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: Transport

Monday May 22 2017

Time was when I think I did more bridge postings here than I seem to do now.  Maybe it’s just that I have seen, and said things about, most of the world’s bridges that interest me.  But I have the feeling that rather fewer new bridges are being built these days, and that those that are being built tend to be rather smaller.  Footbridges, in other words.  There’s nothing at all wrong with a pretty footbridge, but there is something super-splendid about bridges like the mighty Millau Viaduct.

Or the mighty Forth Bridge.  Which has been photoed a million times.  What more is there to say about this wondrous structure?  What more is there to see of it?

Well, feast your eyes on this photo:

image

This was first posted here, and was there noticed by Mick Hartley, to whom thanks.

It’s a long time since I’ve seen a more perfect example of the modified cliché photo.  Photoes of the whole of the Forth Bridge are everywhere.  But I have never before seen a photo of only the top bits of the Forth Bridge, with cliché Scottish countryside blocking out the bottom bits.  Brilliant.  It even includes a cliché tourist steam train at the bottom.

I wonder, was this photo taken with a drone?  If so, we can expect to see many more such familiar-thing-photoed-in-an-unfamiliar-way photos.

A big reason I have loved all the twiddly screens on all my cameras is that they have enabled me easily to take pictures from both above and below my usual height.  A drone is like the ultimate version of that, because with a drone you can hold your camera hundreds, even thousands, of feet up.

Which I can only do when I’m in an airplane.  (See Millau Viaduct link above.)

Thursday May 18 2017

Funny how you learn things.  I get an email from the Adam Smith Institute, and in it (I don’t quite know why but there it was) was a link to this Guardian piece about Britain’s canal network.

This piece contains many interesting nuggets.  This, for instance:

One of the peculiar and completely unforeseeable benefits of a national canal network is that it means the Canal & River Trust owns a national towpath network, creating an uninterrupted channel of land between the major cities of London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds – the perfect place to bury a network of electric and fibre-optic cables, and to install mobile phone masts. Much of the cable could even be delivered by barge. In total, there are 400 miles (650km) of fibre-optic cable buried under the towpaths that the Canal & River Trust looks after – and the money earned from this helps pay for the upkeep of the waterways.

Well, I don’t know about that “totally unforeseeable”.  But nevertheless: nice.

There are more boats on Britain’s canals, apparently, than at the height of the industrial revolution.  Which doesn’t surprise me because I knew about the huge upsurge in the leisure use of British canals, having myself become a tiny part of this upsurge myself, on foot, with my camera.  And this has often caused me to wonder, have any new canals been recently dug, to facilitate the to-ing and fro-ing of us new canalians?

Yes.  This one:

… in 2002, the Millennium Ribble link in Preston became the first new canal to be opened in Britain in more than 100 years. It joins the once-isolated Lancaster canal to the national network, as had been planned 200 years before.

I could have found this out, presumably, if I had just googled “new canal” or some such thing, at any time during the last decade and a half.

I tried googling for a “new canal”, in the “UK” of course, but couldn’t find my way to this or any other new canal in the UK, which surprised me.  And which means that if I had simply asked my question of google, I might not have been able to answer it.  So, thank you Adam Smith Institute for the link.

Better fifteen years late with this story than never. The Millennium Ribble link itself was first planned two centuries ago.  So that was also a case of better late than never.

Friday May 12 2017

On that wander-around earlier this week, with GD2, there were, as related yesterday, lots of luxury objects to photo.  And I did try, but mostly I failed.  This was partly because luxury objects tend to be sparkly, and sparkly is hard to photo successfully.  But mostly, I suspect, it was just that I’m not used to photoing luxury objects and am in general not very good at it.

There were sparkly animals to photo, such as a bracelet with a tiger on it, and a silver horse rolling about on its back.  But they didn’t come out that well.

There were a couple of incongruously painted pandas (perpetrated by this guy), which I also photoed.

And there was a Bentley Mulsanne parked out in the street looking very good (especially its front lights), the effect as splendidly dignified as that of the two pandas were incoherent, offputting and pointless.  More about that Bentley, maybe, some other time.

Maybe even some more about the pandas, once I have thought of something to say about them other than that I didn’t like them.  I mean, someone obviously does.  Why?

In the end, the luxury item that I remember from that day with the greatest pleasure was this one:

image

The trick with buying luxuries is to buy a category of luxury that you can tolerate being too expensive.  A luxury car would break my bank account completely.  A luxury bracelet would be a non trivial hit, even if I wanted one.  But a luxury ice cream, in a tub that someone has obviously “designed” (to look somewhat like an old Penguin paperback in this instance), that I could happily stretch to.

Tastes differ in such matters, but I found this icecream really tasty.  It was purchased in the cafe at the top of John Lewis’s in Oxford Street.  After we had consumed our various luxury foods and drinks we climbed to the floor above, to the roof garden, where the view of London is not as spectacular as some of the views of this kind, but very satisfying if you are a fan of roof clutter, as I am, especially with the weather being like it was.  Again: luxury.  This time not overpriced at all.

Saturday May 06 2017

I like to photo London taxis, of the sort that have big elaborate multicoloured adverts all over them.  Not so black cabs, you might say.

I encountered this unblack cab in the Cromwell Road earlier this evening, just as it was getting dark.  I like how its colours shone out, in contrast to all the greyness and gloom by which it was surrounded, as if photoshopped:

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But there was something else I especially liked about this taxi and its all-over advert.  Here is a detail from the above photo:

image

What I like is how that little orange light in the side of the taxi has been incorporated into the design of the advert, by becoming the point at which about eleven cake slices of colour meet.

I’ve not seen anything like this before.  That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been out there.  It just means that if it has, I haven’t noticed.

Wednesday May 03 2017

I have begun reading Lincoln Paine’s very big book of maritime history, and it is heavy going, by which I mean that it is heavy.  My eyesight is deteriorating, and I now have to hold books with quite small print, such as this one is, close to my face, and holding this very big book is rather exhausting.

The first chapter concerned Pacific canoeists, whose navigational achievements were stupendous, and pre-USA Americans.  It was no fault of Paine’s, but I wasn’t that gripped, because I had no questions about such things hat I wanted answered.  But then Paine moved to ancient Egypt, and things started livening up (pages 37-38):

In the spring of 1954, employees of the Egyptian Antiquities Service were removing debris from around the base of the Great Pyramid at Giza. The effort was a routine bit of housekeeping and there was little expectation of uncovering anything of significance in a place that had been worked over by tomb robbers, treasure seekers, and archaeologists for forty-five hundred years. As they cleared the rubble, workers came across the remains of the southern boundary wall. This was hardly extraordinary; boundary walls had been identified on the north and west sides of the pyramid as well. What was unusual was that this one was closer to the pyramid than the others. Because the archaeological record had long since revealed the Egyptians’ fastidious attention to precise measurements and symmetries, archaeologist Kamal el-Mallakh suspected that the wall covered a pit holding a boat connected with the funeral rites of the pharaoh Khufu - or Cheops, as he was known to ancient Greek writers living about midway between his time and ours. Archaeologists had found such pits around various pyramid complexes, including that of Khufu, although all were empty at the time of their modern discovery. Further excavation revealed a row of forty-one limestone blocks with mortared seams. El-Mallakh chiseled a test hole in one of the stones and peered into the impenetrable darkness of a rectangular pit hewn from the bedrock. As he could not see, he closed his eyes.  “And then with my eyes closed, I smelt incense, a very holy, holy, holy smell. I smelt time ... I smelt centuries .... I smelt history. And then I was sure that the boat was there.” Such was the discovery of the royal ship of Khufu.

The forty-four-meter-long disassembled vessel had been superbly preserved in its airtight tomb for approximately four and a half thousand years. According to one investigator, the boat’s timbers “looked as hard and as new as if they had been placed there but a year ago.” The boat was almost certainly built for Khufu, the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty. The Great Pyramid was his tomb, and the cartouche of his son, Khafre, was found on several of the blocks sealing the pit. More than twelve hundred pieces of wood were recovered, ranging in size from pegs a few centimeters long to timbers of more than twenty meters. About 95 percent of the material was cedar, imported by sea from Lebanon; the remainder included domestic acacia, sidder, and sycamore. After the pieces had been documented and conserved, the complex work of reconstruction began. The pieces had been arranged logically in the pit: prow at the west end, stern to the east, starboard timbers on the north side, port timbers on the south, hull pieces at the bottom and sides of the pit, and superstructure elements on top of the pile. Carpenters’ marks in the form of symbols in the ancient hieratic Egyptian script gave additional clues about how the pieces fit together. Even so, it took thirteen years before the reconstruction was complete; and it was not until 1982, almost three decades after its discovery, that the Khufu ship was opened to the public in a specially built museum alongside the pyramid.

By any measure, the Khufu ship was an astonishing discovery. The largest and best-preserved ship from antiquity or any other period for the next four thousand years, it reveals the technological sophistication of the ancient Egyptians on a far more intimate and accessible scale than do the pyramids or the more arcane arts of embalming and mummification. Like these practices, the burial of the Khufu ship was clearly linked to death rituals in some way, and there is no clearer indication of the central place of boats and ships in Egypt of the third millennium BCE than their honored place in the sacraments of the afterlife. Together with the other twenty-one Egyptian vessels thus far discovered by archaeologists, to say nothing of the hundreds of models, tomb paintings, and written descriptions of ships and boats, as well as records of river and sea transport, the Khufu ship forcefully highlights the importance of watercraft to a civilization that flourished along a fertile ribbon drawn through an African desert.

Friday April 21 2017

So far, I have only managed seven photo-postings about my expedition to the big old Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which is now in the process of being turned into a bigger new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.  Tomorrow, Spurs play Chelsea in the semi finals of the FA Cup, and in honour of this confrontation, here is Tottenham posting number eight.

I made my way eastwards from the stadium, towards the park and then the canal beside which I hoped to walk south.  But before I got there, I encountered this:

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This footbridge is to be found next to the level crossing at the north end of Northumberland Park railway station.  I climbed up on the footbridge and took this shot, looking south, of that railway station:

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My main reason for showing this is to show you how far away the Big Things of the City are from this vantage point.  This sort of circumstance being why God invented zoom lenses.  Look what happened when I cranked up my zoom, on my trusty Panasonic Lumix FZ200.

What you see here is the miniscule portion of the above view that you see if you follow the railway lines straight to the horizon, and then shift a tiny bit to the left, just past that big spikey thing, to those tiny little things sticking up, just beyond the big spike and to its left, as we look:

image

And what we see is that those tiny things are the Big Things of the City of London.  Gherkin.  Cheesegrater.  Shard.  Plus intervening clutter of course.

Over to the far left of the station view photo you can also make out the towers of Docklands.  But they aren’t that special to look at.  If it weren’t for the pointy one, you’d hardly know how to spot them, because they’d just be a few anonymous lumps.  What Docklands needs is a mega-skyscraper of a distinctive design.  Maybe a thin tower, with a huge revolving restaurant at the top.  Something along those lines.  But I fear that the nearby presence of City Airport would make that impossible, for the time being anyway.

Wednesday April 19 2017

Last August, in Gabriel’s Wharf:

image

Really annoying day, making very little progress on about half a dozen different fronts.

Tuesday April 18 2017

I just spent about an hour working on today’s posting, but it got stuck, and complicated, as postings will.  So here is a shiny car to fill today’s void, photoed this afternoon, in Mayfair:

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It’s the younger, racier brother of this shiny car, which I encountered in 2015.

I still hate and fear golf.

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.

Saturday April 15 2017

Late this afternoon, in Lower Marsh, I came across this classic oldie:

imageimageimageimageimage

I see a lot of vintage cars in Lower Marsh?  Why?

Finally, the penny dropped and I asked the Great Machine in the Sky.  I typed in “vintage cars lower marsh” and immediately learned about this.  Every month, the classic cars gather there:

We meet between 12:00 and 16:00 on the third Saturday of every month at the Lower Marsh Market – on Lower Marsh Street just behind Waterloo Station.

Yes, come to think of it, I always see them on a Saturday.

Mystery solved.

Wednesday April 05 2017

A friend, one who evidently drops by here from time to time, recently noted that I am spending a lot of time in East London.  Indeed I am.

Given that what interests me is places that are changing, and all the cranes and commotion associated with all the change, and then what they finally turn into, this map, of London “skyscrapers” in the pipeline, explains why:

image

I found that map in this report.

The reason I say “skyscrapers”, instead of just saying skyscrapers, is because I doubt whether all these … “skyscrapers” will really be of the sky scraping sort.  I suspect they’ll just be rather tall.  More like tower “blocks”, I suspect, most of them.  Or maybe something between a block and a true skyscraper.  Well, we shall see.

More interesting, to me, is that obvious hot spot there, in Tower Hamlets.  There is a London borough that is really living up to its name.  Just now, Tower Hamlets is also famous for being a hot spot of local government corruption.  There is a lot of news coverage of how former Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman was bullying people to vote for him, than there is concerning mere money grubbing.  But you can’t help wondering if all those planning permissions were somehow a part of this story.

I remember, when I was a teenager, travelling through Croydon on a bike trip I was making around London, to get a ferry to Scandinavia.  (Ah how I wish there had been digital cameras then!) And the thing was, Croydon was then a brand new tower cluster.  I was amazed, as it came into view over the brow of a hill.  It was the nearest thing I had ever then seen to Manhattan, in this then green and cautious land.  And a year or two later, a whole bunch of Croydon councillors found themselves in jail.  I remember thinking then that if crooked councillors are what it takes for a decent cluster of towers to get built, then I’m for it.

It stands to reason that planning permission is going to go to the highest (in both senses) bidder, from time to time.

On the other hand, it could just be that the whole of London wants lots of towers in that part of town.  Greenwich is also heavily involved in that hot spot, and I am not aware of any above average degree of corruption there.  Comments from people better informed about such things than I am would be very welcome.

Throughout my decades of living in London (about four of them so far) I have been feeling the centre of gravity o

Monday April 03 2017

This afternoon I checked out London Fields, hoping for views of Big Things.  But the clearest Big Thing views I got from the trip were taken from London Fields Overground Station.  This is because London Fields Overground Station is, to coin a phrase, overground.  It’s at roof level rather than ground level.  London Fields, on the other hand, is a collection of fields, with lots of trees everywhere.

Big Things were to be seen through the beginnings of the summer’s greenery-to-come, but only very dimly:

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Actually, I have to admit that with those trees looking all springy and everything that’s quite a sweet looking photo.  But on the whole, views of Big Things from higher up tend to be more varied and more interesting.  You can include more interesting backgrounds and go looking for interesting alignments.

Whatever.  From London Fields station I also immortalised this excellent clump of roof clutter:

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I took other photos for reminding me of the shape of the building as a whole, and that meant that I and google maps were quickly able to learn that this is the tower in the middle of Pitcairn House.  Follow that link, and you will see that Pitcairn House is two quite big slabs of housing, but because there are two curved roofs over most of it, with only the top of that tower being easy to get to, all the clutter has to be concentrated in that small spot.

Monday March 27 2017

Today, in the cloudless weather ordained by our omniscient short-term weather forecasters, I took a quite long walk beside the River Lea, out east.  The clocks having just gone forward, there was suddenly a decent amount of daylight, so I took my time and just carried on walking, and now I am knackered.  So, it’s quota photo time:

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That was taken at Canning Town, where I was switching from the Underground to the Overground.  It’s one of those I Just Like It photos, as in: I hope you like it too, but I realise it isn’t that remarkable.

There were no clouds in the sky, but there was something in the air.  Mist?  Pollution?  Whatever it was, it had the effect of turning all distant objects from their usual appearance to a flatly uniform grey, like I’d pushed some kind of Photoshop button.  Those are the Docklands Towers in the distance, looking flatly and uniformly grey.  That one pointy tower makes the whole cluster recognisable.  Increasingly, and as I think I am starting to say quite often here, I find myself valuing recognisability over mere beauty.

I don’t usually like it when street lamps get in the way.  (Street lamps in London always get in the way, of every picture I ever try to take, or so it sometimes seems.) But I rather like the way these ones have come out.  The nearer one frames the view rather nicely, and the more distant one poses in a dignified way, in a way that fits in well with the rectangular shapes in the gas-holder.

I totally trust the weather forecasters.  I left my umbrella behind, and wore fewer clothes than ever before this year.  And it worked.  No rain, no cold.  And not quite so knackered from carrying unnecessary garments.  But still knackered.  So that is all, and I wish you all a very good night.

Sunday March 26 2017

I just sent out the mass email flagging up Chris Cooper’s talk on the Rise of Our Robot Overlords, chez moi, next Friday.  I have asked his permission to reproduce his entire spiel.  Meanwhile, here is how it begins, which I really like:

I’ve only recently realized the staggering implications of the project of AGI, or artificial general intelligence – the Holy Grail of present-day AI research. (I prefer to talk about AGIs, or AGI systems, rather than “robots”; “robot” has tin-man connotations that are part of the problem – they suggest the possibility of fraternization.) …

Which is why the talk is now officially entitled: “The Threat to Life and to Liberty of Artificial General Intelligence”.

These robots, whose pronouncements I have been following in recent days and weeks, don’t seem very fraternal:

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They sound more like they’re artificial general intelligence.

Tuesday March 21 2017

Indeed:

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Leake Street is that tunnel under the Waterloo approach tracks, filled with an ever-changing display of grafitti.  And of photoers photoing it.