Saturday, February 22, 2014

Riverside industry

Elements of the Dutch landscape - 10
Some things are so obvious that I cannot say anything meaningful about them. Of course there has always been industry along rivers:
  • Industries and cities have historically been located along rivers because the rivers provide transportation and have traditionally been a convenient place to discharge waste.
  • A brick yard would be constructed near natural sources of clay. 
  • When the industrial revolution took a hold, industry began to settle in the area, as the river offered great transport links.
  • The new machines were so large that they do not fit a home. Soon factories were placed in large halls. Machines were so big that they could no longer be operated by hand, they were powered by hydro power. A large water wheel ​​turned the machines. So the first factories were always placed besides a river or a stream. The Netherlands always had a favorable position for transportation. 
  • The Waal, Lek and the Rhine, were the best navigable rivers of Europe and offered (and still offer) an excellent connection between Dutch ports like Rotterdam and Amsterdam and the German hinterland. During the 17th and 18th centuries the coastal provinces acquired a network of towpaths and waterways. For a long time this network was the best transport system in Europe. It was relatively cheap and therefore available to many more people than the expensive carriage.
Is it possible to say anything non-obvious? Something that has never been said before?
Is it necessary to say anything?
The standard psychogeographic procedure is journalistic: we dig up some interesting historical facts and mix them with our own experience of the place. Some autobiography. Bonus points for added social or political critique.
IJssel river ferry - 1956
The classic text would start like this:
  • There are two rivers called IJssel in the Netherlands. The Hollandse IJssel is much more industrialized than the Gelderse IJssel. The old, broad river is more mysterious, magical and romantic.
But the only way to resist that, is to rant about the subject:
  • I fucking hate rivers. I've always hated them. Boring horizontal objects. Wet and cold. Inhabited by slimy fish and Lovecraftian frogs. Great views for prime property owned by rich farts who escaped from the city. Disgusting. Far from anything, not a coffee or a library to be found anywhere. Locals and farmers and youths on scooters. Boring factories surrounded by barbed wire, inaccessible industrial landscapes. It always rains here and a cold wind always blows over the flat landscape. Who cares about this landscape? No one, obviously, because everyone is somewhere else, where it is more interesting. I don't give a damn about birds or roadside flora, I can see the same plants destroying the asphalt of my driveway. And who cares about the history of rivers and canals? Yes, they were the highways of the 19th century and that makes them just as uninteresting as our own highways. Don't waste my time with rivers. Get lost with your psychogeography!
Now see ... that was not so hard to write :-)
Hollandse IJssel - Nieuwerkerk
And using some found texts from Google we can translate it into a readymade poem:
This fucking river is why I'm never mad anymore.
Decided to float the wagon across this fucking river.
This fucking river and this fucking forest, I think. I need to get home.
I can't wait to get off this fucking river. lt's hardly a river, is it?
This fucking river will never let me make a call.
There's no fish in this fucking river.
Am I gonna pass this fucking river?
He knows this fucking river well.
Hollandse IJssel - Nieuwerkerk
An using some found texts from Twitter yields this grim and misogynist poem. But at least it's not the standard psychogeography fare. And it's a contrast with the atmospheric river landscape. I could turn this into a performance and shout the text at the river, just like I did with Bob Ross:
Oh your boyfriend didn't send you a good morning text today?
Cry me a fucking river.
I hope woodstown destroys those fucking river rats.
Forgot how loud blackberry buttons were.
Sounds like fucking river dance.
I get more joy out of watching river city then fucking river city.
This Asian bitch just leaked a fucking river.
No one can tell me she ain't pee.
Dumps all my diet coke cans into the fucking river.
Just leave me alone, bitch!
Sometimes I want to throw my phone in a fucking river.
Hollandse IJssel - Capelle aan den IJssel
Hollandse IJssel - Capelle aan den IJssel
Hollandse IJssel - Near Gouderak

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bird traces

How many birds are in my sky?  - And maybe some UFOs?

To answer this question I used a cheap webcam (Logitech C310) and two pieces of software:
  • UFOCapture is a video motion capture software that starts recording on a hard disk drive of a computer a few seconds before a change in the picture to a few seconds after a change in the picture.
  • Yawcam is a static picture caption software with options for periodic captures and motion detection.
The software is sensitive enough to detect birds in flight and it recorded their flight paths correctly. Below I enhanced the paths manually to make them more visible.
Unfortunately I did not get a stable performance but I'm sure it's a hardware (webcam+laptop) problem and not a software problem, because I had similar problems with Yawcam. Many video recordings were incomplete or showed just static pictures (no motion). But the (few) successful video recordings were very impressive. 

I didn't get enough data to count the birds in my sky. But from the video's I noticed some things. Some are blindingly obvious in hindsight, but it's good to be reminded of them:
  • Few birds fly high. Most birds stick to the ground.
  • It is difficult to catch birds in flight.
  • Birds fly very quickly through my sky. It takes them less than 1 second to pass through the field of view.
  • There are not many birds in the early morning sky. And most detected birds are individuals, there are no flocks.
  • Birds are very small in the sky. I recognised seagulls and pigeons. Their flight patterns are easily identified. But otherwise it's difficult to determine the species.
The software is relatively stable but it has very limited functionality. The motion detection is not sensitive enough to detect birds in flight. So I set the software to take periodic pictures (1 picture per minute) and I caught:
  • 26-12-2013 from 11:26 to 12:41 (75 minutes) looking North: 5 birds (4 seagulls, 1 unknown)
  • 26-12-2013 from 15:19 to 17:39 (140 minutes) looking South: 18 birds (7 unknown, 1 unknown,  3 seagulls, 1 unknown, 6 jackdaws going to roost)
  • 29-12-2013 from 12:20 to 17:30 (310 minutes) looking Southwest: 34 birds (1 unknown,1 magpie?, 4 jackdaws?, 24 seagulls, 1 airplane, 1 seagull, 3 jackdaws going to roost at 16:50)
  • 31-12-2013 from 13:31 to 17:19 (218 minutes) looking Southwest: 1 bird (1 seagull), probably an anomalous result because of the fireworks all day long
  • 1-1-2014 from 14:26 to 17:09 (163 minutes) looking North: 15 birds (15 seagulls)
Conclusion and further research
  • Webcam pictures of the sky are always beautiful.
  • A bird in the sky adds depth and perspective to the sky. Do you know that magpie in the Breughel painting?
  • Cheap webcams and free software are not sensitive enough for birdwatching and UFO hunting.
  • Most of our birds are seagulls and a few jackdaws. Seagulls circle in the sky so they are easier to catch.
  • If you look up 10 times you will see an airborne bird once. (But a human eye has a much wider view than the webcam, so you will probably see more birds.)
  • What setup would I need to catch our other birds (ducks, coots, blackbirds, robins, magpies)? Better resolution? Point the webcam at the ground? Install a bird feeder?
  • I could determine the most likely times to see a bird in the sky. My subjective feeling is that I see more birds in the morning and early afternoon than at other times.
26 December midday (includes the single pictures above)
26 December evening
29 December afternoon
31 December afternoon
1 January afternoon
Sources: - UFOCaptureV2, V2.24, 2013/06/09

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A knock-out for highbrow art

A simple ice sculpture generates more interest and more interaction than any highbrow art I ever saw.
I was positively surprised but also shocked. Are we doing it wrong? What can we learn from this?
Ice is a fascinating substance, and its fragility in public space is sure to generate interest. But could "real" art ever approach this effect? Probably a Jeff Koons could have the same effect.
I don't know what to make of this. (Rotterdam, Koopgoot)