Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Maria Adams on Amusing cats versus important people
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Category archive: Television
Incoming from Simon Rose, entitled “End of the World not happening tomorrow”.
What this means is that the End of the World CLUB MEETING is not happening tomorrow, because of a double booking mix-up of some sort. But for a moment there, I was wondering what mad prophecy Simon was taking it upon himself to contradict.
The End of the World Club is an up-market version of my Last Friday meetings. Despite its rather grumpy old man title, these meetings are very good, with excellent speakers. For instance there was that fascinating talk by someone who had lived through the Zimbabwe inflation.
And, I first came across Dominic Frisby when he addressed the EotW Club, about this book. Ever since Frisby spoke at my home, about his next book I have been hearing his voice on television, what with me being fond of TV documentaries. Here (click on that only if you want to hear noise at once) is what he sounds like. More Frisby audio info here.
Email me if you want to know more about these EotW meetings, and I’ll put you in touch with Simon Rose.
If the world ever does end, I want Frisby doing the voice overing for it.
I still can’t get used to the internet. I never really will. You can find all kinds of stuff out in a few seconds. You know that, and so do I know it. But, unlike (probably) you, I will never get truly used to this.
Last night, for instance, there was a TV show on about Fossils, fronted by this old Fossil Professor, and mention was made of – and a little sliver of film was shown of – a building (with lots of fossils in it) called the Royal Ontario Museum. I said, that looks like that Daniel Libeskind museum in Berlin, in the saw cuts in big blocks style. So let’s see about that Royal Ontario Museum shall we? Sure enough, that is Libeskind also.
I had imagined that the saw cut style was specifically used only for that Berlin museum, to make you wince when you look at the building, same as you do when you find out the grizzly details of what happened to all those Berlin Jews.
However, it now seems (to me) that Libeskind just likes doing saw cuts. Am I getting this wrong?
Maybe I could google that question also, and find out if anyone else agrees with the above. But that’s enough answers for one posting.
One of the things I did today was copy, from one TV hard disc to another, a documentary (fronted by Richard Hammond) about the D-Day fighting that took place on Omaha Beach.
One of the shots at the end of the programme looked a lot like this:
That is one of the photos at the bottom of this page.
I recall flying over the Normandy Beaches, on the way to the South of France. Later in the journey, I took snaps like this one, of the Millau Viaduct, but I don’t recall seeing anything like that cemetery.
Tonight on BBC4 they just showed a programme about Carl Faberge, blingster to the Czars.
I learned a lot. Next up, a show done by Jonathan Meades, about Brutalist architecture. He’s for it.
This seems an appropriate juxtaposition, and I am recording both. The insanely ornate and extravagant trinkets unleashed by Faberge, and all the other riche and nouveau riche junk that flooded into the world in and around 1900, had a direct cause-and-effect relationship with the anti-ornamental puritanism of architectural brutalism. Many, including me, some of the time, react to Faberge eggs not just with indifference but with aggressive hatred.
I also beheld Brutalist architecture for most of the last half century with even greater loathing. This loathing is only now abating, as the buildings themselves start to diminish in number.
That building used to adorn the roundabout on the other side of the river from Parliament. It is now no more. I photographed it. Then, I photographed its demolition. I did not mourn its passing.
Meades is now, as promised, rhapsodising about Brutalism. Why, he asks, does architecture have to be nice? He is likening it to Victorian architectural oddities of earlier times.
What he misses, or is missing so far, is that Brutalism’s aesthetic aggression went hand in hand with huge collectivist power grabs. Brutalism was the architectural face of state centralism. For me, Meades makes a big distinction between “Brutalism” and regular modern. I don’t really see this. Both went hand in hand, I’d say.
Meades’ injunction that people should not hate Brutalism is rather like expecting conquered Europeans not to be such philistines about the obviously beautiful design of Junkers 87s or Tiger Tanks. Ah, correction. Now he is acknowledging quite explicitly the roots of Brutalism in second world war concrete bunkers, most notably those constructed by the Nazis. “Forget” that the Nazis built these things, says Meades. But I suspect that the Brutalists actually liked the very quality that made the Nazis do this kind of thing. Nazis conquered twee old Europe. Brutalism assaulted the twee architecture of post-war Europe, the Europe that is still awash with Fabergerie. There is a deep affinity here.
The show is still going as I post this, and is in any case only part one of two. This was live blogging.
Tomorrow evening the 2014 BAFTA Awards shindig will be happening, at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Roger Hewland, proprietor of Gramex (Records and CDs), Lower Marsh, told me this afternoon that BAFTA is paying the ROH three quarters of a million quid for this privilege. Where RH picked this titbit up, I do not know, but it sounds a lot, doesn’t it?
Below is a picture that I recently took myself of the ROH. If you google for pictures of the ROH, you mostly get either interiors, or else the big Parthenon-like front entrance. But when I was at that Rooftop Bar I recently visited, I took this snap of the ROH:
What strikes me is how modern it looks. It’s just a big box. The decoration is no more than a gesture. I know, I know, that’s because nobody can see this bit, this being before the age of buildings taller than this, from which people can look down. But even so, you can see architectural modernism all present and correct, just waiting to emerge.
Guided by the excellent advice of my mostly silently lurking commentariat ("Friday Night Smoke” in particular has a way of supplying extraordinarily welcome and pertinent comments, with gaps between them of several months), I got myself this wonderful new computer screen. The main feature of this new screen is that, thanks to that advice, and unlike my previous computer screen, it is IPS.
IPS (In-plane switching) is a screen technology used for liquid crystal displays (LCDs). It was designed to solve the main limitations of the twisted nematic field effect (TN) matrix LCDs in the late 1980s, such as relatively high response time, strong viewing angle dependence and low-quality color reproduction. In-plane switching involves arranging and switching the molecules of the liquid crystal (LC) layer between the glass substrates. This is done in a plane parallel to these glass plates.
My IPS screen is at its considerable best, no matter what direction I look at it from. Unlike the earlier screen, where I needed to be directly in front of it to get a good result.
But, my old computer screen, just like the new one, was on my desk, right in front of me. So, although my new computer screen was a great improvement, I did not get the full force of the improvement, massive though that improvement was.
But now, when I look at my television, and then back at my computer screen. My television is not at the same level as my eyes. It is higher up than that. Now, next to my super new computer screen, it seems like everything on my television is permanently in the dark:
At first I just wanted to take and show that one picture. But then I thought, what if I photo the television screen from right in front of it, higher up? So, I raised my camera above my head, using its tilting screen to go on seeing the picture, and here is what suddenly happened:
Suddenly Charlie Sheen, one of Two And A Half Men (before Charlie Sheen got fired and his character killed), is suddenly to be seen, as clear as day.
Actually, in the bit linked to, Charlie Sheen’s exit from the show is described thus:
Even though Sheen’s antics involving Two and a Half Men have been continuously reported in every news medium, it’ll be interesting to see how violently killing off one of the series’ focal characters will be received by its viewers. While it can be said that television viewers are extremely loyal, the overt decimation of Charlie Harper may leave a bad taste in the mouth of those looking to watch an actual comedy series.
The word “decimate” is now routinely misused, to the point where it has pretty much lost its original meaning, of one in ten Roman soldiers in a legion being executed, when that legion misbehaved. But I have never before heard of an individual being “decimated”, overtly or otherwise. But I digress.
The point is, now I want a new television screen. There is nothing “wrong” with the old screen. It works as advertised. I just don’t like it any more.
My fellow ex-Transport-Bloggers Michael Jennings and Patrick Crozier (here is Patrick’s excellent latest WW1 posting at Samizdata), are fond of saying that public transport in London has got distinctly better during the last decade or so. That is my feeling also.
Here is a typical example of a small, incremental change that has recently happened, in the form of some slightly wider railway carriages.
Compare this, on the Jubilee Line last night ...:
… with this, on the District Line a few hours later, after I realised I needed a picture of that also, and hung around a bit at St James’s Park at the end of my journey for the next train after the one I’d been on to show up:
Okay, not much of a difference. But when I was inside one of the carriages in the first picture, I noticed how they seemed that little bit more spacious, and then I realised that this was because they were.
Next up, making more use of that little bit of space between the carriages. Like this? Maybe. I particularly like the front of it. I did not know they did concept trains, but of course they do. Why wouldn’t they?
It probably helps, when trying to enjoy this posting, if you do not live in London. In that event, these trains may look, to you, exotic and exiting. Sort of like elongated underground London taxis, or elongated underground single decker versions of the London double decker bus. Alas, if you do live in London, this will probably have been rather boring. Rather boring as in extremely boring. And perhaps a bit boring even if you don’t. Ah the hell with it. I’m impressed by small improvements like this one. I like the way the people who contrive these kinds of things just forget about all the other problems in the world and concentrate on just this one, which is that London underground trains are not as wide as they could be. While politicians strut about failing to solve everything, they get on and actually do solve something.
I just watched a tv show about hydrogen bombs. One of the things I never, until now, got around to finding out about was how hydrogen bombs work. What I had not realised was that hydrogen bombs include atom bombs inside them, to trigger the “hydrogen” bit.
Basically, they sick a stash of other stuff next to an atom bomb. When the atom bomb goes off, it turns the other stuff into an explosion that is even more spectacular than the original atom bomb explosion. I did not know this. Now I do. Tremble, world. Well no, I still couldn’t make a hydrogen bomb. But I now understand a bit better how others make them.
The funniest moment was when a bloke said that there comes a time when shoving more and more stuff next to the atom bomb to make a bigger and bigger hydrogen bomb stops being worth doing, because the blast is just so huge it disappears out of the earth’s atmosphere. This means, he said, that a bomb this big, when compared to a slightly smaller one, “does no good”.
You can just hear those bomber pilots, setting out for Dresden in 1945, saying: “Come on guys, let’s go do some more good.”
This evening, in the Tube, at Embankment Station (Northern Line), I was sitting waiting for my train, but when it arrived it wasn’t my train. It was this:
A strange yellow train, with lots of yellow wagons, containing sort of cementy rocks, or something similar. Biggish light grey coloured lumps, of the sort which looked like they might, if broken into smaller bits, make the small white rocky bits they put under railway tracks.
Not the greatest pictures, I know, but I was in a hurry, in low light conditions. I had to get my camera out and going before the train had completely gone.
So is that what this train was? A train transporting material to make more track, or to replace the stuff underneath existing tracks?
Here is a blog posting from 2006 which asks a very similar question. The train looks very similar, and this time, the big grey lumps appear to have been crushed into smaller lumps, exactly as I speculate above. It was spotted “at Euston”, which could also mean the Northern Line.
And not just any old telly. BBC1, The One Show, no less, watched by millions. I was and I am impressed. Watch Elena Procopiu in action 25m30s into it, here, while it’s still there. (For future reference, this was on Tuesday December 3rd.)
Elena was born in Romania and did a piece to camera about Romania and about Romanians in England, entirely in a Romanian accent until right at the end, when she said in her regular English voice that lots of Romanians have been here for years. Many Romanians have already seen this performance, on the www. Some, who missed the bit at the end, were surprised that someone who has been in England for so long still has such a strong Romanian accent. None said that the Romanian accent was not a proper Romanian accent, which is not that easy to get exactly right, if you no longer have such an accent.
Yes. I spent my blogging time today fretting about the finishing of this. So, no time to do much here.
But there’s an internet out there.
Here’s a very quick vid, of Kenneth Williams opining (which would be a good word for him to say) about specialisation.
Photos mature with age. The most commonplace snaps can turn into something a bit more interesting, with the passing of time.
Consider this one, one of the very first that I took with my Panasonic Lumix FZ150:
I know. It’s a shop.
But the thing is, it’s now boarded up. That photo was taken in January 2012. In January 2013, this happened:
The administrators to Jessops face a battle to rescue any of the company’s 192 shops after leading camera makers tightened the terms on which they sell products to the company following a downturn in the market.
Rob Hunt, joint administrator for PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: “Without the support of certain people, we are looking at complete closure.”
Jessops has since made a partial return to life, but so far, that Jessops, which is in Strutton Ground, near where I live, has remained shut.
In the years just before it closed it had an unbearably “helpful” shop assistant, who behaved like he’d been on some mad American training course in how to relate to customers. He wouldn’t leave you alone, and instead would engulf you in loud, totally fake bonhomie. I used to browse around in there from time to time, occasionally buying things like batteries and SD cards, and pondering my next camera. But because of this person, I stopped going there. Was I the only one, I wonder?
Talking of Strutton Ground, did you know that the Goon Show first saw the light of day in Strutton Ground? Yes, on the top floor of the pub at the far end of it from me. I saw this in a TV show about Spike Milligan.
I guess that’s probably more interesting than a Jessops closing. I’ll see if I can dig out more photos of things that have changed, that are rather better than that one, taken longer ago.
As regulars here will know, I am constantly fascinated by what goes on at the top of London’s buildings. I love the Big Tops that are built to impress, like the Shard, the Strata, the Gherkin. I love all the decorative stuff done in earlier centuries. I love chimney pots, which used to come in all shapes and sizes. And I love all the anarchic clutter that electronic communication of various sorts has placed at the top of otherwise utterly bland and forgettable blocks.
So here are some recent snaps, celebrating all that:
Those are shown in chronological order of me taking them.
1.1, 1.2 and 3.2 are are all quite near to me, taken in the vicinity of Warwick Way.
1.3 is the kind of thing you see when a big building site gets into gear, and then of course stop seeing when the work is done.
2.1 was taken in Lower Marsh, I think.
2.2 is Strata, also taken in Lower Marsh ish, peeping over a roof with a decorative knob on it.
2.3 is a bit indistinct, being roof clutter reflected off a big glass fronted building, but the clutter is there if you look.
3.1 is a bit of a cheat, because it is the umbrella that makes the picture, not the decorative roof (Parliament) behind it. But again, the roof is there.
3.2 includes the top of the big tower on the other side of the river from me, i.e. on the south side.
3.3 is a big lump in Park Lane, as viewed from just inside Hyde Park, near Hyde Park Corner. I went with a friend to Hyde Park yesterday, hoping to view a statue of Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, emerging from the Serpentine. No luck. Gone. Or maybe just not where we looked.
Insults are among life’s great - albeit guilty - pleasures.
Overheard while quarter-watching Top Gear. Could have been bang up to date, or maybe from way back. Don’t know. But anyway, this is what May said to Clarkson:
I can’t dumb it down to your level because I’m scared of heights.
He was trying to explain, I think, how a particular sort of car works by burning petrol not to drive a petrol motor, but to create electricity, which is then used to power an electric motor, or maybe electric motors. Seems rather complicated, but cars are rather complicated.
I greatly enjoyed the documentary about Richard Feynman shown on BBC2 TV last night, having already greatly enjoyed the docu-drama about the Feynman Challenger investigation.
Last night’s documentary contained the following particularly choice piece of dialogue:
“Why is your van covered in Feynman Diagrams?”
“Because we’re the Feynmans.”
There is a picture of the Feynmans, next to their van, which I found here, where the picture is slightly bigger.
Does this van still exist, with all the Feynman Diagrams on it? I hope so.