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how to spot clouds : look up

It's a flat grey morning today. Low skies, rain, probably. But not certainly, so I'd better open my growhouse before I cook another pepper. Speaking of clouds, I caught The Cloudspotter's Guide on BBC4. Much of it was interesting, but much of it made me want to punch the presenter; according to timscience, his book produces a similar effect.

I think, in a word, the problem is one of presumption. Gavin Pretor-Pinney starts from the hypothesis that clouds are underappreciated -- fine, it justifies the book/documentary/book fair tour but it's probably best not to go on and on about it because that's the bit which does not add up -- looking up at a particularly startling cloud formation and going WOW! is a human commonplace, and most people, asked about clouds -- they'd have a thing or two to say. Not all negative.

His Cloud Appreciation Society (and the documentary, and doubtless the book) quote a poem by Shelley, author of that aesthetic snobbery that assumes in the author a wildly charged emotional connection with a thing that the common herd could not possibly understand. This irritates me. He irritated me. Which is not that you shouldn't see the documentary, you should, it's quite good, and I'll doubtless get to his book (though the lack of illustrations is a barrier -- I remember the cloud formations pictures in the Ladybird Book of The Weather most vividly).

Also, about halfway through, I became frustrated by the photography, and turned on Flickr to pick up some clouds which were a bit more like the ones I remember from when I was young*. There wasn't a shortage of photos, and most of them were awesome (though the one of a huge spaniel running through a sunset with stars twinkling out of its feet may have been, hm, shopped) bearing out my supposition that, far from being a rare thing, love of clouds is such a commonplace that most people would not bother to mention it unless they were drunk or otherwise in a state of emotionally charged blither.

Ooh, just a side note. Does anyone else remember an experiment where you filled a gas chamber with steam and turned it into snow with a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher? Or am I just imagining that? In one of the prettiest sequences in the documentary, he turns fog into snow this way -- but misses it, as they couldn't afford a cameraman that night, so it's just him and a camera on a stick. As he discharges the fire extinguisher, there's a dintinctive flurry of snow, but by the time he's emerged from the mist, it's blown away, and all that are left are tiny, sparkling ice crystals, which he can't decide about. Do they represent a success or a failure?

Success, Gavin, but it wasn't that hard a sell. People like clouds anyway.

*Vast, hallucinatory cloud landscape sunsets splattered across autumn skies which looked like a distant view of another world.

Comments

( 17 worms — Feed the birds )
timscience
5th May, 2009 08:05 (UTC)
I thought in the book he was at his worst and most punchable when trying to be whimsical and humourous, and at his best when he was, you know, writing about clouds.
cleanskies
5th May, 2009 17:50 (UTC)
birds agree:
less witter, more clouds!
zengineer
5th May, 2009 08:12 (UTC)
Also very few people watching a programme called The Cloudspotter's Guide are going to be uninterested in clouds.
I also remember the Collins Guide to Clouds and Weather with fondness as being more complete if a touch less inspirational. I can't find a reference to this so I may be misremembering the title.
cleanskies
5th May, 2009 17:48 (UTC)
It was actually -- aargh! -- called "Cloudspotting" (which sounds like some sort of twitter enabled update of "Trainspotting" to me), but given the route I took to find it, I thought linking using the name people would be looking for was only fair to the internet.
monkeyhands
5th May, 2009 08:41 (UTC)
This very weekend, barnacle read up on the different types of clouds, then we went on a long walk and he pointed out the different kinds of clouds in the sky above us. Also, I see that someone on my flist has taken some cloud pictures.

Yes, people like clouds.
cleanskies
5th May, 2009 17:45 (UTC)
Looks like one of those clouds is shaped just like a thingy! Or maybe that's just me...
monkeyhands
5th May, 2009 19:17 (UTC)
Paging Dr Freud! Er, actually, yeah, I see what you mean.
crazycrone
5th May, 2009 08:49 (UTC)
Heh heh, I had several fist-itching 'punch!' and/or 'administer wedgie!' moments, too, but I quite enjoyed it, because I,um, like gawking at clouds.
(Anonymous)
5th May, 2009 10:15 (UTC)
Sorry anout psychic panch.
I know you are sweetie.
cleanskies
5th May, 2009 16:38 (UTC)
on balance, entertaining!
... and here's a robot that seems very concerned about your psychic panch!

I dunno, it's been a real day for it. It's even worse over at Twitter, which seems to be suffering an absolute invasion of dodgy robots.
(Anonymous)
5th May, 2009 10:13 (UTC)
I'll give you the last chance.
Let's meet up in May.
cleanskies
5th May, 2009 16:34 (UTC)
Tragically, my hon, I know how it goes when you try and meet up with spambots...

(Anonymous)
5th May, 2009 10:14 (UTC)
Will you take another chance?
mckenzee
5th May, 2009 15:16 (UTC)
I've got a framed membership in the CAS around the Bungaloid somewhere.

But I agree, I'd rather lie on the grass and look up than read another sappy poem about clouds.

I watched one pull apart and dissolve yesterday.
cleanskies
5th May, 2009 17:50 (UTC)
You could have been on the documentary! They featured various members of the CAS (mostly, but not exclusively, talkign about how certain clouds look like elephants)!

That'll teach you to keep up with the newsletters :)
undyingking
5th May, 2009 16:50 (UTC)
the lack of illustrations is a barrier

!?!

What is the earthly (or celestial) point of a book about clouds with no illustrations?
cleanskies
5th May, 2009 17:43 (UTC)
I malign it. It does have some illustrations, and a quantity of photographs -- some in colour, in a set of pages tucked into the middle of the book -- but the bulk of the photos, illustrations and other images are black and white, murky, low contrast and rather small.
( 17 worms — Feed the birds )