Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Wednesday August 31 2005

A week ago I was in Hampstead for a supper date with Jackie D and Antoine, and was somewhat delayed in my journey, by a sunset.  All had seemed normal and grey and dreary when I set out on my journey from the heart of civilisation to the outer edge of 0207 land.  But when I emerged from West Hampstead tube station, I encountered some extraordinary sunlight crashing in across the railway bridge.  There was a break in the clouds right where the evening sun was.  Out came the Canon S1 IS!

Trouble is, cheap digital cameras, at any rate in my hands, are not necessarily at their peak of performance in conditions like these.  The drama in what you see is in the spectacular contrasts between the bright bits and the dark bits, between where the sun is and where the clouds are, or between the bright orange buildings lit up by the sun, and the dark clouds behind them.  I’m sure there are ways of dealing with all that, knobs I could twiddle, but I don’t know about them properly.

Here is a photo which illustrates the problem.

image

Basically I just stuck my camera over the parapet and hoped for the best, and because of all the rails, regularly polished by trains, I got some nice effects.  But look at that sunset!  Just a blaze of pure white.  It was more interesting than that, believe me.

The purple splodge is some kind of camera thingy effect, or so Bruce the Real Photographer told me when he dropped by.  A more devoted Photoshopper than I, such as Bruce the Real Photographer, could remove it, but I am a puritan about Photoshop.  I think Photoshop is for sizing, cropping, brightness, contrast, and nothing else.  Cutting things out is Stalinism.  It is also too much like hard work.

However, there were some photographable sunset effects to be observed, which I snapped away at more in hope than expecation, but which did come out quite well.

image   image

image   image

Click to get any of those bigger.

The light here is coming in under the high clouds and lighting up the interesting low clouds.  I know, I know, you’ve already seen pretty sunsets.  But for me, this was a little victory, and this blog is all about me and my needs.

I mentioned here the other day about the extreme difference in interestingness, to me, of the Samizdata technological comments and the political ones.

Even – and maybe that’s especially – when I don’t understand the techno-comments, I often still love them:

Julian Taylor refers to silicon-on-insulator technologies. These have been a holy grail for years in semconductors. It’s not that crystals can be grown in any shape which is the potential advantage (every SOI wafer I have seen is a conventional round flat shape), it’s that the transistors deposited epitaxially on top can be electrically isolated, thus avoiding the parasitic capacitances and other parasitic structures inherent in bulk silicon substrates. However, this is easier said than done . . .

And not that easy to say, I would say.

That was here.

Maybe someone will elucidate, here or there.

I’m watching a TV show about movie editing.  And the editors are saying that they totally control the performances of actors.  I wholly agree.

I have seen a lot of movies where the actors got completely trashed by the critics, but where the critics should have trashed the editing.  It’s not the actor’s fault if he is “slow” putting his lines next to the other guy’s, or if he indulges in meaningless looks.  That’s the editing.  Likewise, if the actors look at each other with intense meaning, in a way you can’t forget, in a way that carries so much emotion you want to weep, that’s editing again.

Now Spielberg is saying that the editor is so important, because he wasn’t wrapped up in making the film, casting it, setting it up, directing it.  The editor sees the result of the director’s work with an objectivity that the director cannot achieve.

Okay now let me watch the rest of this.  It’s good.

imageI am listening to a Radio 3 show about Pierre Boulez, in case anything is said by him or about him which will make me despise this man somewhat less than I do.  So far, nothing.

Boulez was not really a composer at all, more one of those many French wordspinner charlatans who have flourished mostly in academia.  The only difference is that Boulez illustrates his wordspinnings with noises, rather than by just letting the words confuse for themselves.

I admire Daniel Barenboim greatly, and he greatly admires Boulez.  But there my admiration for Barenboim stops.  Barenboim does not admire Shostakovich.  Ditto.  The trouble, for Barenboim, is that Shostakovich scores are not complicated.  Exactly!  Shostakovich manages to say a great deal with very little.  Boulez does the opposite, saying very little with great municipal rubbish heaps of noises and printed squiggles to go with them.  Barenboim loves all that complication.  Sadly, there is very little music there.

What music there is there is a kind of post-Debussian, post-Ravelian waterfall – flutes, bells, glissandi, washes of string sound.  Very French.  Boulez’s musical impulses, such as they were, seem to have had little connection with his musical theories, which might explain why the music dried up.

He has been a pretty good conductor, especially, I find, of Wagner.  Boulez was “clear, cool, dispassionate” (the words of an American musician) as a conductor.  Since Wagner provided all the heat and passion you could possibly want, this made his Wagner rather good, to my ear.  Sometimes his Mahler is good too, for the same reason.  But sometimes, he drains the life entirely out of Mahler, and turns conducting into mere arm-flapping and time-beating..

What is coming across very strongly is that Boulez does have presence, force of personality, a steely look in his eye – as well as great charm, which he can switch on like the house lights in a theatre.  You do not forget him.  He is like a great general or a great politician.  Sadly, he uses this genuine talent mostly in the service of foolishness, and to get lots of other people’s money to pay for these foolishnesses.  He has presided over the creation of many publicly funded buildings.  These are (says the presenter) a tribute to his “winning combination of ruthlessness and charm”.

Roger Scruton is involved in this programme, and he is the one who is talking the most sense. “My feeling is that the place of Boulez in the history of music is a very marginal one.” “A brilliant dead end.”

“Mocking Boulez is so very easy to do”, says the presenter.  How true.  He is no harder to laugh at that any other unconscious, non-intentional clown.  If he is a great general, he is one of those great generals who was great, until it came to fighting his most important battle.  Which he lost.

The musicians like Boulez and admire Boulez.  That’s now being explained.  Maybe the truth is simpler, that Boulez is just another of those failed-composers successful-conductors who dominated the classical music scene throughout the last century.  Every one of those big names – Klemperer, Walter, Kubelik, and the rest of them – turn out to have had absurd and pointless symphonies and piano sonatas in their bottom drawers, before they gave in to the inevitable, and conducted great music instead of composing ungreat stuff.  And the failed effort to compose more musical greatness did seem to make them all much better conductors.  They recognised greatness when they heard it, and were able to put it across.  Some of these great conductors did make it as composers.  Mahler, Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten spring to mind.  Some did not bother to master conducting, because the composing went so well.  Shostakovich.  But Boulez’s composing was a mess, and he too switched to performing stuff by others.  He just made a bit more of a fuss of his music than did Klemperer, Walter, etc.  He was that most tragic of figures, an incompetent maker of things, but a brilliant seller of them, thereby publicising his failure far more cruelly.  (Karl Marx springs to mind.  He marketed Capital brilliantly, before he had written it, and after he had written it and knew it to be tosh.  But it is still tosh.  Marx’s failure has been hideously public.)

But, don’t let me stop you enjoying Boulez’s creations, if you do enjoy them.  He isn’t nearly as bad as Karl Marx.  He never did that much harm.  And whereas with Karl Marx, the way it sounded only served to publicise evil nonsense and make it stick all over the twentieth century, Boulez was merely . . . Boulez.

Monday August 29 2005

Madsen Pirie at the Adam Smith Institute blog, also quoted at greater length by Alex at the Globalisation Institute blog:

The reason for optimism is this. One senses the end of an era, as protectionism collapses into a mass of contradictions and absurdities. From the current shambles people are learning that free trade tends to get the goods produced by those who do it best, and we all become richer as a result. It is also easier than trying to micro-manage. Perhaps those who learn will include Mr Mandelson, who is also a very good learner.

Let’s hope so.

I get the feeling here that Madsen Pirie actually knows Peter Mandelson, that Peter Mandelson actually knows Madsen Pirie, that Peter Mandelson might actually read that, and that it might actually help to change his mind.

Far too much “propaganda” is just bombastic name-calling of the sort that hasn’t a prayer of changing the mind of the man being criticised.  The text is: You fool!  But the sub-text is: He’ll never actually listen to me, (a) because no one important listens to me, and/because (b) I am too much of a fool.  For a thousand examples you need look no further than the political, “Bliar” (how I despise that word) type comments on Samizdata.

The Madsen Pirie quote above is the opposite of all that drivel.

(By the way I am not trying to persuade such commenters to mend their ways with what I am saying here.  I am trying to persuade you not to imitate them.  You are persuadable and worth persuading.  They are not and not.  Although, come to think of it, if you denounce a class of people as idiots, rather than picking on one of them by name, maybe you will persuade some of the idiots to leave the herd and mend their ways and become ex-idiots.  So maybe I am trying to persuade these idiots to mend their ways.  Yes.)

The technological comments on Samizdata are quite different and frequently superb.  See, e.g., some of the comments attached to this posting about nanotechnology that I did there last week.

Continuing on from the posting below: (a) the record is now officially broken, but (b) I still seem to have a standard size for what starts out as a short posting.  Such short postings still seem to end up occupying most of the screen, even if not three or four screens.

My short postings are not, in short, Instapundit style short postings, which occupy only one line.  I hope to have at least one such today.

Yes.  If I want to have a better blog, and I do, the thing I should avoid is a sense of routine, and if I have a one-posting-per-day-minimum rule, as I do, the thing to avoid is having one standard sized and quite long posting every day.  Quite often I think I should chuck in a few extra smaller postings, Instapundit style.  (That man really is a genius, I think.) The vital thing that should be suggested here is that my mind is alert, responsive, not the same all the time.

That’s also why I have lots of pictures, and varied pictures.  They suggest (to me) that trouble is being gone to, bother incurred.  They are the visual surface of the fact that every day things here are somewhat different.

Breaking this number-of-postings-in-one-day record will not be hard.  This is already only the second day that I have had more than one posting here.

I also, as this posting illustrates, actually like the navel gazing thing, especially during the early voice-finding stage of a blog’s existence, which I am definitely still at here.  Patrick Crozier does this kind of thing very well, I think, every time he starts a new blog.

Just what are the rights and wrongs of photographing other people without their consent?  I mean, if someone is obviously showing off, you’re allowed to look, aren’t you?  And if you can look, can you photo?  Or are you stealing their soul?

Michael Blowhard is interested in this one too:

I find myself wondering how the girl in these photos (NSFW) would react if she were ever to run across them on the web. Perhaps she’d feel violated, hurt, and enraged. On the other hand, she looks great. She’s fit, she’s young, and she’s full of humor and spirit – she’ll probably never look better. And it wasn’t as though she was keeping her joy and her freedom entirely to herself at the time the photos were taken. So maybe she’d feel delighted instead.

If I’d been taking these photos, the frumps in the background would have been pin sharp and the goddess in the foreground would have been a blur.

My weekend has been utterly deranged, as has my writing for Samizdata, by the test match at Trent Bridge.

England won, just, and as soon as that had happened, at which point it all became something I wanted to remember rather than forget, I started snapping away at my TV set.  Here’s a picture, chosen in great haste, for it is already around midnight.

image

I find these photos of TV coverage extraordinarily satisfactory as souvenirs, and particularly so now that I have an entirely satisfactory place to put them on the Internet, namely here.

It’s an odd situation.  My tape machine can’t record digital TV, only the old kind, and the old kind comes out blurry on my TV.  So, photo-ing my TV turns out to make more sense to me than taping.  Odd, but there you go.

I like everything about these pictures, even their technical defects.  Interference patterns, often with pretty colours involved, of the sort you would never have seen in the original.  Black horizontal patches for no reasons.  The black margins around them.

I have a similar clutch of pictures on my hard disc, taken of my TV set on September 11th 2001.

Saturday August 27 2005

I have just been watching Bromwell High on Channel 4 TV.

image

It is very good.  I particularly like the white girl on the left.

The brown one on the right is called Nutella, I think, which is also very funny, I think, because that is, I think, some kind of sandwich spread.  Or it would be funny, if she were not actually called Natella.  Or maybe the white one is Natella, and the brown one on the right is called Latrina.  Also a funny name.  The website is not very helpful about who each character is.

But I repeat.  It is very good.

I like pictures like this, of antiquity reflected in modernity.  (I feel another potential series coming on.)

image

This photo was taken in San Francisco, by this guy.  Even more interesting, for me, was the way someone tried to stop him:

Yesterday I was shooting some photos of One Bush St. (the building where Bush and Market Streets intersect) when their security guard came out of his little glass jewelbox lobby hut to ask me to stop taking photos of the building. He said it was illegal. I moved to the sidewalk and continued taking photos and he again asked me to stop. When I told him I was on a public street sidewalk he said that actually they owned the sidewalk and that I was going to have to stop taking photographs.

At this point I told the little guy to call the police and have me arrested which he said he did. He then proceeded to follow me around the building, from Bush St. to Battery St. to Market St. to Sansome St. and try to physically put his hand in front of the lens of my camera as I shot the building. Fortunately I was taller than he was so I was able to hold the camera out of his range. It was kind of comedic actually.

Although I’ve been harassed many, many times for taking photos (the camera goes with me virtually everywhere) this was the first time I was accosted by a security guard on a public sidewalk.

Presumably what was going on here was some kind of attempt to stop photo-ing of big landmark buildings by potential terrorists, but without picking on young dark-skinned guys.

My question is, is the sidewalk truly owned by the company that also owns the building, or did this bloke make it up and is it in fact publicly owned as well as merely open to the public?  If it is indeed privately owned, then however much I personally might want to take photos from that sidewalk, then I say they should be allowed to stop me.

All this happened about a month ago, and soon after it happened there was some kind of plan for mass photography in the same place where this guy got harassed, but I don’t know what if anything happened along those lines, or, if it did happen, how it turned out.  Maybe someone can tell me about that.

My thanks to Boing Boing for telling me about this interesting argument.

Friday August 26 2005

I see that BBC4 TV is showing a programme about the late Spike Milligan tonight.  In fact I have just started watching it.  So far it has been a parade of dreary Milligan relatives who I do not want to know about.

imageIt so happens that I was having Spike Milligan thoughts myself today, without any such TV provocation.

My Milliganic thoughts were prompted by a little piece they did during the lunch interval of the C4 TV coverage of the Ashes Test Match (England 229-4 after a rain interrupted first day) about the notorious Bodyline Tour of 1932, the one where England bowled short and nasty balls at Don Bradman.

In particular, they showed some clips of the notorious England captain on that tour, Douglas Jardine, pictured on the right.  Jardine had a long, thin face, and a mouth which, like Milligan’s, did not go all that far sideways.  Jardine also had a way of talking that combined pomposity, slowness (as if talking to a foreigner), and fear of the camera, which you could see in his darting and nervous eyes.  I swear Milligan must have watched this, because many of his upper class twit routines were just like this.  Voice, manner, nuances, everything.  Maybe all posh people talked like that on camera in those days, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to learn that Mlligan paid particular attention to Jardine.

See also the two further - extremely Milliganic - pictures of Jardine at the other end the above link.

Wednesday August 24 2005

Perry de Havilland linked yesterday to this story, and the links, including this one, to his posting are piling up:

Farmers breeding guinea pigs have said they will abandon the work in the hope that the remains of their relative dug up from a grave in Staffordshire will be returned.

The Hall family, who run Darley Oaks Farm in Newchurch, have been targeted by animal rights activists during a six year campaign of intimidation.

They have been breeding guinea pigs for biomedical research.

In October 2004 grave robbers removed the remains of their 82-year-old Gladys Hammond, from a churchyard in nearby Yoxall.

Funny how graves so often seem to have political ramifications.  Remember those trade unionists who refused to bury the dead, way back in the Winter of Discontent?  I do, even though it may never actually have happened.  I wonder if this particular tale may mark some kind of turning point in public perceptions of animal rights activists.

Tim Hall’s comment would suggest maybe so:

I haven’t seen any TV news interview of one of these loons that hasn’tmade them look like complete drooling morons.

What this is about is the barrier between the sacred and the non-sacred, a distinction I well remember being made much of when I studied sociology at university.  Since few people now talk very much about this barrier, it is perhaps widely assumed that no such barriers exist, even in people’s minds.  But they do.  But, because not much discussed these barriers are easily trampled over, by people with their own more mundane and modern ideas about what is important.

Such people may use the word “sacred” to describe this sort of importance – I have in mind such things as the “sacred” cause of the union, or for that matter the “sacred” cause of animal rights” – but they seldom really mean this.  They rarely use the word in all seriousness.  They only use it metaphorically.  Hence their problem when they step over someone else’s sacredness barrier for real.

Probably a lot of people think (sloppy punctuation aside) like commenter Andy Mo:

For fricks sake its just a dead body. Would you really care if someone dug up your body. I wouldn’t.

But if actually faced with the absence of granny from her grave they would discover that this is not how they feel.

These thoughts have been very hasty, provoked once again by my something-every-day rule.  Apologies for any errors.  One possible error already springs to mind: that many animal rights activists really do see animal rights as sacred, in the old-fashioned and totally-for-real sense.  Hence their willingness to draw attention to their own preferred sacredness by violating someone else’s.  Maybe, that is to say, they knew exactly what they were doing, and that’s exactly why they did it.

Blatant quota posting, in the form of an intriguing little photography scene right near where I live, in Vincent Square, this afternoon, as I was walking home. Many is the time I have taken photos through those railings, often of things like the sun on the Wheel, or of Big Ben which can be seen above and beyond the cricket pavilion (which you can just see on the top left here) on the far side of the square.

I like how the Vincent Square sign in included.  This is the exact picture I took, no cropping, even though I don’t remember giving any thought to that sign.  I think it was just luck.

image

Click to get it bigger.

I like the shoes that the ladies are each wearing.

More opportunist photography from me here.  I took that picture only minutes before taking this one.

Monday August 22 2005

More responses to Blowing Smoke, which I wrote about earlier, and which I want to be a smash because a friend is helping to promote it, and because the promotion process - a blog plus the rest of the internet, basically - is so interesting.

I thought Blowing Smoke was only okay, although I do want to own it and take a further look at it, to see if I end up liking it more and so that I can tell you in more detail what I think are the best things about it, and because I hope/think it will turn into a little slice of internet history.  But these guys (apart from “Zoltan Grandpierre") really liked it.

Jim Treacher, resident Blowing Smoke blogger, linked to these comments, and to one especially positive one in particular which he copied and pasted at length.

I recently attended a screening of Blowing Smoke in LA. I enjoyed the film very much. To start with, this is a film that, while funny & amusing, is also closer to reality than most of us would ever admit to our wives or girlfriends. The premise is already covered in other reviews, but the “meat” of the film for me was the 6 or 7 different angles the viewers saw from a male perspective. From the woman-hating misogynist to the inch-deep pretty boy and the pompous fool, we have all known guys like these characters. In fact, we may also see ourselves in the film (no, I won’t tell you who is me).

A key takeaway is the general misunderstanding most women have about men. Sure, they are in control, but that doesn’t mean they get it! They don’t know why men fool around (for variety, stupid), get together (because they enjoy it), or lie about stuff (because women want to hear the good story). Most of all, they can’t understand why men need the company of other men from time to time to recharge and be themselves.

And then there are the cigars… wow! Key actors in each scene, each one deserving of credits and admiration. The story behind the movie is a fascinating tale of an industry full of rich characters, long tradition, and true quality & uniqueness in a time of corporate sameness.

The filmography throughout the film was superb, keeping a fast pace to a single set, making it fresh and exciting.

Would I see it again? Of course. Would I recommend it? absolutely! Buy on DVD? You bet. Including gifts for friends and those not yet enlightened. I give it a solid thumbs-up.

This is all horrendous news for the old school advertising industry.  Some guys who had a feeling they might like this movie a lot, found their way to a screening of it.  They did like it a lot and were able to say so on the internet, free of charge.  The movie’s pushers immediately picked up on these positive comments and spread them, again free of charge.  They turned them into an advert.  And here I am sticky-taping that advert up here, in my personal front window.  And all this is done not only free of charge but in a fraction of the time this kind of thing used to take, and a hell of a lot more informatively - because you can, as we always say, and if you want to, read it all.

Look out Madison Avenue, or wherever old school advertising is done these days.  You are sailing ships.  This is steam.

How cool/scary is this?

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It’s a spy plane:

The Wasp air vehicle has a 13-inch wingspan and weighs 6 ounces.

As the long haired Young One would say: heavy man.

I got to this via Lynn S and whoever this guy is.

Sunday August 21 2005

Interesting Times piece about how editing software helped a wedding film nerd turn his wedding video footage into something that the people in it actually enjoyed watching.

The amateurs are creeping up on the professionals.  Cheap editing software is already good enough to threaten the professionals.  Soon the cheap cameras will be too.

As David Carr said (in 1998): DIY Hollywood.

Last night I and some friends attended a concert given by the Belmont Ensemble of London, in St Martin-in-the-Fields, which is the splendid and beautifully decorated early eighteenth century church at the top right corner of Trafalgar Square.

It was one of those concerts of baroque and not long after string orchestra favourites, of the sort that only the public has much fondness for.  Bach Brandenburg 3, Mozart Divertimento K137, Pachelbel Canon, Mozart Adagio and Fugue, Bach Double Violin Concerto, and in the second half Handel Arrival of Queen of Sheba, and finally Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

The first half was excellent.  Sometimes the accoustics at classical concerts make it sound as if someone has turned up the treble knob, which is the opposite of what I do at home.  But in St Martin’s, the accoustic is very echo-y and forgiving, and provided you play in tune, which these young string players all did with only very rare deviations, you will sound pretty good.  Also, the conductor, Peter Gilbert-Dyson, clearly knows what he is about.  He chose good tempi, and kept things bowling along well.  His orchestra is not called the Belmont Ensemble for nothing.

In part one, it was the Adagio of the Mozart Adagio and Fugue which had the most impact for me, partly because it is an amazing piece of music, and partly because of all the pieces played in the concert, it was one I knew least well.  What weird harmonies.  I will now dig out whatever CDs I have of this extraordinary piece and will definitely be listening to this piece again very soon.

Nevertheless, part one had a strange feel to it.  It had me thinking that posh music-making has finally come full circle and we are back to the age when classical musicians are domestic servants.  The Great Recordings of all this music have all been made.  The Great Conductors who presided over these recordings have come and gone.  The Belmont Ensemble either cuts its own CDs and sells them for a fiver in the foyer to friends, to relatives, and to CD-maniacs like me, or they don’t.  Those are their recording choices.  Otherwise serving up classical hits, for tourists who clap after first movements, and for the aging Classic FM listening middle classes, is about all there is.  Being the best of their generation is no longer enough, because there have now been too many generations.

Actually they were charging a tenner for their CDs, which is twice as much as the LSO charges for theirs and a quid more than what the LSO charges for its SACDs.  Which might explain why they have only made three CDs so far and why the last one they made was recorded in the mid-nineties.  A tenner is too much.  No doubt there are all manner of complicated reasons, involving the phrase “business model”, why they can’t charge only a fiver, but I repeat: a tenner is twice too much.

So in other words, part one of this concert, although expertly played, got me thinking about the History of Music.  My mind wandered somewhat.  These people were the hired help.  They were good at being the hired help, and performed their duties with an expertise that was beyond criticism, certainly from the likes of me.  But, it was all ever so slightly routine.

This air of expert routineness was only reinforced by the Bach Double Violin Concerto, the last piece played in part one.  One of my friends grumbled about some poor tuning from the lady leader of the orchestra, Anna Bradley, who stepped up to play the second violin part in this, but she sounded fine to me.  Having fallen in love in my teens with the Oistrakh DGG recording of this I was ready to be severely unimpressed, but I enjoyed this performance a lot.  It is extraordinary music and Ms. Bradley, joined by first violinist Benjamin Nabarro, played it very well.  Good speeds.  Well conducted.  No bum notes that I could spot.  None of that authentic crap, where you overdo the first note in each bar, swallow the rest, and play everything too fast.  Lovely.

The first violinist, Benjamin Nabarro, wearing a dark shirt with no tie and with the top button undone, played excellently, but I kept thinking how he might have looked dressed as an eighteenth century servant, scraping away for a humble living in the service of the Elector of Somewhereburg.  He is a short fattish bloke with a beard, who looked more like one of these people who come to mend your computer or your sink than any sort of virtuoso violinist.  A Hobbit.  Twenty years ago, such a chap would have made a decent living in an orchestra, maybe even a decent career as a soloist.  Fifty years ago, he might have been a household name.  As it is, history has passed him by.  Life is unfair, and playing the fiddle this cleverly counts for extremely little nowadays.  In ten years Benjamin Nabarro will be exactly what he is now, Benjamin Who?  That’s how it seemed to me.

Until, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons got under way.  With that, everything changed.

The Four Seasons is one of those pieces that is often underrated by the experts, because it is so popular.  I agree with the public that it is by far Vivaldi’s best set of pieces.  Something about the challenge of depicting the unpredictabilities of the weather, instead of just writing a bunch of concertos, seemed to stir Vivaldi’s creative juices.  Unlike that Bach concerto, the Four Seasons features many abrupt changes of tempo and mood, and numerous oppportunities for both the soloist and the orchestra to create different moods and atmospheres.  It’s like film music, and it greatly benefits from having show-off musicians playing it, who exphasise its numerous special effects.

This was one of the best performances of this group of concertos that I have ever heard.  Or maybe it was just the contrast with all that had gone before, and it merely sounded like it at the time.  Whatever.  I really, really enjoyed it, and forgot about the History of Music for the duration.  The slow movements were especially well done, with beautiful, still, almost vibrato-less playing the like of which I have seldom heard.  It was the kind of performance where I stopped saying to myself, oh he did that bit wrong and not the way I prefer it, and said to myself instead, ah that’s how he did that bit, how wonderful.

Benjamin Nabarro, this time out at the front on his own as the soloist, was a man transformed, from a dutiful servant into the master both of his instrument and of all he surveyed, with his conductor matching his every move.  Despite being dressed in the same nondescript clothing, he even looked different, not like a Hobbit at all.  He looked like a star violinist.  And whereas earlier I had felt sorry for him for missing out on the Great Recording Project, I now believe that he might yet be a part of whatever remains of this project, and become a household name even now.  By the time I got home and googled him, I was not a bit surprised to learn how distinguished he seems to be, and with what a variety of ensembles and orchestras he has played, and what a variety of concertos he has performed.

Looking back on it, my guess is that the Vivaldi was the thing they all really practised.  The other pieces, they practised enough to be sure they would not make fools of themselves, but the Four Seasons they practised enough for it (them) to really sparkle.  Which it did.

Thinking about the History of Music some more, I still think that these deserving and worthy young people are destined for oblivion, having been born at one of the worst possible times for “classical” music-making ever, after the Great Recording Project (more about that by me and many commenters in this Samizdata posting), but before the Great Recovery from the Great Recording Project (concerning which more anon) gets seriously under way.  But for as long as they were playing the Four Seasons, I forgot about that.

Friday August 19 2005

I want to do a piece here soon about what I missed when I wasn’t personally blogging, but I want to get it right, so today, I will just go looking through my photo-archives of recent months, and pick out just one.  Only one rule: no photographers!

And the winner is:

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Click for bigger.

I took this in Barcelona in June.  A regular pleasure for me is the way that these big set-piece tourist-trap edifices liven up the surrounding areas by peeping out over the top of the regular stuff in the foreground, as here.  In the background, the spires of the Sagrada Familia, designed by Gaudi.  In the foreground, well, you know, the foreground.  Some trees.  Some flats, I assume.

I also take pleasure in the division of labour.  The regular views of big buildings like this have all been taken by others.  I can only contribute by sticking other stuff alongside, or, as in this case, in front.

Not or actually.  And.  Another regular pleasure is cranes.  Now that bridges have fallen to the architects, cranes are among the last refuges of pure functionalism, along with some airplanes, and pylons, and whatever else anyone can suggest.  With cranes, form still truly follows function.  Whatever crane will do the job is the crane that does the job.  No crap about whether the crane will fit in and be appropriate to its surroundings.  Norman Foster has never designed a crane.  Hurrah!

Damn, I said something profound that ought to have been thought about for three days and written out as a proper essay that was too long for anyone to read.

Yesterday evening I found myself, alone and melancholy, beside the River Thames just near Charing Cross station.  I cheered myself up by taking some photos, which in any case this blog needs, there not having been any visual diversion here for a while.

It has also been a while since I have actually gone out to take pictures.  Partly this has been because of the weather, which has not been like a proper summer for the last few weeks, but which yesterday brightened up beautifully.  (Sadly, it is about to turn wet again, apparently.)

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The Billion Monkey thing, for those of you who do not know my peculiar ways, is a reference to that thing about a million monkeys all typing away but not producing any Shakespeare.  But, the Billion Monkeys have digital cameras and are getting much better results.  I am one.  My success rate is low, but my click rate is high.  (Seek here for further enlightenment.)

Magic Hour is that time of the evening when the light, if you are lucky, is magic. Only the first of these pictures, which are displayed in the order in which I took them, and maybe also the second, really show Magic Hour in its true colour.  After that, the light faded, which was another reason so many of my pictures got blurry.  Mr Big Lenses was pointing his big lenses straight at what remained of the sun, which was still very striking at that point.

The bridge is one of the two pedestrian bridges on either side of Hungerford railway bridge, this one being on the downstream side.  The pointy clock is Big Ben.  The glass pod is part of that big slowly turning Wheel that recently got built, to almost universal acclaim.

Click to get the pictures bigger.

Thursday August 18 2005

Yesterday I did a little Samizdata plug for the Private Sector Development blog, and in the course of it I pointed out a minor error in a posting that Pablo Halkyard did there, way back on June 29th.  (He had said that Bill Nighy had played the Chancellor of the Exchequer in The Girl in the Café, when in fact Nighy played a civil servant.  This was not a big error by any stretch, and made no difference to the rest of the posting.)

Pablo Halkyard immediately commented at Samizdata, saying thanks for the plug and for the correction, and saying “change made”.  He changed his June 29th posting, eliminating the error I had identified.  Fine.  No problem.  But, so far as I can tell, he made no mention at all of the fact that he had changed the posting in the posting itself, other than there being an automatic link to my Samizdata posting.  No “update”, no “error”, and no comment, if only because they do not have comments at the PSD blog.  He just changed it.

That is not how I would have handled this.  When I make a mistake, as I am afraid I do from time to time, and people point it out, here or elsewhere, I either leave my original error unchanged, so that critical comments attached to it still make perfect sense even if the original posting does not.  Or, if I do change the posting in any way except to clean up spelling or grammar, you get told that I have done it, at the very least (with something like the spelling of an important name) with a comment in reply to the comment(s) pointing out the error, or maybe even with a note in the text of or at the bottom of the text of the posting itself..

The only exception to this rule is that in the minutes after a posting has been first published I allow myself more substantial edits, because … well because I do.  I sort of allow myself to say that the posting is not finished until I have walked away from it.  But changes of content done many hours, days or weeks later are, in my opinion, a somewhat different matter.

Just changing a piece of internet writing, long after you have originally finished it, without explanation or editorial comment, seems wrong to me.  Like airbrushing history.  Is this not the top of a slippery slope?  The original mistake at the PSD blog made me wonder: What other mistakes have been made by these guys?  But what this correction makes me wonder is: What other changes have they made to other postings long finished?

Or am I fussing about nothing?  Do Halkyard and I agree about the need for a line here, somewhere between correcting insignificant spelling mistakes without flagging that up and altering something like major facts that bear directly on a major argument without flagging that up?  Do we merely disagree about exactly where that line ought to be?  As I say, I too break – with my “it’s okay to change a posting during the few minutes immediately after it’s first published” sub-rule – what is the immutable rule of others, which goes: absolutely no changes whatsoever, just as soon as that “publish” button has first been pressed.

Clearly, Halkyard had no intention of doing anything sneaky here, or he would not have commented at Samizdata that he had made the change, thus drawing at least some attention to the otherwise invisible way in which he had done it.

Wednesday August 17 2005

Yes.  Something.  Very possibly something short, or trivial, or banal, or just plain stupid.  But something.

I do not believe that it is an unbreakable law of blogging that all bloggers must update their blogs every day.  Some of the blogs to your left remain unaltered for days and even weeks on end.  But I already know from experience that this something-each-day rule works well for me.  I can do something every day, usually with no inconvenience.  On the other hand, if I let the days go by, the obligation to resume with a splash instead of just a plop causes a feedback loop of delay, which I do not enjoy.  So I am being entirely selfish here.

Also, my best writing is probably done in phrases and sentences, rather than in long, carefully thought out paragraphs and essays.  These good fine phrases and good sentences are just as likely to be provoked by obligatory postings – “quota” postings, as I sometimes call them – as by things I feel an inner compulsion to say.  Anyway, inner compulsion is overrated.

If there are interruptions, I will try to flag them up beforehand.

Please note the word “try” in the above, twice, and again in the title.  As always, I promise nothing.  You get what you pay for.

Monday August 15 2005

imageOn Saturday evening, during the early stages of a party at Perry de Havilland’s, I watched the DVD of the movie Blowing Smoke.

I often take a nap in the early evening, and I did early that evening, about fifteen minutes into watching Blowing Smoke.  This is not a reflection on Blowing Smoke.  I had already had a bit to drink, but even when sober I have slept during tumultuously loud and exciting performances of all kinds, especially recorded ones, to the point where a performance is almost like a Pavlovian trigger to send me to sleep.  For instance I once went to sleep at a live performance of Carl Nielsen’s Symphony Number Four, the “Inextinguishable”, given by Simon Rattle and the CBSO in the Barbican.  Inextinguishable indeed, yet sleep extinguished many minutes of it for me.  Last night, I slept during some of Mahler’s cacophonous First Symphony, which was on the television.

So anyway, I did miss about five or ten minutes of Blowing Smoke, towards the beginning.  Which I regret, because before I dozed off I really liked it, but liked the stuff at the end rather less.  Normally I probably wouldn’t write about a movie during which I had dozed off.  But …

I am completely biased in favour of this movie.  I want it to be a brilliant success, which means that now, now that the sales campaign is getting into gear, I want to write about it and thus do my bit to persuade others to write about it.  One of my best friends (the party was to celebrate her birthday) is helping the producer of Blowing Smoke to sell it, and I really want her, and him, to succeed, big time.

Also, quite separate from the quality of the movie itself is the extreme interestingness of the means by which the producer,egged on by my friend, has chosen to distribute his movie, using a blog, elling it as a DVD direct from this blog, or with a download, both very competitively priced.  The blog, by the way, was designed by another friend of mine, and it’s one of his prettiest creations, I think.  So, you may depend on me to do all that I honestly can to sell this movie to you.

So, how can I do this?  Put it like this.  I have extremely bizarre – not to say unmanly – tastes in movies, not like yours at all probably, and although I admired Blowing Smoke in all kinds of incidental ways, I can’t say I really liked it.

At the Blowing Smoke blog, Jim Treacher says that he never watches movies with the word Wedding in the title.  Now me, I always do.  For instance I am greatly looking forward to watching The Wedding Date, starring Debra Messing of Will & Grace fame.  It was a black day for me, as for millions of other girls of both gender, when Meg Ryan had her lips filled with lard and switched to doing dark and meaningful movies that really say something with blood and misery and people trying to win Oscars.

Although I didn’t ultimately like it, Blowing Smoke has many qualities that I do like in a movie.  The characters in it, all very convincingly acted, have conversations which are only sometimes incoherent and dominated by swearing.  There is not much violence.  I only counted two gunshots, which did damage only to scenery.  The characters have ideas, often interesting ones, which they express, sometimes quite eloquently.  But there was no character in it that I really liked, and there was no happy romantic denouement.

In addition to being too pessimistic and nasty and gender-hostile for my banal and mainstream Hollywoodish tastes, I also found Blowing Smoke a bit too stagey and contrived.  The way I heard myself putting it on the night, and liked the sound of, was to say that in the best works of art, things happen that come as a surprise to their creators.  The material takes on a life of its own.  I got the opposite feeling with this piece.  The guy had worked the whole thing out with a big chart, and all the characters duly worked their way through all the things the chart said.  They were puppets.

On the whole (subject to sleep interruptions) I found the stuff at the start where the characters were established, to be more entertaining than when they started to do things, or to be more exact, when they started to have things done to them, by the Estella Warren character.  I also knew rather too many of the sexist jokes that they cracked, or at least I felt as if I did.  Some I laughed at.  But some struck me as leaden and unoriginal, like they’d been got from the internet.  That may have been the idea.  Maybe these men said quite boring things which they had got from the internet, to establish that they were boring.  But I found this boringness rather boring, much as I find the comedy of embarrassment embarrassing (Fawlty Towers, Ricky Gervais, etc.).  I am absolutely not against sexist jokes.  But I like sexist jokes to be really funny.

But all of that is probably just a way of saying that this is, reprise, not my kind of movie.  When you basically don’t care for something, you are much more aware of its outer nature, method of construction, etc., than if you like it.  If you like it, you get involved.  You feel the flesh and blood of it instead of merely observing it and spending your time working out what the skeleton consists of.  You get involved in the story, instead of sitting there working out the plot before it happens, the way you do when your soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend forces you to sit through one her damned date movies of the sort that I like.

If misogyny and political incorrectness and swearing and male-female discord is your thing, the way soppy romantic comedies are my thing, you will want to check this out, the way I want to check out The Wedding Date.  I want to check out The Wedding Date even if it turns out to be dross so soppy and sentimental that even my girlish stomach is turned.  And since misogyny and political incorrectness and swearing and male-female discord are not usually things you get in well acted, well photographed, well directed movies which you can rent at Blockbusters, you may really want to check this out.

I certainly have more checking out to do, if only of those minutes I missed while dozing, which I am genuinely looking forward to enjoying.  One way or another, I intend to get hold of the DVD of Blowing Smoke for myself, either by my friend scrounging a free one for me, or by buying it, for fourteen dollars I think she said it was.  (The download is going to cost ten dollars.)

The general effect of internet distribution like this will be greatly to widen the range of movies that are seriously distributable, and hence seriously makeable.  That has to be good news.  There will be a lot movies that I will like becoming available, an absolute avalanche of movies that I won’t like, and a lot of movies that I like a bit but not really, and certainly not enough to rave about them, but which you might well adore, like Blowing Smoke.

In this connection, see also my recent Samizdata posting about, among other things, a far more amateurish than Blowing Smoke, but still serious and ambitious sound-recording of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I myself have lucked into.  Personally I only listen to Shakespeare sound recordings if I am about to perform in another production of the same play, but that’s just me.  But nobody said you have yourself to adore the products you help to make, or for that matter are helping to sell.

Tuesday August 09 2005

Brian’s Education Blog and Brian’s Culture Blog both still exist, in varying states of delapidation.  These disasters were caused by a vile bombardment of link spam at the end of January 2005, and almost certainly also by me pushing the wrong buttons at the wrong time in response. The last posting on either of these blogs was on January 31st 2005 - that being a link to the most recent monthly archive - at Culture.  It only hinted at the problems I was being engulfed by.  Apparently the “database” was buggered beyond restoration.  Repeated attempts to rectify matters have failed, and have now been abandoned.

The good news is that everything I originally wrote is still readable.  The bad news is that they aren’t really blogs any more.

The Education Blog is readable in its entirety, as are the comments.  The Culture Blog is readable, but only the stuff I myself wrote in the postings, not the comments.

I do not delude myself that many people will want to read things that I wrote a minimum of several months ago.  But here is my best shot at explaining how the eccentric minority who do want to can do so.

The logical places to start navigating these relics are: here for Education and here for Culture.  (That last link will take you to a pile of postings defined by its category, “This blog”, with the most recent posting, the one mentioned in paragraph one above, at the top.)

To explore Culture further, your only option is to pick a category archive from the category archives bit on the right hand side.  I think everything is there at least once.  But, sadly, no comments.

For Education, you can choose chronologically by month or categorically by category, and if you see any individual posting mentioned, on the right, or above or below the post you are looking at, click on that posting title and you will get to that individual posting, and in that case also to all the comments attached to it.  In neither Education nor Culture can you can reach comments by clicking on the comments rectangle at the bottom of each posting.  But if you click the permalink rectangle for Education postings, you get just that individual posting plus the comments on it.  (Clicking on the permalink rectangle on a Culture posting gets you nowhere.)

Which means that all the Culture comments are gone.  That is, they may still be buried somewhere in the ruins, but I can’t find them and you certainly can’t.  In neither case may comments be added.

The Education situation is actually even odder, because a little googling got me to a weekly archive, not mentioned at the sidebar, but secretly compiled by my blog software before it went pear-shaped, and those archives too are accessible, but only by sifting your way through them week by week.  The earliest such archive is reachable here.  I have done some sifting through of my own for you, which enables me to tell you that 2003 starts here, and that 2004 starts here.  The most recent weekly archive is here.

Pictures embedded in the text seem all to be present and correct.  But larger pictures, of the sort that you have to click on smaller ones to get to, mostly seem not to work, although again, I believe that they are still all there, buried.

So far as I know, all links from other blogs to individual postings at the Education Blog are still working.  And, you can still now link back to posts in new stuff that you write now, by copying the line of www stuff at the top of the window.  (Here, for instance, is a link to a Brian’s Education Blog posting that has some contemporary resonance.) Clicking on the permalink rectangle no longer works.

Links to individual postings in the Culture Blog have all now expired.  As the young people say: bummer.  If you want now to link to something in Culture, you can only do so by linking to a particular monthly archive and by asking your readers to scroll down. I don’t think suppose that will be many takers for that.

As to the future of these two blogs, I have not yet abandoned the idea of cranking them up again and resuming.  So, instead of just having one personal blog, I will then have one personal blog and two semi-personal blogs.  Bizarre, yes.  But the thing is, lots of people want only education, and lots of others want only culture (as in: what is generally meant by culture, rather than what I have been meaning by it), and a lot of both categories of readers do not want to wade past my random non-cultural, non-educational, personal thoughts and opinions.  Three blogs may well be too much for me, but maybe not, if I set myself less ambitious schedules. Minimum-of-one-posting-every-week might prove to be a rule that would be both sustainable and worth sustaining.

But that’s for later.  Meanwhile, I hope that this posting has answered some of the questions that e-mailers and personal enquirers have mostly now given up asking, but did once seem interested in.