Photography – Yet Again

Gum Grove path
Path to Gum Grove

I wondered if I had ever written a post about photography. So I checked. The answer was that I’ve done quite a few. Oh well, it’s a big subject!

I don’t count photography as a hobby of mine, but more as an interest. I’ve got a camera, but it is only an enhanced point and shoot, and I sometimes even use the camera on my cellphone. I haven’t bought any camera gear and I probably won’t. Handheld is good enough for me.

Of course photographer want the best picture that they can get, so better cameras and lenses are the way to go, and probably a tripod would be the next buy. Special filters and accessories enhance a photographers art and this can get expensive. Not to mention bulky and hard to carry around.

Old and New

I have nothing but admiration for those photographers who will hike kilometres and wait for hours for the right light to capture a particular shot. I’m usually constrained by a number of things that need doing, plus I usually have a dog attached to me when I have the opportunity to snatch a picture.

Nevertheless I try to take good pictures. I might spot the opportunity of a picture and I wrap the dog’s lead around a convenient tree while I compose and take whatever has caught my eye. I usually take a few shots of the same subject to enhance the possibility of one of the pictures being an acceptable one.

First Bridge
First Bridge

Usually I don’t fiddle with the camera settings, some of which are meaningless to me anyway, but occasionally I will experiment with the shutter timings and the aperture settings. I say “shutter” but I’m pretty sure that my camera doesn’t have a shutter.

I have to trust the autofocus as there is way on my simple camera to easily adjust the focus. I can lock in the distance setting by partially pressing the button, and I have done so in the past, with variable results.

Lichen on trees
Lichen on trees

One consequence of the digital revolution is that the potential picture is displayed on a LCD screen rather than through a viewfinder, and these are often difficult to see and compose a picture in. I sometimes take a few pictures of my subject from different distances and different angle, but composing a picture is still difficult.

Fortunately my camera is pretty clever, and the focussing is usually better than I expect. Composition is pretty hit and miss for the reasons I mention above. Usually there is at least one photograph from the many that I take which is acceptable and many are better than I could hope for from my somewhat random shooting method.

Kereru on New Zealand Pigeon

It’s not quite a “Monte Carlo” method of taking photographs, but it is close. It’s not often that I get a picture which is better than merely “good”. But even then the picture will not be razor sharp, and serious photographers would probably look down on them. That’s OK, as I don’t aspire to having them blown up to A4 or even A3 and hung on a wall.

So, why do I take photographs? Well, I do post a lot of them on Facebook, so I must feel the need to get others to look at them, and hopefully they will like them and if they like them or don’t like them, hopefully they will say so.

Above the bridge
The stream from above the bridge

My Facebook pictures are public, but most comments come from friends and family, which is understandable as I don’t do anything to publicise them. When friends and family comment on them, others may see the pictures so they do find their way out there.

Facebook and other “social networking” apps have changed photography for me and for millions of others. Without Facebook taking a photograph of oneself is a bit pointless. Who would ever see it? But “selfies” allow the photographer to include his/her self into a picture.

First Bridge
The First Bridge

It’s a form of bragging. The selfie taker is boasting : “Here am I and here are my friends, and we are having fun, in this indiscernible location, and we are drunk as skunks”. OK, well, some selfies are taken in recognisable places and the selfie taker is not under the influence of alcohol, but many, many are.

So the pictures that I and other serious and not so serious photographers post to social media are usually not selfies and most often don’t contain babies, other children, pets and people grinning at the camera. The pictures that I and other posts are in the minority, and of course there is a huge number of pictures that fall into both categories, the trivial and the hopefully not so trivial.

Autumn Colors
Autumn Colours

For instance, the pictures of dogs running where you can’t see their legs and so they appear to be floating are funny, essentially trivial, but make a good photographs, even if it transpires that the pictures were serendipitous. The stunning picture of a sunset taken on a honeymoon, may be snapped on an iPhone, and is arguably less trivial.

I mostly like to take pictures of fungi, flowers and trees, not to mention insects and other small animals. I see beauty in a spider or beetle or slug and often try to bring this out in my pictures. Also in fallen leaves or leaves with autumn colours, or the small flowers that others refer to as weeds, but which repay a closer look. Often the structure of such small plants is amazing.

Basket Fungus
Basket Fungus (Ileodictyon cibarium)

I also take pictures that I think of a “records”. Such as the time when the stream turned into a raging torrent during a big storm, or the moment when a Monarch butterfly hatches from it pupa. While some of these may transcend being a record of the event, many are interesting but less of a photograph and more of a picture. The lighting many be wrong and the image fairly dark, but it still shows the insect expanding its wings from mere sacks to the beautiful wings of the complete insect.

There’s nothing wrong with selfies and other similar photographs, but one would hope that the selfie taker would graduate to something better eventually. If what I might term a “proper” photograph is actually better in any real way.

Large Fungi
Large Fungi

A Programmer’s Lot is Not a Happy One?

Embed from Getty Images

Well, I don’t know really. Most programmers that I know seem about as happy as the rest of the population, but I was thinking about programming and that variation on “A Policeman’s Lot” from the Pirates of Penzance appealed to me.

Programming in often presented as being difficult and esoteric, when in fact it is only a variation of what humans do all the time. When you read a recipe or follow a knitting pattern, you are essentially doing what a computer does when it “runs a program”.

Unix program to display running processes
Unix program to display running processes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The programmer in this analogy corresponds to the person who wrote the recipe or knitting pattern. Computer programs are not a lot more profound than a recipe or pattern, though they are, in most cases, a lot more complicated than that.

It’s worth noting that recipes and patterns for knitting (and for weaving for that matter) have been around for many centuries longer than computer programs. Indeed it could be argued that computers and programming grew out of weaving and the patterns that could be woven into the cloth.

English: Pattern of traditional Norwegian Sete...
English: Pattern of traditional Norwegian Setesdal-sweater. The pattern is created to be used on a punch card in a knitting machine. Svenska: Klassiskt mönster från lusekofta från Setesdalen, Norge. Mönsterrapporten är skapad för att användas på hålkort i stickmaskin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1801 Joseph Marie Jacquard invented a method of punched cards which could be used to automatically weave a pattern into textiles. It was a primitive program, which controlled the loom. I imagine that before it was invented the operators were giving a sheet to detail what threads to raise and which drop, and which colour threads to run through the tunnel thus formed. I can also imagine that such a manual process would lead to mistakes, leading to errors in the pattern created in the cloth. It would also be time consuming, I expect.

Jacquard’s invention, by bypassing this manual method would have led to accurately woven patterns and a great saving in time. Also, an added advantage was that changing to another pattern would be as simple as loading a new set of punched cards.

English: Jacquard loom in the National Museum ...
English: Jacquard loom in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. Nederlands: Weefgetouw met Jacquardmechanisme in het National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At around this time, maybe a little later, the first music boxes were produced. These contained a drum with pins that plucked the tines of a metal comb. However the idea for music boxes goes back a lot further as the link above tells.

The only significant difference between Jacquard’s invention and the music boxes is that Jacquard relied on the holes and music boxes relied on pins. They operated in different senses, positive and negative but the principle is pretty much the same.

A PN junction in thermal equilibrium with zero...
A PN junction in thermal equilibrium with zero bias voltage applied. Electron and hole concentrations are reported respectively with blue and red lines. Gray regions are charge neutral. Light red zone is positively charged. Light blue zone is negatively charged. Under the junction, plots for the charge density, the electric field and the voltage are reported. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Interestingly there is a parallel in semiconductors. While current is carried by the electrons, in a very real sense objects called “holes” travel in the reverse direction to the electrons. Holes are what they sound like, places where an electron is absent, however I believe that in semiconductor theory, they are much more than mere gaps, and behave like real particles.

It’s amazing how powerful programming is. Microsoft Windows is probably the most powerful program that non-programmers come into contact with, and it does so many things “under the hood” that people take for granted, and it is all based on the absence or presence of things, much like Jacquard’s loom and the music boxes. While that is an analogy, it is not too far from the mark, and many people will remember having been told, more or less accurately that computers run on ones and zeroes.

Embed from Getty Images

When a programmer sits down to write a program he or she doesn’t start writing ones and zeroes. He or she writes chunks of stuff which non-programmers would partially recognise. English words like “print”, “do”, “if” and “while” might appear. Symbols that look like maths might also appear. Depending on the language, the code might be sprinkled with dollar signs, which have nothing directly to do with money, by the way.

The programmer write in a “language“, which is much more tightly defined than ordinary language, but basically it details at a relatively high level what the programmer wants to happen.

Logo for the Phoenix programming language
Logo for the Phoenix programming language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The programmer may tell the program to “read” something and if the value read is positive or is “Baywatch” or is “true”, do something. The programmer has to bear in mind that often the value is NOT what the programmer wants the program to look for and it is the programmer’s responsibility to handle not only the “positive” outcome but also the “negative” one. He or she will tell the program to do something else.

When the programmer tells the program to “read” something, he or she essentially invokes a program that someone else has written whose only job is to respond to the “read” command. These “utility” program are often written in a more esoteric language than the original programmer uses (though they don’t have to be), and since they do one specific task they can be used by anyone who programs on the computer.

This program instructs other, lower level programs to do things for it. Again these lower level programs do one specific thing and can be used by other programs on the computer. It can be seen that I am describing a hierarchy of ever more specialised programs doing more and more specific tasks. It’s not quite like the Siphonaptera though, as the programs eventually reach the hardware level.

At the hardware level it will not be apparent what the programs are intended for, but the people who wrote them know the hardware and what the program needs to do. This is partially from the hierarchy of programs above, but also from similar programs that have already been written.

English: CPU
English: CPU (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Without going into detail, the low level program might require a value to be supplied to the CPU of the computer. It will cause a number of conducting lines (collectively a “bus”) to be in one of two states, corresponding to a one or a zero, or it might cause a single line to vary between the states, sending a chain of states to the CPU.

In either case the states arrive in a “register”, which is a bit like a railway station. The CPU sends the chains of states (or bits) through its internal “railway system”, arranging for them to be compared, shifted, merged and manipulated in many ways. The end result is one or more chains of states arriving at registers, from whence they are picked up and used by the programs, with the end result being whatever the programmer asked for, way up in the stratosphere!

Modelleisenbahn im Hauptbahnhof Wiesbaden
Modelleisenbahn im Hauptbahnhof Wiesbaden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is monumental achievement, pun intended, and is only achievable because at each level the programmer writes a program that performs one task at that level which doesn’t concern itself at all with any other levels except that it conforms to the requests coming from above (the interface, technically). This is called abstraction.

Data abstraction levels of a database system
Data abstraction levels of a database system (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do things make sense?

Make it make sense
Make it make sense (Photo credit: edmittance)

Things pretty much make sense. If they don’t we feel that there is a reason that they don’t. We laughingly make up goblins and poltergeist to explain how the keys came to be in the location in which they are finally found, but we, mostly, have an underlying belief that there are good, physical reasons why they ended up there.

Things appear to get a little murkier at the level of the quantum, the incredibly small, but even there, I believe that scientists are looking for an explanation of the behaviour of things, no matter how bizarre. One of the concepts that appears to have to be abandoned is that of every day causality, although scientists appear to be replacing that concept with a more probabilistic version of  the concept of causality. But I’m not going to go there, as quantum physics has to be spelled out in mathematics or explained inaccurately using analogies. I note that there is still discussion about what quantum physics means.

English: Schrödinger equation of quantum mecha...
English: Schrödinger equation of quantum mechanics (1927). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We strive for meaning when we consider why things happen. When a stone is dropped it accelerates towards the earth. This is observation. We also observe the way in which it accelerates and Sir Isaac Newton, who would have known from his mathematics the equation which governed this acceleration, had the genius to realise that the mutual attraction of the earth and the stone followed an inverse square law and, even more importantly, that this applied to any two objects which have mass in the entire universe.

English: Mural, Balfour Avenue, Belfast Mural ...
English: Mural, Balfour Avenue, Belfast Mural on a gable wall on Balfour Avenue in Belfast (see also 978903). The mural “How can quantum gravity help explain the origin of the universe?” was created by artist Liam Gillick and is part of a series of contemporary art projects designed to alert people to the ‘10 remaining unanswered questions in science’ at public sites across Belfast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, that’s done. We know why stones fall and why the earth unmeasurably and unnoticeably jumps to meet it. It is all explained, or is it? Why should any two massy objects experience this attraction? Let’s call it ‘gravity’, shall we? How can we explain gravity?

Well, we could say that it is a consequence of the object having mass, or in other words, it is an intrinsic property of massy objects, which if you think about it, explains nothing, or we can talk about curvature of space, which is interesting, but again explains nothing.

Curved Spaces
Curved Spaces (Photo credit: Digitalnative)

Can you see where I am going with this? Every concept that we consider is either ‘just the way things are’ or requires explanation. Every explanation that we can think up either has to be taken as axiomatic or has to be explained further. Nevertheless most people act as if they believe that there is a logical explanation for things and  that things ultimately make sense.

It is possible that there is no logical explanation of things, and that the apparent relationships between things is an illusion. I once read a science fiction story where someone invented a time machine. Everywhere the machine stopped there was chaos, because there were no laws of nature and our little sliver of time was a mere statistical fluke. When they tried to return to the present they could not find it. This little story demonstrates that although we appear to live in a universe that is logical and there appears to be a structure to it, this may just be an illusion.

English: Illustration of the difference betwee...
English: Illustration of the difference between high statistical significance and statistical meaningfulness of time trends. See Wikipedia article “Statistical meaningfulness test” for more info (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we do live in a logical universe we not be able to access and understand the basis and structure of it. We may see things “through a glass darkly”. We may be like the inhabitants of Plato’s Cave. Everything we experience we experience through our senses, so our experience of the world is already second-hand and for many purposes we use tools and instruments to view the world around us. Also, our sense impressions are filtered, modified and processed by our brains in the process of experiencing something. We can take prescribed or non-prescribed drugs which alter our view of the world. So how can we know anything about the universe.

Alternatively there may be order to the universe. There may be ‘laws of nature’ and we may be slowly discovering them. I like the analogy of the blanket – a blanket is held between us and the universe but we are able to poke holes in it. Each hole reveals a metaphoric pixel of information about what lies behind the blanket. Over the years, decades, centuries and millennia we have poked an astronomical number of holes in the blanket, so we have a good idea of the shape of what lies behind it.

Cámara estenopéica / Pinhole camera
Cámara estenopéica / Pinhole camera (Photo credit: RubioBuitrago)

So why do things make sense? Is it because there is a structure to the universe that we are either discovering or fooling ourselves into believing that we are discovering, or is there no structure whatsoever and any beliefs that there are illusions. Maybe there’s another possibility. Maybe the universe does have the structure but it is an ‘ad hoc’ structure with no inherent logic to it all!

Highly Illogical
Highly Illogical (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Android app

I discovered an Android app for WordPress, so I’m giving it a try. (I may remove this post later).

The trouble is I don’t yet have a topic. Well, I haven’t yet posted any photographs, apart from the ones that I’ve used as illustrations.

Back lit tree fern frond.
I’m not good on plant names. This might be an azalea.
Grass. I was trying to capture the shape of the grass in the rather long lawn.
Grass and weeds. At this level the lawn seemed to be a battleground of competing species.

This blog…

Any blog needs a theme. Well, this one has at least three.

Firstly, I’ve long wanted to gather my thoughts on philosophical topics in one place, so there should be some philosophy in there. I must admit that my philosophical thoughts are a bit of a mish-mash, but in writing them down, maybe I will be able to rationalise them a bit!


Secondly, I want to throw up some of my photographs, both of my family and of other things. Here’s a photo I took on my last visit to England for my father’s 90th birthday.

Surrey woods near Walton on the Hill
Surrey woods near Walton on the Hill

Thirdly, I want to blog my notes on my cooking exploits. Currently these comprise mostly baking breads. This is the latest loaf, a white bread one, made in a Breville “Baker’s Oven”.

White loaf
White loaf, home made using a breadmaker.