Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Category archive: History

Wednesday July 18 2018

Here.  Video, lasting just over twenty minutes.  Just watched it.  Good.

Particularly interested by what he says about how, without cheap paper, the revolutionary changes ushered in by the printing press could not have happened.  Mass produced printed matarial printed on animal skins not economically doable.

Harford ends on what he thinks is a depressing note, about a woman who supplies the final bit of muscle to a huge warehouse system, by receiving verbal orders from an all-powerful robot, which she simply obeys, second by second.  Go here, get this, this number, take it here, ...

Well, it’s a job.

Personally, I think that having to think all the time about your work, when you are at work, is hugely overrated.  Whenever I have had a “job”, I liked it when my job was my job, but my thoughts were my own.  Best job?  Driving a van, delivering number plates.  Drove on autopilot most of the time.  Thought my own thoughts.  Didn’t “buy into the company vision”.  Not “committed”.  Wasn’t “invested” in the work.  Just did it, mostly without having to think about it.  Bliss.

Tuesday July 17 2018

Indeed:

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That photo was taken (by me (near Westminster Abbey)) in July 2006.  You never see people clutching street maps like that now.  All such maps now are smartphone maps.

Tuesday July 10 2018

This afternoon I went on a really good photo-expedition, to Denmark Hill, as it happens.

However, today’s overwhelming photoing sentiment, for me anyway, is, for now anyway, regret.  That I missed, until I heard about it about an hour or more too late, this, what would seem to have been one of the biggest flypasts that London has recently witnessed, and maybe ever will again.  Damn.

So, no photos today.

Not even this one.

Saturday June 23 2018

Yesterday I walked, in bright sunshine, along Victoria Street to Parliament Square, and then across along the river, ending up at the top of the Tate Modern Extension.  In total, I took one thousand four hundred and seventy two photos, most of them at the top of the Tate Modern Extension, and most of those of my fellow digital photoers.

But here is just one of the photos I took yesterday, not of another photoer, and not anywhere near to Tate Modern:

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That’s the statue of Oliver Cromwell, outside the Houses of Parliament.  Read more about it here.

Usually, the background behind this photo is complicated Parliementary architecture.  But just now, work is being done on this architecture, so Cromwell’s background is unusually plain and unfussy, like Cromwell himself, I believe.

I like temporary stuff.  And a nice variation on temporiness is when the temporiness is in the background behind something permanent, like a statue outside Parliament.

Thursday June 21 2018

Here is a recent Scott Adams Dilbert cartoon, although Dilbert himself is not involved in this particular one:

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I’ve always thought that one of the many things that won the Cold War for Civilisation and doomed Bolshevik Barbarism to defeat was stealth stuff.  By its nature, stealth stuff is undetectable, and the better it is, the more impossibly undetectable it is.  So, if you cannot detect it at all, it could still be there, and really really good at being stealthy.  Hell, it could be anywhere.  It could be right outside the Politburo’s front window.

Of course, it probably isn’t this clever.  But, how would you be sure?

This was why, when the Americans had got these contraptions working reasonably well, they revealed their existence.  They took lots of spooky photos of these spooky things, and made sure the whole world could see them.  Where, at any particular moment, they were, for you to photo, they did not reveal.

How can you defeat an enemy like that?

Same with Star Wars.  Shooting down all incoming nuclear missiles with all-powerful death rays.  Bollocks, right?  But, again, how could you be sure.

Wednesday June 13 2018

For over a year now, I have been thinking that Jordan Peterson is a fascinating individual.  When he did that Cathy Newman interview and got truly famous, I thought that this was a significant historical event.  Among other things, I started thinking that he will raise the birth rate in the West, by urging its young citizens to be more ready to undertake the responsibilities of parenthood.

So, I found this comment, buried in lots of on-topic comments about this rather good interview of Jordan Peterson by Radio 3’s Philip Dodd, fascinating.  Fascinating as in: proves me right.  Right as in: a bit more right than before, not a lot but a bit.

Totally offtopic: is there a Jordan Peterson dating site for people who know about him?

Know about him as in: like him, agree with him, are fans of him.  But despite being a bit badly expressed, this is surely a highly significant question.  Well, I think so.

I just googled “jordan peterson dating site” and got some related stuff, but not any actual dating site.  But that doesn’t prove there isn’t one, and in any case, if there now isn’t one, there soon will be.

I have just fixed for my Last Friday of the Month meeting on July 27th to be on the subject of Jordan Peterson.  The speaker will be Tamiris Loureiro.

Monday June 11 2018

The talk in question being this.  I show this photo of my notes here more to remind me to keep thinking about this stuff, than to tell you what I was talking about.  For that, maybe better wait for the video.

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I spent most of my spare time today working on that, even though it may not look like it.  In the end I had far too much I wanted to say, but I did manage to blurt out a decent proportion of it.  The thing to remember in such circumstances is that they don’t know what you forgot to say.  They only know what you did say.  If that was okay, then it was okay.

There is one big misprint, towards the end.  Where it says “Era 2 effects”, twice over, the second “Era 2” should be “Era 1”.  This did not throw me.  I only just noticed it.

Saturday June 09 2018

Yes, in Piccadilly Circus, photoed at the same time as those hair-patting ladies.  And this time, you know, just photoers, just photoing photos.

What strikes me is what a good camera I now have.  The light was not good.  I was there to meet up with someone, not to make the best of some sunny weather, because there was no sunny weather to be made the best of.  In the bad old days, when their were two zeroes in the years, most of these photos would have been an unsightly blur.  But now, the only thing I worry about is if there are recognisable faces on show:

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Once again, I made the selection of what to show here entirely by me liking the photo and you not seeing recognisable faces.  No thought was given to what sort of cameras were being used.  Which means that what cameras were actually being used becomes interesting and informative, like a small scientific experiment.

Once again, we observe the rise and rise of the smartphone as the preferred way for regular people to photo.  There are some Real Photographer cameras to be seen here.  And I think there always will be, because there will always be photoers for whom the best possible photos are the thing they want, and the best that a big old clunky machine can do will always be better that what a smartphone can do.

But, thinking about that some more, is that right?  Will there actually soon come a time when all photoing is done by little things the size of a biscuit?

And will there then be a Great Grumble from all the Real Photographers – a category which is maybe starting to include me - similar to the one when digital cameras first got going?

Wednesday May 16 2018

I was rootling around in the archives for something interesting, and this time I really went back, to the time of my very first digital camera.  And in among lots of photos of my friends and GodDaughters all looking eighteen years younger, I found this photo, taken while on a trip around the Wheel, of the Guy’s Hospital Tower, looking just as brutally (because Brutalist) ugly then as it does now:

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That’s right, no Shard.

But more to the point, it shows what a Big Thing that building in the middle there used to be.

And I’ve said it here before.  This was London’s Montparnasse Tower.  What Paris concluded from the Montparnasse Tower was: never again.  But what London concluded from the Guy’s Hospital Tower was: we need to build lots of bigger towers, so that this one won’t be any part of the definition of London.  And in particular, we need to put a really big Big Thing, right next to this big old thing.

So, in the photo: Guy’s Hospital, and no Shard.

And: without Guy’s Hospital, also no Shard.

Monday May 14 2018

Having spent a week appreciating the Frenchness of France, I now find myself especially noticing the Englishness of England:

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1.1 (cricket in Vincent Square) and 1.2 (Prince Albert outside his Hall) were taken yesterday afternoon.  2.1 (Westminster Abbey plus Big Ben smothered in scaffolding (plus a tiny bit of Wheel)) was taken yesterday evening.  2.2 (a Handley Page Victor recently acquired by a friend) was taken earlier this evening.

Tuesday May 08 2018

Yesterday I recounted that, after climbing to the viewing gallery towards the top of one of the twin towers of Quimper Cathedral, I had hoped to see a lot of bridges, but I didn’t.  I also said: never mind, because I am bound to see other things that I wasn’t even hoping to see.

Things like this:

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That is the inside of the spire, above the viewing gallery that we climbed up to.  You could just step into the space below that, directly from the viewing gallery.  Amazing.  I did not see that coming.

The medieval towers of Quimper Cathedral were rectangular, like those of Durham Cathedral.  The spires were nineteenth century additions, as is explained here:

Building started in the 12th century and continued at intervals until the 19th century, when the two spires were constructed and new stained glass windows were installed.

I would say that those spires were inspired additions, ho ho.  I like them in particular because they greatly increase the number of spots in Quimper from which you can see the tops of the Cathedral, which the spires made both much taller and much more recognisable.  Thanks to these spires, the Cathedral is far more of a local landmark than it would have been otherwise.

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.

Wednesday April 25 2018

I like doing podcasts, and have recently resumed doing this.  The difference between these and earlier efforts is that I am not making the mistake of trying to be the interviewer, a role which I have learned, the hard way, that I am utterly unsuited to.

I do not, however, like doing podcasts because I assume that I will reach a huge audience with my brilliant insights and opinions.  Rather is it that I deepen my friendships with the people I share the microphone with.  The first is a mere outside chance.  The second is pretty much guaranteed to happen.

Although neither I nor any of the other people whom I podcast with assumes that we will reach a huge audience, we know that we probably will reach some sort of audience, probably very tiny, of friends and acquaintances and general passers-by, and that means that we had better say things we have thought about and which we mean and which are worth saying.  We need to be at our conversational best, just in case.

Compare that with two or three of us just chatting in a pub or an eatery or in one of our homes, but with no microphone on.  The level of conversational intensity, so to speak, is, in those circumstances, far lower.

Almost all of my renewed podcasting activity has been with Patrick Crozier.  I recall with particular pleasure the first of these recent efforts that we did about World War 1.  Who else has listened in?  I have no idea.  But I listened.  He listened.  I can listen again, and I have, more than once, because so many interesting things, I think, got talked about.

More recently, I took part in a group podcast on the subject of freedom of speech, alongside Jordan Lee, Bruno Nardi and Tamiris Loureiro.  On that occasion I can be sure that others were listening, because there was a room semi-full of people, listening, right there, in the Two Chairmen, where Libertarian Home meetings now all seem to happen.

The microphone that Bruno placed in our midst was distinguished by its size and its striking appearance.  I photoed it:

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That photo, for me, illustrates the bigness of the difference that a microphone makes to a conversation.  Jordan, Bruno and Tamiris are all slightly better friends of mine now than they would have been if we’d not done this.

Why then, do I not switch on a microphone during my Last Friday of the Month meetings?  Maybe I will start doing this.  But for now, I believe that a roomful of people, assembled to hear a particular person speak on a particular subject, achieves that same heightened level of attention and conversational concentration that a microphone achieves for a smaller group of people who are talking amongst themselves.

It is also helpful for speakers to be absolutely sure that their talks won’t go straight to the www, and that means that they can confidently take an early shot at a new subject, with all the errors, hesitations and confusions that might occur.  Ideas need to be nurtured and shaped and polished, and that is far easier to do if such early efforts are not being bugged.

This Friday, I have another of my Last Friday meetings.  Dominic Frisby will be doing an early dry-run version of his Financial Game Show, which will be having a run of performances for real at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.  I’m pretty sure that me threatening to switch on a microphone during this out-of-town preliminary try-out version, so to speak, would have been a deal-breaker.

There’ll be another early version for this show at the King’s Head, Crouch End, on May 22nd.  I attended the very first outing of it at the same venue last Monday, and I can report that I and the rest of the small crowd had a lot of fun.  As Frisby reports at the bottom of this piece in MoneyWeek:

We had fun. My MoneyWeek colleague, Ben Judge, turned out to be the winner, prompting many in the audience to make accusations of an inside job.

Yes.  This was a pity, because actually what came across rather well was how imperfect the knowledge of financial experts often is, and how other people, with direct experience of whatever it is, often know more than them.

Sunday April 22 2018

And again, five years ago today, on April 23rd 2013.

The usual procedure has been followed for these clutches of photoer photos.  I consider only photos where the photoer face isn’t recognisable.  Then, I just pick what seem like the nicest photos, chosen for things like fun things in the background (1.2, 3.4), fun photoer posture (1.1, 2.1, 3.2) or fingerwork (2.2), fun clothing or headgear (4.3), fun decoration on the hands (4.4), really clear photos of the camera (1.3), or other crazy things also happening (4.1).  And enjoyable hair.  Always that.

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There are X different sorts of camera to be seen:

Real Photographer cameras (5); small dedicated cameras, of the sort now rapidly being replaced by mobile phones (6); mobile phones (2), both in one photo (1.4); a clunky old video camera (1); a big screen tablet (1).  The surprise to me is how few mobiles there are in these photos.  Big screen tablet photoing was big for a while, but hasn’t caught on, probably because they are too inconvenient to be lugging around with you.  Easier to just get used to photoing with a mobile.  The new big screen question is: What is the biggest that the screen of a mobile can conveniently be?  I see quite a few of these “big mobile phones” nowadays.  If I ever get another mobile phone, this is what it will be.

The logical thing would be for pockets to get bigger.  I assume this is now happening.

Yes, ten years ago to the day.  April 23rd, 2008:

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Memo to self: Go again to Alexandra Palace, and try to photo the exact same view, to illustrate what has changed.

No Cheesegrater.  The Gherkin stands in something resembling splendid isolation.

No Shard.  Just to the right of middle tower of the three dark Barbican (I think) towers on the right, we see Guy’s Hospital, in warmly lit concrete.  The Shard is now right next to that.

That’s just for starters.  Those are the two biggest changes.  But there’d surely be others.  The Gherkin is now almost surrounded by huge stuff.