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

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Category archive: Travel

Thursday June 15 2017

I have posted here recently about the design of tube maps.

And I have posted here about how the Roman Empire surrounded the Mediterranean Sea.

But I didn’t expect ever to be posting about both, in the form of the same piece of graphics.  But now, Colossal has a posting entitled The Roman Empire’s 250,000 Miles of Roadways imagined as a Subway Transit Map:

image

If you click on that, you’ll get it big enough to clock all the station names.  (If your eyesight is in the same zone of dodgyness as mine.)

I actually think that this drives home the point, about Rome surrounding the Mediterranean, very well.  Just giving all the various tribes and countries and kingdoms involved a spanking on the battlefield is one thing.  Roman roads are something else again.  A Roman road says: We’re here to say, and we can do it again whenever we want.

Thursday June 01 2017

Incoming from GodDaughter 2, who has been in foreign parts for a friend’s wedding.  She did tell me where, but the only thing I remember for sure is that this is a picture, as luck would have it, of the very same sea, the Mediterranean, that I was posting about yesterday:

image

I recommend clicking on that.  There’s nothing special going on.  Nobody is photoing, apart from GD2.  There are no distant cranes, no container ship on the horizon.  I just think it’s very beautiful.

Taken with an iPhone.

Should a tube map look like this, which shows the real places and distances of everything, but is confusing, especially if you are looking at the middle …

image

… ?

Or like this, which is the usual way you see tube maps, all designed, with inner suburban distances shortened, to make everything more clear, especially in the crowded middle …

image

… ?

Answer, do the map as a .gif and show both, morphing into each other.

Now that TV screens for advertising are becoming ubiquitous at tube stations, seemingly costing hardly any more than paper of the same size (changed by hand from time to time), why not have TV screens at tube stations with .gifs like this on show?  Maybe you could have buttons on them, so individual viewers could switch from one to the other in their own time?  Would this cause arguments between rival viewers?  Revised suggestion: Have three displays on one screen: on the left, real distances; .gif in the middle; “designed” on the right.

Wednesday May 17 2017

Today I had a New Zealand day.

In the afternoon I had a whole lot of fun catching up with Tony, whom I last saw in about 1763.  Well, 1984, to be exact.  Still a long time ago.  Apparently Chris Tame and I and the Alternative Bookshop and all that had a big impact on his early thinking.  Tony is a New Zealander, who lives in New Zealand with Mrs Tony and the three grown-up Baby Tonys, and he is now on a flying visit back to Europe with Mrs Tony.  Message to Tony: here is Samizdata.

And then after that I attended a double talk at the Adam Smith Institute, by two other New Zealanders, about what we Brits can learn from them about how to make the best of Brexit.  Here are four of the photos I took.  On the left, two of the graphics, 1.1 being the one on the screen before they got started, and the other being about New Zealand immigration, which is apparently a lot better system than ours is.

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

And on the right, the two speakers.  The first one turned out to be a German New Zealander.  Fair enough.  He talked about immigration, and he knows a lot about that.

The second guy talked about agriculture and about fishing.

Saturday May 13 2017

I can’t remember how I came across the blog Sleepless in Barcelona.  But I did, and was intrigued that, like London, it seems that Barcelona likes to advertise itself with an assemblage of its most recognisable buildings:

image

I visited Barcelona in 2005 (I got the date from this posting), and I remember thinking then that, like London, Barcelona was an obvious candidate for this sort of graphic promotion.  Like London, it used to have an upper limit to the height of its buildings - caused by religiously motivated legal restrictions, perhaps?  But now, whatever those height limitations were, they had been overcome or set aside, and the occasional bigger building was sprouting up, in the new “recognisable”, “iconic” style.  Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia used to dominate the city in splendid isolation, the way St Paul’s Cathedral used to dominate the City of London, but for a while now, other, secular Big Things have being permitted.

More Barcelona graphic assemblages here, and in lots of other www spots too, if google images ("Barcelona skyline") is anything to go by.

Here is another such piece of graphic promotion, this time more colourful:

image

Just as with London, and with quite a lot of other cities, two of the key breakthrough modern Big Things were telecoms towers.  Montjuïc Communications Tower and the Torre de Collserola.  Both are to be seen on the left side of the above graphic.  I remember noticing both of those very dramatic buildings when I was there, but I also vaguely remember failing to photo them at all successfully.  My camera didn’t have anything like the zoom that my current one does.

Maybe I should pay Barcelona another visit.

Telecoms towers have a typically rather unacknowledged place in the history of modern architecture.  Dating as many of them do from the concrete monstrosity era, they proved, with their popularity and their popularity in particular with picture postcard sellers, that the public vastly preferred amusingly shaped buildings to the usual concrete monstrosities of the boringly rectangular sort.  This caused the Big Thing style to erupt quite a bit earlier than it might otherwise have done.

Sunday April 16 2017

Lincoln Paine is an admirably ambitious historian.  Here is the first sentence (to be found on page 3 of my paperback (but still very big) edition) of the introduction of Paine’s very big book, The Sea and Civilization, which is 744 pages long and which I have just started reading:

I want to change the way you see the world. ...

Good, because I bought this book in order to do exactly that, change the way I see the world.

In the following specific way:

… Specifically, I want to change the way you see the world map by focusing your attention on the blues that shade 70 percent of the image before you, and letting the earth tones fade. ...

Hurrah for the internet.  I went looking for a maritime history of the world and found this, which I might never have done if I had been relying on merely physical bookshops.

… This shift in emphasis from land to water makes many trends and patterns of world history stand out in ways they simply cannot otherwise. Before the development of the locomotive in the nineteenth century, culture, commerce, contagion, and conflict generally moved faster by sea than by land. The opening of sea routes sometimes resulted in immediate transformation, but more often it laid the groundwork for what was later mistaken for sudden change. ...

Here is an example of what you notice when you think like this.  On page 7, we read this, about the USA:

A maritime perspective complicates our understanding of the “westward” expansion of the United States. California achieved statehood in 1851, two years after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, when the territory was virtually unknown to Americans back east and the number of United States citizens on the Pacific coast numbered only a few thousand. Thanks to the extraordinary capacity of the American merchant marine of the day, tens of thousands of people reached San Francisco by ship, a mode of transportation that was faster, cheaper, and safer than the transcontinental journey, although the distance covered was more than four times longer. The United States conquered the interior of the continent - what are today known as the fly-over states, but at the time could aptly have been called the sail-around territories – in a pincer movement from both coasts, rather than by a one-way overland movement from the east.

On my TV I have just recently been watching Michael Portillo investigate that very “westward” expansion of the USA, with plenty of wagons and locomotives involved, but no mention at all of any ships.  So I know exactly what Paine means.

Paine goes on to assert (on page 9) that there have been …:

… changes in the public perception of the maritime world, for the merchant marine and naval services no longer hold the attraction for people that they once did, when ocean liners and freighters crowded the piers of Manhattan, Hamburg, Sydney, and Hong Kong. At the start of the twenty-first century, ships and shipping lines are the warp and woof of globalization. Ships carry about 90 percent of world trade and the number of oceangoing ships has grown threefold in the past half century. But the nature of shipping has led to the relocation of cargo-handling facilities to places remote from traditional port cities, ...

In other words: out of sight, out of mind.

About that, I am not so sure.  Maybe it’s more a matter of degree than he says.  I guess I’m a bit different, in that I have been particularly noticing both what is happening to London’s old docks and waterways (they’re being prettied up for tourists like me and for the new gentry (really, mostly, just indoor and better paid proletarians) who now live next to them) and where London’s new mega-dock is now nearing completion, downstream.  I am definitely not the only one who has noticed shipping containers.  As Paine himself says, in his final chapter, containers are driving globalisation, and much of the globe has surely noticed.  Indeed, this might be why Paine’s publishers judged the time to be right for the switch in focus that he argues for.  On the other hand, I did have to go looking for this book.  Nobody else brought it to my attention, spontaneously, as it were.

Talking of focus, my eyesight has now reached the stage of me only being able to read a book by holding it about two inches away from my face.  Spactacles don’t do it for me any more.  Usually this is fine.  But this is a very big book, and it is going to be a very big struggle for me to read it.  But I am determined to do all the struggling that I must.

Or, I might go to the internet again, and buy something like this contraption.  If I do purchase such a reading aid, it will presumably be as cheap as it is because it recently crossed the world in a shipping container.

Monday March 13 2017

The omniscient short-term weather forecasters have ordained that today’s weather will be very good, so I will go somewhere, and take photos.

Here is where I plan to go:

image

I am interested in Highbury Fields, from where I hope to be able to see Big Things, uninterrupted by the leaves that will spoil such views later in the year.  And I will also, if I have time, investigate the thin strip of green that goes through where it says CANONBURY, a little bit to the south east.  This is part of the New River, more northerly bits of which I earlier explored with Goddaughter One.

I now plan to go there, because I am so old I now need a plan, in order to get out of the house, good and early, in the first place.

Saturday March 11 2017

I spent most of today watching rugger on the telly.

In the first game Italy got beaten by France, and in the second game, Italy got slaughtered by England.

Just kidding.  It wasn’t England v Italy.  It merely felt like England v Italy.  What it was was England v Scotland.  It was a brutal game and several players, both English and Scottish, got smashed out of it.  The difference being that while Scotland have about three superb players around which they have constructed a fine team, England have more like twenty superb players with which they have constructed an even finer team.  Scotland lost one of their best players today.  England also lost an equally good player, from an illegal tackle early on.  England carried on as if nothing had happened.  Scotland were utterly deranged and demoralised.

England were also riled up and determined to do really well, because although they now win every game they play, people had been saying that their last few Six Nations wins were not very good wins, especially the previous one, against actual Italy, where Italy had done some weird stuff with the rucks and had England all confused.  People were saying that Scotland, who have been playing really well, had a decent chance of beating England, despite the fact that the last time they won at Twickenham was in the reign of George III or whenever.

England looked excellent from the kick-off, and I think I must have felt that they were going to win convincingly even then.  I say that because, after about two minutes, one of the Scots did that illegal tackle, so illegally that they were saying he might be red carded rather than merely yellow carded, i.e. sent off for good instead of just for ten minutes.  And I caught myself hoping that he wouldn’t be sent off permanently, because that would spoil the game and mean that England’s inevitable win wouldn’t mean anything.  Much better for England to win against the full fifteen, was my feeling.  Which England duly did.

But those who said England might lose shouldn’t feel bad, because predicting the Six Nations is a mug’s game.  (The only certainly right now is that Italy will get beaten by everyone else.) I mean, put it like this.  Today England smashed Scotland.  In the previous round of games, Scotland hammered Wales, and yesterday evening Wales hammered Ireland.  So, England should have no trouble at all hammering Ireland, in the final game of the tournament, right?  Not necessarily.  The other way of looking at these three games (England/Scotland, Scotland/Wales, Wales/Ireland) is that in each of them, the home team won.  And when England play Ireland, the home team will be Ireland.  England have now beaten France, Italy and Scotland at home, but they only just beat Wales away, with a last gasp try.

But here’s an interesting fact.  Take a look at all the results so far.  Remove all the Italy games, all lost by Italy no matter where they played, and you are left with just one away win, in the form of that Wales/England game.  All the other games between the Not Italy Nations have been home wins, apart from that one Wales/England game.  If England can score another away win next weekend, they’ll be very worthy Six Nations 2017 winners.  They already are the winners.

My guess is that next weekend, England will manage the second of their only two (and the only two) Not Italy Nations away wins of the entire tournament, that Scotland (in Scotland) will smash Italy, and that France (in France) will beat Wales.

Tuesday January 31 2017

Africa is big, and Africa’s rivers don’t help in cutting these huge distances down to size.

More from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography (p. 119):

Most of the continent’s rivers also pose a problem, as they begin in high land and descend in abrupt drops which thwart navigation. For example, the mighty Zambezi may be Africa’s fourth-longest river, running for 1,600 miles, and may be a stunning tourist attraction with its white-water rapids and the Victoria Falls, but as a trade route it is of little use. It flows through six countries, dropping from 4,900 feet to sea level when it reaches the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Parts of it are navigable by shallow boats, but these parts do not interconnect, thus limiting the transportation of cargo.

Unlike in Europe, which has the Danube and the Rhine, this drawback has hindered contact and trade between regions - which in turn affected economic development, and hindered the formation of large trading regions. The continent’s great rivers, the Niger, the Congo, the Zambezi, the Nile and others, don’t connect and this disconnection has a human factor.  Whereas huge areas of Russia, China and the USA speak a unifying language which helps trade, in Africa thousands of languages exist and no one culture emerged to dominate areas of similar size. Europe, on the other hand, was small enough to have a ‘lingua franca’ through which to communicate, and a landscape that encouraged interaction.

I’m guessing that Africa’s famed natural resources (although not of the mineral sort – those natural resources just suck in thieving foreigners) also helped to split the population up into lots of little enclaves, by making it possible for quite small communities to be economically self-sufficient.  Not very self-sufficient, as in rich, but sufficiently self-sufficient not to die out but instead to keep ticking over.

Saturday December 24 2016

How to say that I am at home alone over Christmas without you feeling sorry for me?  I can’t do it, but please: don’t.  In exchange, I won’t feel sorry for you that you are reading this instead of having “fun”.

Each to his or her own, but I love it that holidays, for me, really are holidays, rather than just burdens of a different sort to the more usual ones.  Don’t get me wrong, burdens are often well worth bearing, as when I visit GodDaughter 2’s family in Brittany, and must bear the burdens of living in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar facilities and unfamiliar routines and with the fear of inflicting various sorts of offence and inconvenience upon everyone, with them being too polite to say.  But, these are still burdens.  This Christmas, as is my usual habit, I have been ensconced in my little snuggery, with no burdens at all.

I haven’t been fobbing you people off with nothing but silly old photos because I’ve been gadding about around town, catching up with friends and family and attending swanky functions.  No gadding about.  I’ve been fobbing you off with photos because I have been relaxing, even more than usual.

Here’s another silly photo, to wish you all a Merry Christmas.  I haven’t found any Merry Christmas messages out in the streets lately, so here is a Christmassy photo that I think I took in Oxford Street, definitely in December 2008:

image

Which tells me that I was fascinated by Bald Blokes Taking Photos for quite a while before I had worked this out in the fully conscious part of my head.  I love how green he is.

On Christmas Day itself I will not be alone, for I am to have a Christmas lunch with friends.  This will bring with it the burden of having to travel across London on Christmas Day, which basically means two very long walks.  (I don’t know how to Uber, since you ask.  I’d rather walk.) If I come across any Merry Christmas messages while walking, and manage to photo them, I’ll pass them on.

Sunday December 18 2016

That fog and gloom that I mentioned yesterday seems to have been a more than merely local circumstance.  It caused Travel Chaos and got national media attention.  Follow that link and see pictures of airplanes, trains, cyclists and people, in fog.

Or stay here and enjoy a few more of my foggy photos, or cranes with their tops in the clouds, and roof clutter with more distant roof clutter just that little bit vaguer than usual.  Westminster Abbey looking very vague:

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

Quite a contrast with a day like this.

By the way, that peculiar red spike (2,1) is on the top of the Channel 4 headquarters.  And while looking for a photo that includes this spike, I have just discovered that C4 might be about to leave this building and go to Birmingham.  Blog and learn.

Monday November 28 2016

Today I visited Tottenham, and I intend to return tomorrow, both expeditions having been prompted by these two weather forecasts:

imageimageimage

That I have already decided this evening where I will be going tomorrow, and that I already knew last night what I was going to do today, is typical of how I now do these expeditions.  Trying to work out, in the morning, where I’ll go that day, given that the day is turning out nice, tends not to work so well.  Being old and tired and physically lazy, I have to have an interesting and attractive destination in mind as soon as the day starts, in order to force me out the front door soon enough for the expedition to amount to something.

In this respect, I am turning into my Dad.  When I was a kid I used to tease my Dad about all the planning that would go into family expeditions, and he used to justify this with questions starting with the words “What if?” What if, we get into an accident?  What if, one of us gets sick?  What if, the trains are disrupted?  We need a plan capable of taking care of everything.  I used to think he was being over-cautious, and that we ought to just get started and deal with problems as and when they happened, which they mostly wouldn’t.

Well, as I get older, I become less good at adapting, by which I mean that I can change a plan in mid plan, but that it takes longer and is more stressful.

But more fundamentally, I now suspect that my Dad may have needed his plan just to get him going at all.  Without a plan to drive the expedition forward, with artificially created deadlines and reasonably enticing objectives, maybe he just wouldn’t have been able to muster the energy he needed to lead us forth into the world at all.  Like me, he knew that he would be happier if he did get stuck into an expedition, and would be depressed if all he did was sit at home doing this or that amusing but trivial thing.  So, he would devise plans to make himself do what he wanted to do.  My Dad’s plans were not as he sold them to me, mere precautions.  His plans were energisers.

But maybe that’s just me.

Saturday November 19 2016

I recommend clicking on this:

image

What’s so entertaining about what you get is how commonplace the building is.  How small.  How suburban.

Ah, but if you go down to the basement, and if you can persuade them to give you the key to the purple door (which they won’t but you never know your luck), then in the act of entering, you step through a wormhole and find yourself at the huge BIS base that orbits around Alpha Centauri, which is like the Clapham Junction of our part of the Milky Way.

Meanwhile, this deceptively humdrum little place, disguised as a mere space travel fan club, is to be found a short walk across the river away from my home.

I took my photos of this building and its amusing sign on the same day I took this photo and these photos and this photo and this photo.  That was a good expedition.  Not as good as the expeditions the inner core of the British Interplanetary Society go on, from time to time (think about that), but good.

Thursday October 20 2016

I already showed here some pictures I took in August, in and from Epsom.

Here is another, which shows the whole of central London:

image

Click to get that original size, 4000 pixels across, but the sky, as above, removed.

Most of the well-known views of London are from the north looking south or from the south looking north.  This is from the south west looking north east.  Given that quite a lot of the river, the bit between Vauxhall Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, actually flows south-north rather than east-west, you get some rather unfamiliar ordering amongst the Big Things, with the Post Office Tower, for instance, being quite a way to the left of most other Big Things, on account of it being further “north”, but actually a bit away to the north east.  I knew you’d be excited.

Here is what the original shot looked like, with the sky kept in.  Not a cloud in the sky.  Ah, summer.  It’s amazing how abruptly the summer seems to have ended.  One moment it’s daylight until nine in the evening, now it’s dark at six, and the clocks haven’t even gone forward yet.

Thursday September 22 2016

Continuing with snaps taken ten years ago, in Quimper and nearby spots, the French love their Harley Davidsons.  Here is one:

image

And moment later, I zeroed in on one of this particular Harley Davidson’s details, a lady wearing a yellow top and blue trousers, listening to music, with evident pleasure:

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It’s not the first time I have photoed a Harley Davidson in France.  I still recall this photosession fondly, which happened five years later.