The Flâneur's Archives

Archives from The Flâneur's Arcade (2007-2017)

Category: Nuts & Bolts


Rue de Paris, temps de pluie (1877)
Gustave Caillebotte

Well, no sooner had Photobucket disallowed hotlinking to my blog images than Google discontinued their Picasa photo hosting service. They essentially retired it to make way for Google Photos, where I find I have less control over my material. It is unclear to me now where my material are actually stored, and I am also no longer able to obtain direct, permanent links to images.

This would still have been fine if Web Albums, the app I use to upload photos from my phone and link them to this blog, continued to function as usual, but after a phone unlocking procedure, where I had to reset the hardware, I could no longer log in to my account from Web Albums and access my photos. What’s worse, Google Photos only generates shortcut links that do not directly refer to the image file. This effectively disallows you from embedding the image directly on your blog or website. You can still share it via email, SMS, or social media, but you cannot embed the images.

It seems like these photo hosting services are trying to fence in your information within their domains or pay walls. It is a pity, as a lot of web authors like myself rely upon these resources to generate new content. What I love about the web is the preponderance and proliferation of amateur (non-specialist, non-professional) content, and the ability to mine existing web content to generate new content (within the bounds of fair use). It makes for a richer, deeper, more varied Internet. The continued push for consolidation and legitimization of web content will eventually lead to its ossification, much like what happened to the legacy media of newspapers and magazines.

It was my intent to maintain this site as a photoblog using Google’s photo hosting service, after Photobucket cut the hotlinks from my regular blog articles, but it seems like that will not be possible as well. In this light, I am turning this site into an archive of a decade’s worth of blogging since 2007, when I began–nearly 200 entries of sometimes pretentious, sometimes pompous, but always opinionated writing.

I will be restoring the image links (slowly) by transitioning to WordPress’ in-house photo service, so that the site will finally be completely self-contained. I am splitting my photoblogging, microblogging and new writing (or re-writing) into different WordPress sites:

Over time, I have settled into these three genres of photoblogging, microblogging, and proper writing, but doing all three in a single site has just become unwieldy, and also produced uneven results. So part of this major change also comes from my need to restructure.

I have enjoyed this “arcades project” for the last ten years, following my intellectual interests wherever it led me, striving to be a flâneur, both as amateur and dilettante: an amateur in the original French sense of “lover,” and a dilettante in the positive Italian sense of “one who delights.”

And the delights continue to beckon.

The Pointed Nib

John James Audubon (1875-1851)
Carrion Crow, from “The Birds of America”

My new blog, The Pointed Nib, is live!

The banner of mighty carrion crows over the carcass of a stag is from John Audubon’s The Birds of America.

About the blog: “The pen’s tip took its name from the bird’s beak, honed by Nature to a sharp point. My aim is to be precise and concise as that avian implement that tackles large things in small nibbles.”

Waaah, Waaah, Waaaaah!

Photobucket Ransom Note

The Internet is littered with this hideous ransom note from Photobucket. It’s hard to be mad at a service you have been using for free all these years, one that you’ve almost taken for granted.

Well, Photobucket will no longer be ignored, especially by your Adblocker. They now want you to pay nearly half a grand a year to be able to link to your pictures hosted on their site. It would have been nice if you had been forewarned, you know, like what banks do before they foreclose on you.

So the cold reality was a shock, and shock soon turned to anger. These ugly grey monstrosities are plastered all over your site. But hey, Photobucket dosen’t really owe you anything.

Fortunately, more than half of my photos, the ones I took myself are hosted on Google Drive, which, so far, has been good and free.

It’s too cumbersome to repair all the broken links, so I will make the posts private, and eventually resurrect some of the contents in a new blog, The Pointed Nib.

The Flâneur’s Arcade, in the meantime, will remain what it has become, a blog of flâneur photography.

iPhone Photography

Subway Rush
Tokyo (2015)

This rash of photoblogging was inspired by a Wired Magazine piece on Daniel Arnold, who, according to Gawker, is Instagram’s best photographer. He prowls the streets of New York, armed only with his iPhone 5–cracked screen and all–to document the city he loves.

I was thrilled with the idea of stretching the creative possibilities of the smart phone, not just for taking pictures, but for in situ processing of the images as well.

Like Arnold, I do have a proper digital SLR, but it is something I only tend to take with me on special holiday trips. It is heavy, clumsy, and finicky–not fit for the gonzo demands of street photography. The smart phone is always on hand to capture an interesting subject wherever it reveals itself–on the subway, in the shopping mall, or out in the parking lot.

Yesterday, just as I was about to get in my car to go home, I saw this white crane hanging out on the grass. As I approached to take its picture, it got spooked and flew away–but not before I was able to capture the moment when it started flapping its wings, and a small plane just came into the field of view, serendipitously, to land on the airstrip across the street where I worked. It was a thrilling moment.

So far, I have not needed to use any third party apps to process my pictures. Arnold uses VSCO and Whitagram, which I have downloaded, but have mostly stuck with the native iPhone camera app functionalities. I’ve tended to favor the black-and-white format anyway (inspired by my love for André Kertész), and kept the tweaking minimal–mostly those lighting parameters such as exposure, contrast, highlights and shadows.

Though I try to avoid over-processing to preserve the natural integrity of the subject, these images are intended to be fully in the realm of artifice, and are meant to be expressive or dramatic statements. They have been re-composed by cropping or rotation, not just to highlight the subject, but often, to create the subject itself.

Along with photography, I have also been playing around with blogging with just my iPhone through the WordPress app. It’s portability allows me to post more regularly (even while waiting for my plane to take off), and its restrictions forces me to be pithy.

The app also lets me put out my pictures in a more timely manner (I have yet to review the hundreds of digital photos from a trip to Cambodia a couple of years ago), though still not at the dizzying lightning speed of Instagram. I am an old dog after all. But I also think the blog format still somewhat confers that white space around a picture as in a gallery that invites contemplation.

Media guru Marshall MacLuhan said about Thomas Edison’s light bulb of the 19th century, that by its mere presence, it creates its own environment. I think the same can now be said about the smart phone–or this virtual machine that still retains the vestigial term “phone”–since 2007, when Steve Jobs, Apple’s own industrialist visionary, announced to everyone’s astounded gasp the very first iPhone.

Farewell, ORBIS

ORBIS Banner
ORBIS Banner: Detail from Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte, Philippines,
evoking the labyrinths of Jorge Luis Borges.

After more than a year in hiatus, I am back blogging. Why the long pause? Not that I ran out of things to say. I doubt that will happen to one so opinionated and contrarian. I still have a long pipeline of pieces gestating that needs to be written down, except that they demand considerable time and attention to put together. In the meantime, I got busy settling in on a new job, and tying up the loose ends of a course website I developed for Science and Society during my brief teaching stint in the Philippines. I put together separate blogs called The Cyberflâneur that allowed me to write down musings on the fly to address the issue of time (this was what I used to blog my trip to the Philippines), and another called Mellis & Absinthia for interesting extracts from my reading projects. But even these turned out to be onerous as well, especially their upkeep.

The first order of business was thus consolidating these disparate efforts into one undertaking, and revamping the format to be more conducive to writing. I have therefore imported all the entries from the above into my main blog, ORBIS, and recast the site as The Flâneur’s Arcade. ORBIS was inspired by the writings of the Argentine writer Jorge Juis Borges, specifically, by his short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.

It is conjectured that this brave new world is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebraists, moralists, painters, geometers… [It] is so vast that each writer’s contribution is infinitesimal… [It] is surely a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth devised by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.

It is a planet built by men. Not so much a real, physical world, but a fictive world–a body of knowledge. Borges uses other metaphors for this web of arcana: the library of Babel, an infinite labyrinth, a circular ruin, a garden of forking paths. Borges, as if peering into the all-seeing Aleph, has foreseen our modern cyberspace–the realization of his fictitious planet, devised by men and destined to be deciphered by men. I envisioned ORBIS to be my own fiction, a self-contained world among worlds on the Web, and myself as one of those anonymous technicians whose contribution was infinitesimal.

In renaming the blog, I’m moving away from the hermeticism inspired by Borges, to the more meandering, open-ended stance of the urban flâneur. I do enjoy writing about unsavory aspects of popular culture as much as serious academic arcana (partly from my discovery of Camille Paglia). I would also like to relax the writing style to include a range of tone from urbane to heckling. (It’s often more fun to jeer from the peanut gallery.)

In order to encourage writing (and reading), I have also simplified the format, by choosing a cleaner theme (Manifest) and by removing unnecessary trimmings (widgets, blogrolls, plugins). The sidebar is dispensed with and whatever widgets I retained (mostly about stats) were pushed down the bottom in order to keep reading distractions minimal. This migration should be complete within the next weeks, after which, we bid a final farewell to ORBIS.

Why I find the need to explain these things–the nuts and bolts of running this blog–seems silly. It’s not as if I have legions of followers to answer to, to whom I should justify my editorial choices. But part of writing, of putting things down on paper, is to explain these things to oneself. And what is more reflexive than blog writing?