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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: How the mind works

Thursday February 11 2016

C’est Magnifique:

image

Paris has been casting about for exciting new buildings.  That one was rejected, but le www can soon put that right.

After a long period of imposed timidity, the architecture of Paris is coming back to life.

That modern house perched on the top is inspired.

It’s London envy, I think.  All those French people under thirty who can only find work in London, going to London, and then reporting back that (a) London is cool, and that (b) a lot of this is down to its recent Big Things.  So, make some Grand Choses for Paris.

My theory of why it was turned down.  That what this wondrous Chose proves is that if people were allowed to do exactly what they like, in cities like Paris, it would be magnifique.  To put it another way, this wondrous thing makes planners feel unnecessary, and they really don’t like that.

It is strangely lacking in colour, but again, this is easily correctable.  Perhaps the monochromeness of it all is to make the architects feel more necessary.

Wednesday February 10 2016

I still fondly remember a posting I did on Samizdata, over a decade ago now, about a banged-up police car that was claiming to be Working for a safer London.  Well, the white van below, photoed back on December 29th of last year, isn’t as big a PR clanger as that was, but it is a bit bad:

image

I know, I know.  You can’t really make data insecure by damaging the van on which it says “secure data management”.  This is the enterprise in question.  Look at where the green lines cross the phone numbers, and you will see that, in the picture there, it is not the same van.  So, they have more than one van.  And by the look of it, what these vans do is transport documents.  Nevertheless, this blemish suggests a certain sloppiness, or maybe I mean a certain willingness to seem sloppy, that does not sit well with handling data securely.  If I was them, I’d want it sorted soonest.

On the same day, on the same photo-expedition, I also photoed this van:

image

Not nearly as white as the secure data van, but more to the point: not a scratch and squeaky clean.  Which is appropriate, because this is also a business which needs to look like it is taking care when it is doing its business:

With paramount importance placed on quality and support, all equipment is thoroughly cleaned, tested and checked by our experienced engineers ...

Here’s another van, also snapped on that same expedition, that is both white and clean:

image

White vans often get rather dirty, but not this one:

Calabash are the No.1 commercial cleaning and washroom services company in London. Since 1992 we’ve been ensuring our clients maintain their premises to the highest standards ...

This, in other words, is a van that also needs to be maintained to the highest standards, and by the look of it, it is.

Monday February 01 2016

Last Friday evening, at that meeting, I talked with Perry de Havilland about writing for Samizdata.  I told him that I have recently been taking longer to finish my postings, to get them nearer to completely right.  He compared blogging to rock ‘n’ roll.  The clear implication being that blogging, like rock ‘n’ roll, is most truly itself when done, so to speak, live.

Each to his own.  I now find that one of the symptoms of advancing years is that I am no longer as confident as I once was about the first thing that comes out of my mouth, or about what emerges from my tapping fingers.  I prefer to have several reads-through of it, with gaps of time between them to think more.

My two most recent Samizdata postings are results of this more considered manner of writing.  They may not seem so to readers.  But they are much better than they would have been without any polishing.

Such polishing is not new, for me.  I used to do it to stuff I wrote for the Libertarian Alliance.  Stuff like this piece, which Patrick Crozier kindly linked back to, in one of the comments on the first of those two recent Samizdata pieces.  As Patrick said, what that earlier piece said was very similar to what the Samizdata piece said.  Appropriately enough, both pieces (separated by a quarter of century) were about how reluctant people are to change the basic way that they think about things.

Then as now, such polishing did not make my writing perfect.  But it did make it quite a lot better.

Well, now, I seem to be reverting to writing more considered and revised essays, short or not so short, rather than “blog postings”.  Rock ‘n’ roll is a young man’s game, and I do not feel comfortable writing in that manner.  I used to.  If Perry de Havilland still does (and he does), I am very happy for him.  But it seems now not to suit me so much.

However, I do actually think that rock ‘n’ roll is now less appropriate.  The novelty of just anyone being able to shovel stuff onto the internet has now passed.  The mainstream media have now thoroughly internetted themselves, and the “any old stuff” approach (such as prevails here) does not get a blog like Samizdata the traffic that it used to get.  I think that some of us at least should be polishing.  More and more, my role model is becoming the late Findlay Dunachie.  Not in the sense that I intend only to review books from now on.  I mean that I find myself wanting to write more in the way he wrote, more thoughtfully, in a way that is more considered.

I am not now deciding to write differently.  (I promise nothing.) I am merely noting that this is what seems now to be happening.  An earlier stage in the change of attitude I am describing was earlier described in this posting here.

By which I mean, what seems to be happening at Samizdata.  Here will continue to be the impulsive, sloppy, last minute, thinking aloud, what you get is what you get operation that it has always been.  I did a little polishing of this piece, but not a lot.

Wednesday January 27 2016

Quota photo time, in the form of a view of the Walkie Talkie that I didn’t find when I image-googled “Walkie Talkie tower London”, which I suppose is what you want:

image

I took this photo on the day I had actually been to the top of the Walkie Talkie, and the views from this top are, as you would expect, wonderful.  But when I skimmed through all the photos from that day just now, looking for a quota photo, this was the shot that I found myself stopping at.

Most of the pictures of the Walkie Talkie emphasise how huge it is compared to the buildings around it.  But when you actually get closer, like this, it doesn’t loom so large.  I mean, it’s not as if all these old buildings have been flattened to make way for the Walkie Talkie.  The buildings nearby look quite big, and the Walkie Talkie, a bit further away, looks big too, but not as disproportionately huge as it does when you see the same contrast from further away.

Tuesday January 26 2016

David Pierce writes at Wired about gadgets for speeding up pedestrians, which I too am interested in. He has been using an electric scooter.  I saw one of these in London recently, travelling at an impressive lick, but didn’t manage to photo it, because was holding too much shopping.  Still should have.  Will try to next time I see such a thing.

Some quotes:

The problem with moving away from car ownership is that you give up one its biggest upsides: you can usually park exactly where you’re going. Public transit, built around permanent stations, can’t offer that. That’s called the “last mile” problem: How do you get from the subway or bus stop to where you’re actually going, when it’s just a little too far to walk?

In among such good analysis are bits of humbug about how cars are, in addition to clogging up cities, ruining the planet with their sinful carbon emissions.  You don’t have to buy into all that guff to see the point of not ruining cities, but instead continuing to get around in them, speedily yet comfortably.  Personally, I live in a big city partly in order not to have to own a car.

Electric kick scooters, goofy [though? - BM] they may be, are a particularly good answer to the last mile problem. …

Pierce focusses in on one of the details, of just the sort that settle these contests in favour of this gadget and against that one:

The UScooter’s much easier to ride than the hugely popular hoverboard, because all you have to do is hop on and not tip over. Turns out handlebars are helpful that way. You can take it over small curbs and cracks in the sidewalk, powering through the obstacles that would launch you forward off a hoverboard. ...

This piece is entitled “It’s Too Bad Electric Scooters Are So Lame, Because They May Be the Future”.  So this is yet another of those arguments where what looks like it could be a very smart thing is being held back by jeering coolists who think it’s not cool.  (See also: using tablets to take photos.) I wonder if, when the wheel first got invented, idiot fashionistas stood around saying, yes, we entirely see the point of this thing, but it’s not cool.  It’s lame.  Therefore, we forbid it.  Wankers.

Thursday January 21 2016

Last night I lay awake, fretting that I might soon have to buy a new camera.

The problem was that the latest batches of photos that I took, yesterday and the day before, from the top of Westminster Cathedral, look too red.  Not blue enough.  Was there something wrong with it, like what went wrong with my very first digital camera, which turned everything that was bright white instead into bright pink.

Pictures like the one shown here yesterday, looking out to the west from the Cathedral tower, and also other pictures, looking in other directions, such as this, also yesterday, which features another London Cathedral:

image

That green crane make me think of that spoof documentary that Peter Sellers once did, about “Bal Ham: Gateway to the South”, which contained the line: “A rose red city half as gold as green.” (Golders Green.  Never mind.)

It’s a sad thing when a picture as weird and striking as that one only makes you think your camera is misbehaving, but: Is my camera turning everything rose red?

My worries were abated by me looking at earlier batches of recent photos, such as this rather remarkable snap of the Shard, taken in Eltham just before Christmas:

image

I do like how different the Shard can look in one picture from how it looks in another, and in another, and in another.  See also, on the far right above, the same other cathedral.

No excessive rose red there.  (With that old first camera, the bright white face of the Shard would have turned pink.) The truth is that the light yesterday and the day before was … very rose red.  No wind.  Lots of smoggy air.  Sun near the horizon.  Result: lots of rose red light splashing around, turning everything into rose red ghosts.  This was a case when my eye adjusted more than my camera did.  I saw slightly pink as white.  Not so my camera.

Monday January 18 2016

An informative piece by Rowan Moore in the Guardian, about the hoped-for replacement for the dismal failure that is the Royal Festival Hall:

It’s an amazing thing that for the sake of some fractions of a second of reverberation time, and some other acoustic niceties, and for the sake of acoustic properties that can only be described with vague adjectives such as “warm”, it is proposed that several hundred million pounds be spent on a completely new concert hall in London, to improve on the existing Royal Festival Hall (built in 1951, extensively renovated in 1964 and 2007) and the Barbican (built in 1982, extensively renovated in 1994 and 2001).

This is what Simon Rattle, future music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, is saying, and he has got George Osborne and Boris Johnson to support him.  Rattle says that London needs the best possible concert hall, where you can “experience the sound of a great orchestra with brilliance, immediacy, depth, richness and warmth”, to attract the best possible musicians, which means shifting very many tons of building materials to fine-tune the vibrations of air. And if there is one thing that almost everyone agrees on in this contentious project (why spend so much in straitened times? Wouldn’t it be better to back performers directly rather than their carapace? Should so much be spent in culturally well-endowed London?), it is that the acoustics of the city’s existing large auditoriums definitely don’t work well enough.

Which means that if this project is to go ahead, it definitely, absolutely, without a shadow of doubt, must get its acoustics right. ...

Indeed.

Moore also writes about the surroundings.  These must be nice, but not attention seeking.  Satisfying for concert-goers, but not “ikonic” if that in any way jeopardises the accoustics, or the satisfaction of concert-goers.  Play your shots and don’t get out, as the cricketers say.

The logic of what Moore says tells me that they should first build the concert hall with absolutely no “surroundings”, and keep on building it until the acoustics are world class.

The basic fact here is, as Moore explains, that you only know for sure if you have a great concert hall after you have built it.  And a bad concert hall, well architected, will be a total failure.  London already has at least one of those (or two, depending on what you think of the Barbican’s architecture), and the last thing it needs is another.

So: build the new hall, as a separate process from all the subsequent architectural tarting up.  If the acoustics are unfixably bad, smash it down and do it again, until the acoustics are satisfactorily superb.  When the acoustics are superb, then get to work on the surroundings, and if that is fucked up first time around, well, do that again too.  And then, if anyone feels inclined, why not then slap some ikonic stuff on the top?  But: one thing at a time.

This is not the usual way that big architecture is done.  The usual way is to do everything at once, and make damn sure you get everything as right as you can.  But then, concert halls are not your usual architecture.

Wednesday January 13 2016

Several days ago now, but type/scribbled into a Word file straight after it happened ...

I enthusiastically show G(od)D(aughter) 2 a picture (on my camera screen) that I took of the scaffolding across my courtyard.  Then I realise that this is a bit of a mad way to behave.

Me: “Sorry.  I’m going a bit mad.”

GD2: “No.”

Ah.  Good.  Not going mad.

But then:

GD2: “Nothing’s changed.  You’ve been like this for a long time.”

Ah.

Oliver Wainwright of the Guardian can be grumpy but informative.  Of facadism, which I have here been calling keeping up appearances, Wainwright says this:

The practice of facadism emerged in the 1980s, when construction technology made it possible to retain a mere sliver of a frontage, and as the rise of the conservation movement increased pressure to preserve the historic streetscape – even if it didn’t care much for what happened beyond the surface.

And more to the point, there are some great photos.  Photos like this:

image

Wainwright is of course angry about this unequal style collision.  He writes for the Guardian, and being angry about capitalism (aka everything except Guardianism) comes with the job.  But I actually quite like it when big modernism rises up behind smaller ancientism.  To put it another way, in Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, the architect-hero Howard Roark is disgusted when a committee seeks to stick an ancientist front door at the bottom of his modernist skyscraper.  But I think this front door, at any rate as shown in the film they made of The Fountainhead, improved things.  It certainly made it easier to see where the front door actually was, which is often hard with totally modernist buildings, and used for about a decade to be impossible.  Ancientism evolved a way of handling front doors in a way that makes sense to all, and there is no more virtue in destroying these ground-level conventions than there is in abolishing English and trying to replace it with Esperanto.

Besides which, buildings are often hated, to begin with, for the very thing that causes them at a later date to be loved, namely their distinctiveness and their oddity.  Think of the Eiffel Tower, which at first was greatly disliked.  My guess is that much the same will apply to the above Cardiff oddity.

I also believe that the Carbuncle-Cup-winning Walkie Talkie will in the fullness of time mutate from Carbuncle to National Treasure.  I visited that building today.  More about that visit Real Soon Now, maybe, I promise nothing.

Tuesday January 12 2016

Yes, a truly wonderful The Wires! sculpture gets long overdue recognition from Dezeen, on account of a lump of religious concrete being put next to it, by an architect.

The photographer clearly loves The Wires!:

image

But Dezeen’s writers are under strict orders.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful and intricate The Wires! are:

imageimage

The rule is set in concrete.

Don’t mention The Wires!

Monday January 11 2016

Today I was out and about in the grim greyness of Winter London, with only very occasional patches of blue in the sky.

Had I had only these three photos in their original versions to go on, I might eventually have pieced together that David Bowie had died:

imageimageimage

But I had already clocked this news from reading this posting at Mick Hartley’s.  Viewers who feel strongly that all commemorations of the recently deceased should be in good taste are urged not to click on the middle picture.  Whether the original you get by clicking is “what he would have wanted”, I do not know.  One thing I know for sure is that it is not what I wanted.  But it is what it is, and I had no other more suitable substitutes.

Later I took a more self-consciously commemorative photo to recognise Bowie’s death:

image

I’m not sure that it makes perfect sense to wish that a dead rock star should “rest in peace”, though.  Surely at least the occasional burst of raucous rock and roll would also be in order.  But, they only meant to say the right thing, and if not that, then what?  I don’t know.

My personal feeling about Bowie, as with many rock and rollers, was that I paid very little attention indeed to the words as anything other than an excuse to make a satisfying musical racket.  Also costumes don’t impress me, for better or for worse.  I love the music of Abba, despite their preposterous outfits.  And I love the Bowie tracks that I love, regardless of what “persona” he happened to be adopting at the time.  It’s the backing that I love, and Bowie was really good at making this happen interestingly, I think.

What did “Suffragette City” mean?  I never bothered to find out and I probably never will, but I love the sound it makes.  “When You’re A Boy” made a bit more sense (to me), but it still came as a surprise (to me) when I saw a video of some women dancing along to it, who turned out all to be Bowie in drag.  What was that about?  Some sort of rumination on the socialised nature of sex-roles?  Just a tease, to get the newspapers to denounce it and do the publicity for free?  Probably the latter.  Bowie was a dab hand at that.

Sunday January 03 2016

Indeed.  6000 miles away, in Cape Town, England have been making hay in the sunshine:

image

Sunshine?  Well, I heard a commentator say at the start of the game that it was 43C out in the middle.

I do love the screen capture function.  I can’t think of any better way to frieze an otherwise doomed-to-oblivion sporting moment.  Now, it makes little difference.  But when, as death approaches, I entertain myself by scrolling back through this blog, postings like this one will be very sweet to remember.

England reached 629-6 after being 223-5.  And now, South Africa are 7-1 in reply:

Anderson to van Zyl, OUT, oh no! It goes from bad to worse for South Africa! A shambolic piece of running. Van Zyl pushed the ball into the off side and set off for the run, but Elgar wasn’t interested at all. Van Zyl was halfway down the pitch and had no chance to get back as the throw came in from Compton to Bairstow at the stumps.

Hashim Amla now in.  Out of-form-batsman, and out-of-depth captain of a team already one-down in the series, and he knows at least one of these things and probably both.  So if he also got a double century now, that would cheer me up too, because look what the human species - the species that both I and Hashim Amla are members of - is capable of when under extreme pressure.

Amla doing well now would also be good for cricket.  You know your team is doing well, when you start thinking that if the other guys were to start doing a bit better, that would be good for cricket.  Although, were Amla to get out soon, I could just about stand the disappointment.

Wednesday December 30 2015

Indeed:

imageimage

Photoed by me somewhat over a month ago, on Westminster Bridge.  I hope you agree that the darkness confers anonymity.

Photoing the Wheel is great, and you should do this as frequently as you can.  But, you must always have an angle.

Saturday December 12 2015

One of the things I have had to learn as a blogger is to go ahead with my little photo essays, even if I absolutely know that there are more relevant photos to be found in my archives, which I would love to include if only I could find them quickly.  When that happens, I should just go ahead anyway.  If I later encounter the photos I would like to have included the first time around, fine.  I should do another posting and link back to the first one.

You are probably expecting a photo here, to back up the above point …:

image

… so there is a photo.  It’s a nice photo.  But it doesn’t really make the point above it.  Perhaps, somewhere in my archives, there is a photo which does exactly make that point.  But, it would take too long for me to find it.

Friday December 11 2015

Photographs are, as all the world has recently been learning, except those whose business – paid or unpaid – it is to complain about what all the world has recently been learning, a wonderful aid to memory.

And many of the happiest memories of our extraordinarily comfortable and frequently very happy times involve food.  So - and the complainers complain about it with a venom they seem to reserve only for this, and for selfies - people now like to photo food.  Food that they have themselves prepared.  And food that others have prepared for them. 

And I like to photo them photoing the food.  This also makes happy memories.

Man prepares meat:  Man photos meat:  Man prepares salad:  Man photos salad:

image imageimage image

These are happy memories from last August.  Visit to friends in the outer suburbs.

The outer suburbs?  What do they look like?  Well, one of the things they look like (horizontalisation opportunity) is this:

image

That’s the large patch of grass, beyond the back wall of their back garden.  And sadly, although those things in the distance do vaguely resemble Big Things, they are actually rather smaller trees.

We are beyond the “Green Belt”.  The above photo, especially if clicked on, offers a glimpse of what the Green Belt might usefully be turned into, instead of it remaining for ever the wasteland of pointless open space that it is now.  It would need livening up a bit.  A bit of open-caste mining, or a temporary phase as a juvenile race track?  Then let nature take its course, and you’ll have a lovely place.  Apparently some industrial type activity (gravel?) is about to happen in that particular stretch of grass.  That will stir up some interesting nature, when the industrialising is done.

Finally, this being Friday, here is a visitor to our jollifications who dropped by that afternoon:

image

Like many cats in places like this, this cat seems to have a basic home of basic benefactors, and daily rounds to visit other potential and not-so-basic benefactors.  This visitor acquired no happy food memories with his/her visit, on the day I photoed him/her.  Not that day.

But I have plenty.  Without my camera, these memories would soon have gone.