This and that. That there is.

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Artificial artist

I have to admit, I was really impressed with the recent advances in artificial image generation. I feel like it was just yesterday that I’ve played with funny and interesting toys where you could describe in plain text what you want to see and then watch AI algorithms slowly, very slowly iterate through trippy abstract images to distil and perfect whatever they “thought” is the thing you wanted to see. Painfully slow process that rendered more or less abstract images that were clearly computer generated, as such images a sane painter (or the one that wants to get paid for the work) would not paint.

Boy, how times have changed in those… um… huh, one year? AI artists of today are as far removed from the old algorithms as an art student is from the preschool kid when it comes to composition and acuity.

Although there are couple of incredibly advanced generators, one of them caught my eye: Midjourney. It’s a commercial service, but everyone gets a free trial, a chance to generate small number of images to see if the service is worth their money. The way Midjourney operates is a little bit unusual: you have to join their Discord server to be able to use the AI by talking to their bot. It does sound complicated if you’ve never used Discord, yet it isn’t as bad as it sound: Discord can be used like any chat platform you are familiar with (yes, even ICQ). Once you join their server and pick a newbie channel in Newcomer Rooms (creating a Discord account might be necessary), all you have to do is enter a simple command that starts with “/imagine”. So I did:

/imagine baby floating in air lying on a cloud, with butterflies

The first result wasn’t exactly that, but it looked pretty good and was way, way faster than previous toys I’ve played with:

The way this AI generates pictures will always present you with four chosen renderings and let you pick one for further development, or to make variations on it. Now, this first iteration maybe does not look like something to you, but for me it was witnessing a quantum leap from previous generation of AI artists: very quick to generate not one, but four variations, and right from the start those variations actually do resemble vaguely what I meant. There’s a hint of the baby face in first image, so let’s see if we can ask the AI to “reimagine” my request (make another set of variations)… Lo and behold, third iteration has created what is definitely a baby in a cloud:

Fourth iteration was even more successful:

While this does not look like anything resembling breathtakingly (sur)realistic image, those were my baby steps. It turns out that being a little more descriptive “helps” AI produce more focused results; not a direct interpretation of whatever came to my mind, but still amusingly close to it, and always with small surprising twists.

You see, this thing can not read your mind. At the moment you’re entering the description on Discord channel, you inevitably have at least a vague picture in your mind of what you want to get from the AI engine. The engine, however, “has a mind of its own”, and just like some real artist might draw a vastly different picture than what was in your head even if you provided them with a very detailed instructions, this engine will internally produce big number of representations, select four of them and present them to you. They can be close to what you wanted to have, and they can be unlike anything you imagined that you will get.

But, how does it work? Mathematical principles of AI generated images are seriously complex (and I’m not going to pretend that I understand them), if you want to know more take a look at this paper (or at least take a look at the figures in that paper, they will give you an overview of internal machinery).

It isn’t easy to explain in layman terms what is going on there, but on an overarching and simplistic level, two things happen:

  • first, you describe what you want to see; AI takes your sentence and breaks it into semantic chunks that roughly describe your request; for example, “white elephant in room, painted like Picasso would paint it” will be translated into three semantic chunks: “object: elephant, colour: white”, “object: room”, “style: Picasso”;
  • from there, AI that has been trained on huge sets of real images will seek representations of an elephant and a room, put them together in a meaningful way if possible (elephant in room, not room in elephant), colour the animal and apply artistic style that has been trained on Picasso’s paintings; AI will generate big number of possible images with one of its built-in parts, and check the validity with another (so called Generative Adversarial Network), kind of internal tug-of-war, somewhat akin to when we deliberate over something and weigh in different options; once the process is over, four of the “best” images will be selected and presented to the user.

The user then can, as is the case with Midjourney, select one of the images and tell the AI to make another set of four images created with the selected image as a “seed”, thus steering internal algorithms towards more specific results; or, user can tell the bot to “upscale” an image: take it and work more on exactly that image, adding details and improving the quality. While first process can take as many iterations as one wants, the other one seem to be rather limited to just a few iterations, after which images (at least for me) become too busy and way off. But still impressive.

Here’s an example of me starting with simple command and making a couple of variations:

/imagine glass skeletons in fiery cave

As you can see, each of four iterations provided different results, but all of them were interpreted fairly consistently. The level of abstraction is high, likely because the AI was not trained on much images of skeletons and of fiery caves. Yet again, really impressive, don’t you agree?

It becomes much better once we move from abstract requests (glass skeletons in fiery cave might produce quite vivid, sharp and well defined image in your head, but let’s be honest – human mind is still lightyears ahead of AI when it comes to imagination) to something that is more definite – we get much better results:

/imagine all the people

Way, way more impressive, even if the request was quite vague and Lennon-ish. First two sets are variations, and the third image is upscaled second image from the second set. You can see how much more detailed it is; in my opinion, this image can hold its ground against a real artist. Of course, it is still pretty abstract, but could be used as an illustration or artwork.

I could not resist:

/imagine bored ape token Trump

And here’s one upscaled token; notice how detailed it is, and how resembling:

Don’t tell me that you aren’t impressed.

It seems that this AI really loves nature (or is well trained with such images), here’s one:

/imagine storm over borderlands

… and one upscaled image:

To cut the long story short, here are some more examples that I’ve made after I got the hang of the interface:

/imagine computer hacker Hieronymus Bosch

/imagine computer chip painted by Salvador Dali

/imagine sunset over alien sea, crabs

… and, of course, the inevitable: what would happen if I try… if I just try…

/imagine Radoslav Dejanović

Apparently, I am a Russian aristocrat, maybe a writer or some high official. This AI is politically incorrect.

Last, but not least, if you think there’s potential for creative play with this toy, head first to Community Feed to witness things way more impressive than those I’ve created.

If you decide to bite the bullet, monthly subscriptions start from $10 for a decent rendering time allowing for about 200 images. The price might seem to be a little steep, but this has to cover hardware doing all the thinking and rendering. Given the fact that the advances in hardware are as fast as those of image generating AI, it is reasonable to think that the lowest tier might get halved in a near future. And for $5/month, that would be a present you would not dare to refuse to your child (real or inner).

Views: 900

APEXEL 200X Macro Lens Microscope review

Things far away and things very tiny always interested me. That’s why I got a telescope and a small selection of microscopes ranging from toys to relatively serious lab equipment. Microscopes are fun to play with and a great learning tool for young ones. However, they are somewhat bulky and impractical. Pardon me, Mr. Koch, but it’s true: we’ve made great strides from first microscopes, and bulky and heavy microscopes are not quite fit for today’s kids and their parents (who happen to be kids in their own way).

It is not a simple task to create a microscope one can put in their pocket and still have good magnification and decent picture quality: there are some laws of physics that dictate properties of the light and we can’t simply bend them to our whimsies. A good telescope has to have big lens and/or mirrors, has to be aligned precisely, and the materials have to have superior optic properties. Same goes for microscopes: good lens are a must, as is a good source of light.

However, there’s a twist in the story about microscopes: we’re now capable of producing lenses of significant quality and pretty small scale, and our retinas are replaced by far superior camera sensors that can see sharper and better, even in the dark (given enough time to gather photons). Where we hit the boundaries of physics, we have amazing software to fill in the gaps and take us a notch further.

We already carry them in our pockets, as smartphone cameras have evolved into amazingly capable devices that can easily replace the low- and middle-range cameras; add to that a nice set of lenses that can magnify tiny things, and there you have it – a microscope I could only dream about when I was a kid. Quite literally, what I am going to describe here, from the powerful and tiny computer to superb miniature lens, to amazing colourful display, gigantic pocket-sized storage and powerful applications – all that would be considered a Science Fiction just a few decades ago. Imagine this (if you’re young, if you’re inching to ancience like me, then “remember this”).

But I digress, so let’s get to business. I’ve recently upgraded my gear to Samsung S22 Ultra for its superb camera (and to ditch trusty old Sony camera, but that’s another story), and once I’ve seen Apexel lens on sale, decided to risk the money and see if I could make a decent microscope out of my phone.

I snatched the device for about $25 (about half the retail price), so if you want to give it a try, it’s not going to burn a hole in your pocket.

So, what’s in the package? Apart from less important items like carrying pouch, some cloth for cleaning the lens and USB charging cable, the main thing is a relatively big device; it has a frame that fits well on the phone (the screen facing part has a rubber pad to avoid scratching the screen) with sliding lens holder where lens, LED lights and a battery are set. As the device wants to be as universal as possible, sliding holder will let you align the lens very precisely over your phone’s camera lens. It fits my S22 Ultra very well, in fact I can use it on all four cameras, so it is likely to work on your phone too.

Notice rubber pad on the part that is in contact with the phone’s screen.

The white ring around the lens is an LED array that provides illumination and can be set in two modes: adequately bright illuminaton, and a little bit brighter illumination. I would say that the camera software plays a main role here, because whatever level of illumination you choose, the image is going to be well lit, and a little post-processing can easily reveal even more detail. Lens are polarized to minimize reflections, and that’s quite useful because the light source is so close.

The battery in the device can power LEDs that illuminate objects for a few hours (2-4h, according to the vendor) which should be enough for most needs; it can be charged from any USB source, including the phone if it is capable of charging other devices. The battery is tiny (120mAh); charging directly from the phone will certainly not drain phone’s battery and the device has an USB-C connector.

It is not too difficult to mount the device on the phone, but it does require some force. There are two caveats:

  • if you’re using a case, it might interfere with the positioning of the lens – thick cases will shift the focus away too much, and you might have to remove the case to get proper fit; some cases (rubbery ones) might provide too much friction and make positioning of the lens a bit difficult;
  • the screen facing part of the device could obscure some of the camera controls; luckily, the device allows for different positions so you can try rotating it to, um… obscure another part of the screen, hopefully one that does not have any important controls; whatever you do, keep in mind that small part of the screen will not be accessible.

There’s no special software to be used with this device – just fire up any camera software you fancy, and you’re ready to go! It doesn’t have to be the app provided by the manufacturer; in fact, I’m using a third party app “Open Camera” that is both free of charge and has excellent features, most notably producing crisp images. I find Samsung’s app’s camera AI to be way too obtrusive and trained towards producing “enhanced” selfies for Instagram; true, there’s a pro version that does somewhat better job at reflecting reality, but nevertheless I use the free app because it is fast, good and easy to use.

So, on to first image we go: having just placed the lens on the phone, I reached for the nearest interesting thing: a magazine.

This is how colours are reproduced on paper: combinations of coloured dots; unlike ordered computer screen, positions look random but the spacing is important for our perception of colour saturation.

This… is not impressive. This is quite ordinary, nothing to see here. Yeah, colours are ok, dots are pretty sharp and the overall image quality seem to be fine, but nothing you should write home about. Also, notice that this is not the original quality of the image, as I’ve first uploaded them to Google cloud where they’re converted to more space-saving size, to save both my expenses and your loading time. I find them quite Ok for online publishing: very little of the original detail is lost.

Everybody is using print on paper to show off their camera these days and I am more interested in nature, as this tool is great for field work. So, to grab the nearest piece of nature, I decided to go for my skin. Hairs and their follicles are just next to CMYK blots on paper on the list of most macro-smartphone-photographed things, so there we go: I’m going close up and personal.

Oh! Tiny parasites in my skin! Either that, or delusional parasitosis.

This is rather more remarkable result. That’s my skin from a decent part of my body. In this picture we can see my hair, its follicle and even a tiny blood vessel just beneath the skin. Here, you will notice how the DOF (depth of field, how much of the three-dimensional image is in focus) is pretty shallow, and I’ve missed the skin slightly. This is the main concern of this device, as smartphone cameras tend to have awfully shallow DOF compared with professional cameras, and those lenses narrow it down even more. It is not unlike doing real microscopy because the DOF there is shallow as well, but in this case it feels palpably shallower even than those of mid-range microscopes. On the other hand, all of the pics presented here were done by hand and by using no special equipment to keep things in place, so this is actually pretty good quality!

Next, I wanted to check how the lens work on my other camera lenses, 3x and 10x lenses present on S22 Ultra. Because my default 3rd party application can not recognize those (I hope that author/Samsung will fix that one day), I used default Samsung camera app to snap following two pics.

3x lens

This is quite blurry, but again – keep in mind that I’ve shot this from my hand. I guess that fixating my leg in formalin would make for a more steady shot with better focus, but it is what it is. I like it, it needs work but this mode can be used indeed.

Time for a glorious 10x telephoto lens:

10x lens

I’m quite impressed with this one. What you can’t see in the still image is that the very, very shallow DOF makes having anything in focus very difficult without proper setup. While I was trying to capture this, I’ve noticed that the image does get focused relatively nicely for brief moments, but those will be gone before I could snap a shot. Having a voice command for taking a picture would be very beneficial here, because mere touch of the screen button sends focus flying around in frame. Therefore, this is a somewhat blurry snap that can be improved by not trying to do it from hand; then again, this shows what this combination of smartphone and microscopy lens can achieve. Even this blurry, that image is impressive. Add some contraption to keep everything in place and use a voice command, and you might make an uber-excellent (for the price of this gadget) picture, detailed and clear.

Not all phones have cameras with optical zoom. If your phone is not among them, do not feel sorry: the best results indeed were made with the main camera, and those were taken from the hand. Optical zoom is a nice to have, but not an essential tool.

So, let’s move back to the main camera and try out looking at something we can get steady focus on. The black pouch that comes with the microscope lens is a geometrically interesting example:

Even more interesting is my t-shirt, placed on a desk and not shot on my belly:

t-shirt in royal hue, fit for Constantine and me

This is an awesome photo. You will notice how some parts are out of focus because the phone pressed the fabric and moved it slightly out of the focus. I would never expect those results from, let me remind you, $25 toy.

Here’s some rock with the grains easily distinguishable:

Surface of translucent hard candy:

A leaf with some detritus:

An orchid flower (notice how cells diffuse the pigment):

And then, spring onion leaf, held in place with a finger (you can see the papillary ridges in the background):

Now, prepare to be amazed at this picture of hibiscus pollen, taken by holding the phone against the flower:

The spiky grain of pollen is nicely visible. Let me crop the image to get more into the detail:

This is where I cast doubt at the declared 200x magnification. I’ve seen those grains before, and with a true microscope capable of 200x magnification: there, those grains look significantly bigger. This does not mean that the vendor is a cheater, but keep in mind that the overall magnification is factored by both your phone’s camera and the device. In my case, this looks somewhere between 150x and 200x, but not quite like full 200x magnification. Still freakin’ impressive, though.

We should not forget that the phone is capable of doing more than still images, it does video, too! And there’s absolutely nothing that could prevent us from taking a microscope video! Here’s my attempt of making a video of some other plant, outside, while it’s raining and slightly windy; you will again see how shallow the DOF is.

If you have some laboratory equipment to prepare slides, it is easy to imagine many creative things one could make with this toy: a video of tiny creatures living in a drop of swamp water, slow motion video of something microscopically interesting happening very quickly, or a time-lapse of a sprouting seed or growing bacterial colony… or a puzzle solving mould.

To finish this review, I’ve been hinted to use the well-known onion peel example. However, I could not find proper glass to make a slide, so I resorted to using a petri dish. Here are examples of my sorry attempt at staining the onion peel:

Using Open Camera

Using Samsung Camera app

Samsung camera, 3x optical zoom

Samsung camera, 10x optical zoom

Another shot with Open Camera, nearly lossless compression

I can say that I’m truly impressed with this little toy: while the laws of physics still apply (and you can see them at work on 10x optical zoom), you can expect great results if you use this device on a phone with a decent camera. Doesn’t have to be the crazy expensive one like some people buy to show-off (ehem…), but it has to be at least somewhere in the middle range. The device alone will not save you, you can’t make great pics with a cheap smartphone camera, so if you want to make photos like these, you need to have a good quality camera in your phone.

I don’t have many objections to this gadget: the FOV is shallow, but then again it is to be expected, and the proclaimed 200x magnification seem somewhat overblown to me (and it might vary from one smartphone model to another).

If you can get over those issues, I would highly recommend getting this gadget, especially if you can get it on discount. It is sturdy, comes with its own light source and is relatively easy to mount. Thanks to his movable body it is compatible with many different smartphones.

I wouldn’t recommend it for professional work, just like I wouldn’t recommend any smartphone camera to a professional photographer. I would, however, recommend it to everyone else, whether you want to play with it, have your kids play with it, or show your students some tricks.

It might be helpful in some real field work if you can live with the limitations, and it certainly can replace cheap microscopes in school labs: you can hand out devices to students and let them take a picture of a slide or specimen, mark whatever they have to mark on the photo they’ve made, include it in the paper they’re writing and e-mail it to the teacher or upload to a designated storage – all of that using just one device. It’s the 21st century school microscopy: cheap, good quality, versatile and built for digital tools.

If you’re eager to buy one for yourself, here’s the link to the vendor I bought mine – here. Note: author is not in any way affiliated with the vendor.

There are other models from other vendors and they look quite generic, so you don’t need to buy from that particular shop. There’s one thing to keep in mind while shopping for neat little microscope lens: be vary of magnification. Bigger magnification does not mean better quality – remember the laws of physics and how they work against small and cheap optical elements. Even the magnification this device boasts (200x) is a little bit suspicious, so be extra careful while looking at devices promising 400x, 800x, 1000x… magnification, as you’ll be hitting physics hard with these big numbers.

Update: I’ve managed to find a drowning mosquito, so here are some more examples. First, the mosquito, taken with Open Camera. First one is a default picture, the other is lightly touched upon by Google Photos .

original photo
improved version, done by selecting auto enhance

This one has been taken with Samsung camera app and 3x optical zoom lens:

a wet little mosquito

Finally, these two demonstrate the focal length (or, rahter, shallowness) – two images, one of the damn mould in my terrarium, the other of its fruiting body:

Update 2: here are some more pics (and a video!) taken with the same setup:

ant abdomen
wasp stinger
wasp head and thorax
wasp abdomen and stinger, using 3x optical lens
video of wasp’s nasty end; notice the shallow DOF

Views: 3223

G+ users migrating to MeWe?

I’ve just found that seemingly a large number of G+ users, facing the digital axing of the social network, are migrating to MeWe. There’s a word going around that they might even get a tool to easily migrate their exported G+ data to the new social site. Let’s see how this turns out. I’ve created a profile there, in case that this migration turns out to be a real deal:

mewe.com/i/radoslavdejanovic

 

Views: 355

Tenerife – some industrial photography

Like the architecture, industrial photography has its own subset of rules and takes time and practice to perfect. Unlike the nature photography, industrial photography is often dominated by geometry and straight lines that demand respectful place in the frame. On the other hand, the interplay of light and shadow can be interesting. Zooming in reveals hidden perspectives, and the absence of people (or their presence) can augment the message. Here, just a few of my photos taken in Tenerife, not too far from the auditorium.

Views: 199

Tenerife – Auditorio de Tenerife Adán Martín

I’ve grown up among the great big socialist buildings, grey and practical. No material to waste, no unnecessary decoration. In return for living in high rise grey buildings, we had big and nice parks, so it wasn’t all that bad. Yet I always felt like the art does not belong to living quarters, it was confined to few exemplary public buildings and monuments to the Revolution. This is how it looked like thirty years in the past when I was but a boy who still did not understand how the world revolved.

Oh, we weren’t shut off from the outside information like less lucky socialist states were, in fact we had a reasonably free flow of information in and out. It’s just that the society felt like what we were doing was the right thing: austere, practical, no-nonsense things, with a little leeway for hedonism.

This is why I like this building: it screams of material spent into designing something that isn’t necessarily practical, but eye-catching for sure.

Just look at that arch! So much concrete wasted just to create this visually stunning piece of architecture! And that tip, the tip that requires care and maintenance, or it might fall off and kill someone down there!

As far as concert halls go, this auditorium has everything: it’s interesting inside out (alas I have made no photos of the interior), it sits on the waterfront (cue the sound of waves) and acts as an orientation point for tourists. The wave crest, the biggest part, is 58m high at its peak.

It is difficult to make too bad photo of this building.

 

The back of the auditorium is turned towards the ocean, with the plaza protruding much into the waterfront. This huge open space with its dark patchy floor is in stark contrast with the white-ish hues of the building. Seen from this side, the building doesn’t seem as spectacular: it looks like it could be another industrial building, one of so many utilitarian solutions for processing and storage of things planted by the industrious hand not too far from here. Yet it feeds the souls, not the industry.

Fittingly, the breakwater extending from the plaza into the sea has been artfully transformed from a grey sum of stone blocks into a memento to famous artists. Its temporary nature (as the paint can’t withstand unceasing salt, water and wind for long) is the very seed for the next generation of art that will grow on the memory of the previous.

Whodoneit? These people.

Oh, and if I left the impression I’ve been living in a grey box-shaped hell and have seen no other colour until I dug a tunnel to Austria, this is our national theatre:

photo by Diego Delso

Views: 269

Tenerife – let’s make the trees comfortable

I’m changing my travel posts: instead of doling out one photo at the time as it was effective on G+ (and led me to over 39.000 followers at the peak of my popularity there – sadly, I never reached 40K), I will group several photos in one post. I’ll try to keep the posts relatively short, yet still interesting and informative. Since I am known for my prolific writing (“over the top”, “really going into details”, and “please, make it stop!”), I think a few photos per post should be the good measure.

Today, we learn that on Tenerife, there live some nice people who care about the nature so much, they crochet the tree trunks to save them from cold and make them feel happy.

I guess that they’re old ladies or something like that – though, in this time of political correctness I should think they’re all nice gender-irrelevant, age-non-discriminated, education-appropriate and politically-whatever_they_want_to_be people of religion they might or might not have, liking pets they do or do not own, and with the help of their own descendants who might or might not have been in existence at the time the crochet was made.

Allow me to digress: Erwin Schrödinger would be deligthed if he could live and teach in our days.

 

The truth is, it was all about the art project “Urban knitting”, where artists and other nice people took upon crocheting colorful t-shirts (does it stand for “trunk shirt”?) for 41 trees that live among humans in the urban areas of the nature.

At the time we went there, the art initiative was nearing completion. The interesting thing, just like the market mentioned in my previous post, is that it was the community who took upon itself everything from organisation to funding, and the city was all too happy to give a helping hand and a little nudge here and there.

I like how they made those trees feel loved, and the urban areas more vivid and happier as a side-effect, how about you?

Views: 177

Tenerife 7

The inside of the market is full of small shops offering variety of goods. At the moment we were visiting the place, there weren’t too many people around, but it still felt busy. It isn’t that big; it is relatively small, well laid-out and colourful – and nicely clean. There are benches, a sunny middle part and stores in shade. There’s a lower level, too. Places to buy and consume food and drinks. Flowers. It surely does beat visiting a big grocery store any time! This is a place you simply have to visit, if not to buy something then to mingle among the locals and chat, why not?!?!

Views: 181

Tenerife 6

La Recova de Tenerife is not an ancient market. It was opened in 1943. and was thriving for several decades, when the introduction of big merchants and, later on, big retailers significantly undermined the popularity of the place. After it was nearly abandoned by the city officials, it reinvented itself as a self-managing co-operative. The city gave the green light and ever since then the market is living its life, not nearly as bustling and important as in the beginnings, yet important to local population. To prove itself as more than a simple place for grocery shopping, La Recova is holding night markets every few months, with music and fun and partying and merry people all around.

Views: 150

Tenerife 5

Barranco de Santos is a dry riverbed going straight through the urban centre of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It was dry at the time I took the picture, but you might have guessed that it is prone to flash flooding due to the hefty width of its channel. While the riverbed is usually dry, the hydrology and the geology of the area makes it susceptible to flash floods. Back in 2010. at the time of severe weather folowed by flash floods and land slides, Barranco de Santos was full to the brim. Tenerife might be the island of eternal spring, but it is still surrounded by an ocean: if you happen to visit it on a stormy day, you’d be in for a very interesting experience – unless you’re hiking somewhere in the open; I mean, you’ll likely survive that, and that, too, will be a lifetime experience. If you happen to avoid flash floods, land slides, rocks falling off of cliffs and sea waves that lick the roofs of the houses.

Jokes aside, it is always dangerous to brave the severe weather anywhere: listen to the local forecast and avoid travel in severe weather conditions. Let the Barranco de Santos riverbed stay dry and the sky sunny while you’re enjoying the island. 🙂

Views: 180

Podcasts I like: The History of Egypt by Dominic Perry

Listening to podcasts is a great way to make your daily commute easier. I’ve been listening to podcasts for some time now, although I am a latecomer: podcasts are “old things” now. By listening to admittedly small number of them, I can say that some are great, some are just good, and from some I’ve unsubscribed after just five minutes of listening. The curious difference between a podcast and a book is, to me at least, that the book has to be really boring to put me off; on the other hand, there are many things that can go wrong with a podcast: bad editing, narrator’s annoying voice, bad sound quality, too slow or too fast talk… name your personal itch. This makes podcasts more vulnerable than books. So, what are some good podcasts? At least, what are the podcasts that I like?

Enter The History of Egypt by Dominic Perry.

I do admit to have taken good interest in history in my later years: the history classes in school were mostly really boring. (sorry, teachers!) With one notable exception, all of my history teachers were incapable of taking the attention of the class, and the history I (don’t) remember was full of names and years, and who did what at what time, a stream of names and numbers with little connection between them. We did not learn why things happened, we just learned that they happened, who did it and what century or year it happened. The context given to events was brief and focused on bare skeleton of the much greater context of the times.

That one teacher who could captivate us? She knew how to tell a story, how to explain why something likely happened and she knew how to connect the dots; even more important, she knew how to bring historic characters to life, to be men and women, and not just names with numbers.

After leaving the educational system, it took almost two decades for me to stumble upon a few really great history books and discover that I actually love the stuff.

I would dare to say that The History of Egypt is one such podcast: it tells the story from the very beginning of Egyptian history on, through millenia of development and dissolutions, heights and tribulations. Dominic’s narration is clear and easy to listen, and he does employ the same little trick that my old teacher used: he’s talking in stories. This is no easy task, for a serious history book or podcast can not stray too much from the scholastic knowledge in its attempts to be entertaining. But Dominic plays the scale better than Anubis, the Guardian of the Scales, while Thoth, who is Aani in Duat (underworld), weighs the hearts against the feather of Maat (both goddess and the tenet of cosmic order) and proclaims the fate of the deceased.

Did you know that Egyptians had a festival where women would get on a barge and process up and down the Nile while flashing their breasts to onlookers like an ancient Mardi Gras? Neither did I know, so guess where I’ve heard about it? (they did it for religious reasons, by the way) Did you know that there was a religious festival where you wouldn’t be a true faithful if you did not get dead drunk?

A mystery novel you like? How about a crime, a never resolved possible murder of a Pharaoh? Or, how about what ancient Egyptians ate? Food? Cereals? Vegetables? Fish? Wild animals? Other people? What did the wealthy do? What did royal wives do, if they ever had to do anything?

How about the one Pharaoh who was a woman with a fake beard? In a male-dominated society? And, who left the rather obscene graffiti depicting that Pharaoh in an ancient equivalent of “Porn pic of the day”?

The information doesn’t have to be juicy to be intriguing – it has to be a story. Dominic delivers in a great style, and his podcast is full of interesting details. Of course, you can learn a great deal of “official history of Egypt” from this podcast because everything is based on the archaeological evidence and relies on expert knowledge; it’s the frosting on the cake that makes it delicious.

If you have developed an interest in sampling his work, pick any mini episode: they are full of stories you can not find in your average history book. And if you’re willing to give it a go, start with the oldest podcasts first; you can find them on iTunes and many podcast sites. I listen to the podcast using PlayerFM application available for both iOS and Android.

 

P.S. there’s no advertising in this article: I have no financial gain from promoting the podcast or podcast application: I just like them, so I decided to share them with you. Dominic, keep up the good work!

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