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: Signs and notices

Wednesday July 12 2017

Everything involving computers is easy if you know how to do it and you do it often.  Everything involving computers is hard, if you only want to do it very occasionally, and if you don’t know (or don’t remember (which comes to the same thing)) how to do it.  Words like “intuitive” and “user friendly” are thrown about a lot when people like me say things like this, but they are bullshit.  It’s either very easy, or nearly impossible.  “User friendly” just means being presented with an incomprehensible lump of informational overload, in prettier letters and prettier colours and more prettily designed.

Why are computer things hard?  It is because computers can do so many things.  This means that whenever you are trying to persuade your particular computer to do something in particular, that it doesn’t usually do, you have to thread your way through a multi-page questionnaire, in the course of which you tell it: no, I don’t what that, or that, or that.  I want this.  And at any point in this Q&A obstacle course, you may find yourself confronted by a page of things to pick from none of which seem to have anything to do with what you are trying to tell the damn computer to do.

In the Army, I believe, they used to (and perhaps still do) call this: dumb insolence.  Dumb insolence is the offence of taking every word in the orders you have been given with extreme literalness and just waiting, dumbly insolent, to be given different orders, and meanwhile carrying on with what you had been dumbly and insolently doing, even though you know (because of the shouting) that this is not what is really wanted.  You shout at the computer to just use a bit of common sense.  I want this, you moronic machine.  Nothing.  Just the same old screen, and if you click on any of it, you get another page of irrelevance, or perhaps the right page but the exact same dilemma.  None of it seems to have anything to do with what you want it to do.

The fact that the more computers can do, the more there need to be people around who know how to tell the computers to do whatever very particular thing is actually required, rather than all the other things that the computer is now capable of doing, bodes extremely well for the employability of humans in the months and years and decades to come.  But meanwhile, if you happen not to know how to get the computer to do what you want, you can only hope and pray that at some future moment, the answer will drop into your lap.  Someone will tell you.  Your computer will suddenly, out of the blue, volunteer something relevant.  Or, it has been so volunteering all along, but because of all the other garbage it was also volunteering, you didn’t notice, but then, miraculously, you do notice, and bingo.

What brought all this on?  Well, my computer recently had some attention from the Guru and also some upgrades, and in among all this the computer changed its way of opening photos, which for me is a big deal.  I open a lot of photos from my archives, in fact I do this every time I am doing a quota photo posting, which is a lot, and when I do this I am usually in a hurry.  So, just when I really don’t need my computer to be misbehaving, it has been misbehaving.  The problem has been that instead of using “Windows Photo Viewer” to show me a photo that I click on, it instead decided to use something called “Photos”.  Quite different and lacking one crucial ability, which is the ability to take me from a photo up on my screen in “Photos” to the directory the photo is in.  “Windows Photo Viewer” can do this.  “Photos” can’t, or not in any way I know how to make it do that isn’t immensely complicated, every time.

How to correct this?  For about a week I couldn’t.  The internet, as so often, was no help at all.  It said that this was easy if blah blah, but if blah blah blah bah, then contriving the answer I wanted was really difficult and involved blah blah blah blah blahdy blah blah blahdy blah.  If you get my meaning.  (Which turned out not only to be incomprehensible, but also wrong.  See next paragraph.)

And then, the answer dropped into my lap.  I saw a page I didn’t recall seeing, with a question that I hadn’t noticed before.  I was allowed the option of opening a photo “with” a different programme.  But then crucially, I was also presented, in a way that I either hadn’t been shown before or that I hadn’t noticed before, with the option to put a tick in a box saying: always open the photo with this progranne that you have just chosen to switch to.  Problem solved.  My computer now opens photos, just as it always did, with Windows Photo Viewer, unless otherwise instructed.  Which I now know how to do, but will soon forget.  Which won’t matter.

The idea that computers are getting steadily more “smart” is a half truth.  Yes, they can do steadily more and more with each passing year.  But the more they know how to do, the stupider they get at actually doing it for you.

And oh look.  Just before posting the above, I was checking out an SD card that I used in my camera today, having forgotten to put my regular SD card back in it.  And this irregular SD card turned out to have a bunch of photos on it that I took in the summer of 2014, in France.  And it turns out that the French also have something that sounds to me a lot like Dumb Insolence, although I think it’s more like “polite rudeness” than that in your face deadpan British sneer.  You decide:

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Whatever the exact translation, I bet this “douce insolence” is how French personal computers behave, when you a trying to make them do something new, and they just won’t be told.

For some reason, that was on the front window of a shop, called “Agatha”, in the Rue Gustave Thomas de Closmadeuc, in the town of Vannes, on the south coast of Brittany. A perfume perhaps?

Monday July 03 2017

More photos of photoers.  I knew you’d be excited.

Ever since the Tate Extension opened about a year ago now, I’ve been popping up to the top of it every so often, to check out the changing scene that is to be seen from there.

But I have also discovered a whole new genre of photo up there, provoked by the big dots on the glass screens that divide the inside of the top from the walkways outside, where you do the viewing from.

Often, these dots give me something to focus on, while still capturing, out of focus, the postures and gestures, rather than the facial likenesses, of the objects of my attention.  Or, the dots, themselves out of focus, provide some visual diversion.

Almost always, the photoers are in silhouette, again good for avoiding facial identifiability.  Also, silhouettes show up pretty well on my current crappy little computer screen, which I think I will soon be replacing.  So now is a good time to be doing this posting:

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Occasionally, the light behind the photoers is enlivened architecturally, which I like.  But as often as not, not.  And as it happens, I think my favourite of these is 2.1, which features no architecture at all.

But I also like 2.3 and 4.1, which do feature architecture, because of the architecture.

Wednesday June 28 2017

This is one of my favourite statues in London, and this is one of my favourite photos that I’ve taken of it, one of quite a few over the years:

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Photo taken just before I took these.

What would Beau Brummell have made of the smartphone?  And of these smartphoners?

More about the statue, where it is exactly, who did it, and so on, here.

Also: Longmire and Edward Green.

Monday June 26 2017

Today was the first day ever of day-night county cricket, played with a pink ball instead of a red ball.  By the time it finished it was late, and I had been neglecting this blog all day, having been following the fortunes of Surrey instead, fortunes which turned out to be pretty good.

So, here is a quota photo, instead of a proper blog posting:

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That’s GodDaughter 2’s Dad, who was in London recently, photoing, as you can see quite clearly for yourselves, this.

I find The Laughing Halibut’s chips delicious, but after I have eaten them I tend to get a belly ache.  A sort of gastronomic hangover.  But the Laughing Halibut (I also like that there seems to be only one) is on the way back to my home from a frequently-used-by-me nearby tube station, and every few weeks, especially when ravenous after a long photo-walk in faraway places, I succumb.

Tuesday June 13 2017

Indeed:

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According to Laura Gibbs, this translates from Latin into this:

I am hopeful in times of danger; I am fearful when things are going well.

I love the internet.  Before the internet I would have seen this, been momentarily baffled, and would have forgotten it at once.  Now I photo it and later I learn what it means.  I then blog it and only then do I forget about it.

The building that proclaims this wisdom is now the Milestone Hotel.

Sunday June 11 2017

Indeed:

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Click on that sliver of horizontality to see the building in question.

No doubt this has already received much www attention.  And now, I attend to it.  Photos taken by me, outside Hampton Wick Overground Station, yesterday.

The graffiti in the Hampton Hackney Wick and surrounding areas is dispiritingly ubiquitous.  I prefer the way my part of town handles graffiti, which is for it all to happen in a tunnel.

Monday June 05 2017

A few hours after I took this photo (and not before all the latest terrorist dramas that were happening on the other side of the river (which I later crossed)), I took this photo, outside the Bank of England:

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This combines four things that interest me.

First, most obviously, it is a photo of an unusual means of transport.  Rather confusingly, this contraption had “PedalBus.com” written on it.  But when you type that into the www, you get redirected to pedibus.co.uk.  Where you also discover photos of contraptions with “PedalBus.com” on them.  Very confusing.

Second, the persons on the pedibus/PedalBus are making a spectacle of themselves.  People who make a spectacle of themselves are not entitled to anonymity, or not at this blog.  Photoers going about their photoing business do, mostly, get anonymity here.  But people yelling drunkenly, albeit goodnaturedly, and striking dramatic attitudes when I photo them, not.

Third, I like these downward counting numbers on the pedestrian light bits of traffic lights, which London apparently got from New Zealand.  (Blog and learn.) Very useful.  I like to photo them, preferably in combination with other interesting things.  Score.  Score again, because there is not just one 7 in this photo, there are two 7s.  This particular time of the day, just when it is starting to become dark, is the best time to photo these numbers.

And fourth, I am becoming increasingly interested by London’s many statues, as often as not commemorating the heroes of earlier conflicts.  I think one of the things I like about them is the sense of a very particular place that they radiate, just as the more showoffy Big Things do, but even more precisely.  They thus facilitate meeting up with people.  “In front of the Bank of England” might prove too vague.  “Next to Wellington” pins it down far more exactly.

The Wellington statue makes a splendid contrast with the pedi/PedalBussers.  Wellington is Wellington, seated on his horse (Copenhagen presumably), very dignified and patrician.  And the peddlers are the kind of people he commanded in his battles.

I don’t get why this statue is in front of the Bank of England.  Why isn’t there a Wellington statue at Waterloo?

Sunday May 28 2017

The rule at this blog is simple.  Something every day no mattter how rubbish, barring computer disasters or worse, actual disasters.

But here is a hand-done sign, which I photoed in the summer of 2015, that reveals a very different attitude towards rubbish:

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Somehow, as with political demonstrations, hand-done signs reveal a depth of feeling that a more professionally produced, printed sign just would not communicate.  I sense the presence of a particularly rubbishy pile of rubbish which caused whoever it was to snap.

I like how he decided that the original exclamation mark, squeezed in at the end of RUBBISH didn’t quite do the job, so he added another exclamation mark, just to make sure that the whole passing world knew exactly how he felt, about rubbish.

Friday May 26 2017

That’s not a big cat.  This is a big cat:

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Details here:

Sculptor Dengding Rui Yao has carved this incredible wooden lion from a single tree trunk. The artist led a team of 20 assistants on a three-year journey to complete the sculpture, which was made in Myanmar and was transported to its permanent home at the Fortune Plaza Times Square in Wuhan, China.

I chose the photo with the Big(gish) Things of Wuhan in the background.

This lion was linked to in these David Thompson ephemera, this time last week.

Featured in the latest lot, a baby hippo called Fiona.

Wednesday May 10 2017

Today I was out and about in the the West End, Mayfair, Oxford Street parts of London, and I took my usual ton of photos.

Like many photographers, of all degrees of grandeur from very amateur to very pro, I am fascinated by reflections, and the weather today, bright sunshine, is particularly good for such reflections.  As architectural facades have moved from masonry and concrete towards great sheets of high-tech glass, these reflections have become a characteristic townscape fact of modern life, as the older buildings bounce their facades off the newer ones, thus:

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What I especially like about reflections of this kind is that they proclaim cities to be architectural dialogues rather than architectural monologues.  These reflections are typically the consequence of at least two distinct minds, of two different times, two different styles.  Often of many different times and styles, of course.  And, for me, the very essence of cities is that that are almost never the creations of just one mind, of one aesthetic dictator, one tyrant.  London definitely isn’t.  It keeps being demanded by architectural commentators that the look of London needs to be more coordinated, more harmonious, more uniform, less “chaotic”, but it never happens.  And the result is these – to some jarring, but to me endlessly diverting – collisions and juxtapositions of styles and of aesthetic attitudes.  My urban vision, so to speak, is of a city that embodies many visions, creatively colliding and conversing.

I am sure you understand why I was so delighted by this photo, when I looked at it on my computer screen, and first saw those words “URBAN VISION”, on the right there.  I still don’t know why they were where they were.  Maybe I’ll go and check that out.  Meanwhile: enjoy.  I did.

Monday May 08 2017

For the last few days I haven’t been out much, and today I was confined to my barracks by email malfunction, and then by being required to wait next to my computer, waiting to be told what was what by The Guru, after I had failed to make sense of it.  If you can’t send or receive email, modern life doesn’t work and all else is insignificant.

So, once again, my posting is about remembering sunnier times, this time those sunnier times being this time last year.  In France.

And nothing says France quite like an entire shop, in an impossibly picturesque seaside town, devoted, in its entirety, to tinned fish:

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Here, for the benefit of those who can read French, is a closer-up view of the sign:

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Sardines, the queens of … well according to the internet, “conserverie” means: canning factory.

I bought fish paste:

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The fish paste is long gone, but I have kept the cans as souvenirs.

Things like this are utterly ordinary, if, for you, they are ordinary, which they would be if you lived in France.  But I live in London SW1, where I cannot buy such things, and I find them beautifully exotic.  If I could buy these exact sorts of French tins in Sainsbury’s or Tesco, they wouldn’t be worth a second look or a first mention here.  But, I can’t.

Friday April 14 2017

As related last Wednesday, I heard GodDaughter 2 (and others) perform this:

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What a strange piece it is.  To an atheist like me, the plot is very simple and wholly disastrous.  Mother watches her only son being tortured to death.  Yet Rossini makes a lot of it sound rather up-beat, even jolly, despite it mostly being in a minor key.  This effect was strengthened in this performance by the fact that instead of the orchestra that Rossini specified, they made do with two pianists playing one piano.  Don’t get me wrong, these guys did fine.  But the inevitable emphasis that a piano places, unlike wind and orchestral stringed instruments, on the beginnings of notes, especially when two pianists need to keep in time with each other, created a mood not unlike a rather jolly brass band, of the sort manned by men in leather shorts.  Put on top of that singing that was more operatic in manner than traditionally ecclesiastical, and you can see why (I just learned this (blog and learn)) Heinrich Heine described the work as “too worldly, sensuous, too playful for the religious subject”.  Playful is exactly the word.  The tenor solo aria, early on, sounded like he’d just got married.

But then again, it’s not for atheistical me to be telling nineteenth century Italians how they should feel about the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  If they want to treat this as a cause for something close to celebration, which I suppose is what Christianity as a whole does, in among all the lamentation, I’m not going to tell them otherwise.  Besides which, I enjoyed it, once I had got over the surprise of how it sounded. Playful is a good sound.

If you like the sound of playfully ecclesiastical Rossini, I also recommend his Petite Messe Solomnelle.  That’s long been a favourite of mine.

There’s something about young-and-still-studying classical music voices that is often lacking with more famous, better paid and older classical singers.  Basically, their voices are still pristine, not yet having suffered from the habit of belting everything out to the far corners of opera houses.  Provided the students you are hearing are in command of what they are singing and don’t sing out of tune (these were and didn’t), they can create a sort of musical magic that you often miss on bigger and grander occasions.  There is also something appropriate about how none of them are stars, or not yet.  That way God, the Virgin Mary and her Son get to be the stars of the evening.

That said, towards the end, GodDaughter 2 had her big solo moment, doing a very difficult number with some scarily low notes.  As I already reported she did very well, in other opinions besides mine, Other than that, the highlight for me was the performance of Michael Ronan, who brought gravitas to the occasion of a sort that I was expecting rather more of.  I say “performance” because he accomplished this effect as much with his restrained and perfectly pitched body language as with his fine singing.

It was a shame that more people were not persuaded to attend this event.  I’m guessing we were mostly friends and family.  We had the performers outnumbered, but not by much.

I earlier linked to the Scherzo facebook page.  This was then still plugging last Wednesday’s performance, but as of now it features a photo of all the singers and their conductor Matthew O’Keeffe, taken after the performance.  I’m tempted to show you the photo of the photographer taking this photo that I photoed, but have resisted.  I also resisted taking photos of the performance during the performance, but she showed no such restraint, sometimes being almost in the singers’ faces.  Afterwards, I heard grumbles, but presumably she had permission.  If her efforts help Scherzo to get the bigger audiences they deserve in the future, then I forgive her.

Wednesday March 29 2017

Last Saturday, I journeyed forth to check out a statue.  I’ve been reading this book, which got me interested in Frederick, Duke of York, second son of George III and C-in-C of the British Army, for real, not ceremonially.  A hugely important figure in British military history, apparently, and there is a statue of him at the top of a column, right across the road from where he used to work, where he used to work being a walk away from where I live.  I’ve always liked this statue, and its column, but had never, until now, given a thought to what the bloke at the top of it had done to deserve it, for deserve it he did.

But before I checked that out, I encountered, in Parliament Square, that big Anti-BREXIT demo, and since today is a rather important date, BREXIT-wise, I’ll leave the Duke of York to other days, and focus on that demo, and in particular on all the signs that I saw.  The light was very bright, so here, with many a shadow getting in the way, are most of the signs that I saw:

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Given that I personally voted BREXIT, why did I go to all the bother (and when I do this kind of thing it is a lot of bother) of showing all these snaps here?

Here are a few reasons:

I was struck by the enthusiasm and inventiveness and personal commitment on show, especially illustrated by the number of hand-done signs I saw.  This enthusiasm is a significant political fact of our time, I think, no matter what you think of it.  My personal opinion is that it is going to do terrible damage to the British left, in a sort of mirror image way to the damage that Britain’s participation in the EU did to the British right.  (See this posting and this posting, at Samizdata.)

Second, many people whom I like and respect, some of them people of the left but most of them not, nevertheless voted against BREXIT, for reasons I thoroughly respect.  Much of the motivation behind the vote against BREXIT was libertarian in spirit, and much of the motivation behind the vote for BREXIT was anti-libertarian in spirit.  I voted the way I did despite all that, because of my pessimism about the future development of the EU, and because in my opinion the EU brought out the very worst in our politicians and public officials.  Turned them all into a pack of bloody liars, basically.  But those who did not see it that way had their reasons.  This posting is my nod towards all those who disagreed with me in this great matter.

Third, this posting reflects a photographic enthusiasm of mine, which is for large sets of objects which are all of the same kind, yet all different from one another.  I reacted, photographically, to this demo, in the exact same way that I reacted to an NFL jamboree that I encountered a few years back, in Trafalgar Square, where I found myself snapping lots of NFL name-and-number shirts, likewise all the same yet all different.

And see also this demo.

I have included a few signs which verge on self-parody.  1.1: “I AM QUITE CROSS”, made me chuckle, and wonder whose side they were on.  As did 9.1 and 9.2, “Tut” and “DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING”, the latter being a sign that goes back to Father Ted.  11.2, “mewn” baffles me, though.  What is that?  Does it mean: me-EU-UN?

Wednesday March 22 2017

Incoming from Michael Jennings, who encountered this sign at (a?) (the?) Jodhpur Fort in Rajasthan:

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Hm, what to do?

Easy.  Use a drone instead.

LATER: See first comment.  It’s this:

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There can only be one fort like that.

Categories updated to include Architecture, History, Sport, and War.

Blog and learn.

Saturday March 18 2017

Indeed:

image

Presumably they were selling stuff like this.

I like it when my pictures include clocks, and that clock is a particular favourite of mine.