Darwin’s prose

I recently found Charles Darwin’s Beagle Diary, being posted ‘live’ on the internet with a mere 175 year time-lag (see also Pepys, Thoreau).

He’s only just reached Brazil, so there’s plenty of time to join the fun. This is from today’s entry:

The houses are white and lofty and from the windows being narrow and long have a very light and elegant appearance. Convents, Porticos and public buildings vary the uniformity of the houses: the bay is scattered over with large ships; in short the view is one of the finest in the Brazils. But their beauties are as nothing compared to the Vegetation; I believe from what I have seen Humboldts glorious descriptions are and will for ever be unparalleled: but even he with his dark blue skies and the rare union of poetry with science which he so strongly displays when writing on tropical scenery, with all this falls far short of the truth. The delight one experiences in such times bewilders the mind, if the eye attempts to follow the flight of a gaudy butter-fly, it is arrested by some strange tree or fruit; if watching an insect one forgets it in the stranger flower it is crawling over, if turning to admire the splendour of the scenery, the individual character of the foreground fixes the attention. The mind is a chaos of delight, out of which a world of future and more quiet pleasure will arise. I am at present fit only to read Humboldt; he like another Sun illumines everything I behold.

A little on the flowery Victorian side, but still a fine bit of prose. What’s interesting is that you’d never know he could do it on the basis of The Origin of Species, a book which is well written but rarely sparkling. But in the diaries, notebooks and letters he can be a lively, engaging writer. One of my favourite quotes from the notebooks: ‘He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke’.

My toy camera: the Cardcam

My post a few days ago about ‘toy cameras’ made me dig out my own toy camera. It’s not a film camera, though, like a Lomo or a Holga; instead, it’s a crappy digital camera from a few years ago. It’s somewhat in that spirit, though, as it’s a primitive point-and-shoot camera with no controls of any kind at all (and no screen – just a viewfinder).

It’s called the Oregon Scientific Cardcam and its selling point was that it’s only the size of a credit card. Which is true — at least, it’s probably about four credit cards thick, but it’s still very cool.

Unfortunately the pictures are awful. They’re 640×480 pixels, which is limiting but not the end of the world, and because of the primitive state of flash memory technology when it was made it can only hold 26 pictures. More problematic, though, is that it doesn’t work very well with subjects which are too bright, too dark, too high contrast, too close, or too far away; the focus is rarely very sharp, even given the limitations of the resolution; the colours are erratic; and there’s a distinct distortion at the corners of the pictures. I took it skiiing a couple of times as a fun camera I could take out on the slopes with me, but even on that basis the pictures were so bad it was hardly worth it. I assume, btw, that the market for this kind of camera was pretty much wiped out by the production of cameraphones.

So does my new-found appreciation for the aesthetic qualities of photographs taken with cheap cameras extend to my cardcam? Well, here’s a selection of the more attractive ones out of two ‘rolls’ of shots I took:

Bearing in mind these are the very best ones (lots are just unusable); I don’t absolutely and unswervingly hate them, but I don’t think they’re about to start a hot new trend. In terms of an embracing-the-flaws philosophy, the distortion around the edges of the pictures is probably the most interesting thing.

It was quite entertaining playing around with it, but I think it can probably go back in the drawer again now.

That time of year again

Last year it wasn’t until March 12th that I complained about hay fever. Nearly two weeks earlier, this year. Could be global warming; more likely just me being more irritable.

Amusing bonus bit of web 2.0 gimmickry: you can see the culprits here.

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