Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Most recent entries
- The hottest day of the year (5): Old Citroens in Roupell Street
- The hottest day of the year (4): An antique view from Waterloo
- Large number of jobs
- The draw that turned out not to be
- Ghostbusters sculpture advert at Waterloo Station
- On the connection between drinking lots of coffee and living a long and healthy life
- Spraycan with moon
- Gherkin in splendid isolation
- Bird – and bird close up
- LIFE at the Park Theatre
- London looking like Dubai
- Illness and coolness
- Photoers photoing the views from the Tate Modern Extension
- Nelson statue in Greenwich
- Views from the new Tate Modern Extension
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Category archive: Travel
I’ve been suffering from something a lot like hay fever. Yesterday, the doctor gave me some anti-hay-fever spray to spray it with, up my nose, which I hate. My symptoms are: aches and pains that wander around all over the left side of my head. I knew you’d be excited.
But, from the same doctor who wants me to spray chemical effluent up my nose I learned that if you get something stuck in your throat, which is what set all this off, they recommend: coca cola. I did not know that. So last night, when I went out for drinks, someone offered me a drink, and I though, no I’ve had enough (what with the headaches and so forth), but then I thought: yes, get me a coca cola. Apparently it clears out stuff in your throat by dissolving it. How come it doesn’t dissolve your entire mouth? (Maybe it does.) But whatever, it felt like it worked, and I’m drinking more coke now.
Last night, at that drinks gathering, I heard something else diverting.
We were having a coolness competition. What’s the coolest thing you’ve done lately? That kind of thing. I contributed the fact that my niece is about to become the published author of a work of crime fiction, which is not bad, and which I will surely be saying more about when this book materialises. It will be published by a real publisher, with an office in London and a name you’ve heard of, which intends to make money from the book and thinks it might. More about that when I get to read it. I usually promise nothing but I do promise that, here or somewhere I’ll link to from here. It would be a lot cooler if it was me who had accomplished this myself, but it is pretty cool even from a moderately close relative.
But another friend from way back whom I hadn’t seen for years trumped this, with something which in my opinion made him the winner, not least because he did the thing in question himself.
Remember the Concorde crash in Paris, back whenever it was, just before 9/11. And remember how the other Concordes all got grounded for ever after that crash. What you may not recall quite so clearly is that the other Concordes were not grounded for ever immediately after the crash. That only happened a few weeks later. And my friend told us that he took a trip on Concorde, on the day after the Concorde crash. How cool is that? Very, I would say. There were many cancellations, apparently, but he was made of sterner stuff, which is all part of what made it so cool.
I know, a bit of a ramble. It comes of me being somewhat ill. Illnesses can be cool, I suppose. But this one, which is just uncomfortable enough to be uncomfortable, but which hasn’t actually stopped me from doing things, merely from doing them energetically and enthusiastically, definitely isn’t cool.
Here is a photo taken by a friend with her mobile, of a construction site in New York, complete with cranes:
I love it when friends send me snaps of things they know I will like.
I am particularly glad to see New York construction cranes in action. After doing that posting about how there has been no construction in the southern end of Manhattan, mentioning absence of cranes as evidence of no construction, I started to wonder if, in New York, they do things differently. I wondered if they built skyscrapers without using cranes, but just lifting all the stuff up the building, as they built it. Or something. But of course they use cranes in New York, same as everywhere else.
Just to be quite sure about that, I googled “construction cranes new york”. And I was greeted with scenes of crane carnage like you would not believe.
Apparently cranes in New York occasionally fall over, and this is the one time when the average person is interested in them. As a result, the average person has a totally distorted idea of the positive contribution made by construction cranes to modern society.
I already showed you some Narbonne bridges, snapped during my France expedition. Here are more bridges.
Are these first lot of bridges really bridges, or are they just buildings with holes in the bottom of them to let people through? I reckon these make the cut, but once the buildings start really piling up on top of the holes …?:
I’m doing these bridge photos in sets of three, and next is a clutch of photos of a set of three bridges that connect the town of Ceret to the other side of the local river. Picasso spent time in Ceret, because of the light. (I also photoed Renault Picassos.)
The regular shot of these bridges is from below, as you can see if you click on the second of these photos. But I was with people who were in a hurry, so I only got to photo the bridges from the other bridges, or in one case, the shadow of a bridge, from the bridge. And oh look, photographers!:
In the first of these next three bridge photos, there are three more bridges, by my count. They’re in the seaside town of Collioure. The other two are in Perpignan, where, just like in Quimper (where I have also visited these same friends (G(od)D(aughter)2’s family) – they have houses all over the place), there is a river flowing through the middle of the town with multiple bridges over it.
Finally, here are some rather more modern bridges. First there is one of the main motorway from France to Spain, which carries a lot of lorries.
The motorways of Europe may, I surmise, be the place on earth where robot drivers have their first seriously big impact. Robot cars are too complicated, and to start with, what will be the point of them? But robot lorries will be able to travel a lot faster than regular lorries, for a lot longer than regular lorries, on roads that are the most controlled and predictable roads in existence. European motorways carry colossal amounts of freight, unlike in the USA, where a lot freight goes by train, Europe’s railways being full of passenger trains. And there’s nothing like a sight of this particular motorway, handily shown off by being placed on the side of a mountain in full view of the local and non-charged version of the same road, to see all this.
In the middle below is a hastily snapped shot from a bridge as we drove over it, over a newly constructed high speed passenger railway, again connecting France to Spain. Brand new railways lines have a certain pristine charm, I think, with the gravel under the tracks yet to be blackened by constant use.
Finally, we have what may well be my favourite South of France bridge photo of them all, on the right there. This is one of those unselfconsciously functional footbridges, which more and more abound in towns and cities (London has many such bridges), and which join work spaces off the ground to other work spaces off the ground. This particular footbridge is in Perpignan.
Quite why such bridges, which have long been around, are now proliferating is an interesting question. Maybe it is just that organisations are getting bigger, and demand bigger buildings, and connecting two buildings by a footbridge of this sort turns two buildings into one building, at any rate for certain purposes. If two bureaucracies that live across the road from each other merge, then a bridge joining the top floors together is the logical first managerial step. This allows the new bosses to commune with one another, without having to trundle up and down and across the road all day long, rubbing their shoulders with the unclean shoulders of their underlings. Lower footbridges bridges enable functional specialisation to proliferate among lesser personages.
But, what do I know? My point is, I like such footbridges. And whereas most of the other bridges in this posting are the sort that feature in lots of other people’s photos and in picture postcards, these Brand-X urban footbridges are only a Thing because I say they are. Which is a major purpose of truly good photography. Truly good photography doesn’t just celebrate the already much celebrated; truly good photography offers new objects of potential celebration.
So now I will celebrate this Perpignan footbridge some more:
For years I have struggled, with the graphics programme I have been using, to crop, not square (an option this programme does offer), and not to a size I specify (ditto), but to a ratio that I specify. For years, I could not do that. I repeatedly searched for such a thing, in other programmes, but evidently didn’t pick the right words.
Then, in France, I couldn’t remember the mere name (on such things do decisions hinge) of my regular photo-editing package, so I loaded PhotoCat, basically because it had “cat” in its name and I reckoned I could have Friday feline fun with it (ditto), to see if I could photo-edit with that, and I could, and I could do constant ratio rectangular cropping which was a most welcome surprise.
Thus are decisions made, by computer operatives. There are two rules for getting things done in the modern world. (1) Do not unleash solutions upon circumstances which are not a problem. If it doesn’t help you to do something that you need to do, don’t bother with it no matter how cool everyone else says it is. Cool is not a good enough reason to be faffing about with something. (Faffing about to no purpose cannot be cool, because it isn’t, and because another rule is: worrying about being cool guarantees that you won’t be.)
And (2): if it does help you to do just one thing that you do want to do, then, if you can afford the money, the space, the bother, whatever, use it. Then, when you are using that thing for that one essential thing, then, you can move onwards to finding out if it will do any other merely desirable things. But, lots of merely desirable things and nothing essential is not good enough.
Using anything is difficult, if you only use it occasionally, to do something merely occasionally desirable. This rule applies at all times, in all places, and no matter how “user friendly” the gizmo or programme claims itself or is claimed by other users of it to be. Occasional is bother. Always. Don’t do occasional if you can avoid it.
Using anything is easy, on the other hand, if you do it regularly. This rule applies at all times, in all places, to all things, and no matter how “user hostile” enemies of the gizmo or process claim it to be. If a convoluted dance around the houses by a complicated route gets you an essential result, then dance. Convoluted will quickly become imprinted on your brain, and easy, and reinforced each time you (frequently) use it. This is how rats and ants do things. (Hurrah: other creatures!) They’ll probably outlast us. Ants definitely.
The above explains why the division of labour was so epoch-making. When you concentrate entirely on a small but rather tricky part of a big process, you will do it massively better than others attempting this tricky operation only sometimes, in among all the other things they are attempting. The damn near impossible becomes routine and easy.
So, I prepared for a life of frequently PhotoCatting fixed-ratio rectangles out of my photos. Using PhotoCat for that one thing.
But then, earlier this week I was cranking up PhotoCat, prior to some fixed-ratio cropping, and it refused to load. It got to 80%, and then stuck there. Who knows why? Was this PhotoCat’s fault? Was it something I was doing? Probably the latter, but that isn’t the point. It didn’t load. So, I went looking for alternatives, and I found one, called: PhotoPad.
And the bad news for PhotoCat is that PhotoPad also does proportional ratio cropping, and does it rather more conveniently, because PhotoPad operates on my hard disc and doesn’t have to be uploaded from the www each time. Unlike PhotoCat, PhotoPad is not www based, or whatever you call it, which I prefer because you can still use it if the www is out of action. It’s now all mine:
That being a snap of a rather unusual form of transport that I snapped, in France. I like how you can see what’s happening there, like when they zoom in on a detail in a computer picture in NCIS or a movie or something similar. (Question. Does art lead life in computing? Does stuff like the above start out in the movies, just so absolutely everyone can get what’s going on, and then migrate to real life?)
PhotoPad does something else which PhotoCat didn’t do, or not for me, which is rotate much more exactly. Most photo software seems to want to offer only rotation in 1 degree increments. If they can do better, they don’t volunteer the fact. But, PhotoPad does volunteer this. With PhotoPad, instead of rotating something 1 degree or 2 degrees (or 359 degrees), you can do 1.38 degrees or 1.77 degrees or 358.61 degrees. You’d be surprised, perhaps, how often that is a desirable refinement. You can do it by eye, and let the numbers take care of themselves. Terrific. Cool, even.
So. PhotoCat now offers me … nothing. So, … see above.
Just now, while checking out the PhotoCat link for this posting, I successfully cranked up PhotoCat. Whatever went wrong before has now gone away.
Another French picture, but this time taken in Paris, by my friend Antoine Clarke (to whom thanks):
That would be La Defense, unless I am much mistaken, that being Paris’s new Big Thing district.
I cropped that photo slightly, to moderate that leaning-inwards effect you get when you point a camera upwards at tall buildings.
The email that brought the above snap to my desk, earlier this month, was entitled “warmer than when you were here last”. When I last visited Paris, it was indeed very, very cold, so cold that water features became ice features (see the first picture there).
Today, Antoine sent me another photo, also suffering somewhat from leaning-inwards syndrome, and also cropped by me, more than somewhat. See right.
Mostly what I think about Antoine’s most recent picture is: What an amazing crane! So very tall, and so very thin. It’s amazing it even stays up, let alone manages to accomplish anything. I don’t remember cranes like that existing a generation ago, but maybe that’s merely because no towers that high were being built in London. Not that Antoine’s crane is in London. It is somewhere in America, but where, I do not know.
I just did a bit of googling for books about cranes, and if my googling is anything to go by, books about construction cranes and their history are a lot thinner on the ground than are construction cranes. When you consider how many tons of books have been written about the buildings that construction cranes construct, it is surprising that so little is written about the mighty machines without which such construction would be impossible.
It reminds me of the analogous profusion of books on the history of science, and the comparative neglect of the history of scientific instruments.
As I think I have written before, one major defect of my blog-posting software is that I do not get an accurate picture of how the final blog posting will look, and in this case, whether there is enough verbiage on the left hand side of this tall thin picture of a tall thin crane, to prevent the picture of the tall thin crane impinging upon the posting below. Hence this somewhat verbose and superfluous paragraph, which may not even have been necessary, but I can’t now tell.
I am a very infrequent flyer, and the thrill of flying that I felt as a child has never really left me. As Louis CK has it, I’m in a chair in the sky, travelling at an unimaginable speed. And the magic of flight is, for me, even more magical if you can see out of the window, so I like to pay extra for a window seat, and ever since digital cameras, take digital photos. I’ll never forget photoing the mighty Millau Viaduct, back when I did that.
So, today, on the way back from Perpignan to Stansted, I took photos through the window. But the clouds today were very cloudy and the only photo I took today that I consider worth a second look was this one, not of what I saw through the window, but of the window itself:
Those little things that look at bit like flying birds or insects are actually cracks in (on?) the glass, right? So, how is that safe? How is that allowed? I did a bit of exhausted googling just now, and got nothing, but I did try. (Maybe there is an answer in this, but I couldn’t quickly find it.) I’m not saying it’s unsafe, and that it shouldn’t be allowed, because obviously it is allowed, and it’s obviously safe. Flying is safer than crossing a road, and if those cracks were going to split the airplane open, they’d not be allowed. But to me, that’s what’s interesting. These little cracks are obviously not going to get bigger, any time soon. Assuming cracks is what they are.
LATER: Thanks, as always, to Friday Night Smoke, for one of his always informative comments, on the above. He tells us that these are not cracks, but little bits of ice. Further inspection of my photo archive confirms this.
Obviously, being ice, these “cracks” are on the outside of the plane, on the outermost of the three layers of airplane window. Soon after the photo above was taken, the Ryanairplane descended into the clouds over Stansted Airport, at which point I took the photo below. At the time, what interested me was that the water was moving upwards across the window, on account of the airplane descending. But now what it proves is that those “cracks” have now melted:
I don’t know what that road is. Presumably something near Stansted Airport. Google maps google maps: M11.
Today, I will be journeying from Thuir to Narbonne, to hear a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in Narbonne Cathedral. I will share the car journey with G(od)D(aughter) 2’s parents, the soprano soloist, the mezzo-soprano soloist (GD2), and the baritone soloist (I wrote about his performance as Sir Despard Murgatroyd in Ruddigore in June of last year). I heard a tiny snatch of these three singers rehearsing this afternoon. Despite an unforgiving acoustic (quite unlike the cathedral), and the then very incomplete orchestra, it sounded to me like it will be excellent, particularly the three soloists I will be rooting for. I heard nothing of the chorus, but conductor François Ragot is much loved by all and I’m sure they’ll do well.
Later, I also got hear a distant snatch of the piece that will proceed the Requiem, Mozart’s similarly beloved Clarinet Concerto. That too sounded very promising.
I mention all this now (now being the very small hours of the night before) because today (i.e. tomorrow) looks like being a complicated day, and the option of not doing anything more here today (i.e. tomorrow) is one that it will be very convenient to have.
Postcards like this one, which I photoed this morning, in ... well, you can see where:
Why not just take my own photos?
Well, I do take my own photos, a ton of them, and many of them look extremely like the ones in this photo of a clutch of photos. But what I learn from these picture postcard pictures is what in, in this case, the small historic town of Castelnou is considered by all the others who visit Castelnou to be most worthy of photographic attention. I may agree. I may disagree. Either way, I consider this to be interesting information.
I went Ryanair to Perpignan to get here. I made a point of booking a window seat, but tragically, the wing was centre stage, thus:
I choose that photo to show you what sort of window my window seat was next to. There are nice, clean, easy-to-see-through windows, and there are Ryanairplane windows. So, I didn’t attempt many photos on my journey.
But as we approached Perpignan airport, from the sea, which involved the Ryanairplane obligingly taking a sharp right turn and lowering its wing out of the way, with the snowcapped Pyrenees way out in the distance, I had to at least try:
That being what I finally saw, after I managed to persuade the Thuirian computer that I am now laboriously using, to show it.
Imqgine what it would be like to be able to see this from the top of your house:
I don’t have to imagine this. I am doing it now.
Having had no sleep at all last night, I am in no state to say much more. What I can tell you is that those are the Pyrenees.
I am reading Steven Johnson’s book, The Invention of Air, which is about the life and career of Joseph Priestley.
Early on (pp. 10-12) there is a delightful bit concerning Benjamin Franklin, and his early investigations into the Gulf Stream:
In 1769, the Customs Board in Boston made a formal complaint to the British Treasury about the speed of letters arriving from England. (Indeed, regular transatlantic correspondents had long noticed that letters posted from America to Europe tended to arrive more promptly than letters sent the other direction.) As luck would have it, the deputy postmaster general for North America was in London when the complaint arrived - and so the British authorities brought the issue to his attention, in the hope that he might have an explanation for the lag. They were lucky in another respect: the postmaster in question happened to be Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin would ultimately turn that postal mystery into one of the great scientific breakthroughs of his career: a turning point in our visualization of the macro patterns formed by ocean currents. Franklin was well prepared for the task. As a twenty-year-old, traveling back from his first voyage to London in 1726, he had recorded notes in his journal about the strange prevalence of “gulph weed” in the waters of the North Atlantic. In a letter written twenty years later he had remarked on the slower passage westward across the Atlantic, though at the time he supposed it was attributable to the rotation of the Earth. In a 1762 letter he alluded to the way “the waters mov’d away from the North American Coast towards the coasts of Spain and Africa, whence they get again into the Power of the Trade Winds, and continue the Circulation.” He called that flow the “gulph stream.”
When the British Treasury came to him with the complaint about the unreliable mail delivery schedules, Franklin was quick to suspect that the “gulph stream” would prove to be the culprit. He consulted with a seasoned New England mariner, Timothy Folger, and together they prepared a map of the Gulf Stream’s entire path, hoping that “such Chart and directions may be of use to our Packets in Shortning their Voyages.” The Folger/Franklin map ...
… was the first known chart to show the full trajectory of the Gulf Stream across the Atlantic. But the map was based on anecdotal evidence, mostly drawn from the experience of New England-based whalers. And so in his voyage from England back to America in 1775, Franklin took detailed measurements of water temperatures along the way, and detected a wide but shallow river of warm water, often carrying those telltale weeds from tropical regions. “I find that it is always warmer than the sea on each side of it, and that it does not sparkle in the night,” he wrote. In 1785, at the ripe old age of seventy-nine, he sent a long paper that included his data and the Iolger map to the French scientist Alphonsus le Roy. Franklin’s paper on “sundry Maritime Observations,” as he modestly called it, delivered the first empirical proof of the Gulf Stream’s existence.
I added that map in the middle of that quote, which I found here. (I love the internet.)
Until now, I knew nothing of this Gulf Stream story. The reason I knew nothing of this Gulf Stream story is that I know very little about eighteenth century history of any sort. This book by Johnson looks like it will be a pain-free way to start correcting that.
The weather over the weekend has been excellent, but I have been stuck indoors watching the Six Nations, which England have just won, even though there’s a still another weekend to go, thanks to Scotland beating France today.
I nearly went out today, despite the rugby, which I could have watched the recording of instead of watching it live. But this ...:
... which is the London weather forecast for tomorrow, persuaded me to postpone going out until tomorrow, since the weather tomorrow is also going to be good. Weather forecasts this near to the actual time they forecast are always accurate.
But, where to go. I am fast running out of new places in London to visit. I know that this is not true, but - rather bizarrely - that is how it now feels to me. And in order to make a proper early start, I need a predetermined destination to get me going. But, which destination? Memo to self: before bed tonight, I need to have fixed on something enticing.
What I am already thinking about is to go south, on foot. Across Vauxhall Bridge, maybe, but then, instead of going somewhere from Vauxhall Station, or walking along beside the river, I have in mind to go onwards, inland, in a south-westerly direction. What is Kennington Park? Can Big Things be seen from that? Time to find out. Then maybe wander in the general direction of the City, towards the Big Things.
Important. The mobile phone needs to be powered up, because I will need to know where I am at all times.
Well, the New Year (even though the New Year is actually getting quite old now) Resolution here, to blog early, and sometimes even to blog often, is working well. I haven’t delayed going to bed because of this blog for about a week, and I sense that this may even continue.
Friday is my day for cats, and now also for other creatures, and already this Friday, even though it not yet even the middle of the day, there has already been a posting here about dogs. Republican dogs. That posting is right below this one, but there’s the link anyway.
And here now is another creature posting, about a truly unique other creature - half cat, yes, but also half dog, half bee, half zebra, and wholly suitcase - of the sort that kids can ride, at airports, to stop them getting bored:
Apparently Trunki made the first of these, and then some Hong Kong guys did a cheaper knock-off, and Trunki complained. Trunki lost.
These cases - the physical (suit)case and the legal case - illustrate the fine line that divides a design from an idea:
But five Supreme Court justices unanimously disagreed, and ruled in favour of PMS on Wednesday – stating that while it had “sympathy for Magmatic”, the “Design Right is intended to protect designs not ideas”.
It looks a lot like a design being copied to me. Not that I mind. And actually, I think the Hong Kong version is better, because the original can’t make up its mind whether its eyes are eyes or horns. HK case resolves this by having eyes and horns.
PMS website: here.
Yes, I’ve been continuing to photo taxis with adverts. Here are half a dozen of the most recent such snaps.
First up, further proof, if you need it, that the internet has not abolished television. People still like to be passively entertained, surprise surprise. But the internet is in the process of swallowing television, so that they end up being the same thing:
Next, become an accountant! Note how they include the word “taxi” in the advertised website, presumably to see whether advertising on taxis is worth it. Note to LSBF: I have no plans to become an accountant.
Note also the Big Things picture of London, something I always like to show pictures of here, and note also how out of date this picture is. No Cheesegrater, for a start:
Next up, a taxi advertising a book. I do not remember seeing this before, although I’m sure it has happened before:
Next, Discover America. I thought it already had been:
Visit a beach. I didn’t crop this photo at all, because I like how I tracked the taxi and its advert, and got the background all blurry, and I want you to see all that blurriness. Nice contrast between that and the bright colours of the advert. A little bit of summer in the grey old February of London:
Finally, a snap I took last night, in the Earls Court area. And now we’re back in the exciting world of accountancy, this time in the form of its Beautiful accounting software:
As you can see, it was pitch dark by the time I took this. But give my Lumix FZ200 even a sliver of artificial light and something solid to focus on, and it does okay, I think. A decade ago, that photo would have been an unusable mess.
I am finding that taxi advertising changes very fast these days. All of the above photos, apart from the one with the beaches, was of an advert I had not noticed before.
Which means that in future years, these taxi photos will have period value, because the adverts will have changed over and over again with the passing of only a handful of years.
In other more immediate and sub-sonic aviation news:
Which about tells the whole story.