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Saturday February 28 2009

Today Professor Dowd took me to see the Monsal Valley in the Peak District, A wonderful trip.

Here is the sign on top of the Monsal Valley railway viaduct, or rather two croppings from it.  The first is what John Ruskin said about it around the time (1867) when it was built:


And here is what he was moaning about:


And here’s how it looks now:


More about and more photos of this viaduct here.  The railway it carried is now a scenic footpath, and we made our way down into the valley and walked over it and back.  We had the best of the day’s sunshine for our little expedition.  Lovely.

Billion Monkeys never forget to photo the explanatory signs!

Friday February 27 2009

And not the most exciting journey I’ll ever take.  Thank goodness for Jesus and his Dongle, which provided me with cricket scores, and for an interesting book about F1 ace Lewis Hamilton.

The most dramatic things I saw were the new Wembley Arch, and this:


The oddest thing I saw was this:


And now here I am in a b&b, half watching a movie on my personal tv with crappy analog reception, and half doing this.


My new reading glasses have film on them to protect against scratches, but I decided not to bother with anti-reflection.

Thursday February 26 2009

This morning, having only got to sleep at 4 am, I got up at 9.30am.  In other words I exploited the Old Git tendency to wake up half way through the night, by simply forgetting about the other half.  I need to reset the Micklethwait Clock, if only because I am staying with Professor Dowd in Sheffield this weekend, and will simply have to be getting up at a sensible hour.  Also, I have to get up early tomorrow to pack before catching the bus there.

Which meant that I got my blogging duties here out of the way good and soon, and that I found the time also to write this.

Because of that latter piece, I am now feeling very smug.  This is one of those cases where my mere eloquence is actually going to make the world a better place, to a small but definite degree.  Having only written it this morning I cannot be entirely sure yet, but I strongly suspect that if and when (I promise nothing) I get around to compiling Brian’s Greatest Blog Postings, this will feature.


Noted: shallow, sensationalist reporting in a national newspaper, detailed analysis with reference to peer-reviewed papers on a blog.

Although, there is a bit of difference between SOCIAL WEBSITES HARM A CHILD’S BRAIN and what it actually said, which was:


Here is the detailed analysis.

The truth is that both the newspapers and the blogs contain lots of good stuff, and lots of crap.  And even as we bloggers jeer at the newspaper guys, we carry on recycling and commenting on their stories, as I do in this.  We just won’t pay for these stories any more, is, as they say in America, all.  No wonder lots of them hate us.

Wednesday February 25 2009

One of the things I really like about the internet is that you can quickly satisfy your curiosity about curiosities.  So, for instance, I was wandering back from Kings Cross Supplementary not so long ago, back along the platform on the far side, and saw a train with this on it:


Let me spell it out so there’s no confusion.  I’m talking about this:


Rootling through these photos, I now wonder who Arnold Leah might be.  So I google “Arnold Leah”, and it turns out that Arnold Leah is a long-serving train driver.  Forty nine years behind the wheel, or whatever they have in trains.  Nobody famous.  Not a professor of engineering.  Just a good and faithful servant.  I like that.

Tuesday February 24 2009

imageThis (featured today on Gizmodo) just might be the next camera for me.  It certainly looks like the best bet yet.  It’s relatively small, relatively cheap, is a proper DSLR, but also has digital preview on a twiddly screen.  Tick tick tick tick.

It is, in particular, I now surmise, somewhat better than this, which is based on the hope that (a) not having an optical viewfinder will never be a problem (see the comments) and (b) there being a decent choice of add-on lenses, which I’m guessing hasn’t yet happened.

Here is a case where the economic downturn may have affected things.  The G1 has not sold, simply because all toys are selling less well nowadays.  But in this case that has caused the add-on market which in good times the G1 would have created to be delayed.  Which hurts the G1 still further.  Cameras with the same specs and same lack of specs as the G1 will be with us soon, but I’m not getting any younger and I can’t wait even that long.

Runaway success products have to solve a whole slew of problems right now.  The point about the Olympus E-620 is that it is an addition to an already existing range, so the add-ons are already out there.  It does good right now.

But what do I know?  Comments from anyone who knows better would be much appreciated.  I see to recall that Alan Little, who occasionally comments here, has an earlier version of this range of Olympi (without the twiddly screen that I so crave) and is happy with it.  Yes:

I didn’t buy it for “real” photography; I bought it as a super-digicam that is unobtrusive enough to carry around when I’m not primarily out to to take pictures, but capable enough that I can still take real pictures with it should the opportunity present itself. I think it will fill that niche pretty much perfectly.

I’m guessing that what Alan says about the E-410 applies approximately also to the E-620, with the E-620 hopefully being an improvement.  I further suspect that what Alan calls a “real” picture is what I call a very good one.

Monday February 23 2009

The recent comment by Paul Marks on this (already linked to from here) deserves a little bit of fuss being made of it, e.g. copying and pasting here:

Agreed Brian (and Mr Jennings and others) the “rescue” efforts have (each time) made a bad situation worse.

I am reminded of the activities of the lady who had a fly go down her throat.

First the lady put a spider down her throat to catch the fly, then the lady put a bird down her throat to catch the spider, then the lady put a cat down her throat to catch the bird.

At some point in this process the lady would, of course, die.

Having major banks go bankrupt is very nasty (although it was caused by an increase in the money supply setting up a credit bubble - an increase in the money supply generated by GOVERNMENTS and only then magnified by fractional reserve activities) and yes many companies linked to the banks (including good companies) would be “dragged down” by their collapse.

But it is the “cure” for this crises that will kill the economies of the West.

Remember even the increase in the money supply was not a one-off process.

There were a serious of stages.

Each time the increase in the money supply caused malinvestments (distortions in the capital structure) and each time the bubble looked like it was going to burst.

But then “Alan Greenspan saved the world” by expanding the money supply again in a “rescue mission” (and the other Central Bankers of the various countries followed him - via the “international cooperation” of the sucide pact).

And each time, of course, the credit bubble got bigger.

In the end the bubble burst - when it was a truly vast size.

Even then that would not have destroyed the financial basis of the West - even in the United States I doubt that more than a few big banks (out of hundreds of banks) would have actually gone bankrupt.

It is the insane “cure” for the financial crises (under Bush and Obama - and Brown and ...) that has destroyed the financial basis of so much of the world.


I love work.  I can sit and look at photos of it for hours.  I agree with Mick Hartley‘s choice of favourite.

Sunday February 22 2009

imageAbout once every blue moon I encounter a gadget on engadget that truly impresses me, and the moon just turned blue again because this is the latest such.  Ideal for photoing policemen, especially from close up.  How the hell will they know which direction it’s pointing in?  Also good for self-portraiture.  And for listening to music or watching movies on the move.  And for interviewing people.  And, for me, it’s just about cheap enough to be worth it just in case it’s as good as I hope. The clincher for me is that it has an SD card slot, SDHC I trust.

Here.  TARP stands for Troubled Assets Relief Program.  The bail-out, in other words.

In this short Samizdata posting I stated yet again the notion that although libertarianism (which here I simply called “sanity") has clearly been losing the early policy battles associated with all this financial turmoil, it may yet win the ideological war, a notion first floated by me here.  Now is the time for all good libertarians, de dum de dum, because here is a battle we might very well win, big, and quite soon, the way the socialists won the Great Depression ideological battle last time around.  In this spirit, I will be journeying up to Sheffield next weekend to visit Professor Kevin Dowd, to help him prepare his Chris Tame lecture, and to learn more about how I can beat the drum for it.

Saturday February 21 2009

Blatant quota photo, found on the hard disc, taken on June 18th 2007:


It sometimes now depresses me that my photos don’t seem to be getting any better.  The best of them were this good from the start, and that’s as good as it’s ever got.

Friday February 20 2009

Commenting on this posting about possible new London skyscrapers, Michael Jennings said:

I will eat my laptop if any of this actually happens.

But the Shard really does look as if it might be going ahead.  When last I visited, just over a week ago, it still said things like this on the fence around the site:


Click on that right hand one and you’ll see that there’s a website, although I don’t recommend it.

On the site itself, this is the stage things had reached:


Now granted, demolition is one thing and actual construction is something else again, but something about the violence that has already been done to Kings Cross London Bridge railway station suggests, at least to me, that they really do mean to build this thing.

Wikipedia, for whatever that may be worth, says this:

As of February 2009 - a year after demolition on Southwark Towers began - demolition has reached ground level on most of the site, meaning construction can soon begin.

And this:

Piling work is due to begin on site in March 2009, with completion of the building planned for May 2012.

I’ll keep my lens peeled, and you all posted.  We’ll soon know.

Maybe it will get built, but not finished, and become an elegant, elongated, London version of this.

Thursday February 19 2009

Last Tuesday I saw a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Rose Theatre, Kingston.  Go here for information about the show, plus the usual placards-outside-the-theatre claims about how wonderful it is.  I’ve not yet heard the interview with the director, but you can and I probably will quite soon, after I’ve written this.

The cast, like casts in Shakespeare’s time, was all male.  Which I admired, but did not really love.  I’m a heterosexual, and I couldn’t quite live with men doing Hermia, Helena, and above all Titania.  The last Titania I saw was Helen Mirren on a DVD, and I’m afraid I missed the sheer gorgeousness of that, worthy though Titania was in this production.  The fairies, on the other hand, worked splendidly.  Bottom refers to them as “Monsieur” This and Monsieur That, and fairies played like nineteenth century fairies, as young girls, seem all wrong.  The fairies were also notable for their beautifully choreographed ensemble, which featured not only lots of splendidly modern-dancish movement but also terrific musical effects achieved by equipping each of them with a mouth organ for the big set-piece scenes.  With these they reacted in a manner that was arresting and vivid, yet utterly other-worldly.

In general, this was an enthusiastically performed piece of theatrical teamwork, and I can entirely understand all the rave reviews.  But I’m afraid I liked this production rather less than I wanted to, if you get my meaning.  I admired it, but there were two things wrong with it in particular.

First, there was a general lack of star quality.  Some of the actors were pretty good, like Puck (played as Boy George in a short sticking-out ballet skirt), and Titania, and Lysander, and Hermia, although for me it all had the air of an excellent school play rather than a decent professional production.  Others, most notably Oberon, were less good.  None, and especially not Oberon, seemed to radiate that kind of star quality that you want in this play.  The director clearly knew what the play is about, and knows that it is poetic and, well, Shakespearian.  The set was a bit odd, but at least he didn’t set it in a lunatic asylum or a gymnasium or a power station.  But something about the way they all spoke it made it all seem rather unmagical.

Or maybe the problem was the other musical contribution made by the fairies, which I resented more and more as the night went on.

Now I quite see what they were doing here.  The text of the Dream is awash with musical references, and you must have music.  (I was in a crappy internet-radio production of the Dream a while ago which did not have any music.  Frankly, we were wasting our time.) But what the fairies did was accompany all the scenes set in their magical forest, but in which they did not hog the action, with little tinkles and tap-taps on percussion instruments of various kinds, which I found, frankly, more and more infuriating.  If you are a theatre critic you know this play forwards, sideways and backwards, or you should, but I don’t know it that well.  Shakespeare’s language is not the easiest to follow, and I need all the help I can get from the actors to make sense of it.  Yet all the tinkling and tapping brought the whole thing, for me, crashing down into incomprehensible - or where comprehensible deeply unmagical - mush.  I simply could not make out enough of what was being said.  Some kind of quietly magical sostenuto and pianissimo harmonies might have worked well, because that might have left the spoken words unmolested.  But not the tapping and the tinkling.  Fairies, shut the fuck up, I wanted to yell.  They were great, when they had the stage to themselves, because they didn’t interrupt themselves with their musical instruments, but instead integrated their mouth organing with their actions and reactions.  But they destroyed everyone else with their deeply unmagical magic-noises.  Even when the words could be heard, they weren’t allowed to resonate.  You couldn’t absorb or enjoy them, because there would be that damn tapping or tinkling again.  Shakespeare’s word-music and their actual music cancelled each other out.

At this point, I need to admit to having missed the whole of Act 1 Scene 1.  When I and my companion got there the show had just entered the accursed land of tapping and tinkling, so I witnessed everything I saw of this production until the end, when the action returns to Athens, in this deranged tapped and tinkled state.  So far as I was aware, it knew no better.  But then, back in Athens, the tapping and tinkling ceased, and suddenly I could hear every precious word.  Suddenly, because I was suddenly being spared the reality of such interruptions, I could have heard a pin drop, but I didn’t.  Magic.  Suddenly, it was A Midsummer Night’s Dream again.  Which was not the effect they wanted at all.  The forest should be magical and Athens prosaic.  This version was the other way around.  But at least there was some magic.

Maybe this was why the cast lacked star quality.  Maybe they all had star quality in abundance, but it was tapped and tinkled out.  Because at the end, they all started to look and sound like the stars they had not been previously.

Also, the final scene just happened to be done very, very well, with lots of excellent comic business (see the first comment here).  But again, maybe they just left my ears free of distraction and I was able to enjoy excellent comic business that had been present throughout.  So in the end, I was happy.  But afterwards I found myself reckoning that this was a bit late.

If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended.

For me, thinking something poetic didn’t suffice.

… and Robin shall restore amends.

So, Robin, how about a fifty percent refund?

Wednesday February 18 2009

Somebody called Pete left this comment, rather irrelevantly (but never mind), on this posting:


Just wondered what you thought of this attack on a billion monkeys…
Section 76 Of The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008

From tomorrow section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 comes into force.

Under the law anybody taking a photograph of a current or former member of the police, armed service or security services can be prosecuted and/or fined. The act allows for police officers to remove the cameras of people taking photographs of them.

When I was at school, not too many years ago we were taught that cameras were forbidden in the Soviet Union and in East Germany. This, our liberal teacher told us was because cameras can be used to document offences of the state against civilians; as such, they were considered a tool that can bring about civil unrest and encourage protest against the Communist Governments. This particular teacher, sneered at this particular law and the system in which it helped preserve.

We take a big step further into Labour’s totalitarian state tomorrow, as professional photographers can be arrested and detained for doing their jobs. Tourists taking pictures of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace are liable for prosecution. Taking photos in the street, at sporting events, at weddings and during state proceedings could all lead to the possibility of prosecution.
(From Daniel1979’s blog)

I.e. this posting.

What makes the process built into laws like this one so hard to get a handle around is that they give powers to policemen, but don’t actually oblige policemen to do anything.  But, there the law is.  They have it, for when this country ever does become a fully functioning police state with the gloves off.  Meawhile, if a policeman does take exception to being photoed when – I don’t know – kicking the wrong door down at 5 am, then he has the law in his hands to behave like a bastard.

So here’s what I think I might do about this, and what I suspect a lot of other bloggers will also be doing.  I will add policemen to the list of Things that I photo as I wander around London, alongside Billion Monkeys, roof clutter, pavement clutter, and Evening Standard headline signs.  After all, if they aren’t doing anything wrong, they’ve got no reason to be angry, have they?  (Another meme doing the rounds.) And from time to time I’ll stick the picture(s) up here, and see if anything happens.  If I do get into any trouble, well, I can write about it and turn this blog into a Significant Blog, and get linked to by Iain Dale.  But, I promise nothing.

But actually, will policemen object?  I’m hoping they will, but will curse not us Billion Monkeys, but the damn law itself.  Here, have you noticed all these fat weirdos photoing us all of a sudden?  What the fuck’s that about?  Oh, they’re all mad about some fucking law.  Apparently the law says we can take their fucking cameras away, but the Chief Super says we mustn’t.  And then when all the fuss has died down and we’ve got bored taking their photos, the Chief Super will be replaced by another Chief Super who says, yeah take their cameras if you want to.  If we say it’s an offence, it is, and that’s good for our clear-up rates.  Fuck ‘em.

Meanwhile, here’s yesterday’s London Daily Photo:


BBC report here, all about how the law will only be used in the most extreme circumstances.  Yes, like: only when they want to use it.  Seriously, this thing where they make it illegal to say “Three” in public, but simultaneously say that if you say “Three” in an innocent kind of way, when all you’re doing is counting your change, you have nothing to fear, it’s only when terrorists say “here are three bombs” to each other that it will actually be illegal to say three ... blah blah ... what I’m saying is: this is not how law should be.  The law is supposed to specify something absolutely wrong, and if anyone gets caught doing it, they get done.  That’s what law is.  Not “giving the police all the powers they need” to go after Really Bad People, by making everything illegal and then arresting Really Bad People, confident that they will have said three during the last twelve hours.  The idea is that the law itself says who the Really Bad People are.  Now, they just decide that as they go along.  That, at any rate, is the direction things are headed, and that’s why I may (or may not) be about to post lots of pictures of policemen on this blog.  That’s what I’ll be flagging up.

Memo to self, do that Long Essay for Samizdata about the Meaning of the Rule of Law.

That Guy Fawkes costume is a visual meme that is really starting to work.  Every time they pass a law banning something innocuous, so they can arrest people they think are terrorists for doing it in the course of their terrorism, the Guy Fawkeses go out in their Guy Fawkes faces and do it, and tell the newspapers, and have themselves a ball.  But, the law stays there.

It’s Guido who has got this Guy Fawkes face mask meme out there, of course.  What a brilliant guy that Guy is!  I can remember when lefties were the ones who had the monopoly of agitprop expertise.  Now, that’s starting seriously to change.

Tuesday February 17 2009

Followed a fascinating link at Cricinfo, during the text commentary on the WI v England game, to this, which is about the misdemeanours of a certain Allen Stanford.

In the complaint, the S.E.C. called “improbable, if not impossible” claims by the offshore bank that it paid “significantly” higher returns on its CDs because of the high quality of its investments.

The S.E.C. accused the bank and its affiliates of falsely stating in marketing materials that client funds were placed in liquid financial instruments, when in fact they were invested in private equity funds and real estate. On Nov. 28, Stanford International Bank quoted a rate of 5.375 percent on a $100,000 three-year CD, compared with rates of less than 3.2 percent at American banks. The bank recently has offered rates of more than 10 percent on five-year CDs, the filing stated.

In the complaint, the S.E.C. requested that the defendants’ assets be frozen and that a receiver be appointed to take control of business operations. It also requested that the assets of the bank and other offshore units be repatriated. And the agency asked that Mr. Stanford and the other named executives be required to surrender their passports.

The cricket connection is that Stanford was not so long ago pouring money into cricket, Twenty20 cricket in particular, although this spending was recently scaled back.

Does Cricinfo itself have anything to say?  Indeed:

It has been reported that Allen Stanford has been arrested and charged with fraud by US authorities.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said that they were “alleging a fraud of shocking magnitude”.

In the related punditry that will surely follow, expect much metaphorical play to be made of the way that the recent WI v England test in Antigua had to be moved from its original venue, because the outfield, which included the bowler’s run-ups, turned out to be, literally, built on sand.  I seem to recall that it was Stanford money that built the offending stadium, named after the great but now irate Sir Vivian Richards.  (No.  See comment.  But see also UPDATE below.)

UPDATE, from the Cricinfo text commentary first thing Wednesday morning in Antigua, Wednesday afternoon here:

The stands are sadly empty today as oodles of England fans have had to fly home. Antigua’s citizens, meanwhile, are possibly preoccupied by the Stanford meltdown. Five percent of the working population are employed by him.

The cricket crunch?

Monday February 16 2009

On Saturday, when I took a walk from Englefield Green to the big statue of George III that looks down towards Windsor Castle, known as the Copper Horse, I obviously photoed the Copper Horse.


But I also took this snap, because I thought I spied something.


And I believe I did.  If you look closely, ...


... you can see the Tower 42 and the Gherkin.  I checked by looking at this map, and pushing the enlarge button, and that has to be right, because in the foreground we can definitely see Heathrow, and that’s indeed right in line.

My Photoshop clone makes this definite:


But what’s the white blur directly in front of the Gherkin?  Further consultation of that map, and my best guess now is: the London Hilton Hotel in Park Lane, also directly in line, according to my calculations.

Okay, not the best of photos, but I don’t care.  The point is the facts.  Later I can go back there with a Real Photographer camera, on a clear summer day, and get the shot properly.

Sunday February 15 2009

My fellow Samizdatista Johnathan Pearce is right, the doing nothing is good meme is getting around.  He links to this piece, which puts that case most eloquently.  Rob Fisher does the same.

I agree that doing nothing is better than doing something stupid, and that the somethings being considered now by politicians are almost all of them very stupid.  But is doing nothing better than doing good stuff?  I refer to public spending cuts, tax cuts and deregulation.  A bit of that would do wonders for economic confidence.

The state is like a giant combine harvester out of control.  This machine should certainly not be made bigger and more destructive.  But is leaving it charging around on the same scale and with the same destructiveness as it is doing now really the best we can do?

Perhaps it is the best that “we” (i.e. the politicians) can be persuaded to do.  But it is surely not the best that “we” (i.e. libertarians) can even be talking about.

Saturday February 14 2009



Photographed today.  That’s Windsor Castle in the background.  It was an exhausting day, culminating in an hour-long search for the bus from Windsor back to Englefield Green.  I may show more pictures of this tomorrow, but I promise nothing.

Friday February 13 2009

This is the Eulogy that my eldest brother Toby delivered at our Mother’s funeral on Feb 4th.  Toby spoke from memory, but what follows is what he pretty much memorised.  Some of the words he used were his own, but the order in which the story was told was exactly as follows.

Welcome to the funeral of Philippa Micklethwait.  We’re very pleased to see so many people here to give Philippa a good send-off.

Philippa was very fond of cats.  Photos, paintings of cats, miniature cats of all kinds, and books about cats were everywhere in her home.  Philippa liked not so much their cuteness, but rather their calm, self-sufficiency, dignity, self-control and capacity for simple enjoyment.  Cats are sociable and friendly, but they do as they decide.

Philippa recently told of how her last cat, Matilda, died.  First Matilda stopped going out.  Then she stopped eating.  Then she stopped drinking milk.  Finally she stopped drinking anything at all, and died.  Philippa clearly had her own death in mind.  And that was how it was.

She had a fall in November of last year.  A doctor did visit, but she recovered on her own.  But she did not recover from the effort that this recovery demanded.  She retreated upstairs.  She was visibly fading.  We moved in full time to look after her.  She ate as much and for as long as she could.  But in early January, there came a moment when she could eat no more.  Then she couldn’t drink milk, only water.  And then, she died, sparing herself and us as much grief and pain as she could.  We were grateful for the complex equipment supplied by professional carers in those final few days and hours, but grateful also that we were soon able to return it, unused.  Philippa remained alert and in control to the end.

Yes, it’s true, buses are becoming photographers!  This photo, on the face of it, is just a bad photo of something already photoed far too much:


But here’s the bigger picture:


That’s right, this photo was taken by a bus.  This particular bus had a telly towards the front and webcams sprinkled everywhere, to enable passengers to spy on each other and to view the outside of the bus they are in, and what vehicle is behind, and other things which are presumably of actual use to the driver.  It actually is quite useful, come to think of it, to be able to tell from downstairs how crowded the upstairs is, or if there are Badly Dressed Boys up there.

As for the photo itself, this is a genre I am increasingly recognising as: good fun.  Modified clichés work well with writing, where you take a tired old phrase and attach a new twist to it.  The same thing works with photography, I think, where you take a boring tourist-trap-type building, but do something different with it, like bounce it off an office window, or, a regular Billion Monkey favourite, get your financée to hold the entire huilding in her hands!

An even better version of this shot might have the telly with the picture of Parliament, plus Parliament itself viewed through the bus window.  Next time, eh?  But, I promise nothing.

Two recent incoming emails have alerted me to news stories that the emailers rightly thought I’d be interested in.

First, Alex Singleton sent the link to this news story, about how Google has recently bought a paper mill in Finland, to turn into a data centre.  A giant warehouse for hard discs, in other words.  Ah, the symbol-laden symbolitic symboliticism of it!  Paper out, digital in.

I read this book about Google about a year ago, and a story it tells is that Google is doing this all over the world in several thousand different out-of-the-way spots that not many people are noticing.  (Apparently I chattered to Alex about this because he remembered.) When you consider how much more data you and I can cheaply store on our desks than we could, say, five years ago, you can get some idea of how useful it would be to be the world’s biggest purveyor of Really Huge (and presumably also Really Really Fast) Hard Disc Storage, which is what Google is, among other closely related things.  Get that business organised - which presumably means organising how to fusslessly upgrade all your hard discs ever year, while also fusslessly transferring the data from the old discs to the new ones – is a really smart move, given that you (i.e. Google) have also got it organised what data you (Google) want to able to store on your (Google’s) discs.

Here is an article about how Google maybe in commercial trouble quite soon, through others eating into their search traffic.  But the commenters are mostly scornful.  Nevertheless, I recommend the piece if you don’t get all the fuss about Twitter, which I mostly don’t.  Basically, Twitter turns everything that happens to anyone who cares to Twitter about it into potential news, except that normally only your friends give a damn and often not even them I should imagine.  But, when all these Twitterings actually are news, like when there’s a fire or an explosion or a war or something, the newshounds now search not Google but Twitter.  But the scornful commenters say: so?  Where’s the money that Google are supposed to be losing?  And anyway, won’t Twitter searching just be bolted onto Google, rather than undermine it? But, what do I know?

And the other story, sent in by Michael Jennings, is about the Black-Deathlike spread across the planet of mobile phone connections and in particular of dongles.  MJ fixed me up late last year with a dongle for Jesus, my Micro-Laptop - which I will be using a lot again soon, because I am staying at Mum’s house over the weekend.  (This dongle was absolutely crucial during the funeral.  And incidentally, it means that I, an only very occasional mobile phoner, now have two mobile phone connections.) MJ told me quite a while ago now that WiFi is a dead end and that dongles are where it will soon all be at, and hey presto, it’s now true.  Which will make all that Twittering when a Head of State is assassinated ten yards away from you that much easier.

Personally I’d blog about that kind of thing at my leisure, i.e. two hours later, and you’d have to search google for my leisurely ruminations and maybe a few blurry photos.  What’s the equivalent phrase to “so twentieth century”, when whatever it is twenty-first century, but only just?  “So only just”?

Thursday February 12 2009

Of all the photos I took before, during and after Mum’s funeral, which was just over a week ago now, these were among the more oddly evocative, because they record what happened with one of the most memorable aspects of it all, namely the weather:


All were taken at about half past ten in the morning, from the back door of Mum’s house.  On the left, Monday Feb 2, the first day the snow was to be seen in daylight.  Not looking good.  Tuesday Feb 3, it’s still there, and still a source of worry.  But by Wednesday Feb 4, the day of the funeral, the sun is out, and provided there’s a decent turnout, all will be not just well but superb.  Snow still lying on the ground, but the sky a clear blue. And that’s how it was.  A really beautiful day.

Wednesday February 11 2009

I’ve read lots of times about how salesmen sell you stuff by first establishing a relationship, and with small stuff that’s obviously true.  You buy your occasional newspapers from the shop you like rather than the shop you don’t like, etc.  But today, I bought a TV, and the clinching thing was that I liked the guy I bought it from.  He does things like remember that I have a really old wallet that I haven’t thrown away.  I bet he does this with hundreds of other people as well, and I bet he tells his wife that this is how he does it, but I don’t care!  I still like him!  So, when I went to his shop in Tottenham Court Rd (which I originally went into simply because it is called Brian’s Hi Fi), still swithering about exactly which sort of telly to get and from whom, I finally caved in and said, okay, I’ll have this one.  Oh, there were technical considerations, like size, and what plugs you can attach, and whether I can attach it to one of those hinge thingies to keep it off my desk and move it and get at the space behind it (like it’s a door), and so on and so forth.  But I absolutely do not believe that it was coincidence that my ruminations finally ceased and the decision was made in this man’s shop.

Tuesday February 10 2009

Proof that not all the news on the capitalism front is bad:


They certainly get my vote!

If you told me these flavours, I’d have sworn you’d made them up.  What is Hoisin?

And how can crisps be chip flavoured?  Well, I’m about to find out!!!

Monday February 09 2009

I have just started watching episode 2 of the TV 3-parter Whitechapel, which stars Ruper Rupert Hyphen Hyphen Stroke Ack-Tor, having already watched episode 1.  And, I wish to put it on record that Alex Jennings (no relation), the most distinguished Ack-Tor involved, did it, on account of him being the most distinguished actor.  He is playing the hero detective’s immediate superior, but that’s not a barrier. The plot is ludicrous, someone copying Jack the Ripper.  He was a toff, wasn’t he?  Supposed to be, anyway.  So, the Ripper Reborn must be a toff also.  Fighting against the Moral Decline of Society by ridding it of Evil Temptress Women, that kind of thing.

And hello, what’s this?  They already have a suspect, who is a squaddie, lower class etc.  Obviously a red herring, because there’s nearly two whole episodes to go.  The Ripper Expert has just confirmed this.  Red Herring he said.  I said that before hearing that.  I did.  I really did.  “It’s like he knows what we look for and where we’ll find it,” the protagonist fuzz has just said.  Another fuzz, in other words.  Mark my words, or not as the case may be.  Well, we’ll see.

There are rock faces, and then there are rock faces that actually look like faces:

image    image

Both of these faces were cropped out of the same remarkable photo.

I found this remarkable shot because I also liked this, and this, which are my two favourite recent England snow photos that I’ve seen.  So then I went looking through the guy’s other pictures, and found these amazing Jordanian rocks.

If you can answer the question: What use is algebra?, then please go here, and do so.

Sunday February 08 2009

In the form of a horizontal slice of LNER A1 Peppercorn 60163 ‘Tornado’ - 1Z20 Doncaster - Durham ‘The Peppercorn Pioneer’ - Heck Ings, North Yorkshire, Sunday 1st February 2009:


This is the locomotive that a bunch of railway nuts have recently constructed from ancient drawings.  The website for this eccentricity/insanity is here.  There was a TV show about this recently.  The enormously tall bald bloke in charge of this enterprise, Mark Allatt, used to frequent the Alternative Bookshop. He and all his pals must be feeling very chuffed, and I bet I’m not the first person to have thought of that little pun.

Another great snap of this loco here, powering through the snow-covered landscape, belching smoke.  I tried to copy this with a view to further flattening, but couldn’t.  The smoke in the thin picture above doesn’t come from the loco, but form a power station behind it.

This retro-loco made an appearance yesterday at King’s Cross.


Billion Monkey trainspotter heaven!  I like how that includes the clock, which is being metaphorically turned back.

The train arrived at the very platform I walk along beside, every Tuesday evening, on my way to teaching at Kings Cross Supplementary.

Saturday February 07 2009

Thank goodness for the Six Nations, but oh dear, what a frightful opener.  England very bad, Italy far worse.  It’s now the second half, and Geraghty has just come on as a sub for England and he can play, as he proved against France ... last year was it?  Somebody needs to.  England are 4-0 up on the try front, but all of the tries have been gifted to them by Italy.  It’s just a matter of who is worst.  I’ve never seen a worse Six Nations game since the days when they used to play in mud and crank out scores like 3-3.  That was in the days of black-and-white only telly.  But if those games had been in colour, they would still have been grey.  This one is in colour but is also grey.

There are two Armitage brothers playing for England.  The cameramen have been primed to do shots of their mother, who is ethnic, just as the equally photogenic Mrs Underwood was.  But so far, frankly, there has been nothing for Mrs Armitage to get excited about, from her boys or from any of the others.

“Why are they kicking all this ball?”, asks commentator Brian Moore, referring to the habit of all backs these days of just bonking it up the field, so that the other backs can bonk it back again as in a boring clay court tennis match.  Perhaps because Martin Johnson wants to bore us all to death?  I worry about Johnson.  On the face of it, he’s the kind of clogger who scales up to coaching well.  But thinking about it before the game, I realised that he used to be what they call a “natural leader”, and the trouble with people who are “natural” at things is that they don’t have to think about them, and hence don’t know how they did it, and hence how to teach it when deprived of their own natural example on the pitch (which is where and when it matters), as coaches are.  Clive Woodward, in contrast, seemed the natural threequarter par excellence, all grace and beauty and twinkly-toed toes, and lack of brain cells to rub together.  But actually Woodward spent his entire time as an England player inwardly rebelling against the mediocrity of the leadership and general England set-up that he had to suffer.  All the time he was playing for England, he was thinking thinking thinking about how much better things could be.  And not only did Woodward then win one World Cup; he damn near won another after he’d left, through the after-effect of all his cunning and relentless psychologising.  It was his veterans, all those non-playing MBEs from the previous campaign, who turned things around for England in the last World Cup and kept England within a fluke try at the very end of actually winning the thing, having looked useless early on.  Now the Woodward after-echo is over, and all there is is the uselessness.  And Johnson, wondering how the hell to impose what used to come naturally to him when he was a player.  You’ve got to impose a pattern.  You’ve got to seize the game by the scruff of the neck.  You have to cut out the errors.  Yeah, we know, boss.  But how?

“Italy are the better team at the moment”, one of the commentators has just said.  Nonsense, the game is over.  Both teams are rubbish, and England are 29-6 up. None of the other teams will have seen anything to scare them.  The only good news is that Italy are famously better at stopping the other fellows than they are at doing anything themselves, and against better sides, England may themselves play better.  Heaven help them if they don’t.

Italy have just scored a try, now it’s too late.  So the commentators had a point, I guess.  And now England look like they might have too, and maybe they have.  The refs are doing their usual Public Inquiry routine, and yes it’s a try.  Hoo bloody ray.  That has got to be the worst performance ever by a team winning 34-11, with (I assume) the conversion from the touchline now about to be missed.  I sit corrected: 36-11.

Dump the Armitages.  They were a waste of space.

LATER: Gulp.  Looks like the Ashes next summer could be a fight over the leftovers after they’ve burnt a wooden spoon.

Friday February 06 2009

Was out and about most of today, in London, which seems to be much the same.  So here, what with this being Friday, is a quota cat, photoed last Monday when snow hit London and was accordingly National News, which it obviously isn’t if it merely hits Yorkshire or some such place:


From here.

Thursday February 05 2009

I’m on a South West Trains train to Waterloo via everywhere you can think of including Vauxhall which is me, and I’m in a Second Class carriage.  And I have a three point plug at my disposal.  I’ve seen this in First Class carriages, but never in Second Class before.  I’m impressed.  I have my own internet connection.  But power is a potential problem when travelling.

Wednesday February 04 2009

This is one of those hit or miss photos.  You never know if it’s going to work, because it was taken from inside a moving car:


And that was a hit, although a little rotation was necessary to get the river to not slope.

The car from which that was taken was the funeral limo, on the way back from Slough Crematorium to Englefield Green after the funeral today.  That’s the River Thames, just before it gets to Runnymede, and just before we turned up Priest Hill to EG.  Memories, memories.  I used to go along there by bus to and from school in Windsor when I was a six-year-old kid, and that’s pretty much exactly how it looked then.  Same river, same boats, pretty much same everything, at that particular stretch of the river.

The funeral went okay.  I’m too tired to write about that now, having had a rather poor night’s sleep followed by a strenuous day.  Suffice it to say now that my fears about mass cancellations proved groundless.  The turnout both for the funeral and subsequent reception was excellent, and everyone seemed to feel that we said a dignified and informative goodbye to Mum.  As I say, more later.

Tuesday February 03 2009
Monday February 02 2009

Well here I am, just about to go to bed after watching the Superbowl, and that was great.  But outside, in the dark, I see something not so great:


Yes, snow.  (That’s the porch outside the front door, by the way.) It hardly ever snows in the south of England nowadays.  But it just has.


The plan now is that people will drive from all over England and Wales on Wednesday morning, to get to Slough Crematorium by noon.  But maybe the reception, now scheduled for 2pm here in Englefield Green, will turn into the main event.


It’s the little bobbles of white in the blackness that are the real worry in these pictures.  Those are snowflakes still on their way down.


It is now very cold, which means that this snow is not going to melt away any time soon.  Tomorrow I’ll do more snapping, this time without flash.

I hope this isn’t snow of the wrong kind for the railways to keep going.  I’m back to London tomorrow, and then back to EG on Tuesday evening, railways permitting.  Plus, I wonder what happens to the planned journey from EG to Slough, with Mum in her coffin.  How will that work?  Will we have to depart early?  If the snow hangs around, at least the pictures will be great.  And the truly good news is that Mum would probably have rather enjoyed this, if it all goes as chaotically as it might.  She never wanted a big funeral.  It looks like she may get her wish, if that was it.  A tiny, insignificant funeral, followed by a much more significant (because better attended) family-and-friends get-together.  That would suit her very nicely.

UPDATE Monday afternoon:


That’s the view from outside the front gate of Mum’s home.  The tower in the distance is Holloway College.  The point is the dark wheel marks, where the snow has melted a bit.  It’s not that cold, and the forecast is that it will get slightly warmer.

Fingers crossed, it should be okay.

UPDATE Tuesday morning: Not looking good at all.  Trouble is, it is too cold.  All over the country, relatives will be starting out too early, from complicated places with hilly minor roads.  And then, when they get to the motorway, will the mess they were in yesterday have been sorted?  One cancellation has already been phoned in, and there will surely be more.  There will be an event, and there will be a reception.  But the heading of this posting now looks all too right.

Sister is stuck on the wrong side of Wales and is another reluctant canceller.  As I’ve just told her, given how Mum and the rest of us feel about how much this ceremony means - definitely something, but not everything - it’s no huge tragedy.  Just: one of those things.  Her life was what mattered, and we won’t forget that.

Nor will we forget this.

Sunday February 01 2009

Yes, when I was in Staines the other day, I saw not one strange statue but two.  First there was the Staines Lino men, and then there was this:


So what’s happening here?  Well, basically, an ancient Roman time traveller, having just been to Gap but found no toga, and then to the Carphone Warehouse to get himself a mobile for when he’s on the move in his chariot, now wants a laptop from PC World.  They already told him in Carphone Warehouse where it is, but he’s just checking, by asking a passing Lady in a Dress if he has understood these directions correctly.  Over the other side of the “car park”, right?  “Yes, that’s right”, says the breathless Lady in a Dress as she hurries past.  “Can’t stay to chat, I’m late for the South Eastern Regional Heats of Rear of the Year, love your nose.”

You think I’m kidding about the car park?:


Told you.

Well of course my story is not the official one, which is a lot of barely legible nonsense about sundials and symbolism, thus:


That’s what the internet means, or what it means to me anyway.

Here are two stories, apparently unrelated, but they have something in common.

The first is about our crazed Prime Minister saying that all we need is to have confidence.

The second is about how blog advertising is turning out to be a disappointment to some of its early enthusiasts, which I found via Instapundit.

The connection?  This.  Advertising is collapsing because that whole model of people sitting in arm chairs being bombed with propaganda to buy stuff is dying.  People want things, same as ever.  The difference now is that they don’t just sit in their armchairs waiting for the right advert.  They type what they want into google, and find their way (a) to what the maker of the thing in question says about it; and (b) to what the rest of the world that cares says about it.  Move over Madison Avenue.  All this was explained to me, nearly a decade ago now, by this clever woman.  Oh, there’ll still be adverts, in much the same way that there will continue to be classical CDs, maybe even more adverts (there are now more classical CDs than ever).  But they won’t count for half so much as they used to, or be nearly so significant economically.  The advertising business won’t drive business any more.

So, just as a for instance, I’ve been keeping an eye open for things about this camera (not the one that looks like a gun – the red one underneath that), and have noted with profound lack of interest that there are now full page ads for it in various magazines.  Which tells me that the manufacturers are optimistic, but nothing about whether it’s worth buying.  Far more significant is this review.  The big weakness of this camera seems to be that the digital viewfinder is very poor in low light conditions.  The only thing that might persuade me otherwise would be someone else with no axe to grind saying no it’s fine, or me actually playing with the thing in what I regard as low light conditions and finding it fine myself.  Meanwhile, no amount of propaganda saying it’s perfect and that my sex life will be transformed will change any of that.

As for the Gordon Brown story, well, I went looking for that.  I wasn’t bombarded by it, but I did see it in someone else’s newspaper on the tube some time not long ago.  So, I googled “Brown confidence”, and immediately found what I was looking for.  (I didn’t buy the newspaper.  And if I’d had to pay to read the piece, forget it.)