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: The internet

Friday January 20 2017

Today will be the forth consecutive day of clear skies over southern England.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, the first two of these four days, I journeyed to East London, and today I plan to do the same.  (Yesterday, I just couldn’t make myself do this.  Instead I got a haircut.)

Living and working on my own, to my own schedule, creates problems as well as solving or abolishing them.  Being old, I basically have to get up as soon as I wake up, in order to squirt urine where it needs to go rather than where it doesn’t.  And, having woken up, getting to sleep again can then be difficult and time consuming.  Either I do this, eventually, which takes a big bite out of the beginning of my day.  Or, I stay awake, which means that by the early evening I will be asleep in my chair.  I am staying awake today, to make maximum use of all that sunlight which even now I can see outside.  But, if I leave my self-imposed blogging duties for today to the evening, I will find this very difficult.  This evening I will be both sleep-deprived and exhausted from my wanderings.  Also, I want to be at an event this evening.  So, I am blogging now, before journeying to East London.

It is for times like these that I collect photos that I just like into special directories, of photos that I just like.  Since today is Friday, my day for cats and other creatures, here is an other creature:

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A rather blurry photo, so no clicking for anything bigger there.  That’s it.  But click on this, of the sign under the elephant, if you want to read more about it:

image

Having to get up every few hours when trying to sleep is a penalty of old age, but a better thing about being old right now is that the indiscriminate inquisitiveness of oldies like me is now more easily answered, without me having to pester any actual humans.  Getting old used to mean remaining permanently confused by more and more random stuff, but less so now I can just ask the www.  Time was when a photo like the one of this elephant in my archives would have remained for ever mysterious.  Now, I can learn all I want about to about it.

Here is a better elephant sculpture photo, which I found here

image

But why is the union jack elephant a different shape to all the others?  I could find this out, probably.  But can I be bothered?  Do I care?  No.

Thursday January 19 2017

I took the photo with this marriage proposal in it in March of 2009, in Sheffield.  All I thought I was photoing was a footbridge (I like footbridges) with graffiti on it.  Did I even clock it was a marriage proposal?  Maybe, but if so, I immediately forgot about it.

image

Click on that, and you actually get a different picture, which shows two footbridges rather than just the one, which means I prefer it.  Two footbridges on top of each other is a bit strange.

Pictures are hard to google, or hard if you are me.  Can you now say to Google: “Show me all the pictures you have like this one”?  Maybe you can, but I can’t.  But words I can do.  And I just typed “clare middleton i love you …” (helpfully, the graffitist supplied a name) and google immediately got what I was on about, and, well, here‘s the story:

One spring day in 2001 a tall man walked into Sheffield’s Park Hill flats and along a street in the sky. He strode past the brutalist flanks, out on to the footbridge. He thought: this’ll do.

Jason didn’t look down; he gets vertigo and he was 13 storeys up. He leaned over in his yellow Puffa jacket and sprayed her name. “Clare” came out haphazardly and “Middleton” hit the ledge. He planned to take her to the Roxy on the facing hill, to show her. So now he began again, bigger, clearer: “I LOVE YOU WILL U MARRY ME”. It was his two-fingers-up at the social services office opposite. He scarpered. Seeing it, Grenville, one of the estate’s caretakers, said to the on-site office: “How are we going to get that off?”

They didn’t. The graffiti stayed, high above the city, while the city argued about what to do with the flats. Park Hill, the concrete estate behind the railway station, had become notorious. The city projected abandonment on to Park Hill, so the graffiti started to look like love yelling at the top of its voice in an estate thought to be desolate.

Soon it was also looking like PR. ...

It wasn’t a happy story, ever, and it had no happy ending.

Park Hill, Sheffield, is one of those famous bits of architecture that the architects go on and on about, but which the public hated, until such time as this public said to knock it all down, at which point it became clear that a different part of the public had grown quite fond of the thing.

One of the architects of Park Hill was a man called Ivor Smith, in whose office I worked, briefly, when I was trying to be an architect.  He was personally a hugely likeable man, with a delightful family who put up with me when I was at maximum unputupwithability.  But, his politics did not appeal to me, and those Park Hill buildings were all part of that.

Thursday January 12 2017

Sticking with sport, this morning I followed, on Cricinfo, most of the run-chase in the Big Bash League game of the morning.  It happens in the morning over here.  Some of the games are even being shown here on free-to-view TV, on Channel 5, although C5 hasn’t been so lucky with the games it has so far shown, both having ended rather tamely.

But, the one this morning didn’t end tamely.  Oh no.  The Some-city-in-Australia Aggressively Rebellious Types (perhaps of the animal sort by perhaps human or naturally disastrous) scored 222-4, which is the biggest score for a team innings posted in the BBL, ever.  And the Some-other-city-in-Australia ARTs chased it down!  How amazing is that?  Very amazing.

Whenever I tune in to the BBL, I have a look for what English players are playing, by which I mean merely: have played for England.  I very much want my cricket-playing fellow countrymen to impress the cricket world,but as to which Australian city hosts the winning team, well, I really cannot make myself care, not matter how hard I try.  The Australian team with the more Anglos in it is the one I support.  This morning, only one Anglo was involved, Stuart Broad.

Broad’s side bowled first, and Broad took no wickets for 39, which under the circumstances was not that bad.  Not good, but not that bad.  In reply Broad’s team for quite a while looked like they might breeze it, without needing down-the-order Broad to be doing anything with the bat.  For as a long as a bloke called McDermott was batting, all was looking good for the Broad team.  But in the end, Broad, batting at number 10, had somehow to make nine runs off the last three balls.  He hit two fours and a one, to win it.

After Broad hit the second of his two fours, I yelled my appreciation, the only time I said anything out loud.  Then, Cricinfo told me that Broad had fluked this secomd four by snicking it, instead of connecting properly like he did with the first four.  And the final and winning one turned out to be a dodgy shot too.  But never mind.  Broad had done it.  Rule Britannia.  Go Blighty.  “Broad’s final flourish in record chase”, said the Cricinfo home page.  To me.  I assume that in Australia, Cricinfo was attracting clicks to that same report by mentioning McDermott, just like the actual report does, in its headline, thereby at least suggesting that the report was the same for everyone.

Someone needs to write a game-theory type paper about why multinational club teams eventually end up getting more, and more fervent, support than merely national teams, and I am sure that plenty of someones have, because of course this has been going on with the Premier League for quite a while.

All this happens not because partisan patriotism is abolished.  Rather does partisan patriotism fuel the eventual multi-national outcome.  Having a couple of your fellow countrymen on a team, if it keeps happening, may well turn you into a supporter of that team.  And they can work the same trick with other nations too, thus multiplying their support, and ability to sell goods adorned with the club’s heraldry.

Also, the management of the club can be first world, by the simple mechanism of holding the entire tournament in a first world country.  That means that each club is better than most nations.  And it all feeds on itself in a virtuous circle of enthusiastic sporting insanity, which ends up with everyone becoming citizens of the world.

Monday December 05 2016

On my way to Tottenham, a week ago today, my first stop was Seven Sisters on the Victoria Line, where I changed to the regular railway in order to travel onwards:

image

But who, I wondered while I waited for my next train, were those Seven Sisters?  I made a note to self – written only on my brain cells, but it worked nevertheless – to search out the answer.  Which is easy these days.

Here it is:

The name is derived from seven elms which were planted in a circle with a walnut tree at their centre on an area of common land known as Page Green.  The clump was known as the Seven Sisters by 1732.

In his early seventeenth-century work, Brief Description of Tottenham, local vicar and historian William Bedwell singled out the walnut tree for particular mention. He wrote of it as a local ‘arboreal wonder’ which ‘flourished without growing bigger’. He described it as popularly associated with the burning of an unknown Protestant.  There is also speculation that the tree was ancient, possibly going back as far as Roman times, perhaps standing in a sacred grove or pagan place of worship

The location of the seven trees can be tracked through a series of maps from 1619 on.  From 1619 they are shown in a position which today corresponds with the western tip of Page Green at the junction of Broad Lane and the High Road.  With urbanisation radically changing the area, the ‘Seven Sisters’ had been replanted by 1876, still on Page Green, but further to the east.  Contemporary maps show them remaining in this new location until 1955.

So: trees.  I was hoping for actual sisters.

Thursday November 24 2016

I took this photo …:

image

… yesterday.

This rather alarming message was displayed in the Waterloo Station concourse area, in rather large lettering, and you can see more of that if you click on the above horizontal visual slice.

All it was was part of an advert for the Top Gear replacement that Clarkson, Hammond and May are now doing for Amazon.  But photography sometimes does this.  But “this”, I mean that it can snatch messages out of the flux of everyday life – especially everyday advertising – and bestow upon them a portentousness that they don’t really radiate, when they are merely doing their job.  Now that adverts can change their screens, there can be one message, and then another, like a TV advert.  And the result is these snatches of text that can pack far more of a punch than they do in real life, so to speak.

Monday November 21 2016

For the last week or two or more, I have been unable to reach the 6k blog, which is one of my favourites.  I’ve been able to reach everything else I wanted to, but not 6k.  Odd.  My computer has been behaving strangely in recent weeks, so it’s almost certainly me rather than him.  Or maybe, as The Guru suggests, it might be my internet provider. Whatever the reason, it’s been a frustration and a worry.

But today, for no reason that I can think of, I clicked on 6k yet again, and back it came, like it had never been away.

To celebrate, here are some more lighthouses, something which 6k likes, and which in a more ignorant and casual way I do too:

image

That’s a crop from the middle of a hastily snatched shop-window shot, full of reflections and general confusion.  Memo to self.  Next time I visit my friends in Brittany: better lighthouse shots.  Of postcards, of toy lighthouses like these ones (I seem to recall entire walls of lighthouses in tourist crap shops), and of actual lighthouses.

image6k likes lighthouses so much that the little square graphic at the top of the window where his blog is windowed, or whatever is the word for that, is a red, white and blue square from a red and white lighthouse picture.

Friday November 04 2016

The human eye comes with a brain attached, a brain which continuously works out what is actually there, as opposed to how things merely look.  But the camera is stupid.  It sees everything but understands nothing.  It does not cut out what doesn’t matter.

So, when a camera takes a picture like this ...:

image

… it shows the sign, but it also shows all the stupid lighting effects that are messing with the sign.

It also shows weird lighting effects above and beyond the sign, which perhaps you hadn’t noticed, until I told you to look for them.  Your brain may have cut that out, because it doesn’t have anything to do with the sign and you were concentrating on the sign.

But now do what I did next, when I realised what was really going on here.  Having acquired the photography habit, I have become visually stupid, which means that I now see more, almost like a camera does.

Feast your eyes on this:

image

I am not sure if the above photo was the best I took of this effect, or the below photo.  So I post both:

image

This was, I think, the single most remarkable thing I saw on my walk from Battersea Park station back to my home, last Wednesday afternoon.

From the above photos, you may be able to deduce what is causing this, but I’ll save you the bother of working it out.  Here is the next photo I took:

image

And here is another photo which makes everything even clearer, that I got from the internet:

image

It’s the curvature of the surface off which the sunlight is bouncing that does it.  That separates the blobs of light from each window into distinct columns, creating a parthenonic magnificence that would, with a flat wall of windows, have been just a big jumble.  That would have been pretty good, but what we actually see is something else again.  And yet, when I was photoing this, I was the only one paying attention to this amazing light show.  Everyone else just walked past it, like it wasn’t there.  This was because, thanks to their brains, it actually wasn’t there.

The internet ought to be able to correct such failures to notice.  But the strange thing is, if you google the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, all you get is a lot of stuff about dogs and cats.  No mention at all of this amazing special effect.  The modern world has its priorities badly skewed.

I have photoed similar lighting effects before, such as the one reported in this posting.  But that one is put completely in the shade by this one.

Categories below include Transport.  That’s because all this drama was to be seen on a manky old railway viaduct.  Which I actually think made it look better.  (All everyone else saw was a manky old railway viaduct.)

Thursday October 27 2016

It’s for lots of other things, for other people, like: a telly.  But that is definitely one of the things that the internet is, for me.

Whenever a new kind of information storage or information transmission comes along, people fret that it will replace all the previous ones.  And the others, which when they started were things that people fretted about, become good for you.  When reading by the masses got started, there was concern that the masses were doing too much of it, getting addicted to it, enjoying it too much.  Dear oh dear, can’t have that.  But then telly came along, and reading suddenly became good for you.  Telly was the thing that people were enjoying too much, wasting their lives on, etc. etc.

And now that the internet is here, you even hear people moaning that Young People These Days don’t spend enough time watching telly, because they are, you’ve guessed it, addicted to their smartphones (on which they watch telly).

My own feeling is that Young People These Days spend far more time than is good for them gadding about in the open air and watching tiny screens and not enough time sitting at home watching proper telly and proper computer screens, big enough to see what’s going on, the way God and Nature intended.  But that’s a feeling, based entirely on which exact generation I happen to be a member of, not a real opinion.  Young People These Days, as always, have better eyesight than oldies like me, and, unlike me now, they like to get out and have fun.  When I was a (moderately) YPTD, I loved small screens, like the one on the Osborne.  (Look it up.  Another thing the internet is is a machine for telling you things like what an Osborne was.)

The thing is, new methods of information storage or information transmission typically give the old ones a new lease of life, rather than the kiss of death, at any rate at first and often for ever.  Printing didn’t stop people talking to each other, it gave them interesting things to talk about.  Trains caused a surge in horse transport, to get people to and from the station.  The telly adapts books into telly-dramas, and people buy the books to find out what’s going on and who these people all are.  Telephones, email and now smartphones make it easier to organise face-to-face meetings.  The first big internet business sold books.  And lots of telly shows now consist of bits from the internet, for those who like telly.

And now, for me, one of the most useful uses of the internet is enabling me to keep track of what’s on the regular old telly.  Recently, for instance, I recorded a whole stash of Columbo episodes onto DVD.  But, which episodes were they and what order should they go on the DVD in?  The Radio Times only tells you so much?  How many Columbo episodes were there?  Who else besides Columbo himself was in them?  Step forward, the internet, to tell me all about that.

See also this other blog posting that I just did, in which, among other things, I give a plug to a face-to-face meeting that I will be hosting tomorrow evening.

Monday October 17 2016

When you talk about an airplane being blown up, that usually means it has been exploded, destroyed, incinerated.  This airplane, however, has been blown up, yet it looks like this:

image

Details at 6k.  This posting here is basically a celebration, of the fact that I am now able to get to 6k, copy pictures from 6k, etc.

For the last few days, right up until nearly now, my computer was unable or unwilling to access 6k.  Everything else: okay, but rather clunky.  6K: not.  I checked if this was 6k’s fault by trying to access 6k via my mobile, and that worked.  Ergo, it was me.  Strange, and rather frustrating, because I like 6k.  And now, for some equally bizarre reason, my computer did some sort of internet connection hiccup involving that thing where it says something about a testing process and says you have to check in again, with some password you never knew you had which you can actually ignore by just opening a new window, and once I reopened a new window, everything was suddenly back working properly.  And: 6k returned.

Dodgy connection?  Well, maybe, but I hadn’t touched any of the connections.  Why did this happen?  Don’t know.  And: don’t care, unless it happens again.  Then: it did happen again.  Fiddled about with connections.  TURNED COMPUTER OFF AND TURNED COMPUTER ON AGAIN.  Seems now to work.  Weird.

Also weird is what the Russians are about to be getting up to.  (The airplane above is Russian.) Some things never change.  The Russians are always doing one of two things: pretending to be weaker than they are, or pretending to be stronger than they are.  They seem to be in a stronger than they are phase just now.

Life is full of mysteries.  More so, as you get older.

Thursday October 13 2016

I recently photoed this van:

image

What intrigued me about it was its minimalist propaganda message.  “GREY MOTH”.

My original thought was that, in the age of google, you don’t actually need a mass of information to find out all you want to know about an enterprise.  That’s what this posting was going to be about.  (I still remember fondly that van outside the Oval, which just said “VOITH”.  I quickly learned all about VOITH.)

Trouble is, if the name of the enterprise is “GREY MOTH”, and you google “grey moth”, well, in addition to the GREY MOTH enterprise, somewhere in there, you get lots and lots of grey moths.  (If you google “voith”, all you get is VOITH.  A voith is not a regular thing, from which the VOITH enterprise merely took its name.)

Luckily, however, there was a website on the van, front and back.  This website was back to front at the front, ambulance style, but I was still able to decypher it as: www.grey-moth.com, crucially including that all-important hyphen.  Which, as you see, gets us where we need to be.  And it turns out to be a very interesting business.  I was thinking that it would be some dreary fashion enterprise, but not a bit of it.  Turns out, it’s an aerial videoing business, using drones.

I’ve been keeping an eye on drones for a while.  And after initially wondering if I might ever buy one, I eventually concluded: no.  If you get a drone, then you will either have to take it very seriously and learn all about how to do it, and become a full-time droner, mastering not only all the technical problems of drones but also the many legal minefields that droners must walk across (safety and privacy to name but two).  Or: not.  And I decided: not.

Drones, in other words, are not toys.  But, they are a huge business opportunity, both for businesses that can make serious use of them, like farms or pop concert promoters or movie-makers, and for people willing to master drone use for a living and to hire themselves out.  Like Grey-Moth does.

Speaking of minimalist propaganda, those Guys & Dolls Unisex Hair Stylists look like they are ("UYS DOL S") on their last hair curlers, if not already gone.

Thursday October 06 2016

Yesterday I was reminding myself that we live in an age when pub quiz questions have instant answers.  So when, soon after posting that posting, I came across this photo I took a while back, of a boat, …:

image

… with the words “THAMES RIB EXPERIENCE” written on it, I set to work to find out what the “RIB” bit means.  I had vaguely supposed that this was some sort of steakhouse sponsorship deal.  The world is now full of ridiculous arrangements of that sort, sponsored by commercial enterprises whose only way to sell more of their stuff is to cause even more people to have heard of it.  The mere merits of the product being irrelevant, for their purposes.  “Yes it’s bad for you but it tastes really nice” not being a message they want to be too publicly and explicitly associated with, because then they’d have the health fascists all over them.

So “Thames Rib Experience” as an exercise is boosting meat consumption?  But which ribs should we be consuming.  Just ribs generally?  The British Rib Council, a combined consortium of ribbers, combining to boost ribs in general?  It didn’t seem very plausible.  So, what does RIB really mean?

It turns out that RIB means rigid inflatable boat.

This is a triviality, of course, unless you are in life-threateningly urgent need of a rigid inflatable boat trip on the Thames.  But the change in the world towards a state where it is much easier to find things out is not trivial.  The story that lots of people mention in this connection, and lots of people are not wrong, is the ease with which a formerly dirt poor farmer now can, in the depths of the African countryside, keep himself informed about the prices he can expect to get for his products, when he takes them to market.

Quicker and better answers to questions is all part of why all this stuff has been happening lately.

Wednesday October 05 2016

I took this photo from the roof of my block of flats this morning, of a brick tower, out beyond Victoria, with a rather startled expression on its face:

image

What is that?

We now live in a time when questions like that have pretty much immediate answers, and I went looking.

And I was reminded that the internet can be wrong as well as right about things, even about things which ought not to be a matter of opinion.  Which I already knew, but it’s interesting to get caught up in the wrongness, from time to time.

Some have called this tower a shot tower:

A shot tower is a tower designed for the production of shot balls by freefall of molten lead, which is then caught in a water basin. The shot is used for projectiles in firearms.

But more confident and more numerous internet places persuade me that this is actually a pumping station tower.  Or rather, it was.

Apparently, over there in Chelsea, there used to be a canal, the Grosvenor Canal.  Bits of it are still there, but most bits, it would seem, not.

A remaining waterworks building, known as the Western Pumping Station still remains beside the site of the canal and its chimney is something of a landmark in the area. However, the chimney now acts as a ventilation shaft for sewers rather than its original purpose of being the chimney for boilers.

So, never a shot tower.  Once a pumping station tower.  Now a ventilation chimney.

Saturday September 24 2016

I’m listening to chitchat on Radio Three about the origins of Radio Three’s previous and original manifestation, the Third Programme.

They’ve just mentioned an article by John Croft called Composition is not research.  I quickly found it on the www, and I want to hang on to it.

First paragraph:

There are, by and large, two kinds of composers in academia today – those who labour under the delusion that they are doing a kind of ‘research’, and those who recognise the absurdity of this idea, but who continue to supervise PhD students, make funding applications, and document their activities as if it were true. Composing, of course, might on occasion depend on research – how do I make an orchestra sound like a bell? How do I electronically sustain a note from an instrument so that it doesn’t sound mechanical? What is the best way to notate microtones or complex rhythms so that they can be accurately played? But none of these is actually the composition of music. Rameau’s harmonic theory was research, and it surely influenced his music (and music in general), but the Traité de l’harmonie is not a musical composition. The development of the pianoforte involved research and influenced music in profound ways, but it was not composing.

I have not read this essay yet.  But the point of this posting is not to say what I think of it, merely to make sure that I do read it.

I have long been interested in the rather misleading idea of musical “progress”.  This seems like it will be closely related to that idea.  Another related idea: music is not science, and new music does not replace old music.  But, I shall see.

Friday September 23 2016

The internet is fighting back against … cats!

Quote:

Cats are colonizers: this is what they do. They have colonized the internet just as they have colonized so many other habitats, always with the help of humans. This is the lesson of Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, a new book by conservation scientist Peter P. Marra and travel writer Chris Santella. From remote islands in the Pacific to the marshes of Galveston Bay, Cat Wars traces the various ways in which felines have infiltrated new landscapes, inevitably sowing death and devastation wherever they go.

Perhaps the most famous case of genocide-by-cat is that of the remote Stephens Island in New Zealand. Before the end of the 19th century, it was home to a unique species: the Stephens Island wren. One of only a few species of flightless songbirds, the wren ran low to the ground, looking more like a mouse than a bird. After a lighthouse was built on the island in 1894, a small human settlement was established; and with humans, invariably, come pets. At some point a pregnant cat, brought over from the mainland, escaped and roamed wild. The island’s wrens, unused to facing such a skillful predator, were no match for the feral cats that spread throughout the island. Within a year, the Stephens Island wren was extinct. It would take another 30 years to eradicate the feral cats.

This is not an isolated incident. Cats have contributed to species decline and habitat reduction in dozens of other cases. Because they’re so cute and beloved, we have little conception of — and little incentive to find out — how much damage cats are doing to our environment. When researcher Scott Loss tallied up the number of animals killed by North American housecats in a single year, the results were absolutely staggering: between 6.3 and 22.3 billion mammals, between 1.3 and 4 billion birds, between 95 and 299 million amphibians, and between 258 and 822 million reptiles.

Most books that get multiple reviews on Amazon get around four stars out of five, on average, because most of the reviews are from admirers and there are just a few from detractors.  This book gets a star average of one and a bit.

Monday September 12 2016

imageI refer honourable readers to the posting I did earlier, about a pink van (miniature version of this pink van on the right there).  And I ask you to note, again, the difficulties that this pink van’s decorators had in making what they had to say fit in with the indentations on the side of the van.  The roller-blading fox has a big kink just under his midriff.  The website information is written in letters too big to fit in the space chosen for it, but they have to be, to be legible.  It all adds to the general air of amateurishness.

But now, let’s see how the professionals deal with similar problems:

image

I was all set to write about how this very “designed” piece of design made all the same mistakes as the pink van, but actually, I don’t think it does.

The thing is, the pink van is decorated in a way that says: this is a flat surface.  Therefore, the fact that, actually, it is not a flat surface is a real problem.

But what the Sky van says is: you are looking through the surface of the van, to this three dimensional wonder-world beyond and within.  Yes, it’s a van, and its outer surface has strange and random rectangular indentations and even stranger horizontal linear interruptions.  That’s because it’s a van.  Vans are like that.  But all these vanly banalities merely happen to be in front of the real picture that we are showing you.

So, for me, this Sky van is a great success.

As for the world it depicts, the show in question is this.  I’ve not seen any of it, but I do recall Karl Pilkington with fondness from that chat show he did with Ricky Gervais, which I seem to recall watching on television, in the early hours of the morning, even though it was supposed to be a “podcast”.  Pilkington himself also remembers this earlier show with fondness, it would seem.