Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Most recent entries
- Yet ore photographers
- Big Things in line (with pylon)
- Click on the picture to get a different picture
- Back to being ill
- Wheel behind trees
- Big cat scan
- From a cat cushion to Bill Murray and a nude to a demon horse sculpture that killed its creator
- My favourie partial eclipse photos
- Bean drops snow on tourist
- Paul Kennedy on centimetric radar
- More White Vans
- Quota scaffolding and quota roof clutter
- Not squash
- A weird view of the Wheel - and cats in Tiger
- White Vin Van
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Category archive: Design
It started in Quimper, where I particularly wanted to photo the cathedral without all those summer tree leaves in the way. And I did.
But I am now realising, about a decade and a half later than I should have but better late than never, that the exact same principle applies to London. London is full of trees, which you either can see through or can’t see through, depending on the season:
That photo was taken by me yesterday afternoon, looking across Vincent Square towards … well, you can see what it was towards, because there were no leaves in the way.
See also this example of the same genre.
I’ve been reading Paul Kennedy’s Engineers of Victory, which is about how WW2 was won, by us good guys. Kennedy, like many others, identifies the Battle of the Atlantic as the allied victory which made all the other victories over Germany by the Anglo-American alliance possible. I agree with the Amazon reviewers who say things like “good overview, not much engineering”. But this actually suited me quite well. At least I now know what I want to know more about the engineering of. And thanks to Kennedy, I certainly want to know more about how centimetric radar was engineered.
Centimetric radar was even more of a breakthrough, arguably the greatest. HF-DF might have identified a U-boat’s radio emissions 20 miles from the convoy, but the corvette or plane dispatched in that direction still needed to locate a small target such as a conning tower, perhaps in the dark or in fog. The giant radar towers erected along the coast of southeast England to alert Fighter Command of Luftwaffe attacks during the Battle of Britain could never be replicated in the mid-Atlantic, simply because the structures were far too large. What was needed was a miniaturized version, but creating one had defied all British and American efforts for basic physical and technical reasons: there seemed to be no device that could hold the power necessary to generate the microwave pulses needed to locate objects much smaller than, say, a squadron of Junkers bombers coming across the English Channel, yet still made small enough to be put on a small escort vessel or in the nose of a long-range aircraft. There had been early air-to-surface vessel (ASV) sets in Allied aircraft, but by 1942 the German Metox detectors provided the U-boats with early warning of them. Another breakthrough was needed, and by late spring of 1943 that problem had been solved with the steady introduction of 10-centimeter (later 9.1-centimeter) radar into Allied reconnaissance aircraft and even humble Flower-class corvettes; equipped with this facility, they could spot a U-boat’s conning tower miles away, day or night. In calm waters, the radar set could even pick up a periscope. From the Allies’ viewpoint, the additional beauty of it was that none of the German systems could detect centimetric radar working against them.
Where did this centimetric radar come from? In many accounts of the war, it simply “pops up”; Liddell Hart is no worse than many others in noting, “But radar, on the new 10cm wavelength that the U-boats could not intercept, was certainly a very important factor.” Hitherto, all scientists’ efforts to create miniaturized radar with sufficient power had failed, and Doenitz’s advisors believed it was impossible, which is why German warships were limited to a primitive gunnery-direction radar, not a proper detection system. The breakthrough came in spring 1940 at Birmingham University, in the labs of Mark Oliphant (himself a student of the great physicist Ernest Rutherford), when the junior scientists John Randall and Harry Boot, working in a modest wooden building, finally put together the cavity magnetron.
This saucer-sized object possessed an amazing capacity to detect small metal objects, such as a U-boat’s conning tower, and it needed a much smaller antenna for such detection. Most important of all, the device’s case did not crack or melt because of the extreme energy exuded. Later in the year important tests took place at the Telecommunications Research Establishment on the Dorset coast. In midsummer the radar picked up an echo from a man cycling in the distance along the cliff, and in November it tracked the conning tower of a Royal Navy submarine steaming along the shore. Ironically, Oliphant’s team had found their first clue in papers published sixty years earlier by the great German physicist and engineer Adolf Herz, who had set out the original theory for a metal casement sturdy enough to hold a machine sending out very large energy pulses. Randall had studied radio physics in Germany during the 1930s and had read Herz’s articles during that time. Back in Birmingham, he and another young scholar simply picked up the raw parts from a scrap metal dealer and assembled the device.
Almost inevitably, development of this novel gadget ran into a few problems: low budgets, inadequate research facilities, and an understandable concentration of most of Britain’s scientific efforts at finding better ways of detecting German air attacks on the home islands. But in September 1940 (at the height of the Battle of Britain, and well before the United States formally entered the war) the Tizard Mission arrived in the United States to discuss scientific cooperation. This mission brought with it a prototype cavity magnetron, among many other devices, and handed it to the astonished Americans, who quickly recognized that this far surpassed all their own approaches to the miniature-radar problem. Production and test improvements went into full gear, both at Bell Labs and at the newly created Radiation Laboratory (Rad Lab) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even so, there were all sorts of delays - where could they fit the equipment and operator in a Liberator? Where could they install the antennae? - so it was not until the crisis months of March and April 1943 that squadrons of fully equipped aircraft began to join the Allied forces in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Soon everyone was clamoring for centimetric radar - for the escorts, for the carrier aircraft, for gunnery control on the battleships. The destruction of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst off the North Cape on Boxing Day 1943, when the vessel was first shadowed by the centimetric radar of British cruisers and then crushed by the radar-controlled gunnery of the battleship HMS Duke of York, was an apt demonstration of the value of a machine that initially had been put together in a Birmingham shed. By the close of the war, American industry had produced more than a million cavity magnetrons, and in his Scientists Against Time (1946) James Baxter called them “the most valuable cargo ever brought to our shores” and “the single most important item in reverse lease-lend.” As a small though nice bonus, the ships using it could pick out life rafts and lifeboats in the darkest night and foggiest day. Many Allied and Axis sailors were to be rescued this way.
First, an outstanding White Van photo snapped from what looks like the inside of a cafe, by Simon Gibbs, to whom profuse thanks:
I’ve been photoing White Vans for a month and more, but have never got three of them in one go like that. That arrived chez moi first thing this morning.
And then, to my amazement, this was this at Guido, also today:
That’s right. Labour have launched there very own White Van! You wouldn’t dare make that up. I knew I was onto something with all this White Vannery.
The problem for the Labour Party here is that Essex White Van Man, the original beast, doesn’t work as an employee driver for Wellocks, or for Office Revival or for Yate Supplies (these being the enterprises who own and whose glory is proclaimed by Simon’s three White Vans above), and certainly not for the Labour Party. He has his own White Van, which is entirely white, as you can see when you peruse that original tweet that got all this fuss started:
That snap being a recent one of mine. And, as Guido points out, a proper Essex White Van is not a Merc, as the Labour White Van is. He doesn’t go on to say that it should be a Ford Transit, as above, but it should. The White Van in the original tweet is a Transit.
This new Labour White Van is supposed to separate Labour from the la-di-da world of London and to assert its connection to the common (i.e. non-rich-London) man. But it fails to do this, because, as these recent White Van postings of mine have been explaining, White Vans covered in poncey graphics are now quintessentially London. I assume that they have also become quintessentially Wigan and quintessentially Rotherham and for that matter quintessential Dagenham. But I further assume that when true-blue Wiganians and Rotherhamians and Dagenhamians look at them, they see, not their local culture, but cultural imperialism by bloody London.
(Damn. I did everything to this posting put actually post it “today”, so I’m leaving the date I originally attached to it. Cheating I know but it talks about Monday as today, so Monday it is.)
Yesterday I visited a shop called Tiger in Tottenham Court Road. Here is the sign about it that sticks out into the road, even though what I thought I was photoing at the time was the Wheel:
That’s actually one of my favourite views of the Wheel, because it is so weird and unexpected. We’re looking south along Tottenham Court Road, with Centre Point on the left as we look. You hear people seeing this, and saying: Oh look, the Wheel. Wow.
Tiger has lots of stuff in it, which I haven’t time to tell you about now but will hope to do Real Soon Now. But what I will say (today) is that, after a bit of searching, I found cats, in the shapes of: a cat mat, some cat suitcases, and some tigers:
Too knackered to say more now. Suffice it to say that Tiger is a veritable cornucopia of cheap and cheerful stuff.
Following on from yesterday’s White Van, here is another White Van, which marks the moment when I first started really noticing these things. It was parked outside an office just round the corner from my front door:
Let’s take a closer look at the driver’s door of this White Van. Because the exact moment when the whole White Van thing clicked inside my head was when I saw, and photoed, this:
There you go. They’re having a laugh about White Van Man. I told you it was a thing.
This happened on December 17th of last year, which was about a month after the Shadow Ministress did her tweet that cost her her shadow job. But they’ve been driving around in that joke since well before all that, as this blog posting from April of last year proves.
And I know this got me thinking about White Vans, because the very next photos I took were of this:
I had been noticing this other White Van hanging around near my home, but until that moment I had not considered it something worth photoing. Then, I did. And, off an on, I’ve been photoing such vans ever since, although few of them as lavishly decorated as that one.
Ever since that ruckus when a Labour Shadow Cabinet Ministress got into hot water with a tweet which involved a White Van, I’ve been photoing White Vans. And, in fact, I think I have been doing this since before that little drama. This White Van, photoed by me today in the Covent Garden area, is one of my favourites so far:
The point is, White Vans have rather gone up in the world. Lots of them now come with much carefully designed décor and info. London now abounds with fleets of White Vans thus decorated, white being the preferred colour by far. It’s like an automotive uniform.
It’s as if White Vans have a sort of macho-stroke-ironic appeal to those who drive them, and to the rest of us. The drivers, when asked what they do for a living, can say: I drive a White Van. Oh, ha ha ha! But no, not one of those White Vans, the sort they have in Essex. Oh no.
Or alternatively, if the driver is a genuine White Van Man, with no irony involved, of the sort that lady politician was having a go at, he’s happy too, even if he would probably prefer plain white, rather than all that poncey verbiage. And he’d rather have sacks of cement or tubs of plaster in the back there, rather than nerdy SF stuff.
Well, not sure about that. But White Vans are definitely, as they say nowadays, a thing.
Do you get bored with my obsession with photographing photographers? Well, such photos are easily skipped. It’s not like you have to read a whole chunk of stuff before you realised that the posting was of no interest to you.
Meanwhile, here is a cropped-out chunk of a photo I took on August 18th 2007, which tells me that, quite aside from photoing photoers being enormous fun at the time, photoing photoers will continue to be enormous fun far into the future, for as long as I have a future:
That’s right. The lady is taking a picture with a small, cheap digital camera. And she is, it would appear, on the phone, with her phone (one of the old-school folding sort) jammed between her raised-up shoulder and her ear. You would never see such a thing now, because the two gadgets would now be one and the same gadget.
You get a similar thing when you see people simultaneously photoing with and wired up to and listening to the same phone, a “phone” that would have been two separate pieces of kit a while back.
Things that will change, like cameras and phones and music machines, are more interesting to photo than things that will not change any time soon, like Big Ben.
Indeed. What on earth was I thinking, posting - on a Thursday, rather than today, Friday, the traditional BMdotcom day for cat-related items - a piece that starts with how computers are rather bad at recognising cats? I only even realised that the cat category should be attached to the posting just now. Oh well.
Anyway, more cat news, which I did deliberately hold back until today, is that the mega-behemothic-super-industry that is Hello Kitty is making a deliberate play for more male customers, with T-shirts decorated with such things as the picture you see to your right. But, will such images repel human females? You can imagine the high level debates that the Hello Kitty high ups (I somehow imagine them to be mostly men) must have been having about this issue, of such fundamental importance to their brand.
More cat news? I need a bit more to be sure that the picture there doesn’t bash its way into the posting below (even though that would be rather appropriate). Well, I am sad to report that for some people, the most interesting thing about the death of Terry Pratchett (good quote that – that’s the sort of thing he will be really missed for) was that he had a cat sleeping on his bed at the time.
Just before Christmas, Goddaughter 2 arranged for the two of us to see and hear a dress rehearsal of a Royal Opera House Covent Garden production of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. This was, for all practical purposes, a performance. I didn’t much care for Verdi before I went to this event, and I still don’t, but the show was at least notable for the outstanding singing of the lead tenor, Joseph Calleja, a new name to me. I was extremely happy whenever he was singing. (He has a blog.) The rest of the show I found somewhat forgettable, mainly because Verdi seems to have been opposed to doing nice tunes that you can remember, unlike my operatic composer favourites, Mozart, Puccini, and Richard Strauss.
But very memorable indeed, almost as good as Calleja’s singing, was the bar we visited afterwards, which is right next to the main performing space.
From the outside the opera house and the bar look like this:
The bar being the thing on the left as we look there.
And on the inside, the bar looks like this:
The ROH refers to this place as the Paul Hamlyn Hall. What regular people call it for real I have no idea, but I like it.
I especially like that disembodied clutch of drinkers, suspended up there as if in mid air, but actually in mid mirror.
Here is a closer look at that same feature:
I know exactly what is going on here, and how this weird effect is achieved, but still I’m impressed.
A bit of hasty googling has failed to tell me what this place used to be and when it was first built. I’m guessing it was at first something to do with selling fruit and/or veg, but that’s only a guess. Anyone?
Libertarian Home have been having their meetings in several different venues of late. Last night’s event was in the Prince of Wales, Covent Garden, which is on the corner of Long Acre and Drury Lane. I got there a bit early, and filled the time by strolling along Long Acre towards where the old Alternative Bookshop once was, hoping for photoable diversion, and I was not disappointed. Through a window, just across the road from Covent Garden tube, I spied, and photoed, this:
I’m pretty sure I don’t like it, but it’s definitely a Thing worth photoing. This time I remembered to photo enough information about the place to be able later to identify it. The outside didn’t actually say what the place is, merely the address. But that was enough for googling purposes. It turns out this is a Fred Perry place, where Fred Perry and Co ... does things. And this wooden Thing is a combination of reception desk, seating and window logo. The Fred Perry enterprise makes, I assume sporty stuff and in particular sporty clothing, although that’s only a guess. That Fred Perry website is all design but bizarrely little information.
It would be a lot more logical to have a reception desk, some seating, and a company logo in the window, each separate, each doing their own job, each replaceable as and when, or if decreed to be imperfect in some way. Why do all these things need to be connected? They don’t. They need not to be connected. And the reception desk bit must be very inconvenient actually to do receptioning on.
Thinking about this some more, this Thing makes me think that the Fred Perry enterprise is all about “design”, way beyond the bounds of intelligence or sanity or usefulness. The website exudes the same atmosphere. It tells you almost nothing, very prettily. The whole company seems like one of those arrogantly stylish twats whose attitude is: I don’t have to explain myself. I have your attention. I am not going to deign to use it by actually talking to you. I am wonderful and wonderfully stylish me. That is enough for mere you. Consider yourself lucky to be even seeing me.
But then, I guess that I am not their target demographic. I am neither sporty (as in actually doing sport), nor stylish (as in myself wanting to look stylish).
While trying to find some kind of link to this enterprise, I learned that Fred Perry, the man himself, Wimbledon tennis champion in the year whenever it was, was also the 1929 world champion at ping pong. Blog and learn.
I just googled “3D printing” and clicked on “images”. One of the more interesting images I encountered was this one ...:
… which I found here. The point being that this is one of those technologies which lots of people are getting excited about, perhaps as something they might be able to do themselves, for fun but also for profit. But most of the significant early applications of 3D printing seem now to be by businesses which were already making stuff, and now have another way to make it. Regular thing makers (for those not inclined to follow links that’s a link to pieces about the use of 3D printing by the aerospace industry) have a huge advantage over “home” 3D printers, which is that they already know what would be worth making.
And making in quite large quantities, which means that they can acquire or construct highly specialised 3D printers for those particular items, which use their own very particular material inputs. 3D printers, if they are to pay their way, must surely specialise. Which means they’ll be applied first by businessmen, rather than by mere people in their homes.
I have yet to hear about any 3D printing killer app which will kick off the much talked-of but yet-to-occur home 3D printing revolution. It will come, I’m sure. But it hasn’t come yet.
It often happens with me that, while rootling around in the archives for one picture, I stumble across another which strikes me as worth showing to the massed ranks of BrianMicklethwaitDotCom’s readers.
Pictures like this, for instance, which I took at the top of the Monument, in November 2012:
Small, blurry, totally recognisable. Definitely a Big Thing.
As for all that wire netting (which I believe dramatically lowers the cheese content of the above shot), well, here is another shot, of how matters at the top of the Monument used to be not so long ago:
I took that in July 2007. (Note the pleasingly dated camera.) The change from prison bars to wire netting, which happened soon after that, was presumably because of different versions of health and safety. Originally there was neither, just some waste high railings. See this hand-done photo “by Canalleto (after)”, whatever that means. (His production line, but not him, maybe?) And see also this picture.
This blog is where, among other worthier things, I boast about what a clever fellow I am, given that not many other people are in the habit of saying this. A recent incoming email from Michael Jennings, entitled “You told me about this 12 years before the New York Times did”, gives me another opportunity thus to indulge.
The New York Times piece is this, which is a about how rich people have less stuff than poor people, because stuff is now so cheap.
And I said this in this, just over twelve years ago, as Michael says.
I’m guessing it’s the BJT Bosanquet reference that he particularly remembered.
Today was the first first day of spring, so to speak. By this I mean that it was the first day of 2015 which made in clear that winter would eventually end and that summer would eventually arrive. Cool, but blue sky and sunshine. Meanwhile, winter may soon resume but spring at least is now officially on its way, and will happen.
As a technically rather incompetent photographer, heavily dependent on good light, I rejoice. The season of rootling through the archives is nearly over. The season of adding to the archives is getting started.
And, also today, I went to a funeral, in Salisbury, which is about an hour and half out of London by train, in a south westerly direction. The last time I ventured out of London into that part of England that is not-London for a ceremony, the weather was similarly excellent.
As soon as we stepped out of Salisbury station, strange and exotic sights presented themselves, such as this Stonehenge Tour Bus:
But there was something odd about it. It appeared to be leaning over somewhat, away from us. When I got round to the front of it, I saw that appearances had not deceived. It was leaning over:
How can a bus do that? Was the suspension malfunctioning? Was the Stonehenge Bus leaning over on purpose, in order to help a wheelchair bound passenger to embark? Was it partly parked on the pavement, and was a suspension computer overcompensating? Was there a kink in the road, downwards, next to the pavement?
I couldn’t hang about to investigate or to ask. We had a funeral to get to. But, odd.
Incoming from 6k, with apologies for taking so long to post it:
Would a photo thinned to 18px in height be a record for BrianMicklethwaitDotCom?
For some idiot reason, when I first came across the big image, sideways scrollable, at that site liked to above, I couldn’t seem to manage to download the image, and gave up, hence my request. All I got was the entire page. Just now I tried it again, and succeeded at once. That kind of thing often happens with me. 6K mentioned a resizing site. But of course, resizing images is something I do all the time, with my regular photoshop-clone. My problem was not having the image file in the first place. (I now realise that I did download the image, several times. I just didn’t realise where it had gone. That also happens to me a lot.)
6k also mentions another Bayeux Tapestry sighting he recently made, of bits of it redone with Lego.