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Category archive: How the mind works

Wednesday September 17 2014

This morning, I finally finished a big old piece for Samizdata about the benefits to the old of superpowerful computers, at the end of which I linked to these two pieces here.  (There is already a comment up, from Paul Marks, saying that computers have been bad for him, by keeping him indoors, and also confused.)

This piece has not only ended a long Samizdata silence by me; it also explained it.  I can’t quite explain why this makes it feel so much easier to put lots of stuff up there again, like I used to until this last month or more.  But, it does.

LATER: Quotulated, even if it’s only the preamble.

Sunday September 14 2014

Here. They may not have intended it to be sarcastic, but that’s how it reads.

Thursday September 11 2014

Last night, at that birthday party I attended, I was asked all the usual questions about what I was doing.  Which is not a lot just now, what with my waiting for Godot problem.

Inevitably, in some of these cross-examinations, this blog came up, with me saying that I write here about whatever I feel like writing about, with very little thought for the interests of my readers.  Cats on Fridays, general trivia, etc.  I do Big Issues at Samizdata and trivia here.  Blah blah.

However, an American lady friend, whom I had not met in quite a while and whom I was very pleased to meet again, told me that she quite liked my trivia stuff, and that she even read my postings about cricket (this being the most recent one).  I thought that only I and Michael Jennings and Darren the Surrey Member were at all interested in those.  It seems not.

I’m guessing that this interest on her part is partly actual interest, but also partly that a principle is at stake here.  Which is: that the trivia that other people are interested in, but not you, is not actually an entirely trivial matter.  Life is not only Big Issues.  It is the small pleasures that give colour and texture and individuality to life.  Watever matters, to someone, matters.  Your opinion about what the Big Issues are should not be allowed to drive a tank or a government bureaucracy over my trivial pleasures.

So, her reading about the trivial pleasures of others is her asserting this Big Issue to herself, as well as maybe learning something about other little parts of the world, like the world of cricket (actually quite big of course, as I daresay are the worlds of embroidery and gardening and croquet and rap music and all the other little things in life that I don’t personally care about, other than to believe that tanks or government bureaucracies should not be driven over them).

Me being me, my way of asserting the importance of trivia, in general, to people, in general, is me writing about the trivia that interests me.

Her way of asserting the importance of trivia to people generally is her reading about the trivia that others write about.  But we are both making the same point.

I don’t want to say that I have entirely described why my American lady friend likes to read what I write about cricket.  I merely speculate that the above speculations might be a quite small part of why she does this.

(She, like me, probably also thinks that thinking about trivia can often lead to interesting angles on Big Issues, of the sort that merely looking straight at the Big Issues might cause you to miss.  Pointless fun and truly original insight are often delightfully close neighbours, I think.  But that’s a tangent for another time, hence this paragraph being in brackets.)

Tuesday September 09 2014

New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross writes about how he still loves his classical CDs.  Partly, he admits, it’s nostalgia.  CDs were such a huge leap forward when they first arrived that that moment of pure joy is very hard to turn your back on.  I can still remember what my first CDs were: Nielsen 3, Brahms Sextets, Barenboim complete Beethoven piano sonatas, Strauss Alpine Symphony … Then there was the realisation that classical CDs would just get cheaper and cheaper and abundanter and abundanter, and then very soon the reality of that happy circumstance.  Gramex Boss Hewland prices his stuff with more than half an eye to what Amazon charges, and it remains worthwhile to visit Gramex from time to time, even as all the other central London second hand CD emporia have faded away.  He piles them high and sells them cheap.

Yes, the physical space occupied by CDs is a problem.  Those piles can get very high.  (Visit my home to see that problem on an enormous scale.) But, for me, the internet remains an unenticing place to purchase and play classical music.  I have accumulated some virtual titles, as a result of buying them new on Amazon and having an additional “cloud” version of the same thing piped into my computer.  But I wouldn’t want to be without the CDs whose purchase provoked this additional twenty first century response.

I wrote recently about the value of keeping things separate, in my case my big home computer and my music making equipment.  Even as my big home computer continues not to materialise, I still have music as good as ever, with no messing with some new kind of system to make it work.

But the central problem with classical music on the internet is that it remains, I believe, a mess.  Pop music having overwhelmed classical music economically during the last hundred years or so, pop music is the big driver of internet music, and internet music is entirely organised for the benefit of pop fans, and their discreet tracks.  We classicists are liable, as Alex Ross explains, to get lumbered with such things as John Eliot Gardiner’s Beethoven Nine labelled as being the work of Lyuba Organosova, merely because she tops of the list of soloists for the final movement.  The labelling of classical tracks on Amazon, where they offer you little snippets to listen to, is routinely done by naming the pieces with such things as their tempo or loudness markings, while neglecting to tell you what the piece is or what number movement it is.  They just can’t be bothered to get it right.  Fair enough.  I understand why they can’t be bothered.  We classicists aren’t worth bothering with.  Buy the CD or don’t and consider yourself lucky, is the message.  Until someone really big and well organised does bother about it, classical music on the internet will remain an off-putting afterthought, piggybacking systems devised for something else, rather than an enticing attraction.

When things get reissued, the labelling is liable to go completely to buggery.  I, for instance, have that Barenboim set of Beethoven sonatas on EMI from way back, long before the internet, when it first came out as a set of CDs.  Since then it has been reissued.  So, when the internet tries to assist me in cataloguing recordings I myself have made of it onto my hard disc, it gets it all wrong.  Useless.

Classical music on the internet will eventually get sorted out.  And when it does, I will, if not dead, presumably hear about it from my classical music mags.  A consensus will be announced, saying things like “Classical CDs really are pointless nowadays”, and when you read such articles, it will, after about a decade of premature enthusiasm of the geek-bollocks sort ("all you have to do is blah blah dance on the head of twenty seven pins blah blah blah turn seventy three cartwheels blah blah blah what could be easier? … yes it might all crash but to solve that blah blah blah ..."), eventually become true.  A actual, real world majority of Classical freaks will be using this single, best arrangement, and it will work, all the time, like email.  Or not.

Even when such a new classical dispensation does emerge, I will probably not bother to switch.  It’s not just sunk costs; it will also be declining costs.  As internet classical music becomes ever more appealing, so the price of mere CDs will sink and sink, until all of them can be purchased by me from Amazon, for £0.01 plus postage.

Meanwhile, I like that my CD filing system (aka my CD collection) is always accurate.  When I dig up a CD that says it is so-and-so’s recording of Brahms 4, it is, and then when I play it, it will be played in the right order.  Notes will be to hand to read about this recording if I want to, conveniently stored right next to the CD.

I do have lots of virtual music, as an addendum to my CDs, like those files that Amazon spontaneously volunteers, and like stuff I have recorded from the radio.  But the latter starts out being called something like DAB002, and I have never sorted out how to file it conveniently, or even to edit it into individual performances.  Life is too short to be bothering.  Why edit, when CDs are already edited.  Virtual music is strictly an afterthought for me.  Plastic music remains the thing itself, for me.  And (see above) I don’t believe I’m just being sentimental, even if I am somewhat.

Wednesday September 03 2014

That posting I did the other day about how a really fast computer perfectly fills in for the imperfections of my own deteriorating mental processes may not have impressed anyone else, but it impressed me.  And now I am listening to Beethoven symphonies on my CD player, and I am thinking that something similar may happen between a really good symphony orchestra and a conductor.

“Great conductors” are famous for carrying on into their dotage.  Lots of people have written and talked about this.  The Great Conductor’s grasp of everyday life and its processes collapses, yet the great man’s ability to go on conducting seems mysteriously unimpaired.  Why?

This only applies to “great conductors”.  Merely good conductors have to jack it in.  Again, why?  Why this difference?  Why do only the Great Conductors often keep going so long?

The usual answers to questions about why this happens tend to focus on the mental processes of the Great Man himself, and upon the magical power of music to improve the brain, or in this case prevent its collapse.  But how about considering also the musicians whom they conduct, and the general situation that conductors in generally tend to find themselves in as they get old, and how about also the essence of what a conductor does and does not do, when he is conducting.

A merely good conductor doesn’t get to conduct a Great Orchestra, and accordingly, his job is to make merely good orchestras, or even not that good orchestras play better.  Lots of instructions and arguments are involved.  You’re doing this, you ought to be doing it like this, and so on.  So our merely good conductor finds himself in circumstances where his declining mental abilities are often cruelly exposed.  He forgets what he said to the first oboist ten seconds ago, and so so.  And, being merely good, and there being plenty of other merely good conductors available, our merely good conductor in due course gets a free transfer into conducting retirement.

But now consider the Great Conductor.  He is conducting a Great Orchestra.  Because he can.  Two circumstances now prevail which are absent when a merely good conductor conducts a merely good orchestra.  First, the concert is a sell-out, every time.  The CDs continue to sell, no matter how much bodging and stitching and patching up the engineers have to do afterwords.  (All sorts of rumours circulate in classical music about this kind of thing.) But second, crucially, the Great Conductor is not called upon to do anything except conduct the Great Orchestra that he is still able to be put at the front of.

I surmise that if you are conducting a Great Orchestra, the effect is rather similar to the effect I described of me sitting at the keyboard of a super-fast state-of-the-art computer (such as I am still being deprived of as I type this).  I type and the computer reacts immediately.  I switch from one thing to another, and the computer follows me, instantaneously.  Well, does not rather the same thing apply when a Great Conductor conducts a Great Orchestra?  I suspect it does.

What goes ragged and unreliable when you get old is memory, short-term being especially embarrassing, but basically all varieties of it.  But what remains, typically, is your senses, your grasp of right now.  And conducting is all about being, as modern parlance has it, “in the moment”, “in the now”.  What matters is what you are telling the orchestra to do, right now, and they do it, right now, in the same moment.  This, we oldies can still be a part of.  What we can’t do is always remember precisely how things went ten seconds ago, or yesterday, or a week ago.  But guess what, when you are conducing, you don’t need to think about that!  In fact, it may even be an advantage if you make a habit of not thinking about that.  Insofar as you do need to be reminded of where you’ve got to, the orchestra does this, by playing what must now be played.

What I am surmising is: it’s not that the Great Conductors are “kept young” by the process of conducting an orchestra and by the gloriousness of the music itself.  What is happening here is that as a Great Conductor gets old, at much the same rate and in much the same way that the rest of us do, he finds himself in a situation where the kinds of deteriorations that happen to us all do not matter.  The show is able to go on for about another decade or more beyond when you would think it should have ground to an embarrassing halt.  His wife has to butter his toast and remind him which symphony he is about to conduct and tell him which city they are in.  But once the playing begins, all is well.  Any conducting mistakes, and the orchestra irons them out, which may even keep them more alert and awake.

For yes, being conducted by a really old Great Conductor may even work better than usual.  A sixty year old Great Conductor may have all kinds of tyrannical and complicated ideas about how to interpret the music which he may insist on talking about at insulting length during rehearsals.  He may want to rearrange the orchestra’s membership.  He may be a bully and a tyrant.  And he may still be quite good at all this, as in: able to make life hell for the orchestra.  But all that one of these ninety five year old Great Conductors is able to do is wave a stick in front of the orchestra on the night.  The occasional unclear wobble of that stick is not a problem.  A great orchestra just takes its cue from its leader and its various section leaders.  They know how to play well, no matter what idiocy is going on on the podium, especially if they have played the piece lots of times before with the Great Conductor.

The key variable may simply be: do they like the Great Conductor, or do they not?  Perhaps fifteen years ago he was a sadistic bastard, in which case as soon as he starts forgetting people’s names or forgetting what he was trying to say a moment ago in rehearsal, then he is gently but firmly told to stop.  But, if they like the old geezer, then all he has to do is stand in front of them on the night, and they are easily able to turn his increasingly vague wavings into a performance of genuine substance and distinction.

Don’t get me wrong.  The Great Conductor is still truly great.  He is still contributing that certain special something that even the greatest orchestras – perhaps especially the greatest orchestras – do truly need.  But that’s now all that the Great Conductor is contributing.  And that, if you think about it, could be just about the perfect arrangement for all concerned.

Scrub all of the above if the conductor goes deaf, as Beethoven did quite early in his life.  He had to give up performing altogether, and concentrate entirely on composing.  Poor old Beethoven.  Lucky old us.

Monday September 01 2014

As threatened here many times, more and more postings here are going to be about getting old.  One of the symptoms, certainly for me, is short-term memory loss.  (That isn’t the only kind of memory loss I now suffer from, but forgetting immediately something that happened two seconds ago is particularly disconcerting, if for most of your life this has not happened.) Thank goodness for word processing.  Everything you just wrote is now there in front of you, rather than forgotten.  Right now, instead of wondering what that last sentence was, I can read it back again.  The problem just doesn’t exist any more.  When I am talking, on the other hand …

Which is one of the many reasons why the speed of a computer is so important.  I am now using my back-up computer, a very slow laptop, aka: Dawkins.  Mercifully, word processing, once I have persuaded Dawkins to concentrate on it, is fine.  Letters appear on the screen as soon as I type them, no matter how fast I type.  But when it comes to internetting, or any kind of switching from one sort of software to another, it’s like I’m back in the 1990s or even the 1980s.  It takes around ten seconds for Dawkins to switch his attention from this to that.  And ten seconds is easily long enough for me to forget what I am doing, and why I decided to make the switch I just tried to make.  Finally it appears.  But why am I reading it?  Did I want the link for something I am writing?  Was there some thought I was thinking?  Was I just bored with previous thing?

I can remember articles by unimaginative future-fearers (see Postrel: The Future and Its Enemies - no link, see below) saying Do We Really Need very fast computers to do boring old domestic stuff, computers which are massively faster than we are, and which we therefore can’t keep up with?  Well, maybe not “need”, but want, definitely.  And maybe not “we” but I, definitely.

I turns out that lightning speed is immensely useful, to someone with my kind of brain, still wise after a fashion, but getting less superficially clever by the month.  The lightning speed is not something I have to keep up with.  The lighting speed keeps me up to speed.

Lightning speed within a programme, which with dumb word processing I still have.  And lightning speed between programmes, which I do not now have.  It turns out that really quite a lot of my computering consists of switching from one programme to another, to add a link and to copy and paste something from somewhere, or just to meander, whether randomly or to follow a logical train of thought.  Straight word processing is still the instant joy that it was from 1981 onwards, but anything else is like wading through treacle.  (And I am now experiencing that 1981 joy again, by experiencing the contrast with everything else.)

Oddly enough, adding photos (see yesterday) is not too bad, because adding photos and writing about them can all be done in the same piece of blogging software. (Which reminds me, I haven’t made a word processed copy of yesterday’s posting, which I like to do.  That will involve more treacle-wading.)

You want links?  Give it another week.  As you can tell, all that talk (see … whenever) about God being back in business last Thursday or whenever did not materialise.  Maybe this week.

Sunday August 31 2014

The weather in London today was particularly fine.  The light was bright and washed clean by recent rain, and the atmosphere was neither too hot nor too humid.  There was bright blue sky, but there were also plenty of clouds.  I had a bank to visit and electrical items to obtain, all doable on Sunday if you are in Tottenham Court Road, and then I and my companion went south towards the river.

I photoed tourist stuff, hereinafter termed touristuff.  I love to photo touristuff.  It changes from year to year, and it is arranged in hightly photogenic clumps such as you could never enjoy if you merely bought a single touristuff item:

image image

Those queens seem now to be very popular, but popes less so.  But those decapitated lady bottle openers are a new siting, for me.  It’s amazing what can look sexy, even after being guillotined.

I photoed books, under Waterloo Bridge.  Books in large and sunlit clumps, and particular books, with particular titles:

image image

It seems that the Conan The Barbarian books were written not by just the one writer, but by a team of writers.  I did not know this.  I wonder how that was organised.

I photoed Art.  I photoed a lady all in white, photoing Art under the Queen Elizabeth Hall.  That’s if you reckon middle of the range graffiti to be Art.  Is this a possible future for brutalist architecture?  Painting such concrete relics would surely make sense.

And I photoed people sitting on Art, in the form of giant green chairs, next to the Imax Cinema roundabout near Waterloo station

image image

Apparently these big green chairs used to be down in that strange circle of pedestrian space that surrounds the bottom of the Imax Cinema, inside the roundabout.

If my walkabout this afternoon is anything to go by, Art is becoming less about Deep Significance (of the sort that has to be explained with Art Bollocks essays next to the Deeply Significant Art), and more about fun.  Bring it on.

And bring on the day when they have exhibitions of Touristuff in Tate Modern.  I hardly ever go inside Tate Modern, but I bet that would be more fun than what they put there now.  And it might also be more Significant.

Thursday August 28 2014

This afternoon, The Guru is coming by to reconstruct God, so God (the other one) willing, I will be back in serious computing business by this evening.

When I was recently in Brittany, my hosts supplied me with a state-of-the-art laptop and a state-of-the-art internet connection.  These last few days, without God (my one) and having to make do with Dawkins (my obsolete and clunky little laptop, the thing I am typing into now), I have felt less connected to the world than I did in Brittany.  I am connected, after a fashion.  But Dawkins is so slow and clunky that I have been doing only essentials (like finding out about England being hammered in the ODI yesterday), and checking incoming emails, and shoving anything however bad up here once every day.  It’s like I’ve regressed to about 2000.

I have managed to put up a few pictures here, in God’s absence.  But Dawkins’ screen makes these pictures look terrible.  I am looking forward to seeing God’s version of these pictures and hope they will be greatly improved compared to what I am seeing now.

Thank God (the other one) I haven’t been depending on God (my one) for music.  As I have surely explained here many times, one big reason I prefer CDs (and separate CD players scattered around my home) to all this twenty first century computerised music on a computer is that if God goes wrong, as he just has, I don’t lose music.  I also have music concerts recorded off of the telly, onto DVDs, which I can play on my telly, which is likewise a completely separate set-up to God.

In general, the argument against having everything done by one great big master computer is that when something goes wrong with that master computer, everything else in your life also goes wrong, just when you may need those things not to.  One of the things that willgo wrong, rather regularly, with your all-in-one master computer is when this or that particular one of its excessively numerous functions becomes seriously out of date.  I mean, if it has a vacuum cleaner included, what happens if vacuum cleaners suddenly get hugely better?  In Brian world, all I have to do is get another new and improved vacuum cleaner, and chuck out the old one.  In all-in-one master computer world, you are stuck with your obsolete vacuum cleaner.  Or, if you can, you have to break open your all-in-one master computer and fit a new vacuum cleaner, and probably also lots of other new stuff to make sure the new vacuum cleaner works, which buggers up a couple of your other functions that used to work fine but which no longer work fine.  Or at all.  I prefer to keep things simple, and separate.

Something rather similar applies with how to handle (the other) God.  That is another arrangement you don’t want to have running the whole of your life for you either.  It’s okay if you do God for some of the time and keep Him in his place, but you want scientists telling you about science, doctors about medicine, and your work colleagues about your work, and so on.  If, on the other hand, absolutely everything in your life, and worse, everything in the entire world you live in, is controlled by ((your version of) the other) God, everything is very liable to go to Hell.  (Aka: Separation of Church and State.  Aks: don’t be a religious nutter.)

I have my own particular take on (the other) God, which is that He is made-up nonsense.  But just as wise believers in (the other) God don’t let that dominate their thinking on non-God things, nor do I think that my opinions about (the other) God can explain everything else as well.  These opinions merely explain the particular matter of (the other) God being made-up nonsense.

Do not, as they say, put all your eggs in one basket.

Tuesday August 26 2014

I’ve started reading Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies, years after everyone else who has read it.  I haven’t got very far yet, but I am delighted to discover that one of the Enemies that Postrel takes several cracks at is John Gray, that being a link to a crack that I took at Gray at Samizdata a while back.

And I see that Postrel, like me, does not confine herself to analysing and criticising Gray’s arguments, but notes also the cheapness of the tricks that Gray often uses to present his arguments.

What disguises the trickery, at least in the eyes of Gray and his followers, is the air of profundity that is regarded as being attached to the process of foreseeing doom and disaster.  In truth, incoherent pessimism is no more profound than incoherent optimism, which is to say, not profound at all.

Says Postrel (p. 9):

Although they represent a minority position, reactionary ideas have tremendous cultural vitality.  Reactionaries speak directly to the most salient aspects of contemporary life: technological change, commercial fluidity, biological transformation, changing social roles, cultural mixing, international trade, and instant communication.  They see these changes as critically important, and, as the old Natinoal Review motto had it, they are determined to “stand athwart history, yelling, ‘Stop!’” Merely by acknowledging the dynamism of contemporary life, reactionaries win points for insight.  And in the eyes of more conventional thinkers, denouncing change makes them seem wise.

Seem.  Amen.  I’m still proud of this in my piece about Gray, which makes that same point about the seeming wisdom of being a grump rather than a booster:

He trades relentlessly on that shallowest of aesthetic clichés, that misery is more artistic than happiness, that any old rubbish with a sad ending is artistically superior to anything with a happy ending no matter how brilliantly done, that music in a minor key is automatically more significant than anything in C major.

There are plenty more Gray references in Postrel’s book, if the Index is anything to go by and it surely is.  My immediate future is bright.

Sunday August 24 2014

One of these (which was one of these):

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The economics of car ownership is interesting.  On the face of it, I might be the sort of person who would get a really small car (even if not this exact one).  But the way I (and many others?) see it is: If I go to the bother of getting a car, and finding somewhere to park it, and a way of insuring it, and of protecting it from burglars and vandals, I might as well spend a bit more and get a proper car.  You either buy a car, of the sort that can do all the things proper cars do, like transport another four people, transport bits of furniture, drive to Scotland or Paris or some such place, impress rather than amuse friends and enemies, and so forth.  Or, you don’t.

You don’t buy a bit of car.

The only exception is if your entire country has only just started buying cars, in which case even a bit of car is worth having.  Especially if, for the time being, that’s all you can get

Monday July 28 2014

Continuing on the getting old theme, when I was young, there were these expressions used by old people that I didn’t get.  I knew what farting was, of course I did.  But why “old fart”?  I now know only too well.

And how could you be ”under the weather”?  Again, I understand this now.  It is extraordinary how much an old person’s mood depends on the state of the weather, and in particular the state of the sky.  Is the sky clear and blue, and do you strut about in the world as if you owned the entire thing?  Or are there these great piles of grey clouds bearing down on you, for you to stagger about under, in a state of gloom?  Are their benign electronic particles wizzing about energising you?  Or do other electrical influences blast into your brain and make it ache?

Just lately, London has had a lot of weather for me to be under, because it has been so hot and humid, and electrically active.  But now, here I sit, in my kitchen/office, in my blogger’s uniform (pyjamas), next to my big old computer (which is also a big old fan heater), with the window as open as I could get it (it is a huge bother either opening this or shutting it so it will now remain open), and I am feeling fine, and in particular … rather cold.

Bliss.

Here is a picture, taken from Lambeth Bridge in March of this year:

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This is basically one of those “I just like it” pictures, that I came upon last night when trawling through the archives, although I liked it a lot more after a touch of rotation had been applied.  I particularly like the contribution of those leafless trees. 

The red brick tower that dominates this scene is something to do with St Thomas’ Hospital, but further googling made me none the wiser about its exact purpose or provenance.  It was, it seems built in 1865.  Other than that, I could learn little.

But googling did cause me to learn about this other tower, which used to be a hospital water tower and has now been converted into a home.

This sort of modernistic box-mongering can be very dull, when that’s all there is.  But put it next to some more ornate Victoriana, and both styles often look the better for it.

That is also part of the pleasure I get from the above photo.  Even if ancient and modern buildings are not next to each other for real, they can put them next to each other, with a camera.

Sunday July 27 2014

I just heard someone say in an American TV sitcom (I love American TV sitcoms) that they’re not going to answer the phone without knowing who it is, “like it’s 1994”.

I still do this, with my old 1994 style phone, which I greatly prefer to mobiles, because when I am out and about, I don’t have to answer it, and because phones connected to your house with wire cannot be lost, and because I know exactly where it is when it rings, and because that ring never changes.

Quite often, when I do answer, it’s a junk phone call, offering to extricate me from a financial error that I personally have not made by urging me to commit another financial error, and as soon as I realise it’s junk, I put the phone down.  Does this constitute some sort of “success” for the junk phoning enterprise?  Look, they answered!  Because obviously they knew who we were, this not being 1994, and yet still they picked up the phone!  Hey, we’re getting through!

Much of life these days seems to consist of doing many futile things, but contriving for these things the appearance of non-futility.  These days?  I suspect all days that have ever been, with humans involved, and no doubt many other species also, both before and now during the human epoch.  Only the futile things and the means of contriving a non-futile appearance for them change from time to time.

I don’t mind junk phone calls.  If they were more frequent, they would annoy me.  As it is, if there is a pause in incoming phone calls lasting a few hours, it is soothing to be informed, even if only by a robot actor voice spouting nonsense, that my phone is still working.  The pause was because nobody wanted to talk to me.

When answering junk phone calls, I pause any music that may be playing.  I do not mind this.  There is a part of my brain (yours too?) where you remember the musical phrase you were listening to when you last paused the music, and when you unpause it you carry on listening just as you would have done normally.  I even suspect that pausing deepens my response to particular pieces of music, by fixing particular moments of them in my brain more firmly than might have happened otherwise.

Since I am now rambling like the really old person that I am rapidly becoming, let me ramble some more.  In connection with none of the above, here are the wheels of a big mobile crane that I photoed in Victoria Street a while back.  Click on it to get the crane:

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I like cranes.  That one is, I think, the Spierings SK599-AT5.  I love how you can find out about things like this, these days.  And this time it really is these days, rather than all days. 

Here is a link to a toy version of this crane.  Do contractors use toys like this to plan their jobs, I wonder?  As well as just to decorate their offices or amuse their spoilt children?

It is now late morning on Sunday.  Are sermons like this, when the priest is getting old, but is too well liked for anyone to want to sack him?  With a blog you can ramble anyway, because nobody can sack you.

Thursday July 24 2014

Every now and again I do a posting here, to fix some fact in my memory that I am having trouble fixing in my memory.  Like: the name of someone I really don’t want to insult any more by not remembering his name; and like: the difference between Norman Foster and Richard Rogers.

Well, this is another such posting, and this time it’s a building:

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There are two of my favourite photos of it, and when I chanced upon them in my photo-archives, I realised, again, that I can never remember the name of the thing, or rather Thing, for it is indeed a Thing, albeit not a very big Thing.

It is called the Palestra.  I sort of knew this already (scroll down to the picture of stupid propellers on a roof), in the sense that when I googled for “that big new building outside southwark tube” and found my way to it, I realised that although I had forgotten this name, I did once know it.

Though buildings like the Tate Modern and the reconstructed Globe Theater have done an admirable job of breathing new life and interest into Bankside, venturing south quickly brings the observer into gritty residential and industrial neighborhoods with little to recommend them to the passer-by. The borough’s latest architectural projects aim to extend the revitalization south from Bankside: among these are the planned extension of the Tate Modern, the construction of Southwark tube station, and distinctive building projects by the brightest stars of modern architecture. SMC Alsop’s Palestra, an office building completed in 2006, is one of these projects. Located on Blackfriars Road just across from the Southwark station, its dramatic glazing and cantilevered structure draw the eye and stand out starkly against its dreary surroundings.

Apologies for the American spelling there, which I am glad to see my word processor underlines with red squiggly lines.

And apologies to Southwark for that stuff about those “dreary” surroundings.  This is typical architect talk based on the idea that the only important thing about buildings is how they look in photos taken on Sunday, early in the morning, with no people outside them having a good time.

The photo of Palestra on the left, above, was taken from the platform of Waterloo East railway station, and those peculiar bobbles you can see reflected at the bottom there are the pods of The Wheel.  I really like how that looks.

So, Palestra.  This posting is entitled “Palestra”.  Palestra, Palestra, Palestra.

Thursday July 17 2014

The are two photos which I took last Monday.  The one with the bright blue sky, me looking up, was taken in Wigmore Street.  The one looking down, was taken from the ME Hotel Radio Rooftop Bar.

They are photos not so much of roof clutter, as of roofs, roof in all their elaborately designed glory.  But, you can spot the late twentieth century incursions:

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The aesthetic impact of radio and television aerials does not seem to be much discussed in the architectural world.  It could be that it has, and I merely haven’t noticed, but I don’t think that’s it.

Here is what I think is going on inside the heads of architectural aestheticians, on this subject.  The deal we will make with you mindless philistines is: you can have your damn aerials, because we know that if you are not allowed, by us, to have your damn aerials, you will hut us down and burn us at the stake.  But, we refuse to talk about them.  We will not incorporate them into our aesthetic theories of how things look, and should look.  We will not see them.

Which is how we got from the above scenario, where everything on the roof is elaborately designed, but the first few aerials have crept into the pictures, but have not been seen by the architects and their aesethetic guides, to this:

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Yet still, they don’t see it and they don’t talk about.

Really, really weird.

I’ve been pondering roof clutter for a while now, but the more I ponder it, the more weird the phenomenon is.

What this reminds me of is a distinction that my sociology teachers at Essex University all those years ago made much of, that between the sacred and the profane.  The sacred stuff here is the regular “architecture”, the walls, the windows, the roofs, the interiors, and so on.  All of that is sacred, and is accordingly obsessed over, every tiny square inch of it, every subtle colour change, just as priests obsess about every word in a prayer.

But those aerials are profane.  They don’t register.  They aren’t architecture, any more than a tracksuit worn by a impoverished member of the congregation in a church is a sacred vestment, the details of which must be argued about by bishops and theologians, or the sales pitch being done over the phone on Monday morning (by someone who had been devoutly praying on Sunday) is itself a prayer.  That sales pitch is profane.  Forget about it.  Don’t even think about it.

Those aerials, in among the sacredness of all those designed chimneys and roofs and little towers, are profane.  And hence invisible.  Aerials are designed, by aerial designers, to make sense of radio waves.  But they are not designed to be looked at.  They are a pure case of form following function.  Architects ought to love them, if they believed their prayers.  But they don’t because what is there for architects to add?  Nothing.  The job has all been done, by profane aerial designers.

Well, I don’t know.  I’m thinking as I go along here, but writing it anyway.  Which is all part of why I have this blog.  At this blog, I am allowed to be wrong.  This is a thinking allowed zone, you might say, a place where the thinking does not have to be done before the blogging begins.  This is, you might say, a profane blog.