Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Rob Fisher on Round headlights equals an old car
Rob Fisher on ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
6000 on Nine reflections
Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
Brian Micklethwait on The River Thames carpet
Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
Alan Little on The localness of London's weather
Michael Jennings on Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
Friday Night Smoke on The River Thames carpet
Michael Jennings on Bombardier Embrio
Most recent entries
- Quota selfie from 2006
- ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
- Nine reflections
- The localness of London’s weather
- Round headlights equals an old car
- The River Thames carpet
- Cats … on scaffolding … with shadows …
- Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
- ASI Boat Trip 6: Crowd scenes
- Self-healing concrete
- Bombardier Embrio
- Football comment
- Quota bird
- ASI Boat Trip 5: Individuals
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This and that
Every now and again I do a posting here, to fix some fact in my memory that I am having trouble fixing in my memory. Like: the name of someone I really don’t want to insult any more by not remembering his name; and like: the difference between Norman Foster and Richard Rogers.
Well, this is another such posting, and this time it’s a building:
There are two of my favourite photos of it, and when I chanced upon them in my photo-archives, I realised, again, that I can never remember the name of the thing, or rather Thing, for it is indeed a Thing, albeit not a very big Thing.
It is called the Palestra. I sort of knew this already (scroll down to the picture of stupid propellers on a roof), in the sense that when I googled for “that big new building outside southwark tube” and found my way to it, I realised that although I had forgotten this name, I did once know it.
Though buildings like the Tate Modern and the reconstructed Globe Theater have done an admirable job of breathing new life and interest into Bankside, venturing south quickly brings the observer into gritty residential and industrial neighborhoods with little to recommend them to the passer-by. The borough’s latest architectural projects aim to extend the revitalization south from Bankside: among these are the planned extension of the Tate Modern, the construction of Southwark tube station, and distinctive building projects by the brightest stars of modern architecture. SMC Alsop’s Palestra, an office building completed in 2006, is one of these projects. Located on Blackfriars Road just across from the Southwark station, its dramatic glazing and cantilevered structure draw the eye and stand out starkly against its dreary surroundings.
Apologies for the American spelling there, which I am glad to see my word processor underlines with red squiggly lines.
And apologies to Southwark for that stuff about those “dreary” surroundings. This is typical architect talk based on the idea that the only important thing about buildings is how they look in photos taken on Sunday, early in the morning, with no people outside them having a good time.
The photo of Palestra on the left, above, was taken from the platform of Waterloo East railway station, and those peculiar bobbles you can see reflected at the bottom there are the pods of The Wheel. I really like how that looks.
So, Palestra. This posting is entitled “Palestra”. Palestra, Palestra, Palestra.
Bizarre day today, and am only now shoving whatever I can think of to shove up.
I went trawling through the photo-archives, and came up with this weird selfie shot from 2006:
Two cameras I no longer use. My previous pregnant-out-the-back telly. Some book about Something For Dummies.
I haven’t yet finished showing you photos from that Adam Smith Institute Boat Trip, that I got in on and took lots of photos of, at the beginning of this month, and which I have been showing here, now and again, ever since then. I’m hardly even close.
For instance, it’s taken me three quarters of a month to get around to it, but, of course, there were other photographers present besides me:
I chose these pictures simply because they fitted the bill subject matter wise, and because they look nice. I did not choose them to illustrate any particular point about digital photography.
The result being that they do illustrate a particular point about digital photography. Consider the stats.
There are two regular old school digital cameras to be seen snapping (1.1 and 1.3), three if you count mine. There is also just the one big tablet being used (3.3).
All the other photographers are using mobile phones.
Usually, when I photograph photographers, there are more regular old school dedicated digital cameras to be seen. But this is because I am photographing lots of “photographers”, i.e. people like me, who see themselves as more photography-minded than regular people.
What this boat trip illustrates is how much regular people now use their mobiles to take photos, in among all that networking and connecting and chatting and socialising. It isn’t so much that mobiles have replaced those tiny, cheap digital cameras, although yes it is that, a bit. But it is more that mobiles can now take photos, so now they do. A lot of photos are now being taken that would not have been taken at all, before mobile phones learned how to take photos, by people for whom mobile phones are essential, and photography with mobile phones began only as an extra.
And you can bet that many of the photos that the above people were taking were already flying off into the big www beyond, to work their propaganda magic, promoting the ASI, its Boat Trip, and the people who went on it, before the trip was even over.
Young people these days are quicker off the mark than I am. That’s their job. And being slower off the mark is mine.
I was laden with bags of shopping, but I still thought this worth photoing, late this afternoon:
Which do you think is better, a good photo of an okay thing, or an okay photo of a good thing? This, I think, is a photo of the latter sort. Digital cameras come into their own in taking such photos, because, although lacking that last ounce of phototechnicality, they are easy to have with you and easy to use, even when you are basically busy with other things.
What I like is how totally different each of the nine shapes are, like they are nine different pictograms or something. Only the one bottom right rather lets the side down.
Also, the car wasn’t helping. Had that not been there, I would probably have done it from right in front, and it might have ended up being a good photo of a good thing.
As of right now, late afternoon, there is rain and wind outside my window, and not long ago there was thunder. That’s in London SW1. And yet over in St John’s Wood, there is a test match going on, and there is no mention of any weather getting in the way of things.
Oh, as if to prove me wrong, Nasser Hussain has just talked about how the rain is staying “east of Regent’s Park”, in other words travelling northwards from me. North east and Lords would be getting a little bit of moisture some time around now.
It’s very tense, with England 62/1 and chasing just over three hundred, with an hour and a bit this evening and then all of tomorrow, weather permitting. Ballance and Cook have put on fifty, with Cook batting like his life depends on it. Which it does. He won’t die if he gets out soon, but how well he does today and tomorrow could have a big impact on how he lives from now on.
NOT MUCH LATER: 80/4. Cook just got out, for 22. Ballance and Bell already gone. England are not playing at all well at the moment.
Yesterday, someone emailed or tweeted Test Match Special, saying that the Notts captain, Chris Read, could be drafted in, to replace Cook as captain and Prior (who is now dropping catches) as wicketkeeper. It may eventually come to that. Continuity of selection is all very well, but what if the continuously selected team keeps on continuously losing?
See this earlier piece.
You don’t see many of these these days:
I’m talking about round headlights on cars. About ten years ago, and I have photos that notice the moment, car headlights, having been round for about three quarters of a century, went absolutely mental, with silver moldings and weird shapes of all kinds. It’s been like that ever since. Now, a car with round headlights is an old car.
Like this one, the car with the above headlight:
It appears to be one of these, or if not then something very like it. I photoed this car this afternoon.
A while ago, I started photo-collecting round headlights, and the cars that sport them. There may accordingly, although I promise nothing, be a huge spread of them here, any month, or year, or decade, now.
Some new cars these days have pretend round headlights, such as the new German Mini. But they are only pretend round. Look carefully, and they are not properly round, like the one above.
Here is a London picture, with the River Thames turned into a floor, very badly carpeted with very bad carpet tiles:
It’s Google Maps’s 3D-isation of London.
Despite the bad river carpeting, I would like to explore this Virtual London. But none of the reports I read of this exciting new virtuality tell me how can do this. Can I? And if I can, will I have to pay?
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom Feline Friday heaven, in other words:
The internet is altering the balance of power between Art as Silly Complaints About The Bourgeoisie and Art as Fun For Everyone. In a good way.
The are two photos which I took last Monday. The one with the bright blue sky, me looking up, was taken in Wigmore Street. The one looking down, was taken from the ME Hotel Radio Rooftop Bar.
They are photos not so much of roof clutter, as of roofs, roof in all their elaborately designed glory. But, you can spot the late twentieth century incursions:
The aesthetic impact of radio and television aerials does not seem to be much discussed in the architectural world. It could be that it has, and I merely haven’t noticed, but I don’t think that’s it.
Here is what I think is going on inside the heads of architectural aestheticians, on this subject. The deal we will make with you mindless philistines is: you can have your damn aerials, because we know that if you are not allowed, by us, to have your damn aerials, you will hut us down and burn us at the stake. But, we refuse to talk about them. We will not incorporate them into our aesthetic theories of how things look, and should look. We will not see them.
Which is how we got from the above scenario, where everything on the roof is elaborately designed, but the first few aerials have crept into the pictures, but have not been seen by the architects and their aesethetic guides, to this:
Yet still, they don’t see it and they don’t talk about.
Really, really weird.
I’ve been pondering roof clutter for a while now, but the more I ponder it, the more weird the phenomenon is.
What this reminds me of is a distinction that my sociology teachers at Essex University all those years ago made much of, that between the sacred and the profane. The sacred stuff here is the regular “architecture”, the walls, the windows, the roofs, the interiors, and so on. All of that is sacred, and is accordingly obsessed over, every tiny square inch of it, every subtle colour change, just as priests obsess about every word in a prayer.
But those aerials are profane. They don’t register. They aren’t architecture, any more than a tracksuit worn by a impoverished member of the congregation in a church is a sacred vestment, the details of which must be argued about by bishops and theologians, or the sales pitch being done over the phone on Monday morning (by someone who had been devoutly praying on Sunday) is itself a prayer. That sales pitch is profane. Forget about it. Don’t even think about it.
Those aerials, in among the sacredness of all those designed chimneys and roofs and little towers, are profane. And hence invisible. Aerials are designed, by aerial designers, to make sense of radio waves. But they are not designed to be looked at. They are a pure case of form following function. Architects ought to love them, if they believed their prayers. But they don’t because what is there for architects to add? Nothing. The job has all been done, by profane aerial designers.
Well, I don’t know. I’m thinking as I go along here, but writing it anyway. Which is all part of why I have this blog. At this blog, I am allowed to be wrong. This is a thinking allowed zone, you might say, a place where the thinking does not have to be done before the blogging begins. This is, you might say, a profane blog.
The reason to do crowd scenes is to show what a big crowd it was. Yes, it matters who was individually present. But the sheer number of individuals present also counts, a lot. It counts that they are too numerous to count conveniently. Think what some of them might accomplish, in the years to come. The law of averages says it’s bound to add up to something.
Crowd scenes also show the venue, which, if impressive, ought to register in the photos taken. And could there be a more impressive venue than London on a fine evening, from the river? Earth has not anything to show more fair.
What’s that you say? One of these pictures is just a head shot? Not a crowd scene, you say? Look again.
From Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik (pp. 80-81):
Given that literally half of the world’s structures are made from concrete, the upkeep of concrete structures represents a huge and growing effort. To make matters more difficult, many of these structures are in environments that we don’t want to have to revisit on a regular basis, such as the Oresund bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark, or the inner core of a nuclear power station. In these situations it would be ideal to find a way to allow concrete to look after itself, to engineer concrete to be self-healing. Such a concrete does now exist, and although it is in its infancy it has already been shown to work.
The story of these self-healing concretes started when scientists began to investigate the types of life forms that can survive extreme conditions. They found a type of bacterium that lives in the bottom of highly alkaline lakes formed by volcanic activity. These lakes have pH values of 9-11, which will cause burns to human skin. Previously it had been thought, not unreasonably, that no life could exist in these sulphurous ponds. But careful study revealed life to be much more tenacious than we thought. Alkaliphilic bacteria were found to be able to survive in these conditions. And it was discovered that one particular type called B. Pasteurii could excrete the mineral calcite, a constituent of concrete. These bacteria were also found to be extremely tough and able to survive dormant, encased in rock, for decades.
Self-healing concrete has these bacteria embedded inside it along with a form of starch, which acts as food for the bacteria. Under normal circumstances these bacteria remain dormant, encased by the calcium silicate hydrate fibrils. But if a crack forms, the bacteria are released from their bonds, and in the presence of water they wake up and start to look around for food. They find the starch that has been added to the concrete, and this allows them to grow and replicate. In the process they excrete the mineral calcite, a form of calcium carbonate. This calcite bonds to the concrete and starts to build up a mineral structure that spans the crack, stopping further growth of the crack and sealing it up.
It’s the sort of idea that might sound good in theory but never work in practice. But it does work. Research now shows that cracked concrete that has been prepared in this way can recover 90 per cent of its strength thanks to these bacteria. This self-healing concrete is now being developed for use in real engineering structures.
Maybe Miodownik is very good at explaining things, or maybe I am just ready to be learning this stuff. Probably both. I chose that excerpt because my average reader may not know about such things as bacteria which automatically repair concrete. But the truth is that I am almost embarrassed by how much I am reading that is new to me, or only vaguely known, as a sort of historical rumour.
I had no idea, to take just one example, who invented/discovered stainless steel, or where, or how. Now, I have a much better idea. The story is told on page 29 of this book, which I heartily recommend to all technological illiterates who would like not to be technological illiterates.
Today, by some means or another that I forget (other than it was the internet) I learned that the new trains for Crossrail will supplied by Bombardier. Oh yes, I learned it here.
And then, and again I forget how exactly, I learned about this bizarre vehicle, the Bombardier Embrio:
Oh yes, how I got to this was I googled for Bombardier pictures, and in among lots of airplanes and some trains, I saw this weird one wheeled thing, and investigated.
It looks like something Sylvester Stallone would ride in a movie.
It isn’t real. It is only a “concept” vehicle, and concept vehicles never happen. They just become part of the past history of the future, along with flying cars, robots to do your vacuuming and serve you tea, and elaborate space travel by the end of the last century. Still, weird.
I think what made me dig this up was that I have a soft spot for Bombardier, having done a few days, over the past few years, of planespotting at London City Airport, my favourite airport in the world. Lots of the planes that fly in and out of there are made by Bombardier. The world’s famous planes are made by Boeing and Airbus. But the quirky ones, the ones with propellers, the ones you don’t recognise, are made by companies like Bombardier.
I also like the way that railway carriages have changed during my lifetime. They have got better and better, with their automatic doors and spacious interiors.
I have just done a comment at Samizdata, on this (about the recently concluded football World Cup in which England did its usual rather badly (although it did at least get there)), saying this:
I agree with the first comment, about how, if individualism explains this, England (England perhaps more than Britain) ought to be winning tennis, golf, swimming etc., routinely.
I think much depends on what a country (to use collective shorthand) just considers important, for several years rather than just for a few weeks. Like it or hate it (personally I hate it) Britain, definitely including England, put in a mighty effort (both individual and collective) to make a success (but damn the cost) of the 2012 Olympics, both as an event and by winning a ton of medals.
But from what I hear from football fans, English football takes winning the Premier League, and then doing well in European club competition, more seriously than doing well in the World Cup. The feeling I get is that the winning England footballer is the one who makes the most money throughout his career. A former Spurs manager recently talked about how some of his players would fake injury, and wanted his help to do this, to avoid being picked for England. That would knacker them to no personal career purpose.
Plus, there is this huge split between regular English fans who support their clubs week in week out, and people like me who watch the World Cup but not a lot else. That Germany Brazil game was the most memorable football game in years, for me. For a proper fan, it would be some obscure promotion battle or an amazing away draw against a European club that got their team to the last sixteen of the Champions League, or whatever. For a Man U supporter it would be that remarkable last ditch win against Bayern in the Champions League final.
Sadly, I think politicians have a big influence on this. The kind of power and money they command doesn’t make successful countries out here in the real world (Brazil, Argentina, etc.), quite the reverse. But it can make national sporting effort more successful, if by that you mean more medals and trophies. Angela Merkel is a big fan of her now triumphant football team. I wonder what else she and Germany’s other politicians did to support them, other than her showing up for lots more of their games than she had to.
Sport. War by other means. Discuss.
That last point is one I definitely want to write about more in the nearish future. How A-bombs and H-bombs have made all out war between Great Powers impossible, and caused an unprecedented outbreak of peace between Great Powers, and thus caused national rivalry to express itself in sport rather than war. That kind of thing.
Last Saturday, I was out and about by the river, taking pictures like this one:
But then, I noticed that bird, at the bottom of the left hand tower of Tower Bridge, and started snapping away in a more zoomed wayr than for the picture above. Hence the title of this posting:
I don’t know what brand of bird that is. I do know that it is not one of those avian imposters that calls itself a “crane” (thus clothing itself in dignity stolen from the mighty urban machine of construction), but other than that, I can only guess. A cormorant perhaps?
Pick and click.
Photographing birds properly is not my strong suit. You probably need to know their habits, the way I know the habits of the digital photographer, the one living creature that really interests me.
If, on the other hand, birds were to start taking photographs ...
Yes, here are yet more snaps I snapped on that boat trip. This time they are not of people posing in groups, but of individuals, if not on their own, then photoed on their own by me. Other people are strictly background:
The point of these pictures, for me, is not who the people are, simply that I like the pictures. But, for the record, the one’s whose names I know are: 1.1 Damien, 1.2 Noreen, 2.3 ASI Co-Supremo Madsen, 3.1 Mr Devil’s Kitchen, 3.3 ASI Junior Supremo Sam. If anyone knows others, please comment accordingly.
Once again there is a propaganda message here. As well as adding up to a happy and companionable movement, these people include some very interesting separate, individual people, distinct characters. What I like to think these pictures get across is how clever these people are, as well as good humoured and good fun.
The light in these pictures was not perfectly handled, nor was it in the previous batch of photos from this trip, of people posing in groups. But photoshop (or whatever you personally use) is a wonderful thing, and great pictures can be extracted from very average ones these days with no great strain, the way only fictional spies used to be able to do.
Besides which, I really like 3.2, of the young woman next to the no smoking sign. I think all that light and shadow makes her look really good. Okay, it wouldn’t do as a portrait, and it certainly wouldn’t do as a passport photo, but as a picture in its own right, I like how it came out. She looks intelligent, I think. Not that she didn’t to begin with, but you get my point.
In general, I think it creates a far better photographic atmosphere to have lots of light splashing around everywhere, even if that sometimes makes for somewhat unsightly shadows and badly lit faces. The point is not: these are great photos, artistically speaking (even though some of them are pretty good even from that point of view). The point is: it was a great boat trip, and everyone had great time.
I also think that bridges, which I like for their own sake, make good backgrounds for head shots.