Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

INDEX

Taking the 4th

planetary politics

in General Rants , Thursday, October 06, 2016

The brief hype bubble surround Elon Musk’s SpaceX push to colonise Mars seems to have died away for now. Donald Trump is far more captivating. The vision is of course breath-taking, the ambition is boundless, and the technology amazing. But in the end, what’s the difference between this and, say, a Steve Jobs product launch writ large? Is Silicon Valley the right place to gestate such a far-reaching (in many senses) plan? I have some serious doubts.

I’ve seen no discussion at all of the socio-political considerations here. Let’s believe that SpaceX are going to be able to launch a fleet of 1000 ships to Mars. So, that’s 1000 ships in Earth orbit under an American corporate flag, off to settle a new world. How are the Russians, Chinese, Indians all of whom are rather immune to Silicon Valley spin going to react to this? Not exactly with wild enthusiasm, I think. How even is the US Government going to react? Will they just be all hands-off free enterprise - or will they engineer an NSA-led coup? Indeed, given his apparent political leanings, will Musk just invite the NSA and all their chums along for the ride? And even beyond the nationalistic rivalry, what about Jeff Bezos? Is he going to let SpaceX eat his cake? Or Boeing ? Or Google, probably.

Who is going to decide who gets to go? Who’s in charge? Somebody has to be - human societies need a leader. And when they get there, and plant a flag, which they assuredly will do, which flag will it be? Will USA nationalist Musk (despite being South African) claim Mars for the United States of America? I can’t see the “no claims” conventions lasting long. Musk evokes the great explorations of the past, but the driving force of almost all of these was greed and conquest - or even worse, religion - and the human species has not yet evolved 1mm beyond that mindset.

I’ve searched for any discussion of these topics, and found nothing. Starting with SpaceX, where all I can find is shiny shiny tech. Inspiration is not the same thing as aspiration. A species which tolerates countless ongoing brutal wars, with major nations perpetrating practically all of them is not ready to leave the planet. And even if it were, the Silicon Valley mindset is the last thing to drive it. The moon landings were driven by politics, not technology. The technology to get to Mars seems to be practically solved. The politics isn't even started.

If SpaceX, or Boeing, or Blue Origin manages to get these ships into Earth orbit, the challenge of getting to Mars will be far less than that of avoiding getting blasted out of the sky by a Chinese missile. And in the unlikely event of getting to Mars, any colonists will probably be in more danger from other humans than the inhospitable environment.

Ok, so I’m terminally pessimistic, but I can only see this as a very dangerous, immature and misguided initiative which could have terminal consequences. It would take the greatest statesmen the world has ever seen to pick a path through this minefield, and Elon Musk most certainly doesn’t qualify.

What was Mars God of, again ?

A short story

un soir, un train

in General , Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bear with me.  There’s a point to this.

A couple of weeks ago, I stupidly left my phone on the train.  A quite new phone to me, an iPhone 5s, I could not at the moment afford to replace it.  The train was headed towards Milan. Bad news, as it would be out of range of solid, honest Swiss citizens.

Anyway, we tried calling it, and somebody answered. A guy, speaking slightly broken Italian, told he us he was near Cantú, which is over an hour away by car, and an intimidating rats nest of confusing roads south of Como. Initially I decided to try to go there at the weekend, but a bit later, decided to call to see if I could go that night (Tuesday).

Oh no, he said, now I’m in Milan. I’m taking the train to Brescia. Cue sinking feeling - Brescia is half way to Verona, and a good 2 hour drive on a good day. We resolved to go on the coming Sunday. If, indeed, we could get hold of this chap, who told me his name was Michele. Again, the conversation was difficult.

So, on Sunday I tried to call, but could not get through. We set off anyway, feeling quite pessimistic. After all, this phone represents something close to a third of the monthly income for a large number of Italians. Quite some temptation. But around half way there, he called back, and apologised for sleeping late. He promised he’s be available all day to meet up, and we arranged to wait for him near the hospital.

Pretty much on time, he turned up, smartly dressed, with my phone.  He didn’t want to take any reward, but I insisted. The reason for his accent turned out to be that he was from Senegal. And the reason he was sleeping late turned out to be that he’d been travelling all week in his job, or more accurately, vocation, to arrange the financing and export of Italian light agricultural machinery to rural Senegal. After some encouragement he told us about his work, how he had persuaded companies, ambassadors, finance ministers and religious leaders to back his project.  He had targeted the kind of machinery that could be affordable and practical in Senegal, and became nominated as the agent for Casorzo s.r.l in Africa

He was a really fascinating, kind, enthusiastic and open-spirited guy, and a real tonic to talk to. An instant friend.

Oh yeah, he let slip he was a Muslim. He hardly needed to say so: it was obvious, and for all the right reasons.

Lifting the kimono

a little more about me

in General , Saturday, August 15, 2015

Some thirteen months ago, I questioned if I should carry on with this web site. Eventually, I decided to do so, following some public and private encouragement from a number of visitors.  This year, I’ve been too busy too even think about self-doubt, so I’ve just payed for another year’s hosting fees, on the ever-reliable Meirhosting servers.

At the same time, I’ve done a little technical housekeeping, updating various bits and pieces. It took me quite a while to remember how to do a lot of this. My day to day work no longer involves any technical know-how, but to maintain this site I need to use PHP, CSS, HTML and remember how the slightly eccentric Expression Engine works. But it seems to have survived.

I’ve also done a substantial refresh of the “About” section, which is now split into several pages, and provides a little more information in amongst the low wit and heavy sarcasm. Hence, the title of this post.

See you in a year’s time…

This season, I’ll be mainly wearing….

Aether. And next season too.

in General , Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Nobody comes to this blog for fashion tips. Let’s face it, nobody comes much at all. But now, for my small but highly select audience, here’s a new direction for snowhenge dot net!

Well, probably more of a one-off really, but I really can’t not give recognition where it’s due to the wonderful Aether Apparel of Los Angeles, USA.  Around 18 months ago, I’d never heard of Aether, but Luchiana, my significant other, was trying to find a winter jacket for me that (a) I would actually like, and (b) I could realistically wear to work. She discovered Aether, and by all accounts the person she spoke to was very helpful, understood what she wanted, and recommended a “Barrier” waxed cotton jacket. I duly received this on my birthday, and it was an instant hit.  It’s light, warm, without being hot, puts up with all winter weather it’s been subjected to, and looks and feels great.

Aether website

We soon followed up with more orders for Aether fleeces, sweatshirts, summer shirts, even swimming shorts.  Several friends have caught the bug too. The designs are classy but understated, and just feel great to wear. And, crucially for me, they are not emblazoned with huge logos. In fact you have to look very hard to see any branding at all. This is fashionable but durable outdoor clothing which I imagine builds its reputation more by word of mouth than flashy marketing. Their stuff is not cheap, but it isn’t particular expensive either, and it is excellent value for money.

Having said that, the marketing is also very nice. It’s photography-heavy, with a lot of moody outdoor shots and some very nice work, albeit quite stylised. Indeed, the first catalogue I received together with my jacket featured one spread with bits of Hasselblad V series and Fuji cameras prominently displayed.  They had me hooked!

Aether catalog

hook, line & sinker!

Aether’s marketing includes the Journal, which seems to mainly promote stuff from other companies that they’ve discovered and like, as indeed does their Twitter feed.

On top of this, they have a level of customer service which I have to say I’ve rarely encountered, and if then, only in the USA. I wrote an email a few weeks back asking about wear on the sleeves of my Barrier jacket.  I soon received a long and helpful reply, explaining what I already should have known, i.e. how to care for a waxed jacket.  Oh, and as a last point, Tamme just mentioned they’d like to send me a new jacket.  This is a company that actually means what they say when they promise a lifetime guarantee.

Drm 2014 07 16 P7160052

My new Barrier jacket. Counting the days to winter!


(oh, and if you’re too young to get the reference in the title, this should explain it)

 

Should I stay or should I go ?

flatlined

in Site Admin , Wednesday, July 09, 2014

I recently received my annual web hosting invoice for this site. This, together with domain name registration, costs me around £100 per annum. And, by the way, if you’re looking for a reliable independent web hosting service with excellent technical support, full features and non-USA hosting, I can safely recommend Meirhosting.

The reminder that all this costs money as well as time gives me cause to reflect on why I’m doing it. My data on Google Analytics makes quite depressing reading: I get very low traffic, my most popular posts are the few dedicated to gear, and the least popular are those talking about photography and photographers in general. Earlier this year, the stats were trending upwards. Now they’ve slumped.

Googleanalytics

Lies, damn lies, and statistics. According to Google’s monthly view, of the 40-odd visitors I get daily, 75% are new. So they don’t come back :-(

Awstats

AWStats shows a similar story - the levels are pretty flat.

I’ve maintained a website since around 1996. I registered the snowhenge domain in 2001, I think, and the earliest version of snowhenge.net went live in or before August 2001, according to the Wayback machine. I added blogging through MovableType in mid 2003. My first post was made at 04:32 PM on 17th July 2003. Apart from a pause of a few months in 2007 when I transitioned to Expression Engine, and switched hosting, I’ve been adding material fairly constantly. So far there are 673 blog posts. There have been several design overhauls and refreshes, but the current look has been around for 4 or 5 years. The photographic content has changed over time, as I tried to improve presentation and focus, and the non-photographic stuff has dwindled to very little. The one constant in all of this, though, has been the flatlining statistics.

Sng2003

The Grey Period: snowhenge.net in early 2003

My original motives for having a web site included a large part of experimentation with web technologies, which fed into my various “day jobs”. This is now gone, my day job has no need for such frippery. So it is now essentially a platform for publishing and talking about photography, and the arcana surrounding photography. The question is, then, is it working? At present the answer has to be no. There’s very little conversation, although what there is tends to be of above average quality, and statistics on my galleries show little interest from the outside world.

So why so little traffic? A number of reasons spring to mind: the content is uninteresting, I’m not an engaging writer (or photographer), it’s all too self-serving, it’s all too idiosyncratic or weird, the presentation is poor. Or, also, I have no reach, I don’t publicise the site well, my search engine optimisation doesn’t work, I don’t network enough. Or the site performance is bad and the navigation is confusing. Or the Disqus comment platform is unpopular and puts people off. Probably a combination of all of these factors means that the site fails to get noticed in the vast ocean of similar voices clamouring for attention on the web.

So what next? Should I just call it a day? It would be a shame, after close to 20 years of uninterrupted web presence, then again you could say after 20 years of failure I should have got the message. I could run a survey to see what my audience thinks, but there’s a bit of a snag in that plan. And then again, I’m not even sure I could keep up with things if I started getting a lot of feedback.

It’s clear that one criticism could be that the site is too generalist, that is has a split personality. This is true enough, but it’s not accidental. It reflects my personality: I’m not just interested in photography - far from it - and not even in one particular field of photography. Personally I find that photographer “portfolio” sites get boring pretty quickly, however good the photographer is. I like to understand some of what makes the artist tick, not just photographers, but writers, musicians too. And I’m interested in science, and in much else. So the somewhat “warts and all” approach is me basically trying to create the type of website that I’d enjoy visiting. Seems I’m in a minority! One reason I axxed my Facebook page is that I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable about the wide cross-section of “friends” I had: I felt that by posting stuff on say, Antarctic science, I was letting down people who followed me as a landscape photographer.

The ultimate goal of snowhenge.net is to promote my photography. That isn’t working, and the years are ticking by. My feeling at the moment is that I’ll give it another year, and seriously put some effort into improving traffic. I don’t hope for thousands of visitors - I’m happy if just one person gets some benefit from an article I post - but I don’t want to carry on shouting into the void. So in the coming weeks I need to settle on some realistic expectations and measurable objectives, and work out a plan for achieving them. If trends start to improve, fine. Otherwise, in one year it will be time to call it a day.

This is the point where, ironically, I ask for feedback. It would be great to get any opinions, suggestions thoughts, advice on all of this, but also just to let me know that you’re reading my writings and getting some sort of value out of it.  There are many blogs which I read frequently, but never comment on. Maybe it’s a similar story here.

Hey, maybe the problem is that all my posts are too long ?

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