Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Monday May 23 2016

I keep wanting to write about music, but (a) it isn’t easy, unless both you and your readers know all the technical terms of your preferred sort of music.  And (b) whereas words go fine with music, words about music, especially if they are attempting to be descriptive of a particular piece of music, can be devilishly hard to contrive in a way that is comprehensible without being banal and superficial and generalised.

A specialist blog or website devoted to a particular sort of music, with musical illustrations supplied to click on rather than only descriptive verbiage, whose writer(s) and readers are united by their taste in that particular sort of music, that makes perfect sense to me.  I don’t read any such blogs, but it makes sense.  I do read old school paper magazines (I see that there is a new one of those out that I’ve not yet seen) exactly like this. But a blog about other things which from time to time goes musical, not so much.  I have no problem at all with my favourite bloggers (6k and Mick Hartley spring to mind) doing postings every so often about music that they happen particularly to like.  Their gaffs, their rules.  But I mostly skip such postings.  I possess a lifetime and more of music in the form of a vast CD collection that I already want to listen to.

So, I do not wish myself merely to do postings about bits of music that I happen to like, hoping - implicitly or explicitly - that others will be infected with my tastes.  I love Western classical music more than life itself, often a lot more.  But most people don’t these days, and that’s fine with me.  If I thought that western classical music was about to be completely expunged from the earth any time soon, I might feel differently about trying to infect others with the love of it, but it isn’t.  Meanwhile, this music is, for me, mostly a personal thing.  It is not an evangelical religion.  If I meet a fellow devotee, we exchange enthusiastic exclamations of love for this or that piece or performance, but I mostly refrain from inflicting such True Believer talk on non-believers.

I am evangelical and anti-evangelical about some things.  If you are not a libertarian, I want that to change.  You should become a libertarian forthwith.  If you are a Muslim, I want you to know, now, that I think you should stop being a Muslim, now.  But if you hate Beethoven and adore hip-hop, that’s fine with me, so long as you have no plans forcibly to stop me listening to Beethoven or to force me to listen to hip-hop.  If you merely want me to adore hip-hop, or even to stop adoring Beethoven, again, fine.  Just so long as you don’t recommend the use of sticks or stones to make those points.  Insofar as you do, then shame on you. But exactly the same point applies to people who force Beethoven upon those who resist Beethoven’s charms.  I am evangelical about that sort of behaviour also.  Are you threatening others with Beethoven?  Stop doing that, now.  Do you favour such behaviour by others.  Don’t even think that.

However, more general postings about music (this one being an example) about the different ways we listen to it and enjoy it, how love of music spreads or should spread (that is what this posting has partly been about), about how those who contrive it contrive it, and so on, of the sort that all music lovers can read and tune into, even as they are hearing in their own heads quite distinct musical illustrations concerning whatever is being said, that makes more sense to me, and - memo to self - I want to do more of such postings here.

Sunday May 22 2016

I have already shown you some horizontalised signs that I snapped in France.  Here is a selection of the more regularly shaped sorts of signs, in the order I snapped them:

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

I love the ambiguity of the very first (1.1) of them, with the French for bread being pain.

Whoever thought that theatre (1.3) could be so dangerous.

That T-shirt (2.2) is a reminder of how many Brits there are in these parts, and the “Tattoo and piercing” sign (3.4) of how French people think English is cool.  The French go to England to work.  The Anglos (apart from those going there to sing) go to France to unwind, as I was doing.  I’m guessing that’s roughly how it is.  France specialises in being nice.  England specialises in being busy.

I like how the French for cul-de-sac, which you would expect to be “cul-de-sac”, is actually “impasse” (4.1), which in English means something rather different.

I like (4.2) how on building sites, everyone gets credit, like at the end of a movie.

And then there are all those street name signs, that double up as history lessons.  2.4 and 3.1 are too famous to need a date, but one (3.1) still needs a brief explanation.  But I love how the guy who does need a date (3.2) would probably have been awarded dates no matter what, because look at those dates!  I only just noticed this.

I like how the French for diversion is deviation (4.3). 

That Crack sign (4.4) was actually not in France but in a big shopping centre in Spain.

2.1 is reminder that not all signs in France are as informative as most of them are.

Saturday May 21 2016

Pictures taken by me earlier this month:

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

I keep telling myself to take notes during photo sessions like this, but I didn’t, and it took quite a bit of googling to work out where all this keeping up of appearances was.  But here it is:

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It’s the big block in the red rectangle.  The big spread to its left as we look is Buckingham Palace.  Hence, I suppose, the Palace in Palace Street.

The former civil service block is being demolished, apart from its Grade II listed façade, and converted into 72 homes within yards of the perimeter wall of the palace grounds.

Then there’s a lot of sales babble, the gist of which is that if you have to ask you can’t afford it.  And then there’s this:

The building, designed by Chelsea Barracks architects Squire & Partners, will be completed in 2017 and reflect five architectural styles: 1860s Italianate Renaissance, 1880s French Renaissance, 1880s French Beaux Arts, 1890s Queen Anne, and contemporary.

Presumably “reflect” here means “preserve the outsides of buildings done in: ...”.

Or, it means “fake”.

Friday May 20 2016

For years I have struggled, with the graphics programme I have been using, to crop, not square (an option this programme does offer), and not to a size I specify (ditto), but to a ratio that I specify.  For years, I could not do that.  I repeatedly searched for such a thing, in other programmes, but evidently didn’t pick the right words.

Then, in France, I couldn’t remember the mere name (on such things do decisions hinge) of my regular photo-editing package, so I loaded PhotoCat, basically because it had “cat” in its name and I reckoned I could have Friday feline fun with it (ditto), to see if I could photo-edit with that, and I could, and I could do constant ratio rectangular cropping which was a most welcome surprise.

Thus are decisions made, by computer operatives.  There are two rules for getting things done in the modern world.  (1) Do not unleash solutions upon circumstances which are not a problem.  If it doesn’t help you to do something that you need to do, don’t bother with it no matter how cool everyone else says it is.  Cool is not a good enough reason to be faffing about with something.  (Faffing about to no purpose cannot be cool, because it isn’t, and because another rule is: worrying about being cool guarantees that you won’t be.)

And (2): if it does help you to do just one thing that you do want to do, then, if you can afford the money, the space, the bother, whatever, use it.  Then, when you are using that thing for that one essential thing, then, you can move onwards to finding out if it will do any other merely desirable things.  But, lots of merely desirable things and nothing essential is not good enough.

Using anything is difficult, if you only use it occasionally, to do something merely occasionally desirable.  This rule applies at all times, in all places, and no matter how “user friendly” the gizmo or programme claims itself or is claimed by other users of it to be.  Occasional is bother.  Always.  Don’t do occasional if you can avoid it.

Using anything is easy, on the other hand, if you do it regularly.  This rule applies at all times, in all places, to all things, and no matter how “user hostile” enemies of the gizmo or process claim it to be.  If a convoluted dance around the houses by a complicated route gets you an essential result, then dance.  Convoluted will quickly become imprinted on your brain, and easy, and reinforced each time you (frequently) use it.  This is how rats and ants do things. (Hurrah: other creatures!) They’ll probably outlast us.  Ants definitely.

The above why the division of labour was so epoch-making.  When you concentrate entirely on a small but rather tricky part of a big process, you will do it massively better than others attempting this tricky operation only sometimes, in among all the other things they are attempting.  The damn near impossible becomes routine and easy.

So, I prepared for a life of frequently PhotoCatting fixed-ratio rectangles out of my photos.  Using PhotoCat for that one thing.

But then, earlier this week I was cranking up PhotoCat, prior to some fixed-ratio cropping, and it refused to load.  It got to 80%, and then stuck there.  Who knows why?  Was this PhotoCat’s fault?  Was it something I was doing?  Probably the latter, but that isn’t the point.  It didn’t load. So, I went looking for alternatives, and I found one, called: PhotoPad.

And the bad news for PhotoCat is that PhotoPad also does proportional ratio cropping, and does it rather more conveniently, because PhotoPad operates on my hard disc and doesn’t have to be uploaded from the www each time.  Unlike PhotoCat, PhotoPad is not www based, or whatever you call it, which I prefer because you can still use it if the www is out of action.  It’s now all mine:

image

That being a snap of a rather unusual form of transport that I snapped, in France.  I like how you can see what’s happening there, like when they zoom in on a detail in a computer picture in NCIS or a movie or something similar.  (Question.  Does art lead life in computing?  Does stuff like the above start out in the movies, just so absolutely everyone can get what’s going on, and then migrate to real life?)

PhotoPad does something else which PhotoCat didn’t do, or not for me, which is rotate much more exactly.  Most photo software seems to want to offer only rotation in 1% increments.  If they can do better, they don’t volunteer the fact.  But, PhotoPad does volunteer this.  With PhotoPad, instead of rotating something 1% or 2% (or 359%), you can do 1.38% or 1.77% or 358.61%.  You’d be surprised, perhaps, how often that is a desirable refinement.  You can do it by eye, and let the numbers take care of themselves.  Terrific.  Cool, even.

So.  PhotoCat now offers me … nothing.  So, … see above.

Just now, while checking out the PhotoCat link for this posting, I successfully cranked up PhotoCat.  Whatever went wrong before has now gone away.

Too late.

Thursday May 19 2016

Another French picture, but this time taken in Paris, by my friend Antoine Clarke (to whom thanks):

image

That would be La Defense, unless I am much mistaken, that being Paris’s new Big Thing district.

I cropped that photo slightly, to moderate that leaning-inwards effect you get when you point a camera upwards at tall buildings.

imageThe email that brought the above snap to my desk, earlier this month, was entitled “warmer than when you were here last”.  When I last visited Paris, it was indeed very, very cold, so cold that water features became ice features (see the first picture there).

Today, Antoine sent me another photo, also suffering somewhat from leaning-inwards syndrome, and also cropped by me, more than somewhat.  See right.

Mostly what I think about Antoine’s most recent picture is: What an amazing crane!  So very tall, and so very thin.  It’s amazing it even stays up, let alone manages to accomplish anything.  I don’t remember cranes like that existing a generation ago, but maybe that’s merely because no towers that high were being built in London.  Not that Antoine’s crane is in London.  It is somewhere in America, but where, I do not know.

I just did a bit of googling for books about cranes, and if my googling is anything to go by, books about construction cranes and their history are a lot thinner on the ground than are construction cranes.  When you consider how many tons of books have been written about the buildings that construction cranes construct, it is surprising that so little is written about the mighty machines without which such construction would be impossible.

It reminds me of the analogous profusion of books on the history of science, and the comparative neglect of the history of scientific instruments.

As I think I have written before, one major defect of my blog-posting software is that I do not get an accurate picture of how the final blog posting will look, and in this case, whether there is enough verbiage on the left hand side of this tall thin picture of a tall thin crane, to prevent the picture of the tall thin crane impinging upon the posting below.  Hence this somewhat verbose and superfluous paragraph, which may not even have been necessary, but I can’t now tell.

Wednesday May 18 2016

So I was looking at Amusing Planet, the way you do, and looking in particular at a posting about bridges with shops on them, the way I do, and at the top of the piece, it said this:

There are four such bridges in the world.

And the pictures follow: Ponte Vecchio; Krämerbrücke, Erfurt; the Rialto in Venice; Pulteney Bridge in Bath.  (The old London Bridge is, alas, no more.)

But then the bit about how there are four such bridges was crossed out, and this was added:

Update: Apparently, there are a few more. Pont des Marchands in Narbonne, France, is one example.

Narbonne?  I was in Narbonne only days ago, hearing GodDaughter 2 and her pals sing the solo parts in the Mozart Requiem.  Afterwards, we walked beside the river back to the car.  Did I, I wonder, photo this Pont des Marchands?  I do recall bridges, and I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t photoed them.  Here are a couple of Narbonne bridges, that I photoed then:

imageimageimage

So, did the Pont des Marchands figure in my bridge-snapping?

Image google image google.

The Pont des Marchands looks like this:

image

I had already copied those two bridge pictures above into my FranceMay2016/bridges subdirectory, but in that directory, there was no sign of anything with shops on top of it.  However, another look through all the pictures I took in Narbonne that evening brought me to ... this:

image

The bridge in the front there is the one in the left of the two bridges above.  Behind that little footbridge, could that be the Pont des Marchands, seen from the other side?  Got to be.  Those Ms certainly look encouraging.  Short answer, after only a very little more image googling: yes.

There’s nothing quite like seeing something for yourself.  And the next best thing is when you photo it without seeing it, and then see later that you did see it after all.

Tuesday May 17 2016

I had today, May 17th, as the day when I would finally have recovered from the strain and stress of taking a holiday in the south of France earlier this month.

So, what else is there to say about France.  Well, a thing I love about France is … The Wires!  Just like all those dezeen pictures of bland new Japanese dwellings, surrounded by The Wires!, France also seems to have no inhibitions about hanging The Wires! everywhere, and in particular above the roads.

Below are sixteen South of France clutter photos, chosen from a clutch of clutter photos several times larger than that.  Included in these photos are views of The Wires!, and also of regular roof clutter consisting of kit for receiving entertainment.  Sometimes both:

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

I am fascinated by all this clutter, because I am.  But in addition to just liking it, I think that it illustrates an important point about the modern world, which is that if clutter is so visually appealing – as I believe it often is – then people should, on aesthetic grounds, be allowed to do erect whatever they like.  Chances are, it will look amusing rather than ugly, in much the same way as a forest or a crystal cluster.

But, I have to admit that the general south of Franceness of it all also appeals.  All those orange tiled rooves, and stucco, and all that amazing light.  Almost anything looks good in light as nice as it often is down there, which it was for the first few days.

Most of the above photos were taken in the town of Thuir, where my hosts have a house.

Monday May 16 2016

Today I attended Deirdre McCloskey’s talk for the Adam Smith Institute.  I know what you’re thinking.  Okay, okay, photos, as per usual.  But: What did she say? Fine.  Go here, and you can find out.  What I can find no link to is any information about the event – when, where, and so on.  It’s all now gone.  Maybe it was never there in the first place.

But the Man from the Adam Smith Institute told me to send in some of my snaps, and these are the ones I sent them:

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

McCloskey’s basic point was what is rapidly becoming the libertarian orthodoxy, to the effect that (a) the world started getting humungously rich in or around 1780 (Yaron Brook‘s preferred date for this is 1776 (to coincide with America starting and Smith’s Wealth of Nation’s getting published)), and (b) we did this.  Our enemies tried to stop us and they failed.  We know how to make poor people rich, and we’ve been doing it ever since.  Our enemies only know how to make rich people less rich and poor people more poor.  Bastards.

My recent favourite example of enrichment is a very tiny one offered at today’s talk by McCloskey, which is that you can now use your smartphone as a mirror.  Better yet, McCloskey said, before the talk she was giving, she spotted Steve Baker MP doing this exact thing with his smartphone, while perfecting his appearance prior to doing his MP socialising bit.

The reason I particularly like this is that I just recently learned about this trick myself, when I saw someone doing it, and took a photo of it:

If you photo someone looking in a mirror, they can see their face, but you can’t.  (Unless it’s a crap movie, in which case the audience sees the face and the person with the face doesn’t.  I know.  Ridiculous.  But this is truly what often happens.) But, if you photo someone using their smartphone as a mirror, both you and they can see their face.

Thus:

image

McCloskey’s point was that enrichment doesn’t only come in the form of more money, but also in the form of the ever more amazing things that you can buy with your money.  Like a phone that is also a NASA circa 1968 supercomputer.  And a face mirror.

Finally, here are a couple more photography-related photos.  On the left is the official photographer for the McCloskey talk:

imageimageimage

And on the right there is a photo which I also took at the venue for the McCloskey talk, which I will not name, because then the people in charge of this place might then learn of this blog posting and see this picture and then who the hell knows what might happen?  Are you wondering what I am talking about?  Click on the picture and work it out.  I only realised what I had photoed after I had got home.

Sunday May 15 2016

So today I went up to the roof of my block of flats, again, to photo the work in progress across the yard.  And I did.  But I also photoed a bird on a TV aerial:

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So far so ordinary.  But then this happened:

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There are of course ways to take such pictures as this on purpose, with machine-gunning rather than just shooting, so to speak, and then picking out the best one.  But that picture, with me shooting just the once, was a total fluke.

Let’s look at that bird in flight more closely:

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To me it seems somewhat strange.  The wings are those of a black angel, yet the body of the bird is more like an old woman in black with stooped shoulders.  And all that in sharp contrast to the erect posture of the bird when it was just perched there.  It’s just an accident of the exact moment in the flapping cycle that the bird got frozen, but it sill looks odd.

Saturday May 14 2016

Today I attended the Libertarian Home Benevolent Laissez-Faire Conference.  Here is the text of the opening speech by conference organiser Simon Gibbs.  And here is a selection of the photos I took, of the event and of the speakers:

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Conference programme here.

1.1: An attender.  1.2: The venue, very good, with a big side window looking out to a small basement level garden.  1.3: Syed Kamall.  1.4 and 2.1: Janina Lowisz and one of her slides.  2.2, 2.3 and 2.4: Julio Alejandro.  3.1: Simon Gibbs and Yaron Brook.  3.2: Brook.  3.3: Kyril and Rob helping with the books.  3.4: LH info, lit up by the afternoon sun through the window.  4.1: Anton Howes.  4.2: Howes and Brook.  4.3 and 4.4: Gibbs, Alejandro, Howes, Brook.

Friday May 13 2016

Friday is my day for creatures of all kinds.  Cats, yes, but other creatures too.

Here is a dog picture I took in France that I rather like.  Okay it’s a bit blurry, but the car was wizzing by, and I tracked it by swinging my camera round to follow it:

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According to the reviews of it at Amazon, I might have got a much better picture had I been using one of these, which is the camera I now lust after.

Here, on the other hand is a cat picture, of a cat clock, taken in Céret:

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That is not a favourite picture.  I show it merely because the lady at the centre of the next picture was taking a photo of this cat clock:

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And that picture I do like, even though that’s me in the middle, reflected in the shop window.

I love pictures like this, where I stand in front of the window blocking the light onto the window, with the result that my reflection creates, as it were, a window through the window.  Where my shadow calls, we see through the window.  Where it doesn’t, what we see is what is reflected in the window.

Here is another cat, this time a real one, which we all saw just as we were getting into the car in Thuir to go to Narbonne, to sing in or to just be in the audience for Mozart’s Requiem.  I do not often see a cat sleeping in a tree, but this one was:

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Here is another creature picture, of those particular creatures called humans.  The picture emphasises, I think you will agree, human biology:

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And finally, back here in London, I photoed some pelicans in St James’s Park this afternoon, with a fountain going off behind them:

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Note the baby pelican there.  The eastern end of St James’s Park, where this snap was snapped, looking west towards Buckingham Palace, is one of my favourite places in London just now.  One of many, admittedly, but definitely one.

Thursday May 12 2016

I love signs.  They communicate a lot, by their nature, but they are not considered Art, so they aren’t preserved.  They come and go, and stuff that comes and goes is how a photographer who is only an okay photographer makes his photos count for something.

So, I gathered together all the sign photos I took, to do a big collection.  But that was taking too long, so I picked out the long thin ones, and here are those ones, in chronological order.  I really did take the first one first:

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Click on each to get the bigger pictures.

No coincidence that two of them - arguably three of them - are in English.  There’s quite a bit of English to be seen in French shops, just as there’s quite a bit of French in English shops.

Byrrh is the local drink of Thuir.  It’s a lot like Port.  I’d link to the website, but it makes noises that you have actively to silence.  I hate that.

What “lefties” means, when on the front of a shop, I have absolutely no idea.

LATER: This was all done in great haste, and I neglected to mention that the “lefties” sign is actually in Spain, in a big shopping centre we visited (and got stuck in because of traffic jams all afternoon (don’t ask)).  But, I still like the sign and am still baffled by it.

Wednesday May 11 2016

Another sign of advancing years, to add to all the other signs discussed here, is that if you go on holiday somewhere for X days, X further days is how long it will take you to recover.  The longer you are away, the longer the recovery period.  I went to France on May 3rd, returned on May 10th, which means that by about May 17th I will be approximately myself again.  But throughout the time between now and the 17th, France will still be on my mind, and I consider myself entitled to post pictures I took in that country relentlessly until the 17th, and perhaps even beyond that date.

Here is a picture of a house that looks like a face:

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Well, the picture of the house looks like a face if you crop it the way I did.  Click to get the original picture, and it becomes a little harder to spot.

I don’t think that houses that look like faces is an entirely frivolous subject.  After all, one of the most common complaints you hear about modern architecture is that it is “faceless”.  To a certain extent, all trad-looking houses look like they’ve got faces.  This house just takes that tendency a little further than most.

Tuesday May 10 2016

I am a very infrequent flyer, and the thrill of flying that I felt as a child has never really left me.  As Louis CK has it, I’m in a chair in the sky, travelling at an unimaginable speed.  And the magic of flight is, for me, even more magical if you can see out of the window, so I like to pay extra for a window seat, and ever since digital cameras, take digital photos.  I’ll never forget photoing the mighty Millau Viaduct, back when I did that.

So, today, on the way back from Perpignan to Stansted, I took photos through the window.  But the clouds today were very cloudy and the only photo I took today that I consider worth a second look was this one, not of what I saw through the window, but of the window itself:

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Those little things that look at bit like flying birds or insects are actually cracks in (on?) the glass, right?  So, how is that safe?  How is that allowed?  I did a bit of exhausted googling just now, and got nothing, but I did try.  (Maybe there is an answer in this, but I couldn’t quickly find it.) I’m not saying it’s unsafe, and that it shouldn’t be allowed, because obviously it is allowed, and it’s obviously safe.  Flying is safer than crossing a road, and if those cracks were going to split the airplane open, they’d not be allowed.  But to me, that’s what’s interesting.  These little cracks are obviously not going to get bigger, any time soon.  Assuming cracks is what they are.

LATER: Thanks, as always, to Friday Night Smoke, for one of his always informative comments, on the above.  He tells us that these are not cracks, but little bits of ice.  Further inspection of my photo archive confirms this.

Obviously, being ice, these “cracks” are on the outside of the plane, on the outermost of the three layers of airplane window.  Soon after the photo above was taken, the Ryanairplane descended into the clouds over Stansted Airport, at which point I took the photo below.  At the time, what interested me was that the water was moving upwards across the window, on account of the airplane descending.  But now what it proves is that those “cracks” have now melted:

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I don’t know what that road is.  Presumably something near Stansted Airport.  Google maps google maps: M11.

Monday May 09 2016

The weather in Thuir and surrounding parts yesterday and today has been grim, in sharp contrast to the weather at the end of last week.

Here is that sharp (as in sharp and then not at all sharp) contrast:

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On the left, the weather last week, as viewed from the top of the house I am staying in.  On the right, the weather viewed from the same spot this afternoon.  The weather on the left was the sort that decreased the apparent force of gravity.  The weather now is the sort that you describe yourself as being under.

Note that it is not only the far away Pyrenees that have disappeared in the right hand picture.  The further away bit of the much nearer, green bit of the landscape has also vanished under cloud.

These two pictures (click on either to get it bigger) both involved a lot of cropping, and fiddling about to get the cropping exactly (or approximately exactly) so.  Without Photocat, I could never have done it.

I am looking forward to maybe (I promise nothing) doing similar before-and-after snaps involving recently constructed buildings in London.