Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Category archive: Design

Saturday January 17 2015

When it comes to Micklethwait’s Laws, the best one undoubtedly is and will always be Micklethwait’s Law of Negotiated Misery.

But there is also a Micklethwait’s Law of Shelves.  On the face of it, Micklethwait’s Law of Shelves is not that fundamental, but, writing about it now, I do think it explains quite a lot about the world, and about why there is so much stuff in the world, clogging it up.  It is a law that, unlike with (so far as I am aware) Micklethwait’s Law of Negotiated Misery, many others have discovered the truth of, even if I’ve not been able to find it spelt out in so many words on the www.  Micklethwait’s (or Whoever’s) Law of Shelves states that …:

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… there is always room for more shelves.

That’s my bedroom.  Imagine what the rest of my place is like.

Thursday January 15 2015

Here’s a nice coincidence.  There I was writing about how I went from being, in my teens, a bad pen-and-ink picture-maker to, from around 2000 onwards, a far happier digital-photographic picture maker.  And here is a picture that captures that kind of metamorphosis perfectly:

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It’s one of these pictures by Christoph Niemann.  Niemann’s pictures bring to mind that phrase used by one of the alter egos of Barry Humphries, Barry McKenzie, who described paintings as “hand done photos”.  These pictures really do only work as photos.  Until they are photoed, the job is not done.  But the hand-done bit is essential to what they are.

One thing about these pictures that I particularly like, apart from the basic fact that I like them, is their very favourable effort-to-impact ratio.  For my taste, too much of the picture-making displayed at Colossal consists of stuff that is quite nice to look at, but which took an absurdly huge amount of time and effort to contrive.  Also, there is often no logical or even meaningful connection between how the pictures are contrived and how they end up looking.  So, you’ve made a table cloth out of seeds.  Clever you.  But, why?  Niemann’s pictures answer this question perfectly.

But then again, the internet being the internet, if your elaborately pointless pictures catch people’s fancy and thousands glance at them, then I guess that, if you put in a lot of time and effort, you may well reckon than all the time and effort was worth it, especially if you had fun spending it and doing it.  And of course it is digital photography that transforms a laboriously produced one-off item of visual art that took far too much time and effort to do, into a mass experience that it made sense to spend a lot of time and effort doing.  But, most of these intricate sculptures and pictures at Colossal are just sculptures and pictures that were then photographed.  Niemann’s pictures are real Hand Done Photos.

As for me, between being a bad pen-and-ink picture maker and an okay-to-good digital photographer, I endured a big interval during which I made hardly any pictures of any kind.  My pictorial enthusiasm expressed itself in the design of pamphlets, and graphic design generally.  Basically I became a desktop publisher.  (I even earned money doing this.) First I just did publishing, on a desktop, paper-scissors-glue-photocopier.  Then computers arrived, and I was an early adopter of “desktop publishing”.  Then the internet arrived, and drew a big line under all that stuff.  I shovelled all my pamphlets onto the internet, and became a blogger.  And, I bought my first digital camera.  At first, blogging and digital photography did not mix very well.  Now, they mix very well indeed.

Wednesday January 14 2015

Dezeen reports that the Walkie Talkie Sky Garden is now open:

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Note this:

This feature helped the project win planning permission, despite being outside the City of London’s main skyscraper cluster.

It seems that I am not the only one who believes that new buildings like the Walkie Talkie are good not only because they improve the views by being in the views, but by being a new place to look at the views.

And to repeat, I especially like how the Walkie Talkie looks from a distance.  The point being: it looks, not just like any old anonymous lump, but like the lump that is the Walkie Talkie.  The Walkie Talkie is, just like the Shard and the Gherkin and St Paul’s and Big Ben and the Wheel, recognisable, this being why it needs a special jokey name.  That means that it makes me happy whenever I see it.  It makes me feel at home.  It may not be beautiful exactly (although from nearby I happen to think that it is very beautiful).  But neither is the rest of London beautiful exactly, and I think the Walkie Talkie fits right in.

LATER: Diamond Geezer is way ahead of me.

Tuesday January 13 2015

From time to time I go looking for pictures of bridges, preferably new ones, but seldom find anything I don’t know about.  And then, quite by chance, while clicking through these old photos, I chance upon this:

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It’s the Golden Gate, being built, in 1937.

I recall doing a pen-an-ink type sketch (as opposed to something theatrical like a comedy sketch – odd double meaning that), when in my teens, of the Severn Road Bridge, when it only had a chunk of road in the middle, suspended in glorious isolation, going nowhere in either direction (like in the photo here).  This photo reminds me of those times.

I never actually drew any decent pictures, but I did spend a lot of time thinking about composition, by which I mean that I chose quite good pictures to do, but actually did them very badly.  Now I take good pictures, rather less badly.  How I wish there had been digital cameras when I was a teenager.  My cycling expeditions around France, and then Scandinavia, and then Iceland, would have been far more fun, and now far easier to remember.  The old cameras, with “film” in them, were ridiculous.  You had to “develop” all the damn pictures, very expensively, just to find out that about three of them weren’t total crap.  But you tell young people this nowadays they think you’re mad.  And if you did all this, guess what, you were mad.

I have never shared the contempt that most people show - or pretend to show - for Adolf Hitler’s paintings.  Okay, so they aren’t Rembrandts, but even so, I would have loved to have been as good hand-done picture-making as he was.  Could it be that people just can’t bear to accept that he ever did anything well or anything good?  Just a wild guess.

Monday January 12 2015

Here, as promised, is a big clutch of photos of signs that I took at the Trafalgar Square demo yesterday.  If you want to, click on a square to get the original photo.  The squares have, in quite a few cases been fiddled out with to make them a bit clearer, but the originals you’ll get to with clicking are exactly as taken.

There were, of course, lots of signs (including many mobile phones and at least one tablet) saying “I AM CHARLIE”, in fact you can see quite a few such if you do some clicking.  But, here are all the signs I photographed that said something else as well, or instead:

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Of all of these, my two favourites are “Team Civilization”, and “Down With The Tyranny of The Offended” (in French).  But demos are at least as much about quantity as quality, and I trust the sheer number of signs shown here (there were plenty more that I didn’t get to photo) makes the bigger point.  There were a lot of people turning out to denounce these horrible attacks.

Even the rather or almost completely illegible signs are an encouragement, I think, because what these signs tell us is that quite a few people were present, and feeling strongly enough about it to want to wave a sign, who had never been anywhere near such a demo ever before.

Feel free to reproduce any of these images at will, with or without attribution.  If you’d like bigger versions of any of the pictures, my email can be found here, top left, where it says “Contact”.

Saturday January 10 2015

A while back I linked to a report mentioning how drones with cameras had been hovering near sunbathing girls at the beach.  Not good.

Well, here is a report another drone doing things on the beach, but this time good things.  It flies out to sea from the beach and delivers a life preserver to a swimmer in difficulties, which I presume means something like a rubber ring the swimmer can get into instead of having to depend on their swimming skills:

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That, at any rate, is the idea.  This thing is not at the the soon-to-be-crowdfunded stage.

Via Instapundit.

The odd thing about the above photo is how unclear it is how big this thing is.

Wednesday January 07 2015

The world is very full of ugly modern buildings, which would be greatly improved, I think, by a dash of colour.  Accordingly, I am always on the lookout for brightly coloured modern buildings, either because they have been coloured much later, or because they were like that to start with.  See also this posting, about white architectural modernism is so black and white..

So, I like this, in Tokyo:

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Details here.

There are street wires to be seen, but not very many, and in only one of the photos.

Sunday December 28 2014

When in France, I have no particular desire to do as the French do.  I have my own agendas.  So, for instance, French people do not make a point of photoing French posters advertising British or American films in the Paris Metro.  But, I like to do this:

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I am using an alien computer.  Contriving the above photo-display took some doing.  Were I using my own computer I might have cropped that photo.  As it is, it is as it was when it came out of my camera.

Mostly, I just like the thought that we are making movies that they consider good enough to show in Paris.  But I think I am also interested in what sort of picture of my country they are seeing.  I’m guessing it is one that they want to see.  In this case, for example, they are see us Anglos being, although quite good looking, also boring, disgusting, uncultured and gross, and generally behaving like people upon whom wealth is wasted.  Not wanting to see Anglos in this light myself, I have not seen this movie, so I may be entirely wrong about what it is like.

But if it is not like that, they shouldn’t have called it that.  As a general rule, it is surely good business to take your movie look in the posters (and sound in its title) the way it actually is, because that way the people who will be attracted to it by the poster will then enjoy it, and the word of mouth will be good.  Many a movie is not what they first advertised it as, and hence was denounced by its early audiences, but was good in some other way, and ended up appealing to quite other people.  Had they advertised it more accurately to start with, they’d have done better business.

Wednesday December 24 2014

Yes it’s another Immaculately Modernistical Japanese House Posting at Dezeen, where the pictures are full of The Wires …:

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… but where the text never mentions The Wires.

They don’t see the anarchy.  They see only the Order.

Monday December 15 2014

This morning I had reason to be in the vicinity of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, at about 10 a.m.  Later you will learn why, but in the meantime, just to say that this uncharacteristically early-in-the-day expedition enabled me to reacquaint myself with an old friend, in the form of the delightful footbridge that allows the ballerinas of the Royal Ballet School to make their way to the Royal Opera House, without having to risk being damaged by traffic or by the public:

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The ROH is on the right there.  I like how the squares in the bridge echo the strong right angles of the building and its roof details.

I also like the blue sky.  But, you think that’s a blue sky?  That’s not a blue sky. 

This is a blue sky.

Sunday December 14 2014

A moment ago I had a twenty first century moment.  I thought: Wouldn’t it be great to have a keyboard on the top of your thighs, embedded in the front of the top of the legs of your trousers.  You could then type wherever, perhaps combined with a pair of those google glasses that you also wear perpetually.  And it could all add up to a mega-computer if combined with a big cycle helmet full of electro-magic.

The point being that typing is never going to go away.  The QWERTY keyboard is permanently with us, I think.

So, what about that top-of-your-trousers keyboard?  Time was when a thought is all that such a thought could ever be.  But now, no sooner is the thought thought than it is googled:

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Brilliant.  It’s not market-ready yet, but they’re working on it.

Gotta love that Golden Age.

Although, great though the basic idea is, I can’t help feeling that (a) washing and/or cleaning might be an issue, and (b) the keyboard needs to be separable from the trousers by some means.  Maybe just strapped on, or something.  What if the keyboard malfunctions?  Do you then have to chuck away the jeans?  What if the jeans catch on fire?  Is the mere keyboard then any use?  Problems problems.  This, after all, is why keyboards originally separated themselves from personal computers.

But like I say, the basic idea is a very good start.

Maybe in the longer run, the future of the mobile keyboard is that your Goggle Spex will project a keyboard onto a nearby surface (and then keep that keyboard still even when you move your head around), which it will then observe your fingers typing on.

But basically we are talking about the next iteration of the personal computer.  First, big old box in the office.  Second, big old luggable/portable “laptop”.  Third, little toy in your pocket that you can peck at.  And now fourth, this.  A real computer than you can wear all the time and type into whenever, wherever, within less than a second of whatever you want to type occurring to you.  Had I been on a train when I had this notion, I could not then have done this blog posting.  That is what needs to change, much more conveniently than it has so far changed.

Thursday December 11 2014

In October, I posted this, provoked by seeing a drone in a London shop window.  I said stuff like this:

Something tells me that this gadget is going to generate some contentious news stories about nightmare neighbours, privacy violations, and who knows what other fights and furores.

What might the paps do with such toys?  And how soon before two of these things crash into each other?

I should also then have read and linked to this piece, published by Wired in February.  Oh well.  I’m linking to it now.

Quote:

Sooner or later there will inevitably be a case when the privacy of a celebrity is invaded, a drone crashes and kills someone, or a householder takes the law into their own hands and shoots a drone down.

Quite aside from privacy issues, what sort of noise do these things make?  That alone could be really annoying.  (Although that link is also very good as a discussion of privacy issues.  Noise is only the start of their discussion.)

My guess?  These things will catch on, but at first only for niche markets, like photoing sports events, or, in general, photoing inside large privately owned places where the owner can make his own rules and others then just have to take them or leave them.  Pop concerts.  If they’re not too noisy, they might be good for that.

This is always how new technology first arrives.  Ever since personal computers the assumption has tended to be that the latest gizmo will immediately go personal, so to speak.  (Consider 3D printing.) But actually, personal use is, at any rate to begin with, rather a problem.  At first, the new gizmo finds little niche markets.  Only later, if at all, do things get personal.

Which is why, I think, the first two sightings I have made of photo drones have each been in shop windows, the first in the window of Maplins in the Strand (see the link above), and the most recent, shown below, in the window of Maplins in Tottenham Court Road:

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And a creepy Christmas to you.  I guess this is the gadget of choice of “Secret Santa”.

Which reminds me.  Now is the time I start taking photos of signs saying “Merry Christmas” to stick up here instead of sending out Christmas cards.  Will I find a weirder “Merry Christmas” than that?  Quite possibly not.

I am looking forward to photoing one of these things out in the wild.

Monday December 08 2014

Here is a picture I took earlier this evening, at Warren Street tube station, the Victoria Line, at the time specified in the picture …:

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… and here is another picture, of the same things, but from closer up and from below, which, as you can see, I took six minutes and one second later:

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The first picture, taken from a random spot quite a long way off and from within a crowd (hence the blurriness) is the problem, and the second picture, taken from much nearer and when I was seated, shows you (without blurriness) what is causing the problem.  There is a sign, and there is a damn great horizontal slab of WTFness, attached to a surveillance camera, right next to the sign, blocking the view of the sign, from everywhere except very near to it.  This arrangement was not calculated to render the sign two thirds useless (see the first picture above), because it is quite clear that no calculation was involved.  The installers of the surveillance camera and its WTFness clearly gave no thought to the sign or its legibility on most of the platform.  But, if a malevolent calculation had been done with the above malevolent purpose in mind, that is exactly where the surveillance camera and its big WTFness attachment would have been placed.  They could not have blotted out the sign better if they had tried.

You see this combination of circumstances quite a lot in tube stations.  Finally, I got around to photoing it, when I saw it, so I can have a bitch about it on my blog.

Knowing how long you must wait for your next train is very soothing, I find.  One of the best things about railway (and bus) services in recent years is that signs such as this one have become ever more abundant.  But, such signs only soothe if it is possible to read them.  They do not soothe if it is necessary to walk half the length of the platform in order to read them.

I am not impressed.

Thursday December 04 2014

Busy day, so another from the I Just Like It directory (the last one having been this):

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The things roofs turn into when no one cares what they look like.

This was taken in September of this year, in the vicinity of Holburn tube.

Monday December 01 2014

Today I went walkabout in the City of London with my friend Gus, father of Goddaughter 1.  This evening I found, for the first time, this short video interview at the Arup (his long time employer) website, done with Gus in 2010.

Here are four vertical favourite-photos I took:

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On the left, Gus shows me a magazine picture of the Cheesegrater, taken on a much nicer day than the day, cold and windy, that we were having to put up with today.  Next in line is one of those Big Things seen through a gap in the foreground shots, but with a difference.  This time, there are two Big Things involved.  There is a sliver of Walkie-Talkie on the right, and then way beyond it, you can see the Shard.  Then, we see Gus joke-propping-up the miniature Lego Gherkin that is to be seen next to the regular Gherkin.  On the right, Gus looks up at something or other, this being the best snap I did of him.

Now for all my favourite horizontals.

I’m too tired after all that walking about in the cold to say much about these pictures, but see in particular 2.1, which is, I’m pretty sure, some of the bolts, a few of which recently disintegrated.  Now they are having to check all such bolts, and there are a lot.

1.1: Mmmm, cranes.  Grim day, well done my recently acquired camera, good in low light conditions.

1.2: Canon Street tube.  Designed like a bridge, said Gus, ace bridge designer, because under it there are tube lines which it is built on top of, like a bridge.  This is the building I asked about in an earlier posting here.

1.3: I included this because of the sign saying “all inquiries”.  All?  You know what they mean, but there is fun to be had on the phone with this sign.

2.2: A Gherkin detail, is there because I said, when I saw it, that looks rather plastic.  And guess what, it is plastic.

2.4: Shows us the Lego Gherkin in front of the Actual Gherkin

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3.2: A more fun picture of Gus, featuring also: me, in the right hand purple circle.

3.3, 3.4, 4.1: All the Walkie-Talkie.

4.4: For scaring pigeons, something you seldom see from above.  I saw this particular cluster of pigeon scarers while descending a staircase at Liverpool Street station.  That last was the very last photo I took.

When I emerged from Pimlico tube, near my home, I was amazed at how dark it had become, at a quarter to four in the afternoon.  Like I say, my new camera really did the business today.

Sorry for all the cock-ups and mispronts in this posting.  I’m knackered and am now going to bed.