Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Monday December 22 2014

Here.

I also like this one, of the Wembley Arch, seen from the Wheel.

Sunday December 21 2014

Incoming from Michael Jennings:

As of this morning, thirteen successive Australia v India tests have been won by the home side. Seven of these matches have been won (and hosted) by India, and six by Australia. If Australia win the remaining two tests in this series (which may or may not happen) this will be the fourth successive Australia v India series to be a whitewash to the home side.

He was talking about this game.

Cricket has been a bit of a wasteland for me lately, what with county cricket being in hibernation and England playing nothing but one day cricket, which they are rather rubbish at.  They have been preparing for the forthcoming one day World Cup, by losing a one day series in Sri Lanka and then by replacing their captain.  But the feeling among cricket’s chattereres is that sacking Cook will improve England, and one day knock-out tournaments are such a lottery that I will live in hope, for as long as there is any.

Saturday December 20 2014

Busy day today, so another from the I Just Like It directory:

image

It’s the head of Hymn by Damien Hirst, when it was outside the Tate in 2012.

Behind it, we see that the Shard is nearly ready, but not quite.

Friday December 19 2014

Indeed.  Here is a photo I took soon after snapping the first of those anarchic roofs, of some china animals:

image

Now I think we can all agree that the cat there looks sufficiently like a cat for me not to have to say which the cat is.  It’s the cat.  But - and I didn’t just think of this as something to say on Feline Friday because I have long thought it about this particular version of the cat – I think this version of the cat looks like it has begun (only begun you understand) to morph into a dog.  One of those white furry dogs that is about the same size as a cat, but a dog nevertheless.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s the way its face sticks out at the side, rather too much for a cat.

And quite aside from that, I like the photo.  Those horizontal colours.

Also, the bloke on the right, wearing a plate on his head instead of a hat, looks a lot like David McDonagh

Thursday December 18 2014

Last Monday I was in the Covent Garden area.  Having a little time to kill before the event began which had brought me there, I naturally took photos.

The one I like best that I took at that time was this one:

image

Forget that balustrade in the foreground.  I’m interested in that big round building behind it, and in the contrast between the severe repetitiousness of vertical wall, and the picturesque jumble of functionality that has erupted on the top of the building.

I’m getting out of chronological order with this next one, because I took this shot after attending the event that had got me to Covent Garden.  But never mind about that, because this is yet another study in repetitiously good mannered vertical walls, topped off with yet more rooftop anarchy:

image

Nothing would make me happier than to think that the planners and the architects will continue for ever just not seeing all this rooftop anarchy.

But now take a look at the top of this building (which I photoed, from the other side of the river and with much zooming, on the same day (October 25th of this year) that I took these Shard pictures):

image

Because of the new fashion for making walls which are not quite vertical, and roofs which are not quite horizontal – roofs which are consequently, from a distance, from some angles, clearly visible – all roof clutter has been banished.  To be more exact, the roof clutter has been covered up.  An indoor place has been found for it.  Anarchy has been eradicated.

Wednesday December 17 2014

When it’s finished, it will look, according to the picture on the outside of the site (which is an outdoor hard copy of the first picture here), like this:

image

Here is what it and its surroundings will look like from above.  My home can be found in that picture, this Thing being only a short walk away from it.

But, as of now, in contrast to the above simulations, it looks like this, which I think I somewhat prefer (what with all that lovely scaffolding):

image

Hang on.  Is that a Christmas tree I see up there (in among all that lovely scaffolding)?  Yes it is:

image

After I started taking photos of this Thing Under Construction, together with its Christmas tree, one of the men doing the constructing made “stop doing that” gestures.  I was standing on a public pavement.  They were building a small skyscraper with a Christmas tree on the side of it.  Did they think they could keep this secret, and impose martial law for a quarter of a mile around all this?  I just laughed out loud and carried on, and of course they did nothing about it.

Can you spot why “Sculpture” is included in the category list below?

Tuesday December 16 2014

Photoed by me earlier in the month, outside Green Park tube station:

image

Is this fair?  Publicising these two face-recognisable guys, after they’ve had a hard day hard selling something that looks like it was a rather hard sell?  Well, they’re in uniform, a uniform donned precisely to attract attention, which is what I am giving them.  They are public figures.  Insofar as they are rather letting the uniform down, that too is a public matter.

They remind me somewhat of Dan Aykroyd’s drunk Santa in Trading Places.

In this clip, Aykroyd (a) answers questions about Trading Places, and then (b) plugs his vodka-in-a-skull-bottle.  Really.

Quote:

“Love Capitalism.”

Yes.

I am, however, puzzled by those strange looking marks in the wall, at the top of the picture.  Anyone?

Monday December 15 2014

This morning I had reason to be in the vicinity of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, at about 10 a.m.  Later you will learn why, but in the meantime, just to say that this uncharacteristically early-in-the-day expedition enabled me to reacquaint myself with an old friend, in the form of the delightful footbridge that allows the ballerinas of the Royal Ballet School to make their way to the Royal Opera House, without having to risk being damaged by traffic or by the public:

image

The ROH is on the right there.  I like how the squares in the bridge echo the strong right angles of the building and its roof details.

I also like the blue sky.  But, you think that’s a blue sky?  That’s not a blue sky. 

This is a blue sky.

Sunday December 14 2014

A moment ago I had a twenty first century moment.  I thought: Wouldn’t it be great to have a keyboard on the top of your thighs, embedded in the front of the top of the legs of your trousers.  You could then type wherever, perhaps combined with a pair of those google glasses that you also wear perpetually.  And it could all add up to a mega-computer if combined with a big cycle helmet full of electro-magic.

The point being that typing is never going to go away.  The QWERTY keyboard is permanently with us, I think.

So, what about that top-of-your-trousers keyboard?  Time was when a thought is all that such a thought could ever be.  But now, no sooner is the thought thought than it is googled:

image

Brilliant.  It’s not market-ready yet, but they’re working on it.

Gotta love that Golden Age.

Although, great though the basic idea is, I can’t help feeling that (a) washing and/or cleaning might be an issue, and (b) the keyboard needs to be separable from the trousers by some means.  Maybe just strapped on, or something.  What if the keyboard malfunctions?  Do you then have to chuck away the jeans?  What if the jeans catch on fire?  Is the mere keyboard then any use?  Problems problems.  This, after all, is why keyboards originally separated themselves from personal computers.

But like I say, the basic idea is a very good start.

Maybe in the longer run, the future of the mobile keyboard is that your Goggle Spex will project a keyboard onto a nearby surface (and then keep that keyboard still even when you move your head around), which it will then observe your fingers typing on.

But basically we are talking about the next iteration of the personal computer.  First, big old box in the office.  Second, big old luggable/portable “laptop”.  Third, little toy in your pocket that you can peck at.  And now fourth, this.  A real computer than you can wear all the time and type into whenever, wherever, within less than a second of whatever you want to type occurring to you.  Had I been on a train when I had this notion, I could not then have done this blog posting.  That is what needs to change, much more conveniently than it has so far changed.

Saturday December 13 2014

Back when I took these two pictures (September 15th 2007), this was the camera that most impressed me, because its screen was so big:

image

Now, it is this camera that impresses me most, because its screen is so small:

image

More and more postings here, I predict, are going to be of pictures I took a while back.

Friday December 12 2014

I just chanced upon this list of London’s twenty tallest buildings.  What I particularly like about this list is that it includes date of construction.

No less that sixteen of these tall buildings were built during this century.  The other four are: One Canada Square (the pointy Docklands one), “Tower 42” (aka the Natwest Building), the “South Bank Tower”, and the Guy’s Tower (aka the ugly little monster now dwarfed by and right next to the Shard).  Those are all twentieth century.  All the rest are twenty first century.

That last one, the Guy’s Tower was, when first perpetrated, the tallest building in London.  I did not know this.  Now it holds the number eighteen spot.

image

That’s a picture I took of the middle of the Shard and of the top of Guy’s Tower from Blackfriars Station (the one on the bridge) when both that station and the Shard were still being constructed, in 2012.  I chose that picture because in it, the Guy’s Tower looks particularly ugly and bedraggled and stained and horrible.

I recently speculated that the Guy’s Tower might have made the Shard possible, by destroying all concerns about aesthetic suitability in its area.  Now I am starting to suspect that it may have had an even more profound effect, on the whole of London.  I mean, if that horrid Thing is the tallest Thing London has, then the sooner we build lots of other taller Things the better.  That’s what I would have been thinking in the seventies, if I had been thinking about London Things at all at that time.

What I am saying, to spell it out, is that if that Guy’s Tower had not been built at all, then the subsequent architectural history of London might have been very different, and far less interesting.

Thursday December 11 2014

In October, I posted this, provoked by seeing a drone in a London shop window.  I said stuff like this:

Something tells me that this gadget is going to generate some contentious news stories about nightmare neighbours, privacy violations, and who knows what other fights and furores.

What might the paps do with such toys?  And how soon before two of these things crash into each other?

I should also then have read and linked to this piece, published by Wired in February.  Oh well.  I’m linking to it now.

Quote:

Sooner or later there will inevitably be a case when the privacy of a celebrity is invaded, a drone crashes and kills someone, or a householder takes the law into their own hands and shoots a drone down.

Quite aside from privacy issues, what sort of noise do these things make?  That alone could be really annoying.  (Although that link is also very good as a discussion of privacy issues.  Noise is only the start of their discussion.)

My guess?  These things will catch on, but at first only for niche markets, like photoing sports events, or, in general, photoing inside large privately owned places where the owner can make his own rules and others then just have to take them or leave them.  Pop concerts.  If they’re not too noisy, they might be good for that.

This is always how new technology first arrives.  Ever since personal computers the assumption has tended to be that the latest gizmo will immediately go personal, so to speak.  (Consider 3D printing.) But actually, personal use is, at any rate to begin with, rather a problem.  At first, the new gizmo finds little niche markets.  Only later, if at all, do things get personal.

Which is why, I think, the first two sightings I have made of photo drones have each been in shop windows, the first in the window of Maplins in the Strand (see the link above), and the most recent, shown below, in the window of Maplins in Tottenham Court Road:

image

And a creepy Christmas to you.  I guess this is the gadget of choice of “Secret Santa”.

Which reminds me.  Now is the time I start taking photos of signs saying “Merry Christmas” to stick up here instead of sending out Christmas cards.  Will I find a weirder “Merry Christmas” than that?  Quite possibly not.

I am looking forward to photoing one of these things out in the wild.

Wednesday December 10 2014

Nothing, apart from this, here, today, but I did manage a posting at Samizdata entitled Anton Howes on the Golden Age that never stopped.

I say nothing, but here is a picture I took of someone in a woolly hat taking a picture at Piccadilly Circus:

image

Gotta love that Golden Age we’re living in.

Tuesday December 09 2014

Another Bit from a Book, and once again I accompany it with a warning that this Bit could vanish at any moment, for the reasons described in this earlier posting.

This particular Bit is from The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley (pp. 255-258):

Much as I love science for its own sake, I find it hard to argue that discovery necessarily precedes invention and that most new practical applications flow from the minting of esoteric insights by natural philosophers. Francis Bacon was the first to make the case that inventors are applying the work of discoverers, and that science is the father of invention. As the scientist Terence Kealey has observed, modern politicians are in thrall to Bacon.  They believe that the recipe for making new ideas is easy: pour public money into science, which is a public good, because nobody will pay for the generation of ideas if the taxpayer does not, and watch new technologies emerge from the downstream end of the pipe. Trouble is, there are two false premises here: first, science is much more like the daughter than the mother of technology; and second, it does not follow that only the taxpayer will pay for ideas in science.

It used to be popular to argue that the European scientific revolution of the seventeenth century unleashed the rational curiosity of the educated classes, whose theories were then applied in the form of new technologies, which in turn allowed standards of living to rise. China, on this theory, somehow lacked this leap to scientific curiosity and philosophical discipline, so it failed to build on its technological lead. But history shows that this is back-to-front. Few of the inventions that made the industrial revolution owed anything to scientific theory.

It is, of course, true that England had a scientific revolution in the late 1600s, personified in people like Harvey, Hooke and Halley, not to mention Boyle, Petty and Newton, but their influence on what happened in England’s manufacturing industry in the following century was negligible. Newton had more influence on Voltaire than he did on James Hargreaves. The industry that was transformed first and most, cotton spinning and weaving, was of little interest to scientists and vice versa. The jennies, gins, frames, mules and looms that revolutionised the working of cotton were invented by tinkering businessmen, not thinking boffins: by ‘hard heads and clever fingers’. It has been said that nothing in their designs would have puzzled Archimedes.

Likewise, of the four men who made the biggest advances in the steam engine - Thomas Newcomen, James Watt, Richard Trevithick and George Stephenson - three were utterly ignorant of scientific theories, and historians disagree about whether the fourth, Watt, derived any influence from theory at all. It was they who made possible the theories of the vacuum and the laws of thermodynamics, not vice versa. Denis Papin, their French-born forerunner, was a scientist, but he got his insights from building an engine rather than the other way round. Heroic efforts by eighteenth-century scientists to prove that Newcomen got his chief insights from Papin’s theories proved wholly unsuccessful.

Throughout the industrial revolution, scientists were the beneficiaries of new technology, much more than they were the benefactors. Even at the famous Lunar Society, where the industrial entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood liked to rub shoulders with natural philosophers like Erasmus Darwin and Joseph Priestley, he got his best idea - the ‘rose-turning’ lathe - from a fellow factory owner, Matthew Boulton. And although Benjamin Franklin’s fertile mind generated many inventions based on principles, from lightning rods to bifocal spectacles, none led to the founding of industries.

So top-down science played little part in the early years of the industrial revolution. In any case, English scientific virtuosity dries up at the key moment. Can you name a single great English scientific discovery of the first half of the eighteenth century? It was an especially barren time for natural philosophers, even in Britain. No, the industrial revolution was not sparked by some deus ex machina of scientific inspiration. Later science did contribute to the gathering pace of invention and the line between discovery and invention became increasingly blurred as the nineteenth century wore on. Thus only when the principles of electrical transmission were understood could the telegraph be perfected; once coal miners understood the succession of geological strata, they knew better where to sink new mines; once benzene’s ring structure was known, manufacturers could design dyes rather than serendipitously stumble on them. And so on. But even most of this was, in Joel Mokyr’s words, ‘a semi-directed, groping, bumbling process of trial and error by clever, dexterous professionals with a vague but gradually clearer notion of the processes at work’. It is a stretch to call most of this science, however. It is what happens today in the garages and cafes of Silicon Valley, but not in the labs of Stanford University.

The twentieth century, too, is replete with technologies that owe just as little to philosophy and to universities as the cotton industry did: flight, solid-state electronics, software. To which scientist would you give credit for the mobile telephone or the search engine or the blog? In a lecture on serendipity in 2007, the Cambridge physicist Sir Richard Friend, citing the example of high-temperature superconductivity - which was stumbled upon in the 1980s and explained afterwards - admitted that even today scientists’ job is really to come along and explain the empirical findings of technological tinkerers after they have discovered something.

The inescapable fact is that most technological change comes from attempts to improve existing technology. It happens on the shop floor among apprentices and mechanicals, or in the workplace among the users of computer programs, and only rarely as a result of the application and transfer of knowledge from the ivory towers of the intelligentsia. This is not to condemn science as useless. The seventeenth-century discoveries of gravity and the circulation of the blood were splendid additions to the sum of human knowledge. But they did less to raise standards of living than the cotton gin and the steam engine. And even the later stages of the industrial revolution are replete with examples of technologies that were developed in remarkable ignorance of why they worked. This was especially true in the biological world. Aspirin was curing headaches for more than a century before anybody had the faintest idea of how. Penicillin’s ability to kill bacteria was finally understood around the time bacteria learnt to defeat it. Lime juice was preventing scurvy centuries before the discovery of vitamin C.  Food was being preserved by canning long before anybody had any germ theory to explain why it helped.

Monday December 08 2014

Here is a picture I took earlier this evening, at Warren Street tube station, the Victoria Line, at the time specified in the picture …:

image

… and here is another picture, of the same things, but from closer up and from below, which, as you can see, I took six minutes and one second later:

image

The first picture, taken from a random spot quite a long way off and from within a crowd (hence the blurriness) is the problem, and the second picture, taken from much nearer and when I was seated, shows you (without blurriness) what is causing the problem.  There is a sign, and there is a damn great horizontal slab of WTFness, attached to a surveillance camera, right next to the sign, blocking the view of the sign, from everywhere except very near to it.  This arrangement was not calculated to render the sign two thirds useless (see the first picture above), because it is quite clear that no calculation was involved.  The installers of the surveillance camera and its WTFness clearly gave no thought to the sign or its legibility on most of the platform.  But, if a malevolent calculation had been done with the above malevolent purpose in mind, that is exactly where the surveillance camera and its big WTFness attachment would have been placed.  They could not have blotted out the sign better if they had tried.

You see this combination of circumstances quite a lot in tube stations.  Finally, I got around to photoing it, when I saw it, so I can have a bitch about it on my blog.

Knowing how long you must wait for your next train is very soothing, I find.  One of the best things about railway (and bus) services in recent years is that signs such as this one have become ever more abundant.  But, such signs only sooth if it is possible to read them.  They do not sooth if it is necessary to walk half the length of the platform in order to read them.

I am not impressed.