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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: Design

Monday November 12 2018

Just over a year ago, I wrote here about a dead person on some British stamps (the late David Bowie), which is the usual thing, and also about some non-royal still alive people on British stamps (England’s 2005 Ashes winners), which is most unusual.

Now, admittedly under assumed names, here come some more still alive people on British stamps:

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Details here.

This sort of thing is probably the only reason most people ever buy stamps these days.

Sunday November 11 2018

Yesterday, I went on a shopping expedition which involved boarding a train at Charing Cross, which I planned to reach by going first to St James’s Park tube.

The first of the photos below (1.1) is of a taxi, parked close to where I live, with some sort of poppy related advert on it.  I like to photo taxis covered in adverts.  Temporariness, the passing London scene, will get more interesting as the years pass, blah blah.

Then, in Strutton Ground, just this side of Victoria Street, I encountered two besuited gentlemen wearing military berets and medals.  I photoed them both, with their permission, and I post one of these photos here (1.2), also with their permission.  Sadly, the other photo didn’t come out properly.

It was only at this point that I realised that, the following day (i.e. today) being Remembrance Sunday and what’s more the exact one hundredth anniversary of the Armistice of November 1918, London in the Westminster Abbey area would already be awash with Remembrance Sunday photo-ops.  My shopping could wait a while, and I turned right down Victoria Street.

The seven other photos below mostly involve small wooden crosses and dead autumn leaves - autumn 2018 arrived at Peak Dead Leaf yesterday - but they also include another poppy related advert, this time on a the side of a bus (3.3), which I photoed in Parliament Square:

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Sadly, the plasticated documents referring to “British Nuclear Test Veterans” (2.1) were insufficiently plasticated to resist the effects of the rain.  It began to rain some more when I was arriving at Charing Cross station and it did not stop for several hours, so I’m guessing these lists suffered further rain damage.  It’s odd how little sadnesses like this stick in your mind, in amongst the bigger sadnesses being remembered.

The autumn-leaves-among-crosses photos, all taken outside Westminster Abbey, are but a few of a million such that must have been taken over this weekend, in London and in many other places.  Is it proper to include two mere advert photos, even if they are poppy related adverts, in such poetically symbolic and dignified company?  I chose to do this because one of the things I find most interesting about these Remembrance remembrances is that, as each year of them passes, they don’t seem to be getting any smaller.  People still want remember all this stuff, even though all the veterans of World War 1 are now gone.  Hence the adverts.  If the adverts didn’t get results, they’d not be worth their cost.

As to why these remembrances continue to be remembered, and by such huge numbers of people, year after year, I think one reason is that each political tribe and faction can each put their own spin on the sad events being remembered, but in the privacy of their own minds.  For some political partisans, these ceremonies and symbols are a chance to wallow in the pageantry of patriotism.  For others, they are an opportunity to rebuke such nationalists, for stirring up the kinds of hostility that might provoke a repeat of the sad events being remembered.  “Patriotism” and “nationalism” being the words used to salute, or to denounce, the exact same sentiments.  But declaring red poppies to be a warning that the defence budget should be increased, or that they are anti-Trump and anti-Brexit symbols that Trump supporters and Brexiteers have no right to wear, would be too vulgar and partisan, so on the whole this kind of vulgarity and partisanship is not indulged in, not out loud.

The phenomenon of the political meeting where all present hear the same words but where each understands them to mean different things – I’m thinking of such words as “Britain”, “freedom”, “democracy” and “common sense” – has long fascinated me.  Remembrance ceremonies remind me, on a larger scale, of such meetings.  I attended many such little political meetings myself before I decided that mainstream politics was not for me, and switched to libertarianism, where meanings are spelt out and arguments are had rather than avoided.

For less obsessively political people, Remembrance ceremonies and symbols are simply an opportunity to reflect on the sadness of history in general, and in particular the sadness of the premature deaths of beloved ancestors – or, perhaps worse – hardly known-about ancestors.  We can at least all agree that premature death, in whatever circumstances, is a sad thing to contemplate.  And until young men entirely cease from dying in wars, Remembrance Sunday will continue to be, among other things, a meaningfully up-to-date event.

And so, year after year, these ceremonies continue.  Will this year’s anniversary come to be regarded as Peak Remembrance?  We shall see.

Saturday November 03 2018

Photoed by me, on the same day that I most recently photoed Bartok:

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As I get older, I find myself, every so often, getting crosser.  Not all the time, you understand, just in occasional eruptions.

But I am not cross about this photo.  That is exactly how it came out of the camera.  No cropping or Photoshop(clone)ing.  Just as was.  I love that light, as I have been saying here for about a week now.

I love that effect when the light is very strong and almost exactly in line with the wall but not quite, at a just sufficient angle to light it up, and at the slightest excuse cover it in big shadows. If it didn’t say: “City of Westminster”, you’d think you could be in the South of France or some such sunlit place.

More about the Compton Cross.

Friday November 02 2018

I do like Dezeen.  Mostly it’s just Posh Modernism, but every so often it reports on something a lot more interesting.

Like: what is now the world’s tallest statue, four times the size of the Statue of Liberty, recently erected in Gujarat state, India.

This looks for all the world like it’s Photoshopped, but it truly isn’t:

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Vallabhbhai Patel (31 October 1875 – 15 December 1950), popularly known as Sardar Patel, was an Indian politician who served as the first Deputy Prime Minister of India. He was an Indian barrister and statesman, a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and a founding father of the Republic of India who played a leading role in the country’s struggle for independence and guided its integration into a united, independent nation. ...

Prediction: a Global Big Statue Race.

I follow the actor James Dreyfus on Twitter, because I liked him in Gimme Gimme Gimme and The Thin Blue Line, and because his opinions seem to be refreshingly un- and often anti-PC.

Dreyfus recently tweeted about a device that the owner of a blind dog had made for the dog, to stop the dog bumping his nose into things, and instead bumping the device into things before his nose got there.  It looks like a sort of horizontal halo, with a curve curving out in front of the dog’s nose.  As a result, the blind dog became willing to wander around, whereas previously he’d been too scared of bumping his nose on things.  There’s video, showing how this device works and what a difference it is making.

James Dreyfus is in favour of kindness to animals, as am I, and he complimented the owner for his kindness and inventiveness, as do I.

When I went a-googling on the subject of blind dogs, I discovered that you can actually buy a device like this, as one of Dreyfus’s commenters points out.  It’s called a halo guide, although it doesn’t do much in the way of guiding.  It just takes the hurt out of bumping into things.  But, it is sort of guiding, because presumably the dog gets to learn his way around.

But, these halo guides are quite expensive, and anyway, how would you know beforehand what are they called, or even that such a thing already exists?  How do you go looking?  I got lucky.  (Before I realised that a commenter had said this.)

However, what I was trying to find out was if any blind dogs are assisted by guide dogs.  But if you google that, Google just sees “blind” “guide” “dogs” and assumes the dogs are for blind humans, as they mostly are of course.  Try telling Google that you want to know about a guide dog and a blind dog.  Can’t be done.  I couldn’t do it, anyway.

Thursday October 25 2018

Whenever I see a taxi with an interesting advert on it, I try to photo it.  To recycle what I said in this, there is something especially appealing about a large number of objects, all exactly the same shape, usually all decked out in the same bland colour, but each one instead decorated differently and very colourfully.

It would appear that I’m not the only one.  Further evidence that taxi adverts count for more, per square inch, than other adverts do, comes in the form of the meme war that this taxi and its advert is now provoking:

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The CEO of a plumbing firm has announced that his company will be paying a delivery driver to ride around London in a taxi emblazoned with the slogan ‘Bollocks to Brexit’.

Social media gobbled this up, of course, and the responses were not long in coming.  There was this:

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And then this:

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And there will surely be many more.  I hope I chance upon the original, and get a go at photoing it myself.

More taxis with regular adverts will definitely follow here, as soon as I get around to it.

LATER: And, as I should have mentioned sooner, my friend from way back, financial journo Tom Burroughes, is giving a talk this Friday,tomorrow evening, at my place, about Brexit and all that.  I anticipate a more subtle and more elevated discussion than the one on these taxis.

Friday October 19 2018

Over the summer, a friend of mine was performing in a show at Warwick Castle about the Wars of the Roses.  And early last August a gang of her friends and family went there to see this, me among them.  It was a great show, albeit wall-to-wall Tudor propaganda, and a great day out.

Warwick Castle is quite a place, being one of Britain’s busiest visitor attractions.  It’s No 9 on this list.

I of course took a ton of photos, and in particular I photoed the horses in this show, the crucial supporting actors, you might say.  The stage was out of doors, of course, and long and thin, the audience on each side being invited to support each side in the wars.  Long and thin meant that the horses had room to do lots of galloping.

None of the photos I took were ideal, but quite a few were okay, if okay means you get an idea of what this show was like:

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The basic problem, I now realise, is that the horse heads were at the same level as the audience on the opposite side to my side.  As Bruce the Real Photographer is fond of saying, when photoing people, you start by getting the background right.  And I guess he’d say the same of horses.  Well, this time, for these horses, I’m afraid I didn’t.

So it was a case of nice legs, shame about the faces.  (That link is to a pop song from my youth, the chorus of which glued itself to my brain for ever.  I particularly like the bit where they sing: “Shame about the boat race”.)

I recommend the show’s own Real Photographer, for better photos, potted biogs of the leading historic characters, and a little bit about the enterprise that did this show.

Wednesday October 17 2018

Yesterday I was writing here about how temporariness is a great softener of visual blows.  If you don’t like it, wait until it goes away.

Well, here is news of progress in the technology of making how something looks something that can keep on changing:

Flexible electronic paper could be available in colour as early as next year, allowing designers to create clothing, accessories and other products that double as display screens.

Commonly used on devices such as Kindle e-readers, e-paper has until now only been available in monochrome, restricting its appeal.

But advances in flexible e-paper technology mean that products such as shoes, watches and garments could soon feature full-colour text, patters and images that can constantly change.

It won’t just be how people dress.

However, this will be a different kind of temporariness, because the changing, at least potentially, will never stop.  There will be no normal that gets interrupted, which you can wait for things to get back to, the way you can with scaffolding.

But, ”could be available ...” means that all this will be taking a while.

Tuesday October 16 2018

I’ve asked it before and I’ll ask it again.  Why do I regard most of Modern Art as silly, yet relish real world objects which resemble Modern Art?  Objects like this:

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The above photo was taken on The last really fine day of 2018, just minutes after I had taken the one in that earlier posting.

You don’t need to go to an exhibition of sloppily painted abstract art, when the regular world contains wondrous looking objects like that.  And what is more, they are wondrous looking objects which have worthwhile purposes.  This wondrous object is for supporting and protecting workers as they work on a building.

Here is how that same scaffolding looked, unwrapped, about a month earlier:

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I particular enjoy how the sky changes colour, in my camera, when a big white Thing is inserted into the picture.  (This afternoon, I encountered this, by Real Photographer Charlie Waite.  Same effect.)

Thank you to the (to me) invaluable PhotoCat, for enabling me to crop both of the above photos in a way that makes them more alike in their scope and which thereby points up the differences.  I’m talking about the invaluable Crop But Keep Proportions function that PhotoCat has, but which PhotoStudio (my regular Photoshop(clone)) 5.5 seems not to offer.  (I would love to be contradicted on that subject.)

Despite all my grumblings about how silly most Modern Art is, I do nevertheless greatly like the way that this Big Thing (the Reichstag) looks in the pride-of-place photo featured in this BBC report, an effect which presumably makes use of the same sort of technology as we see in my photo, but on a vastly grander scale:

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I have to admit that this is several orders of magnitude more impressive than my scaffolding.  (Maybe that was the last really fine day of 1994.) My scaffolding looks lots better than some badly painted little abstract rectangle in an Art gallery, but it’s not nearly as effective as the Reichstag, as wrapped by Christo and Partner.

Because this Big Wrapped Thing was so very big, and because it is such a very interesting shape, it really does look like it added greatly to Berlin, in that summer of 1994.  I entirely understand why all those people assembled to gaze at it.  Had I been anywhere in the vicinity, I would have too.  And had there been digital cameras then, I would have taken numerous photos, as would thousands of others.  Thus giving permanence to this vast piece of temporariness.

Because, what I also like about this Reichstag wrapping is that, just like my scaffolding, and just like all the other wrapping done by Wrapper Christo and his Lady Sidekick, it is temporary.  That BBC report calls it Pop-Up Art, and it is of the essence of its non-annoyingness that any particular piece of Pop-Up Art by Christo will soon be popping down again.

This Reichstag wrapping happened in 1994, but is now long gone.  Did you disapprove of what Christo and his lady did to the Reichstag?  You just had to wait it out.  Soon, it would be be gone.

Do you think scaffolding, especially when wrapped, is ugly?  Ditto.

Wednesday October 03 2018

This:

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Photoed by me last night.  And explained here.  The Metropolitan Line came up with this logo just after the regular London Underground logo was devised.  Now this version of it survives,but only on platforms at Moorgate that are no longer used.

Weird.

In the twentieth century, weird is all it would have been.  Then forgotten.  Just another of life’s little mysteries.  But, in the age of the internet, there are no little mysteries.

Friday September 21 2018

The high point, literally, of the expedition that GodDaughter2 and I made to Kew Gardens back in August was our exploration of the Great Pagoda. 

From the top of the Great Pagoda, you can see the Big Things of Central London.  But what the Great Pagoda itself looks like is also worth examining.

Here is an early view we had of it:

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And here is how it looked when we got closer:

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The Daily Mail describes the Great Pagoda as Britain’s First Skyscraper.

Now look how it looked when we got closer still:

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So, what are those sticky-outy things on the corners of each sticky-outy roof?

That’s right, dragons.  And we’re not talking merely inflated dragons.  These are solid looking and scary.  You couldn’t kill these dragons with a mere pin prick, and you wouldn’t dare to try.

Most of the Great Pagoda dragons look like this:

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We discovered when we got there that the recent restoration of this Great Pagoda had, only a few weeks before our visit, been completed.  We got very lucky with that.

Read more about these dragons, and about the Pagoda that they now guard, in this Guardian report.

This Great Pagoda, London’s very first Big Thing, was built by Sir Wiiliam Chambers in 1762.  The dragons were a feature of the original Pagoda, but in 1784 they were removed.  Being made of wood, and following a burst of wet weather, they had started to rot.

Wikipedia says that Kew Gardens was adopted as a national botanical garden in 1840.  Would that be when the Pagoda was opened to the general public?  Whenever exactly that was, Kew Gardens and the Great Pagoda have been what we now call visitor attractions for quite a while now.

During World War 2, the Great Pagoda was used to test bombs.  You can still see one of the holes they made in all the floors, to allow the bombs to fall.  Keeping that for everyone to see now is a nice touch, I think.

Kew Gardens contains lots of greenery, and green stuff on sticks.  What do they call those things?  Trees.  Kew Gardens has lots and lots of trees, of many different brands.

So, on the left here, the hole in the floor.  On the right there, the seat made from many trees:

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And in the middle, the seat, seen through the hole.

But back to those dragons.  The old rotting dragons have now been almost entirely replaced by 3D printed dragons, which look solid but which are actually far lighter than the old-time originals.

On the lowest roof, right near the ground, there was a different sort of dragon, which looked like this:

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I wonder what the story was of that one, for there did indeed seem to be only one such blue dragon.  Had the original plan been to make all the dragons like that one?  But did its structural weakness cause them to abandon that plan, and go with the other darker green dragon with its scary red tongue, and with its rather more solid wings?  Don’t know, but whatever the story is, the winning dragon design is pretty good also.

Everything about how the Great Pagoda looks, inside as well as its exterior, says: class.  This is a visitor attraction that I warmly recommend.  There is no lift, not originally of course, and not now, but the steps, although quite numerous, are at a comfortably mild angle - rather than, say, like the ones in the Monument.  Even better, each flight of steps you go up causes you to reach another actual floor, of the sort you can stand on, with windows looking outwards.  So, oldies like me can go up two floors, say, and then have a comfortable breather, without blocking anyone else on the stairs.  If we are on the right floor, we can even use that multi-treed seat (see above).

The weather on the day that GD2 and I visited Kew Gardens was not perfect.  The dragons look rather dark and menacing in my photos.  But that look works, I think.  And as days out go, this day out was pretty much perfect.

Thursday September 20 2018

To me, nothing says Abroad quite like a poster, somewhere in Abroad, advertising an English speaking movie, whose English title I already know, with a foreign title that is different, but with all the same star names:

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La Taupe means The Mole.  I preferred the TV series, but I love this poster.  Photoed by me in Paris in February 2012.

As was this, on the same expedition:

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In the same directory, I encountered other photos of posters advertising the following movies: Drive (Ryan Gosling), Ghost Rider (Nicolas Cage), Underworld (Kate Beckingsale), and Star Wars Episode 1 (whoever).  But in those posters, the titles stayed in their original English.  Why?

Tuesday September 18 2018

And no, I don’t mean reinforcements for an army.  I mean the kind of reinforcements that end up buried in concrete.

Like these ones:

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All six of these photos also feature one of the more impressive scaffolding arrays near me just now.  The art of scaffolding and the art of creating reinforcements for structural concrete have much in common.  Both involve putting together lots of bits of metal.  Both need to result in a structure that stays put and does not collapse.  Both look pretty to people like me.

But there are also big differences.  Scaffolding is very visible, and it remains visible for the duration of its working existence.  Scaffolding thus proclaims itself to the world, by its very existence.  That we live in a golden age of scaffolding is obvious to all of us, whether we like this fact or hate it.

Also, scaffolding rather quickly punishes those who erect it, if they don’t do it right.  While creating scaffolding, scaffolders make use of the scaffolding they have just been constructing, and they are their own first users.  They thus have a literally inbuilt incentive to do their work well.  And if they don’t, it is not that hard for others to spot this.  Bad scaffolding wobbles.  Such are my surmises about scaffolding.

Reinforcements for concrete are something else again.  By the time they go to work, doing the job they were built for, everyone concerned had better be damn sure that they have done their work well.  But, if they haven’t, the disastrous consequences of that bad work may take years to happen, and even then to be controversial.  Who is to say exactly what caused a building to collapse?  And if the building collapses rather catastrophically, it is liable to destroy a lot of the evidence of what exactly happened, and why.  Investigating such catastrophes being a whole separate job in itself.  So, getting these reinforcements right, with an inbuilt regime of testing and inspection and supervision, all managed by morally upright people whose declarations of confidence in what they have been inspecting can be relied upon, is a whole distinct industry.

But, this is an industry whose products, by their nature, end up being invisible.  We all rely on such work being done correctly, not just “structurally” but also in a morally correct manner.  Yet, we mostly never see this work, only its indirect results.

So, I hereby I celebrate the work, morally as well as merely technically good, that goes into the making of reinforcements for concrete.  I salute the good men and true who make these (I think) beautiful objects, and who ensure that they perform faithfully.  Their moral as well as technical excellence is all part of why I consider such reinforcements to be things of beauty.

I did some googling to try to determine exactly what reinforcements like those in my photos are used for.  The lorry says R. SWAIN AND SONS on it.  But they are hauliers, not makers of concrete reinforcements.  The nearest I got to an answer was this photo, of objects just like those on my lorry, with this verbiage attached: “Prefabricated Piling Cages Made of Reinforced Bars On Site”.  Prefabricated Piling cages.  Piling sounds to me like foundations.  (Yes.) The reinforcing has to be shoved down a hole in one go.  It can’t be constructed bit by bit, in the hole.  It either gets assembled beforehand on site, or, it gets assembled in a factory and taken to the site by lorry, as above.

The reinforcing that a structure needs when it is above ground, on the other hand, can be assembled on site, and I’m guessing that this is what usually happens.

Just guessing, you understand.  My first guess actually was: for an above ground structure, until I came upon the photo I just linked to, and not foundations.  But, what do I know?

Friday September 14 2018

Last Sunday morning I was trying to have a good old lie-in, but instead I got woken up early by a giant anteater.

Yes.  Having been woken up, I looked out my window towards where all the din seemed to be coming from, and this was the scene I beheld:

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At first I thought the culprit might be that refuse lorry in the foreground, but it soon because clear that the noise had been coming from that red lorry with the crane-like thing attached to it.

Let’s move in closer:

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By the time this photo had been photoed, the big red lorry had lifted its nozzle out of that hole in the pavement on the right there, which I subsequently learned had been dug in connection with electric cables.  Evidently there was muck in the hole which needed to be got out, in a hurry.  Sometimes technology really sucks.

I was intrigued, and at first greatly puzzled, by picture on the side of the red lorry, and it took me quite a while to work it out.  It is a giant anteater.  It looks like at least two creatures, pointing in opposite directions, but the “other creature” is, or so I believe, the giant anteater’s giant tail.  That tail being a lot of what makes the anteater a giant.

Wikipedia tells us what an actual giant anteater looks like:

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I can see why an anteater would have a very long nose.  But why the enormous tail?  Balance, perhaps?  The answer offered here says balance, and also maybe to cover itself when sleeping.  It seems to be mixed up with the anteater having a low body temperature, the tail being there partly to keep heat out.  So, perhaps also some kind of fan?  I couldn’t find a confident answer.

As for the gizmo deployed at the back of the lorry, note how this time, a bendy arm with a tube in it does make use of a bendy tube, unlike that machine for squirting concrete that I mentioned here earlier.  Guess: not so much pressure this time, not least because the material itself being sucked up (this time) is not so heavy and bulky.  Some pressure, but not so much.

That phone number of the side of the lorry got me to the enterprise that supplied this equipment.  But follow that link and you’ll find no mention of any red lorries with anteaters on the side.  By which I mean, I didn’t.

Friday September 07 2018

Driverless cars will happen, eventually.  But when they do, who knows what they will be like, or look like, what they will do or not do, what other changes they will precipitate?  When this finally happens, it will surely be the railways, or the internet, in the sense that it will be big, and that nobody now knows how big or what the details will consist of.

Two driverless vehicle articles came to my attention today, both of which illustrate how very different driverless vehicles could end up being to the vehicles we are now familiar with.

This Dezeen report reports on a scheme by Land Rover to put eyes on the front of driverless vehicles, to communicate with pedestrians, the way pedestrians now look at the faces of drivers to negotiate who goes where, when.  Makes sense.  With no driver, and the vehicle driving itself, it could use a face, or else how will the vehicle be able to participate in after-you-no-after-you-no-afteryou-no-I-insist-so-do-I sessions?

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So, does a robot with a working face (in due course robot faces will be a lot better than that one) count as: “Other creatures”?  I say: yes (see below).

Will the Thomas the Tank Engine books prove to be a prophetic glimpse into the future of transport?  Eat your hearts out, SF movies.  Didn’t see that coming, did you?

And here is a posting about how people might choose to sleep in driverless vehicles on long journeys, instead of going by air.  The problem with going by air being that you have to go by airport, and that sleeping in the typical airplane is for many impossibly uncomfortable.  But, if we do sleep on long distance driverless vehicles, what will we do about going to the toilet?  Stop at a toilet sounds like an answer.  But what will the toilet be like?  Might it also be a vehicle?

The point is: nobody knows how driverless vehicles will play out.  Except to say that if they look like cars and vans and lorries look now, that would be an insanely improbable coincidence.

LATER: More about those eyes here.