Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Michael Jennings on On the rights and wrongs of me posting bits from books (plus a bit about Rule Utilarianism)
Darren on How the internet is cheering up Art
Michael Jennings on Marginal Eurostar economics
Michael Jennings on Marginal Eurostar economics
Natalie Solent on Union Jacks with colours played around with
Natalie Solent on Union Jacks with colours played around with
Brian Micklethwait on Union Jacks with colours played around with
Natalie Solent on Union Jacks with colours played around with
Valent Lau on The Poppies (1): What they look like
Alan Little on The Poppies (1): What they look like
Most recent entries
- The Poppies (4): Bald Blokes photoing them
- On the rights and wrongs of me posting bits from books (plus a bit about Rule Utilarianism)
- Quota photo from Paris (also a selfie)
- How the internet is cheering up Art
- Marginal Eurostar economics
- Looking down through the see-through Tower Bridge walkway – but what about looking up through it?
- Cats – and technology
- Hot dog shadow selfie
- As found not-art
- The Poppies (3): People taking selfies
- The Poppies (2): The crowds
- Photographed flatness that doesn’t look flat
- The Poppies (1): What they look like
- Early tries by my guys
- A cat book and a feline front page
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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we make money not art
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Category archive: London
By way of proof that these people were not the only ones perhaps failing to behave in a way that would be considered by some to be entirely appropriate for the solemnity of the place, here are some photos that I took of Bald Blokes Photoing The Poppies:
I too was being inappropriately frivolous.
Click to get the bigger pictures.
Those snaps are picked because the focus, such as it is, is on the bald heads, rather than on the cameras or what the cameras are pointed at. Bald heads are, I am learning (more than I ever did before), infinitely bizarre sites, like maps of strange deserts from the air, full of mysterious marks and indentations, with subtle changes in the vegetation.
But, inevitably, after picking out those snaps, I came upon other pictures of Bald Blokes Photoing The Poppies that I considered also to be deserving of notice.
This one, for instance, is one of the burst of about half a dozen that I took of Bald Bloke Number 3 above. This one focuses on the picture he is taking rather than on his baldness, and I particularly like how it came out:
Or how about this one, which is a first, in my quest for Bald Blokes Taking Photos. Two Bald Blokes taking photos!:
Does the Bald Bloke nearest to me also like to take photos of Bald Blokes Taking Photos?
Finally, a bloke photoing The Poppies who is only pretending to be bald:
Note that he hasn’t shaved his head for a few days, but a few days ago, he did, entirely.
This is the snap that proves, as all who care already know well, that this totally bald look is a fashion statement, rather than just bald blokes pretending to make a fashion statement, to disguise their partial baldness. Because here is a guy who is not bald at all doing it. He has nothing ignoble to disguise, yet he adopts this look anyway.
Something a lot of people don’t get about rather small and incremental improvements is that even if they don’t mean anything to you (by which I mean to them) they can definitely mean something to someone, and potentially a great deal, and to quite a lot of someones. My understanding of economics is that this is one of the most basic ideas embodied in it. (The notion even has its own intellectual revolution: the Marginal Revolution.)
A price increase of around fifty pence for something costing, say, thirty quid may not seem much, and it may not change your behaviour. But for some people this will be the proverbial straw that changes a light bulb to parsnips, the difference that makes all the difference.
Consider these slightly new, slightly snazzier trains, that have been announced by Eurostar, to replace their existing trains, next year. Their front ends, so we are now being told, will look like this:
The Evening Standard (where I found all these pictures) tells us that these new trains will slash the journey time from London to Paris, but it neglects to reveal by how much. Google google. Here we go. The Daily Mail supplies the answer to this obvious question. It turns out that the journey time from London to Paris will be “slashed” (their word too) by … fifteen minutes.
But this posting is not (see above) a rant about how little difference this will make to most people. It is a rant about how much difference it will make to some people. For some people this fifteen minute reduction will make the difference between being able to go to Paris in the morning, get the job done, and then return to London that same day in time to read a story to a daughter. Or … not. Connections just missed will turn into connections just made, and fifteen minutes (doubled for the two journeys) will stretch out into something more like two hours.
Not for most people. Just for some people. And when you consider how many people might or might not choose to use Eurostar, depending on considerations like the above, that “some” people turns out to be really quite a lot of people.
In short, fifteen minutes does make a difference.
Or consider another small improvement that these new trains will involve, this time an improvement measured not in minutes but in inches.
Here is how the new trains will look on the inside:
Now that may not seem very interesting. But it interests me greatly. It’s been a while since I travelled on Eurostar, but my abiding memory is of how small and cramped and dreary the interior of the carriage was. For such a supposedly twenty first century experience, the whole thing had a very twentieth century feel to it, in a bad way. The above picture immediately makes me think that these new trains will be a significantly more spacious and less soul-destroying experience than the old ones, the old ones that I will still be partaking of when I journey to France and back, just after Christmas.
Judging by this photo ...:
… it would appear that they have done to the design of the Eurostar what they have also been doing to some of the trains in the London Underground. These new London tube trains now bulge outwards, over the platforms. Not by much, but by just a bit, just enough to make a real difference to the inside.
A few days ago, I overheard a conversation between some out-of-towners who were enthusing about the new and wider tube trains that were recently introduced on London’s Circle Line. They were rhapsodising. It was like listening to the scripted pseudo-public babbling away on a TV advert, so delighted were these truly regular members of the public about the new train that they and I were travelling on. And I agree with them. Whenever a train that I am awaiting emerges from its tunnel and reveals itself to be one of these new and slightly wider trains, my spirits are lifted.
And that was just inside a tube train. When it comes to Eurostar, we are talking about two hours. Two hours stuck in a dreary little tube, or in a rather less dreary, rather less constricted sort of tube. That is quite a difference. I can easily imagine, when some future decision about a cross-Channel journey presents itself to me, that these extra few inches ("cramped" is all about inches) could be the difference that will be all the difference, to me. At the very least, I will try to give the new carriages at least one try, when they do finally appear.
Classic photo of photoers (which I found here):
It’s the new see through walkway at the top of Tower Bridge. All the reportage concentrates on what you can see looking down through it. But when I visit, I am going to check out what you can see photoing through it from below. Which will have the added benefit of being far cheaper.
Zoom lenses are rather good these days.
And guess what, I actually want other people to have the same idea, so I can photo them photoing upwards also.
Every so often I toy with the idea of dumping my Feline Friday habit. But what am I supposed to do with a headline that reads FBI’s most wanted cybercriminal used his cat’s name as a password? Just ignore it? Hardly.
And now that I am already doing a cat posting with a hi-tech vibe about it, how about What robots can learn from cats. One of the things robots can learn from cats, it would seem, is how to land on their feet without doing themselves damage. My favourite bit of this report is where some computer genius says:
“It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop at the end.”
How very true.
More hi-tech plus cats news: Buy your cat a robot: Mousr acts like real prey.
But as the tsunami of cattery on the www roars out across the planet threatening to drown everyone in feline freak facts, the backlash is getting underway. Can a wave cause a backlash? It can now. What research says about cats: they’re selfish, unfeeling, environmentally harmful creatures. They don’t love you, they slaughter endangered bird species, and they spread parasites that do your head in.
Finally, here are a couple of pictures I took last Sunday, in a Portobello Road coffee cafe:
On the left there, Perry de Havilland (Samizdata supremo) shows me a cat picture on his mobile, and on the right, on Michael J’s mobile, no cat connection, but far too good a headline to ignore.
People drone on about how our new toys have replaced real socialising. But here we observe them spicing up real socialising, by giving us something to chuckle about, while sitting right next to each other.
Also mentioned during our little bit of face-to-face socialising was this epoch-nailing scene.
Complicated day today, and then a complicated evening this evening, trying - and almost totally failing - to record a succession of tv shows each of which ended just as the next was starting. Luckily, the ones I screwed up will be repeated during the next few days. But, no thought of blogging until now.
So, one from the I Just Like It subdirectory. I’m on the south side of the River Thames, and I think I’m quite close to that bridge that now has a station on it.
Yes it’s a shadow selfie, involving very colourful food which contrasts well with the drab surroundings and the drab shadow of drab old me holding the food.
Taken in May 2006.
I like this kind of thing, this particular thing being the back entrance to a hotel in the vicinity of one of my local tube stations, St James’s Park, photoed by me earlier this evening:
Looking at the photos that others like to take - even characters in tv adverts for goodness sakes - I don’t think I’m the only one who likes such things as this. We are talking totally conventional aesthetics here. The cutting edge of aesthetics, as practised by people half my age who do aesthetics for a living or who try to, has presumably gone to other places entirely.
(Part of) what I like about this is that this composition was not actually composed. It looks so artful, but it absolutely is not. It is all rectangles because that is the most convenient shape for the back entrance of a hotel to be, not because its designer had been immersing himself in the work of Piet Mondrian. And the piper are where they are, not because the pipist who did them is a sculptor manqué, but because that is where they need to be, to do what they do.
(The earlier versions of “piper” in the previous paragraph were, first: pipemonger; and then: pipist. There already is a word for a person who pipes, but I didn’t want to waste those earlier efforts.)
One of the problems of big arrays of Poppies is that, like at funerals, you feel a certain pressure to adopt the proper tone of solemnity, like you being solemn is going to stop the First World War having happened, or something. No, really, I do get it. It’s very sad, what with all those soldiers having died, and what with lots of the people present perhaps remembering particular departed loved ones. You probably shouldn’t be enjoying yourself too obviously.
And in particular, you probably shouldn’t be doing this. But, you do it anyway:
But maybe that is just me, being a bit grumpy, and using my grumpiness as an excuse to violate the privacy of strangers who really weren’t doing anything very wrong. Nobody else seemed to have any problem with these selfie takers. The feeling seemed to be: This Thing means, to you, whatever you decide it means to you. If what it means to you is a chance for you to take a smiling selfie with lots of bright red in the background, well, okay. And I think I agree.
I certainly had fun photoing these people.
Doing photography makes me happy, both as something for me to do and as something for me to photo others doing. Before digital photography, I had the usual dislike felt by people of my nationality and with my approximate level of upbringing and education for crowds of tourists, barging their way around my city, bumping into me and making me feel insignificant, like they owned the place which of course they sort of did and sort of do. The Masses were bad enough as a mere idea, but actually seeing them, Massed, made it even worse.
Tourism, I used to tell myself, unthinkingly, is not “real”. But tourism is every bit as real as an Amazonian rainforest, just as affluent suburbs are as real as inner city sink estates. And ever since I discovered the joy of photoing these crowds of tourists, tourists taking photos, photos of my city and of each other, and of themselves, I have deliberately mingled with these crowds, which basically means that I have become a tourist myself, in London, the city where I live. A state of silly and unthinking grumpiness has been replaced by a far more thoughtful and philosophically elevated state of happiness and smugness. Happiness and smugness are also just as real as misery, and my happiness and smugness is all the happier and smugger because provoked by the exact same things as I had formerly been making myself miserable about.
Crowds like those pictured below, in other words, are just as real as the events that all those red Poppies that everyone has come to see hark back to. One of the many remarkable things about these Poppies is the huge - truly enormous – scale not just of the Poppies themselves, but of the crowds of people who have journeyed to the Tower of London to look at them. Here are a couple of my better Poppies crowd shots:
My single most unforgettable Poppies Crowds Moment did not happen to me when I was actually there being a part of one of these crowds, but in a tube station in some other nearby part of central London, the weekend before last. I was on an escalator, and an intercom voice started saying that if I intended visiting the Tower of London to see The Poppies (I didn’t – not that day), then I should definitely consider using another tube station besides Tower tube station, because Tower tube station was jam packed or words to that effect. I should go instead, said the voice, to another nearby tube station (the voice offered several suggested alternatives) and walk from there, from only a little bit further away. That’s how big the crowds have been. And instead of snarling with silly rage at that announcement, I instead said to myself: I must remember to put that on my blog. Which has been another source of great happiness to me, and would have been even if I had not got stuck into photography.
A new student accommodation building is currently being erected on the far side of Westminster Bridge from me, i.e. next to the equally rotund hotel in the middle of the roundabout there.
There is a rule in architecture (which I just made up), which says that if you build a very big and very boring lump, but put another very big and very boring lump of the same shape next to it, the result can be quite pleasing. Think Twin Towers. They seem to be following this rule here.
I have been photoing the erection of this erection ever since erection began. Here are two of my latest snaps of it, taken last Friday. The picture on the right was taken from right next to the little roadside sign that you see on the bottom right of the picture on the left.
It’s hard not to interpret that two dimensional picture as three dimensional, I think you will agree. After all, the real building above the sign is also only a picture, in my pictures, and that looks suitably three dimensional, even though, in my pictures, it is actually every bit as flat as that sign is.
Subtitle for the photo above left: This is not a building. Subtitle for the photo above right: These are not buildings.
Those Tower of London Poppies are causing quite a stir, with politicians of all parties, and people too, saying they ought to stay there longer, beyond Remembrance Sunday (today), beyond 11am on Tuesday, and maybe as long as Nov 11th 2018, so as many people as want to can get to see them.
I’ve checked them out twice myself, and took many photos of the sort that are presumably now tsunaming all over cyberspace. I already mentioned these Poppy trips in passing, in this and in this and in this, but this is the first Poppy Posting here that is specificallly about The Poppies, hence the number in the title.
Here are a few of my “what it looks like” snaps (click to get them larger):
What these snaps of mine don’t show (although 2.1 and 2.3 hint at it) is the panoramic hugeness of it all. For that I turn to Goddaughter 2, who accompanied me on my first Poppies visit.
She had her mobile phone with her, which has an app for taking extremely wide photos. By combining these two snaps …:
… she arrived at this:
That is about two thirds of it. You can see all of it only in pictures like this one
I can entirely see why thousands upon thousands of people have wanted to come and gaze at these Poppies, because the effect is very striking, and the vast scale seems entirely appropriate. There is one poppy for each British soldier who died, the Britishness of the poppies being the excuse for the Guardian to have a go at it all, in such postings as this one and this one. But if I was French or German or Turkish and I saw this huge spread of poppies in London, I don’t think I’d feel that my dead ancestors were being dissed in any way. And actually, I think I did hear quite a few foreign languages being spoken when I visited. I mean, why wouldn’t a nation mourn its own dead? I didn’t feel any resentment, when I recently visited a French graveyard with lots of war dead in it, that the ancestors of me and my fellow countrymen were being omitted from the story, any more than I do when I chance upon a war memorial in England with only local local names on it. Why would I?
The odd thing is, my two personal sets of ancestors had no WW1 deaths in them, or not one that anyone in my particular little family ever talked about. This was not because of any general reluctance to talk about such things. In WW2, we lost my mum’s older and only brother, Uncle John, and that was talked about every now and then, as were the two uncles who fought in WW2 and survived. But stories about my ancestors in WW1? Nothing. I’m guessing this is a bit unusual.
The way to photo “iconic” buildings is to muck around with them. You can’t just stick up your basic passport photos of them, so to speak, because everyone’s seen that, even the foreigners.
You have to put your iconic building next to something else, perhaps iconic in a different way ...:
… or, you bounce your IB off a non-iconic building covered in slightly bendy glass.
Or you photo it through a Riverside Thing …:
… or behind an Iconic Bridge (the one that wobbled (see the posting immediately below)).
Or you put something else in front of it, like a photographer, and have the IB itself behind and way out of focus.
That works fine because the whole point of an IB is that you can recognise it even if it is ridiculously blurry, the way you never could a regular building.
Or, you photo it on the screen of another photographer, perhaps even a bald bloke photographer. I am now collecting bald bloke photographers, and believe me, the species is now very abundant. And by the way, if you click and look at bit carefully, you can see that the bald bloke had the same idea as me about photoing the reflected version of the Shard, rather than just the Thing itself:
As the autumn light fades, the screens of other photographers shine ever more brightly. (LATER: And, on the right there, I see cranes.)
I picked those four snaps of snappers entirely because I liked them. But, they are all pictures of snappers using their mobile phones. Mobile phone cameras are getting better and better. But of course. I mean, would they be getting worse?
But having said all that, I do like this:
No frills, no complications, just the top of the IB itself, with a bit of orange light from somewhere.
All of the above photos were taken on my way to and from the Tower of London, about tendays ago, to see all those poppies.
LATER: How in the world could I possibly have failed to include, in this, this?
Shard on camera screen, and poppies. But, this time, a clunky old camera camera rather than a mobile phone camera.
This sounds dramatic:
The area below London’s 737ft landmark ‘Cheese Grater’ skyscraper has been condoned off, after two metre-long steel bolts broke.
Earlier in the week, one bolt slid from the nineteenth of the slanted building in the City of London but remained in place. But another broke off from the fifth floor yesterday and part of it hit the ground.
The word “floor” (after “nineteenth") has presumably slid from that first sentence there.
Let’s hope it’s only a wobble.
The buildings contractor, Laing O’Rourke, and its structural engineers, Arup, have launched an investigation to ensure the building’s remaining bolts are safe.
Arup were the engineers who presided over that wobbly bridge. That all ended well. The bridge looks great, and it never now wobbles. Let’s hope something very similar applies to the Cheesegrater.
A while back I predicted that sooner or later there is going to be a big skyscraper collapse, probably in China. Wouldn’t want to be proved right about the skyscraper collapse bit, but wrong about the country.
LATER: See also at Dezeen:
In a statement, British Land confirmed that two bolts had broken but said there is “no risk to the structural integrity of the building”.
The answer to the obvious question, but still slightly scary.
Sometimes, when browsing through my photo-archives, I see pictures that make me think (a) that looks like fun, but (b) I wonder what it is. This is because photos when small often look entirely different to the way they do when they fill the screen.
On the right there is an example. Small, it is an odd-looking abstract. Click on it to big it up, and it is revealed as the subway that leads from South Kensington tube station, north, towards the Museums and then on to such places as the Royal Albert Hall. (See the dots in this map.)
I took this photo at about 9pm last night. I am told by somebody who frequents this tunnel quite often that it is very rare for it to be so empty.
When I tried to Google this strange thoroughfare, I kept finding my way instead to information about this place. I wonder, was part of the reason the place at the end of that link closed was confusion about what “South Kensington Subway” actually was?
Last Wednesday and Thursday, I attended two talks, both at lunchtime, at and arranged by the Adam Smith Institute. No event links because information about the first talk has already vanished from the ASI website, and information about the second hasn’t yet but presumably soon will.
On Wednesday, Russ Roberts talked about how to do libertarianism. I agreed with pretty much everything he said, having long ago written very similar things, in particular in this. Guy Herbert talked, on Thursday, about the Human Rights Act 1998. He is, with qualifications and hesitations, for it. He told me afterwards that the text of his talk will be available on line very soon, so I’ll try to add a link later to this posting, at the bottom. If I fail, perhaps a commenter could remind me. (LATER: Actually, I’ll add the link to the text (as Samizdata) here.)
At the talk given by Russ Roberts I forgot to take any pictures. But at the talk given by Guy Herbert yesterday, I remembered. This was the right way round to remember and forget. There are many fine pictures of Russ Roberts on line, far fewer of Guy Herbert.
Here is one of the better ones I took of Guy:
And here, on the left, is another one that I liked:
On the right there is the explanation of the picture on the left. I took it through the gap at the top of the empty chair in front of me. No, I do not know who David Penfold is. I’m guessing he is the David Penfold mentioned as something to do with this.
The audience for the Russ Roberts talk was packed into the small room it was given in. The Guy Herbert talk, in the same room, was less well attended, hence that empty chair in front of me. But that’s because its subject matter was less of an ASI core concern. It was about things outside the free market comfort zone. Which is good. That sends out a signal. We don’t only operate inside our comfort zone. There is a bigger, wider world out there. We think about that also.
First, what’s going on in this picture? What’s weird about it? How did I contrive the weirdness?:
Hint: One of the categories for this posting is “Computer graphics”. Another hint: I like reflections.
Second, what’s the Feline Friday connection in this photo, taken earlier this week outside the Tower of London?
Hint: There is also a clue to this one in the categories list.
If nobody else supplies the answers, I will! Only by refusing to read these answers will you be able to escape them.