Category Archives: Dan’s Thoughts

5D Lust & Working Nights

The 30th November launch date for the Canon EOS 5D Mark ii is creeping closer, and my lust for it is growing. I’ve seen many, many posters commenting that Canon have “lost touch with what photographers want” with this new release – well, not what this photographer wants. It seems their main push has been to improve low light performance, and that’s exactly what I’ve been longing for. 25,600ISO doesn’t exactly look usable (though I’m sure I could coax something from it) but there are some amazing results at 3200ISO. Equally important for me, it’s full-frame, which means my 24mm f/1.4L comes into its own and I can finally produce some decent ultra-wide shots in next-to-zero light.
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Reasons to be Cheerful

[Some thoughts on the election of Barack Obama, edited from my post on the Empty Space message board]

…Although there are reasons to be concerned, and the Obama presidency can’t possibly live up to all that’s expected of it, I think there are more reasons for optimism than for pessimism.
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Mouse-wobbling blobby things

I’ve been spending the last few days on some rather interesting ActionScript challenges. I’ve been building a sort of a lava lamp gloopy movement machine. I’ve been up to my neck in physics and trigonometry, so today when I had to change the way that the mouse moves objects around in the “gloop”, I got too carried away with triangles and tangents before coming home to think, and realising how simple it ought to be. Here’s some fun code, paste it into any MovieClip in Flash: put it on the first frame and then on the last frame, add a simple gotoAndPlay(2) so that the initialisation doesn’t take place twice. Or turn it into a proper object: this is just my quick & dirty version:
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Magma Beard

Anyone who knows me knows my beards. Until my wedding day (on 1/2/3 – or 2/1/3 if you’re American) I went clean-shaven for most of my life. But on that happy day, I got best-man Ed to carve something new in my face, inspired by my new Paul Smith suit complete with thigh-length drape jacket.

Ever since then, I’ve kept some variation on the same theme. Since Gill and I never did get around to exchanging rings (and since Ed had promised to make us wedding rings), I guess you could say that my facial hair is my wedding ring (NB: the same doesn’t apply to Gill). It has evolved since then though: through subtle changes in facial anatomy and less subtle rescue jobs on shaving cock-ups, it has crept around my face, grown thicker and thinner, stripes have changed position, angle and number. A few months ago at Razor Stiletto I had my face painted, tiger-style, with a couple of beard-stripes doubling up as tiger-patterning. When I got home, I thought I’d take the similarity further (forgetting that I had done something very similar exactly two years earlier).

Going tiger-striped seems to have inspired me to new shaving confidence, and to trust my facial hair to find its own shape. Shaving has now become an almost meditative activity, a sort of automatic-drawing but with a sharp implement, where I allow the contours of my face and the movement of my razor to conjure up new patterns of their own, with little conscious intervention from me. As a result, things have got sort of… well, fancy.

Here’s the latest result:

Magma beard

For the first few days after it shaved itself, I couldn’t help thinking that the design was somehow familiar. I was sure I’d seen it somewhere before. Then it struck me: it looked just like the logo for 70s French operatic prog-rock band Magma. OK, so it actually looks quite different now that I’ve seen the original again, but it was close enough to jog my memory.

Any suggestions as to which prog heroes’ logo I should carve into my chin next? Hmmm, carve into my chin… [thinks]… my face could become like some sort of prog-rock Mount Rushmore.

Open letter to Vodafone

I recently switched my mobile phone from Vodafone (who I’ve foolishly stuck with these last nine years) to O2. I couldn’t resist firing a parting shot off to Vodafone’s CEO’s office, detailing my reasons for leaving:

I am writing to you as somebody who was a Vodafone customer for 9 years, but who has recently switched to O2 to due increasing dissatisfaction with Vodafone. I hope that you will be able to learn from my unhappy experiences, and improve your service to remaining customers.

The final straw which led me to abandon Vodafone was being asked to pay for a new handset which Vodafone offers free to new subscribers, even though it was more than 2 years since my last phone upgrade and 9 months since my fixed monthly contract expired.

I might have been tempted to avoid the hassle of changing operators, had I not just endured the hell of Vodafone’s “customer service” line. I assume that you have never used this “service”, so allow me to talk you through it.

On calling the “customer service” number, the customer is asked to key in their mobile phone number. I can only assume that the person who implemented this procedure has never used a mobile telephone: a mobile telephone is generally a small self-contained unit, with a keypad that is somewhere between the mouthpiece and earpiece. It is usually used by holding the device to the ear. This tends to preclude use of the numeric keypad, except for those lucky few who have fingers growing out of their ears.

Having keyed in one’s telephone number and waited for an indeterminate length of time, one is then put through to an operator. Without fail, this person will then ask the caller to give their mobile telephone number (the same number as was just keyed in using one’s ear-fingers). It is almost inevitable that this person will not be able to assist directly, but will transfer the call to another person, who again requires the caller’s mobile telephone number. Sometimes, before being allowed to speak to this second person, an automated system demands that one first key in one’s mobile telephone number. Often the second person will not be able to deal with the query, and so (after keying in one’s mobile telephone number) the caller will have to tell a third operator what their mobile telephone number is and, hopefully, finally get an answer to their query.

If you ever visit Sheffield, I would like to introduce you to my local minicab office. They have some sort of space-age system in there, I believe it’s called Caller Line Identification or somesuch, which means that as soon as they answer the phone to me they can tell me my telephone number. Talk about rocket science!

Joking aside, a company which claims to be involved in telecoms really ought to have an understanding of CLI. A company that repeatedly asks its customers to first key in and then recite their telephone number is not a telecoms company, it is a fly-by-night cowboy outfit. I would not trust such a company to drive my minicabs, let alone rely on it for my telephony services.

The final reason why I left Vodafone is its clumsy and antidiluvian approach to the Internet. In the days of Vizzavi, Vodafone’s Internet service was a very poorly structured “walled garden”. I assumed that things would get better with Vizzavi’s demise, but they got worse and have continued to go downhill from there. I now find it impossible to use “Vodafone Live”, as it takes me an eternity to navigate past screens full of adverts for ringtones and downloadable pornography. The whole site screams out that this is a company who lost its shirt gambling on 3G licences, and is trying to recoup its investment by fleecing its customers in any way possible. Even the recent deregulation of Internet services on Vodafone was overshadowed by the ridiculously high data tariffs.

As you can gather, I am no longer a fan of Vodafone. I am sorry to leave a company that I have had a relationship with for 9 years, but I am no longer willing to stick around in the hope that things will one day improve. However, I hope that you will take seriously the comments made in this letter, and that perhaps they will help you to improve the lot of Vodafone’s remaining inmates.

Yours Sincerely,

Dan Sumption

Ad Agency Toilets

At the risk of sounding like a toilet-usability-obsessive (following my post about train toilet usability), why is it that advertising agencies always seem to have such badly designed toilets? (I shouldn’t really single ad agencies – this is something they have in common with über-cool bars and other bleeding-edge over-designed buildings).

At Leo Burnett, we had to put up with unlabelled mono-taps, with no indication of which direction to turn them for hot or cold. Despite working there for three years, I never quite got the hang of them, and ended up with scalded hands on more than one occasion.

At Saatchi’s, where I am now, the taps are set too far back into the marble sinks. This would be fine for a dwarf with withered hands, but for me (not a large-mitted person by any standard) it means cramming my hands up against the rear of the sink in an attempt to direct a few splashes of water onto them.

There was a day (I imagine) when bathrooms were just bathrooms, sinks were fairly regulation white ceramic things with cookie-cutter chrome taps sticking out at the back. Sadly that’s no longer enough for most people: they have to have variation, innovation and, in nine out of
ten cases, bad usability.

Shit, I’m starting to sound like a grumpy old man. Somebody shoot me!

Intellectuals Like Us

Re-reading The Engineer of Human Souls by Josef Skvorecky (marvellous book), I came across this passage in a letter to the protagonist:

At that time you were interested in palaeontology and you had discovered the hypothesis of someone called Dollo – I think you called it overspecialization. It dealt with the mystery of extinction. Dollo, as far as I can recall, claimed you could paradoxically explain the dying out of some species by a too successful struggle for the sur­vival of the fittest. It seems that some animals underwent a rapid development of certain anatomical features that seemed at first to give them an advantage: herbivorous reptiles grew to such a size that smaller carnivores could not harm them. The sabre-toothed tigers developed huge tusks which could pierce even the skin of a dinotherium. But sometimes things go awry and the development of advanta­geous features doesn’t cease at the point of greatest advantage. The brontosaurus keeps on growing, the sabre-toothed tiger’s tusks get longer. This growth continues ad absurdum until, according to Dollo, “there appear animals which are no longer adapted to survival, and these die out.” The four-metre sabre-tooth’s tusks curl round and close its jaws so that in the end it can only feed on mice. The brontosaurus reaches gigantic proportions and its brain, which is the same size as a cat’s, can no longer manage the huge body; another brain develops in the pelvic region, but the two never manage to get coordi­nated and the brontosauri die out as a result of anatomical schizo­phrenia.

Thus far Dollo. You, ever the cynic, applied this to mankind. In the struggle for survival man’s brain has grown, giving him an undisputed advantage, but once again this growth has not stopped at the point of maximum advantage. His rational abilities have grown, while his emotional and volitional capacities have remained unchanged. Thanks to this hypertrophy of the rational part of the brain, reality has become more and more complicated, leading to increasingly irresolv­able conflicts of the reason with the emotions and the will, in turn pro­ducing individuals incapable of action – which can only be the product of the instrumental, not the reflective intelligence. Such individuals are no longer able to deal with life. Their numbers are increasing. Today there are already whole classes, or more precisely, whole strata of them. And when this overspecialization overtakes all mankind, Homo sapiens will die out.

I know you didn’t mean it entirely seriously, Dan, but perhaps you happened on the trail of a disease that Marx and Engels were clearly aware of too. Fortunately all of mankind hasn’t yet been afflicted -only intellectuals like us.

Nuclear emergency response

I picked up a rather cool shirt last week, from the vintage clothing store where Gill works:

Pickering Emergency Response Nuclear

Unfortunately, it only struck me after I had been wearing the shirt for a day that perhaps nuclear emergency workers’ clothing is not the best kind of thing to be buying second-hand. Does anybody have a Geiger counter that I could borrow?