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

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Saturday March 31 2007

I’d forgotten about the Friday cat thing, but then this afternoon I chanced upon this window display.  It’s John Lewis, in Oxford Street.

image

And then I went inside John Lewis and got myself a DAB radio that will record stuff.  I chose the Roberts rather than the almost identical (although not at all identical looking) Pure competitor because the Roberts has treble and bass nobs, which I really like because I like to be able to turn down the treble.  And I went to John Lewis because they are the only place in London which stocked both that I could find and where I could compare them, in the flesh.

Back home, within minutes of opening it up, I was recording a cello concerto, onto one of those little SD cards, like I also now use in my Billion Monkey camera.  Not all of the piece, just a bit, to check out the principle.  And then, moments later, it was playing on my computer.  Next step, copying something on the radio, then putting it on a CD, and playing that on my CD player which also plays mp3 files.  But, the radio creates mp2 files.  Will that work?

Convergence, I think this is called.

Thursday March 29 2007

imageNorman Lebrecht is getting a lot of friendly ribbing from bloggers for (a) hating bloggers and blogging, but then, finally, via all kinds of (b)s, arriving at (c), himself becoming a blogger.  Until now I have only been able to go here.

Lebrecht is an ideal blogger, because of both his huge strength and his huge weakness as a writer about classical musical.  His huge strengths are his eye for detail and his ear for a story and his willingness to speak his mind, whatever it happens to contain at this or that moment.  His weaknesses are his grand theories, which seldom add up and often seem to contradict themselves in the same paragraph or even sentence.

Consider the title of his big book called The Maestro Myth.  If this was a book about how conductors contribute nothing to the making of orchestral music and the worship of them is all bunkum, well, bunkum, but a logical title.  But the book is nothing of the kind.  It’s just lots of stories about maestros, some of them (he says) superb, others (he says) rather or very over-rated, and about many other things classical that spring to his mind that are too juicey to omit.  (Strongly recommended by the way.)

One moment he denounces public subsidy, and later he says that the government should pay for violinists to have Stradivarii.  But the government would be no better at picking winner violinists than it has been at picking winner car-making companies.  The true would-have-been winners would be crowded out.  And once that became hideously clear, Lebrecht would be the first to say so.  Plus, Lebrecht has a giant blind spot about pop music (Abba is not crass to start with – it only becomes crass when sung operatically), which he regards as not really music at all, which is why he is so irrationally desperate about the alleged death of classical music.  Like many classical obsessives, he confuses classical music (a blink in the eye of history albeit a very impressive one) with music (which will last as long as humans do – or smart aliens with anything like ears elsewhere if there are any).  But, worrying that music itself is doomed gives his writing the desperate feeling that this is all terribly important which it might otherwise lack.  (I know that music is safe and needs no saving, by me or by anybody.  Which means that I can safely ignore writing about it for weeks at a time and just listen to it.)

But the point is, Lebrecht’s stuff is always interesting and worth reading.  Each bit contains fascinating truths and delightfully entertaining stories.  Lebrecht loves gossip, more than he can possibly fit into his various paid outlets.  Which makes him a perfect blogger.  If he fails to see the big picture properly all the time, well, that’s good because this doesn’t then blind him to the entertainingness of the next entertaining anecdote.

His latest bit of fun is this, about two CD covers by different companies, taken in the same place.  What does this mean?  Nothing probably.  But: heh!

And as if to prove my point, while just now googling for The Maestro Myth, what did I find?  Another book by Lebrecht called The Book of Musical Anecdotes.

There are stories of appetites (Handel eating dinner for three), embarrassments (Brahms falling asleep as Liszt plays), oddities (Bruckner’s dog being trained to howl at Wagner), and devotions (a lovely admirer disrobing in tribute to Puccini). There are memorable accounts of Stravinsky telling Proust how much he hates Beethoven, of Tchaikovsky’s first bewildering telephone call, of Dvorak’s strange love of pigeons, and of Verdi’s intricate maneuvering to keep the now-famous melody of “La donna è mobile” top secret.

...

Collected from thousands of books, articles, and unpublished manuscripts (with historical sources provided in extensive notes), these anecdotes appear in their original form, throwing fresh light on familiar figures in the musical hall of fame. For browsing, reading, research and amusement, this book is a grand entertainment for concert-goers, record-buyers, operamanes, gossips and music lovers everywhere.

The blogosphere is the perfect place for this kind of thing.  Welcome to it, Mr L.  You will quickly discover that you have written another book, and another ...

Next stop along from Ali G Town is Egham, which is just down the hill from Englefield Green, where my mum, who I visited today, still lives.

On my way back to the station, later somewhat cropped, this:

image

I love how the light from the sun turns the branches red, by being bent around in the muggy, misty air.

Normally, if you point a Billion Monkey camera at the sun you just get total whiteness and no distinctions whatever.  But today the mistiness took the strength out of the light.  Sort of, I think, like those filter thingies that Real Photographers use.

Wednesday March 28 2007

Bruno Monsaingeon’s film Glenn Gould - Hereafter, concludes with the following words, spoken by the pianist himself:

image

I would like to think that there is, especially in more recent years, a kind of autumnal repose in what I’m doing.  It would be nice if what we do could involve the possibility of some degree of perfection, not only for purely technical but also and above all of a spiritual order.  But I’ve had all my life a tremendously strong sense that indeed there is a hereafter, and that the transformation of the spirit is a phenomenon with which one must reckon, and in the light of which indeed one must attend to live one’s life.  As a consequence I find all the here and now philosophies repellent.  On the other hand I don’t have any objective images to build around my notion of a hereafter.  And I recognise that it is a great temptation to formulate a comforting theory of eternal life so as to reconcile oneself to the inevitability of death.  For me, it intuitively seems right.  I’ve never had to work at convincing myself about the likelihood of a life hereafter.  It is simply something that appears to be infinitely more plausible than its opposite, which would be unliving.

Glenn Gould died in 1982.

Assuming that Gould really does find the likelihood of a life hereafter to be “infinitely more plausible” that its opposite, then here is vivid proof indeed of how very different people are from one another, in their tastes, and above all in what they are convinced to be the truth.  To me (and to the late Alan Turing - see the previous posting here), eternal life is far less plausible that its opposite.  Why on earth would you believe in such a thing?  Only if you have been told, a lot, to believe it, by people who seem truthful about everything else, would have been my answer not so very long ago.  Except that according to Gould that’s not it.

It’s obviously not that Gould was stupid.  The idea is ridiculous.  More that, faced with arguments about the actual likelihood of eternal life, he just was not interested.  He felt no threat from such arguments, and no desire to engage with them.  They made no sense to him.  They were even “repellent”.  And he had other things to get on with and to think about.

Since I find Gould’s way of thinking on these matters so deeply foreign and bizarre, I have probably described it very badly.  Those who (approximately) agree with him would be most welcome to describe his view better.

What this quote tells me is that religion survives not just because religious people insist that it must.  (How did they get religion in the first place?) It survives because it is inherent in human nature for at least some humans truly to believe in it.  If religion didn’t exist, it would be invented.  If it died out, it would be reinvented.

Gould said that he felt no desire to attach pictures to his beliefs.  But that was because, I surmise, he didn’t feel that he needed to convince himself, or anyone else.  He didn’t need conventional religion because he believed in his actual religion so completely.  He needed nobody else’s agreement to shore up his own belief.  Conventional religion, I surmise, is created by people who pretty much believe in actual religion, but who have their doubts.

I have this in common with Gould.  I have no need for the equal and opposite phenomenon to organised religion, which is what you might call “conventional atheism” or “organised non-religion”.  By this I mean the practice of self-proclaimed atheists and anti-religionists joining groups of fellow disbelievers to proclaim their disbelief, and to chant in a chorus, as it were, the shared hymns and mantras of their disbelief.

It’s different if religious people deduce real world projects from their religious beliefs that I disagree with, or even feel threatened by.  Then, I go for their beliefs, all of them, including their religious beliefs, if only to remind them that not everyone shares these beliefs and that they never will, and if they try forcibly to impose their beliefs on others, they will encounter huge resistance.  But that is a mere means to the end of political victory, insofar as one can ever achieve such a thing.  Trying to spread religious disbelief as such seems to me a bizarre way to spend more than a tiny fragment of my life, and only then as a byproduct of me simply say how religion looks to me.  But, of course, that just goes to show how different other people can be from me, including other atheists.

Monday March 26 2007

imageMore from Electric Universe (see also here and here), this time about Alan Turing:

There had been some efforts to build a computer in 1820s England, but the prevailing technology of steam engines and ball bearings and metal cogs was too crude ever to make it work. The failure was not just in technology but in imagination.  Even a full century later, in the 1920s, there were many ingenious machines in the world - there were locomotives, and assembly lines, and telephones, and airplanes. But each did only one thing. Everyone accepted the idea that to get a different task done, you needed to build a different machine.

Everyone was wrong. Alan Turing was the man who first showed in persuasive detail how it would be possible to change that. His life ended in tragedy, for although he conceived a perfect, clearly describable computer, and although the new insights about how electrons can leap or seemingly stop might have allowed him to construct it, the technology remained elusive.  New ideas in science don’t automatically produce new machines. He would be lauded in death - but not while he lived.

As a boy, in the 1910s and early 1920s. Alan Turing loved the way he could think his way out of problems. He had trouble distinguishing right and left, so he dabbed a red dot on his left thumb, and then was proud that he could get around as well as other children his age. Soon he could outnavigate both children and adults. At a picnic in Scotland, to get his fathers approval for being suitably brave and adventurous, he found wild honey for the family by drawing the vector lines along which nearby honeybees were flying, and charting their intersection to find the hive.

But as an adolescent and then a young adult, he found it harder and harder to blend in. By the time he was sixteen he realized that he was physically attracted to men, which was bad enough, but he also realized he was without question an intellectual, and in 1920s England, especially at its private schools, that was even worse.

His father was far enough away, serving in India with the Civil Service, not to have to pay much attention, but his mother, who was from a proper upper-middle-dass background, would have none of it. Alan was a normal boy, she insisted, who would one day leam to control his strange musings on beauty, consciousness, and, above all, on science. She was sure he would also - as he seems to have dutifully suggested in his letters from prep school - quite soon bring back for a visit one of those pretty girls he hoped to meet at nice London parties.

Instead, by age seventeen, he’d fallen in love with an older boy at his school, Christopher Morcom. They built telescopes and peered out of their dormitory windows late at night. They read physics books together, and talked about stars, mortality, quantum mechanics, and free will. In their discussions, they ‘usually didn’t agree; Alan happily wrote, ‘which made things much more interesting.’

But then, just a few months after they met, Morcom died of tuberculosis. Turing had been reserved with his mother until then, but now opened his heart: He and Morcom had always felt there was ‘some work for us to do together; he wrote, ‘… [Now] I am left to do it alone; But what was that work?  Many people question their faith after someone they love dies, but adolescent deaths are raw, immensely so: the survivor experiences the intensity of adult emotions, yet can’t place what happened in familiar cycles of life. A hole is ripped in the universe.

Turing seems to have lost whatever religious faith he once had. He angrily dropped the usual Edwardian belief that only the body is lost in death, and that an immortal soul, not made of any earthly substance, lives on. Morcom was gone. People who tried to comfort him by saying his friend somehow survived were liars.

That anger, that belief in cold materialism, was indispensable for the great electrical device that Turing imagined just a few years later. Its hard to conceive of creating an artificial device that duplicates human thinking, if you believe in an immortal soul.  The perishable stuff that the computer has to be made of – the wires or electrons or whatever – will lack all semblance of that soul.  But if you’re sure, with all the anger of adolescence, that nothing but dead earth is what remains when we die, then cold wires will do just as well as any living being.

I have been lazing about all weekend.  I have had plenty of time to put something good up here, but did not do so.  So, a quota photo, taken recently, of the Floral Street bridge that connects, I believe, the Covent Garden ballet school to Covent Garden.

image

Photoshop is a wonderful thing, or it was when I last used it.  I now have a clone, which is better in some ways, not better in others, and just the same when it comes to brightening and contrasting.

I took this photo last night, I think it was.  During the Australia South Africa game.  I was wandering around London with Michael Jennings, and he was phoning up for the score.  Later we went to a South African pub, and caught the vital moment of the game, when the South African captain, a man with the dazzlingly glamourous name of Smith, got hurt.  That slowed South Africa down in their run chase and they ended up losing quite badly.

I have signed up to do some blogging at Michael‘s about the cricket.  This evening I was working on my first posting, and sodding Wndows had a “problem” and ate it all.  Usually I write my blog postings out in my Word clone beforehand, and this is why.  Come to think of it, I haven’t done that with this either, but at least I’ve saved it up until here.  Which happens to be the end.

Sunday March 25 2007

Quota quote:

“A man who’s always declaring he’s no fool usually has his suspicions.”

That’s from the Playwright Wilson Mizner, quoted in The New York Times, requoted by The Week, this week, and now rerequoted by me.

Apparently this has been around for some time, so sorry if you’ve heard it before.

Saturday March 24 2007

From a letter by David Mitchell of Brecon, in the latest Spectator (March 24th 2007):

We never had mice until we got our cat.  He brings them in through the cat-flap alive and undamaged.  They are then released by the cat for a merry chase around the furniture, my wife and myself until they find safe refuge.  Then they take up residence, once in the washing machine, but mostly in the cupboard containing the dried catfood, where they live in comfort.  Once established, they are totally ignored by the cat.

Interesting.

I suspect that foxes are also caused by foxhunters, who make a big public fuss of chasing foxes, and constantly criticise them in the media for their murderous way with chickens, but who secretly encourage them, feed them, and perhaps even supply them with cheap rented accommodation.

Friday March 23 2007

Last Monday I posted an excerpt from Electric Universe by David Bodanis.  Here is a second excerpt, this time about the career of Thomas Edison, the world’s first great systematiser of large-scale industrial and technological research and development.  Alec Bell, the man Edison started out battling against, was Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone.

Bell’s work in the 1870s was the start of a great outpouring of new discoveries. A proconsul from the Roman Empire, suddenly transported to the muddy swampland of the American settlement of Fort Dearborn, in the year 1850 A.D. - a little before Bell’s work - would not have been especially surprised at what he found. There were horse-drawn vehicles and wooden houses, and candles or oil lamps to hold back the night. The few telegraphs that might be found in big cities had scarcely changed the quality of daily life. But if that proconsul had returned a single lifetime later, in 1910, that muddy town would have exploded to become the city of Chicago - and amid the cars and electric lights and telephone poles, where powerful electric charges were led whirling along at immense velocities, our time-voyaging pro-consul would have been utterly startled.

This second generation of transformations was begun by individual inventors such as Bell. But as the 1870s went on, an increasing number of discoveries were made by larger groups of researchers, working in a new style of industrial research laboratory. They were the ones who produced the generators and streetcars and motors and lighting systems that created modern Chicago and other great metropolises around the world.

Running these big research labs required a different personality than that of the gentle Alec Bell. The new research directors had to understand electricity, of course, but they also had to be willing to work on assignment ... and not worry too much what those assignments were.

image

Thomas Edison was the most powerful of these new industrial research chiefs, and one of his great successes came in 1877 when he accepted an important assignment to crush Bell. The world’s largest telegraph company. Western Union, had been watching what Bell was doing, and even before his final model was ready, they’d tried to get him to leave a prototype overnight at their New York headquarters so they could ‘examine’ it. Bell was a trusting man, but not that trusting; he kept the prototype secure in his own hotel room.

Once he had his patent, more-direct measures were needed, for who was going to let an upstart undercut a giant industry?  Certainly not William Orton, the head of Western Union. His strategy was almost embarrassingly simple. America after the Civil War was a violent place. Strikes were often resolved with rifles and dynamite; patents were stolen; fledgling investment houses were destroyed by established firms. It wasn’t surprising that within the technology field, predators began to appear, generally bankrolled by rich financiers. When they identified a new electrical product, they would try to find a technological mercenary skilled enough to produce the same device using a slightly different process. The original inventor would be destroyed; the company that had arranged for the copy - and the mercenary who produced it - would become rich.

Because Bell’s telephone threatened to undermine the entire telegraph business, Orton had to go to the most skilled enforcer he knew. This was the young Thomas Edison, a man who, as Orton happily explained to a friend, ‘had a vacuum where his conscience ought to be.’

Edison was almost exactly Bell’s age, but from a very different background. Instead of the doting parents and uncles and education in Scotland and London that Bell had, Edison had a father who had once whipped him in a public square, and he had left school in frontier Michigan when he was barely a teenager. He’d supported himself as an itinerant telegraph operator for years, sleeping in cheap hotels and rooming houses across America. This would have been hard enough for any fifteen-year-old, but Edison was also very hard of hearing.  When he wanted to hear a piano properly, he’d have to get a piece of wood, bite down on it, and then push the wood as hard as he could against the piano. (’I haven’t heard a bird sing since I was twelve years old,’ he once casually remarked.)

When he got married, young, he ended up with a woman with whom he soon found he had almost nothing in common; when he tried his first legitimate invention, a quick vote-counting machine for legislatures, he found that he was laughed at: everyone in the know understood that legislators did not want their votes to be counted quickly.

By the time he reached New York he was resentful, and he was poor, and he was bright - just the man to coldly undercut another man’s work. In time he would redeem himself, but not yet. There was a flaw in Bell’s work, and Edison accepted Orton’s assignment to attack it.

Bell’s design depended on sending the vibrations of the human voice into a microphone, to start the electric current that would run through the wire stretching from one telephone to the next. But to get a signal to travel more than a few hundred yards, you had to yell, and the signal often died or became too feeble to hear before it got more than a few miles away.  Edison thought about it and saw there was a way to keep an electrical signal going as it traveled further through the phone wires. Before anyone even exhaled into the phone, he had a dedicated battery pump a strong, steady electric signal through the wires. When the speaker began to talk, his breath had only to modify the already robust battery signal, making it a little bit stronger or a little bit weaker. The result was that the speaker’s voice didn’t fade so quickly, and phone messages could be sent dozens of miles.

Orton was delighted, and paid off Edison with the equivalent of several million dollars in today’s money. But Orton’s delight didn’t last long, for although Bell was meek, his new father-in-law was not. There were lawyers hired, leaks to the newspapers; it’s possible there were some quiet threats to Orton. Bell ended up keeping the main phone patents, although Western Union got some income from the improved microphone.

None of this mattered to Edison and his team. For Edison’s stint as a patent-breaker had led him to think some more about the way Bell used the resistance in a wire to modify a moving electric current. Other devices, he realized, could use the same twist. And indeed, on October 30,1878, J. Pierpont Morgan wrote to his Paris representative:

‘I have been very much engaged for several days past on a matter which is likely to prove most important to us all. ...  Secrecy at the moment is so essential that I do not dare put it on paper. Subject is Edison’s Electric light. ...’

Edison liked gruffly pretending to his friends and to visiting newspapermen that he was just a simple man who had no interest in anything more than patching together a few practical devices. But that wasn’t true. When someone’s smart enough to duplicate or improve an important invention, as Edison had done with Bell’s telephone, he’s usually smart enough to wish to come up with important insights of his own. Edison had tried to read through Newton’s writings as a youngster. He wanted to make an original contribution to this new world of electricity in which his technical skill had allowed him to get rich. An effective lightbulb would be a good start.

For decades researchers had dreamed of making a practical artificial light, but no one had come close to succeeding.  Anyone who had watched a cast-iron stove knew that heated metal glowed first red, then orange, and finally it might even glow white. If a piece of metal could be connected to a battery and heated up that much, it would produce light. But how to make the glowing metal last long enough to be useful?

This is what no one had managed. The microworld was so little understood that it was hard to control how electric power jumped out when it was tapped. As early as 1872, the Russian Aleksandr Lodygin had placed two hundred electric lamps around the Admiralty Dockyards in St Petersburg, but when he switched them on, they burned so powerfully that the metal filaments melted in just a few hours.

The lure of an electric light didn’t go away, though, for the oil or gas lights that were the best alternative had problems of their own. Great groups of whales had been destroyed in the early 1800s to get a relatively clean oil for lamps. When that got too expensive, kerosene and other heavier oils were used, producing, however, smoke, smells, and - when the lamps were knocked over - fires. Natural gas was a little better, but it was expensive and hard to pipe for any distance, and users had to keep on adjusting their lamp burners to keep streams of soot from billowing out.

The first metal that Edison considered for his electric lights was platinum, since it has one of the highest melting points of any known metal. But ifs also one of the most expensive metals known, and pretty soon he moved on to cheaper ones, at one point thinking he might succeed with heated nickel wires. This didn’t burst into flames as much as his previous tries, but even when it just glowed, the light was too strong: ‘Owing to the enormous power of the light; Edison jotted in his notebook, ‘… suffered the pains of hell with my eye last night from 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. ... Got to sleep with a big dose of morphine.’

In time he managed to build the nickel-wire lamps without staring at them, but they still burned out too fast. A colleague recalls one of his first demonstrations, to Wall Street backers: ‘Today I can see these [nickel wire] lamps rising to a cherry red, like glowbugs, and hear Mr. Edison saying “a little more juice,” and the lamps began to glow. ... Then ... there is an eruption and a puff; and the machine shop is in total darkness.’

The first trick Edison used to keep the filaments from burning out was to stop any oxygen from getting to them. That meant surrounding them with little vacuums. He bought pumps that would pull air out of glass containers, and he hired a top glass blower, and he improved the pumps, and before too long, there in his rural New Jersey laboratory, his team had created small glass containers in a shape that reminded onlookers of tulip bulbs - our ‘lightbulbs’ - that had less air inside than is found at the top of Mount Everest, or even several hundred miles higher above the Earth. By late 1879 he had small glass bulbs that held barely one-millionth as much air as the ordinary atmosphere.

They still didn’t work. Any metal filament Edison put at the center of one of these bulbs got so hot that it would bum or melt or crack or - despite the low air pressure in the bulbs - just sizzle along to failure. He realized he had to try something other than metal.

For a while Edison put strips of charred paper between two electrodes to see how well they would glow, and he also tried fragments of cork, and then cotton threads. The cotton seemed especially promising, and for a long time he trumpeted that as his great success. But in time that too failed, and in exasperation he examined the paper fragments under his microscope, only to find that he couldn’t magnify them enough to see the electrical sparks that he imagined running through them. All he had was the belief that any gushing electric particles would bump and slap along inside one of his filaments, hitting so hard that the wire or thread would get hot - just as the friction of rubbing your hands together quickly makes your palms heat up. He decided to search for a smoother filament.

‘I believe,’ he told his workers, almost in exasperation, ‘that somewhere in God Almighty’s workshop there is a vegetable growth with geometrically parallel fibers suitable to our use.  Look for it.

And this his team did. He had more money than any of the other inventors working on electricity - those nearly limitless funds from his New York backers - and more important, he had the most motivated workers. Edison knew that his drive came from having been poor, and he generally hired others like him: there were tough, itinerant technicians who’d done who knows what in the Civil War; there was a bright London Cockney, Samuel Insull, and many others. The team had developed expertise in wire filaments and air pumps; now they collected learned volumes on plant fibers. When hunting through books still didn’t yield an answer, they started traveling: one worker to Cuba, another to Brazil, a third to China and other points east.  And there, in south-central Japan, they came across the Madake bamboo. It had a fiber far better for Edison’s needs than platinum, nickel, or even the highly scorched cotton that had been the best till then.

When Edison’s men connected strands of Madake bamboo to the wires from the battery metals and turned the battery on so that powerful charged electrons poured out, a faint glow came from the bamboo. When they slipped a glass bulb around the bamboo and pumped the air out of it, the bamboo strand got brighter, and would glow and glow and glow. The platinum bulbs in Russia had lasted twelve hours at best; efforts by Joseph Swan and others in England, around the same time as Edison’s experiments, had reached a few dozen hours. But the Japanese bamboo, glowing away in its airtight bulb, as isolated as if it were in the vacuum of outer space, lasted for more than 1,500 hours.

To make his invention truly practical, Edison and his men had to create numerous related inventions. Their first impulse, as always, was to steal from other patents. But they were venturing into such fresh territory that it wasn’t always possible simply to copy other people’s work. The electric bulbs had to be easily fitted into sockets, for example, yet no one else had needed to do that, so the team came up with an original way of modifying the screw stoppers of kerosene cans (whence our screw-top bulbs today). They attached the vacuum bulbs so tightly to the screw that no air would seep in and make the glowing filament bum too fast.

Still more inventions were needed. They needed a system of automatically measuring the electricity that was used (so they could then bill for it), and there had to be improved ways to power the bulbs, and soon Edison and his team had so much new ground to cover that, without realizing it, they’d almost entirely stopped copying patents. A single telephone could be invented by a single individual. But Edison’s network of power stations required dozens of synchronized developments in switches, fuses, power lines, underground insulators, and the like. Edison wasn’t a cheat anymore. He was a creator.

Thursday March 22 2007

I have so far written only once, at CNE IP, about the Joyce Hatto fraud, and then only in briefly comparing the amount of harm it has done with the amount of harm done by people who sell fake medicinal drugs.  Very little and a hell of a lot being my point in that piece.  For, as I think this guy pointed out (so I read somewhere), the Hatto affair really wasn’t a big deal.  The Hatto CDs achieved some reputation but very little circulation.  As soon as they started getting around in anything resembling non-trivial numbers, the fraud was discovered.

For those who don’t know, what happened was that Joyce Hatto, who died last year at the age of 77, a quite good pianist but past her peak because stricken with cancer, was passed off as a pianist of genius by some combination of her husband William Barrington-Coupe (definitely) and herself (maybe).  He (they) copied and in some cases electronically mucked about with the CDs of a variety of other pianists.  A small critical buzz of approval and sentimental excitement - so ill, so talented, so accomplished, what a story, etc. - began to spread.  But then, someone stuck a Hatto CD into a computer and was told that yes it was Liszt, but no, it was not Hatto.  It was played by somebody called László Simon.  Audio analysis confirmed that answer, and other unmaskings of other Hatto CDs followed in a rush.

But really, who suffered?  A few critics were made to look rather foolish, especially one unfortunate who (I read somewhere at the time when the fuss was at its height) compared the Joyce Hatto version of something favourably with another version of the same music by somebody else which, he said, wasn’t nearly so good, unaware that they were identical CDs, the Hatto being a straight and unaltered copy of the other!  Then, worse, he tried to brazen this out as not ridiculous!  So, egg on face there.  But other critics quite reasonably pointed out that being defrauded by frauds is no great sin, and that they stood by what they had said about the actual “Hatto” performances that they had reviewed.

The very few people who parted with a lot of money for “Hatto” CDs are no doubt feeling somewhat hard done by, but as I pointed out in my CNE piece, it’s not as if these CDs aren’t really the music of Chopin, Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Brahms and the rest of them.  Only the packaging is lies.  In some cases the timings were manipulated, so those CDs aren’t very real, although still perfectly recognisable as that particular music.  As I say, who really suffered?

Certainly not the musicians whose performances were “stolen”.  The inverted commas are there, as so often when one writes about intellectual property matters, because this kind of “stealing” is not at all like someone stealing your car or your camera.  That really hurts.  That really costs you.  You suffer.  You curse.  You call the police and demand – well, hope – for some action.  But if someone “steals” your rather obscure recording of some Debussy, and as a result, your name gets in the papers, maybe years after you recorded the thing, are you angry?  Hardly.

Consider the non-plight of Yefim Bronfman, whose recordings of Rachmaninov’s Second and Third Piano Concertos were copied and reissued under the Hatto flag, with their own made-up conductor supposedly conducting (rather than Esa-Pekka Salonen).  The Bronfman/Salonen CD in its bona fide packaging is still available, and all that has happened to Bronfman is that some highly welcome attention has been paid, again, to how good his Third Piano Concerto performance in particular was.  There must have been a few extra sales of this CD, because of the Hatto affair.  Is anyone suggesting that this CD has now become of less interest to classical CD buyers as a result of the Hatto affair?

The reaction of the boss of BIS (some of whose recordings were also copied, including the one by László Simon, also seems to me to be spot on.  He just sad: this is a very sad story about which we are going to do nothing.

My friend Julian Taylor may now be feeling very slightly embarrassed, for blogging to the effect that the truth about Joyce Hatto has now “finally” been revealed.  Personally, I regard the Barrington-Coupe admission that he links to as a retreat in the face of overwhelming force rather than a genuine surrender, that is to say the final truth.  He has cheated until now, so why now believe that he has suddenly turned over a new leaf and is telling not just some of the truth, but the whole truth and nothing but the truth?  More likely is that he admitted what he had to admit, and then concocted another bogus yarn designed, not to tell anyone what really happened, but to enable him to cling, at least in his own eyes, to some shreds of dignity.  His dignity being, I surmise, now, still, being something that he takes a lot more seriously than anyone else does.  Meanwhile, I like the speculation here, that Barrington-Coupe has been trying to recoup (sorry couldn’t resist) his losses by auctioning Hatto CDs on eBay.  For, as I speculated in my CNE piece, the price of Hatto CDs has surely now gone up.  There is general agreement that the Hatto Barrington-Coupe team at least chose pretty good recorded performances to copy.  I would certainly not now part with the Hatto Chopin CD that I bought second hand for eight pounds for anything less than about thirty.

A further rather amusing embarrassment can be found in the latest issue of the Gramophone (April 2007), in which there was an article (pp. 26-27) by editor James Inverne summarising the story of the fraud.  Inverne carefully pulls his punches and refrains from saying bluntly what everybody (including him surely) thinks, presumably for legal reasons, but he makes it all fairly clear.  But then, the final paragraph of a review by Bryce Morrison of a Chopin Complete Waltzes CD, on page 83 of the exact same issue of Gramophone, reads thus:

Mursky offers the five additional Waltzes in performances more prosaic than necessarily persuasive and also a world premiere of an alternative version of the A flat Waltz, Op 34 No 1.  This includes some ear-tickling rather than substantial variants and, disappointingly, dispenses with its whirlwind coda.  Profil’s sound is tight and claustrophobic and so there is little rivalry for legendary recordings by Cortot, Lipatti, Zimerman and, most of all, Joyce Hatto who once more gives us the most richly inclusive performance of all.

Technically that’s true.  But presumably she only “gives” it to us after getting it from somebody else, although I haven’t been able to find out who.  And I suppose that that “richly inclusive” means that this could just be a deliberate joke.  If so, I think it misfires.  Far more likely is that this is exactly what it seems, an editorial blunder.

It has been said that Barrington-Coupe couldn’t possibly have done all this for money, because – hey! - he didn’t make any!  It doesn’t follow.  I think he hoped to make lots of money.  He just didn’t succeed.  I think he hoped that the fraud would last, perhaps for ever, and that he would make not only tons of money, but also lots of dignity points, as the Great Recording Engineer for the Late Great Pianist.  Saying that he wasn’t trying to make money is like saying that failed bank robbers weren’t trying to steal money, merely because they didn’t succeed in stealing any.

Had the iTunes software that immediately flagged up the Hatto fraud not worked its magic, then serious money might have changed hands in Barrington-Coupe’s direction.  Serious harm might have been done to the sales of rival CDs, by the pianists who actually made the Hatto recordings, and by other rival pianists offering the same music in different performances.  If the fraud had then finally come to light, after years of Barrington-Coupe bragging about what a Great Pianist his wife had been, CD retailers might eventually have been stuck with expensive and unsaleable crates of Hatto.  I might have spent fifty quid on a second hand set of the complete Hatto, and regretted it.  But none of that happened.  (I actually spent eight quid on that one Hatto Chopin CD, the real player of which I now know, and am decidedly chuffed to own it.  Nice conversation piece for the future.)

Which is why the whole truth about the Hatto affair will almost certainly never be widely known.  Type “Joyce Hatto” into google news, and it becomes clear that this story is now over.  About a dozen of the hundred or more Hatto CDs have been unmasked with detailed analysis as being really by this or that other pianist, or pianists.  Are the rest of them fakes?  Almost certainly, but who cares?  They aren’t for sale any longer, so far as I am aware.

My guesses and everyone else’s guesses about Barrington-Coupe’s motives and about the precise degree to which Joyce Hatto herself was involved in all this cheating will probably remain guesses.  A further flurry of embarrassment is perhaps now being suffered by anyone who wrote this business up when it hit the newspapers as the “biggest fraud in the history of classical music”, “the world of classical music has been rocked to its foundations”, “nothing will ever be the same again”, or whatever.  And, that will be that.

I’ll end by telling you what a real, big classical music fraud would be like.  Suppose that it were now to emerge that from about 1957 onwards, Otto Klemperer was in fact totally ga-ga, and that all his rehearsals and all his recordings from then on had been supervised by others, and his actual performances were really bossed by the leader of the orchestra, the senior violinist, with Klemperer merely waving his hands vaguely at the orchestra in time with the music, like me when I conduct my stereo.  Suppose that cleverly placed mirrors, or perhaps electronic signalling devices of some kind, had been used during performances to disguise how little attention the musicians were paying to Klemperer, and how much to their real boss, the senior violinist.  Suppose an elderly recording engineer now broke cover and described all the exhausting and time-consuming cheating and timing manipulation involved in bodging together a late Klemperer CD, far more than anyone had realised, then or since.  Now that would really be something!

Norman Lebrecht hints in this piece that a more or less severely diluted version of that syndrome might indeed apply in not a few cases of very esteemed but very elderly and decidedly past-it conductors.  And you often hear critics grumbling about how much editing is involved in contriving classical CDs, by artists of all ages.  This is why many people now like buying “live” recordings.  Too bad that they too are often severely manipulated, with rehearsal “performances” freely plundered to paper over all the cracks in the performance on the night.  Or, as often happens now, performances on the nights.

I’m not so bothered about all this contrivance, any more than I care about the alleged menace of pop music that is entirely contrived in recording studios, with artists who could never do it for real, accompanied with real old fashioned musical instruments, on a stage.  I actually like a lot of what is called “manufactured” pop.  I think it has added an extra dimension of fun and creativity to pop music.  Indeed I think that such contrivance is a major part of what makes pop music so great.

What matters to me is the musical result.  The fact that some particular performance owes rather more to the recording engineer and the editor, and rather less to the bird or bloke whose picture is on the cover, for me, matters a bit, especially with classical music performances, but not that much.

I spent the last few weeks, ever since this Hatto drama first erupted, wondering what the hell to say about it all, what with me being an occasional classical music blogger, a sort of one-eyed classical expert in the land of the largely classical-blind bit of the blogosphere that I inhabit.  But what to say?  It was interesting, yes, and I gleefully shared the story with my less classically switched-on friends.  But honestly, what was there to say?  It’s not that big a deal, I thought, as I kept postponing my bloggings about it all.  And then I thought, well, that’s what I’ll say.

Wednesday March 21 2007

I see that right wing bloggers are getting all excited about right wing pop songs.  I think this is sad.  It’s trying to be cool, and trying to be cool is the very essence of not cool.

I prefer this.  (Which I found my way to by going to here and then here and then here and then here.)

imageThis virtual keyboard, virtual because it shines itself onto your table from a thing like a cigarette lighter rather than itself being the size of a keyboard, is my favourite among the gadgets I’ve recently noticed, and I first heard about it not here, or here, but here.

I guess you need to avoid red tables.  More blather needed to stop the picture busting out of the box.  That should be enough.

Tuesday March 20 2007

I like the way this person writes, quite aside from me having a weakness for Asian babes, and despite being opposed to fashion.  If it turns out that this blog is written by a fat white fifty-five-year-old fantasist man with really quite severe psychological problems, well, them’s the breaks.  He’s doing well so far.

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only, fashion is in the sky, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.

No, fashion is clothes, and shoes and hats.  Plus a few extras like bags.

I had an argument recently with crypto-fashist Paul Coulam (I think it was) about whether or not I care about Fashion.  I said I didn’t and he said I did.  And I think he’s probably right.  I go to quite a lot of trouble, and incur enormous expense in the form of all the job and media offers I don’t get as a result, to dress badly.  I actually don’t possess and would spend moderate money and suffer definite discomfort to avoid wearing any garment that is cerulean coloured.

imageAnyway, back to Susie Bubble.  What clinched her spot on my blogroll (aside from her being a Londoner) is her habit of self-photoing herself and her various ever-changing fashion statements in a mirror while using her camera to hide her face and retain at least a little of her anonymity.  Billion Monkey Susie Bubble!  The most recent Susie Bubble snaps in this genre are to be found here.  Or scroll down here, and you’ll really see what I mean, although personally I prefer the ones that aren’t her photoshopped in front of fashion pages.

The economics of all this is (are?) interesting.  If you look in the sidebar on the left, you find this:

Just to reiterate an earlier post I am now offering to purchase items from the UK to ship internationally for those of you that covet something Brit-tastic.  I can even, time permitting, buy stuff in-store in London depending on how specific you are with what you want.  Here’s how it works:

1) Pick/Choose what you want to buy - email me with the request.  I will check availability and work out shipping costs and tell you the grand total.

2) You Paypal me the money first and then I will order/purchase the items requested.

3) Once I receive the items, I will then ship to you straight away = happy days!

Interesting, yes?  People sometimes ask me if bloggers can make money.  The answer is yes by the Emma Maersk load, but only if they combine blogging with something economically significant, like e.g. clothes buying.  Economically, blogging is like telephoning.  You can scratch a living by just telephoning and being paid pennies per call.  But that’s not living as in doing anything beyond not starving.  The trick is to phone people up about something you are interested in.  Then you can make money.  Blog about something you are interested in, ditto.

UPDATE: No she doesn’t!  See comment number two.  She charges cost of item plus cost of shipping, plus nothing.  There goes that posting.

One of my minor objections to Expression Engine is that there seems to be some kind of size limit to headlines.  So, for instance, the headline of this posting should really have read more like: Billions Monkeys break into a house in Austin Texas and steal stuff and take photos of themselves but then leave the camera behind with all the pictures of themselves in it!:

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Police say pictures documented a party and crime in which $5,000 worth of expensive alcohol, including $800 bottles of wine and high-dollar scotch, were stolen.

The self-surveillance society. 

Does Alice in Austin know about this entertaining circumstance?  I’m hoping not, but that she reads about it here.  I love the way you learn about things in your own back yard by reading a blog written in Hawaii or some such place.  I hope I do that to people myself, sometimes, with things like Russian bridges, and to Alice about this.

(I think I found out about this at either engadget or Gizmodo.  But it was yesterday that I saw it, and the day before yesterday (I think) that it was posted, so the posting is long gone from the gadget blog radar.)

I missed this, at the beginning of the month:

A light sculpture and large pedestrianised areas are part of a £40m proposal to transform some of the world’s most famous shopping streets.
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Westminster Council’s Oxford, Regent and Bond St (Orb) Draft Action Plan hopes to renew the central London area.

The light sculpture will be suspended 30ft in the air encircling Oxford Circus.

That faked photo on the right being the only one of this phenomenon I could find.  (UPDATE: just found a bigger version here.) I’m sure Alessandro Volta (see below) would have been very impressed.  I just hope they make the thing big enough not to be twee and ridiculous.

I also agree with Londonist’s take, who entitles his posting Oxford Circus to follow in the steps of Roger Moore, with an accompanying snap of Mr Moore in his Saintly persona.

Many a Billion Monkey will be crouching down in the vicinity of Oxford Circus, to make sure his snappee has his Halo on right.  Londonist fears that gawping pedestrians will slow things down in and around Oxford Circus even more than now, but the inevitable increased pedestrianisation willl presumably accommodate at least some of the gawpers.  And the Billion Monkeys.  Behind whom I will surely also be crounching, doing some Billion Monkeying of my own.

I’ve started reading Electric Universe – How Electricity Switch On The Modern World (2005) by David Bodanis.  Here is the moment when electricity first began truly to be scientifically understood, by Count Alessandro Volta (1745-1827).  This is from Bodanis’s Introduction, on page 7 of my Abacus paperback edition:

imageThere were many fragmentary efforts to penetrate this hidden world, from classical Greek times on, but even into the mid-1700s there was little true knowledge. The breakthrough came with the work of a conveniently vain Italian investigator, Alessandro Volta, in the 1790s. It would be a great honor, he felt, to locate the portal from which this mysterious ‘electricity’ emerged, and after much effort he realized where he should search. He found that if he pressed a coin-shaped copper disc against one side of his tongue, and a zinc disc against the other, and then touched the tips of the two coins together, a tingling sensation would race across his tongue. He’d located the world’s first steadily operating ‘battery’ - in his mouth.

Volta soon found that any two metals would do the trick so long as they were separated by a small amount of saliva, brine or other corrosive liquid. He didn’t know why this worked, or how the brine was making extra electrons appear on one of the metals, but he could send the tingling spray of electrons along a laboratory bench through a wire and he was getting famous just for describing it, and that was enough. The stuff that came out of this battery rushed forward like water in a river, so it was called an ‘electric current.’

As the Victorian era dawned, that was still most of our knowledge: two metals, when positioned near each other, could sometimes produce a sparking current within a wire connecting them.  It seemed a weak, merely curious phenomenon.  But it was the first useful door into a world that had been sealed and hidden.

Sunday March 18 2007

I like to photo the big phallic front-ends of the cameras flaunted by Real Photographers, or by Billion Monkeys pretending to be Real Photographers.

Here’s one I captured by sticking my sneaky little camera through the railings in front of Buckingham Palace last week:

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But now take a gander at this:

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Sigzilla.

Size isn’t everything with cameras.  For one thing you couldn’t poke that thing through the Buck House railings.  But I bet it helps for some purposes, such as lunar eclipses, very shy wildlife, topless movie stars on beaches two miles away, etc..  More pictures and info here.

Someone emailed asking what camera I use?  It’s a Canon S2 IS, of which the Canon S3 IS is now the current version.  Major plus: sneaky twiddlable screen for photoing Billion Monkeys as close as inches away without their consent or knowledge.  Major minus: won’t fit in pocket.  I’m thinking of getting a Nikon Coolpix S10, or perhaps a Canon PowerShot TX1.  And maybe also a Real Photographer camera, like the Canon EOS 350D, for taking huge panoramic shots of London.  That’s the one that Elena the Struggling Actress has just got herself.  Goddaughter One has a Canon EOS 400D, which is the next version up from the 350D.  I’ve just put them in touch with each other.

Saturday March 17 2007

Spotted and snapped outside Channel 4 Headquarters yesterday afternoon:

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Website for the trikes (see the back wheel) here.  Website for Artizian, there.  It’s a catering company.  Can find no mention of bikes or trikes there.  (And surely this one is a trike not a bike.)

Another in my collection (one other so far) of peculiar vehicles that draw attention to businesses.  Basically, this photo was put here, so that I could report on it here.

I’m settling down to an afternoon of Six Nations rugby heaven.  And the most remarkable fact about today’s triple decked proceedings is that there are four teams who are still theoretically capable of winning the 2007 Six Nations.  This is the kind of sporting afternoon which teaches small boys, such as I also will be for the duration, lots about arithmetic.

If Italy start the afternoon by running surreal riot against Ireland (now with a points difference of +38), if Scotland then equally bizarrely slaughter France (now with +42), and if Wales beat England, Italy (now -26) could theoretically win it, with six championship points alongside England, France and Ireland, but with the best game points difference.  Italy.

As it is, Italy actually have no chance at all, and England (points difference +13) have a ridiculously outside chance if they run riot against Wales, or if both France and Ireland lose and England merely win against Wales.  However, only France and Ireland are in with a realistic chance.  But, France are not only four ahead of Ireland on game points to start with, but start their game after Ireland finish, and will accordingly know exactly how many points they must get more than Scotland as soon as their game starts.  Very possibly a straight France win will suffice to get them ahead of Ireland.  Which is somewhat unfair, and is a blatant example of TV trumping proper sport.  That suits me just fine, because I am TV for these purposes.  But the Premier League would never end like that.

But, come to think of it, England will also know what they will have to do against Wales to win the Six Nations, statistically extreme though it is bound to be.

Italy Ireland has just kicked off.  Let the arithmetic commence.

Friday March 16 2007

Tonight, England v New Zealand in St Lucia, and tomorrow England v Wales in Cardiff.  Won’t England be tired and jetlagged for the Wales game?  No.  It’s two different teams and two different games.  Fools.

In the second of them, England will be captained, hamstring permitting, by Mike Catt.  Catt was widely denounced as an absurdly over-the-hill choice ("ferried from the bingo hall") before the France game last Sunday, but praised to the skies after it, after he created the first crucial England try.  England’s two were the only tries of the game.  I remember when England used to beat France by one try to three, with a ton of penalties.

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I’ve been doing some Catt googling, and this is my favourite Catt quote, from way, way back, when he was only 30:

When England played South Africa, in the last Test of their autumn series, Mike Catt did a lot of kicking. He plied his trademark high diagonals but he also thumped the ball long on occasions. Straight downfield. Just for a moment the Twickenham crowd groaned and you could half-sense the old criticisms welling up. But then the crowd saw that the kick was behind a rushing defence, that Dan Luger or Jason Robinson was ahead of the defenders and that the ball was bouncing sweetly and freely in open space.

And the next time he touched the ball, the defence wasn’t rushing up quite so fast and there was half a gap for half a break. He may still not be able to tell you precisely how it all comes together, but Mike Catt is still out there, half a thought and half a yard ahead of the game.

I wonder if he’ll be the England captain for the World Cup.  If England slaughter Wales tomorrow, as they well might, maybe so.  And then again, if Wales slaughter England, which is also possible, then maybe not.

Catt captains England now on the strength of his recent captaincy of London Irish.  (And there was me thinking he was a South African.)

As for the cricket, what’s the betting it’ll be another tie?

I’m out and about this afternoon and evening, but my TV hard disc is now clear and ready, for the highlights of the cricket tonight and for about seven straight hours of rugby tomorrow.

Did I tell you about a man called Fred Kingdom who wanted to use one of my photographs in an academic article?  Well, he did.  And here is the article in question.

Quote:

We would like to describe a new illusion of perspective that to our knowledge has not been reported before.

Fred Kingdom et al. reproduced my photo in black and white.  The original, which you can see here was in colour.  But, on the plus side, it was necessary for his purposes for him to reproduce it twice.  So, by not bothering to demand money with menaces, I lost twice as much money as I would have done normally.

Except: not.  I lost no money at all.  Had I demanded money, he would simply have continued looking for a photo that served his purposes taken by someone else.
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Now he wants to use another of my photos, shown on the right here (because it is and remains a thing of beauty - bigger when you click), of which (on my late lamented Culture Blog) I wrote (on January 11th 2005):

The one with two different colours is the best, isn’t it? It looks like it’s painted, and they ran out of orange. And look at where the two colours meet. It’s a paintbrush join on the left, but a spray gun join on the right. But it isn’t that. It’s setting sunlight, coming in from the West, with part of it in shadow. Buildings on the left and trees on the right.

The other two photos of the same tower, 355 Kings Road, were greyest grey, and brightest yellow.

He asked if I had any other weird lighting type pictures, and of the two I suggested, he also liked this one, and said he might be using that too.

If so, not just my name in academic lights, but me in lights as well.

Do you remember the amazing new bridge they’re building in Moscow.  Probably not.  Anyway, they are.

What I did not include in that posting was this map (which is and was always to be found by scrolling down, and down, and down, here), because I did not then know how to copy .gif files and turn them into .jpg files.  The pictures I did use were .jpgs all along.  The map was, to start with, a .gif.  But I now do know how to switch .gifs to .jpgs.  So:

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That shows even more clearly than the picture in the earlier posting just what a strange structure this will be.  The road goes along the river, above the river, crossing it at an extremely flat angle, which is why the road goes through the arch at right angles to it, instead of being in line with it as is the usual way with bridges with big arches of this sort.  Which is why the cables holding the bridge are so much more interesting than usual.

Thursday March 15 2007

That double page centre spread in the Guardian that I mentioned on Tuesday ...

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... has certainly livened things up for Magic Andy.  (He also does conjuring tricks.) Yesterday when I was out and about in London, our mutual friend Elena the Struggling Actress rang to tell me that there was another Andy creation on the go, and I rushed there before it got too dark and took some snaps.

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On Friday afternoon I’ve fixed to take more snaps while Andy is filmed by a TV documentary company.  GMTV I think it is.  As I told Andy, the media loves him because they think he’s a Noble Savage.  “And guess what, you are!” He kind of is, because he just does whatever he feels like doing, well.  He knows no fear.  What I like about his sand sculpture is that it is of something, rather than being stuff that you need an art degree to make sense of.

Plus, the place he does it is fun.  London!  The same thing on a beach by the sea wouldn’t be nearly so interesting.  But a beach by the river?  I mean, until Andy, I didn’t really get that the river Thames in London has beaches.  I wonder if the sand is real, so to speak, or was put there.

Note that Andy now has an assistant.  If this really takes off, he will have half a dozen minions, and on some days he himself won’t show up at all.  At which point, if they are still obeying Andy’s orders, will the results still be real Andies or bogus Andies?

While I was snapping, a guy who looked like a cross between Andy Warhol and Woody Allen came by with his Mobile Billion Monkey girl friend, and I have the vague feeling that he might have been, you know, Somebody.  Anyone recognise him?  This was the nearest thing to a snap of his face that I got.

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My guess: she loved it, and made him go down to the beach so she could snap it (and Andy) close up, but that he thought it was too kitchy and accessible.  It can’t be Art if the Great Washed like it too!  But, maybe he would think it all so grotesquely popular and populist that it might just go round the back of itself and be Art again.  Like with those Roy Lichtenstein giant cartoons of cool jet fighters.  Me, I don’t care if it’s Art or not.  I just think it’s a cool dragon.

Today, outside Westminster Abbey, I spotted and photographed (rather successfully) a man I suspected of being a world famous Russian classical musician, a suspicion confirmed by image googling when I got home.  But he was, you know, and so far as I could tell, just walking around.  Not like Dame Edna last week, who was on duty in full war paint.  Dame Edna was fair game for snapping and internetting.  But Mr Classical Music was not on show.  (Nor was he taking photos.) So, end of story.

Wednesday March 14 2007

No question about it, my best snaps of last week were these.  But earlier last week I encountered something else interesting, even if my snaps of the phenomenon were only so-so.  I refer to these people, whom I first spotted in Parliament Square, and then again on the South Bank, where they obliged me with a group photo. 

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Click to get the bigger pictures.

Okay not great snaps, but that last one has the nice property that the one doing the most bouncing is the only one in the by then fading light to be in anything resembling focus.  It was important to include a picture of bouncing, because bouncing is what these things are all about.

Apparently, or so they said, a fit and experienced bouncer, so to speak, can travel at speeds of up to thirty miles per hour.  So, in addition to presumably being the basis of all manner of extreme sports, these gizmos also qualify as a novel means of transport.  So, in due course I’ll link to this from here.

They gave me a flier, by means of which I was able to get to this website.  Which I consider to be a lot less impressive than the product.

Today’s Guardian has a huge two page wide photo (by Jeff Moore – I’m guessing this guy) of someone called Andy, doing beach sculpture beside the River Thames.

I can find no reference to this on the internet, or at the Guardian in particular.  Anybody?  But the Evening Standard also had a piece about Andy today, with another picture, and that I did find.  (UPDATE: No, not another picture.  The exact same picture.  Just a lot smaller.)

You may perhaps have read it here first on Nov 2 of last year, and before that on October 15th.  (That first posting won’t work as an individual link.  I tried deleting and reposting it, but the link to it still won’t work.)

Monday March 12 2007

This is what I call a house:

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I found that here, after reading this posting and this, and then going looking for a better picture.

The thing I like about this edifice is that he only decided to carry on upwards after he’d built the big bit at the bottom.  In a world of tedious planning applications and fitting in with the aesthetics of the area, blah blah, this kind of thing is no longer allowed here.  You have to be Roster or Fogers to get away with such whimsy in Britland, and even they have to decide everything before, which I suppose has to be the way with skyscrapers.  But that’s far better than nothing.  At least there are two Brits who are allowed to build exactly what they feel like building.

Today I watched more rugby, and amazingly, England beat France.  Few were expecting that.  Certainly the French team didn’t seem to have anticipated much of a contest and played as if they reckoned that turning up would more than suffice.

England’s new boys excelled.  Strettle looks very good.  The BBC’s John Inverdale even compared him to David Duckham.  Remember David Duckham?  Probably not.  Well, David Duckham was the one England three-quarter able to play without embarrassment alongside that amazing, largely Welsh, British Lions midfield attack of the nineteen seventies.

The starting number ten, Flood, also did well, scoring the first England try.  Then he got hurt, and was replaced by someone completely new called Geraghty, who did wonderful things, two in particular.  First there was an astonishing pass out of a tackle, which created a sudden threat down the left when nothing seemed on at all.  Then, by running out of defence instead of continuing with one of those tedious ping-pong kicking matches that rugby seems regularly to degenerate into these days, he created and himself almost scored England’s second, match-settling try.  Suddenly, Wilkinson is fighting for his place, not just in the team, but in the squad.

The best news for England was the absence through injury of the former rugby league star Andy Farrell.  Sadly for Farrell, there appears to be no place for him in the England team.  Replacing him with a real inside centre, Mike Catt, creator of England’s first try, made all the difference to England’s midfield attack, which against Italy and Ireland had looked leaden and lumbering.  Today, they still made mistakes, but they also made tries.  Today, it was France’s backs who lumbered, regularly moving sideways instead of forwards, presenting amazingly little threat to England’s tigerish tacklers.  I have never seen French backs look so predictable.  I suppose that resulted from England winning up front, which they did.  Get bad ball, and there’s little you can do with it.  Move forward, suck in opposing defenders and then feed your backs, and suddenly they look brilliant.

Once again, the Six Nations continues to fascinate.  France narrowly beat Ireland with a last gasp try at Croke Park.  Ireland crushed England at the same venue a fortnight later.  Yet today England beat France.

Wales have lost every game so far, including to Italy yesterday, but I wouldn’t put it past them to beat England in Cardiff next Saturday.  If they do, that will be another of those improbable trios of incompatible results.  Come to think of it, another such trio would be: Wales, Scotland, England.

Just had a look at some of the numerous comments at this BBC blog posting about the game.  Amazing how people can disagree with one another so much.  Many thought Farrell must come back.  I think he must stay away at all costs.

And feast your eyes on some of the comments here, before the game.

7: “Make no mistake this team will get hammered by France.”

16: “We will get creamed.”

23: “France by 15-20 points.”

37: “If they don’t get hammered it will be a miracle.”

49: “ha ha if France feel like it they could win by 50 points”

55: “Unfortunately I can’t see England winning this one. In fact I can see them being on the wrong end of another record loss.”

74: “France are unrelenting, so incredibly powerful going forward. And most importantly, they make all the correct tactical decisions. Always taking the points when on offer. A superb set of players gloriously honed into an uncompromising team, who will surely dominate England in every area.”

75: “I think England will come third in this game! Even the referee has a better chance of causing an upset!”

92: “It doesn’t bode well for the men in white. Expect this game to be over with 20 mins to play.”

100: “This certainly is an England team held together by brown paper and sticky-back tape. I see them limping and hobbling along to a serious defeat and much embarrassment. Please would someone put them out of their misery. ... The French will be having their Roast Beef under done with loads of vegetables. ... Oh dear.”

At least everyone seemed to agree that Strettle is good.  And just as France probably lost because, deep down, they didn’t believe they’d have any problem winning, maybe England won because they were sincerely terrified of not just losing but being utterly humiliated.  Which is why I say Wales could win next weekend.

I love the Six Nations.  Especially now that, with anthropogenic-or-not-as-the-case-may-be Global Warming and everything, the weather for it is so nice.

Saturday March 10 2007

Today I am watching rugby on the telly, while desperately clearing out my TV hard disc enough to enable me to fit Siegfried (BBC2 9.30pm to 2 pm!) on it tonight.  And tonight I am going to a birthday party.  So not much here today.

The interesting thing for me about tonight’s party, so far anyway, before it actually happens, is the way that a combination of the lady hosting the party and Evite is keeping me informed of its impending arrival.  First there was the invite (Evite I should say), weeks ago.  Then a reminder, reminding me that I hadn’t said yes, about a fortnight ago, saying say yes or no, now.  Then an acknowledgement that I had said yes.  Yesterday a reminder that I had said yes, and a reminder of where it was, with public transport and private parking info, and I was (we were) even told about the difficulties on the District Line today, which might have made all kinds of difficulties for me.  I can’t quite spot the joins between Evite and my hostess, and I got one email back saying, basically, you just sent an email to Evite and you can’t do that, sorry.  Nevertheless, brilliant.

It all looks very pre-blogging at the Evite website, and I’m sure this toy has been around for yonks.  But I don’t go to that many parties, and this was all new to me.  I’m impressed.

The hostess in question is and has always been very well organised, and this party would have been well organised even if email had never existed.  This episode just goes to confirm what I have long noticed, which is that people almost always use computers to do things that they would have been (and in the case of oldies like me: were) good at anyway.  They do all the same stuff they would have done anyway, but much better and much quicker.

And how about this!  I just, finally, worked out how to convert a .gif file into a .jpg file.  She knows who she is:

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I’ll spare you the details, but one of the things I think that illustrates is that when it comes to technology and technological change, things often happen rather gradually.

So today (yesterday by the clock but this is only the small hours and not really tomorrow yet) I was in Piccadilly Circus, London, and I spotted and snapped a celebrity:

Yes it was Dame Edna:

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I know, the sunlight all behind her.  But what could I do?  Move the sun round to behind me?  Run round to the other side of the car?  Not strong enough or clever enough, and no time.  But at least the traffic forced her to stop right next to where I was.  Had this happened during the early days of the Congestion Charge, she’d have been there and gone in a blur.

Could this personal appearance in full war paint be something to do with this?  She was evidently being filmed as she travelled on her stately way.  I’m pretty sure that that definitely-not-Billion-Monkey-type camera was attached to her car, although you can’t be sure just from my shot of the arrangement.

I was only passing through Piccadilly, having other business to attend to.  But when that was done, I came back for more, hope that lightning might strike twice.  And it did, in the form of these peculiar circumstances:

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Those bottoms are advertising the Borat DVD, in which Borat himself dressed like this.  Or I presume he did.  Maybe that was only for the promotional stuff.  The Borats were cavorting and yelling in Boratese outside what used to be Tower Records in Piccadilly, and is now (I think) another Virgin mega-emporium.  I of course photoed the photo-ers as well as the bottoms, that snap being the best of a (by then) rather dimly lit lot.

Every time Friday comes around these days, I think: shall I bother with this cat nonsense yet again?  And then something feline pops into view which seems worth mentioning.  This time it is this photo.  Enjoy.  I do.  I found it while chasing a rather sweet looking footbridge in Spain, which I may or may not tell you about, some other time.

Friday March 09 2007

Like everyone in my part of the blogosphere, I am very excited about last night’s Channel 4 Documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle.  I also recorded it to my TV hard disc.

The two most interesting claims in it, for me, were: that the Global Warming CO2 link is that that Global Warming causes more CO2 rather than the dominant notion now (as expounded by Al Gore) that more CO2 causes Global Warming, and: that Maggie Thatcher set the whole recent Global Warming pseudo- (if pseudo- it be) science funding bandwagon in motion because it was a stick to beat coal miners with.  (Brilliant.  You want to explain what a mad cow Thatcher was?  Denounce her take on Global Warming as cynical bollocks.)

What was so excellent, for me, about this show is not that it totally convinced me (I have had enough experience with arguing to know that changing your mind is not something you should do lightly and impulsively) but that it sketched out with absolute clarity the anti-Gore (for want of a better phrase) case.  It’s the sun what does it.  Sun temperature change, earth temperature change, CO2.  That’s the direction of the causes, not CO2 earth temperature change.  They are correlated, just as Al Gore said.  But Gore got the causation the wrong way round.

I also finally understand the point I have kept hearing about sun spots.  Hitherto, sun spots have, when being sold to me as the explanation of all this, sounded to me like they are supposed to cause things.  Wrong.  They are merely a symptom of what does cause things, namely big change in the sun as a whole.  The sunspots are a symptom of the sun warming, not the cause of anything on earth in themselves.

Nevertheless, this show certainly made me more of an anthropogenic Global Warming atheist, and less of a mere agnostic on the subject.  I will be watching out for whatever arguments for and against that I encounter during the next few weeks and months.  I will, for instance, be watching out for what happens to the academics featured in the show who were brave enough to put their heads above the parapet.  That we now have a whole heroes gallery of sun-worshippers (so to speak), whose general intellectual demeanour and record we can now scrutinise, is an immense help. Presumably there will be (have already been) lots of character assassinations, attempted and maybe successful.

And who is Martin Durkin, the guy who made the programme?  Ah yes, Living Marxism.  (That was what they called themselves when I first got to know these weirdos.  Before that they were RCP.  Equals Revolutionary Communist Party.)

Living Marxism were one of those creepy outfits that then said you should only refer to them as LM, without saying what LM used to stand for.  Sort of like BAT (who were absolutely not British American Tobacco you understand, definitely not, no relation whatsoever at all blah blah blah), only political.  Then when that was greeted with the derision and contempt that it deserved, they dumped even the LM crap, and called themselves the Institute of Ideas.  I don’t trust them further than I can spit them.

But, for their own bonkers cult reasons, they are very ambitious and worldly wise, rather like the Scientologists.  (Claire Fox, for instance, is one of them.  Frank Furedi is another.) Generally, what they say is, strangely, well worth listening to.  They speak truth to power, because they are insane and want one day to be power, and do Marx knows what to us.

RCP/Living Marxism/etc. is one of the great conveyor belts of libertarianism from the libertarian ghetto here on earth to the real world, also here on earth, via the planet Zarg.  Their Zargian take on the whole Class War thing is that the Class War is still raging between the nobs and the yobs, just like Marx said, but Zargians explain it differently to the usual way.  Instead of Al Gore et al being described as repentant nobs on the side of the yobs, the RCP/Living Marxism/etc. people describe Al Gore et al as unrepentant nobs, foisting their latest line of bullshit on the toiling masses, the Working Stiffs of the World who Have Nothing To Lose But Their Chains.  RCP/Living Marxism/LM/Institute of Ideas/Whatever will lead the Working Stiffs of the World to victory, and then put Marxist lizards in power or whatever the hell they have in mind.

All of this will now be explained with great enthusiasm by Al Gore et al, the central claim being: These People are Bonkers and we can safely ignore what they say!!!

My answer: These People are indeed Bonkers and Not To Be Trusted (i.e. warmed over and (not very) secretly unrepentant Marxists), but meanwhile, what do you say to their arguments?  This particular clutch of notions sounds rather persuasive to me.

Not the least of the fun is going to be that a bunch of warmed over Marxists (Al Gore et al) are going to have to explain that another bunch of warmed over Marxists are bonkers, and are going to disagree about whether they should play the Marx card.  I personally agree completely that being a Marxist, still, is strong evidence that you should be taken away in a van.  But how will other Marxists with a different take on Marxism handle this argumentative opportunity?

But all that is a digression.  The truth is the truth.  If a mad, not-to-be-trusted person says something true, there is still the matter of its truth to be considered.  Pointing out that the person saying the truth is mad and not-to-be-trusted does not make the truth untrue.  Point of logic.  Besides which, although the RCP/LM crowd are from the planet Zarg, that doesn’t mean that the scientists they have rounded up are likewise Zargians.  They are almost certainly, almost entirely, bona fide earth people.

The arguments in this documentary are now going to be the new orthodoxy of the global right wing, anti-regulation, anti-high-taxes, anti-road-pricing, fuck-you-Karl, fuck-you-Tarqin crowd, who will now echo-chamber these arguments with their blogs into a roar that will deafen the world, in other words these arguments will be adopted by a huge number of earth people.  Al Gore et al are going to have to explain why these arguments are nonsense, or, despite the fact that they have won every battle so far, they will lose their war.

I await developments with fascination.

UPDATE: try here for some responses from the opposition.

Thursday March 08 2007

Today I tried to be a little more disciplined about my blogging, and have been trawling through photo directories looking for photos relevant to what I wanted to post about, in a very disciplined way.

So much for discipline.  When photo-trawling, I inevitably encounter photos that are relevant to nothing, but which I find I want to show to you people.

Going by the photos taken at the same time, this was snapped somewhere rather near to the Post Office Tower.  And thanks to the magic of digital cameras nowadays, I can tell you that it was taken at exactly eight minutes past four pm, on June 8th of last year.

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I sense a fellow hoarder.  You can tell that the cans are empty, by the way they are not stacked neatly, but just piled up higgledy piggledy.  I know just what he/she was thinking.  You never know when they might come in handy.

My East European friends tell me that one of the more difficult things to get used to about capitalism was the need to throw things like cans away.  Under communism, everything was scarce and had a use of some kind, even empty cans.  Under capitalism, such stuff is mere junk and must be disposed of if you are not to be buried under your own refuse.  I wonder if this hoarder is a former captive of communism.

Of course I have no real idea what the story is here.  That’s three quarters of the fun of these mystery photos.  The whole point of living in a great city is that you can’t expect to understand everything you see.

I also like these two snaps - I hoard snaps, in case you ever doubted it - taken a couple of days later.

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The statue, again judging by the fact that this sign was snapped at the same time, is of this bloke:

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Yes, the Grand Old Duke of York himself.

Top photo-ing tip: take snaps of signs that make sense of things for you later.  That way, you at least have change of understanding whatever is understandable.

Either someone is very good with Photoshop, ...

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... or this bridge (you have to do a bit of scrolling there) is going to be for real:

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“Scheduled to be completed September 2007”, apparently.

Yes

Amazing.

Flickr and Google really are a killer combination.

Yesterday I bought the latest Gramophone.  In it was a flier for the Oldie, which mentioned something called the Pylon Appreciation Society.  And yes, there is a website, or that wouldn’t have been in green underlined letters would it. 

This organisation is presumably only quite small now.  But when the world moves from merely banning new pylons (as is presumably already happening all over the damn place) to large scale, noticeable pylon demolition, the PAS will become huge.  But it may also split, between those who merely appreciate pylons, and those who will be campaigning actively for their preservation.  (They may then form the rival, more radical, Society for the Preservation of Pylons.  I had to google that, just to be sure that it hadn’t already been formed.) The pylonic golden age cannot last for ever.

I of course went looking for photos.  And straight away stepped into a feud between the PAS and this guy.  When I tried to embed a link to a nice photo in this posting, I got that crap.  Already the pylonicists are at each other’s throats.

He could surely have handled that better, couldn’t he?  He’s good with a camera, or someone is.  But thank goodness the history-ising of poverty (see top right of his site) doesn’t involve people like him doing anything.

So anyway, here is one of the pylon photos that I liked, in the digital flesh, since Mr Make Poverty History won’t let me link:

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If someone built just one of these things, for art rather than for mere electricity, people would cross the world to worship it, and capitalism would be told: “Ha, you can’t do that!  There have to be art grants to make something like that!!” But now that capitalism does this by the million, it doesn’t signify.

Wednesday March 07 2007

imageI think that number three, of these twelve top weird Japanese inventions that never caught on, is very sensible and not weird at all.

Gizmodo had a recent little laugh at these inventions.  This is because all the real gadget blogs are now terrified that what they are really doing is pushing a succession of idiot toys on the general populace, who read about these toys not so that they can buy them but so that they can chuckle at them.  Oh look, another stupid electric chocolate bar that does lots of things you will never use instead of just being a cheap mobile phone which is what you do use.  (Note this!) I read the gadget blogs for the fun of reading them, not to buy everything, other than sensible things like this umbrella.  Stop buying the idiotic electric chocolate bars, said a gadget blogger recently, after going mad and resigning.  Talk about superfluous advice.  Speak for yourselves, gadget bloggers.

That’s a picture of the umbrella on the right, obviously.  I tried reducing this picture down to about half, so that the amount of writing needed here on the left to fill up the space would be minimised, but I couldn’t then see it properly.  The basic problem here is that entering blogging text these days is about where word processing was in the early eighties.  What you see is nothing like what you get (WYSINLWYG), a problem in so many areas of life, don’t you find?

The other way to minimise the amount of writing needed in blog postings such as this would be to make the picture bigger, so that it goes all the way across here.  (This blog is not one of those annoying ones where the text widens or narrows according to how wide or narrow your window is, and where, if care is not exercised, text finds itself being arranged in the form of narrow columns of single words per line.  I decide the width of my text.  You merely decide whether you can see it all without scrolling from side to side or not.) But I disapprove of making pictures bigger for any reason but clarifying details in them.

Anyway, yes, I think the idea of an umbrella that you can, optionally, hold above yourself only with your head, thus leaving both your arms free for all that heavy shopping that you just did and that got rather out of control (now that I’m here I might as well stock up on ...) is a very good one.

A similar problem arises when you are trying to answer a tedious phone call, and to carry on blogging at the same time while whoever it is drones on and on, or perhaps because you want to actually write down whatever it is they are droning on about, presumably because it is not so very dronesome but actually quite interesting.  In circumstances like that, I often find myself hunching my shoulder up in a vain attempt to keep the phone from falling away from my ear.  For that problem, Japanese people have invented all manner of solutions, such as phones that are attached to your brain like TV SF head make-up.  Nobody jokes about those devices.  Well they sometimes do, if you wear them while walking along the street, gibbering to yourself.  But the principle is not denounced as ridiculous.  So, why the joking here about this impeccably dignified implementation of a fine idea?

Are these umbrellas obtainable on the internet?

More to the point, is that enough droning on from me to fill in the gap between the picture and the left hand edge?

I instinctively sense that it has been more than sufficient.

Tuesday March 06 2007

I really like this photo of Taipei 101.  You don’t always get the context with skyscrapers, and I’ve never seen the context of Taipei 101 before.  Nothing near comes close, does it?

imageThree screensworths of travel writing, from snapper cerille of Hong Kong, follow.

First Impressions: Before anything else, I think it’s quite unfair to a city for a foreigner to arrive early morning (read: 3 am) when everything seems to be at rest and draw an impression right there. Chang Kai Shek Int’l Airport wasn’t quite as impressive as HKIA but I guess, that’s my first mistake I compare everything to HK. Well, it wasn’t bad either, just empty.  Thankfully my dearest Stephanie is a native speaker so we found our way to the bus and on to Taipei City. Oh, that first bus in Taipei is business class - we were joking about it since the entire bus could probably only seat 20 people because the seats were all couch-like and the leg room is ahhhh ... you frequent (economy) flyers know what I mean. Haha. We pretty much spent the rest of the morning sleeping in Elvina’s very spacious apartment.  As with everything in Taipei, from streets to apartments, everything is more “normal” than HK.

And much more.

And then there’s just the one comment, from jayayess1190:

Great shot!

Indeed it is.  And four people call it a favorite.

Monday March 05 2007

Following on from this pub in Victoria, this church in Hong Kong.

I can’t show that picture here because I can’t do .gif files, but never mind, because here’s the exact same shot, taken by another guy:

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What is it about small old buildings next to big new buildings that appeals?  For me, I think it is to do with human freedom.  Totalitarianism demands that everything be modern, that is to say its own version of modern.  At its worst, it literally destroys everything small (and therefore too weak to resist) and ancient.  And sometimes modern commercial culture can have pretty much the same effect.  Everything turns out to have its price, so everything goes.  (Or worse, the modern capitalists just buy up the government and have it steal and destroy everything.)

One of the most important physical signs of freedom is accordingly the survival of small ancientness in the midst of big modernity.  This small thing at least has been permitted.  And we all like that.  Even if, as in my case in this case, we may happen to disagree with a lot of the ideas embodied in the small and ancient thing.

I read this tech news subheading ...

Real world catastrophe hits Tom from HW Logic

... and I assumed that “Real world” was some kind of game or system or something or other, and that “Tom” was some other kind of computer trickery product supplied by HW Logic, which got you and your computer into trouble if you made the mistake of using Tom and Real world at the same time.

However, it turns out that a bloke called Tom (who works for HW Logic) has lost his house and all his possessions because of hurricane.  At least there is no mention of HW Logic being a bloke called Hiram Walter Logic.

Indeed:

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Via here, and here, and here, and then a bit of scrolling here.

Sunday March 04 2007

The Long Tail man has a charmingly innocuous posting up about the myriad problems of recharging the batteries of radio controlled model planes, and then a commenter says this:

And when we get the battery issue solved, it will be on to mounting little cameras/camcorders on the belly of these things. Imagine a world where everyone can turn still and video cameras via RC planes on their neighbors, celebrities, competitors and enemies at will. Sure beats the traffic report - and Google Earth, for that matter.

How soon before celebrity mansions start to include anti-aircraft guns?

Next: radio controlled aircraft with guns on them, to shoot down spotter planes.  Then: dogfights between fighters.  Remember: the Battle of Britain had its origins in World War One aerial reconnaissance.

And what about if the Pesky Muslims start using them?  Bombers!

Click on this:

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... to find out what it is.  To Londoners, that will be pretty easy to guess.  As one of the commenters says, it’s virtually impossible to take a bad photo from this spot.

I see to recall reading that there was a mix-up with the colour of the stone used for this, which might account for this snap being in black-and-white.  More about it here.  Those photos, of the thing itself, make it look rather like a model, but with incredibly realistic people.

Saturday March 03 2007

Last night I not only created a new category called “Bridges”, long overdue, but I also trawled back through my archives applying Bridges to every bridge posting I could find.  There must be earlier ones that I haven’t yet found, but I found quite a few.  So, if you now click on the “bridges” category (scroll down to categories, on the left) you get this posting, obviously, but now quite a few other bridges, screening out all the crap about cats, the environment, Pesky Muslims, Billion Monkeys and all other things of no interest to bridge spotters, except when Billion Monkeys are on bridges or are photo-ing bridges, as I was and was in the previous Bridge posting.  I don’t believe the Pesky Muslims have tried to blow up any bridges, or not that I’ve noticed.  But I suppose that’s only a matter of time.  (Come to think of it, wasn’t there a big security flap concerning one of London’s bridges not so long ago.  Can’t remember.)

So anyway, here’s the latest cool footbridge I found:

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Quote:

This rather unusual curved footbridge links the St James’ Shopping centre with an underground car park on the other side of the road. The design is somewhat controversial and it is probably equally loved and loathed by Edinburgh residents. It does stand out, but although it is close to some beautiful historic buildings, it is in a fairly modern business part of town and personally, I rather like it.

This photo was the Edinburgh daily photo of June 4th of last year.  And I would say, based on looking at that, it’s no great shakes.  Unusual?  Hardly.  Curved?  Not very.

But, look at this inside view:

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Better, don’t you think?

I’m telling the story the opposite way around to how I found out about it.  I started by trawling through Flickr for modern footbridges, and after wading past lots of snaps of the Millenium Bridge in London, which is very fine I do agree, found this picture.  Then I did a brouse, and found that cool interior of it.  But what is this bridge?  Edinburgh was enough of a clue for me to get to the Edinburgh daily photo photo, which told the story.

I also found things like this and this.  Favourite bridge discovery: this, which is an aqueduct converted into a tram bridge.

Friday March 02 2007

First of all, if cats and cat blogging disgust you, do please at least skip to the final paragraph of this posting and follow the link in it.

Okay let’s get cats out of the way.  I still can’t get out of my head the notion commented by Tat here that cat blogging is the symptom of a disease, which I have obviously caught.  I really should stop this very soon.

Meanwhile: “How we behave toward cats here below determines our status in heaven”, Robert A. Heinlein said, apparently.  Comments galore, at Samizdata.  “Oh lord, what have I started?” is the one from original poster Johnathan Pearce.

Anyway, here’s Nora, a cat who plays the piano.  I don’t think that Grigory Sokolov has much to fear, do you?  Intense audio-analysis has revealed that Nora’s CD of Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, the authenticity of which had already been queried by certain critics, turns out to be a repackaged rip-off of Martha Argerich’s classic version, which I already possess and which I recommend.

Martha Argerich is a great pianist but, from what I hear, also rather bonkers.  I bet she has lots of cats.

I can’t remember how I got to Nora.  I had a look to see if it was Jessica Duchen, but could find no mention of Nora there, but I did find (a) a nod, which is always nice, to me and to Stephen Pollard for noticing the Sokolov video she first linked to, and more to the point, (b) another great link from her to a video.

As I said at its start of this nonsense, do by all means ignore the rest of this crappy posting, but you must take a look/listen at/to this.  It is both highly musical and LOL hilarious.

My quest for the perfect mobile computer continues, so I can blog blog from a train (see the end - as I write this, the Transport Blog archiving system seems not to be working - so go to Transport Blog and scroll down to “Turnpike Trusts” on Feb 28, and scroll to the bottom of that).

Anyway, yes, mobile computers.  This looks like it might be part of the story:

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But it needs to be cheap, and I’d need to have hands on experience of it, to see if I could fit my hands on it.  You never know with keyboards until you try.  What I’m saying is, I’d like to see it in a shop.  Remember those?  Anyone know what this will cost.  I hope £20.  I fear nearer £100.  Plus it all assumes I can find the right computer to plug it into.

Also, what does “instantly reconfigurable” mean?  That might be wasted on me.  Maybe this version of it would be better for me.

My thanks to engadget.

Trouble is, things like this keep appearing in virtual-land but never ever seem to make it to being on sale, in shops, to normals.

Incoming email from Mike:

As a daily reader of your blog, I am constantly delighted by all of the new things I learn from your postings on music, composers and the like.  I was wondering, would you happen to have a recommendation on a general or specific approach to teaching an understanding of classical music?  My wife and I homeschool my son and I am looking for a way to instill not only music appreciation but also an understanding of musical structures, styles, etc.  While my son is progressing well in his piano lessons and loves classical music (listens to it frequently, and every night on headphones when going to bed), I don’t feel like we’re helping him to understand the music as much - although he clearly enjoys it.  In any case, if you have the time, I would love your thoughts on the matter.

I have two things to say about this.

First, by the sound of it, it ain’t bust and don’t try to fix it.  He enjoys it!  Great!  What’s the problem?

Second, does he want to “understand” this music, as opposed to just enjoy it?  What would that mean?  It would presumably mean that he fancied the idea of becoming some kind of musical creator.  If he fancies composing or creating music, then encourage him in that also.  He will learn a thousand times more about “structure” in music by building it than he ever will by merely pondering it in the work of others.

I would add that if he has any plans to be a classical musician himself (if), then now that the great recording job is done, creating new music and recording it as part of the creative process is now where classical music needs to be at.  In other words, classical music is becoming more like regular music, which is of course exactly what it was before electronics started yanking music all over the place, classical in one direction (recording the back catalog) and pop music in a quite different direction (recording new stuff).  Now, the core classical music skill is not singing, or playing any particular instrument, but recording and editing, and then distributing it on the internet.  Those are the things that almost all aspiring musicians should now be learning about and doing.  At the very least, all young musicians should have friends who are into such things.

But that is probably getting way ahead.  Mostly I just think, wow, if my biggest worry as a parent is that he likes classical music but maybe doesn’t understand it quite as much as he might, then I really don’t have a problem!  A problem is something like if he tries to stab you, or if he vomits every evening after dinner, or hasn’t said anything for a week, or bangs his head on his bedroom wall for hours on end.

Mike goes on to say nice things about the idea of cranking up my education blog again (see previous posting).  Thanks.

By the way, talking of classical music, I did a posting yesterday on Samizdata about this amazing video of the amazing Grigory Sokolov playing the amazing last movement of Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata.  I have loved this piece ever since buying an LP of Ashkenazy playing it.

Thursday March 01 2007

I’m getting quite a bit of positive chit-chat, face-to-face and email, about the idea of me restarting Brian’s Education Blog (under a different group-blog-type name), and I am going to do this quite soon, i.e. probably this year.

Here is a fine example of the sort of stuff I would link to and quote from.  See in particular, just as a for-instance, this comment, number 10, by someone called Norman H, criticising this guy:

This guy is nuts. I’m an IT professional, a 3D animator, and general CG fx person. My IT skills I pretty much taught myself. My learning started way back in 7th grade when I would play with computer systems. My 3D skills I learned when I started college as a hobby to help get away from the daily grind of class work. I went to a top 10 college for computer science expecting to learn a whole lot. Sad fact was that I already knew most of what they were to try and teach me. The same went for my 3D skills. I recently went back to school seeking a degree in 3D animation and vfx. I was again disappointed to see I would again know most of that they were going to try and teach me. The only thing of value I got from both places were the degrees. The concepts you must know in order to put any of these software tools to use apply to more than just the tools. And all these applications are just that. Tools. To paint a masterpiece you need more than just some paint, canvas, and brush.

Personally I reckon that computer skills teaching (and for that matter teaching deep strategic computer insights) will always be a mess, until computer skills stop racing ahead.  The only way to learn this stuff now is to teach yourself as best you can, and then get a job doing it.  A skill that is racing ahead will always provide far too many job opportunities to those who have it for the better people among them to be bothered about teaching.  I don’t think that “those who can do those who can’t teach” applies to everything, but I do think it applies to stuff like this.

Latin teaching, on the other hand, is far easier to organise.  What else can the top Latin experts do with Latin apart from teach it?

Codebreakers you say?  Yes, but they wouldn’t be using the actual Latin would they?  (Unless the code was itself in Latin.) They would merely be using a brain that had perhaps been improved by Latin.  (And perhaps wasted.)

He’s a blogger, who linked to this, so I got to hear about him again.

I have only a rather vague recollection (I used to do a lot of arguing) of meeting with this guy in Manchester and of having enjoyed it a lot, and would have struggled to get his name right, as I struggle with all names.  Which makes it all the more agreeable to connect up with him again.

Ships that pass in the night, and then five years later put each other on their blogrolls.

I especially like FMoaK’s subheading at the top, under FMoaK:

At first they came for the smokers but I did not speak out as I did not smoke. Then they came for the binge drinkers but I said nothing as I did not binge. Now they have an obesity strategy.

Yes.  When the government has a “strategy”, it means they are coming to get you.

I meant to post this two weeks ago.  Sorry it took so long.

I got to this catch by Shane Bond via this cricket blog.  It’s well worth a few seconds of your time if you have any interest in cricket.

The game was this one, the first of the three recent Australia/New Zealand one day internationals, all three won by NZ, the third after Australia had scored 346 and had reduced NZ to 41-4 after 9.1 overs.  Australia have lost their last five ODIs, the previous two being to ... oh I forget.

The thing that got me started on this Billion Monkeys photo themselves thing was a poster, advertising Malta.  After that I started photo-ing this kind of thing deliberately, although I later found out that I had already taken quite a few such photos already without realising it.

Mostly the people I snap snapping themselves are visitors to the great city of London, here to observe our great sights and beauty spots, and to record their presence in front of them.  You seldom see a Real Photographer doing this kind of thing, but now that big Real Photographer type cameras are starting to be acquired by Billion Monkey type photographers and are now being used for this kind of snapping a lot.

Here are forty eight of my favourite snaps in this genre.  For the benefit of those who don’t want to be looking at all forty eight but would like to sample a few, here are my very favourite ones.  My absolute favourite is the third of these six, with number two, the one on its left, running it pretty close.  Number two is unusual in being an interior shot of a couple of my friends, and in featuring two cameras rather than the more usual single camera.

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And here are the best of the rest:

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Earlier this month, I snapped a snap off the telly of Abby and Brittany Hensel taking a snap of themselves, for their driving licence(s).  Abby and Brittany are the world’s only known dicephalus conjoined twins, and they were featured in “Extraordinary People: the Twins who Share a Body”, on Channel 5 on Monday February 19th.

Previous huge collection of Billion Monkey snaps here.