Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Most recent entries
- Breaking my Samizdata silence
- On the problems of half-parking with a half-car
- Roof party
- Crane lamp
- Headlights with cleaning brush
- Sign with sarcastic sneer quotes
- Godo and flowers
- Tate cat
- On meeting an American lady friend who likes to read my stuff about cricket
- A birthday party with difficult lighting
- On the unappealingness of classical music on the internet
- Bright buildings in front of dark sky
- Waiting for …
- The ballerina and her support act
- Having a baby can change or ruin your voice
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Category archive: Design
We have most of us seen these tiny little cars they make nowadays, which are about half the length of regular cars. A seemingly obvious usefulness of such vehicles, aside from them using half the metal and less money and power to make them and move them, is that they can be parked at ninety degrees to regular parking, which does away with the need for all that “parking” and doubles (and more) the amount of space available for everyone to park in.
But you seldom see such cars actually parked liked that, and when you do …:
… (as I did about a week ago near to where I live) you realise that this is actually a much more complicated arrangement than it might at first appear to be.
Suppose you see a half-parking-space, between two other cars, and you park your half-car in that space, at ninety degrees to those two cars.
You just might be making it impossible for one or even both of those cars to get out, unless you do first. I mean, maybe the car beyond the half-car above can get out. Maybe those two cars are cooperatively parked, so to speak, with both vehiclese arriving and leaving at the same time. But maybe the bigger car arrived first and will want to leave first, and was relying on being able to move backwards to get out, in which case …
Which actually makes me think this was cooperative parking, by the two vehicles in concert. Otherwise there would be just too much potential grief involved.
I can’t think, off hand, of an easy way to sort all this out. So, just as well it’s not my job to worry about such things.
There is also the fact that the half-car in my picture, isn’t actually quite a half-car, more like a two-fifths- or three-quarters-car, and it sticks out annoyingly. This doesn’t matter much in a big wide road like the one shown, but in other roads it might matter a lot.
I want one:
Dawkins just couldn’t handle www.dezeen.com, so today I had fun looking back through the last few days (with many more days yet to be looked at). This cried out to be immortalised on BrianMicklethwaitDotCom.
Yes, you read that right. Sunday. I am celebrating the fact that I now have a Proper Computer (a temporary arrangement called Godo) at my command by doing more than one posting here today. There may (although I promise nothing) be even more than two. The thing is, during the Time of Dawkins, I accumulated lots of interesting little titbits which it was too bothersome to be bothering with, but which I now want (as they say in California and now regrettably everywhere else (see also the even more vomit-inducing “reach out”, which means pestering by telephone)) to “share” with you.
So, first up, this luxurious Rolls Royce, from the time when us Brits were in charge of how they looked:
As it says just above the roof, photoed in Lower Marsh, on Sept 1st.
Round headlights, but … four of them! This car dates from the days when the only way to jazz up car headlights was to have two of them side by side. How impossibly glamorous is that?!?! I seem to recall that the puppet woman who presided over International Rescue on the telly had a pink roller, with the same kind of headlights. Lady Penelope? Yes. Follow that link, and you will be reminded that Lady P’s roller had two sets of three headlights. Only a billionaire, or millionaire as they used to be called, could afford that kind of headlight array. (To say nothing of those doubled-up front wheels.)
(And it is so great that I am now back to hunting things like that down in about fifteen seconds. There is nothing like deprivation to make you grateful for large mercies.)
But Lady Penelope missed a trick. Her imaginary roller didn’t have a brush to clean its headlights, but some real rollers did! You will see what I am talking about if you take a closer look at this:
Yes, a sort of elongated rich person shaving brush, to keep those lights clean!
You didn’t get those on Morris Marinas.
The weather in London today was particularly fine. The light was bright and washed clean by recent rain, and the atmosphere was neither too hot nor too humid. There was bright blue sky, but there were also plenty of clouds. I had a bank to visit and electrical items to obtain, all doable on Sunday if you are in Tottenham Court Road, and then I and my companion went south towards the river.
I photoed tourist stuff, hereinafter termed touristuff. I love to photo touristuff. It changes from year to year, and it is arranged in hightly photogenic clumps such as you could never enjoy if you merely bought a single touristuff item:
Those queens seem now to be very popular, but popes less so. But those decapitated lady bottle openers are a new siting, for me. It’s amazing what can look sexy, even after being guillotined.
I photoed books, under Waterloo Bridge. Books in large and sunlit clumps, and particular books, with particular titles:
It seems that the Conan The Barbarian books were written not by just the one writer, but by a team of writers. I did not know this. I wonder how that was organised.
I photoed Art. I photoed a lady all in white, photoing Art under the Queen Elizabeth Hall. That’s if you reckon middle of the range graffiti to be Art. Is this a possible future for brutalist architecture? Painting such concrete relics would surely make sense.
And I photoed people sitting on Art, in the form of giant green chairs, next to the Imax Cinema roundabout near Waterloo station
Apparently these big green chairs used to be down in that strange circle of pedestrian space that surrounds the bottom of the Imax Cinema, inside the roundabout.
If my walkabout this afternoon is anything to go by, Art is becoming less about Deep Significance (of the sort that has to be explained with Art Bollocks essays next to the Deeply Significant Art), and more about fun. Bring it on.
And bring on the day when they have exhibitions of Touristuff in Tate Modern. I hardly ever go inside Tate Modern, but I bet that would be more fun than what they put there now. And it might also be more Significant.
The economics of car ownership is interesting. On the face of it, I might be the sort of person who would get a really small car (even if not this exact one). But the way I (and many others?) see it is: If I go to the bother of getting a car, and finding somewhere to park it, and a way of insuring it, and of protecting it from burglars and vandals, I might as well spend a bit more and get a proper car. You either buy a car, of the sort that can do all the things proper cars do, like transport another four people, transport bits of furniture, drive to Scotland or Paris or some such place, impress rather than amuse friends and enemies, and so forth. Or, you don’t.
You don’t buy a bit of car.
The only exception is if your entire country has only just started buying cars, in which case even a bit of car is worth having. Especially if, for the time being, that’s all you can get
I’m still suffering from God problems. God needs a new everything. New fan, new processor, new graphics card, even some new RAM. His old body will do, and hopefully all his hard discs can stay where they are, and continue to have all the same stuff on them, but the stuff that enables God to do his mysterious work is all change. Overheating, The Guru said. There was much dust inside, which will not surprise anyone who has ever visited my home.
Here is a picture of God’s inner workings, not that it tells me much:
Apparently overheating is big deal in computing these days, and there are an amazing number of little systems inside a computer like God which are just there to stop things getting too hot. The Guru pointed out various little cooling mechanisms, and there were about half a dozen of them. Not just obvious things like big fans, but small things like strategically placed bits of metal to get ride of the head in some tiny little sub-system.
I recall reading a book about the man who invented the first Supercomputers. Cray? It said that Cray computers were actually of a rather conservative design, because that way they wouldn’t go wrong. The brilliant idea was to combine such a computer with a refrigeration system. Apparently nobody had thought of that, until Cray did. But, said Cray, who says you can’t put a computer in a fridge?
By the way, odd that fridge is spelt fridge, but refrigeration is spelt refrigeration, without a d in the middle. Google it if you don’t believe me. I only just found this out, from my spell checker and then from googling it myself.
The bad news is that without God I am without email. I know, this is ridiculous. I keep meaning to switch from FuckupMail (the system supplied to me by The Guru (who disapproves of Google “on principle")) to Gmail, because you can access Gmail from anywhere. So what if you have to donate your soul to Google? What would they do with my soul? Very little, I am almost sure.
FuckupMail works fine, until you try to access it from another computer. Then it causes me to call it that. So, for example, on my recent French trip, I just ignored email and hoped for the best. But now I have things coming up that need organising, and I can’t wait until the middle of next week for email, so FuckupMail has to migrate to Dawkins. So, I am currently engaged in doing that. But every time Dawkins gets to the emails concerning back-ups, which happen every day at three in the morning, he goes on strike for about five minutes and I often have to shut the email system and then open it again, after which it takes another five minutes before it deigns to transfer any more emails, which it eventually does until 3am comes around again. I have had to stop the email system and start it up again about three hundred times. “Should take about two hours” said The Guru. Turned out more like forty, and it still isn’t done. The only exception was when the emails concerned the fact that the back-up system wasn’t working, which it wasn’t for about one blessed month earlier this summer. They transferred fine. I know. Ridiculous, but I had no idea it would take as long as it did.
Should. This is a computer technical term meaning, “should but actually won’t”. Whenever you hear this word coming out of the mouth of a Computer Guy, trouble. Every time.
It’s only when you don’t have email that you realise how much you depend on it.
This is what Dawkins looks like:
Which I include just to tell you, in case you are confused.
This, on the other hand, is the new graphics card, which I include because I like it:
It looks like a cross between a helicopter and a bra, both fine inventions.
By the way, please don’t leave any “helpful” comments on this, about what, in your opinion, you think I ought to do about all this, instead of what I am doing. I already know (a) why I am doing what I am doing, (b) why it is ridiculous but why I’m doing it anyway, and (c) what I intend to do about it all to stop similar absurdities in the future. If you agree with me about how annoying this is, that’s okay, but if you have any opinions about any of this that are different from mine, keep them to yourself.
One of my favourite www destinations just now is the Evening Standard website. Presumably because there are other Evening Stardards in the world besides the Evening Standard, the Evening Standard of London, the website of the Evening Standard is called “London News” (even as its website is something different, involving the world “standard").
A lot of this is because, more and more, I love London, and the Evening Standard, not unnaturally, has lots of London stories.
A particularly fine one recently featured this delectable photo:
The young woman is an Evening Standard journalist, Miranda Bryant, and the swimming pool is on floor 52 of the Shard, being one of the amenities offered by the Shangri La hotel.
One of the edges of this swimming pool is right next to the glass wall of the Shard, and I can’t help thinking how great it would be if the glass wall of the Shard were to double up, at this point, as the wall of the swimming pool. Think of the photographs this would provoke. This is why God invented x50 zoom lenses.
An ultrazoom photo I have long wanted to take of the Shard would feature a gorgeous young woman in silhouette, at the top, where the light goes right through the building. But such a woman swimming might be even better, especially if the light could go right through that also.
One of the reasons why architecture is such an influential profession these days (if you are one of the top dogs of the profession – one of the “starchitects") is that the kind of down-the-pecking-order architects and engineers whose job is to contrive things wanted by their bosses or clients, and make these things work properly, can now, it would appear, make absolutely anything work properly. Therefore, the starchitects, the ones who decide how things are going to be and to look, can now make them be and look any way that their starchitectural whims determine. (See, e.g.: Zaha Hadid.) Not so long ago, a swimming pool high up in a skyscraper would be a disaster waiting to happen to everyone foolish enough to situate themselves anywhere below it, and in particular a disaster for any idiot architect silly enough to ordain such a thing. Now, it is just a matter of some starchitect saying “do it”, and it is done.
I departed for France on Tuesday August 5th.
My flight from London City Airport to Quimper in Brittany was due for lift off at 11.40am, so I obviously had to leave home at about 9.20am, thereby reaching City Airport as early as I could without having to pay for the journey. (Old Git passes only cut in at 9.30am, or such is my understanding.) We infrequent flyers can’t be too careful. I would far rather wait two hours at an airport while reading a good book than endure any fear of missing my flight at any point on my journey to the airport, still less actually risk missing it.
One way to get to London City Airport would have been to take the District Line to Tower Hill, and then the D(ocklands) L(ight) R(ailway) from then onwards, with just the one (somewhat complicated) change. But my computer said it would be quicker to change twice, first at Westminster from the District Line to the Jubilee Line, and then again at Canning Town to the DLR. The Jubilee Line is quicker than the trundlingly antique District Line and quicker than the relatively new but cautiously robotic DLR, and it may also have realised that both these changes are far easier than the one change from Tower Hill (District) to Tower Gateway (?) (DLR). So, I changed at Westminster, and again at Canning Town.
All of which explains why, when I got to Canning Town, and was awaiting the DLR train on to City Airport, I got to see this:
I couldn’t believe my luck. I hadn’t even left London, yet already I was beholding once-in-a-lifetime wonders! For yes, your eyes do not deceive you. That is a crane, holding a bridge. I love cranes, especially when they are doing something interesting. I love bridges, especially new ones and especially when they are still being built. So you can imagine my delight at observing a bridge being craned into position, by a crane. And all of this presented to me as if by a performer who is determined to communicate to the maximum effect with his audience, assembled on the top deck of Canning Town Tube/DLR station.
On the left there, the first picture I took. On the right, a later picture which shows where the bridge was about to be deposited. There are two bright red bits, the same bright red as the bridge itself, clearly at each end of where the bridge would shortly be.
All of this happened on Tuesday August 5th. A day earlier and it would not have started. A day later and it would have been a fait accompli, with the installed bridge presumably looking exactly as it looks now. Only by being there exactly on August 5th, and only by choosing the exactly correct railway journey combination, was I able to observe this delight.
(Imagine if I had happened to sale past this, on August 14th 1999.)
My week in Brittany had got off to a great start.
Before I start ruminating more convolutedly about my recent stay in France, there is just one more shot that I want to show you from that ASI boat trip.
It’s a photo I took of the guy who was driving the boat, and (I presume) the man who was in command of the boat:
I can find no mention anywhere here of the actual people who command and work on the boats, just lots of stuff about how great the boats are for partying on. So I don’t know the name or rank of this man. But, whoever and whatever he is, I love his look of calm but ever so slightly suspicious watchfulness, with his ever so slightly raised right eyebrow. It’s the face of a man who knows that, mostly, his job is just a job, but that this is a job that just possibly might, were he seriously to neglect his duties, turn very nasty.
Besides which, you never quite know what those people back there partying might get up to, under the influence of all that drink that the other members of the crew are serving them. A boat full of tipsy revellers, even more than a normal boat, needs a sober worker to guide it and to see that all is well, no matter how friendly the waters they are travelling on.
There’s something else about this picture that intrigues me. When I was a kid, wearing short trousers was the essence of being a kid, and graduating to long trousers was the essence of ceasing to be only a kid and starting to grow up. Yet now, more and more indisputably grownup men, doing their indisputably grownup work, wear shorts. Anyone care to speculate about what this means, or about why it is happening?
I get google emails whenever “3D printing” is mentioned at all prominently on the www, and the latest one definitely got my attention. It linked to a story about a guy who has been 3D printing in his garden.
A building contractor living in Minnesota has developed his own 3D printer which can print concrete directly from CAD design software, and he has used it to 3D-print a castle in his back garden.
Here is how that looks:
Calling that a “castle”, as this story does, is a bit of a stretch. At the moment, if this is anything to go by, open-air and architectural 3D printing seems to have all the deft elegance and aesthetic flexibility of a dot matrix printer. But the equivalents of laser printers, and then (what we have now) cheap laser printers, and cheap colour printers, will surely soon be with us. And in due course the building trade will become something completely different, and hence buildings will too.
Yet another reason why I would love to remain alive for another century, just to see how this kind of stuff develops.
In England, this guy would either have failed to get planning permission for this erection, or else he would now be being told to take it down, for having failed to get planning permission.
I just heard someone say in an American TV sitcom (I love American TV sitcoms) that they’re not going to answer the phone without knowing who it is, “like it’s 1994”.
I still do this, with my old 1994 style phone, which I greatly prefer to mobiles, because when I am out and about, I don’t have to answer it, and because phones connected to your house with wire cannot be lost, and because I know exactly where it is when it rings, and because that ring never changes.
Quite often, when I do answer, it’s a junk phone call, offering to extricate me from a financial error that I personally have not made by urging me to commit another financial error, and as soon as I realise it’s junk, I put the phone down. Does this constitute some sort of “success” for the junk phoning enterprise? Look, they answered! Because obviously they knew who we were, this not being 1994, and yet still they picked up the phone! Hey, we’re getting through!
Much of life these days seems to consist of doing many futile things, but contriving for these things the appearance of non-futility. These days? I suspect all days that have ever been, with humans involved, and no doubt many other species also, both before and now during the human epoch. Only the futile things and the means of contriving a non-futile appearance for them change from time to time.
I don’t mind junk phone calls. If they were more frequent, they would annoy me. As it is, if there is a pause in incoming phone calls lasting a few hours, it is soothing to be informed, even if only by a robot actor voice spouting nonsense, that my phone is still working. The pause was because nobody wanted to talk to me.
When answering junk phone calls, I pause any music that may be playing. I do not mind this. There is a part of my brain (yours too?) where you remember the musical phrase you were listening to when you last paused the music, and when you unpause it you carry on listening just as you would have done normally. I even suspect that pausing deepens my response to particular pieces of music, by fixing particular moments of them in my brain more firmly than might have happened otherwise.
Since I am now rambling like the really old person that I am rapidly becoming, let me ramble some more. In connection with none of the above, here are the wheels of a big mobile crane that I photoed in Victoria Street a while back. Click on it to get the crane:
I like cranes. That one is, I think, the Spierings SK599-AT5. I love how you can find out about things like this, these days. And this time it really is these days, rather than all days.
Here is a link to a toy version of this crane. Do contractors use toys like this to plan their jobs, I wonder? As well as just to decorate their offices or amuse their spoilt children?
It is now late morning on Sunday. Are sermons like this, when the priest is getting old, but is too well liked for anyone to want to sack him? With a blog you can ramble anyway, because nobody can sack you.
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?
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.
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.