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Monday March 31 2008

I have the deep joy of having recorded episode one of a Channel 5 TV show called Big, Bigger, Biggest, shown last Tuesday 25th.  It was about ... airport terminals!  And the star of the show was ... Heathrow Terminal 5!  I’ve finally got around to watching it.  Quote of the show so far:

“At Terminal 5, lost bags will be a thing of the past ... or so they hope.”

Heathrow’s T5 is now a mess, but they’ll surely get it approximately sorted in a week or two, and in a few months it will be a memory, unless political moaners like Janet Daley decide to keep it going in order to bash Gordon Brown, which maybe they will.

It occurred to me over the weekend, as the almost unbelievable shambles continued into a fourth day, that Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is really a perfect metaphor for Brownism: enormous amounts of money having been lavished on an over-hyped project which fails spectacularly to provide a workable service.

However, I suspect that there will turn out to be too much private sector involvement to serve this particular purpose, and too much hard work, and, I bet, sheer bad luck.  Will it emerge that some wise souls really did say: “I told them this was going to happen, but they wouldn’t listen”?  Much depends on whether that’s true, and if so, who “they” were, and what was the nature of their folly.

I found another juicey little quote, here:

New airport terminals are usually plagued by faults and problems within the first couple of days of opening. BAA are hoping this will not be the case with T5 ...

To illustrate the wisdom of such a fingers-crossed attitude, let me take you back to that Channel 5 programme.  Here’s more of the commentary:

If the bag handling fails, it could bring down the whole Terminal, as it did in 1993 in Denver. Denver’s brand new airport boasted fully automated bag handling, but the expected triumph turned into a disaster.  Bags kept flying off the conveyors, jamming the tracks.  The airport was unusable for over a year, costing the city a million dollars every day.

Heathrow needs to do better than Denver ...

And the good news is that it surely will.  For this is what Patrick Crozier says about it all, at Transport Blog:

… it appears that what’s happened is that a number of small problems combined to make one big one.  The good news is that most of these are “soft” issues - to do with staffing and training and therefore reasonably easy to sort out - rather than “hard” issues - to do with the infrastructure and computer systems - which would take ages.

Terminal 5 was a massive project brought in on time and on budget.  This says some pretty good things about the people involved.

I suspect Terminal 5 will be working pretty well pretty soon.

A central point here, I suspect, is that big airport terminals are, by their very nature, damn hard to get working exactly right, exactly on time.

They often make use of highly innnovative technology, which is hard to make work perfectly just exactly as soon as the curtain goes up on the first night, so to speak.  This is because, although the cost, in disruption as well as in mere money, of innovation can get very high, the rewards of successful innovation are even vaster, so innovation simply has to be done.  It would cost too much not to.

But, as I say, the costs can be frightful.  Another airport horror story from America concerned, I think it was, LAX, where a radically innovative moving pedestrian walkway seemed splendid, until one day it ate a small child, and had to be entirely rebuilt after months of delay.

That first night has to be decided upon months – years? - in advance, and once decided cannot easily be altered.  The slightest delay costs fortunes.  They test and test, and they try to think of everything that could possibly go wrong, but, as Patrick said, little things that they didn’t see coming trip them up, and sometimes several little things can combine.

I further suspect that there is something inherent in airport terminals that says that they just have to open all at once.  They can’t be slowly or gradually opened, and then brought carefully up to speed.  This can’t be done.  Is that right?  I bet it is.

I’m gratified that Patrick and I came to similar conclusions.  I’d written a lot of this before reading his posting, and would have put this up at Transport Blog, minus Patrick’s words of wisdom, if there’d been nothing there about all this.

Here, however, is a different slant on it all, from the BBC:

By Saturday, BA said it had a backlog of at least 15,000 bags at Heathrow - with one source telling the BBC that the number may have been closer to 20,000.

BA as in British Airways.

BA has already said “teething problems” with car parking, delays in getting staff through security screening and staff familiarisation resulted in the backlog of baggage which led to the severe delays and flight cancellations over the days that followed.

But, according to Mr Bowden, the airline’s bosses had been warned by staff they were not fully prepared for the transition to T5.

“Many areas of BA had told their managers month after month that they were not ready to move in or didn’t feel confident to move in - but there was a general feeling of hubris - ‘Don’t worry, it will be okay on the day’.”

There you go.  “I told you so.” Patrick is right that this will all soon be sorted, but the chaos meanwhile does seem to have been someone’s fault.  Not the fault of the people who supplied the thing, who, as Patrick says, did a fine job, but the fault of the people who were supposed to be in charge of it once it was delivered.  The guy who built the baggage handling system, Iain Bailey of Vanderlande Industries (I know this from the Channel 5 show), was told to make it work for 12,000 items per hour, and he did.  But because BA cocked up the managing of it on the first day, the system was asked to handle more than that.  At which point, just as Iain Bailey of Vanderlande Industries had already predicted, it gave up:

“It’s just like a sponge.  The more you put in, the more it absorbs, but then there’s a point where it can’t soak up any more.”

And that point arrived.

My guess is that BA boss Willie Walsh won’t survive this.  I see that the politicians are already gunning for BA.

Sunday March 30 2008

Snapped yesterday outside Westminster Abbey:


At the other entrance there was lots of posh wedding photography going on.  Normally this would have yielded a fine crop of Billion Monkeys Dressed To The Nines, but I had other business to attend to and could not linger long.  Of the snaps I took none were worthy.  But I do like the bus.

Saturday March 29 2008

Here at wwwdotbrianmicklethwaitdotcom we love a good bridge, and here are three good bridges:


But what are they?  And why these ones today?

And no, I haven’t yet recovered my hundred percent health, since you ask.  Why else would I be fobbing you off like this?

Oh for goodness sake.  I just saw I already did something today.  So, make the most of it.  Two blatant quota posts in one day.  It comes of me being ill.

As of now (12.45pm on Saturday), the Spectator’s (I think rather good) Coffee House blog is suffering from permanent italics disease.  Their latest posting, Fear and loathing in Downing Street, is what’s causing the problem.  Look at the whole thing, as you do if you follow that link, and there’s no problem.  But if you look at the whole blog, you now see that the shortened version of that posting ceases in mid quote, and since their quotes are done in italics, everything from then on is also in italics, including all the stuff in the right hand side sidebar.

To repeat the point I made in my earlier posting about this, this syndrome is not the fault of the blogger, in this case James Forsyth.  It is the fault of the software, or at the very least of the way that it is set up.  This particular snafu proves it.  The blogger forgot nothing.  He didn’t end his posting with italics.  But the automatic settings caused the automatically shortened version of his posting to end in italics, hence the pollution of all text that follows.

In a temporary version of the above, I began the word “follows” with some italic enabling, but omitted to close it.  All subsequent body text, but not other stuff like titles or the stuff in small letters at the end, was in italics.  So Expression Engine still does this as well.

LATER: Twelve hours later in fact.  Two more postings have now appeared at Coffee House, but everything below Fear and loathing in Downing Street is still italicised.

Friday March 28 2008

I’ve been pigging out in front of the TV, trying to recover from a bad throat that I’ve been suffering from for the last few days, and watching one of those shows where you know the murderer because it’s the most distinguished actor among the suspects.  This time: Jenny Agutter!  She was the only reason I was watching.  When your desert island girls are getting old that means you really are.

Jenny A wasn’t quite the murderer, but she was a lot more involved in her husband’s death than she admitted when they first talked to her, so it was obvious she was going to return and have more to say and that it would involve complicated acting, or why would they have got Jenny Agutter for it?

So, quota photo time:


No reason.  I just like it.  Taken at the beginning of last December.  Click to get the sky, and more of the blurry bridge in the foreground, upon which the camera was resting, I believe.  In the distance, the docklands towers.  I know Tower Bridge is corny and everything, but that’s no reason to dislike it.  I hate that thing – the Tchaikovsky Syndrome might be a good name for it - where people dislike good things just because so many others, including many who are considered terminally uncool, like them.

Thursday March 27 2008

imageA photo (see also this) recently taken by me, from the road bridge (Eccleston Bridge for those who care) that goes over the railway as it widens out and snakes into Victoria station, having just crossed the river.  The view looking towards the river from that spot is very fine, dominated by Battersea Power Station, but here is another snap of the tower of Westminster Cathedral.  Click on the little picture to the right to see what I so like about this view.  The way that the clutter below is dominated by the tower is almost medieval, and of course this particular tower is much dominated by other local towers and edifices, and will be even more so when they have redeveloped the vicinity of Victoria Station, as they are starting to do.  But not, for now, when viewed from this particular angle.

Wednesday March 26 2008

Last Monday Antoine Clarke and I had another chat. about American politics, with me asking what the blazes is going on - and it is pretty weird – and him telling us all.  If, like me, you learn better through hearing people chat about something than you do by just reading stuff, then this will suit you very well.

Basically, Hillary C and Barack O and no nearer to sorting out which of them will be the Democrat candidate for the Presidency than they were a month ago.  The big changes are (a) that the upper levels of the Democrat Party have become less sure about being pro-Hillary, and (b) the general public has become less sure about Barack O being Jesus Christ reborn.  It turns out he’s just a politician, with a past, with dodgy mortgage deals, etc., albeit a slightly more ingratiating politician than Hillary C.  The longer it goes on, the worse it will get for the Dems, and the more damage it will do to them.  The more, for instance, bitter loser Dems will prefer McCain to the evil Dem winner.  The problem is, said Antoine, because both of them symbolise something.  Dump him and you’re a racist.  Dump her and you want “women to go back to the kitchen”.  I heard myself saying: why not a coin toss?  Well, it is a thought.  That it is a semi-rational thought shows you what a ludicrous pickle the Dems are in.  The alternative is it could all end up being decided by the Supreme Court, and not quickly.

But, at any moment, a delegation of Dems could persuade HIllary to drop out, since it still seems to be reckoned that she can’t win, but Barack O might.

About half way through, we switched from the big parties to talking about how the US Libertarian Party are going about things, and we then turned to discussing the fact that someone has started a Libertarian Party here in the UK.  I know extremely little about this, and have long cautioned people against the miseries inherent in such a project.  I talked about the impact that the internet has had upon small organisations, like such a party, and like the Libertarian Alliance.  Basically, people like me and Antoine no longer need such enterprises to have a voice.  Antoine said he reckoned there ought to be lots of different libertarian parties.

In practice this may happen, but in a watered down form.  In the event that this particular Libertarian Party makes any waves, other libertarians will start saying: no you’re doing it all wrong you should be saying XYZ.  In the event that it doesn’t make any waves, ditto.

Anyway, that was what we talked about.  Enjoy.  It lasts just over forty minutes.

Antoine said that this UK Libertarian Party has some kind of event or public meeting or something coming up.  If I learn anything about that, I’ll flag it up here.  Or maybe, Antoine will, and I’ll link to that, just as he’ll be linking to this if and when he mentions this at his place.

Tuesday March 25 2008

The cricket match between England and New Zealand which began so disastrously for England was turned on its head on the second afternoon, when New Zealand slumped from 93-1 at lunch to 168 all out, thanks to Ryan Sidebottom.  Then those floodgates of Collingwood’s that I was so scornful about finally creaked open, with centuries from Bell and the no longer doomed Strauss.  If Sidebottom looks like a Status Quo roadie, Strauss looks like Mr Darcy, but looks don’t keep you in the England team and he really needed his career-best 177.

By the time England declared, New Zealand needed an impossible 550 or so to win.  Considering that the record for a fourth innings winning total is 418, achieved by the West Indies against Australia not so long ago, this was never on.  The England win, when it materialises, will be visible here.  But, I do love an impossible last day run chase, even against England.

If England take wickets, good.  But if they don’t and the other fellows start piling up improbably large amounts of runs, I enjoy that too.  Last innings heroics raise my spirits no matter who is doing them.  I even remember enjoying the remarkable conclusion of this game, in which Greenidge got a double hundred and turned the impossible final target into a calm canter.  David Gower must have known something because he delayed the England declaration into the final morning, but it did him no good.  I also remember this very fondly.  And this

New Zealand have just resumed their doomed attempt to climb Everest at 9.30 in the evening London time, and for a moment miracles seemed possible, because two of their most aggressive batsmen, Taylor (LRPL Taylor if you please) and wicketkeeper McCullum starting flaying fours.  But sadly, Taylor has just got out, for 74, and now there are only McCullum, now past 40, and Vettori left to cause any embarrassment to England.

Last time England and New Zealand played a game like this one - as many have already pointed out, the scores for the first three innings have been earily similar - Nathan Astle got 222 and took New Zealand to within less than a hundred of what would have been a totally stupendous win that would have had me cheering in my kitchen.  That was spectacular on Ceefax in the bleary small hours of the morning, so heaven knows what it must have been like actually to have been there.  Wouldn’t it be great if ... aaaarrrgh!  McCullum out for 42.  Panesar five wickets in the innings, with three more up for grabs.

Oh well.  Another time.  At least I have a chance of getting to sleep at a reasonable hour.

Further heroics are still on the cards.  Vettori and Patel have just taken it from 281-7 to 329, while I was sorting all the above links out, at which point Patel got out.  (Panesar now has six wickets.) But Vettori, who can also hit hard and fast, is on 25 and clearly determined to make a nuisance of himself, what with him now being the NZ captain.  Yes, make that 31.  Or should I say 35?  No, because Vettori is now on 39.  The boundaries are quite short apparently.  That’s Jimmy Anderson being clouted everywhere, again.  And then tailender Southee played out a maiden, which suggests he might be able to hang around.  347-8.  Vettori 43.  Go Kiwis.  Doh!  Vettori out for 43.  Anderson!  Nearly done now.

And yet ... Southee, a teenager playing in his first test (five wickets in the first England innings) has just hit Panesar for six.  And now Anderson for another six!  Last ball before lunch!  Wow!

LATER:  Double wow!  I had assumed it all to be over and was off doing something else before turning in, but now Southee is 77 not out off 40 balls.  Four sixes, and nine fours!!!  NZ 430-9, having scored 88-1 off the last ten overs.  Go Kiwis!!  Doh!!  Should have left them to it.  NZ all out 431.  Martin out for 5.  Southee not out 77.  England win by 121.

Shame it wasn’t closer.



On the left the best of a set of snaps I took of a troupe of Billion Monkeys, who were all snapping away at Big Ben.  And on the right the verdict of the Alpha Male of the troupe.  Hurrah!  We’re being photoed!  And it just got better!  Now you’re on the internet!

Monday March 24 2008

In the Evening Standard last Wednesday, a big article, with a picture of Daniel Barenboim at the top - which was what got me reading it, in the paper version - starting like this:

Half a mile north of King’s Cross, behind a spectacular, rippling glass facade, a gleaming Xanadu named King’s Place is rising out of the urban wasteland.  There are offices, galleries, and canal side restaurants with, magically, for the money-lenders, the new St Pancras Eurostar link down the road.

Rippling glass facade?  North of King’s Cross?  That would be this:


imageI snapped those on March 4th.  I pass this thing every time I walk from Kings Cross railway station to Kings Cross Supplementary.  To make the point about Eurostar being just nearby, I snapped the one on the right here only seconds later.  That pointy thing on the left is the roof of what St Pancras Eurostar, with the even pointier thing behind it being the Post Office Tower.

So, then, what about this rippling facade just down the road from Kings Cross Supplementary?  And what has it to do with Daniel Barenboim?

But one aspect of this development, arguably its most important, has barely merited comment.  A state-of-the-art 420 seat auditorium, designed by Dixon Jones, architects of the Royal Opera House, and described by the site’s visionary developer Peter Millican as “a jewel box”, opens with a five day festival in October.

Yes, come to think of it, I do recall reading on the outside of this edifice something about a concert hall being included in among it.

Understandably, it’s being marketed as a “music venue”, embracing everything from bongo to bass viol.  But those in the know scoff as such weasel words.  The fact that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the London Sinfonietta will have their homes here gives it away.  To state plainly: London is about to get a new concert hall.

Die crossover philistines!  Tremble before the classics, World Music wankers!  Taxpayers, hand over your wallets!  You know that authentically period performances of obscure Haydn operas sung in a manner you consider ridiculous, and modernistical weirdnesses reverently performed by a small ensemble of Boulezy obsessives, are good for you!

Fiona Maddocks goes on to rhapsodise about how the audience for live classical music is growing, and better yet, is starting to look cool instead of just decaying.  The opposite of looking like me, in other words: sleek, stylish, young.  The Barenboim connection (Barenboim is even more ancient than me) is that Barenboim’s latest London venture, a complete cycle of the Beethoven piano sonatas as the Royal Festival Hall, sold out in the blink of an eye, and is being raved about by all who have attended.

So if, by the time they open this thing I’m still going to Kings Cross Supplementary, I might take in the odd concert on the way back.

Sunday March 23 2008

I’m listening to Rob Cowan - half an hour into this, for an hour - decide which is the best CD of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  Cowan is making copious references, not unreasonably, to what Stravinsky himself said it was all about.  Nature, religious ritual, young virgin dancing herself to death, a time of long ago paganism, that kind of thing.  Stravinsky said it came to him in a dream, complete with dancing maidens, etc.  I suspect humbug.  Stravinsky strikes me as a typical modernist, in the bad sense of striking carefully contrived modernistical poses calculated to outrage, which he claimed were merely spontaneous, “honest” impulses.  Stravinsky is not a favourite of mine, but humbug or not, I like the Rite of Spring, or bits of it anyway.  I am eager to learn who Rob Cowan declares to be the winner.

But, I can’t accept all this talk about nature.  To me the Rite sounds thoroughly industrial.  Rigid rhythms don’t say nature to me, they say the works of man, which were causing such a stir and making such a deafening noise at just the time that the Rite got written, just before World War 1. 

Consider that scene in The Hunt For Red October, in which the black sonic analyst wizard speeds up the noises being made by the otherwise inaudible Red October, turning them into a rigidly rhythmic boom-boom-boom-boom-boom, and adds: “That’s got to be man made.” Indeed.  “You can almost smell the sweat and tribal grease paint”, Cowan has just said.  It sounded like a locomotive to me, and it smelt of steam and oil, not nature.  But, when listening to it I am entirely able to see factories and machines and smoke belching from chimneys rather than dancing Clark Gable movie extras.  Art has a life of its own, distinct from the intentions of its mere creators.

And the winner is: this:

image  image

imageThat’s it on the left there.  I of course reckon that something looking more like the picture on the right would have made more sense.  Boom-boom-boom-boom-boom.  (I’ll be a poet yet.) Happy Easter everybody.

Saturday March 22 2008

Here’s another good flat picture:


All is explained here.

If anything, my regard for these flat pictures has increased recently, what with me acquiring Jesus, which has a tiny horizontal screen, and now a new regular screen that is wider than the old one that conked out but no taller.  So, when I say “flat screens” in the title, I’m not talking about the non-curvature of the surface, just the height of the picture.

The basic problem faced by laptop designers in particular is that the logical shape of the keyboard is thin and wide, but the logical shape of a small screen is more like square, or even rectangular and tall.  Will they one day contrive to make foldable screens?  Or maybe screens that unroll upwards, from the top end of the keyboard?  Or maybe a screen that just projects from the top end of the keyboard into the air, lighting up the air molecules?

As the graph above illustrates, the exact right technology can make a huge difference to everyday life.

Friday March 21 2008

You park your car in Russia, to go fishing, and the car park melts under it:


Meanwhile, something similar is happening to the England batting out there in New Zealand.  Collingwood was saying that soon the England top six would open the floodgates.  Results so far: Vaughan out for 2, Strauss out for 0, Cook out for 2.  At one point England were 4-3, the teenage debutant Southee having got the first two.  At drinks, half way through the first morning, England had crawled to 16-3 after 14 overs.

They can’t just keep on picking the same guys if they keep on failing.  Cook looks safe for now, but Vaughan looks dodgy, and Strauss is doomed, if only because they have to bring in new guys after this shambles and he is now bottom of the heep.  Pietersen has made yet another start, and now might be a good time for him to get past fifty.  He’s now twelve.  Bell has faced half as many balls again as Pietersen but is becalmed on 2.  So much for the floodgates.  Next in: Collingwood.

While I was fixing the links to that, England have progressed to 30-3 off 20 overs.  Not exactly 20-20 is it?  Pietersen 17, Bell 8, Bell having hit a four.

LATER: Bell out for 9. 36-4 in the 24th over.

LATER: Lunch.  England 58-4 after 30 overs.  Pietersen, who clobbered Vettori for two fours in two balls, is seven short of what would be his first fifty in eleven innings.  (I never seem to know whether to do cricket numbers in text as figures or words.) After 4-3, England would probably settle for this.

Thursday March 20 2008

Both here and here, I am having an Ed Smith day, in the form of chunks taken from his highly entertaining little book entitled What Sport Tells Us About Life.  Ed Smith is a cricketer, captain of Middlesex, who played a handful of test matches for England.  Here’s the bit where he explains why Americans play baseball instead of cricket.

imageBut more broadly, does a sport have a natural home?  Were some sports bound to flourish in certain countries, and some teams predestined to play in a particular style?  It is easy to slip into ideas of inevitability after events have happened.  Whether they were always going to turn out that way is another question entirely.

Take cricket and baseball.  The conventional view is that nothing could be less American than cricket.  And nothing could be more American than baseball.  Wrong on both counts.  Americans, in fact, could have ended up staying in striped caps and cricket whites.  And baseball, far from being an all-American baby, may have been spawned by French monks and nuns.

Far from being an unpopular anachronism, cricket was once America’s favourite team sport.  It rivalled baseball for most of the nineteenth century, with as many stories in the sports pages of the New York Times until 1880.  Indeed, the first international cricket match was between Canada and the United States in 1844.  By 1850 cricket clubs flourished in twenty-two states.  And in 1858, when the architects of New York’s new Central Park had to name the area allocated (for ball games, they came up with ‘the Cricket Ground’ - much to the despair of baseball’s early supporters.

What went wrong for cricket in America?  Climate cannot have been an issue as summer there is perfect for cricket.  Nor was North American multiculturalism a real problem.  Elsewhere cricket quickly reached beyond its Englishness - Irish Australians, for example, never saw it as an Anglo-Saxon pastime.

The most common argument is that cricket was too long and slow.  ‘Americans do not care to dawdle – what they do, they want to do in a hurry,’ argued Henry Chadwick, the Englishman who helped define baseball’s early days.  ‘In baseball, all is lightning.  Thus the reason for American antipathy to cricket can be readily understood.’ But that was in 1850, when antipathy to cricket was still being invented in the American imagination.

The real answer is that baseball got a lucky bounce in the form of the Civil War. The pitch could be rougher and less equipment was needed, so bored soldiers found it easier to set up a baseball game than a cricket match.  Baseball, for the first time, started to draw ahead.

Enter the spin-doctors.  Baseball’s most successful evangelist was A. G. Spalding, who happened to be a manufacturer of sporting goods.  He marketed baseball as America’s game, invented by Americans, not effete Brits.  It was an honest, rugged game, not a class-ridden elitist diversion.  Spalding would not be the last entrepreneur to realize that there is a big market for class-conspiracy theories.  Inventing baseball’s democratic heritage made him a rich man.

When his 1888 ‘All Star’ baseball world tour returned home, they were welcomed back with a vast celebration banquet. The president of the league repeatedly announced that his sport’s origins were distinctly American, unconnected with inferior English ball games.  The guests began to chant: ‘No rounders! No rounders!’

Spalding, wanting his populist take on baseball to be seen as revealed truth, persuaded a friendly senator to authorize him to form an investigative commission on the origins of the game.  The commission announced that baseball was invented in 1839 by a Civil War hero, Abner Doubleday, in Cooperstown. A nice story, but sadly untrue. Doubleday spent the summer of 1839 as an army officer cadet at West Point, nowhere near Cooperstown.

But no one cared. America had arrived, and baseball - backed by a burgeoning sense of patriotism - had arrived with it.  Cricket was guilty by association.  It retreated into pockets of East Coast anglophilia, arcane strongholds of the old world order.  It is a truism that the winners write history.  Just as the Tudor kings demonized the ‘hunchback’ Richard III, baseball demonized cricket.

Wednesday March 19 2008

Yes, my computer screen has conked out, finallly, after threatening to for some while with occasional bursts of chaos.  But, as you do, I just hoped things would improve, and have allowed things to get terminally silly before deciding to do anything.  Which I will do, tomorrow.

Meanwhile, thank you Jesus, which is what I am typing on.  My Asus Eee PC, that is.  I still haven’t worked out how to make Jesus work with my wireless thingy, but with wire, Jesus connects to the internet fine.

But, don’t assume anything more here today.

However, does anyone have any opinions about which screen I should buy at PC World tomorrow?  Preferred price: hundred quid.  Acceptable price: more like hundred and fifty.

And also: is it possible that what is wrong is not the screen but something else?  Like the “graphics card”, or some such thing?

Tuesday March 18 2008



I see this, if I remember to look, when on my way to the shops, through Vincent Square.  Taken last month.  It’s one of my favourite local landmarks.

Monday March 17 2008

imageRob Fisher has good things to say about the private ownership of public space, with photos of signs put up by the owners, the London Inns of Court.  My dad was a Middle Temple barrister, in fact at one time he was the Treasurer of the Middle Temple, which means he was the boss-for-a-year of it.  I can assure Rob that the Inns of Court are indeed the owners of the properties guarded by these signs.

As a roving photographer, I have become especially aware of the ludicrously excessive amount of signage now erected in public streets. Big polls saying this or that nagging thing obtrude into almost every snap I take.  Roof clutter I like.  Street clutter I hate.

Sunday March 16 2008

imageIndeed.  For the spelling thing see comment number four.  It’s the wrong colour though.  Should be blonder, surely.

That’s my favourite of David Thompson’s latest ephemera collection, which, incidentally, includes no Islam bashing.  Has he started getting anonymous phone calls?

Saturday March 15 2008

Do you suspect me of losing interest in Billion Monkeys?  Not so!

Billion Monkeys, for those uninitiated into the concept, are digital photographers.  An earlier generation of postulated monkeys used to sit at typewriters, failing to write anything good.  But our current generation of technologically enabled primates, armed this time around with digital cameras and snapping away like monkeys possessed, are real.  And they – we - are producing many works of art, many beautiful images, many wondrous memories, and witty and pertinent illustrations of what life now is like.  We Billion Monkeys are the real story of photography now, not the mere trivia of which Real Photographers are considered to be the most artistic by those who believe that they decide such things.

I am an enthusiastic Billion Monkey and I photo my fellow Billion Monkeys.  Without their consent.  But the result is a crowd scene, and in fifty years Posterity will govel in gratitude.

Recently I was wandering back through my ever-growing Billion Monkeys photo archive, and was struck by how certain days seemed to result in little inspiration, while other dates yielded fine snap after fine snap.

January 12th of this year proved to be a particularly satisfactory afternoon of Billion Monkey hunting.  Here are some of my favourites from that day:


It wasn’t very cold that day, but nor was it hot, and many of the the Billion Monkeys I encountered were doing a very characteristic Billion Monkey thing, namely wearing gloves while snapping.  Real Photographers don’t do that, although Real Photographers do sometimes wear mittens.  So there were lots of snaps in the category: Billions Monkeys wearing gloves!  But all the Billion Monkey bases seemed to get covered that day, with a particularly strong showing in the Billion Monkeys photo-ing themselves! category.  Above all, there were just lots of just very interesting looking Billion Monkeys wandering past my field of vision that day.

I particularly like the best of the snaps that were taken as the light was fading, causing buses and even by the end just anyone or anything moving at all to become a blur, in front of which the stationary Billion Monkey shows up especially well.

In the blurry background of 1.5 is the new statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square.  And the statue in 5.1 is of Queen Boudicca in her chariot, next to Westminster Bridge.

That big new architect-designed office building in the background of 2.1 is where all the MPs now have their office space.  I reckon the reason so many MPs are now, suddenly, getting into trouble for hiring members of their families is that these people finally have somewhere nice to work in, which before they didn’t because MPs had no room for them.  Nepotism expands to fill the space available for its accommodation.

By the way, regarding this posting’s title, this is one of my favourite pop tunes:

He just caught the Jamestown Ferry,
It’s not a hot day in January,
Like he said it’d be if he ever left me.

I always switch off when bloggers copy out entire pop lyrics, so I kept that copy-and-pasting short and to the point.

Friday March 14 2008

Cricinfo‘s Live scorecard system has been playing up lately:


I particularly like ball 15.3.  That Cook bloke can really prod it.  15.4 says no run, but then describes the six.  15.5 would have been a run out, not a run.  Each ball gets the score from the next ball allocated to it.  All was quickly corrected, but soon another snafu will be along.  Where would the mainstream media be without us bloggers to keep them on their toes?

England 106-1 at lunch on the third day, exactly 250 ahead.  If they don’t win this, they’ll kick themselves.

Thursday March 13 2008

imageLast night I stayed up a little later than usual, to follow England v NZ on Cricinfo.  At lunch England were seventy something for nought.  After lunch they crumbled to 136-5.  At which point it was definitely bed time by any definition, and I said, I’ll go to bed when the next wicket falls.  Ambrose and Colllingwood were at the wicket, the last of England’s proper batsmen.  The next wicket would expose the tail and pretty much end England’s chance of making much of a score.  So then what happens?  This.

Could Ambrose finally be the English Gilchrist, an England - well, England qualified - wicketkeeper who can really keep wicket and can really bat, for whom the search has meandered along for about five years?  Read.  Jones.  Prior.  Mustard (currently the wicketkeeper in the one day side).  If Ambrose really wants to nail down the spot for a year or two, in both versions of the game, my advice to him would be to make about another 97 runs on day two.  Jones got runs against Australia in 2005, but then disappointed.  Prior got a hundred in his first test, then ditto.  Ambrose is presumably reckoned to be the better keeper than Prior, or they’d have turned him down for the same reason they sacked Prior.  A big hundred today, as opposed to a mere hundred, would really make the difference for Ambrose.  Plus not dropping any catches.

UPPATE: Well Ambrose did get to a hundred, but he didn’t take my advice about making it a big hundred.  102.  Collingwood also got out for very little more and England were all out for 342.  But by lunch it was NZ 11-2, both wickets to Anderson. 62-7 in the session.  England, for the time being, on top.

imageAlex Singleton emails with a link to news of yet another (and cheaper) competitor to the Eee PC.  “It’s Linux-based too, of course.” Of course.  To be that cheap, it has to be.

Wednesday March 12 2008

[S]pudart writes about his photo of Chicago’s Moving Bridges over the Chicago River:

The Chicago River cuts through downtown Chicago and is home to the most moveable bridges in the world for any city. Starting from the top, here are the bridges featured in this photo: Franklin Street Bridge, Wells Street Bridge, LaSalle Street Bridge, Clark Street Bridge, and Dearborn Street Bridge.


A little bit of trivia about a couple of these bridges. The top bridge at Franklin Street was an important part of the 2005 film “Batman Begins” because it’s the bridge that connects Gotham City with the Narrows. The 2nd bridge from the top (Wells Street) is the double decker extreme bridge. It carries three lanes of southbound traffic along with two sidewalks. The upper deck slams across two sets of CTA trains every day with the brown and purple. The bottom bridge (Dearborn Street) is the only bridge featured here that was not built between 1919 to 1929. It was constructed in 1962, and its straight-line modern style certainly proclaims that.

All that (and more) is to be found at Flickr, which is not noted for its contributors supplying an abundance of detailed descriptive text.  As often as not it’s just 0896.jpg, or some such catchy title, and make what you will of it.

What I find intriguing about the picture is that the bridges looked rather small to me, until I looked more carefully and realised how very small the vehicles are on the road to the left of the river.  When a European like me sees that many bridges all clustered together, looking like that, my brain just assumes them to be little more than a set of cute footbridges.  Part of it is that I can’t imagine a hotel window being that far away and that high up.  I’m sure if I was there fore real, I’d not make this mistake, but here is a case where the camera, if it did not lie exactly, did manage to mislead somewhat.

Tuesday March 11 2008

imageOne of the key opinion-mongering arts for some time now has been the ability to wrap Daily Mail opinions up in Guardian packaging.  Via Briffa.

Monday March 10 2008

imageOverheard by me on the telly this evening, while I was struggling to find something to put here today:

This was a great time to be British, after the drains and before the trenches.

That’s Kelvin McKenzie, editor of the Sun from 1981-1993, describes the last few years of the nineteenth century and the first few years of the twentieth, in a telly show about the origins of tabloid journalism.  The last on this list.

Very good.  By great good fortune, the video had just finished recording the thing before, a play about Robert Maxwell, but it had not been preset so it is down to me to switch if off.  I’m letting it run.

And what a pearl I have caught in my electronic net!  Did you know that Lord Northcliffe, head of anti-German propaganda during World War 1, did such a good job of it that the Germans sent some battleships to bombard his house on the south coast.

Here we are:

Such was Northcliffe’s influence on propaganda over the Germans in WWI, German battleships were sent to shell his house in an attempt to assassinate him. His former residence still bears a shell hole in respect of his gardener’s wife who was killed in the attack.

Fascinating.  Badly written ("in respect of”?), but fascinating.  Blog and learn.

Sunday March 09 2008

Yes I’m watching the rugby again (France v Italy), and okay, you can forgive Jonathan Davies for not knowing everyone in the French team.  Nobody does, because it’s now a different French team every time.

But Yannick Jauzion has played enough, and been mispronounced often enough by Davies, that by now you’d have thought he’d have gone away and learned how to say him right.  You would have thought, indeed, that somebody at the BBC would have bloody well told him to do this.

Jauzion is not some incidental selection.  He’s a great player.  He scored a try against New Zealand when France knocked them out of the recent World Cup, and the commentators were talking him up before this France Italy game as a key player, for heavens’ sakes.  Davies himself was saying what a key figure he might be.

Commentators are always going on about the errors of the players, but for a commentator not to be able properly to say the name of one of the universally acknowledged star players of France really is contemptible.  Players have a fraction of a second to avoid error.  Davies has had days to avoid this particular error.  Years, in fact.  And it’s not like it’s a hard name to say.

This France Italy game is a whole lot of fun to watch, though, unlike the stalemates of yesterday, and I promise you I’m not just saying that because England lost.  It’s France, running it from everywhere, who are responsible for this.

“Jow-zion” from Edwards, again.  Dear oh dear.

LATER: “Jow-zon.” He can’t even make up his mind how to mispronounce it.

LATER: Guess what.  “Jow-zion” (we’re back to that again) has scored a try! The other commentator, some Scottish bloke chosen for his commentating ability as well as his mere rugby expertise, was saying it right, of course.  And then Davies said it wrong, again, and the other guy corrected Davies, and then - miracle of miracles - Davies said it right!  It won’t last though.

LATER: Told you.  After the game, won by France 25-13.  “Yah-zon”.  Bloody hell.

Saturday March 08 2008

I’m watching the rugby.  The closing stages of France v England a fortnight ago were pleasing for England, because they – we - won, but dull for a neutral and infuriating for the French, because there was nothing the rules allowed them to do.  They just had to wait for the England forwards to make a mistake, which they didn’t.  That all this happened on the French line and that England finally got a try only disguised the basic dullness of what was happening.

The problem is the “loose”.  If a team is trying to run down the clock, the bloke with the ball can just bludgeon forwards for a yard or two, fall to the ground, hand the ball backwards to the fellows behind, who can then stop everything just as it’s about to come out into open play, and repeat at will.  At the point when the ball is just about to come out of the scrum, there’s nothing the non-possessing team are allowed to do about it, and nothing the possessing team – you can’t call them “attacking” - is obliged to do about it.

And now Wales have just done the exact same thing at the very end of their game against Ireland.  What should have been an enthralling finish, with Ireland desperately trying to score a try and turn it around, instead became a simple matter of waiting for 80.00 to show up on the timer in the top left corner of the TV screen, as the Welsh forwards took it in turns to bludgeon and hand back, hold, bludgeon and hand back, hold, etc. etc. etc., boring boring boring. 

Don’t ask me to explain the details of what the rules are now and why they allow all this, but they will surely have to be changed to stop this tedium.

UPDATE: At the end of the Scotland England game it looked as if Scotland were about to do the exact same thing, but being a bad side, and what with it being very wet and all, they couldn’t do it.  Instead they had to rely on England’s subsequent and final attack failing.  Since all previous England attacks for the last hour or more had failed, this was a good bet and Scotland duly won, because they had a better goalkicker than England.  England’s lack of attacking punch means that the knives will now surely be out for Ashton.  England only seem to be able to play well nowadays when nothing is expected of them.

I reckon Ashton’s basic problem is that on telly, he just looks like an old grump.  So, people reckon he can’t be very inspiring, even if he is, and even if, actually, the players can do their own self-inspiring.  At least Woodward looked a little bit stylish and vaguely happy.  What’s the betting Ashton’s replacement, if they decide to have one, is a foreigner?

Friday March 07 2008

Antoine talked about the very real possibility of this a month ago:

It sounds like a suitably madcap finale to a zany political season: the “winner-takes-all” Puerto Rican primary. A small Caribbean island ends up annointing the Democratic candidate for president by virtue of its 63-delegate bloc, even though Puerto Ricans don’t get to vote in the general election.

Via this, and this.

There are times when I worry about violating the privacy of my fellow Billion Monkeys, by putting pictures of them up on the internet, even if it’s only here.  I still do it, but I do worry.  But honestly, can there possibly be anything wrong with showing this to the world?  He’s making a living sculptural exhibition of himself, and his face is invisible.


Taken last Wednesday on the South Bank, between the Wheel and the Hungerford Bridges.  This is where strange people stand motionless in strange painted costumes, all silver, or all yellow, of invisible, or dressed as a pirate or a Chinese lady dancer or some such.  He’s photo-ing one of these, so that he gets the Wheel right behind them.

Should I report him?

Thursday March 06 2008

English soccer club results in European ties last night were very poor.  London Spurs lost at home, Bolton drew at home, and Everton got beaten 2-0 in Italy.  But earlier in the week it was a different story, the general opinion being that London Arsenal’s expert slicing apart of Milan, in Milan, was the highpoint.  Liverpool and London Chelsea also won.  The Premiership rules, they all cried.  The top few clubs in the Premiership rule, more like.

The best insight into the Arsenal achievement I recently encountered was in the Times the day before it happened, in the form of a piece about Professor Wenger:

His analysis is far more detailed than which player has run the most miles or who has completed 75 per cent of passes, although those numbers form part of the picture. What counts to Wenger is knowing where they passed (was it forward or sideways), how long it took them and - down to a decimal point - at what speed.

“If I know that the passing ability of a player is averaging 3.2 seconds to receive the ball and pass it, and suddenly he goes up to 4.5, I can say to him, ‘Listen, you keep the ball too much, we need you to pass it quicker.’ If he says ‘no’, I can say look at the last three games - 2.9 seconds, 3.1, 3.2, 4.5. He’ll say, ‘People around me don’t move so much!’ But you have the statistics there to back you up, too.

“It works well with your tactical observations, too. You see that a guy never loses the ball, so you look at the number of times he passes the ball forward. You can get to the point where you can say, ‘I prefer the one who loses the ball a bit more but tries to play it forward.’ It is a concrete observation.”


James Hamilton wonders from time to time why the English never seem to produce people like Wenger, but instead have to bring them in from abroad.  It’s not that the English are incapable of intelligent creativity.  So, why can’t we apply it to football?  Why can’t we apply it, for goodness sakes, to sport of any kind?  An amazing proportion of world class English sports coaches seem to be non-English, the only big exception I personally can think of being Clive Woodward, who won the rugby World Cup with England in 2003, by doing exactly the sort of stuff that Wenger does.  In cricket, my other sporting enthusiasm, England’s recent moment of glory, the 2005 Ashes win, was presided over by a Zimbabwean, aided by an Australian who coached the bowlers.  Both have now moved on, the Australian to Australia.  The England team, despite its unchanged captain, is a shadow of its former glory.  It is now coached by an Englishman.

What gives?  Well, I’m English, and to me there is something more than somewhat ridiculous about being that clever about a mere game.  Wenger could clearly have got to the top of whatever tree he fancied climbing, as could Woodward.  So why on earth pour the one life you have into a game.  If you’re Wayne Rooney and you are supremely good at soccer and crap at everything else, fine.  Makes perfect sense.  But Wenger?  The man could be splitting atoms by now, commanding the fates of nations, moving and shaking any way and anywhere he chose.  Yet, he chooses football.

Please understand that this is not a reasoned argument I am offering.  It’s a gut reaction.  A feeling.  I haven’t analysed whether it makes sense, it’s just the way it seems to me, before any analysis begins.  All I’ve really done is restate the question.  The English don’t do world class sporting coaches.  But why not?  Because we think that being a world class sporting coach is silly.  But again: why?  Why do I, and I suspect a lot of other English people, feel this way?

I’ve read books by Woodward and by that Zimbabwean who coached the cricket team.  Now I’m in the market for a book by or about Wenger.  Part of the clue to Woodward’s oddity, his separateness from English life, I am convinced, is to be found in this story.

A lot of people seem to have been making noises like this lately:

… [T]he celebrations of Fidel Castro´s social achievements usually ignore that Cuba was highly developed before communism. Before 1959 Cuba had more doctors per capita than Britain, lower infant mortality than France and West Germany, more cars per capita than the Japanese and more television sets than West Europeans.

Did they all get it from Johan Norberg?  Or is he merely passing on what he too has recently been hearing?  Norberg supplies this link for those who want to know more.  Me, I’m already convinced that Communism was silly.

Wednesday March 05 2008

Simon Hewitt Jones calls it astonishing, and technologically it surely is.  But it is also the dreariest performance of Land of Hope and Glory I’ve heard in a long time.  Johnathan Pearce wouldn’t like it at all.


It’s the sort of thing that the Conservatives might use at the next election to communicate how creepy Labour is, except that it might be too easily used to describe them as well.

The mood is not improved by seeing all the contraptions to enable oldies to meander about, which also combines being very impressive with being very depressing.  Toshiba has seen the future and it is robots ferrying oldies around and playing classical music, perfectly, but very badly.

Picture from, and more reportage, here.

Tuesday March 04 2008

Although also a bit more expensive, so I don’t mind that I’ve already got mine.

Incoming from Michael Jennings:

This looks like the one based on Intel’s new hardware specially designed for this class of machine rather than the old generation hardware in the Eee PC. If it really does cost only £300 it is an amazing bargain.

Microsoft have got themselves into a position where their current generation operating system won’t work on this kind of hardware. It is really extraordinary. You can run XP on it, but that supposedly goes off sale at the end of June.

See Michael’s second comment on this for further detail.  As he said in that:

The point is that tiny PCs are about to become mainstream.

Yesterday Instapundit had a couple of Eee PC postings, here, and here.  Says he, in the second of those:

The cost of competing with Big Media just keeps dropping.

The point being, these are not toys.  They’re real computers.  They just got better.  And that boat has now left, with Microsoft hardly on it at all.

UPDATE: This looks interesting too.  To my untrained eye it looks like a “bigger” Eee PC.  For people who want cheap (cheap especially) and light, but will tolerate bigger to get more powerful.  Powerful enough to run Vista, it would seem.

Monday March 03 2008

imageI have been reading Theodore Dalrymple’s Our Culture, What’s Left Of It.

I particularly liked the essay called “The Uses of Corruption”, which can, I am glad to report, be read online, here.

This is about the contrasting fortunes of Britain and Italy since the war.  Italy has corruption, and the consequent ingrained knowledge amongst all of its people that if they want something, they’d better arrange it for themselves.  Britain has uncorrupt public officials promising, persuasively, to look after everything for anyone who is in any sort of trouble, and the consequent infantilisation and demoralisation of that vast lower tranche of the population supposedly in need of such help.  They don’t arrange anything for themselves, but just sit about waiting for the government to sort everything out for them.  Italy has gone from ruin to riches, Britain from one kind of ruin to another.

I also found this very interesting.

And I’ve just begun reading this.  I haven’t yet read this, but I will read it very soon.

Sunday March 02 2008

Nothing here today.  If you want my most profound recent thinking and best recent autobiographical chat, which just maybe you do, try the combination of, first, this, followed, second, by this.  Hot news from the newly emerging world of Supplementary Education.

Saturday March 01 2008

I am too knackered to be doing anything much here today, beyond telling you that I’m too knackered to be doing anything much here today.

If you want recent bloggage of the sort I would be proud to have done, may I suggest you give Bishop Hill a visit.  He has been rather eloquent during the last couple of days.

Meanwhile, here is a snap that I took today on Westminster Bridge, just before it got dark, of a lady photo-ing herself holding a huge - and I mean huge - wheel.


Also on show here is the Billion Monkey way with bags.  Having one hanging from an arm that you want to be holding rock steading, either because it’s holding the camera or because it’s part of the shot, is not comfortable.  But worse, far worse, would be to leave the bag somewhere where a villainous local might grab it, while you’re busy snapping.  Billion Monkeys keep their personal possessions with them at all times!