagnosis and repair of petrol engined cars.

So, in summary, electric car facilities will have to replace petrol car facilities as electrical cars become more common. This will not happen quickly and easily as the industry supporting petrol cars will no doubt resist. The electric car industry will have an expensive fight on its hands as all new equipment will have to be provided and a fledgling industry wont have a lot of financial backing.

English: Road sign indicating a power station ...
English: Road sign indicating a power station for electric cars Deutsch: Verkehrsschild: Hinweis auf Elektrotankstelle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is needed is for the costs of the petrol car industry to climb significantly, and that will cause other significant societal problems. Then it will make sense to invest in the electrical car industry.

Another issue as regards electric cars is related to the charging of them. It takes significantly longer to charge an electric car as opposed to filling up a car’s tank with petrol. In a fast charging station, with special equipment in the charging “bowser” and special connections in the car, it could take anything from 10 minutes upwards.

English: GM EV1 home charging station
English: GM EV1 home charging station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cars can be charged at home, and from standard electrical connections, but this would normally have to happen overnight when there is less other usage of electricity in the home. However, if you charge a car from a standard electrical connection, it will take a long time, up to eight hours or more. So those who charge their cars at home can expect not to use the car in the evening, and a flat battery is more of an issue than a flat battery in a petrol car.

The cables both in the house and in the supply connections needs to be robust because of the inevitable heating from the continual high current, and if you be chance draw too much current, either the car charging or the house will be temporarily cut off. If you were to have medical equipment in the house then this could be life threatening.

A CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter's downwash kick...
A CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter’s downwash kicks up a dust cloud resulting in brownout (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course there are mechanisms that can be ensured to reduce the impact of these problems, but that means that the wiring infrastructure in the house needs to be upgraded. It’s not a big problem until you multiply it by the number of houses that would need to be upgraded.

A bigger issue is that the electricity infrastructure is built for, really, quite light usage. If everyone in the street were to get an electric car, then the local infrastructure would come under stress. There are already “brown-outs” and “black-outs” of the infrastructure in the US at times of heavy demand. Add onto that the charging of numerous electric cars and one wonders if the infrastructure could be upgraded in a reasonable time or whether blackouts and flat batteries would become common.

The Blackout! The Blackout! The Blackout!
The Blackout! The Blackout! The Blackout! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This problem goes all the way back to generation, which currently depends mostly on fossil fuels in many parts of the world. It’s not much good if reducing fossil fuel usage at the consumer end results in increased fossil fuel usage at the generation end.

So while electric cars and fossil free generation should eventuate, at the moment there are high barriers to widespread adoption of electric cars and reduction of dependence on fossil fuels.


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