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

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Category archive: Technology

Friday February 12 2016

I like white vans.  And since this is Friday, I at least want recently to have encountered, virtually or for real, something feline, but with a bit of a difference from the usual internet felinities.

So, I was pleased to notice this vehicle, outside the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, across the road from Westminster Abbey, yesterday afternoon:

image

More about the enterprise in question here.

It is surprising, to me, given how much attention cats now get in the popular culture, how few enterprises use cattery to advertise themselves in this kind of way.

Thursday February 11 2016

And I do mean eagles.  Yes, it’s more fun and games from dezeen:

London’s Metropolitan Police force is considering using trained eagles to grab drones from the sky following a rise in unmanned aircraft crime ...

Next step, the drones will start shooting at the eagles.

However:

Jemima Parry-Jones, director of the International Centre of Birds of Prey in Gloucestershire, told the BBC she thinks the idea is a “gimmick”.

Well, yes.  Some journo with nothing to write asked the Met about if they’d use eagles, and the Met said yes they’d consider it.  Which they no doubt did, for about five minutes.  I mean, if you were an eagle, would you want to fly towards a thing with propellers?  But where would fun come from if nobody could ever suggest gimmicks?

The story does throw interesting light on the fear provoked by drones, and, I think, on the reluctance of regular British people actually to want to buy these contraptions.  I noted the arrival of drones in the shops, but they have not, as it were, taken off.  Not in London anyway.  They are strictly specialist devices, to enable the controllers of large bits of land, mostly out in the countryside, to control the land better and more cheaply.

Wednesday February 10 2016

I still fondly remember a posting I did on Samizdata, over a decade ago now, about a banged-up police car that was claiming to be Working for a safer London.  Well, the white van below, photoed back on December 29th of last year, isn’t as big a PR clanger as that was, but it is a bit bad:

image

I know, I know.  You can’t really make data insecure by damaging the van on which it says “secure data management”.  This is the enterprise in question.  Look at where the green lines cross the phone numbers, and you will see that, in the picture there, it is not the same van.  So, they have more than one van.  And by the look of it, what these vans do is transport documents.  Nevertheless, this blemish suggests a certain sloppiness, or maybe I mean a certain willingness to seem sloppy, that does not sit well with handling data securely.  If I was them, I’d want it sorted soonest.

On the same day, on the same photo-expedition, I also photoed this van:

image

Not nearly as white as the secure data van, but more to the point: not a scratch and squeaky clean.  Which is appropriate, because this is also a business which needs to look like it is taking care when it is doing its business:

With paramount importance placed on quality and support, all equipment is thoroughly cleaned, tested and checked by our experienced engineers ...

Here’s another van, also snapped on that same expedition, that is both white and clean:

image

White vans often get rather dirty, but not this one:

Calabash are the No.1 commercial cleaning and washroom services company in London. Since 1992 we’ve been ensuring our clients maintain their premises to the highest standards ...

This, in other words, is a van that also needs to be maintained to the highest standards, and by the look of it, it is.

Thursday February 04 2016

The following picture explains (a) why all my cameras must have a zoom lens permanently available, as powerful as is within the bounds of sanity, and (b) why this zoom lens must be instantly usable.  In other words why I will not tolerate faffing about with hand-attached lenses.  Which means that all my cameras have had to be “bridge” cameras rather than DSLRs.  I need wide-angle one moment, and then the next moment, by which I often mean the next second, I may need zoom and tons of it.

Here is the picture, which Antoine Clarke took, Twittered, and then phoned me about because he reckoned I would like it:

image

And I do like it.  A lot.  A lorry, with a panoramic photo-view of London on the side?  What, as people now like to say, ‘s not to like?

But Antoine’s attached Twitter verbiage reads as follows:

What’s a Japanese torpedo bomber doing there?!?

What Japanese torpedo bomber?  The world wants Antoine to zoom in on the Japanese torpedo bomber, to prove that there is indeed a Japanese torpedo bomber present.

I hoped that the photo above would download itself from Twitter, and it did.  Good.  But, it was only 640 pixels wide.  (This Blog is 500 pixels wide.) Not so good.

When I expanded what I took to be the Japanese torpedo bomber, I got this:

image

If you already know that you are looking for a Japanese torpedo bomber, then you will, just about, maybe, see a Japanese torpedo bomber.  But a zoomed in close-up would really have helped.

I know how hard it can be photoing vehicles that are, as it were, zooming past.  Often one shot is the best you can hope for, and equally often not even that.  Yesterday a Wicked Campervan zoomed, as it were, past me, with “DRINK TILL SHE’S PRETTY” written on its arse, and I completely missed photing it.  (But no worries.  I think it was the van in a photo you can find by scrolling down in this grumpy article.)

But something about the exact composition of Antoine’s shot tells me that Antoine’s lorry was stationary, or nearly so.  So, Antoine, is there a bigger version of this shot available, more like 4000x3000 than 640x480?  (4000x3000 being what my Panasonic Lumix FZ200 cranks out.) That would supply some Japanese torpedo bomber detail.  Or is there even a close-up of the Japanese torpedo bomber?

Failing that, does Antoine know what enterprise this lorry was working for?  Maybe they have a website, with photos?

Okay, now I’m being grumpy.  It took me a long time to get into the habit of photoing all the incidental detail around a good photo, for future internetting purposes.  But, with apologies for immediately demanding more when given something nice, … Antoine?

Wednesday February 03 2016

Early February is one of my favourite times of the year.  Income tax is over and done with for another year.  The days, although not yet long and warm, are at least getting longer and warmer.  (Already the day is an hour longer than its December 24th worst.) And that means that well-lit photography time expands, which means I can do the same amount of photography but do not need to start so early.

image

That’s another snap I took yesterday.  The Strata Tower was looking particularly fine in the evening sun.  Very metallic.

And, because it’s only February, there were no damn leaves getting in the way of everything, just artfully interposed branches:

image

And, there is the Six Nations.  It’s that time just before the first round kicks off, and so far, nobody’s team has lost any games.  Every team has a one hundred percent record!  How great is that?!?

Go England:

image

Also taken yesterday.

Tuesday January 26 2016

David Pierce writes at Wired about gadgets for speeding up pedestrians, which I too am interested in. He has been using an electric scooter.  I saw one of these in London recently, travelling at an impressive lick, but didn’t manage to photo it, because was holding too much shopping.  Still should have.  Will try to next time I see such a thing.

Some quotes:

The problem with moving away from car ownership is that you give up one its biggest upsides: you can usually park exactly where you’re going. Public transit, built around permanent stations, can’t offer that. That’s called the “last mile” problem: How do you get from the subway or bus stop to where you’re actually going, when it’s just a little too far to walk?

In among such good analysis are bits of humbug about how cars are, in addition to clogging up cities, ruining the planet with their sinful carbon emissions.  You don’t have to buy into all that guff to see the point of not ruining cities, but instead continuing to get around in them, speedily yet comfortably.  Personally, I live in a big city partly in order not to have to own a car.

Electric kick scooters, goofy [though? - BM] they may be, are a particularly good answer to the last mile problem. …

Pierce focusses in on one of the details, of just the sort that settle these contests in favour of this gadget and against that one:

The UScooter’s much easier to ride than the hugely popular hoverboard, because all you have to do is hop on and not tip over. Turns out handlebars are helpful that way. You can take it over small curbs and cracks in the sidewalk, powering through the obstacles that would launch you forward off a hoverboard. ...

This piece is entitled “It’s Too Bad Electric Scooters Are So Lame, Because They May Be the Future”.  So this is yet another of those arguments where what looks like it could be a very smart thing is being held back by jeering coolists who think it’s not cool.  (See also: using tablets to take photos.) I wonder if, when the wheel first got invented, idiot fashionistas stood around saying, yes, we entirely see the point of this thing, but it’s not cool.  It’s lame.  Therefore, we forbid it.  Wankers.

Saturday January 23 2016

So today, I did two Samizdata postings: this and this.  And that was going to be it here, for today.

Except that just now I came across this bizarre bridge, in Poole, of all places:

image

Amusing Planet amuses again.

Thursday January 21 2016

Last night I lay awake, fretting that I might soon have to buy a new camera.

The problem was that the latest batches of photos that I took, yesterday and the day before, from the top of Westminster Cathedral, look too red.  Not blue enough.  Was there something wrong with it, like what went wrong with my very first digital camera, which turned everything that was bright white instead into bright pink.

Pictures like the one shown here yesterday, looking out to the west from the Cathedral tower, and also other pictures, looking in other directions, such as this, also yesterday, which features another London Cathedral:

image

That green crane make me think of that spoof documentary that Peter Sellers once did, about “Bal Ham: Gateway to the South”, which contained the line: “A rose red city half as gold as green.” (Golders Green.  Never mind.)

It’s a sad thing when a picture as weird and striking as that one only makes you think your camera is misbehaving, but: Is my camera turning everything rose red?

My worries were abated by me looking at earlier batches of recent photos, such as this rather remarkable snap of the Shard, taken in Eltham just before Christmas:

image

I do like how different the Shard can look in one picture from how it looks in another, and in another, and in another.  See also, on the far right above, the same other cathedral.

No excessive rose red there.  (With that old first camera, the bright white face of the Shard would have turned pink.) The truth is that the light yesterday and the day before was … very rose red.  No wind.  Lots of smoggy air.  Sun near the horizon.  Result: lots of rose red light splashing around, turning everything into rose red ghosts.  This was a case when my eye adjusted more than my camera did.  I saw slightly pink as white.  Not so my camera.

Tuesday January 19 2016

Today the weather was forecast to be clear all day, and I didn’t want to waste it.  But, clear equals cold, so I didn’t want to be out too long or journey too far.  I needed a nice spot, preferably near by, from which I could hoover up lots of great snaps and then get back home again to the warmth of my kitchen.

Well, it so happened that while trawling through the archives, I had encountered a fine clutch of snaps taken from the top of the tower of Westminster Cathedral, in the Spring of 2012.  How about I try that again?  So I did.  The people at the Cathedral are really nice, and six quid gets to up to the top of the tower (by lift, which is a big deal for people like poor old me) for as long as you want.  Six quid for the care and maintenance of one of my favourite buildings in London is a price I am extremely happy to pay.  (I think I could have got in for £3, by being old.  But never mind.  That means they think I am not old.)

I took a ton of shots, but I took them today, and am not yet ready to be rational about what I got.  I can still remember the shots I was trying to take, which causes disappointment, which makes me unable to see what I actually did get.

But I already like the shots I took of the big new buildings that have risen up at the top end of Victoria Street, like this one:

image

Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on there:

image

And let take an even closer look:

image

I wonder if those guys relax by climbing rocks, of the sort found on the sides of mountains.  I’m guessing: not.

Although the sky above was cloudless, the light didn’t seem that great.  Kind of fuzzy.  But those shots came out okay.

Monday January 18 2016

An informative piece by Rowan Moore in the Guardian, about the hoped-for replacement for the dismal failure that is the Royal Festival Hall:

It’s an amazing thing that for the sake of some fractions of a second of reverberation time, and some other acoustic niceties, and for the sake of acoustic properties that can only be described with vague adjectives such as “warm”, it is proposed that several hundred million pounds be spent on a completely new concert hall in London, to improve on the existing Royal Festival Hall (built in 1951, extensively renovated in 1964 and 2007) and the Barbican (built in 1982, extensively renovated in 1994 and 2001).

This is what Simon Rattle, future music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, is saying, and he has got George Osborne and Boris Johnson to support him.  Rattle says that London needs the best possible concert hall, where you can “experience the sound of a great orchestra with brilliance, immediacy, depth, richness and warmth”, to attract the best possible musicians, which means shifting very many tons of building materials to fine-tune the vibrations of air. And if there is one thing that almost everyone agrees on in this contentious project (why spend so much in straitened times? Wouldn’t it be better to back performers directly rather than their carapace? Should so much be spent in culturally well-endowed London?), it is that the acoustics of the city’s existing large auditoriums definitely don’t work well enough.

Which means that if this project is to go ahead, it definitely, absolutely, without a shadow of doubt, must get its acoustics right. ...

Indeed.

Moore also writes about the surroundings.  These must be nice, but not attention seeking.  Satisfying for concert-goers, but not “ikonic” if that in any way jeopardises the accoustics, or the satisfaction of concert-goers.  Play your shots and don’t get out, as the cricketers say.

The logic of what Moore says tells me that they should first build the concert hall with absolutely no “surroundings”, and keep on building it until the acoustics are world class.

The basic fact here is, as Moore explains, that you only know for sure if you have a great concert hall after you have built it.  And a bad concert hall, well architected, will be a total failure.  London already has at least one of those (or two, depending on what you think of the Barbican’s architecture), and the last thing it needs is another.

So: build the new hall, as a separate process from all the subsequent architectural tarting up.  If the acoustics are unfixably bad, smash it down and do it again, until the acoustics are satisfactorily superb.  When the acoustics are superb, then get to work on the surroundings, and if that is fucked up first time around, well, do that again too.  And then, if anyone feels inclined, why not then slap some ikonic stuff on the top?  But: one thing at a time.

This is not the usual way that big architecture is done.  The usual way is to do everything at once, and make damn sure you get everything as right as you can.  But then, concert halls are not your usual architecture.

Sunday January 17 2016

My life, in this digital century, has contained quite a lot of wonderful expeditions which I never got around to mentioning here.  Take the trip that I and G(od)D(aughter) 1 made to Beckton Sewage Works, on September 21st 2013.  The only time I mentioned this here, it would seem, was in this posting, where I mentioned that I otherwise did not mention it.

So, to go some way towards correcting that, here is a picture of some birds that I took that day:

image

You want to know why London contains so many birds?  Sewage processing, that’s why.  Birds love that.  The Beckton Sewage Works is one great big open air bird canteen.

And here is a picture of a sign that I took, which explains that a huge new sewage tunnel was in the process of being constructed, at the time of our visit:

image

More about that here:

The 75-metre deep Beckton overflow shaft is the entry point for the Lee Tunnel, a £635million project just as ambitious as the more highly-publicised Crossrail. Over the past five years, engineers have built a 6km tunnel stretching from Beckton up to Abbey Mills pumping station in Stratford, east London. The Lee Tunnel will help prevent more than 16 million tons of sewage from overflowing into the River Lee each year by capturing it and taking it down to Beckton. The sewage treatment works itself is being upgraded and expanded by 60 per cent to enable it to deal with the increased volume.

And the Lee Tunnel is just the first phase of the even more ambitious Thames Tideway Tunnel, a 25km tunnel that will handle sewage from Acton in west London through to Abbey Mills in the east. The Thames Tideway Tunnel will deal with the 34 most polluting overflow points along the Thames. Work on the £4.2billion project, known popularly as the London super sewer, starts in earnest in 2017 with engineers pulling the chain, so to speak, in 2023.

And here is another photo I took that day, which I include in this posting because I like it:

image

Behind that fence may, or may not, be activity associated with the digging of the big tunnel.  But, I think it was.

Thursday January 14 2016

In a piece that I just linked back to, from this posting, about keeping up appearances, I wrote this:

What this ...

...this being “facadism” …

… tells you is that architectural modernism has utterly conquered indoors, but that out of doors, modernism is only popular because its totalitarian impulses have been held at bay, by what you might call ancientism.

But I realise now that this is not quite right.

The key point is not that modernism has triumphed indoors, but that indoors, we are not at its mercy.  We can decide about whether to keep it.  We control indoors, with furniture, wallpaper, carpets, etc.  If we want ancientism indoors, in the living room, say, or in the bedroom, we can unleash it at will, and there is not a damn thing that any interfering architect can do about it.  Therefore, we do not mind if indoors is totally modern, when we move in.  We can change it, just as much (or as little) as we want to.

Outdoors, however, we cannot just change things at will to suit our personal preferences.  Therefore, if a large number of us want some ancientism to go alongside all the newly arriving modernism, we have to bully the architects and planners into allowing it, or even into doing some more.  We did, and we did.

Modernism has definitely triumphed in the kitchen.  In the kitchen, a place which did not exist in its current and highly mechanised form in ancientist times, it makes such total sense to have smooth white rectangles everywhere.  Kitchen cupboards are for storing stuff, not for showing stuff off.  You want the cupboard and fridge doors to be a vertical note pads for stick-on notes, not sculptures.  You do not want your work work surfaces and wall areas and cupboard doors in the kitchen to be elaborately decorated like the outsides of ancientist buildings, or shaped like curved like car bonnets.  You want them flat, to do things on and put things on.

Above all, you want everything easily cleanable.  What if someone bangs into a saucepan and spreads slurpy food everywhere.  In the kitchen, you want clean, clear, white surfaces, like outdoor Modern Movement modernism.  You want horizontality and verticality, whiteness and cleanness, because you want convenience and cleanliness.  The kitchen is a machine for cooking in.

Here is a picture I took when I recently visited my brother’s new home.  It is a new home in more ways than one.  It is new for him, and it has just been built.  This is what the kitchen looks like:

image

Okay, once again, zero points for artistic impression.  But look at what is being photoed.  The Bauhaus is stationary in its happy, plain white, rigidly rectangular modernistical grave.  This was what buildings were all going to look like.  They don’t, thank goodness.  But this is what most new kitchens now look like.

I wish I had also photoed the outside of the building where Pete lives.  This is rather kitchy and cutesy, not at all purely “modern”, although you can clearly tell that it’s recent.

As with the work done in kitchens, so for the work done in other places.  Modernism prevails wherever work is done, of the sort done by “workers”, work that involves doing stuff, to stuff.  (When the work involves creating appearances, setting a particular tone, all bets are off.) The world of work is the world in which modernism evolved.  When we want beauty and pleasure (and particular sorts of appearances or tones), modernism is just part of the mix.  It is kept in its place.

Tuesday January 12 2016

Yes, a truly wonderful The Wires! sculpture gets long overdue recognition from Dezeen, on account of a lump of religious concrete being put next to it, by an architect.

The photographer clearly loves The Wires!:

image

But Dezeen’s writers are under strict orders.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful and intricate The Wires! are:

imageimage

The rule is set in concrete.

Don’t mention The Wires!

Sunday January 10 2016

Now that I seem to be concentrating on wacky transport, …: here.

For the purposes of this posting, bike fishing means fishing for bikes.  Not: fishing while on a bike.

As already noted here before Christmas, Amusing Planet has become a regular internet spot for me.  I especially liked this report, complete with photos like this:

image

Favourite line in the report:

Bike fishing has become one of Amsterdam’s unique tourist attraction.

My immediate reaction was: So, anyone can do it?  Do you need a license?  But what they really mean, presumably, is just standing there and watching while somebody else does the bike fishing.

A bike fishing competition might be really something.  And it still might be if it was fishing while on a bike.

Other recent favourite Amusing Planet posting: The Lady of the North.