Category: photography

3 Parisian Things

Sacré Coeur

The church (Basilique, in fact) of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre. It’s quite a climb through streets aptly named things like Rue du Calvaire, roughly translated as “time of hardship street” in common parlance.

You can get a cog-wheeled railway which mounts a steep incline instead, called the funiculaire. Recommended if you want a bit of energy to check out the nearby square where artists paint caricatures or portraits and coffee is ridiculously expensive.

Maybe check out the Espace Dali if you’re into a small, hidden away museum with all things Dali. Continue reading

Same Routine, New Year

A Christmas break is great, but it’s soon over and after wishing you all a Happy New Year, it’s back to the grind of the routine. The roads were OK for the first Monday of the year, but the queues came back quickly and the routine soon pulled me in, not unlike gravity when you bounce on a trampoline.

One advantage of the days around the winter solstice is that I end up driving to work at dawn. This is not great leaving the house (when it’s pitch black) but quite lovely if the sun comes up as I’m waiting around the Argenteuil bridge (Pont d’Argenteuil). I snapped this photo at a red light, the quality isn’t great and you can never do justice to this kind of view anyway, especially not in the few seconds before it changes to green.

Hope your routine wasn’t too hard to get back into. Have a good start to 2011!

Sunrise, Orange Contrails
Originally uploaded by simon_music

Frozen Snowy Swing and Slide

There’s been a lot of cold weather and frost so far this December, and a fair bit of snow. I’ve never seen quite so much fall in one morning as I did today though. I reckon we’ve had 10-15cm (4-6″) of snow in a few hours.

Last night there was already a bit. It took us 3/4 of an hour to get back home from the town centre, usually a five minute drive. Some steep roads were impossible to get up at all, and every start from stationary was with wheel slip. Horrible driving conditions.

Friday night was awful too. Friends coming to visit us before leaving for Morocco took over six hours to get from Calais to Argenteuil – usually a 2 and a half hour trip. They just made a window of mostly rainy / sleet weather to take off from Orly mid Saturday and are now basking in 28°C in Marrakech.

Snow makes the garden look beautiful, and I love the eerie light of late evening where street lamps and moonlight combine with the reflectiveness of fresh snow. It is totally impractical for getting about though, Monday morning could be a real challenge. I hope local authorities and the government now start preparing for earlier wintry weather, rather than once again blaming “unseasonable” conditions for not having stocks of salt, grit and vehicles enough to keep infrastructures moving.

Frozen Snowy Swing and Slide
Originally uploaded by simon_music

It’s Mostly Happening at Flickr

Boy With A Motorbike 1980s

I’ve mostly been updating news over at Flickr lately. Or rather, posting photos to Flickr and possibly including information worth reading underneath them. Time constraints and other things mean that I’m not particularly productive on blog posting of late.

If you’re subscribed via RSS, you can get both blog updates and Flickr updates in one easy feed, or by email by using the box on the right hand side of the homepage. You can also follow latest photos by following the link to my Flickr photos.

There will be more soon – I’ll be picking up rhythm again shortly.

Happy Belated New 2008

More Door Openings

I’ve added recent photos from my FlickR account to the RSS feed, so if you read me via email updates or RSS you should now get photos when I update them as well. We spent Christmas in Marrakech, and most of the recent photos were taken there.

Unfortunately, Yasmina’s grandmother Ginette – who lives in Rabat – had a series of strokes on Boxing Day (the 26th) which put a rather different perspective on our festive season. Yasmina’s aunt, who we were staying with, rushed to Rabat to be at her mother’s bedside. We had to stay because the logistics of all going to Rabat, especially with Nathan with a nasty flu infection, were not easily resolved. Our host got back to Marrakech a couple of days later, and even though we were all very tired but we went out for a day in the mountains south of Marrakech to see the ski slopes on Mount Oukaimeden.

Sadly it doesn’t look like my grandmother-in-law is improving. She’s 82 years old, so the prognosis is quite bleak. Yasmina is flying back to Morocco tomorrow, so I’ll be on my own until Saturday looking after him in the morning and at night. It will be the first time I’m all alone looking after Nathan, so wish me luck, and spare a prayer for Mamie Ginette.

Playing on the Slide

Playing on the Slide in the Park

Nathan loves the park close to home, where he can play on the slide, a rocking horse on a spring, and a sort of spinning top. Even now with the colder weather, it’s great to get out and watch him run around and climb up to the top of the slide. I thought the cold colours and his being wrapped up, along with red, yellow, green and blue (primary colours of light & paints together) made it a nice snap.

In other news, astronomy has now reached a level of precision where no less than five planets have been discovered in another solar system around 55 Cancri. One of them is in the habitable zone – a planet that could be a twin of Earth.

China have successfully launched their lunar probe and it has already successfully positioned itself to orbit the moon. A few more maneuvers are needed before it is in fully operational orbit.

I think it’s a fascinating time, with space exploration back in the news and lunar landings likely to happen in the next ten to fifteen years. Nathan might live a childhood full of awe of space and thoughts of other worlds, a bit like growing up in the sixties?

More on Flickr: Save or Cancel

What Web2.0 means on Flickr

Just what is it that makes Flickr stand out from other sites, so that it can boast an impressive 2,000+ photos uploaded per minute? That’s 2,880,000 a day, and over a billion – or a thousand million for those who think a billion is a million million – per year!

Their tour covers some of the ground, but it doesn’t touch on some of the things that make Flickr different. Most sites offer ways to upload, share, organise and classify (tag) your photos. Fewer have discussion groups, pools of photos sharing a common interest, and comment systems. Some integrate very well with digital printing of photos, so that you can order your photos to be delivered in a variety of formats and on objects too. But Flickr is more that that. It has an exceptionally intuitive interface and has built a sense of community around the concept of interestingness.

The interface makes it easy to upload photos, with large clear links to point you through the three step process: “Choose Photos”, “Upload Photos” and “Add titles, descriptions, tags or add to a set”. Perhaps they should have just called the last step “Describe Photos”, but then you can also add them to a set at the same time (tough call, I’d opt for keeping it simple). Once your photos are uploaded, you have them all displayed in front of you – unless of course you uploaded a large amount at once – and can add titles and descriptions in a very simple way. A click in the zone where a photo is to be described, or in the title zone (usually filled with the photo filename already) allows you immediately to change or add the text you want. You don’t have to reload the page. The information already there looks like normal text on the screen. But when you click it, it becomes editable in a text box, and then you click “Save” or “Cancel” and it goes back to being normal text.

This feature makes it easier to keep track of whether you are actually editing something since text that has been edited, or is yet to be treated, will not be in a text box, and will hence be completely visible. Also, text boxes have to be limited in width in order to display well, but normal text will wrap as you expect it to rather than disappearing. This also prevents errors in your typing as you see all the text at once on photos you’ve saved descriptions and titles for.

Another interface which is worth seeing is the map, which allows you to place your photo at the geographical point at which it was taken. It’s basically Yahoo! maps embedded into Flickr, with your photos listed along the bottom. You search for the town where the photos were taken, zoom and scroll around, and then just drag and drop your photos to the right place. A click on a link on the map page will allow you to see all other photos taken in the region of the map you’re looking at. This sounds very Web2.0, but in fact it is the former text editing feature which I think, for its simplicity, takes the crown. “Click to edit” relies on DHTML and AJAX – making changes to a web page without reloading it is the DHTML part, and AJAX is used to load the information back to the server when you click “Save” without making the whole page reload. The technical terms don’t matter much, the fact is that many sites could do this, but don’t. It’s complicated to start with, but it makes perfect sense to use this kind of technology — as long as it makes things easier.

Interestingness is the algorithm that allows Flickr to select photos from the millions uploaded each day while trying – as much as is possible with mathematical logic – to make them represent the very best of the site. It works surprisingly well. Behind that link, the photo was selected by a machine, but I bet you it’s a nice photo.

Web communities often have a sense of competition between members, and on Flickr the kudos awarded to photographers who make the “Explore” pages is a driving force for many. Even if you don’t care too much about public glory (who doesn’t?) you can click a link, visible only to you, to see your photos ranked by interestingness. This can lead you to start asking good questions about your shots and why they might be interesting for others. The magic formula behind the ranking is a combination of many things. One thing that makes it work well, even if it is a machine that is doing the calculations, is the volume of human input that can be used to come up with values to plug into the equation. How many people clicked on a photo (Flickr is full of places where you can see random selections or related photos); what the person was looking at before they clicked; whether they commented, and keywords in that comment (superlatives tend to abound in great photo’s comments); how many times the photo has been viewed; how many people consider the photo a favourite; the words and tags used to describe the photo itself; the resolution of the photo and the camera used to take it… there may be many more factors that Flickr might not want to reveal to avoid the tinfoil hat brigade’s wrath.

Flickr fully respects my idea of Web2.0 – which is all about interactivity both with the site itself, and with other users in the community. It’s about user interface design and bringing exciting new functionality to web sites.

Flickr drives the community via classic interfaces such as the forum, comments on individual photos, and email notification of changes and updates. These are all really well integrated with photography at the heart of everything. Finding interesting images can be done via groups, by searching, by surfing around the “explore” section and importantly just by logging in – a selection of “Everyone’s Photos” appears on your homepage.

Your sense of being in your own community is added to by your “Contacts”, who have their section on your homepage “Photos from your Contacts”. Adding a few people whose work you appreciate – or friends you want to share fun pictures with – quickly tailors the site so it feels like it belongs to you, even though you don’t feel like you’re personalising it at all.

In fact, personalisation is probably even more at the heart of Web2.0 than anything else. If the tailoring of a site to your tastes and desires happens without you even realising it, then it’s sure to become a place you visit often. Perhaps that is why Flickr is such a fine example of how engaging websites can be, and why it represents Web2.0 so well.

Discovering Flickr

Flickr is a photo sharing site that was bought up by Yahoo! back in 2005. I had a few photos on Yahoo! photos from about 2001, and they’ve now been migrated to Flickr. This encouraged me to explore a little, and without further ado here are a few pictures to get you started exploring what I’ve got uploaded so far: