Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Friday February 29 2008

David Thompson is a propagandist after my own heart.  He is not obsessed with the vileness of Islam, but he does think it vile.  Every Friday, in among links to weird and wonderful ephemera, there is almost always a link to something asserting the vileness of Islam.

This particular Friday, there is a link to this documentary video, which asserts that Islam is vile. 

A central technique of propaganda is simply to state what you yourself think, sincerely think, and then to leave your opponents to worry about what they are going to do about that, if anything.  (See this earlier piece by me for an application of that method to another debate.) And I sincerely think that Islam is vile.  Others have other opinions.  I understand that.  But in my opinion, all those who think that Islam is not vile are either deluded or lying.  Lots of people have said very different and much more respectful things about Islam.  What I am saying here is: none of these people have convinced me of anything other than their own stupidity or duplicity.  I think Islam is vile.

Thursday February 28 2008

And as soon as I saw this at the top ...

image

... I knew that I would love this blog.  And I do.

It’s about New York Harbour and the vessels that visit it, so presumably that bridge can’t be far away from all that.

I found it while googling for pictures of the PAL-V, which is a flying car (I only found the same old fake pictures lots of times over), and saw a nice picture of a ship that took me straight there.  How did that happen?  PA = Port Authority perhaps?  Who knows?  Who cares?

I guessed right about the SWPL man, who is interviewed here:

TAN: sooo first and foremost, are you white? And ... who are you, what do you do?

SWPL: ok. I am white. here is another non surprise. there are pictures of me on the site. I’m the dude recycling. and the guy at dim sum. and the guy holding the iphone. and the bicycle picture is my bicycle.

And I was right that it was a white person poking fun at himself, which we white people like to do:

TAN: do you consider yourself aligned with the white people you profile? You’re white, but are you whom you describe/study?

SWPL: oh yes. this site pokes fun at ME. that’s why I use pictures of myself. those aren’t taken out of irony. this is the shit that I do. I need to call myself out for all of the stupid shit that I take for granted. why do I need $300 bike rims? why is a $10 sandwich considered normal?

So there we have it.  I was right on the internet.  And she (see her comment) was wrong.  Proof that I understand America better than Americans do.  Perhaps this is because I’ve never been there and got confused about it.

I thought I didn’t care if that earlier posting was right or wrong, in fact I said that.  But it turns out that I like to be right all the time.  As one of my young pupils when I’m doing this (although not that one) likes to say: How smart am I?!?!?

Wednesday February 27 2008

The tallest skyscraper in the world is not the tallest structure:

Believe it or not, there are a number of structures taller even than the infamous Burj Dubai. The tallest structure in the world, however, is an unusual candidate that reaches more than twice as far down into the ocean as said tallest skyscraper reaches into the sky. The Ursa tension-leg platform is an oil-production facility that is tethered to the ocean floor and is in many ways a surprising reverse of what most people imagine when they think of the world’s tallest structures.

“More than twice” would make this thing bigger even than the monster skyscraper dreamed about in the previous posting here.  No, not that big.  About half way between that and the biggest one now.  According to this, Ursa cost $1.45 billion and sits in 3,900 feet of water.  More here.

A tension leg structure presumably means that rather than being held up by the ocean bed, it is held down by it, anchored to it, its massive hollow legs being lighter than the water they displace by just the right amount for the ocean to do the job of holding up the platform, without putting too much strain on the anchoring at the bottom.

Ursa is in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 130 miles south-east of New Orleans.

Tuesday February 26 2008

Today, I am having a bar chart day, although the bars below are actually rather like bars to begin with, being already big vertical lumps:

image

The ultimate Middle Eastern skyscraper, by the looks of it.  That links to this.

I fear for these Middle Eastern skyscrapers if and when the oil runs out.  Meanwhile, all this puts Canary Wharf in its place, doesn’t it?

Monday February 25 2008

Beautiful:

image

There’s nothing wrong with the other Jedburgh snaps that David Farrer took, but I agree completely with him that that one is the best.

Sunday February 24 2008

Proof that I am white.  Note especially the bit about how white people like old buildings, and shiny new buildings next to old buildings.  That’s me.  Read the rest of it too.  The whole blog is funny, I think, but I’m guessing that the blog is written and mostly read by white people, who like apologising about themselves and being sophisticatedly self-referencial.  A negro would surely prefer more abuse and swearing if writing about what white peole like.  Well, Chris Rock would.  Chris Rock is, I’m further guessing, one of those negroes (”Mos Def” is another, I learn) that white people really like, because he either says all the things they think but with additional cool negro type swearing, or, being negro, can say things they don’t think but can’t object to, because he is negro.

To make a more serious point, the fact that it is possible to generalise plausibly and amusingly about all white people like this (a generation or two ago this would have been completely absurd) illustrates that the Middle Class is becoming vast, engulfing almost everyone except the Super-Rich and Tramps, and even the Super-Rich mostly look Middle Class, and like architecture, etc.  It used to be that the Working Class and the “Middle” (i.e., actually, Upper) Class wore different sorts of hats, had different accents, voted differently to each other, liked different games, different music, different everything.  Now, all are merging into one class, with ethnic subdivisions of the sort celebrated in this blog accordingy looming larger.

This is one of those postings where I really don’t care that much if I’m right or wrong, so you can comment (that’s if anyone is inclined to comment) any way you like about it and I won’t be offended.  But, please don’t swear too much.

Twice recently I have visited Tate Modern.  The stuff in it is mostly silly, but the building is splendid and I really like it, even as I ruminate upon the vast expense of having such a huge place, just for people to wander about in and chat and have coffee and buy books and postcards.

Recently there’s been a big piece of installation art there in the form of deliberately contrived and rather large cracks in the floor of the big main Turbine Hall.  I photographed this.  Me being me, I also photoed others photo-ing it:

image image

Click to get both those two and the next two snaps bigger.

But then I found something else.  Here are two views of that something else.

image  image

That’s right folks, there’s a real crack right next to the fake cracks, and caused by them.

I guess two things about this real crack.  First, I guess that the artist and the Tate Modern bosses are decidedly irritated by it, and would really, really rather that this had not happened.  Had there been more cracks, they would, I think, have been even more angry, and it would have become a snigger story in the Daily Mail.  (As it is, the crack is only a small one, and not worthy of that much attention.) Second, I guess that they will shrug it off as equally thought-provoking and artistic, and just generally going to show how right the artist was about, I don’t know, the nature of the world and its precariousness etcetera, blah blah, gibber gibber.  Like nobody would have known otherwise that things crack.

I’m still trying to work out exactly why I find this real crack so smile-worthy.  All I now know is that I do.  Probably it is because it is making people look foolish who I want to look foolish.  I am sure they are unhappy about this crack, assuming that it has been drawn to their attention (as I am sure it has), but what is the precise nature of that unhappiness?

In that Times report that I linked to above, I have now discovered, it says this:

“What she wants is for people to think about what’s real and what’s not,” the spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman said!  I love that, and again, I don’t know quite why.  It’s something to do with the fact that proper Modern Art, in the days when Modern Art cursed The Establishment rather than being The Establishment, shouted in your face that you were a bourgeois cunt.  It didn’t have a prim little “spokeswoman” doing its explaining for it.

Well, what I think is that the fake cracks are not real and that the real crack is real.  So, mission accomplished?  No, I don’t think so.  But why don’t I think so?

Saturday February 23 2008

On January 6th I gave the first of Christian Michel’s 6/20 Club talks of this year.  I also recorded it.  Since then, I have wondered whether it should be stuck up on the internet or quietly forgotten.  But the word of mouth from friends I have asked about it has been encouraging, anyone bored by it will feel free to switch it off at any moment, so, what the hell?  Here it is. I listened to it again today, to take my mind off the fact that England were about to lose at rugby to France - although strangely England ended up winning.  And it sounded okay to me.

It’s about music making during the twentieth century, and about the contrasting ways that the classical and pop musicians responded to the opportunities of electronic recording and broadcasting.

If you want to start where I start talking, skip the first five minutes, which is Christian Michel introducing me at generous length.  I then talk until 53 minutes have elapsed, and there’s then a Q and A period which lasts about another half hour.  During the Q and A, me saying “mmm” is a lot louder than the people speaking from the floor, because the one microphone I used was just under my own chin, but most of these contributions and questions are just about audible, especially with a bit of nob twiddling.

I did a Samizdata posting a few days before I gave the talk, to get myself thinking and to solicit the thoughts of others, which you can read, together with its comments, here.

Friday February 22 2008

Once again, edu-blogging has had to come first today, to say nothing of another longish (by my standards) stint this morning of actually edu-cating.

But, if it isn’t too arrogant to say so, I really enjoyed doing this conversation about maths, and sincerely believe that some others will also.  It lasts about three quarters of an hour.  More bloggage about it here.

Thursday February 21 2008

Recently I have been actually reading Pride and Prejudice, which I realise I have actually read very little of.  I say actually read because I have watched several movie and TV adaptations of this, and had forgotten that I hadn’t ever read it properly, except in little bits, like the scene at the end where Lady Catherine de Bourgh tells Elizabeth Bennet that there is no question of her marrying Mr Darcy.

‘I take no leave of you Miss Bennet: I send no compliments to your mother.  You deserve no such attention.  I am most seriously displeased.’

But, I had always assumed that this next bit had been made up by some TV script writer, because it is so very crude and to the point:

Will you tell me how long you have loved him?’

That’s her sister asking Lizzy Bennet about loving Mr Darcy.  And here comes the blunt answer:

‘It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began.  But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.’

The point being that it is not enough to rise semi-naked from a lake if you want to impress a Jane Austen heroine.  You have also to own the lake.

As I say, I thought that the above was a crude, twentieth century oversimplification of the Austen version of how Lizzy explains her change of heart.  But there it all is, in the original.

image

Everything in the BBC version with Colin Firth (apart from his rising out of the lake) seems to have been in the original, but of course the original contains a great deal more, hence the pleasure I am now getting in reading it.

Wednesday February 20 2008

So I was wandering around London yesterday, and saw this:

image

I googled a bit, and discovered something rather amusing.

Take a look at these pictures.

image  image

On the left, we see the Beetham Tower, otherwise known as the JumeirahTower.  Original picture here.  More background about that plan here.

Apparently this one is going to be built.  This is good news for me, because:

A public observation gallery will be situated on the upper two floors, offering panoramic views across the capital.

But otherwise I don’t much care for it.  It looks to me ungainly and lumpish.  But, I could completely change my mind when I see the real thing.  Maybe it will just be so big that it will be impressive for that reason alone.  With architecture, again and again, the real thing can look quite different to the models and the mock-ups.

But now look at the picture on the right.  Here there are two more smaller new towers to be seen.  That picture can be seen here, where you can also read these headlines:

Israelis to develop two towers on London’s South Bank

Israelis?  Yes:

An Israeli development consortium lead by David Gil has won planning consent for a mixed-use development on London’s South Bank.

“Jumeirah”, on the other hand, is very, er, Middle Eastern, and everything with that word in it seems to be financed from Dubai.  I don’t know anything more about this story than that, but I bet it’s quite a story.

Tuesday February 19 2008

I’ve been busy elsewhere today, just as I expected that I often would be.  But here is something very interesting, in the form of a link to a very interesting posting on the very interesting BLDG BLOG, about the Mississippi Delta.

This is what it looks like now:

image

Beautiful, yes?

But the real story here is that there is talk of diverting the river, thereby creating new land in the Gulf of Mexico.  Key quote:

“You keep the sediment within the coastal boundary current that keeps it running along the shoreline, whereas now it gets ejected into the Gulf.” This thus constructs “new delta land” instead of uselessly shooting all that sediment over the continental shelf – and that newly aggregated land, like a literal land bank, will help protect New Orleans and its surrounding parishes from future hurricane damage.

Fascinating.  Original story here.

Monday February 18 2008

Incoming from Jackie D:

If only you had stairs in your flat ...

Indeed:

image

So, no plans in that place to get an Amazon Kindle, of which Alan Rusbridger says:

Until Amazon decides to take an interest in Europe, only a few gadget junkies are going to bother to go to these lengths. Which is a shame, because the Kindle is really rather lovely. The black-and-white screen is as close to reading print on paper as anything I’ve yet come across. And even in Europe, a book takes all of 20 seconds to download and sync. Changing font size, making notes and clipping bits of text are all pretty simple. Page-turning is fast. The controls are rather more intuitive than the Sony. And battery life is impressive.

The machine costs $399, which is not cheap. On the other hand, there is a staggering amount of literature now available from sites such as Project Gutenberg. At manybooks.net there are hundreds of out-of-copyright books ready formatted for the Kindle. All free.

Free.  That’s a price I can relate to.

Sunday February 17 2008

Taken today, on the way to Michael J:

image

I have nothing against Morissey, but if you do have something against Morissey you might particularly like that.  I actually like the poster very much.

Bethnal Green station is a splendid place, especially on a day like today.  I only went there because the Central Line today was stopping at Liverpool Street and I only found this out when I was on it.  That meant getting off at Liverpool Street and going by regular railway to Bethnal Green.  The station is raised up high, so the view, especially towards the City, is far better than average.  It is interrupted by overhead wires but I like that:

image

Black in the foreground, grey in the distance.  Lovely.  Tomorrow will be the same, so they are saying.

I love skyscrapers, but tend to regard Middle Eastern skyscrapers as not really counting, because the money that builds them is all discretionary tyrant oil money, as opposed to real money, money-to-make-more-money money.  All that happened was that some Big Bastard said: build the big penis!  No cleverness was involved, until the engineers got to work.

But, it is clear to me that the Shard of Glass is also pretty much a Middle Eastern skycraper.  Red Ken Livingstone worked out years ago that Good Muslims and Bad Muslims are all just Muslims really and all on the same side, and if he wanted Good Muslim money, he had better be nice to the Bad Muslims too.  (All that has now that much more public now.) Which has meant that when the Shard - which, by the way, will be only a very short walk away from the Testicle, where Ken Lives now, and which is surely going to be full of Ken Livingstone Industry parasites - got into financial difficulties last year, he was able to bale it out with Good Muslim money.

So, does this mean that the Shard of Glass doesn’t count, in my eyes?  Not really.  It may be an erection made with discretionary tyrant oil money, but the whole point of London is that it is built with all kinds of money, not just real money-to-make-more-money money.  London is absolutely not pure commerce.  Or pure politics.  It is a Mixed Economy, and its architecture reflects this.  There is lots of real building, for real stuff.  And there are political buildings, which of course tend to stick up and stick out.  And in many cases it’s hard to tell which is which.  Consider those Docklands Towers.  Proper money, or politics?  Both, I would say.  Ditto the Gherkin.  The Shard is more political, but it still includes plans for real stuff.  (Nearby is another superb building, which is also very political, being inhabited by communications regulators.)

It looks from this picture of the Burj Dubai that a Middle Eastern skyscraper can be semi-real too, just like a London landmark, judging by all the apparent reality that it is surrounded by.  A lot like Taipei 101, the building it has just dethroned as the tallest.  This makes me think better of the United Arab Emirates.

ADDENDUM: I’m at Michael J’s now, and he reckons The Shard ain’t going to happen.  It will remain a big hole in the ground.  The money isn’t there, and it’s soon enough to abort it, so they will. 

Oh dear, I’m getting interested in the election.  I said here that Obama would beat Hillary, then McCain, which was the conventional wisdom about a hundred hours ago and for the next forty hours.  But now it is looking like I will be wrong on at least one count (the beating McCain bit) and probably (therefore) on both counts.

It is interesting how much faster things happen nowadays, in the age of the www, blogs etc.  Obama gets momentum, and finally looks like he could win.  Attention focuses to his policies - as opposed to charisma, orgasm-inducing power, not-too-black blackness, and so forth - and the Republicans start saying his policies are crap and they can destroy him come the real election.  Now, that claim by Republicans gets immediately amplified, as it might not have in the past, and becomes, immediately, a major pro-Hillary meme.  If Democrats have it explained to them good and early before the big Texas and California primaries that Obama will lose big down the road to the hated Repubs, Hillary could win now.  That meme will be worth all of Hillary’s campaigning dollars.  (That Obama charisma could end up being a problem too.)

Because yes, all of this is playing out without old-school advertising (as Antoine explained in this conversation) making any difference.  We are all insiders now.  Is there some kind of rule that where political communication leads, commercial communication follows?  If so, watch out “Madison Avenue”, or whatever old school advertising is called nowadays.  You face complete melt-down.  The paid, mass-produced message no longer trumps what we simply say to one another.  The dreariness of the political candidates, ending up with the two dreariest fighting it out head to head, should not disguise the deeply interesting changes that are happening just underneath the political platitudes.  Boring people, but interesting times.

Saturday February 16 2008

Photoed today, looking towards the Wheel from the roundabout just below the old Waterloo Euroterminus that isn’t any more.

image

On this roundabout they are replacing one eyesore lump with what looks like being another eyesore lump.  Hence the sticking up bits, which are reinforcing rods for future concrete structure.  I presume.  Click to get a wider view.

One day, one of a Wheel set.

Yes, this, of what was, until last year, the tallest building in the world.  Taipei being where Asus have their headquarters.

image

What I like about this photo is that it shows the surroundings of the thing, and how it completely dominates all the other buildings in its vicinity.

There are about thirty such pictures loaded onto Jesus, each occupying about 150kb each.  Click on the pic above and get exactly what Jesus has.

I clicked on Settings, and then on Disk Utility.  I got this: Total Disk Space 3773 MB, System 2353 MB 62%, Used 65 MB 2%, Available 1355 MB 36%.  Many will want a lot more than that.  My understanding is: wait and you’ll get it.  Or do what I will do, which is buy an SD card as huge as makes sense.  At least 2 gigs, and maybe as much as 8 gigs.  In due course, 32, 64 etc.

I find the interface more intuitive than regular Windows.

It has an ikon for sound recording.  I hope I’m going to be able to do all my recorded conversations with Jesus, rather than with that horrid little Sony thing which demands to know the date every time I charge up the batteries for goodness sakes.  I’m sure there’s a way I could tell it not to be such an arse, but it doesn’t make such things easy.  Jesus does make things easy.  And yes, it does come in lots of different girl colours.

More good Taipei 101 pix here, including lots of it ejaculating fireworks.

Friday February 15 2008

I am now at Chateau Samizdata, and posting onto my own blog.

Now, I will attempt some links.

I just found a good Samizdata quote of the day at this blog.  But I think the really great thing is what this blog calls Samizdata.  Click on “Brian Micklethwait et al”, and see where you get.  It’s in the weekly blogs bit.

Seems to work.  Maybe the screen is a bit small, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

One day I will trawl through all my photos and make collections of them, classified according to which London landmark is dimly visible in the distance.  The new Wembley Stadium.  The Wheel.  The Gherkin.  The Docklands Towers.  Big Ben.  The tower of Westminster Cathedral.  Tower Bridge.  Collections, that is to say, of pictures like this:

image

Because of course one of the categories will be the BT Tower.  Meanwhile, that particular picture will have to suffice.  It’s a view of the BT Tower that I get looking back past Kings Cross Station, on my way to my Tuesday evening teaching.  I took that last Tuesday, when the weather was particularly good.

Soon, the Shard of Glass will be rising above London Bridge railway station to join these other eccentricities.  This says when.  Billion Monkey heaven.  Photoing it.  Photoing from it.

Meanwhile, if I understand things correctly, the Gherkin will have been completely smothered in boring lumps.

Thursday February 14 2008

I switched it on, and quickly discovered that it made reference to a webcam.  So I clicked on that, and it immediately started filming me.  So I took a photo of that.  Not a very good photo, but a photo:

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I think cameras have trouble focussing on computer screens.  Nothing solid enough to grab hold of.  Or something.  Maybe I was too excited.

Very soon after that I decided, one thing at a time, I need a mouse.  I didn’t need to be learning how to use that horrid little pad thing, alongside learning how to use the rest of it.  So, I yesterday bought (another) mouse, which was far too big and with a wire far too long, but a mouse.  When I plugged it in this morning, this immediately worked, and I am accordingly doing my first word processing.  The program is the exact same one I use already: OpenOffice.org 2.0.  Excellent.  One less thing to be disconcerted by.

Last night I put it in my bag and took it out to dinner, to see what other people thought of it (they liked it a lot, especially the ladies and especially the price), and to see if it was easy to carry in my bag of regular clobber without too much extra effort.  It was.

I am now working on my first word processed document, this being it.  I had to hunt about for a button to delete the character to the right of the cursor, but I did find it. The keyboard’s diminutive size takes (took actually – I’m okay with it now after only a few minutes) a little getting used to.  I’ve never used one so small before.

I need to trim my nails.

Yesterday I tried connecting to the internet, using the wireless router(?), but couldn’t make that work.  I need to consult with The Guru.

Now I have successfully transferred the above to my real computer.  The Asus (I think from now on I’ll call it “Jesus” (as in “ay zoos")) won’t be a real computer until I can blog post from a cafe with it.

If you are wondering why you are reading this, well, I’m wondering why you are also.  This verbiage is for me, to remind myself in a year’s time of my first impressions of Jesus.  If you don’t care about that, look at it from my point of view. I don’t care that you don’t care.

This is a kitten blog, and I have a new kitten.

Wednesday February 13 2008

Nothing here today, apart from this, but Brian Micklethwait freaks (do such persons exist?) should go here, where they will find no less than four postings, alll of them written by me, Brian Micklethwait.

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Now admittedly, these postings are all of them about education.  Life, which is my basic topic here, is a lot more amusing.  But that’s what you get on an education blog: education, education, education.  Or in the case of my education blog today: education, education, education, education.

Tuesday February 12 2008

From Elena the Struggling actress:

“It’s called Batchelors for a reason, this Cup a Soup, isn’t it?”

Indeed.

Bjorn Staerk (add Norwegian squiggles to taste) is abandoning blogging and has gone back to just having a website.  So, a bit of juggling about with the blogroll here.

But what about comments?  Here’s what he says about that:

But what about comments? How will people respond to what I write?! Well, what about them? After 7 years of blogging I have come to realize that I truly, profoundly, hate my readers. Most of them, anyway.

I don’t hate my readers, or not the ones that ever comment.  Not even the Muslims who hate that I hate Muslimism.  I mean, that would be like hating a dog for barking, and what is more not a dog that barks all night but one that just barks once and then disappears.  All the Muslims commenting here have actually been quite polite.  Perhaps they sense that although I hate what they believe I don’t hate them.  No, the only ones I really hate are the ones who spam me with lists of links to China crap.  But not even they are very numerous.  They too can detect that spamming me is not a good use of their time.

Why do I like my commenters so much?  Well, it’s because most of them are so very nice.  I suspect this is because I’m a shit blogger and everyone can immediately sense, apart from the odd Muslim, that it really doesn’t matter if I say something that they think is idiotic.  So, the only ones that comment here do so by saying words to the effect of: I agree.  (And don’t you stop saying it Brian just because nobody apart from about one small room’s worth of weirdos is paying any attention.)

Also, as my age advances I find that I have little taste for arguing.  Like Staerk, I just want to say what I want to say.  I mostly let angry commenters have the last word, and often their last word is their first word.  They hate that, and just leave.

At Samizdata it’s quite different.  There, people actually worry when you get things wrong.  They say things like: “What right do you have to say ...?”, as if you had to show a laminated card or quote an act of Parliament before mouthing off on the internet.  Yesterday, for instance, some wally said, pretty much, that it wasn’t my place to be telling Microsoft whatever it was that I was telling Microsoft.  Like Perry de H immediately said: why not?  As someone else said: idle speculation is fun.

So anyway, what I’m saying is that although I laughed out loud when I read Staerk’s opinion of his commenters and wanted to note it here, I do not think this of my commenters.  I do not think this of you.

What the hell is happening to the England cricket team?  It’s been downhill ever since the 2005 Ashes, but this is a new low.  They won the two 20/20s against New Zealand, but then lost the first ODI.  They said it was a blip and that they’d bounce back, blah blah.  Some blip, some bounce.  When I went to bed England, batting first, were 90 for 2 and motoring.  When I check it out this morning, they’ve been bowled out for 150 and lost by ten wickets!

Ah well.  One of the charms of cricket is that when things go badly for your team, you can remember better times, and worse times for the team that just smashed your team.  And one of the charms of the internet is that you can now dig up chapter and verse, like you never could before unless you owned all of Wisden.  Call it the democratisation of Bill Frindall.

Monday February 11 2008

I was out and about today, so not much here.  But look what I got:

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I took one look at the Asus Eee PC, and immediately said yes, I want to buy one.  It is small, light, and has a solid feel to it.  I haven’t switched it on at home yet, but the guy in the shop showed me the screen, and it is way better than I feared.  I had thought I might wait until the screen got better, but it’s already fine, I think.  If this is what Linux can do, then look out Microsoft.

As for the Brahms CDs, these also are wonderful, and not just because they show you how small the Asus is.  The first movement of the third of the string quartets, Opus 67, is particularly wonderful.  Part of the secret is that the Quartetto Italiano (for it is they), always let the lower parts contribute strongly, and I really like that.  But that’s not all of it.  They play this piece with a uniquely lilting unanimity that I’ve never heard done better.  It’s like one actor doing it, rather than four musicians.  Amazing.  £9 for the double CD, at MDC under the Royal Festival Hall.  Strongly recommended.  (However, when I played the sample (scroll down a bit at the Amazon page and pick CD1 track 5) of that same movement on my computer with its crappy speakers, it sounded very crappy indeed.  At least medium fi really helps with this sort of music.)

I know.  You wait months for a Classical Music posting, and then two come along at once.

Sunday February 10 2008

You definitely do get something from watching classical musicians in action, either in the flesh or on TV or DVD, and I don’t just mean when they are singing opera, when you obviously do.

imageTonight, for instance, I’m watching a TV show about the Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang.  They’ve just showed a snatch of him playing one of the Prokofiev piano concertos.  Immediately I found myself thinking, this guy will, any decade now, become a conductor.  I say this because there are two kinds of pianists.  There are the ones that see no distinction between the music and the playing of it, themselves playing the piano, and themselves finding how to play the piano.  And then, there are the ones who are almost two separate people when they play, being both a pianist, and a conductor, as it were conducting that pianist.  (I recall some years ago writing a piece about Maria Joao Pires and Daniel Barenboim, the former being a unified pianist and the latter being a self conductor.  Barenboim is of course also a notable conductor.)

Lang Lang is widely disapproved of in the West, for being too flash and vulgar, and for generally playing to the gallery.  I say, about bloody time someone did.  There’s an unashamed enthusiasm about the guy that I find very appealing.  I also find it very appealing that he makes classical music so very appealing to millions of others besides me.  I’m not against tasteful correctness and emotional restraint.  But I am against all of them being like that.

The above thoughts make me also want to see what Michael Pletnev looks like when he plays the piano.  I want to see how he conducts himself, you might say.  This being because Pletnev too is a notable pianist and a notable conductor.  He has recently made a wonderful set of the Beethoven Piano Concertos, with him playing piano.  (They played a snatch of the Emperor on CD Review.  Marvellous.) And an (I think) under-rated set of the Beethoven Symphonies, with him conducting.  (I already own this.  Bought it all for a mere £12.  Thank you critics.  By panning this, you brought it within my budget, second hand, presumably from one of the critics who panned it.  The first two symphonies are especially good.  This guy liked it.)

Saturday February 09 2008

The weather in London for the last two days has been perfection.  Cool, clear sky.  Friday, truly, felt like the first day of spring.  Today has been equally perfect, and we are promised the same again for tomorrow.  Yesterday I was in the Chelsea area, collecting timber for more CD shelves, and snapped this, on the other side of the road.

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I particularly like that I got the shop’s website in the picture.  Only fair.  Rootle around a little, and you’ll learn that the swans cost £3,500.  That’s each, I think.  If you have to ask that sort of thing, they are too much for you.

Although, maybe what you have to do is buy both these bits and stick them together to make one swan, and the two bits together cost three and half grand.  Yes, I think that must be it.

Friday February 08 2008

Yes, last night Antoine and I talked politics, American politics.  This time, I remembered to ask what a Primary is.  I’m not much the wiser, but at least I now know that not many other people understand Primaries very well either because they are so very complicated, and vary so much from state to state.

imageThere are even occasional times when Americans register as the opposite of what they are, and vote for what they reckon is the worst one, so that their man can then beat him in the real election later on.  As Antoine explained, referring to that posting and the picture to the right here also.

Although I didn’t think to say it last night, it now occurs to me that the process of “registering”, as a Democrat or a Republican, may actually do quite profound things to America.  It would have – would it not? - the effect of making Americans more prone to say that they are Democrats or Republicans, as opposed to merely having voted this or that way last time around.  American politics does indeed now look, from this side of the Atlantic, much more tribal and divided than Europe and European politics is, Britain included.  Might that perhaps be part of why?  Just a thought.

Anyway, our chat lasted a few seconds over forty minutes.  At the moment I am pretty much ignoring these elections, and I only become interested when I talk with Antoine about them.  I find this far more enjoyable than watching the BBC.

Thursday February 07 2008

A particular blog-related reason to like these flat pictures that I keep featuring here (most recently in this posting) is that blogs often have such pictures permanently at the top.  Wide but shallow, communicating lots, i.e. not metaphorically shallow at all.

Here is a particularly pleasing example of such a picture, which, somewhat bigger than here, adorns the top of this blog (which I today added to my blogroll here):

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I don’t think it signifies anything other than that Chris O’Donnell likes horses.

While I’m on about horses, here is another flat horse pic:

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Flat racing, you might say.  Uncropped original here.  ("All rights reserved”.  Hope he/she isn’t offended.)

Yes.  Makes a nice change from monkeys.

Wednesday February 06 2008

I’m still ailing somewhat, so nothing profound here today.  But I do have one thing to say, which concerns Paris Hilton.  Last night I watched, pretty much by accident, some silly TV show about the fifty most embarrassing pop moments, or some such thing, and Paris Hilton got mentioned as one of these.  “She can’t sing,” various nonentities took it in turns to say.  Then they played one of her tunes, and it sounded perfectly okay to me.  She wouldn’t be much good singing Brunhilde at Covent Garden, but so what?

“She can’t sing.” Since when did that mean you couldn’t have a career as a pop singer?  I don’t know the names of most of these people, but it is clear to me that the invention of the microphone radically changed the rules of pop music, and being “able to sing” has for many decades now no longer been essential.  It is still desirable.  Just not essential.  If you can do something a bit different - like Mick Jagger does, or that weirdo in lipstick who sang for ... The Smiths, was it? - then you can still be on your way.  There’s dozens of poppers like this.

No, Paris Hilton’s problem was not that she “couldn’t sing”.  Her problem was that she broke one of the Big Rules of pop music, a rule ruthlessly enforced by everybody in the pop industry with the same savagery that the British Medical Association rules doctoring or the Law Society rules lawyering.  Paris Hilton committed the cardinal pop sin of being Something Else First.

The rule with being a pop singer is that you have to start your life in public as a pop singer.  If you start by becoming, say, an international footballer, or a model, the Something Else First Law says that you cannot – you just cannot – then become a successful pop singer.  The mere quality of your singing has nothing to do with it.  You can sing beautifully, dress impeccably, have a great sense of humour, a winning smile, be adored by the lady members of the mere public, and respected by the gentlemen public.  None of this matters.  You will be pelted with the electronic media equivalent of rotten vegetables by the DJs, by all the other poppers in the poppers’ trade union, by all broadcasters, and by anyone who wants to keep in with these various people, until such time as you give up.  Doing Something Else First is simply not allowed.  That was Paris Hilton’s mistake.  She already had a career as ... whatever it is that she does, and still does.  Being Paris Hilton, basically.  Ergo, she can’t then, as a Next Thing, be a popper.

Funny how they never mentioned that.  Professional closed shops never do mention it.  That that’s what they are, I mean.

No links in this.  Others have surely said similar things, but not in my hearing.  I thought of it all by myself. 

Tuesday February 05 2008

All my blogging efforts today went into this posting, and in particular into this damn photo, which it took two sessions, each of them lasting several hours, to persuade my scanner to actually scan, and which I really needed to make my point on a blog which needs good pictures to liven it up:

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England might have done better last Saturday, if he’d still been in charge. 

Monday February 04 2008

DT (that’s David Thompson not delirium tremens) also links to something about skywriting, or to be more exact sky typing.

I looked at Flickr again, and there was a wealth of airborne calligraphy.  It was fun to see different people photo-ing the same bits of writing, with different buildings in the foreground.  But this time, the best and most informative pictures are to be found at the Skytypers own website:

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This picture is the one that really tells the story.

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... because what you see there is not just the result but the method.  The planes fly, five in a line, like marching soldiers on parade, and then computers go to work, spitting out blobs of smoke like they are dot matrix printing.  Very cute.  I’m guessing it all happens very fast, again, like a dot matrix.

The only doubt you have about all this is that there are presumably all manner of Photoshop add-ons which mean you can do this kind of stuff at your desk, without going near an airplane, or having to worry about the weather.  This doesn’t detract from the impact of the real thing, on the day, in the actual sky, but it does rather take the punch out of a lot of the photos.  You do have your doubts about this “ATTN STAFF” picture, don’t you?  It may be true, in the sense that that’s how they do it, but did that particular bit of sky typing really happen?

This is why I often prefer amateur photos, and feel that I get a truer picture of what was there than I get from the Real Photographers.  You just know that the only thing a lot of us Billion Monkeys know how to do is point, and click.  Photoshop, except in its simplest manifestations like brightening and darkening and sharpening, is a closed book to most of us.  So, what you see is, approximately speaking, what was really there.  With Real Photographers, you just don’t know.  If you ever did.

imageI don’t know where Tom G. Palmer found this, but I like it.  Click on the picture to see why.

Here is a comment about this, from this guy:

There’s a library for Linux which renders video in text like that.  For some unfathomable reason I once watched the whole of The Princess Bride like that ...

Let’s hope that that is sufficient commentary to stop the picture walking all over my previous posting.  No.  Another bit of nonsense needed.  That should suffice.  This is when my ability to say much with few words is a liability.

So, which viaduct do you think this is?

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Click here to see.  I got the idea for this decidedly sneaky piece of cropping from seeing the same bridge here (which was linked to from here).  As so often, the best that Flickr had to offer was better.

I also particularly like, in that interesting bridges posting, and perhaps because it’s a new one to me, the Kawazu-Nanadaru Loop Bridge, which is like a giant outdoor spiral car park entrance.  In a way, it’s surprising there aren’t more such structures, because the problem can’t be that unusual.

Sunday February 03 2008

I am not feeling a hundred percent and have not been for some days.  Cold.  Muggy head ache.  Loss of hearing in right ear.  Not good.  Despite all that, I cheered myself up by attending a Samizdata blogger bash last night, but inevitably the percentage of contentment suffered afterwards.  So, I was not in the best of spirits when, this morning, I discovered that this blog and my other blog had become unreachable.  Various incomprehensible messages involving things like “SQL database” appeared instead.  Very alarming.

So, I was both relieved and grateful when, instead of such scary gobbledegeek, typing www dot brianmicklethwait dot com in due course caused this to appear:

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My thanks to my hosting service for this reassurance.  As soon as I saw that, I knew that nothing catastrophic had happened and that all would soon be well, as it soon was.

Customer service, you often hear it said, is about how you respond when things go wrong and it’s sort of your fault.  If you handle such situations badly, your customers will eventually rebel.  If you handle them well, they become even more loyal, because they know, even more than before, that you are seeing the world from their point of view and doing your best for them.

If you want to learn more about this particular Customer Servant, take a read of the comments from markr (for it is he), on this, and on this.

Saturday February 02 2008

Patrick Crozier is annoyed by the predominance of .pdf files in the publication list of the Libertarian Alliance, which betrays its pre-internet, desktop published origins.  But instead of merely indulging in a fit of the why-don’t-yous he decided to do a bit of the job himself.  He has now turned this into this, .pdf into .html.  Good man.

Quote:

… So where is the planner left now?

In a sort of limbo, produced by the impossibility of arriving at a rational policy for “transportation planning” in the irrational world that knows no property rights. A century on from Ebenezer Howard and fifty years on from the great Town and Country Planning Act we have a meddlesome bureaucracy that seeks to make people restore buildings to their previous state of dereliction, and plough under the gardens they have created from the waste.  But the highway and transportation planners surely suffer a worse fate - or we do from their activities, rather. Leaving aside the waste of millions of pounds on Light Rapid Transit, which has become their playground, they pedestrianise, they build humps in the roads, and they place signposts so as to make us take roundabout routes to reach our legitimate objectives.  They play with our livelihoods, and they play with our liberties. Our elected representatives seem to have suffered a kind of “regulatory capture”, and even the supposed representatives of the motorist do not seem to want to become involved.

Why did I copy and paste that?  Because (now) I could.

Appropriately enough, the LA piece in question, entitled “Town Planning Versus The Plans of The People” is all about the superiority of individual initiative.

Went walking yesterday in the cold and perfect sunshine, but didn’t take many photos.  I’ve already looked at them once and they didn’t seem up to much.  So, not a particularly good day.  But, experiment, which was the best of a bad lot?  I will now pick one.

Well, here are six that are worth a second look.  Three are the inevitable Billion Monkeys ...

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... but three are ... not:

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Click to get them larger.

When I got home and first looked through these and all the other snaps, what I clocked was their average un-niceness, which was distinctly un-nice, and in particular the fact that several that I hoped would be very nice were not nice at all because blurry.  But the nicest were still quite good, I think.

The two peculiar shiny sticking up things in front of St Stephen’s (i.e. the spikey old Parliament) Tower are Art, outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall.  The skateboarder is perhaps a controversial choice, being mostly as blurry as all the disappointments.  Even much of the skateboarder is blurry.  Think of that also as Art.  If I were a Real Artist, I would print out all the blurry ones and put them up in an Art gallery with a caption complaining about late capitalism.

Friday February 01 2008

To anyone who is a regular here but only an irregular at Samizdata, Michael Jennings has a big piece there, which uses the internet outages in Asia yesterday as the hook but only really the hook, about telecommunications, phones mobile and immobile, the internet, etc.  He links to this fun map, which explains things very well.

From a comment on this, by Mike Fagan:

It is actually very easy, for example, to think you are saying ‘yeah’, when in fact you are saying ‘beansprouts’ - the chinese terms for both these words are almost identical, differing only slightly in tone.

The relevance of that to discount airlines?  Well, the comment discussion had turned to the quality of Chinese taxi drivers, and you can’t make successful use of these persons if they can’t understand you.

From now on at this blog, until such time as I get bored with the notion, when I say “beansprouts” I will be meaning “yes”.