Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Friday November 30 2007

imageFlickr blog does cats, so I don’t have to, and Jackie D did some cat stuff today as well.  But even though it’s superflouous to requirements, on the right is a cat clock I recently acquired.

Jackie also has a great photo up: Edward Hopper meets the Billion Monkeys.  And I like this snap also, which she merely chose to have at her blog.  At first I thought it was by her, but actually it’s isn’t.  Still very good though.

Remember that November 15th resolution of mine?  Probably not.  The idea was that instead of for ever delaying the composition of those Big Postings that we all have rattling about in our brains, I would simply sit down and write them, as best I could, adequately.  I said I would attempt one of these Big Postings once a week.

Well, it’s been over a fortnight, but I have finally written one of these things, and I have just put it up on Samizdata.  It is about a notion very dear to my heart, namely two-man teams.  As you can see from the number of categories I have listed at the end of this, I cover quite a lot of ground.  (At Samizdata we’re urged to keep it down to two.  And we are also now being urged not to put entire sentences in brackets.  Oh dear.)

Soon after that Nov 15 posting I just sat down and started writing it.  And then yesterday or the day before or whenever I gave it another bash, and now there it is.  If you can manage to read through it all, I hope you like it.  I like to think that it is the kind of thing that even those who are put off by the generally head-banging tone of Samizdata might enjoy.

Another such within the next week, I hope, but I promise nothing.

Thursday November 29 2007

Indeed:

image

Original here.  Again Canada, I think.  He’s certainly on his way to the very photogenic town of Banff, which definitely is in Canada.

Wednesday November 28 2007

Thin quota photo:

image

The Flickr original contains lady in bikini, dog, and strange multicoloured lump.

Map of bridge and description here:

The Confederation Bridge spans the Northumberland Strait between the Canadian provinces of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Prince Edward Island is located off the Eastern Coast of Canada, nestled between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  The crossing takes approximately 10 minutes.

Looks like a lot of bridge for not very much island, but I like it anyway.  So many arches.  Quantity becomes quality.

Tuesday November 27 2007

I do love a deftly mixed metaphor, and I certainly love that one, which is at the start of this.  It’s someone telling Lessig that he should support Hillary Clinton because Hillary Clinton is going to win.  Sounds like a political partisan talking nonsense.  The smart move is always to support whoever you truly support, and worry about those “bridges” later, if at all.  (I seldom find myself able to support anybody.) But, nonsense nicely expressed.  Although in the original, “don’t” is in capitals, and there is a “so to speak” tacked on the end.

I talked recently with someone who is just under half my age, about how wearisome the internet is, to her.  To her, it’s all just drudgery.

For me, even word processing still retains its magic.  That’s right.  What I am doing right now is magic!!  This is because I have liked writing since my teens, and first heard about word processing years before it was regularly available, and I thought: that would be fantastic!!  I taught myself to type with all my fingers, in the hope that word processing would eventually make sense of that decision, and when word processing finally happened, in the early eighties, I was not disappointed.  It was fantastic!! And it has remained fantastic ever since.  For me it has been like the best sort of lifelong love affair.  I fell in love with it, but had to wait.  During that wait, it acquired a magic in my mind that no mere reality could subsequently dim.

I feel similarly, although with less intensity, about colour television, because I had to wait for that for about a decade too.  My family was posh, and posh people are often slow to do things like colour telly.

But for my younger friend, the very internet itself was an accomplished fact by the time she paid much attention to it or felt the need for it.  It was just something people did, and already knew how to do.  She’s much better at it than me, but seems to enjoy it less.  She prefers real life.  How sad.

Monday November 26 2007

While pursuing pencils for this, I went to this blog (which was mentioned here) which contained this on pencils among many, many other things.  It looks really good, and crammed with links.  It’s like it’s his job, which is what I take “things magazine” to mean.

I was particularly struck by this picture:

image

Talk about an urban nightmare.  London often feels like that.  Not when you walk from A to somewhere near A.  Usually that works pretty well, unless you’re doing something like walking across a major bridge in the morning rush hour.  But whenever you try to use “transport”, to get from A to another letter of the alphabet, that picture is what it’s like?  So, is that how it will eventually look?  Will many open air parts of London mutate into places like the Underground is now?  The city is already 3-D underground, and inside big buildings.  Will the bits between the big buildings go the same way?

Once they get road pricing properly organised the economic incentives will be in place to turn lots of city air into solid lumps of Underground?  By which time robots will be driving all the (very small indeed) cars and we’ll be stuck inside playing with our iPods or our iTeddyBears or iGirlFriends.

Sunday November 25 2007

Check this out, from the Daily Mail.

image

Few have been granted permission to see these marvels.

Indeed, the Italian government was not even aware of their existence until a few years ago.

But the ‘Temples of Damanhur’ are not the great legacy of some long-lost civilisation, they are the work of a 57-year-old former insurance broker from northern Italy who, inspired by a childhood vision, began digging into the rock.

Time and again these days, I wander around my favourite internet byways, and find my way to interesting mainstream media reportage.  This time, I went from Instapundit, to something else on this blog, which looked interesting so I stripped out the stuff about this particular posting to see what else I could find, and I found this link to the above weirdness.

This reminds me of that thing about how if you owe the bank very little it’s your problem but if you owe them a lot it’s theirs.  In this case, if you want retrospective planning permission for a patio extension, you lose.  But, if you want it for several miles of ornately decorated underground caves illuminated with fabulous stained glass windows, no problemo.

Saturday November 24 2007

I have not been busy here.  But I have been busy here.

Friday November 23 2007

Surprise cat information on QI this evening, after which I googled the story and quickly found this:

In the early 1950’s, the Dayak people of Borneo suffered a malarial outbreak.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) had a solution: to spray large amounts of DDT to kill the mosquitoes that carried the malaria.  The mosquitoes died; the malaria declined; so far so good.  But there were unexpected side effects.  Amongst the first was that the roofs of the people’s houses began to fall down on their heads.  It seemed that the DDT had also killed a parasitic wasp which had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars.  Worse, the DDT-poisoned insects were eaten by geckos, which were eaten by cats.  The cats started to die, the rats flourished, and the people were threatened by outbreaks of typhus and plague.  To cope with these problems, which it had itself created, the WHO was obliged to parachute 14,000 live cats into Borneo. Operation Cat Drop, now almost forgotten at the WHO, is a graphic illustration of the interconnectedness of life, and of the fact that the root of problems often stems from their purported solutions.

Well, that was new to me.  It might explain some of the anti-DDT sentiment that still flourishes.  I changed “geckoes” to “geckos”, under the influence of my spellchecker.

Also, photoed by me today in a tourist crap shop:

image

I actually rather like tourist crap shops, often finding amusing photo opportunities in them, such as massed ranks of small statues, individually banal, but collectively striking.

Thursday November 22 2007

On October 14th I encountered something a bit strange, in the form of a Billion Monkey lady on Westminster Bridge.  She was snapping away in the general direction of Big Ben, the way Billion Monkeys do, so there was nothing unusual about that.  (Billion Monkeys, for those new to the concept, are that enormous army of amateur snappers who now wield cheap digital cameras, and who, unlike those proverbial million monkeys who type at random but never write any Shakespeare, are producing the occasional terrific photo, in among all the dross.  I periodically wander around London’s tourist districts recording Billion Monkeys in action.  And yes, I am one of these creatures myself.)

So anyway, here was one of my first snaps of my Billion Monkey lady, which at first I just filed under Billion Monkeys Crouching:

image

But at the time of taking the picture I had obviously been sufficiently intrigued by that bit of paper she was holding up in front of her camera to sneak around the other side of her and take a snap which, with luck, would enable me to see what it was.  There she is again, this time with the bottom of Big Ben in view to the top left.

image

My camera having better eyesight than me, I then let the mystery lie, and only rather recently have I investigated any further.  This, I discovered, is what the paper said:

image

“HEINRICH PHOTOGRAPHY”.  I googled, but inconclusively.  None of the various Heinrichs suggested, although photographic, looked cheap and cheerful enough to be what was going on in my pictures.

imageBut then I tried Flickr.  Any references there to Heinrich Photography?  Success!  I quickly found my way to these snaps.  And, although there was no sign of Big Ben, among these I did find this photo.  That bigger version of the picture is an uncopiable .gif, but I was able to copy this smaller .jpg which you see to your right.

And, that is the exact same piece of paper.  There is no doubt about it.  And what is more, Billion Monkey snaps being datable and timable, I can tell you that those phone boxes were photoed just one hour after I took my snaps.  Also, the camera used to snap the phone boxes is the same one as my crouching lady was using.  The phone boxes picture was taken by one Alicia Ramirez, who simply has to be my Billion Monkey lady.  Googling for Alicia Ramirez yielded one actress, but she looked different.  I don’t know where in London the phone boxes are.

Another photo in the set linked to above, with Heinrich Photography signs in them, says instead “www.heinrichphotography.blogspot.com”.  Hah, a blog!  But alas, that url, as of now, leads nowhere.

What is going on here?  Why is it sometimes Heinrich and sometimes “Hein Rich”?  This would make the beginnings of a good short story.  I hope to learn more.  In particular, I wonder if that blog will ever come alive.

If I’ve been suckered by some kind of viral marketing campaign, guess what.  I don’t care.

Wednesday November 21 2007

Incoming from Adriana: check out this whole site, and this bit in particular.  It is, she says, “A brilliant way to ‘advertise’ one’s skills”.  So, although advertising is broken, ‘advertising’ is okay.

Deep thanks to Adriana also for the link to Him.

Come to think of it, God Almighty could do a nice sideline in railway announcements.  I once heard about an American who was travelling alone in a carriage, at night, on the long, long line to Inverness in deepest northernest Scotland, and after about two hours of complete silence, the intercom suddenly began an announcement by saying: “This is your guard speaking”, and the American misheard “guard” as “god”.  It made quite an impression on him, for a moment.

I love the idea of modern electronic communications systems being possessed.  One of my all-time favourite movies is LA Story.

In my next production of Hamlet - which, by the way, gets quite a big mention in LA Story - the ghost will be an emanation of the security system, the guards at the beginning being security men watching TV screens.  At first the ghost just appears on black and white screens, but in due course he turns 3D.  Hamlet spends spends much of his time from then on talking into video cameras and recording machines of various kinds, so that he can work the same trick on future generations.

Tuesday November 20 2007

Snapped last week in a shop:

image

Who are these people?

You get the feeling they were on the phone to each other beforehand, don’t you?  The magazines, I mean.

Actually I don’t despise this kind of thing nearly as much as you might suppose.  I think that the populus is right to be reflecting upon the romantic difficulties of celebs in an age of what is already, and definitely for celebs, total surveillance, which is what it will soon be for everybody.  Chanelle and Ziggy are, I can only guess, two of those particular sorts of celeb whose only claims to fame are that they are quite nice looking and that they must, while it lasts, submit to total surveillance.

What happens to romance, when everyone who cares about your romance can find out all about it with one google face search?  What happens to marriage when “don’t cheat on me in our home town” becomes instead “don’t cheat on me anywhere”?  Celebs give us all a foretaste of this new and scary world.

Monday November 19 2007

Another day at BrianMicklethwait.com, another bridge in another thin picture:

image

This time it’s the original Westminster Bridge, as painted by Canaletto in 1746.  Apparently it wasn’t finished until 1750, so that’s it while still being built.

Original fat version here.  Excellent close-up painting of one arch here.  It wasn’t very satisfactory, and was replaced with the current version of Westminster Bridge in 1862.

Here is another even thinner picture of the old bridge:

image

I found that here, which is the best www place about the history of the old Westminster Bridge that I could quickly find.  Lots more nice pictures of the bridge there.

In 1721 there was apparently a petition against the building of Westminster Bridge, from the then separate City of London, which is down river and was for many centuries blessed with the only bridge across the Thames in all of what is now London.  The new bridge, said the London petitioners, would:

… take their Meat out of their Mouth, by drawing off their supply of Provisions, and pick up their Money out of their Pockets, by enabling the Inhabitants of Westminster to Trade at less Expenses … In short, it will make Westminster a fine City, and London a Desert.

The Fixed Quantity of River Crossings Fallacy.

UPDATE (see comment 3 from Michael J):

image

Sunday November 18 2007

imageOnce every month or two, Moore’s Law, the one about everything doubling every eighteen months, clouts me in the brain.  Latest clout moment: this, a 16GB SD card.  Suddenly I can go on holiday and stop worrying about running out of card space for photos.  (Actually, I’ll probably be using two 8GB cards.  But thanks to this new wondercard, they’ll each cost what 2GBs now cost.)

The thing about technology is that it sneaks up on the world.  It’s only quite a long time after it became obvious to the nerdocracy that something or other is now going to happen that it actually starts happening, done by regular stiffs like me.  Home movies which are more than just idiotic tourist trap panning shots have been possible for several decades.  But now they have rather suddenly become quite easy.  The kit in the average home is now starting to be big enough and capacious enough to do such stuff semi-properly.  (Did I tell you I recently got a 750GB hard disc to add to my computer, for £130?  Yes I did.  That was my last Moore’s Law moment.)

Another example.  Copying movies off of the telly has been possible for years, but only now is it becoming a serious fact, on a scale that must now be troubling the old-school movie business.  Big elephant prick cartons full of 100 blank DVDs (which, crucially, occupy only a fraction of the shelf space that the old VHS vids did) are now on sale in Comet for £22.  DVD players and recorders have digital telly tuners and big (but cheap) hard discs attached to them, for only a bit extra.  Which means that Blockbuster have started selling pop music CDs, which turn out to have more life and more money in them than mainstream movie DVDs, because mainstream movies all get shown on telly, and then (now) copied.  I have now entirely stopped buying ready made DVDs.  Within a few months, my collection of movies copied off of the telly is now bigger than my entire collection of ready-made movies.  Ancient but excellent movies used to cost a fiver, or even more.  Now they cost 50p.  For all practical purposes they are free.  (I have even been known to make copies of some of them, for friends.)

Pop vids and pop songs, and believe me I know because I’ve tried, are just too much bother to copy off of the telly or the radio, because you don’t know when they’ll be on.  I have a few pop vids of favourite tunes, but movies are far easier to do, because you know when the mainstream movies are going to be on and can set your machine.  When you buy a pop CD, what you are really buying is the documentation and the navigation, and things like the www where you can learn more and the titles so you can chase up the lyrics on the www, and that’s still all worth something.  If, like me, you are not plugged into a pop song sharing social network (and what grown-up is?), then buying CDs, even pop CDs, still makes occasional sense.  But with movies, the faffing about to solid value ratio is decisively better when it comes to copying off of the telly, so that’s what’s happening.  Hence all those music CDs creeping along the shelves in Blockbuster.

The point of this being that raw power eventually achieves qualitative differences in how we live.  Okay, copying televised movies onto DVD isn’t much of a “qualitative difference”, but these things all add up.

More from me about this new world of copyable stuff here, linking to a very watchable video by Lawrence Lessig.

Saturday November 17 2007

For some reason that I don’t fully understand, but which is something to do with getting Brian Micklethwait’s Education Blog ready, this blog has turned green again and the picture at the top has reverted back to the old one of my eyes that I used to have at the top.  However, the content all seems to be well, and no doubt normal service will be resumed soon.

Such are my rules here that this might be all there’ll be for today.  But hopefully I will also, later today, be celebrating this blog’s reversion to purpleness.

UPDATE: Well, I would have thought that was pretty damn obvious.  Anyway, see the first comment.

Friday November 16 2007

Just down the road from brand spanking newly restored Eurostar St Pancras is rusty, fusty old Kings Cross, which I walk through every Tuesday on my way to my volunteer teaching.  The best they can say for themselves, according to a plaque there, is that they were “Station of the Year 1998”.  I think it’s 1998.  So, what with all this Eurostar treatment being given to St Ps, have they perchance been asking themselves: What can we tell the media to trump all that Euro-crap? ?

Indeed they have.  St Pancras has Eurostar.  Kings X has ... a cat!

Insp Roy Sloane, who enlisted the tabby, said: “PC Tizer is already an essential member of the team.

“Since we got him we haven’t seen any mice in the building at all ... Prior to his arrival we were spending a fortune on pest control and it wasn’t really working.”

Reminded me of this fictional creature.

According to this spec list at Digital Camera Review, the Canon SX100 IS digital camera has a flip-out-and-twist screen, which for me is a big deal (Billion Monkeys etc.), and would make it the perfect have-with-me-always camera.  Lots of zoom.  An automatic lens cap, which I really like.  Image Stabilisation, which is what IS stands for, which I cannot now live without.  And thin enough to be easily pocketable.  Perfect.  Here’s a nice big picture of what it looks like, which I found here.

image

But Digital Camera Review is wrong.  Next to the above picture is this one:

image

... and that’s a regular screen, not a flip-out-and-twist screen.

This is the first time I have caught these people making a factual error.  Since so much of the appeal of this site is great big lists of spec facts, that strikes me as a big deal.  What else might they be getting wrong?

So anyway, I continue to wait for the perfect have-with-me-always camera.  A combination of the above and the Canon A650 IS, which has only x6 optical zoom, and which does unnecessarily large pictures for my purposes, but which really does have a flip-out-and-twist screen, would be ideal.

Thursday November 15 2007

Here’s a snap I snapped yesterday.  (Clicking gets it a bit bigger.)

image

It’s good to know that Cheshire is being defended against the arsonist Anglo-Norwegian Neurological conspiracy.

More general point: fun photos often contain a lot of text.

This posting is an example of what it is about, namely postings which say something important adequately.  Could have been better but at least it got said, is the point.

And that is also what I am here writing about.  I have written before (if this were a perfect posting there would now be a link back) about a characteristic blogging problem, namely the tendency to postpone profundity and to supply only triviality.  If one is a clever and witty person, the trivialities often turn out to be quite profound, so the blog is still worth reading, especially if by “profound” one means: long and hard to read, and by “trivial” one means “short and easy to read”.  Nevertheless, there is a tendency for a blogger to emit a steady trickle of more or less entertaining, more or less profound, but (to him) not that crucially important notions, while accumulating, unwritten, in his head, an ever growing pile of very crucially important notions, which he is awfully liable to take with him to his or her grave.  The problem with these profundities is that, because they are so profound, they must be composed perfectly.  Good enough is not good enough.  So, they tend never to get composed at all.

So here is my November 15th 2007 resolution.  (If this were a perfect posting, it would of course be a December 31st or January 1st posting.) I will try to blog those important things that I have accumulated that I want to say – let’s give it a schedule and make it once a week from now on, this being the first – but to say them in a just-chuck-it-onto-the-page manner, rather than in a properly thought-out manner, which is how I have now nearly finished writing this.

There.  That wasn’t so hard, was it.  And nor did it take you very long to read.  It may even have made you smile a little.

Wednesday November 14 2007

6000 left a comment on the 14 viaducts posting, about the Tinsley Viaduct, which is in Sheffield:

And the Tinsley Viaduct?  A little different? Yes.  A little more modern?  Certainly.  But still a stunning piece of engineering. Just unfortunate that because of the surrounding geography, it doesn’t really lend itself to the thin photo phenomenon.

But I looked on Flickr, and found a picture that proved very thinable:

image

The secret being that it was taken from a hill, delightFully called “Wincobank”.  (I remember reading a story set in Sheffield with a character called Wincobank, Lord Wincobank I think, and thought it a strange name.  That explains it.)

Click to get the bigger Flickr picture, which includes Twin Towers, which they keep trying to knock over, and keep deciding not to.  This is nothing like all the viaduct, but what there is of it is long and thin.

According to the Highways Agency:

The bridge carries traffic on two levels. The upper deck carries the M1 motorway and was originally intended to carry three lanes of traffic in each direction. It was reduced to just two lanes north and south three years ago following an EU directive on lorry weights, requiring all structures supporting main roads to be capable of carrying 40 tonne vehicles.

The lower deck carries the A631 trunk road. There are roundabouts at each end of the viaduct at the lower deck level with connecting roads to the local road network and the M1. Tinsley viaduct was built in 1968 at a cost of £6m. However, the price of replacing the bridge today would be £200m and the cost to the country for delay and disruption during the construction period would be £1.4 billion.

The viaduct has been strengthened twice, in 1983 and 2006, but that’s apparently still not enough for the top to be able to have six lanes, which is what it had originally.

Tuesday November 13 2007

I am posting this on the stroke of midnight, i.e. just in time for my self-imposed deadline around these parts, and at just the right moment to be talking about how Eurostar arrives in and departs from London.

Today was the last day that this edifice did what it was originally built to do:

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Because tomorrow, this takes over:

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Both new edifices have disappointed me, based on what I’ve seen of them.  The Waterloo Eurostar terminus was certainly an attempt to do something stylish, but for me, it didn’t quite do it.  The roof, from the inside, turns out to be oddly asymmetrical, and from the outside, to me, it just looks like a giant shed for growing tomatoes.  But, as I say, A for effort.

As for the St Pancras extension, that’s just a giant coffee table.  At best B minus for effort.  No wonder in all the pre-publicity they have been banging on not about the new extension, but about the old shed that they’ve restored.  Dull as the new bit is, and perhaps even because it is so dull, it may well be a magnificent experience actually to arrive in the new station.  First, you go under a modern Brand X railway station roof, so low you feel you could reach up and touch it, as if you were arriving under an airport.  But then, kerpow, you enter a Victorian Steam Age Cathedral.  That might be really something, and will be, I fondly hope.

They put as brave a face on the new extension as they can here, but my picture is, I’m afraid, more accurate, because it is the real thing rather than a mere architects fake-up.

So, what will the old tomato shed now be used for?  Not a lot, apparently.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Yet again a short-sighted failure to plan for the future costs taxpayers vast amounts of money.

“Paying for platforms to stand empty rubs salt into the wound for all those paying high taxes and wondering where their money goes. Those in charge of the Department for Transport clearly lack the experience to manage large projects properly.”

Or, they didn’t want to spend any more money, in case they got a different sort of bollocking from the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

… to make the most effective use of the platforms would require investment of more than £100 million to allow trains to cross, via a flyover near Clapham Junction, from the South West main line to the tracks leading into Waterloo International.

That’s public spending for you.  They either spend far too much, or not enough.  Or, as I expect was the case in this case, both at the same time.

I would have liked them to have spent more on the extension, so that it matched the original one in size and shape.  I bet they thought of doing that, and then decided against it.  Waste of public money.

Monday November 12 2007

While I’m on the subject of bulges, Patrick Smith of Der Spiegel, complains, a lot, about the aesthetics of the Airbus A380.  He quotes previous quotes by his good self proudly:

“Without question the most hideous airliner ever conceived”
“The worst-looking piece of major industrial design of the past 50 years”
“A huge steroidal porpoise”
“The ponderous, beluga-headed Airbus”
“An aesthetic abomination”
“Oversized, homely, decadent”

One of the regular things about criticism is that critics often understand something better than the puff-merchants.  They fix on the thing that distinguishes whatever it is and they hate it, while the puffers play that down, and say no, we don’t see that, hear that, or whatever.  But the truth is that the thing that the haters hate is definitely there.  And the A380 definitely does have just the look that Patrick Smith objects to:

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Picture from here.

But I think that Smith zeros in on the very thing that could actually make the A380 a huge aesthetic success.

Aesthetically, everything depends on whether the A380 is a commercial and popular success.  If it is, and if people learn to like it and everything it will stand for and symbolise – even cheaper, even longer-haul travel, made pleasant with shrewd handling of the interior, then people will come to like the look of this monster, because they will associate how it looks with good stuff.

Which means that they will notice the most distinctive external feature of the A380 and like that.  And that is the bulge on the top, the baluga-headed steroidal porpoise look.  Smith’s brief explanation of why he hates this thing will be the reason everybody else loves it:

Most of that ugliness is the fault of the plane’s bulging forehead, a trait that resulted from an engineering decision to place the cockpit below the upper deck. It is useful to think of a jetliner as a sort of horizontal skyscraper. To recall the words of architecture critic Paul Goldberger, writing in a 2005 issue of the New Yorker: “Most architects who design skyscrapers focus on two aesthetic problems. How to meet the ground and how to meet the sky - the top and the bottom, in other words.” With airplanes, as with office towers, the observer’s gaze is drawn instinctively to their extremities, and their attractiveness, or lack thereof, is personified through the sculpting of the nose and tail sections. Not that the A380’s tail is anything special either, but it’s hard to get past that forehead.

If - if - the A380 takes off commercially, as opposed to just literally taking off the way it has already, that forehead will be what everybody will come to love.  Without that weird forehead, there would be nothing special and recognisable about this airplane.  With it, it has personality.  Goofy but lovable, if you already love it for other reasons, like a younger brother who isn’t very clever or pretty, but who is a great trier and who has a good heart.

Me being me, what the A380 reminds me of is one of the two giants in Das Rheingold.  The thing is, Wagner giants have to be sung by mere mortals with their mouths unimpeded, but they have to look big and weird.  So, what better bigness and weirdness than a big bulging dome on top?

I am now finishing a piece for the CNE Competition blog, about Ofcom.  I am referring towards the end of my piece to the photogenic nature of the building these guys work in.  I didn’t find many snaps of this building on the internet, so here is one I took several years ago, at that time of the evening which turns even the greyest building bright blue and the dimmest artificial light bright orange.

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I’m sure that not everyone likes this building, but what I like about it is that it is basically a Brand X office block, but by the simple expedient of bulging out the front of it like that, it has been turned into something interesting.  This is a kind of visual effectiveness that is not imposed exactly, but rather achieved from within the rules of these sorts of buildings.  The floors stick out a bit.  The uprights on the outside curve instead of going straight up.  Provided you know what you are doing (and thanks to computers you now can), then making a building like this can’t be massively more expensive than make it flat, and boring.

This thing, I think, is a great addition to the London river front, and great fun to walk past, right under the bulge.  It’s on the south side, just a bit downstream from Tate Modern.  Walking beside the river in London just gets better and better as the years go by.

For a more fanciful take on this building, more in keeping with what I’ll be saying at CNE, see this.

Sunday November 11 2007

Remembrance outside Westminster Abbey goes on for a while.  These snaps were taken just over a week ago:

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The massed ranks of crosses thing is relatively familiar.  It’s now the small stories that stop me in my tracks.

A good friend also remembers.

Saturday November 10 2007

I’m definitely a Newb ego bloggerCats.  Ugly picture of me.  I’ve even switched to the right colour.

Via India Uncut, who is of course The Real Deal.

See also this.  I am stuck at the top right, as are most of us, but it’s a start.

Every few months I get an email from someone wanting to use one of my photos.  I say, yes go ahead, give me a credit and please tell me about it when you use it, preferably sending me a copy.  Sometimes I dig up the big original version of the picture and send them that.  And then I forget about it.  If someone “steals” my photo, how am I going to know, and what could I do if I did?

So anyway, it turns that somebody at UNESCO found, here, this doom-laden picture:

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... and they used it in this, on page 15 (where I duly get my credit) and on the front cover, no less.  Topical.

I don’t think the interesting story here is the flood barrier itself, or that I am aiding and abetting UNESCO, although this is an organisation that I do regard as rather sinister.  I think the real story here is how easy it is for an amateur photographer like me to take a quite nice picture, how easy it is for photograph users to find out about our efforts, and how savagely amateurs like me are now undercutting the Real Photographers.

I didn’t know it was going to be such a prominent report.  Maybe I should have charged them.  But, how much?  And if I had, would they have used it?

Just heard on CD Review, a quote from a retired orchestral clarinetist:

“It used to be that orchestral musicians could take the concert experience into the recording studio.  Now they take the studio experience into the concert hall.”

Yes, that rings true, now that so many performances are being recorded “live”, i.e. performed in multiple clutches, and spliced together with extra sessions for fluffs.  And who wants to attend a recording session when, for less, they can buy the real thing.

I find that with orchestral music, seeing it live add rather little.  It’s with chamber music that you gain from being there, a fact I have recently learned from a friend who occasionally now takes me to Wigmore Hall.  There you can actually see multiple intelligences at work, and it enriches your grasp of the music.  The same performance on the radio is a mere shadow of what it was in the hall, even from quite far away.  With orchestral music, it all comes from the one bloke, with everyone else doing what they are told, and in a blended sound that differs less from a recording.  Being there counts for far less.

Most of these Wigmore Hall concerts are recorded and broadcast by Radio 3.  I wonder how the musicians feel about recording for the radio.  Do they have to play safe for that also?  Or can they let rip a bit more?  Wigmore Hall now produces its own live CDs and sells them in the foyer.  Does that tone everything down on the day, with musicians desperately trying to make it onto a CD with a note-perfect performance?

Perhaps the trick is to attend only those concerts given by artists with exclusive recording contracts which forbid their mere live performances turning into CDs within a few months.  Owning CDs by - and reading reviews of concerts given by - the Emerson Quartet suggests that this may be a serious idea.

Friday November 09 2007

This blog has been a bit thin on photos lately, so here are some thin photos, of British viaducts.  They are: Arnside, Arthington, Balcombe, Calstock, Craigmore, Culloden, Glenfinnan, Harrington, Hewenden, Ribblehead, Royal Border, St Germans, Welwyn, Whalley.

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Click on my thin versions to get the thicker versions, which I have to admit often gets you to a much prettier photo.  I especially like the third one, Balcombe, in Sussex.

All the best thin photos here seem to be transport related.  I guess that’s because transport is all about getting from A to B in a line, rather than spreading out over an area.  Apart from that very thin airplane.

Blog enthusiasms come and go.  A few months ago, I couldn’t get enough of Idiot Toys.  Now, I’m starting to see that blog as as sign of British technological and cultural inferiority.  The mocking of Korean girls holding Things is starting to seem, to me, like a way of disguising the fear that the Things that the Korean girls are holding presage a new and radically diminished status for the country that was once itself renowned for making Things.

imageNow, one of the highlights of my blog-reading week is David Thompson’s Friday Ephemera.  And since the rule here is Friday means cats, I wondered if there were any feline things in his collection today.  Well, on the right there is a Japanese manhole cover, and are those not cats?  If they are really dogs (the tongue of the one on the right does look rather doggish), it doesn’t matter.  Cats getting a Friday mention is all I ask of myself.

My favourite ephemerum (?) this time, however, is these ...

LATER (MUCH LATER): ... and at this point I am pretty sure there was supposed to be a link to some Angel of the North shelves.  But as of September 2012, I could not find any.

Thursday November 08 2007

Every so often I read something that illuminates and brings home with a thump the thing my friend Adriana has been saying for years, that old school advertising is broken.

And just now, it happened again, with this engadget report of a critical panning received by a Hitachi video camera.  A critical panning in a geeks-only paper-only magazine is one thing.  An on-line panning that gets linked to by the number one gadget blog on the planet and which someone like me therefore gets to read if I want to, were I considering buying such a device, well, what hope does adverts have against that?  This, to be exact:

The world’s first Blu-ray camcorder. The Hitachi DZ-BD7HA proves that being the first at something does not necessarily warrant you pulling out your wallet to reward it. While Hitachi has surely overcome some technical hurdles to bring the DZ-BD7HA into existence, it’s riddled with so many problems that have been solvable for years that we wonder how gullible or fad-hungry it thought the public would be. Sixteen-hundred dollars for a camcorder that has virtually no manual controls, electronic rather than optical image stabilization, a poor auto response system, and, above all, terrible image quality – that’s a raw deal.

Thanks to engadget, that will be getting to a lot of people.

On the other hand, why bother with adverts if gadget-blogs loved your toy, and engadget linked to all that?  Take this Eee PC that I’ve been raving about lately.  I don’t think I’ve set eyes on a single solitary advert for this, yet already it is a smash hit.  To be sure, when it reaches the cash cow stage and they start putting pink kittens on it, there’ll be adverts.  But my point is: not like in the old days.  Most of the “advertising” will be unpaid for chit-chat from the techy experts, and from the likes of me, flagging up massive sales figures, complaints and improvements.

This is the part of the equation that is so often ignored when the relative merits of old-school and on-line journalism are being argued about.  The point is not that old-school journalism is less good than on-line journalism, (even though the worst old-school is crap compared to the best on-line).  Personally (and this blog is a perfect example of the fact) I freely acknowledge that most bloggers base their editorialising a lot of the time on old-school reportage.  And, insofar as on-line, citizen journos now often get to news first, it takes old-school journo skills to pull it all together, check it, analyse it, etc., even if the results of all that are not necessarily any longer to be found in old-school news publications.  The problem is that old-school advertising is no longer able to keep old-school journos in the manner to which they had been accustomed.  Old-school journos are now finding it hard to get nice jobs not because they do the jobs any worse than of old, but because the money to pay them isn’t there.  Oh, the google way with advertising still works, but it doesn’t generate the vast wall of money that old-school adverts once did.

To put it another way, the demand for old-school journalism, from advertisers needing something to attract people to their adverts, is declining.

Meanwhile, although new-school on-line journalism is still hard work if it is any good, and although only a few stars will ever be paid much to do it, the costs and rewards of doing it have gone down and up.  Do an unpaid review of an interesting product, or a news report of an interesting event, and your costs have plummeted (because researching stuff has got so much easier and because photography is now so much easier) and your non-monetary reward has rocketed (because you can just slam it up on your blog or whatever and be linked to by the heavies within hours – minutes if they already rate you).

On-line journalism will gather strength not only in a pitched battle with old-school journalism (think Rathergate), but by simply filling the vacuum left by the retreat of old-school journalism, which is happening for advertising reasons rather than journalism reasons.

But, caveat.  This is me editorialising, me being an amateur, not me being a hard-core would-be pro journo.  Maybe my facts are wrong, never mind the construction I have put on them.  In particular, will new-school on-line journalism eventually be revealed as simply old-school journalism with a new outlet, with all the same money as of old, maybe more (maybe a lot more), once the stuff-makers and their stuff-pluggers work out how to buy it.  Comments anyone?  And right there, we have another strength of on-line journalism, which is that it enables collaboration to work better, insights to be aggregated, connections to other relevant stories to be added, but not necessarily all by the same people.  That “conversation” that everyone talks about used only to be deranged by alcohol, and to be dependent only upon the facts available to the original participants, which might well be only participant singular.  Now it is infused with a steady stream of new facts and insights.  But, that’s a different posting.

Wednesday November 07 2007

I like this, and want it to be true:

I’m sure this has been thoroughly discussed on some psychology blog or website. But I didn’t find it, so ...

Speculation: we have an instinctive drive to see faces, and in particular to see smiles, and in particular to see genuine smiles. This is not something we learn but something we are born with. On the other side, we are born with an instinct to genuinely smile when we are genuinely happy, and we cannot produce a genuine smile otherwise.

These trivial-looking instincts have far-reaching consequences.

Our drive to see faces causes us to seek out company. Our drive to see genuine smiles causes us to seek out genuine smiles in others. We can’t force others to produce genuine smiles. Coercion makes a genuine smile next to impossible for the victim to produce. We are driven, then, by this simple-looking instinct, to avoid coercing others, and more generally to avoid pissing them off, and furthermore to supply others liberally and unendingly with genuine pleasure, so as to produce genuine smiles. A simple way to do this is to smile at them (for real, of course). Once the smiles get started, they may never stop.

If you don’t smile a lot in company, people will not seek your company.

Television, by cheaply satisfying our desire to see faces, may substantially replace our social life.

Anyway, the libertarian tie-in is that this provides a simple, if soft, mechanism to enforce non-aggression.

I like the fact that we bloggers can say things like this without having to be entirely sure.  As he says: speculation.  Thinking aloud.  Although, that line about television looks like it barged in from a different and much more depressing posting about how television is ruining our social lives.

I remember an anecdote in a management book about this rather dumb goofy guy who inherited a factory, and, being too dumb and goofy to know what else to do, he just drove around in a golf cart smiling at everyone in his dumb and goofy way.  Productivity and profitability sky-rocketed.

Tuesday November 06 2007

Here’s a first.  I agree with Marcus Brigstocke about something.

Cicero reports:

To me, this brought home just how draconian the planning regulations are in Britain. As Marcus Brigstocke pointed out in his Radio Programme As Safe as Houses, the fact is that the UK has an extremely small area devoted to housing - less than 7%. As you fly over the country, even the supposedly crowded South East England, the overwhelming prospect is not of a concrete jungle, but of how green the country is.

Presumably that last sentence is Cicero speaking.  Whoever it is, I agree.  That’s exactly how the south east of England (never mind the UK as a whole) looks to me.

I once had a driving job, delivering number plates, which took me into all kinds of out-of-the-way places in the UK, away from the big roads and the big towns and cities.  Same thing again.  Greenery everywhere.  Okay that was thirty years ago, but things haven’t changed that much since then.  Which is exactly the problem.

The particular thing that depressed me is the lack of entirely new towns.  Since WW2 building a “new town” has involved a huge political convulsion, rather than just some rich guy with opinions or plans just going ahead and doing it.

Maybe a lot of the problem is architectural.  Unlike (I suspect) in France, it is universally assumed that new rural or suburban housing in the UK will be tacky and tedious and anonymous.  New urban buildings now have a bit of style about them.  Some people at least, me included, often like them.  Why can’t “housing” be like that?  It is better than it was in the sixties?  How could it not be?  But maybe it hasn’t improved enough.

I’m sure I’ve said if before, but I’ll say it again anyway.  My eldest brother used to work in Hong Kong.  You should hear him talk about this bizarre notion that the UK is crowded.  Spit more like.

I don’t have any trouble doing italics in the text of postings.  Who does? But, in Expression Engine, I can’t do italics in titles.  She can.  Why can’t I?  Is it because Expression Engine is stupid, or because I am?  Sometimes, like when mentioning a book title in a posting title for example, you really, really want them.

Patrick uses EE same as me.  I can’t find any italics in titles near the top there.  Is that choice, or necessity? 

Monday November 05 2007

So this is a cheap TV, right?

Both Gizmodo and engadget are on my blogroll, and engadget (until they have a capital E at the top I will often choose to spell it thus) is among my first daily reads.  So I am enjoying reading this (linked to by Instapundit) about the business background to the rivalry.

I had no idea how very business-like gadget blogging is, and always was.  I had vaguely imagined it was just some mad geek in an attic who started posting stuff and it got out of hand, and then another geek decided to have a go, and these were the two geekiest and maddest.  Perhaps because that is how gadget bloggers often write.  (Maybe the actual writers are mad geeks in attics.)

But much more is involved:

In less than a year the upstart eclipsed Gizmodo; in September, Engadget had just under ten million unique visitors, compared with Gizmodo’s eight million. Today venture capitalists estimate each site to be worth between $30 million and $50 million. “He wants to win at all costs,” says Denton of his factotum turned nemesis.

“So.  What do you do?” “I’m a factotum turned nemesis.”

Don’t think that everyone is like you.  (By which I mean I should not think that everyone is like me.) No good comes of this.  Sometimes much harm.  But, no harm this time that I can think of.

Apart from the bit about teenagers, I can vouch from recent personal experience for the truth of what Guy Herbert is arguing here:

Put aside for the moment whether it should be paid for from taxes or not. How much more cost-effective would state education be if it were voluntary, and the classes were full of eager participants and even the grumpiest teenagers present were those whose parents or peers had persuaded them it was worthwhile? How much better would the curriculum be if it had to attract an audience by being interesting or useful, rather than prescribed by bureaucrats? How much better would teachers feel about their work if it didn’t include the roles of commissar, bureaucrat and gaoler?

That is the basic difference between the state primary school I was visiting twice a week a couple of years ago, and the private top-up school I am helping out at once a week now.  “Eager” is a tad strong to describe the attitude of the nine-year-olds I now teach.  Grumpy nine-year-olds whose parents have simpky told them it was worthwhile would be a better description.  But, it does work much better.

I still dream of education where there is true eagerness on all sides.

By the way, I haven’t changed my mind about Brian Micklethwait’s Education Blog.  I’m merely gathering my thoughts and winding myself up before taking the plunge.  (When it happens it will be (at least week-) daily, and I want it to continue for as long as I do.) Also, I still have to contrive a picture for the top.

LATER: The comments are beginning to accumulate, of which this is my favourite so far, from Monty:

By the time they reach 16, the education refuseniks have worked out many ways of evading school. Simple truancy is one, behaviour bad enough to incur an exclusion is another. Our state schools, and those pupils who are seriously involved in learning, will be the losers. Sixth form students will now have to put up with all the disruption, including violence and intimidation, that characterises the lower school. The young thugs will have to be excluded eventually, by which time they will have wrecked the A-Level courses of the rest of their cohort.

And this measure will solve no problems at all. It will, at best, partially mask the problems for a couple of years.

Indeed.

Sunday November 04 2007

I enthused about the Eee PC on Samizdata last night, but now there are pictures.  Some moaning git commenter at Engadget said that the pictures were lousy, but I found them very informative.

But what on earth is that great gaping desert of space this side of the keyboard doing, with that stupid great square thing in the middle?

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It looks like it will be a smash hit, but for me, the search for a cheap pocket computer continues.

Saturday November 03 2007

Michael Jennings emailed this link, presumably reckoning iI might like it.  I like it.

At Samizdata the rule is you have to explain links in case they stop working.  But who’s going to be clicking on that in a year’s time?  Anyway, I’ve now explained it in my title.

And while I’m linking to YouTubery, why aren’t we seeing more of this?  It seems to have been decided by whoever decides these things that our Prime Minister will soon be our ex-Prime-Minister, so what does anyone in the old school media have to lose?

For my more serious thoughts about Gordon, who is not really a moron, just wrong about the State and rather unlucky to get the Big Job at a Major moment rather than a Thatcher moment, see this, which I did a while ago now but which still seems right to me.

They’ve just been talking about Shakespeare operas on BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters, and someone just identified Humphrey Searle’s Hamlet as the worst Shakespeare opera ever, “plonker” being the exact word.  I saw that!  When I was hoovering up Hamlet productions prior to directing Hamlet myself at Essex University, the only play I have ever directed.  It was indeed astonishingly bad.

In the far-off doomed days of my Culture Blog, I even blogged about it, in connection with another silly Shakespeare opera of more recent vintage by Thomas Adès.  Here is the restored version of that posting, stripped of its two comments which are now lost for ever.  Read that to find out what was so particularly plonking about this particular Shakespeare opera.

The best, they all agreed, was Verdi’s Otello.

Friday November 02 2007

I am ill.  It’s what follows or nothing.  So, this being Cat Friday, this is what follows, about how cats are helping humans to avoid illnesses:

The first full genetic map of a cat - a domestic pedigree Abyssinian - is shedding light on a common cause of blindness in humans and may offer insights into Aids and other diseases.

And the cat genome, say researchers, shows some surprising qualities that cats and humans appear to have uniquely in common.

“We can start to interpret them in terms of one of evolution’s special creations, which is also probably one of the greatest predators that ever lived,” said Dr Stephen O’Brien of the US National Cancer Institute. He helped lead the study reported in the journal Genome Research

The cat, named Cinnamon, is descended from lab cats bred to develop retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that causes blindness and that affects one in 3500 Americans.

Dr O’Brien said a study of her genes could help uncover some of the causes of the incurable condition and might help find treatments for it.

Cats also were important for studying other diseases.

“The reasons why the cat genome is cool go on for about an hour.”

These are the days of miracle and wonder.

Thursday November 01 2007

Yes.  Natalie Solent has another posting up, the first in nearly two months, linking to this, which is the eighth comment on this:

By suggesting that the legitimate descent of the monarch needs to be tested you have implied that there is doubt. Given that Blackstone wrote of the Treason Act that “the plain intention of this law is to guard the Blood Royal from any suspicion of bastardy, whereby the succession to the Crown might be rendered dubious”, I am afraid, Philip, that you have committed High Treason. I trust that a defender of traditional constitutional arrangements such as yourself will not seek to avoid the traditional penalty.

Natalie does not seem to have much to say at the moment, so, what she does say must be noted and celebrated.  Actually I already knew she was still among us because she attended that LA/LI Conference I keep going on about.

By the way, I am one of the select few who knows Natalie Solent’s real name.  It sounds like someone made it up, far more than “Natalie Solent” does, which may be why so many of the inner circle have taken to calling her “Natalie” instead of what they know to be her real name.

Also, I was one of the very few present in the Italian Restaurant when Philip Chaston first heard himself saying that the royal DNA should be tested, and then said: I’m going to put that on Samizdata.  At the time I thought he was talking gibberish, perhaps because I didn’t quite catch all of it. Now I think it’s rather a good idea.

On the inside track me.  Oh yes.

Hurrah:

Samsung scientists have figured out how to make LCD panels from ordinary glass plates, the company announced yesterday. If the process is put into production, it could dramatically reduce the costs of LCD screens for laptops and TVs.

“Dramatically” turns out to mean “six percent in about five years time”.  So: modified hurrah.  But, this kind of thing happens every day.  Lay all those six percents end to end and you get some serious percents.  Unmodified hurrah for capitalism.

I just had a (for me) weird experience.  For some reason I was watching this YouTube thingy that Jackie D had put in a blog posting, about a couple of musicians getting together to sing inoffensively soppy middle-of-the-road duets that are all the rage in America just now.  And then I started work on the previous posting here.  That involved checking the links in the posting, including the link to this podcast.  And, both of them ended up playing on my computer at the same time.

I didn’t know my computer could do that.  We can do that, by listening to two machines at once.  But I always thought my machine would insist on one thing, or the other, but not both.  Live and learn.  Presumably if they both wanted to use the same software this wouldn’t have happened, but because they used different software, they didn’t quarrel, but just both talked on top of each other.

Samizdata has a “How very odd!” category.  Maybe I should too.

LATER: This only works if I go to Jackie D’s and then click on the YouTube bit there, and then click on the podcast link.  If I go straight to YouTube and click there, and then click on the podcast: nothing.  Like I say: weird.

Patrick Crozier and I did another podcast on Monday, about peace in Northern Ireland.  If peace it be.  Patrick puts peace between inverted commas in the title of his posting about this.  How did this “peace” happen?  We explore a number of theories, many of them first suggested by the commenters on this Samizdata posting.

Speaking for myself, which as far as I am concerned is what this is all about, I am starting seriously to enjoy these conversations with Patrick, the way I did not enjoy either (a) chattering away on behalf of the Libertarian Alliance in earlier times on this or that BBC radio station or occasionally on TV, or (b) doing similar things to this podcast, but with me pushing the buttons.  Both of those two things I have found too stressful.  I probably will do further podcasts of my own.  But I think I will be using a laptop rather than the stupid and hideously overpriced little Sony gadget that I have now, and hate from the bottom of my heart because the nobs are so vile and small.

It makes little sense comparing this kind of exercise with something similar put out by the BBC.  We with our tiny audience, and them with their huge one, etc.  No, the comparison that is important is the one between the evening that Patrick and I had, and the evening we would have had otherwise.  We had a lot more fun recording our get-together than we would have done if we’d not recorded anything but merely chatted.  The mere knowledge that a few people might in due course listen, and that one of them might get enthusiastic about it and enthuse to others, and that therefore quite a few others might listen – that knowledge alone is enough to infuse the experience for us with a seriousness and an import that makes it far more fun to do.  Think of it as the intellectual equivalent of a Karaoke night, but potentially bugged by strangers.

What the BBC is up against is not just me and Patrick, but millions of us doing this kind of thing, talking amongst ourselves instead of just passively soaking up whatever the BBC says.