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

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Category archive: Other creatures

Friday September 21 2018

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

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

Here is an early view we had of it:

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And here is how it looked when we got closer:

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

Now look how it looked when we got closer still:

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

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

Most of the Great Pagoda dragons look like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday September 14 2018

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

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

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

Let’s move in closer:

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

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

Wikipedia tells us what an actual giant anteater looks like:

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

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

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

Saturday September 08 2018

Earlier in the week, on my way to St James’s Park tube, and again on my way back home from St James’s Park tube, I photoed what I described to Google as a “concrete pump”.

This concrete pump was helping to build a clutch of apartment blocks where the old New Scotland Yard used to be, before New Scotland Yard moved to a new New Scotland Yard, back where the original Scotland Yard used once to be.

I got enough images to suggest that a “concrete pump” is indeed what this extraordinary contraption is, but not enough to suggest that I had named the contraption correctly, using the preferred words of those who deploy it.

Nevertheless, enjoy.  I did, especially the close-ups of the joints.

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All this, just to be able to squirt concrete from a lorry into a hole.  (I’m guessing, from the invisibility of building action behind all the solid fences, that his concrete was for the foundations.  This being where concrete, as opposed to steel on its own, still seems to be essential.) And with a big long arm like that one, with all its joints, I’m guessing it can reach all sorts of complicated and out-of-the-way spots.  (If you guess that I do a lot of guessing when I see something like this, then you guess right.)

There must be a reason why they don’t use a flexible tube, but have to make do with a rigid tube, but with the occasional rotating joint.  So elaborate are those joints that they end up looking biological rather than merely mechanical.  So, as with the previous posting, also about technology rather than biology, I have categorised this posting as, among other things, “other creatures”.  (I’ve also added “sculpture” to the category list.  Does regular sculpture come any better than this?  Sometimes maybe, but not very often.)

The concrete itself must be a marvel of blending and general wonderfulness.  Able to travel as a near-liquid along this elaborate pipe, under (guess) great pressure (another guess: that’s why the pipe has to be made of metal rather than of something bendier), but then able, at exactly the right time, to solidify in the deep cylindrical holes into which it is squirted.  At which point it has to stay solid for ever.  (Is something added, at the critical moment, to make it solidify?)

There is much that is very wrong with the world.  This sort of stuff is what is very right with the world.

Friday September 07 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LATER: More about those eyes here.

Friday August 24 2018

Here are two fun and silly and consequently viral animal videos that I was recently shown on Twitter, but they both raise a non-trivial question about animals and their degree of self-awareness.

First up, a cat looks in a mirror, and is surely not aware that the other cat is him/her.  Cats are much stupider than they seem to us, because their basic method of going about things is the way a wise human goes about things, often rather slowly, carefully and thoughtfully, or else in a way that looks very alert and clever But, often they are thick as several planks.

Meanwhile, a dog watches herself on TV doing one of those canine obstacle courses in a show.  Dogs behave like stupid humans, with wildly excessive enthusiasm for stupid things, and consequently we tend to think of them as being very rather stupid.  But the typical dog is a lot cleverer than the typical cat, I believe.  Dogs don’t care how stupid they look.  Cats typically don’t either, but cats typically behave like they do care about looking stupid, unless you dangle something in front of them on a string, at which point they go crazy, unless they are too old to care.

But back to my self-awareness point.

As commenter “Matt” says, of the dog watching herself on TV:

This is amazing I hope she knows its her.

In other words, Matt is no more certain than I am that she does know it’s her.  Maybe she’s watching a totally different dog do what she likes to do, and she’s excited about that, just like any other sports fan.

The cat video ends with a variation on what seems to be a regular internet gag about misbehaving reflections (that vid being in the comments on the cat vid), but that’s a different story.  Someone else adds a Marx Brother, or maybe it’s actually two Marx Brothers, doing the same gag, in those far off days before there was an internet.

Friday August 17 2018

imageThis is the exactly kind of thing I joined Twitter to be informed of.  Pinker, it seems, is a Real Photographer, or at least Real enough for me not to know the difference.  I’m sure that The World has known about Pinker’s photoing for as long as he has been doing it, but The World did not include me, until a few days ago.

Also rather Real Photographer is that if you left-click on any of the photos here, you get a little dark rectangle with little blue writing in it saying this:

These photos are copyrighted by their respective owners. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited.

So I hope that the small and cropped repro that I have included here, of one of the more eye-catching of these photos, of something called a frigatebird, will not incur the ire of Pinker Inc., or whatever it is that might be irate.  If Pinker Inc. does demand the removal of even this little photo, that will happen straight away.

But if it does, no matter.  Follow the above links and feast your eyes and your mind on the weird and wonderful creatures of the Galapagos Islands.

Monday July 30 2018

imageOn osprey dives for a fish near Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Says Peter Schramm:

… hier hat es im richtigen Moment Klick gemacht ...

Which sounds about richtigen.

Thank you Mike Fagan.

In the Twittered version of this photo, the claws of the Osprey at the bottom of the photo are chopped off.  The result looks like some kind of medieval sculpted gargoyle with big ears and sunken eyes.

This is one of those postings where I need more blurb, to stop the photo bashing into the posting below.  This is that blurb.  I hope.

Well, it is now.  I needed a bit more, in case comments have to be got rid of.

Friday July 20 2018

Indeed:

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I encountered this on Twitter this afternoon.  This is now all over the www.  But, I could not discern who had first taken this photo, or what they had said about it.  Twitter is bad like that.  People shove up photos like this one, but never say what their provenance is.  The worst offender when it comes to not linking when they should is “You Had One Job”, a gang of internet thieves, basically.  Whom I will not dignify with a link.

This has been a holding operation.  I have three quarters finished at least two different postings, but I don’t want to rush them.

This one, on the other hand, I do want to rush.  You want a funny caption?  Do your own.

You what?  I’m angry, and taking it out on you people?  Damn right I’m angry.  Surrey amassed a stupendous 250 in their T20 innings against Kent earlier this evening, and then instead of Kent failing to chase this down (Kent would definitely have failed to chase this down), it bloody rained and the two points were shared between the two sides.  There ought to be a rule that says if you make that many, and then it rains, you automatically win.  But is there such a rule?  Is there?  Of course not.

Friday July 06 2018

And here are two of the best of them, recently photoed by me:

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When I was there, about a week ago, there were six elephants in Sloane Square in all.  But today is a busy day, so two is your lot.

They will, according to this, be there until July 18th.

Friday June 22 2018

imageOn the day that England ruthlessly crushed Tunisia at football, with a very late goal, I was checking out the most recent Big Things of the City of London.  But there are other things in the City of London besides Big Things, and this is, you sense, deliberate.  They’re trying to make the City more than a place of work which becomes deserted when everyone buggers off to the suburbs early on Friday evening.  They trying to make it stay alive at evenings and weekends.  They’re trying to make it the sort of place that people might like to visit, as opposed merely to a place that lots of people find it profitable to work in.

One of the things that signals this effort is sculpture.

On the right is a photo I took of the first sculpture I encountered during my walkabout.  Frankly, I wasn’t impressed.  The colours are quite nice, but the sculpture itself is too much like a miniature and pretend Big Thing.  And why would you want that when you have real Big Things all around you?  Standing as it does next to the Lloyds Building, this pile of coloured rectangles just looked feeble and sad.

I much preferred this carthorse:

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And this goat:

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Here is a link to information about the goat.

Strangely, I could find absolutely nothing on the www about the carthorse.  This may be because, rather than being Art, it is merely a 3D advert for alcohol.  Those big giant courgettes it is dragging along in its cart are for making booze of some sort, or such is my guess.  Or, the silence of the internet may be because this carthorse has only very recently arrived at the spot where I encountered it.  Or, the internet is full of stuff about this carthorse and I merely failed to find it, which is the most likely explanation for this not-link.

Whatever.  The thing I liked about both the horse and the goat is that they are simulated biological entities, rather than man-made structures like that pile of coloured rectangles.  They do not compete with the Big Things, because they are different from them.  Instead, they make a welcome contrast to the Big Things.

Big Things on their own are very dull, I think, and little Big Things don’t change that.  Sculpted creatures do change this, I also think.

Friday June 15 2018

I link to this article by Matt Ridley partly because I like the photo at the top of it, which is a nice combination of biology and technology, wildlife and urbanity:

Here is a square cropped from the middle of that photo:

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But I also like what it says, which is that human cities are also places for other kinds of creatures.  Urban creatures are now evolving fast, to fill all of the many niches that humans are busy creating.

Suburbs are already richer in wildlife than most arable fields in the so-called green belt, making environmental objections to housing development perverse.

Amen.  I was brought up in an outer suburb of London, which means a place just beyond the green belt, where London resumes, after a big old gap.  Every train journey to London would involve this bizarre twenty minute spell in the green belt.  The green belt is a completely futile and surpassingly dull doughnut of pseudo-agricultural nothingness.  The only interesting things there are gravel pits and reservoirs.  The green belt ought to be turned into real places for real people and real other creatures to live in, made green not by pseudo-agriculture, but by places of real beauty like Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park.

Friday June 08 2018

Indeed:

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Photoed by me in the West End yesterday afternoon, prior to attending Lohengrin.

Other creatures don’t get any more other than that.

Friday May 11 2018

When you go by train to Quimper from London, you start by going by Eurostar to the Gare du Nord in Paris.  And when you step outside the main entrance of the Gare du Nord, you find yourself next to a big red bear with wings.

Although I noticed this big red bear with wings when I first got to Paris, I only photoed it on the way back, a week later, when I and GodDaughter 2’s Mum were in less of a hurry between trains and when the weather was much better.

Also, on the way back, we didn’t suddenly see the big red bear with wings.  We could see it as we approached the Gare du Nord, and I had my camera ready to go, as it had been all afternoon:

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I quite like this big red bear with wings, but I am less sure about whether I admire it.  It seems like a mixture of too many unrelated things.  The lots-of-holes style of sculpting, which I associate with 3D printing, is one thing.  Making a bear look like a bear is something else.  And then, there are those wings.  On a bear.  Wings with holes in them.  The idea of the wings is that they turn the bear into an angel bear.  Something to do with global warming and the melting icecaps, I read somewhere and then lost track of.  The artist, Richard Texier, is not big on logic.  He prefers to stimulate the imagination.  To evoke magic.

The big red bear is called, see above, “Angel Bear”, and it has an inescapable air of kitsch abou it, to my eye.  Like something you’d buy, smaller but still quite big, in a posh gift shop, for far too much money.  I prefer a bull that Texier has also done, in the same 3D printed style.  No wings.  Much better, to my eye.  Cleaner, as a concept.

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But still a bit gift shoppy, I think.  Which is another way of saying that I bet these big old animals are by far his most popular works.  I suspect that Texier may be a bit irritated by this.  He likes being popular and he likes these big animals.  But he also likes his more abstract less gift shoppy stuff, and wishes the populace liked them more too.  Things like this:

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I found both of those images at the Richard Texier website, at this page.

Despite my reservations about the big red bear with wings and my preference for other Texier works, I can, when I look at his big red bear with wings, feel Paris trying.  Trying to become that little bit less of the big old antique such as, compared to London, it now is.  I mean, you can’t miss the big red bear with wings.  Personally, I don’t find it to be wholly successful.  But it is holey.

Friday May 04 2018

I have been reading more of Leo McKinstry’s Operation Sealion, and very fine it is too.  I hadn’t been keeping up with McKinstry’s books, but now learn that, among several other topics, he has written books about Alf Ramsey, Jack Hobbs, and the Hawker Hurricane ("Victor of the Battle of Britain").  Memo to self: read more books, do less internetting.

In the Sealion book I have already encountered two little nuggets that were new to me.

After the “deliverance” that was Dunkirk, Churchill apparently said (p. 86):

“We’ve got the men away, but we’ve lost the luggage.”

I’d not heard that one before.

And nor did I know about this, concerning another Ramsay, Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who masterminded the Dunkirk evacuation (p.81):

The genius behind Dynamo, Admiram Ramsay, rewarded himself on 4 June with a well-deserved round of golf, on the course at Sandwich nearby, and, liberated from the strain, proceeded to attain the best score of his life.

I find it interesting that McKinstry seems to divide his writing time about equally between war and sport.  I wonder if he has developed any opinions about how these things relate to one another, along, for instance, lines like these.

Friday April 20 2018

When you think of lions in Trafalgar Square, you think of lions like this one, as photoed by me, in January 2015, at the Charlie Hebdo demo:

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But one of my favourite lion in Trafalgar Square photos, which I took in April of 2014 but never got around to putting here until now, was this one:

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I think it’s the leather handbag that makes this so good.  This is a lion quietly going about her business (it feels like a her despite the mane), not conquering the world or even aggressively promoting anything.  She’s just out shopping.  She does have a rather startled expression on her face, but that’s because she’s being photoed.  She’s not angry you understand, just surprised that anyone should be interested in photoing her.  “Ooh, hello dear!  Are you photoing me?  I hope I’m looking my best.” And maybe a bit scared that I might have designs on her bag.

More seriously, I like to photo, and to show here, faces where face recognition is not an issue.