Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: War
I like cricket. And I like drones. But which is best?
There’s only one way to find out. Fight.
Actually, all the drone did there was hover, waiting to be clobbered, which, a minute and a half in, it duly was, by Chris Gayle.
What I want to see is a game where drones fight against each other. Or a war. Either would do.
Or, perhaps a demo.
In an earlier posting I mentioned that I had ordered Marc Morris’s book about The Norman Conquest, and I have now started reading this. (Although for some reason the version of it that I have seems to be the American one.)
The events depicted in the Tapestry are of course highly dramatic, but as Morris relates, so too was the subsequent history of the Tapestry:
By any law of averages, the Tapestry ought not to exist. We know that such elaborate wall-hangings, while hardly commonplace in the eleventh century, were popular enough with the elite that could afford them, because we have descriptions in contemporary documents. What we don’t have are other surviving examples: all that comes down to us in other cases are a few sorry-looking scraps. That the Tapestry is still with us almost I ,000 years after it was sewn is astonishing, especially when one considers its later history. It first appears in the written record four centuries after its creation, in 1476, when it is described in an inventory of the treasury at Bayeux Cathedral, from which we learn that the clergy were in the habit of hanging it around the nave every year during the first week of July (an annual airing that would have aided its conservation). Its survival through those four medieval centuries, escaping the major hazards of war, fire and flood, as well as the more mundane menaces of rodents, insects and damp, is wondrous enough; that it successfully avoided destruction during the modern era is nothing short of miraculous. When the cathedral’s treasury was looted during the French Revolution, the Tapestry came within a hair’s breadth of being cut up and used to cover military wagons. Carted to Paris for exhibition by Napoleon, it was eventually returned to Bayeux, where for several years during the early nineteenth century it was indifferently stored in the town hall on a giant spindle, so that curious visitors could unroll it (and occasionally cut bits off). During the Second World War it had yet more adventures: taken again to Paris by the Nazis, it narrowly escaped being sent to Berlin, and somehow managed to emerge unscathed from the flames and the bombs. The Tapestry’s post-medieval history is a book in itself - one which, happily, has already been written.
What next for it, I wonder?
Ages ago now, before I was ill, I checked out that Suicide Bridge in North London, as reported in this posting. This was a fine destination to have picked for an photo-odyssey, both because the destination itself did not disappoint, and because it was in an unfamiliar part of town, and thus was only the first of many wondrous discoveries I would make that day.
As the years go by, I accumulate more and more photo-collections of such days, and get further and further behind in mentioning them here. Which is fine, because there will soon come a time when I won’t want to be going out at all, just sitting here reminiscing. Then I can catch up. Then I can die.
So, March 8th of this year. I hoover up snaps of the view from Suicide Bridge and then walk away from the top of it in a westerly direction, along Hornsey Lane. I am in Highgate. Then I go north (actually more like west north west) along the B519, past the Ghana High Commission, until I get to a turning that looks like fun again, turning west, again (actually more like south west). I am climbing, still, getting higher and higher above central London. And I take another turn, south, and come upon a miniature version of the Alexandra Palace Tower (that being a bit further out of London, to the north east), beside a lane called Swains Lane.
Here is a web entry that says what this tower is.
And here are some of the photos I took of it and of various decorative effects that it had on its surroundings, on a day that, although getting very dark in parts, is still topped off with a bright blue blue sky, worthy of Hartley himself:
And here is another web entry, which explains what an excellent war this contraption had:
The British immediately realised that the powerful Alexandra Palace TV transmitter was capable of transmitting on the transponder frequencies and instigated ‘Operation Domino’. Using the receiving station at Swains Lane, Highgate, the return signal from the aircraft’s transponder was retransmitted back to the aircraft on its receiving frequency by the Alexandra Palace TV transmitter and hence back to the aircraft’s home station. This extra loop producing a false distance reading.
The Swains Lane receiver station was connected by Post Office landline to the Alexandra Palace transmitter. By using a low-voltage motor, this line controlled any drifting in the lock-on carrier beam, thus eliminating any give-away heterodyning beat-notes.
Which you obviously wouldn’t want, would you?
I love the way things like this look. Totally functional, but … sculptors eat your hearts out. It beats most of what you guys do without even giving it a thought.
Actually, slight correction provoked by actually reading some of what I linked to above. The current structure at Swains Lane is the metal successor structure to its wooden predecessor structure, and it was the wooden predecessor structure which had a good war, but was then blown down by a gale in October 1945.
Had it not been for this extreme weather story, pride of place there would have gone to the report about Quisling getting shot.
I love the internet.
I’ve been reading Paul Kennedy’s Engineers of Victory, which is about how WW2 was won, by us good guys. Kennedy, like many others, identifies the Battle of the Atlantic as the allied victory which made all the other victories over Germany by the Anglo-American alliance possible. I agree with the Amazon reviewers who say things like “good overview, not much engineering”. But this actually suited me quite well. At least I now know what I want to know more about the engineering of. And thanks to Kennedy, I certainly want to know more about how centimetric radar was engineered.
Centimetric radar was even more of a breakthrough, arguably the greatest. HF-DF might have identified a U-boat’s radio emissions 20 miles from the convoy, but the corvette or plane dispatched in that direction still needed to locate a small target such as a conning tower, perhaps in the dark or in fog. The giant radar towers erected along the coast of southeast England to alert Fighter Command of Luftwaffe attacks during the Battle of Britain could never be replicated in the mid-Atlantic, simply because the structures were far too large. What was needed was a miniaturized version, but creating one had defied all British and American efforts for basic physical and technical reasons: there seemed to be no device that could hold the power necessary to generate the microwave pulses needed to locate objects much smaller than, say, a squadron of Junkers bombers coming across the English Channel, yet still made small enough to be put on a small escort vessel or in the nose of a long-range aircraft. There had been early air-to-surface vessel (ASV) sets in Allied aircraft, but by 1942 the German Metox detectors provided the U-boats with early warning of them. Another breakthrough was needed, and by late spring of 1943 that problem had been solved with the steady introduction of 10-centimeter (later 9.1-centimeter) radar into Allied reconnaissance aircraft and even humble Flower-class corvettes; equipped with this facility, they could spot a U-boat’s conning tower miles away, day or night. In calm waters, the radar set could even pick up a periscope. From the Allies’ viewpoint, the additional beauty of it was that none of the German systems could detect centimetric radar working against them.
Where did this centimetric radar come from? In many accounts of the war, it simply “pops up”; Liddell Hart is no worse than many others in noting, “But radar, on the new 10cm wavelength that the U-boats could not intercept, was certainly a very important factor.” Hitherto, all scientists’ efforts to create miniaturized radar with sufficient power had failed, and Doenitz’s advisors believed it was impossible, which is why German warships were limited to a primitive gunnery-direction radar, not a proper detection system. The breakthrough came in spring 1940 at Birmingham University, in the labs of Mark Oliphant (himself a student of the great physicist Ernest Rutherford), when the junior scientists John Randall and Harry Boot, working in a modest wooden building, finally put together the cavity magnetron.
This saucer-sized object possessed an amazing capacity to detect small metal objects, such as a U-boat’s conning tower, and it needed a much smaller antenna for such detection. Most important of all, the device’s case did not crack or melt because of the extreme energy exuded. Later in the year important tests took place at the Telecommunications Research Establishment on the Dorset coast. In midsummer the radar picked up an echo from a man cycling in the distance along the cliff, and in November it tracked the conning tower of a Royal Navy submarine steaming along the shore. Ironically, Oliphant’s team had found their first clue in papers published sixty years earlier by the great German physicist and engineer Adolf Herz, who had set out the original theory for a metal casement sturdy enough to hold a machine sending out very large energy pulses. Randall had studied radio physics in Germany during the 1930s and had read Herz’s articles during that time. Back in Birmingham, he and another young scholar simply picked up the raw parts from a scrap metal dealer and assembled the device.
Almost inevitably, development of this novel gadget ran into a few problems: low budgets, inadequate research facilities, and an understandable concentration of most of Britain’s scientific efforts at finding better ways of detecting German air attacks on the home islands. But in September 1940 (at the height of the Battle of Britain, and well before the United States formally entered the war) the Tizard Mission arrived in the United States to discuss scientific cooperation. This mission brought with it a prototype cavity magnetron, among many other devices, and handed it to the astonished Americans, who quickly recognized that this far surpassed all their own approaches to the miniature-radar problem. Production and test improvements went into full gear, both at Bell Labs and at the newly created Radiation Laboratory (Rad Lab) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even so, there were all sorts of delays - where could they fit the equipment and operator in a Liberator? Where could they install the antennae? - so it was not until the crisis months of March and April 1943 that squadrons of fully equipped aircraft began to join the Allied forces in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Soon everyone was clamoring for centimetric radar - for the escorts, for the carrier aircraft, for gunnery control on the battleships. The destruction of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst off the North Cape on Boxing Day 1943, when the vessel was first shadowed by the centimetric radar of British cruisers and then crushed by the radar-controlled gunnery of the battleship HMS Duke of York, was an apt demonstration of the value of a machine that initially had been put together in a Birmingham shed. By the close of the war, American industry had produced more than a million cavity magnetrons, and in his Scientists Against Time (1946) James Baxter called them “the most valuable cargo ever brought to our shores” and “the single most important item in reverse lease-lend.” As a small though nice bonus, the ships using it could pick out life rafts and lifeboats in the darkest night and foggiest day. Many Allied and Axis sailors were to be rescued this way.
For all his joie de vivre, Jardine is a master drone builder and pilot whose skills have produced remarkable footage for shows like Australian Top Gear, the BBC’s Into the Volcano, and a range of music videos. His company Aerobot sells camera-outfitted drones, including custom jobs that require unique specifications like, say, the capacity to lift an IMAX camera. From a sprawling patch of coastline real estate in Queensland, Australia, Jardine builds, tests, and tweaks his creations; the rural tranquility is conducive to a process that may occasionally lead to unidentified falling objects.
Simply put, if you’ve got a drone flying challenge, Jardine is your first call.
So, Mr Jardine is now flying his flying robots over volcanoes. There are going to be lots of calls to have these things entirely banned, but they are just too useful for that to happen.
When I was a kid and making airplanes out of balsa wood and paper, powered with rubber band propellers, I remember thinking that such toys were potentially a lot more than mere toys. I’m actually surprised at how long it has taken for this to be proved right.
What were the recent developments that made useful drones like Jardine’s possible? It is down to the power-to-weight ratio of the latest mini-engines? I tried googling “why drones work”, but all I got was arguments saying that it’s good to use drones to kill America’s enemies, not why they are now usable for such missions.
Incoming from 6k, with apologies for taking so long to post it:
Would a photo thinned to 18px in height be a record for BrianMicklethwaitDotCom?
For some idiot reason, when I first came across the big image, sideways scrollable, at that site liked to above, I couldn’t seem to manage to download the image, and gave up, hence my request. All I got was the entire page. Just now I tried it again, and succeeded at once. That kind of thing often happens with me. 6K mentioned a resizing site. But of course, resizing images is something I do all the time, with my regular photoshop-clone. My problem was not having the image file in the first place. (I now realise that I did download the image, several times. I just didn’t realise where it had gone. That also happens to me a lot.)
6k also mentions another Bayeux Tapestry sighting he recently made, of bits of it redone with Lego.
First, the BMdotcom headline of the day:
These drones are being used to “monitor”, not for bombing or shooting. Nevertheless, interesting.
In other drone photography news, have a look at the new Apple Headquarters, as it takes shape. This particular movie seems to be friendly, so to speak. Apple would appear to have agreed to it. But what of drone photos and drone movies that are not so friendly?
I first realised that drones would be a big deal when I saw one (with a camera attached) in a London shop window.
Lynn writes about English history, and recommends this book about the Norman Conquest of the eleventh century, which sounds good and which I immediately ordered from Amazon, together with this book, which also sounds good.
Lynn mentions the Bayeux Tapestry, which is apparently one of the key sources for what happened during the Norman Conquest. I knew very little about this, but the Internet answers all questions and answers most of them quite quickly. Lynn herself links to a site about a Victorian copy of the Tapestry (in Reading (I had no idea about that)), in her next posting.
It turns out that the Bayeux Tapestry is the ultimate in horizontalised (that link is to a clutch of horizontalised viaducts here) graphics, as in wide but thin top-to-bottom. It is 230ft wide. And it is 20 inches high. You want wide and thin? I do. That’s wide and thin. Here is a picture of the actual Bayeux Tapestry, as it is now displayed, that makes it look like a giant Metro advert.
In a perfect world, I would be able to find a giant long and thin graphic of the entire thing, which you could scroll through horizontally. And, guess what. It is a perfect world. Thank you note 3, here, towards the end.
Anyone know how I could shrink that down to 500 pixels wide?
Here, as promised, is a big clutch of photos of signs that I took at the Trafalgar Square demo yesterday. If you want to, click on a square to get the original photo. The squares have, in quite a few cases been fiddled out with to make them a bit clearer, but the originals you’ll get to with clicking are exactly as taken.
There were, of course, lots of signs (including many mobile phones and at least one tablet) saying “I AM CHARLIE”, in fact you can see quite a few such if you do some clicking. But, here are all the signs I photographed that said something else as well, or instead:
Of all of these, my two favourites are “Team Civilization”, and “Down With The Tyranny of The Offended” (in French). But demos are at least as much about quantity as quality, and I trust the sheer number of signs shown here (there were plenty more that I didn’t get to photo) makes the bigger point. There were a lot of people turning out to denounce these horrible attacks.
Even the rather or almost completely illegible signs are an encouragement, I think, because what these signs tell us is that quite a few people were present, and feeling strongly enough about it to want to wave a sign, who had never been anywhere near such a demo ever before.
Feel free to reproduce any of these images at will, with or without attribution. If you’d like bigger versions of any of the pictures, my email can be found here, top left, where it says “Contact”.
Spent the day writing half a talk about sport as a replacement for war, for Christian Michel. But, on the night (i.e. tonight), I just winged it. One of the better talks I’ve ever given, which admittedly isn’t saying much. And one of the most shambolically prepared. Now knackered and watching the Wildcard Playoff Highlights on C4. More considered content should follow, Real Soon Now.
I was in Paris in the freezing February of 2012, and while there, on the coldest day of the lot, I visited an amazing exhibition of Relief Maps. Thank googleness for the internet, because instead of having to explain this, I can just give you the link, and let you learn as much or as little about this event as you want to.
Here is the photo:
I can’t remember how exactly all the things that you see there came to look the way they do in that photo, but I’m pretty sure that a big mirror was involved, and also the glass of the big case that this map was in. I can say with absolute certainty that no Photoshop(clone)ing is involved.
The big near-white thing in the middle is a map, on the floor, of France.
Go to the very middle of the picture, and then across a bit to the left and then down a bit, and you will see: me. Wearing a scarf indoors, as was everyone else.
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.
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.
Next Friday, October 31st, Christian Michel is giving a talk at my home entitled, somewhat provocatively: “Soviet and Nazi Art as Illustrations of Ayn Rand’s Aesthetics”. He is certainly not the first to have pointed out the overlap, so to speak.
Here’s what Christian says about his talk (which I “LATER” (Tuesday) realised I need to insert into this posting, near the beginning):
Art does not feature high on the libertarian agenda. One exception is Ayn Rand, who declared that of all human products art is perhaps the most important. She went on to develop her own theory of aesthetics, and even attempted (as did Jean-Paul Sartre at the same time) to deliver her entire philosophy through the sole medium of literature (both failed).
In my talk this Friday I will sum up Rand’s aesthetics, her contribution to the field, and will show that it was nowhere better illustrated in the twentieth century than in the arts of National-Socialist Germany and Soviet Russia. The point is not to denigrate Rand’s philosophy by that association, but to say that genuine artists find a way to convey their deepest values and sense of life, to express the highest human aspirations and struggles, whatever their circumstances, and that’s exactly what Rand celebrated.
And here is something of what I think about these kinds of things.
Just after World War 2, many an artist said things along the lines of: after Auschwitz, we cannot any longer do purely representational art. (Similar things were said by classical composers: after Auschwitz, we can’t any longer do pretty tunes.) But the artists had been abandoning pictorial representation (and tunefulness) long before Auschwitz happened, so “Auschwitz” has the air of being a rationalisation rather than the real reason for these artistic trends.
The crimes of Soviet Communism never had quite the same effect on most of the artists, even as an excuse for abstraction, although there were honourable exceptions (Mondrian for instance). Too many artists admired the Soviet Union, especially during and just after World War 2, during its struggle and after victory over Nazi Germany.
Realistic art had also been seriously deranged by photography. Photography destroyed the economic foundations of your average painter of realistic portraits and realistic paintings of such things as landscapes, and turned art painting into a sort of cultural bombsite, in which (to quote the words of an early twentieth century popular song) “anything goes”, anything, that is, except realistic pictures of people and of things. Realism, for the average artist, just made him look like a bad photographer. Even the claim that “art” now had to be an attack on the delusional bourgeois habit of trying to make visual and conceptual sense of the world has the feel, for me, of a rationalisation.
But there is much more to “realism” than mere realism. What looks at first glance merely realistic is often aspirational, and to abandon the field of representational art to the mid twentieth century totalitarians was surely a propaganda error, to put it no more strongly. For the likes of Ayn Rand, this was a surrender by the civilised world that should never have happened.
To point out that Rand favoured images that resembled Nazi and Soviet art is not to accuse her of being a Nazi or a Communist. It is to realise that she did not want the still immensely potent artistic weapon that is representational painting and sculpture to be monopolised by the totalitarians.
All of which is something of how I see (and hear) the kinds of things that Christian Michel will be talking about on Friday. As to what Christian himself will say, well, we shall see, and hear.
Meanwhile, here is an abundance of visual clues as to the sort of aesthetic territory that Christian will be traversing in his talk. It will be an illustrated talk. Here, without identification or further comment, from me or from him, are the illustrations he has sent me, in the order (I assume) in which he will be referring to them.
A few of these images are small enough to fit within the 500 pixel horizontal limit that prevails at this blog, a couple being very small indeed. But most can be enlarged (a little or quite a lot) with a click:
Earlier this evening I attended a talk given by Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown in Southwark. Read Michael’s background briefing about the things he talked about further this evening, either here, or here.
I have friends who seem to revel in having their photos taken, but Michael is not one of them. He entirely lacks vanity, and tends, when being photoed, to have the look of a man worrying about how bad he fears he will look in the photo. So it was that, having earlier been asked for a photo of Michael by Simon Gibbs, the organiser of the meeting, I was only able quickly to find one that was remotely good enough. (You can see it at the other end of the second of the above links.) This evening I made a particular effort to correct this, and here is one of the better shots that I took of Michael this evening:
The most dramatic moment in the evening came when the Putin-echoing stooge Russian lady in the audience (there always seem to be one such stooge at any public event mentioning Russia and its current policies) tangled with Michael on the subject of Poland. Why were the Poles so paranoid about Russia and so keen to join NATO?
Michael replied with a short history lesson that was brief, and crushing. Nazi-Soviet Pact. (The stooge later denied that this had even happened, so Michael later told me.) Katyn Massacre. Warsaw Uprising. (Stalin parked the Red Army outside Warsaw and let the Nazis crush it.) An imposed Communist government, that the Poles would never have chosen for themselves, for the next half century. Final sentence, something like: “If fearing Russia after all that means you are paranoid, then yes, I guess the Poles are paranoid.” Applause. With any luck, this little interchange will be viewable on video, along with the talk itself of course.
Earlier, the lady stooge had waxed eloquent to me, in the socialising period before the talk, about the superiority of Russian education over English education. She had a point. Russian children are indeed made to work far harder at their lessons than English children are these days. But what if the lessons they learn are a pack of lies?
See also this, recently at Samizdata.
On a happier note, I harvested several names and emails of various young, clever libertarians to add to my Brian’s Last Fridays list. A couple of them being, so it seemed to me, of exceptional promise. (I hope that doesn’t sound patronising.) I was particularly impressed by this guy.