Category Archives: What I’ve Seen


Kitchen windowWoke this morning to another sprinkling of snow in London. Probably more outside of town, but haven’t checked yet. Not much but clearly it came down through the early morning when there were fewest people about so it’s thicker than it would have been if it had come down at 4pm.

But my first reaction was “Blimey, this is going on for a long time.” (the current weather pattern of cold and snow)

And then I thought “Hang on, isn’t this what winter’s *supposed* to be like?” We’ve become so accustomed to having only a few individual days of snow that having a prolonged cold snap with associated precipitation feels out of the ordinary. It’s the corollary of “Oh, we had a sunny day, that’ll be our summer then!”.

But didn’t it used to be like this all the time? Why shouldn’t winter have a fortnight or so of snow and ice? Has anything actually changed here? Why is this so important? And so, yet again, I’m left wondering whether it’s the world that changed or that my dislocation is a result of warped perception. Is it them or is it me? Usually the answer to that question is… errrr… yes it’s me so forget it, ignore what I just said and let’s get on.


Wife Beater


I saw this earlier (the copy reads: “Buy a special pack and we’ll grow a hedge in the British countryside) and muttered to myself:

“If you really want to grow a hedge in the countryside, why don’t you just go and do that, rather than making people pay for your poisonous and habit-forming liquor and then spending money trying to make them feel good about you by doing something entirely unconnected so that they’ll buy more.”

I get quite nauseously self-righteous around the middle of Sunday – it’s best to keep clear.

In the time it took to mutter (perhaps it was more of a grumble), I found myself in front of this little scene where someone had released their stomach contents, possibly as a consequence of ingesting too much of the above-mentioned liquor:

which made me think:

“No, Stella, actually, just forget the hedge shit, what I’d really like you to do is to go round personally on Saturday and Sunday mornings and clean up the puke that your product contributes to and then think a bit harder about whether printing the URL to DrinkAware on your posters is quite enough.”

I mean, really.

Guerilla Street Cleaning

please clean meI heard Dougald speak yesterday on the “why don’t you…?” web, the web (immediately recognisable to UK readers of a certain age) that enables us to “turn off the tv set and go and do something less boring instead”.

I then saw someone on twitter point to Guerilla Gardening, a site that facilitates small groups going out and making urban spaces more green, leafy, flowery or otherwise lovely.

And then this morning when I got some cash out, I noticed how bloody filthy this cash machine in Cockspur Street is. And I wondered if anyone would want to do some off-the-cuff street cleaning – the nightmare is that you’d probably be arrested immediately with tampering with a cash machine, no matter how much you protested that you were performing a secret civic service. But might it have legs (particularly for urban dwellers) are there things you could clean without getting into trouble, especially if there were a group of you and are there lessons buried in the Guerilla Gardening site that might help it happen?

Implementation is left as an exercise for the reader.

Streetview shenanigans

pw014-03About 10 years ago when I got my first digital camera to play with at work, I considered a project documenting London’s streets. The idea was that you would stand on a street corner and take a picture in each direction, and then upload it to a database with some metadata so that we could build a rich visual map of London so that if you were headed to say a bar or restaurant you could find a picture of the local area so that when you popped up out of the tube, you’d have a better chance of finding what you wanted.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t do it, mainly because devising instructions for how to take your photographs and constructing a metadata scheme that could accurately but simply describe any street corner in London proved way too complex. Plus the web was a very different kind of place – this was an information retrieval system, not a social one. Oh yeah and forget GPS, who was strong enough or rich enough to carry a GPS receiver around with them? Nonetheless, it would have been cool, right? I think the early podwalks had a similar inspiration.

Now the smart people at Google have caught up with my brilliant vision 🙂

And (nearly) everybody hates it.

In my opinion, Google Maps Streetview is just a rich enhancement to a map. I have used it to identify places I was going (in Paris, France and Austin, Texas) to get a feel for what sort of neighbourhood they were in and to understand better how I might walk there.

I don’t understand the privacy concerns that people have. Assuming you’ve been (un)lucky enough to be photographed by a car, what are the chances of anyone who knows you seeing it? And in the event that you (or some top-secret piece of your property) are snapped and you find out about it, then you can ask for it to be removed. This seems to me to be way beyond the power we have with CCTV in that 1. We can see it. and 2. We can get it removed. It’s ironic really that when a private company does it, we get to have a say, but when our democratically elected councils or government agencies do it, we don’t even have access.

What do you lose by having your home or car photographed? (mine isn’t there incidentally, they haven’t got beyond the A24 in Epsom) I’m not saying it’s nothing, just honestly trying to understand what it is.

Yes, I can imagine it leading to an imagined worse outcome of the BNP list leak last year, with the list “enhanced” with links to pictures of the outside of each member’s house. But the mashups there were pretty well regulated, once the first few had been done, people realised what a silly thing it was to do and what a dangerous precedent it was.

Before it came to the UK (and by the way, it’s only in selected cities), I’d used the Parisian and Texan versions to look at places I was just about to go to – working out how to walk there without having to cross 10 lanes of traffic etc.

I’ve also used it to look at places that I may never get to see, like parts of the Northern Territories in Australia (can’t remember how we ended up there…)

And it also works well for showing people places I’ve been and explaining something visual.

And as Russell points out, it’s good for the nostalgic – Places I used to live that are just the same and places I used to live that are very different.

I’m also interested in what’s not covered – No great views of Buckingham Palace for example and great chunks of the West End are missing including Oxford Street and Cavendish Sq.