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: Bloggers and blogging

Tuesday October 21 2014

There I was, lying in the bath, listening to Radio 3.  Some music had ended, and I was now being subjected to a programme which I do not usually listen to, called Words and Music.  And I heard the actor Jim Broadbent saying these words, by Michel de Montaigne:

I take the first subject that chance offers.  They are all equally good to me.  And I never plan to develop them completely.  For I do not see the whole of anything.  (Nor do those who promise to show it to us.) Of a hundred members and faces that each thing has, I take one, sometimes only to lick it, sometimes to brush the surface, sometimes to pinch it to the bone.  I give it a stab, not as wide, but as deep as I know how.  And most often, I like to take them from some unaccustomed point of view. Scattering a word here, there another, samples separated from their context, dispersed, without a plan and without a promise, I am not bound to make something of them, or to adhere to them myself, without varying when I please, and giving myself up to doubt and uncertainty, and my ruling quality, which is ignorance.

Sounds like a blogger, doesn’t he?  A blogger, that is to say, like me. Especially where he says “without a promise”.  I keep saying that. Above all there is that “this is what it is and if you don’t like it you know just what you can do about it” vibe that so many bloggers give off.  With Montaigne, we are arriving at that first moment in history when writing and publishing new stuff had become easy.  Not as easy as it is when you blog, but a whole lot easier than it had been.

I transcribed the above quote from Broadbent’s reading of it.  The punctuation is somewhat uncertain, and at one point assertively creative on my part.  I added some brackets, around what is clearly a diversion from his main line of thought to which he immediately returns.  It’s a sideswipe at others and it is then forgotten.

Such is the wonder that is the internet that I had little difficulty in tracking down the quote.  It is near the beginning of Montaigne’s essay entitled “Of Democritus and Heraclitus”, in volume three of his essays.

image

The BBC used a more recent translation, which I much prefer the sound of, it being less antique and long-winded.  And if Montaigne himself was also antique and long-winded, then I still prefer intelligibility to stylistic accuracy.

Sunday October 05 2014

While rootling around in the www like it was about 2003, I found this piece, dating from 2009, which was all about this apparently pretty but otherwise unremarkable abstract picture:

image

In case you don’t already know what is going on here, the big story here is that the blue bits and the green bits are the same colour.  What colour your eyes see something as depends on the other colours in the immediate vicinity.

The writer linked to above found this graphic here, which you can too if you do a bit of scrolling down.

If you saw this around 2009, or something similar around 2003, then apologies for the repetition.  That early period of blogging, just after 2000, will always seem to me like a fleeting golden age, when everything of this sort was being discovered and passed on for the very first time.  Because we could.  Before, we couldn’t.  Now, we could.  But now (as in now), most of this sort of trivia has been in circulation for a decade, and it lacks the impact it once had.  We bloggers must find new things to say, to cover for the fact that blogging itself is no longer new.  This is not a bad thing.

Friday September 19 2014

I only found out about the wonder-gizmo below with its 65x zoom (scroll down a bit there) because I had gone looking for cats stuff.

A fun bit of news on the cats front today illustrates how seriously the oh-so-serious Guardian now takes the whole cats thing, along with the rest of the media after a decade and more of cattery on the internet.

A cat-blogger lady called Jackie Smith has done a book of cat pictures, called Cat Walk:

I don’t think Cat Walk is book about cats. It’s about learning to see beauty within arms reach. It’s about hunting for words like a mouse hunts for cats. It’s about walking, but not really covering distance. The same paths are travelled, but each time the light, the season, the thoughts inside make it different. It does have something to do with the character of cats, but also to do with writing, looking, seeing, being in a place.

This man should be told.

My favourite bit is where she says “It’s about hunting for words like a mouse hunts for cats”.  Because it’s not enough to hunt down the right words.  You have then to arrange them in the right order.  I mean, a mouse hunting for cats?  That’s some mouse you got there lady.

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 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:

image

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.

Monday July 07 2014

Not long ago my Computer Guru persuaded me to upgrade my version of OpenOffice to the latest version.  I then had to reset the default font for typing bog standard text into a bog standard word processing file in OpenOffice Writer, latest version.  It insited on using Times Roman 12 pt.  I wanted Verdana 13pt, and eventually I managed to persuade OpenOffice Writer to do this every time.  Then my computer got stuck and I had to switch it off, but when it came back on again, this resetting was forgotten, and I had to do it all over again.  I was back with bloody Times Roman bloody 12pt, again.  It was a small nightmare, again, to get it to do Verdana 13pt, again, without it having to be told, again.

At least there is an internet, to which questions of this sort can be put.  The answers are a maelstrom of gibberish, but at least you narrow the gibberish down a bit.  Main rule: beware any answer which includes the word “forum”.  Forums are full of wrong answers and answers to wrong answers along the lines of: I did all that but nothing happened.

The basic problem with computers is that because they can do more and more with each passing yeart, it is becoming harder and harder to persuade them to do the one simple thing that you personally want them to do.  You are surrounded by vast and growing explosion of things which the damn computer can do but which you don’t want it to do, which makes it almost impossible to find the one little set of buttons that, if pushed, will make it do the one little tiny thing that you do want it to do.  If there are only three available fonts to choose between, and changing that font setting is about all that can be changed, then it is relatively easy.  But the more complicated the programme gets, the more difficult it becomes to make it do “easy” things with it.

And now, with those sneer quotes, I have just discovered that they have to be reset as well.  This has to be done because if quotes are done the way the unmodified programme wants to do them, that buggers up links when I transfer the text to my various blogging locations.

That was a nightmare too, first time around.  Now, I must endure that nightmare, again.

The fact that there are now two – maybe several – versions of “Open Office Writer” (those sneer quotes are now working, it would appear) out there adds an extra dimension of shititude to this whole shitty shituation.

I still have to make the damn programme refrain from adding extra space between paragraphs.  I do spaces between paragraphs with an extra carriage return, because that too is how text needs to be when I transfer it to a blog.  Bugger bugger bugger.  The nightmares just keep coming.

If you are a geek who understands computer stuff but not people, then your response to all this will be: “Easy – you just to “^)3y6t65+££@{{{ +++ %*%&%**%% ==== XYZXYZXYZ” - what could be simpler?” Answer: Just about anything in the whole damn world would be simpler.

The real nightmare is that soon, all appliances will also be computers.  Whereas it now remains possible to simply switch, say, a vacuum cleaner, you know, on, soon that formerly simple process will become another nightmare of persuasion and internet interrogation, simply to get it to vacuum the way you want rather than the way you absolutely do not want.  People will be buying whole new machines, entirely because they can’t make the damn machine do what the machine is perfectly willing to do, provided only that you know which of seventy-nine buttons to push and what order to push them in.  Ditto kettles, washing machines, fridges, everything.

As I often warn readers, this blog will, as I get older, be, more and more, about the process of me getting old.

Don’t get me started on automatic supermarket checkout machines.

Friday March 21 2014

Scientific American:

The skeletons of six cats, including four kittens, found in an Egyptian cemetery may push back the date of cat domestication in Egypt by nearly 2,000 years.

The bones come from a cemetery for the wealthy in Hierakonpolis, which served as the capital of Upper Egypt in the era before the pharaohs. The cemetery was the resting place not just for human bones, but also for animals, which perhaps were buried as part of religious rituals or sacrifices. Archaeologists searching the burial grounds have found everything from baboons to leopards to hippopotamuses.

BBC:

Three policemen in Pakistan guarding the prime minister’s home have been suspended for negligence after a cat devoured one of the premier’s peacocks, it seems.

It seems?  Well, did it or did it not?

UPROXX:

This Japanese gum commercial makes me wish I had a super fluffy gigantic cat to help navigate the horrors of public transportation and carry me around, avoiding traffic and other pedestrian suckers who don’t have adorable cat chauffeurs. Then I remember that if a cat that big existed, it would probably just maul me to death, ...

Guardian:

Why are there so many cats on the internet?

The problem is that they are asking the wrong question, which should not be “Why cats?” so much as “Why not dogs?” And the answer is that dogs are trying too hard. When a dog gets in a box or hides under the duvet or wears a funny hat, it is because he is desperately trying to impress you – longing for your validation and approval. When a cat does one of those things, it is because it felt like the right thing to do at the time. And it usually was. It is cool, and effortless, and devoid of any concern about what you might think about it. It is art for art’s sake.

This, at any rate, is one of the theories (of which there are an awful lot) about why content related to cats seems to gain so much traction online.

Maybe.  I guess that’s part of it.

The original reason for my Feline Friday cat chat is that cat chat on the internet, at first only at inconsequential blogs such as this one but now everywhere, illustrates that the number one impact of the internet is that there is now a new way to be amused, and cats are amusing.  The serious political impact of this is that with the internet it is easier to concentrate on what you consider amusing, and to ignore what people who consider themselves to be more important than you consider to be more important.  This really ticks them off.  Which is nice.  The internet puts politicians, for instance, in their proper place, on the sidelines.  Cats may or may not be important, depending on how mad you are, but they are amusing.

The willingness of the big old Mainstream Media to tell frequent cat stories, as they now show and do, illustrates that these organs have now accepted that they no longer control the news agenda.  If the people of the world decide that it is news that an angry 22-pound cat that trapped a family of three and prompted a frantic 911 call has been sent to an animal shelter, then news it is, and the big old media now accept this.

Sunday February 23 2014

Yes, I’m afraid I’ve been doing rather a lot of quota posting of late.

So anyway, here’s the link.

And here is the quota photo:

image

That’s actually one of my more favourite recent photos.  It was taken just before Christmas, in Twickenham, where Patrick Crozier lives, through the window of a shop where they sell … things like that.

I like the water on the window.

Monday February 17 2014

I think that this piece by Megan McArdle, entitled Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators is good.

Quote:

Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A’s in English class. (There are exceptions, but they often also seem to be exceptions to the general writerly habit of putting off writing as long as possible.) At an early age, when grammar school teachers were struggling to inculcate the lesson that effort was the main key to success in school, these future scribblers gave the obvious lie to this assertion. Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks. These are the kids who turned in a completed YA novel for their fifth-grade project. It isn’t that they never failed, but at a very early age, they didn’t have to fail much; their natural talents kept them at the head of the class.

This teaches a very bad, very false lesson: that success in work mostly depends on natural talent. Unfortunately, when you are a professional writer, you are competing with all the other kids who were at the top of their English classes. Your stuff may not - indeed, probably won’t - be the best anymore.

If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good. Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. By the time you’re finished, you’re more like one of those 1940’s pulp hacks who strung hundred-page paragraphs together with semicolons because it was too much effort to figure out where the sentence should end.

That last pararaph certainly rings bells for me.  Which is why I find that the cure for blogger’s block is the opposite of self-esteem.  Self-esteem, as McArdle says, gets in the way.  Self-abasement can get you going again.  I’m a crap writer, so anything I do manage to put now won’t make me any worse.  And hey, it may even cheer me up by making me better!

As for that thing about having it too easy in school, I recall Geoff Boycott saying the exact same thing about cricketers.  The ones who were effortlessly good as kids, and who therefore didn’t have to scrap, later often came second best to others who did scrap when they were kids.

Of course, sportsmen don’t procrastinate, because they have a set timetable when they have to perform.  Instead they just do badly.

And I also recall Malcolm Gladwell throwing older brothers into the mix, in one of his books.  Ace basketballer Michael Jordan had an elder brother, who he had to scrap against when young.  I think it was Jordan.

I wrote this just before going to bed, even though I have had the whole day to do something better.

Thursday February 06 2014

I think it just possible that I may have invented that clutch of blogging phrases involving the word “quota” - “quota post”, “quota photo”, or (my favourite, I think) ”quota quote”.  I rather doubt it.  More likely I invented such phrases simultaneously with several other bloggers.  But, if I did invent this quota stuff, kudos to me.  Either way, I do genuinely suspect that 6k at least caught this usage from me.  This being because, like me at the moment (although not always), he (always) likes to stick up something every day.  Despite him having a life, a job, a family, and other such peripheral blogging paraphernalia.

Often, it’s a quota photo.  Like, for instance, this one, …:

image

… which I hereby steal, because I like it so very much.  (The rest of that days 6k photo-output from that day can be viewed here.)

I had been trying for a while to work out just what it was that I found so particularly appealing about this snap.  What was it that I found so particularly … particular?  Then, I got it.  It looks to me, not so much like a real sea, as like a static, plasticated sea, as made by a really, really good maker of models.

The sea looks like it is made not of sea, but of solidified glue, or that see-through plastic stuff, called whatever it’s called.  Throw a tiny ball bearing at this solid sea, and the ball bearing would just bounce off, with no splashing, and making the same noise it would make if bouncing off a table.  The immobile sea would remain immobile, untouched, impervious.

The effect of a solid object rather than a regular sea is, I think, partly the result of the lighting.  The effect is more like the way a lamp is reflected in a shiny table top than the way we usually see light on the sea.

But most of all, it looks somewhat weird because it’s a photograph.  Photographs freeze moving objects into static objects, and sometimes this makes them look entirely different and unrealistic.  A video of the sea would look sea-like.  Videoed sea swallows ball-bearings, just like regular sea.  Just not this sea, as seen and immobilised by 6k.

All this because 6k likes to have something up, often.  And that’s the point of quota posting, for those of us who are suited to it.  If you have reasonable taste, then the mere fact of starting doing a blog posting ensures not only that something will go up, but that, really quite often, something really quite good will go up.  Like this photo, which I consider to be very good indeed.  Often what takes the time, with blogging as with life, is not doing it, but getting round to doing it.  The actual doing is often quickly done, and often very well done.

Some of my best blog postings have happened because I wanted to put up any old something, however bad, and it turned out really good.

Friday January 31 2014

I have my favourite bloggers.  Mick Hartley, 6k and David Thompson being my most regular visitees.  Two of these three (see those two links) often put up clips of their favourite bits of music, which I pretty much always ignore.  Often, when confronted by other people’s favourite musical snippets, I already have music playing, on my separate music box which is nothing to do with my computer and which therefore works when I most need it, which is when my computer is not working.

I tend not to do stick up bits of my favourite sort of music, which is classical.  Partly I’m lazy and am not very clever about putting up Youtube clips here.  But I could put up lots of links (one follows below) to classical stuff.  But, I tend not to.  There are enough reasons for people to strike this blog off their weekly-read list or whatever, without me putting them off even more with bits of classical music.

Now, first off, I have no problem with bloggers posting whatever they like.  Their gaff their rules.  I put whatever I like (as in like to put) here, and they can put whatever they like to put at their places.  But, am I the only one who almost always ignores music at other people’s blogs?  Most of us like lots of random bits of pop music, old and new.  In my case, there’s also a ton of classical classics I like a lot, and others also have their favourite genres that they know all about, adore some of and like a huge proportion of. 

I mention this because, entirely for my own selfish reasons, I particularly want to be able to remind myself of this clip of someone called Yulianna Avdeeva playing Chopin, particularly well to my ear.  And maybe that’s it.  Bloggers use their blogs as personal filing cabinets, just as I do.  They put up bits of music because they want always to be able to get hold of that bit quickly, and now they know they can.  The readers can just wait for the next posting, and pick up where they left off.  (That link, by the way, is to a bit of classical music at a blog that specialises in classical music.  Quite often I do play the clips she features, because her kind of music is my kind of music.  What I’m on about here is musical clips at blogs which are mostly about non-musical things.)

I think another point being made with these bits of music is the point I make with my occasional Friday cat blogging, which is that a lot of the appeal of blogging in particular and life in general is pure enjoyment.  And music, perhaps more than any other art, and especially when no words are involved or in the case of the more upbeat and silly pop tracks, is all about pure enjoyment.

By the way, when I started writing this, I thought that David Thompson also featured occasional pop snippets.  So I went looking for his latest pop snippet, but found that actually he does not do this, or not lately, hence no link to any music at his blog in the second sentence of this posting.  But I did find this talk, by Greg Lukianoff, about the growing menace of the I-Am-Offended industry on American campuses.  Quite long, but recommended.

SInce I started on this posting, Mick Hartley stuck up another pop clip.  Again, I have not listened, and probably won’t ever.

Friday December 13 2013

When tube drivers get above themselves and start doing stand-up comedy routines over the intercom during tube journeys, I find this nearly unbearable.  I think this is because, when on the tube, I go into a sort of trance, basically to cut out the din of the train, but comedy over the intercom makes that trance impossible to stay in.  I find myself listening carefully, despite myself, in case the exhibitionist failed comedian says something of importance, and with that, I am obliged to listen also to the train noise.  Horrible.

This (photoed yesterday by me at Embankment Tube Station), on the other hand, is not something I mind at all:

image

That’s right, platitudinous philosophical ruminations where there should be significant information about service interruptions.  But, it didn’t bother me.  In fact, I quite liked it.

Writing, as I recall writing in this piece (about how to argue), is a branch of good manners.  (In that I actually said “publishing”, but the point is identical.) This is because writing is easily ignored.  It puts the reader in control.

The same applies to blogging, in fact to the internet generally.  It isn’t an interruption.  You are in complete control of it.  Except when the damn thing starts making noises (like those damned tube comedians), that you have to spend ages tracking down the noise and switching it off.

Wednesday November 27 2013

This evening I hope to be attending an Event.  And now, having performed all my obligatory duties for the day, I am turning my attention to this blog.  I am very pleased that for the last however many days it is, I have managed at least one blog posting here every day, and I want today to be no different.

It is now, as I write this, just after 1pm, and the Event is not until the evening.  Yet, I find blogging even under such relaxed circumstances as these extraordinarily difficult.  I do not mean truly difficult.  I merely mean extraordinarily more difficult than it surely ought to be.  Even a window of several hours, yet a window which has a definite end when I have to stop the blogging and start to do whatever it is, seems, maybe, too small.  What if my writing catches fire?  What if what began merely as a small quota thought ignites into a long essay?  What if I suddenly decide that I want to add photographs, know the photographs I want to add, but do not know where they are on my hard disc?

Luckily for me, nothing clever is now occurring to me of the sort that will make ending this blog posting difficult.  No added photo seems needed.  So, I will just end it.

There.  Easy.  I reckon that took about ten minutes.

I will even have time to take some shirts to the laundrette, and have a clean one ready to wear, at the Event.

Saturday November 16 2013

It was Hemingway, I think, who said that thing about how your writing is only as good as the stuff you remove from it, or words to that effect.  (Exact quote anyone?)

And I think one of the reasons why some writers especially like blogging is that a personal, I-write-what-I-please blog like this one (but done by a Real Writer who also does Real Writing) is where such offcuts can go, and still have a half life.  The offcuts are no longer completely wasted.  But neither do they get in the way.

Tuesday November 12 2013

This is a posting of a type that is likely to become more common here, as the years roll by, because it is about bodily discomfort.

The discomfort today, which lasted all day, came whenever I tried to walk, and was all around my midriff.  This was either caused by eating too much junk food, or by the manner in which I slept last night.  Perhaps both.  Maybe it was not junk food, but rather: too much cheese.  The pain is in what I think is called the lumbar region, lumbar being a word I googled with the spelling wrong, making it sound like wood, which tells you that this kind of thing is rather new to me.  Google corrected me, like a rude doctor.  I hope that tomorrow morning all will be well, but just now that does not feel likely.

The blogging advantage of this particular discomfort is that it is not too undignified or disgusting.  I am also beginning to experience discomforts that are very undignified and very disgusting, but these I prefer not to tell you about.

This latter reluctance explains, I think, why the discomforts of old age come as such a surprise to many people.  The previous lot of old people only supplied to me a very censored version of what was happening to them, so I now have to find most of this out for myself.

Although, it could be that the previous lot of old people did tell me these things, but I wasn’t paying attention.

The worst thing about it is that you just know it’s going to keep on getting worse, and worse, and worse.

Sweet dreams.