Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Friday January 31 2014

I have my favourite bloggers.  Mick Hartley, 6k and David Thompson being my most regular visitees.  Two of these three (see those two links) often put up clips of their favourite bits of music, which I pretty much always ignore.  Often, when confronted by other people’s favourite musical snippets, I already have music playing, on my separate music box which is nothing to do with my computer and which therefore works when I most need it, which is when my computer is not working.

I tend not to do stick up bits of my favourite sort of music, which is classical.  Partly I’m lazy and am not very clever about putting up Youtube clips here.  But I could put up lots of links (one follows below) to classical stuff.  But, I tend not to.  There are enough reasons for people to strike this blog off their weekly-read list or whatever, without me putting them off even more with bits of classical music.

Now, first off, I have no problem with bloggers posting whatever they like.  Their gaff their rules.  I put whatever I like (as in like to put) here, and they can put whatever they like to put at their places.  But, am I the only one who almost always ignores music at other people’s blogs?  Most of us like lots of random bits of pop music, old and new.  In my case, there’s also a ton of classical classics I like a lot, and others also have their favourite genres that they know all about, adore some of and like a huge proportion of. 

I mention this because, entirely for my own selfish reasons, I particularly want to be able to remind myself of this clip of someone called Yulianna Avdeeva playing Chopin, particularly well to my ear.  And maybe that’s it.  Bloggers use their blogs as personal filing cabinets, just as I do.  They put up bits of music because they want always to be able to get hold of that bit quickly, and now they know they can.  The readers can just wait for the next posting, and pick up where they left off.  (That link, by the way, is to a bit of classical music at a blog that specialises in classical music.  Quite often I do play the clips she features, because her kind of music is my kind of music.  What I’m on about here is musical clips at blogs which are mostly about non-musical things.)

I think another point being made with these bits of music is the point I make with my occasional Friday cat blogging, which is that a lot of the appeal of blogging in particular and life in general is pure enjoyment.  And music, perhaps more than any other art, and especially when no words are involved or in the case of the more upbeat and silly pop tracks, is all about pure enjoyment.

By the way, when I started writing this, I thought that David Thompson also featured occasional pop snippets.  So I went looking for his latest pop snippet, but found that actually he does not do this, or not lately, hence no link to any music at his blog in the second sentence of this posting.  But I did find this talk, by Greg Lukianoff, about the growing menace of the I-Am-Offended industry on American campuses.  Quite long, but recommended.

SInce I started on this posting, Mick Hartley stuck up another pop clip.  Again, I have not listened, and probably won’t ever.

Thursday January 30 2014

Much humour is to be had by modifying a cliché, and something similar applies to photography.  The Eiffel Tower features in many photos.  The chimney pots of Paris, not quite so much.

image

That was taken on February 2nd 2012, from the Pompidou Centre.

I an still stunned by how brilliant my new, cheap computer screen is.  Pictures like this one become hugely better than I remember them first time around, and wandering around in my photo-archives is more enjoyable than ever before.

Here is another picture taken at the same time from the same place.  Also lots of chimneys, though you have to look a bit more closely this time.  But in the background there, La Défense, Paris’s Big New Thing district.

image

What that big dome is in the foreground, I don’t know.  I was staying with Antoine Clarke when I took these snaps, and in fact he was up there with me when I took these.  Maybe he can tell us what that big curvey thing is.  When you take pictures of some big thing, there is a presumption that you do care what it is, but personally, in this case, I don’t really care.  There are more than enough mysterious buildings like this in London to keep me wondering, without me fretting about mystery buildings in Paris.  But maybe you would like to know.

And yes, I am almost certain that is a crane.

One other thing.  This new screen has me thinking that maybe the size of pictures I am putting up here may be a bit wrong.  When you click on the above two, you’ll get them at 1200x900, which is bigger than I usually do, because now my own screen is bigger.  Is this either too big, or too small?  I’d welcome anyone’s opinion on that.

Wednesday January 29 2014

Yes.  Following the comments on this earlier posting, mentioning the magic acronym “IPS” (totally new to me until now – what it means is colours don’t change with the viewing angle), I went to PC World and bought one of these, the excitingly named LG 23EA63, off one of PC World’s shelves.  This screen is probably not nearly as good as the one Michael J recommended, or as any of the others talked about in those comments, but it had the virtue of costing only £130.  For something like a screen, that is nearly petty cash for me, so I would not object to later getting an even better screen, chosen with greater care and deliberation, after such screens have got even better than they are now.

The thing was, I really needed an okay screen, now.  Not a brilliant screen in ten days.  An okay one straight away.  This is why God invented shops.  I considered Argos (there is one a walk away from me), but decided that I would get more (as in: some) help if I went to PC World.  So it proved.  Recent experience of the customer service in PC World Tottenham Court Road has been very good, so that’s where I went.

I noticed on my way home that further thought has been given to packaging since I last bought something of this kind.  The box I took it home in had a convenient handle to hold, and was as thin as ingenuity could make it.  Such things are not trivial.  Well, maybe they are, but they are very nice.  As usual capitalism obsesses about the details, and constantly improves them.

Getting back to how the screen works, this screen is only “okay” rather than “brilliant” when compared to truly brilliant screens costing significantly more.  For me, this one is already brilliant, a massive step up compared to the horrible screen I have been using for the last few weeks.  All my photos now look hugely better than they just did, and, I am almost certain, better than they ever did, even on my earlier Samsung screen.  This, in other words, is the best screen I’ve ever had.

And on further reflection - reflection, by the way, being something that my new screen carefully refrains from doing – I find myself thinking of another reason why I am glad to have bought what I take to be a pretty bog standard screen, rather than the slightly grander ones being talked about by my helpful commenters.  This blog depends a lot on my photographs, and I consider it a great advantage for me to be using a screen probably a lot like the sorts of screens most viewers of this blog will be using.  How my photos look on this new screen of mine is probably how the majority of my viewers will likewise see them.  A better screen might have got me rhapsodising about effects that many viewers might not themselves be getting.

Anyway, whether right about all this or deluded, and given that time may eventually tell rather differently, the way time so often does, I am now very happy.

Here.

England’s men, on the other hand, are now, according to my Michael J’s calculations, 10-1 down, with one two to play.

Tuesday January 28 2014

In New York, when 432 Park Avenue has been built, the views from it, from 1271 feet up, will look like this.

And in London, lots more Big Things are in the pipeline.  In twenty years, someone is guessing that London will perhaps look like this:

image

The City of London is also known as the Square Mile, so I have cropped out the City with the automatic square tool in my photoshop clone.

The people who concocted this rather commonplace piece of visual extrapolation have assumed that there will be no outbursts of history to complicate the picture.  This may be wrong, but it makes a nice change from a few years back, when people were faking up pictures of London under thirty feet of sea water.  That kind of thing is not just not believed any more.  It is not even being thought about any more.  It never occurred to any of the people now spreading this story around, about London building lots of new towers, to mention Rising Sea Levels, Climate Chaos, etc. etc., blah blah blah.

This is often how big arguments are won and lost.  In silence.  The people talking tripe stop talking it.  And the people who have been explaining why the tripe is the tripe that it is, and have been in the habit of denouncing it in loud voices, no longer have any tripe to denounce.  So they also go quiet.

Monday January 27 2014

A few weeks ago my NumberOneDoublePlusGood Computer screen, a Samsung, conked out.  I have a cheap (i.e. sixty quid) back-up screen, which I am now using, but I don’t like it.  Worse, I don’t trust it.  I fear that, because of how this screen behaves, that I may as a result be misediting photos, so to speak, making them the wrong colour or the wrong level of brightness.

So, does anyone reading this have any ideas about what sort of screen I should buy to replace this screen?  I’m thinking, quite big, quite cheap, and good for photos in particular and for computer mucking about by an amateur in general.  I’ve been out of this market for a year or two, and would love some guidance.  What I am looking for is that sweet price/quality spot at the top end of cheap.  The best piece of kit that you can get for not silly money.  I am not interested in spending a thousand quid getting something even more wonderful than wonderful, just two hundred quid on something wonderful.  Thoughts anyone?

Sunday January 26 2014

That talk I gave at Christian Michel’s was really just a ragbag of different thoughts I have had over the last few years about digital photography and its effects and uses.  One of the effects I speculated about - having already done so beforehand, here was that digital photography has encouraged temporary art, such as graffiti, ice sculpture, and the like, by rewarding it with a permanence and swankableness that would, pre digital photography, have been hard to contrive.

Yesterday, following one of David Thompson’s Friday Ephemera links to some bizarre hyper-realistic painted wood sculptures, I came across yet another variant on the theme of artistic temporariness, in the form of some particularly fine sandcastles, done by someone called Calvin Seibert:

image

I chose a sandcastle picture that included the sea in it, to emphasise the fact that this wonderful creation will very soon be swallowed up and turned back into beach.  In King Canute’s time, that would have been that, but we now live in the post-Canute age.  Waves can be stilled, and sandcastles can stand on beaches for ever.

Saturday January 25 2014

Very tired.  Going to bed.  Here is a quota photo of the Spraycan, as I am now calling this, lined up with The Wheel:

image

The gubbins in the foreground at the bottom is the superstructure of the Hungerford Footbridges.

Photoed by me this afternoon, from Waterloo Bridge.  The light could have been better.  I’ll probably have another go at this.

Big Things.  Photo them one at a time?  Not really.  Already been done to death.  So, line them up and then photo them!

Friday January 24 2014

Incoming from 6000:

Loving the more regular updates on this. It’s something I meant to send to you long ago, but I don’t think I ever did. Fascinating, amazing and rather unsettling photographs of apartments in Hong Kong. Wow.

(And yes, “density” is misspelled.)

Actually, I think I did clock this.  Yes.  But what the hell, no harm in clocking it again, because maybe you are clocking it for the first time.

And I agree.  Wow:

image

So, that’s today’s more regular update sorted.

Thursday January 23 2014

Time I took another look at the new Tate Modern extension. Just now, it would seem, it looks like this:

image

… and when finished, it will look something not totally unlike this, …:

image

... although with architecture, you never really know until the real thing finally manifests itself.

Here is what “designboom” says about how it will look:

approaching the museum from the river, the extension rises above the former power station, establishing a connection with the existing structure, without overpowering its iconic form. helping establish a strong architectural dialogue between the new and existing structures, the same base palette of bricks will be used, but implemented in a radical way; a perforated brick screen filters light inside the building, whilst simultaneously allowing the structure to gently glow at night.

Apologies for quoting something by morons who oppose capital letters.  idiots.  Capital letters are, I think, Really Useful, to Emphasis things.

And what’s with that “base pallette of bricks”?  Why yes!  The same evil bricks as were used for Tate Now Slightly Less Modern!

So, yeah, yeah, they think it will look nice when it’s finished.  But my fear is that this will be a big new annex for Grant Gobbling Art Bureaucrats.  Will I be able to go to the top of it, gaze out over London and take photographs, or will the GGABs be the only people allowed to do that? 

in addition to doubling gallery space, the project will create a diverse collection of public areas, dedicated to reflection and contemplation. these expanses are spread throughout the design, linked by a circulation system which rises through the structure.

That sounds like a yes.  There will be stairs and lifts, and I will be allowed to go up them, and then, when I have finished gazing, go down them again.  When they say “circulation” they aren’t just talking about air.  Or so I am hoping.

Time will tell.  With architecture, you never know until it’s finished.  And this is London, so it’s never really finished.

Wednesday January 22 2014

I have plenty more to say about Alex’s PR Masterclass, and may even get around to saying it, Real Soon Now.  Meanwhile, here is my favourite snap that I snapped at the launch of the book last night, at the office of Adam Smith Institute:

image

If you hold a book launch for a book called “PR Masterclass”, that launch had better be packed out, or you look like a prune.

It was.  He didn’t.

Tuesday January 21 2014

As I said in the previous post, my talk about digital photography at Christian Michel’s last night went well, in the sense of me feeling it went well, and it seeming to be well received.  I occasionally put my sheets of paper down and extemporised upon some point I was making, but mostly, this was it.  No links, no photos, no extras.  (They may come later, I hope, but I promise nothing.) Just the bare text that I read out, complete with all the errors of grammar and spelling, of fact and interpretation, that may or may not be present:

I have given several talks in this 6/20 series, but until now this has been because I have had both questions and answers to offer to the assembled throng.  I have had theses to present, clutches of facts to pass on.

This time I don’t know the answers.  I merely want to know the answers.  What is the impact of digital photography? What is it doing to us?  Since fixing this subject matter with Christian I have made, I think, some progress in arriving at answers, but only some.  Tonight I expect to make further progress.

Luckily, for my purposes, we have all been alive throughout the period of digital photography’s mass use, and have observed it in action, even if we may not always have wanted to.  Has anyone here not taken a digital photo?  Just as I thought.  (It actually says that here.  And this.)

*****

I will start my remarks by quoting a remark made by an American whom I overheard about fifty years ago, on the Acropolis in Athens, the place where what is left of the Parthenon stands.  I was there trying to do some sketching, a skill I never got any good at but spent a few years attempting.  He was doing pictures with his seriously pre-digital camera.  As soon as he had finished photoing, he wanted to leave, presumably to get to his next photoing place.  But his family were enjoying the Acropolis in the morning sunshine.  Said he to his family: “Come on, come on!  We’ll look at it when we get home!”

This outburst captures a great deal about what people object to about digital photography, but it also reminds us that photography, by Everyman as opposed to by professionals, is nothing new.  Digital photography is partly just the intensification of a process that has been in place in our culture for well over a century.  But it is more than that.

Monday January 20 2014

So, earlier this evening I did my talk at Christian Michel’s.  It went well, I think.  More about that tomorrow.  Maybe.  I promise nothing.

I’ve just got back and am now watching the NFL semi-finals highlights on Channel 4.  I am really enjoy this.  All the boring stuff is cut out.

Super Bowl: Denver v Seattle or San Francisco, probably Seattle, Feb 2.  All the boring stuff left in, but a great occasion.  Seattle.  The Guardian really seems to be doing well with the NFL.  Or is that just me, linking to the Guardian recently about other stuff?

Then, the Six Nations.

Meanwhile, England are doing really well in the Ashes.

Sunday January 19 2014

As my talk deadline (tomorrow evening) approaches, further insights keep rearranging themselves in my brain.

Not long ago, I read Alex Singleton’s new book (he will be speaking at my home on Friday 31st of this month) about how to do P(ublic) R(elations).  (Not so long before reading that book, I read another book in which PR meant, throughout, P(hoto) R(econnaissance).  How the world keeps changing (see below).)

I don’t recall any of the facts in this book of Alex’s about how to do PR being any sort of shattering revelation.  Rather was the book a relentless drip-drip-drip of what is called “commonsense”, that is, of facts which might well be true, which would make sense if true, and which are, in the opinion of one who knows, actually true, as opposed to some other equally commonsensical notions about these or those circumstances, which, in the opinion of the same expert, are not true.  Yet Alex telling me all the things he knows about how to do PR hardly begins to turn me into a PR expert, even though I am now at least passingly acquainted with every important principle, or even fact, that he has gathered up during his PR-ing over the last few years, and furthermore now know (or think I know) where to look to reacquaint myself with all these facts.

What distinguishes Alex from me as a PR-er is that he not only has his facts right, but that he also has them, as the saying goes, “at his fingertips”.  That is, he knows how to deploy the pertinent fact at the pertinent time, again and again.  He makes connections between his facts, and knows, from experience, which fact matters at which particular moment.  He has his facts properly arranged and cross-referenced, inside his head.  He knows his way around his facts.  All I have is an ill-remembered list of facts.

Trying to “make sense” (as I now am) of digital photography is like that.  I already know everything about digital photography that I need to know, pretty much, as (I’m guessing) do you.  The problem is making sense of what I know, of putting it all together and relating this fact to that fact, in a way that is slightly interesting and surprising, yet also true.

I now find myself thinking about digital photography as part of that wider historical change known by labels like: the Information Revolution.  The Information Revolution kicked off, I would say, on May 11th 1844, when the first message between two different cities (Washington and Baltimore) was sent by electric telegraph.  It is intrinsic to digital photography that it is photography that can be communicated.

The effect of the Information Revolution has been to unleash a succession of changes in the texture of everyday life, with each successive decade being defined by whatever stage the Information Revolution happened to have arrived at at that particular passing moment.  Photography is both an example of such a change, and the means of recording and remembering and celebrating such changes.  Photography remembers things like tablets and iPhones, just as in earlier times it remembered and still remembers big mobile phones, antique microphones, dance crazes, the social structure of successive pop combos, fashions in costume and make-up, and so forth and so on.  (Photography also remembers successive iterations of the Industrial Revolution, like trains, cars, airplanes and wars.)

Photography remembers, among many other things, itself.  Digital photography remembers, among even more other things, itself.

Saturday January 18 2014

Photographed by me, in the Underground, in July of last year (those were the days (and these are not the days)):

image

I like the colour of that.  Click for a little more context.

Nice to have a posting that combines sport with poetry, as cricket used to do, rather a lot.

More thoughts about the poem here.  The complete poem here.  (For some idiot reason my blogging software turns “Lord’s” into “Lord/’s” in that link.  Remove the “/” in the URL to view the poem.  Anyone know what’s going on there?)

The more I ponder that “impact of digital photography” thing, the more I become convinced that the photographing of text is one of the most significant things that digital cameras do.

Friday January 17 2014

Incoming from Simon Gibbs:

Interesting building

Near the mayors blob

And there was a photograph attached to this message, “sent from my Sony Xperia™ smartphone”:

image

On the left there, as we look at it, is the Mayor’s Blob that Simon mentions, near the Shard, and a building I am very familiar with, at any rate from the outside.  In the middle, something new, which Simon knew I might be keen to check out.  So, he photos it, and sends it to me. 

Neither Simon nor I are asking anyone to think that this is a good photograph, in the technical sense.  Don’t click on it, because it is quite big enough as is.  Simon is probably a bit appalled that I am even showing it to anyone, even in the almost total privacy that is BrianMicklethwaitDotCom.  But the photo suffices for its purpose, which is not to delight attenders at an art gallery (real or virtual), merely to provide me with information, should I be interested.  (Although actually, this is the kind of thing you often do see in an art gallery nowadays, put there by an artist trying, as most artists must these days, to be contrary.  “Good” photos are so twentieth century, my dears.  Imagine the blurb, as written by this guy.)

I show this casual snap because it illustrates a typical use of digital photography, which is the communication of information, potentially in real time.  Me being so hopelessly twentieth century in my uses of twenty-first century tech, I don’t know when he took this photo.  It duly arrived on my desk, via my clunky old twentieth century desktop computer.  Was it taken only seconds before Simon sent it to me?  Perhaps he can tell us.  But my point here is that he could have.  And like him, I could have been as much on the move as he clearly was, while still as connected to the world as he was.

Here we see photography not as the nineteenth and then twentieth century mechanisation of oil painting, but as a twenty first century amplification of conversation.  “Ooh, Brian might like to see that, snap.  Hi Brian.  Take a look at this.” Try doing that with a twentieth century phone.  You could, in this case, after a fashion, but it wouldn’t be nearly so quick, definite and easy.

I am giving a talk on Monday evening at Christian Michel’s about The Impact of Digital Photography, and this is the kind of thing I will be talking about.

Digital photography was, or so I recall reading recently, invented by NASA, not so much to take photos, as to communicate photos, of other planets from robot cameras on space-ships, back to planet earth.  Yes.

The logical mid-to-late twentieth century end-point of episodes like this, after you have thrown in a big dash of this sort of stuff, is (see above): telepathy.

Thursday January 16 2014

And now here are some photos done in much better light.  Even dusk, outdoors, is massively better lit than mere electricity.  They were taken last Saturday, when I journeyed to Docklands, to see if I could take photos of ice sculpture, and of people taking photos of ice sculpture.

Alas, I was not the only person with this idea.  I have the strong suspicion that the size of the crowd dwarfed the event (perhaps because of write-ups beforehand like this), but have no idea, really, what was happening out there.  All I got to photo at all interestingly was the gigantic queue to see the ice sculptures:

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On the right, my camera, at maximum zoom, does its best to photo a sculpture, and a sculptor.  I figured: I’ll look at it when I get home.

I headed off in the opposite direction, back across the Docklands peninsula towards the centre of London, and instead took photos like this:

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The top of the Cheesegrater, top left, was taken from outside Tower Hill Tube Station.  All the others from Docklands.

I am warming to the Cheesegrater, which is often the way with me and a new Big Thing.  At first, I disliked it, because it spoiled the view from my part of London of the Gherkin, which I consider to be a modern classic.  But now I am getting to like the Cheesegrater, along with all the other new Big Things, as yet another wonderfully chaotic and uncoordinated contribution to London’s ever more chaotic cityscape.

Says Rowan Moore in the Observer, disapprovingly:

Two of the more celebrated such objects, the Walkie-Talkie and the Cheesegrater, have now tumbled on to the skyline of the City of London, their exteriors nearly finished, with completion dates for both in the first half of next year. They combine high degrees of professionalism in their execution, with multiple consultants working hard at everything from sustainability to cycle storage to lift speeds to lighting, with an impression of randomness. They are better in many ways than the same kind of buildings would be in most parts of the world, and achieve, for example, impressive ratings for environmental performance, yet they attract these unfortunate nicknames.

I love these nicknames, which I believe are affectionate rather than angry.  I love their good-natured mockery.  More and more, I love the anarchic individualism of these Big Things, for exactly the reason that this guy disapproves.

Could it be better? Would it be possible to have variety and architectural invention, and the craftsmanship that the Leadenhall unquestionably has, as well as accessible sky gardens and hypostyles, and yet have a whole that is more than the sum of its parts? Could the expertise and sophistication of all the consultants who contribute to these towers be matched by the City’s planners?

Well, yes, it surely could.  But in practice the choice was probably between the aesthetic chaos we have, and imposed aesthetic tedium.  And I know which I prefer, if only because the aesthetic chaos we have gets up all the right noses, e.g. the nose of this guy moaning in the Observer.  Had those City Planners had enough clout to make everything “more than the sum of its parts”, they would probably have had enough clout to prevent each part, each Big Thing, being nearly as interesting, and they would have.  We can never know for sure about such things, but I reckon the results would have been far less , far less fun.  Far less London.

As it is, people like me love to photo these “celebrated objects” with their “unfortunate nicknames”, and I like to photo such people photoing.

Here are two further Big Thing snaps I took that day, of the Walkie-Talkie and of the Three Eyed Razor, or whatever excellent nickname the “Strata” ends up having bestowed upon it:

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And here, finally, are a couple more Big Things With Sunset snaps, this time with leafless vegetation (a constant source of photo-delight) in the foreground:

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All in all, an excellent little expedition.  And a good example of how my Official Destination (this time it was those ice sculptures) is really just an excuse to get me out and about.

Wednesday January 15 2014

Last Thursday evening I attended the Aiden Gregg talk to Libertarian Home at the Rose and Crown, about the psychological foundations of political beliefs, libertarian and otherwise.  I wrote most of a piece for Samizdata about this, but have yet to finish it and stick it up.  Anyway: incoming from Simon Gibbs, who organised the meeting, asking if I had any decent photos of the event to spread around.

I don’t know about decent.  The lighting in the Rose and Crown is a bit tricky.  Speakers tend to be lit most strongly from behind, and the picture frames behind the speaker can also be a problem.

Quite a few years ago now, I recorded an interview with my friend Bruce the Real Photographer, about how he does Real Photography.  I just had another listen, and seven minutes or so into that, Bruce talked about how getting the right background was about half the battle.  Next time I take photos in the Rose and Crown, maybe I will remember to try and find a spot where the background is less clashing than it was in snaps like these:

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These next two, after I had moved to a slightly different spot, are somewhat better:

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That meetings organiser Simon Gibbs on the left there, as we look.

Here is another from the same spot, but also featuring a bit of the audience:

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And on the right there, more audience.  But most of the throng was behind me and I neglected to photo in that direction.  The meeting was an enjoyable and boisterous affair, but my pictures do not really capture this.

The good news is that, as ever, Simon Gibbs had his video camera running:

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So, in due course, you’ll be able to watch and hear the talk, if you missed it last Thursday.  Just as you can now watch Aiden’s previous Libertarian Home performance.

When I have posted my Samizdata piece, with a lot more concerning what was actually said, I’ll link to it from here, just as I’ll be linking from there to here.

LATER: My Samizdata report.

Tuesday January 14 2014

There is something about a crane cluster shaped like this ...:

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... that always gets to me.  A single crane has to have something a bit special about it to be special.  Two cranes is still not enough.  But when half a dozen of them start making giant Xs in the sky, it really looks beautiful, to me anyway.

See also, for instance, the second of these two photos.

The above cranes are currently clustered in Battersea, where there will be much digging and grubbing, for the next decade or so, in and around the Power Station.  Middle left in that aerial picture is Vauxhall Bridge, which is where I took my picture from, at dusk yesterday afternoon/evening.

Monday January 13 2014

Indeed.  Concerning that recent collection of Westminster Tube photos, I said that the last of those pictures looked like it was upside down.

Here is that picture, actually upside down, and sure enough, it looks like somewhere else, the right way up:

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It’s that smooth ceiling that does it.  Ceilings nowadays are usually a deliberate mess.  Nobody bothers with big square tiles like that, except on a floor.  Also, in such a complicated place, you don’t expect the ceiling to be so flat.  Hence, it looks like a floor.

Sunday January 12 2014

On November 24th, which by my calculations is around seven weeks ago, I did a posting entitled Happiness is Gold Blend at only £3 instead of £4.50.

Today, also in Sainsbury’s, I found that my pleasure was not diminished:

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I was just coming to the very final end of the stash I had purchased on November 24th, since which date, Nescafe Gold Blend has been stuck at £4.50.  Until today.

Small pleasures.  Including the pleasure of having bought exactly the correct amount, to tide me over until the next price reduction.

Saturday January 11 2014

On Thursday February 7th 2013, I did this long Photo-Odyssey (best relived by scrolling down through my February 2013 archive) which included passing through Westminster Tube Station.  (The description of the place I provided there still reads well, to my eye and ear.) But, at the time, I had not realised I was on a photo-odyssey.  That only started happening a bit later:

Had I known I was on a Blogged Odyssey, I would have taken many more shots, of all that dramatic open space with science fictiony structure in among it, supporting the building above and the escalators within, but on Thursday all I thought I was doing was taking the tube.

These are the sort of pictures I would have taken, had I taken them then:

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Those were taken, quite hurriedly, in between the two tube train photos in the previous posting, when changing from the Jubilee Line to the District Line, having been at a meeting in Southwark.  The last of these pictures, bottom right, has the look, to me, of being upside down.  Which is odd.

You may consider these photos a bit blurry and grey.  But to me, it’s amazing how well my latest camera, by far my favourite camera ever so far, does in low light such as the light that prevails inside Westminster Tube Station.  I have been grubbing through my archives to find out about how and when I started with digital photography.  That first camera would have just created hopeless blur had I attempted to do with it what I actually did do with my Panasonic Lumix FZ150.

You can, of course, see lots more snaps of this strange, strange place, by doing, e.g.: this.

In ten year’s time, this place will presumably be festooned with adverts, and those big rectangular spaces of nothing with be crammed with highly colourful and brightly lit window displays.  Why this has not already started happening, I do not know.  The architect perhaps?  Sooner or later, greed will assert itself.

Friday January 10 2014

My fellow ex-Transport-Bloggers Michael Jennings and Patrick Crozier (here is Patrick’s excellent latest WW1 posting at Samizdata), are fond of saying that public transport in London has got distinctly better during the last decade or so.  That is my feeling also.

Here is a typical example of a small, incremental change that has recently happened, in the form of some slightly wider railway carriages.

Compare this, on the Jubilee Line last night ...:

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… with this, on the District Line a few hours later, after I realised I needed a picture of that also, and hung around a bit at St James’s Park at the end of my journey for the next train after the one I’d been on to show up:

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Okay, not much of a difference.  But when I was inside one of the carriages in the first picture, I noticed how they seemed that little bit more spacious, and then I realised that this was because they were.

Next up, making more use of that little bit of space between the carriages.  Like this?  Maybe.  I particularly like the front of it.  I did not know they did concept trains, but of course they do.  Why wouldn’t they?

It probably helps, when trying to enjoy this posting, if you do not live in London.  In that event, these trains may look, to you, exotic and exiting.  Sort of like elongated underground London taxis, or elongated underground single decker versions of the London double decker bus.  Alas, if you do live in London, this will probably have been rather boring.  Rather boring as in extremely boring.  And perhaps a bit boring even if you don’t.  Ah the hell with it.  I’m impressed by small improvements like this one.  I like the way the people who contrive these kinds of things just forget about all the other problems in the world and concentrate on just this one, which is that London underground trains are not as wide as they could be.  While politicians strut about failing to solve everything, they get on and actually do solve something.

Thursday January 09 2014

Incoming from Michael J (where would this blog be without incomings from Michael J?):

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More here.

Wednesday January 08 2014

I just watched a tv show about hydrogen bombs.  One of the things I never, until now, got around to finding out about was how hydrogen bombs work.  What I had not realised was that hydrogen bombs include atom bombs inside them, to trigger the “hydrogen” bit.

Basically, they sick a stash of other stuff next to an atom bomb.  When the atom bomb goes off, it turns the other stuff into an explosion that is even more spectacular than the original atom bomb explosion.  I did not know this.  Now I do.  Tremble, world.  Well no, I still couldn’t make a hydrogen bomb.  But I now understand a bit better how others make them.

The funniest moment was when a bloke said that there comes a time when shoving more and more stuff next to the atom bomb to make a bigger and bigger hydrogen bomb stops being worth doing, because the blast is just so huge it disappears out of the earth’s atmosphere.  This means, he said, that a bomb this big, when compared to a slightly smaller one, “does no good”.

You can just hear those bomber pilots, setting out for Dresden in 1945, saying: “Come on guys, let’s go do some more good.”

Tuesday January 07 2014

I’m reading Boris Johnson’s book about London.  It’s good fun.  I don’t know how much Boris is to be trusted about things like historical facts, but I doubt it is that bad, even though he is a politician.

The thing is, for years I’ve been looking for a brief history of London, but all the others seem to be too long, and too solemn, or worse, they exude literary pretension.  I think I own this book, but have never been inclined to read it.

I’ve just finished the Chaucer chapter.  I hadn’t realised quite what a swell Chaucer was.  Him writing in English was a rather generous - or maybe rather patronising - gesture from a man whose first language was Norman French.  It was during his lifetime that English supplanted French as England’s language.  Johnson mentions the Black Death, of course, but not one of my pet theories about the Black Death, which is that the Black Death actually helped to cause English to take over, by killing half the royal administrators, who then had all to be replaced, because clearly the bureaucracy couldn’t get any smaller.  That would be against the laws of everything.  So, what remained of the teaching profession was sucked into the bureaucracy.  At which point the English turned to home education.  Guess in which language.  But I digress.

I am greatly looking forward to reading about the time of the English Civil War, and then the stuff about John Wilkes, who is someone I keep hearing about but have never really got to grips with.  I anticipate a good, quick, potted biography.  I am expecting the arguments swirling around Wilkes to be a bit like those that now rage around the figure of Edward Snowden.

The book passes my basic test, which is that having started it, I find that I want to finish it.  I am reading the book, despite merely needing to read other books.

In the shop (a remainder shop), I read the beginnings of the chapter on Shakespeare, and bought it on the strength of that.  You can buy it for £2.82.

Monday January 06 2014

Taken on Christmas Day:

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What I like about the crane is that, in this photo, it looks rather sinister, more like a tower in a Nazi prison camp in a war film than a regular crane.  It’s the barbed wire square, about half way up that does it, I think.  Plus, the slightly spooky light.  It doesn’t look like actual getting dark light.  It looks like getting dark light in a movie.  Blue instead of grey, in other words.  Cameras turn everything blue if given any opportunity, unless they are black and white and nothing else allowed cameras.

Of course, this effect would be greatly enhanced if the plane was not so obviously a very post-WW2 jet.  It should be a plane like the one in the opening credits of Where Eagles Dare, one of my most favourite movie sequences, because of the visuals and because of Ron Goodwin’s music.  In my opinion, nothing else in this movie is as good as this opening.

See also this earlier photo here, also of a big crane and a small plane.  I found out about this earlier posting when I tried to load the above photo with the name “Crane+Plane”, but was told that this photo title was already taken.

Sunday January 05 2014

This seems like a not contemptible idea, although I am sure most of my libertarian friends would assume otherwise:

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But what I want to know is: Will I be allowed to walk along it and take photos?  If so, then I’m definitely for it.  If not, then I say white elephant.  The very existence of such things, but with me banned from just being on them unless I bring a bike (an idea that terrifies and appals me), would drive me crazy.

I often try to take the perfect photo of Big Things in alignment, from inside trains.  But the windows covered in muck and the fact that the train is generally moving, generally ruin all such notions.  A continuous platform several yards higher, in the open air, which I could move along but crucially also just stand still on, and snap away anywhere on the line that suits, would be digital photography perfection.

I mean, there presumably has to be a bit at the edge where people can walk their bikes, for when the bikes go wrong, get a puncture, have a chain seizure, or something, or for when the cyclists themselves get damaged and become unable to ride anymore, like when they prang into each other and have to dismount, or have a heart attack and have to lie down.  Well, I could walk on that bit.  Why not?

It would also be good for occasional athletic competitions, by runners.  On Sundays, for instance.  If I’m allowed to walk on it, even if not all the time, I’d be generous about letting other nutters indulge in their enthusiasms too.

Aesthetically, I also quite like the idea.  Railways nowadays seem always to be covered in clutter, like aerial wires, signals, and so forth.  Having a platform on top of all this might actually make it look rather better.

Saturday January 04 2014

In these last two games, us England cricket fans have really been made to suffer.  In both of them, winning positions have been surrendered.  Last time around, England got a first innings lead of fifty, but then got mangled in both the second innings and lost by eight wickets.

And in this final game … well, put it like this.  Twenty four hours ago, as I write this, just after lunch on day one, Australia were a hundred for five.  But then they got past three hundred, and now, just after lunch on day two, England are sixty for six in reply.  No way will England get to three hundred now, because Mitchell only has to run in for the England tale to drop dead.  Presumably, if you follow this link to the game in a week’s time, you’ll arrive at yet another dispiriting England loss, very possibly by an innings.

The worst Ashes losses I can recall of this sort were: a game during the 2006/7 whitewash tour, when Pietersen and Collingwood both got big hundreds and England declared their first innings with over five hundred, yet still lost; and a game at the end of which Benaud knocked England over when they were cruising it in the last innings, in ... 1961?  Yes.  Australians, of course, will always have this memory to treasure.

I wonder if they’ll now keep Flower.  My guess: yes, for the time being.  Who would be better?

Thank goodness for Spurs.

Friday January 03 2014

Occasionally I visit my two favourite electronic toy stores, Maplin’s and PC World, both in Tottenham Court Road, much of the reason they are both favourites being that I can visit both in one easy go, by walking down Tottenham Court Road from Warren Street, which is an easy ride from my nearest tube, Pimlico.

On my latest visit to PC World, I spied a 3D printer, looking rather forlorn and ignored, under a big sign saying SALE:

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Around its base, you can just about make out various pointless florescent yellowy-green objects – semi-fish sculptures, very untrustworthy receptacles, ugly and uncomfortable bodily adornments, replacement chess pieces, and the like.  These objects come out badly in a photo of my sort because of their flourescence, which changes them, from regular objects with shapes and shadows into feeble and rather shadowless (and hence also rather shapeless) light bulbs.

As you can probably just about make out, for the privilege of owning this absurd device, you are asked to part with £1,195, although my bet is that a near offer might well suffice.

The domestic 3D printer, as I foresaw (that’s a Samizdata piece posted a year and a half ago), has so far been a classic dog-that-hasn’t-barked.  Will it ever?  That will require a killer app - objects easily and repeated made with a domestic 3D printer for a few pennies, not easily obtainable by just buying them, … and for the life of me I cannot think of such an object.  Ornamental food is my best shot.  Something hot, or maybe cold, which makes it hard to buy, even locally.  No doubt someone will think of something, and then 3D printing will erupt into popular affection and derision the way it hasn’t at all so far.

As Samizdata commenter Shirley Knott said:

I, for one, expect to be taken by surprise.

Me too.

Domestic printers were different, even when at their most primitive, e.g done with mechanised typewriting with ribbons or with little alphabet balls – or with big ugly dots.  Bits of paper, different every time but in the same format, saying different things each time but with the same black gunk every time, well, that’s a very useful process to have on tap.  A relentless supply of flourescent semi-fish, forget it.

Nevertheless, as other Samizdata commenters make very clear, 3D printing is already a huge contributor to the regular manufacturing economy, just as computers were, long before they also went domestic.

Someone should, as stated in the piece at the other end of the link, apply (better) 3D printing to this, and I bet someone is doing this, even as I blog.

I just googled (images) 3d printing architectural modelling.  Wow.

Thursday January 02 2014

One of the things I’ve started saying here quite quite often is that old photos can get more interesting.

Here are a couple of old photos that I took in the year 2000.  They are, or so I seem to recall, of the old “Department of the Environment”.  A Corbusian horror, it was then in the early stages of being demolished, and replaced by the new Home Office building.

Here is the old building seen from Regency Street.  My home being straight behind me as I stood taking this:

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And here is the same thing seen from The Wheel:

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It’s those three huge lumps just beyond Parliament, with the green stuff on their edges, behind which the demolition was in progress.

In the distance, Battersea Power Station.  Hopefully that will not change.

I tried to google some other pictures of this old building, but failed to get anywhere.  All I got was lots of pictorial crap from the new version of the Environment Ministry.  Maybe it was something else.  Google is not much help if you get your initial facts wrong.

These photos were taken with my very first digital camera, a Minolta.  It had the bad habit of turning things more pink than they should have been.

Wednesday January 01 2014

While hunting for various links to embed in this piece for Samizdata yesterday, I chanced upon an earlier Samizdata posting of mine On the uncertainty of sport, which I did just as the Ashes marathon of 2013 was about to start.

I knew I had been saying what I said in it about how England were absolutely not Ashes shoe-ins.  But I am glad to discover that I actually wrote it down and stuck it up as a blog posting.

Key sentences:

England now have the Ashes and all the smart talk says that on paper they are by far the stronger side, and will still have the Ashes in a year’s time.

But sport is not played on paper. ...

I went on to talk about the 1958/9 England team that toured Australia which was (a) stellar on paper, but which then (b) got hammered 4-0.

Mentioning this tour now is no big achievement.  Mentioning it well before this latest England Ashes fiasco even got started was, I think, a bit cleverer.

I wasn’t saying that I knew what would happen.  Merely that nobody else did either, because sport has a way of turning round and biting you.  That’s a lot of its charm.

LATER:

This, from when England were winning the England half of this Ashes marathon and Australia losing, also reads very well now:

And what happens when this current winning England side starts to seriously fall apart, as it soon will, when players like Anderson and Swann (Swann in particular) have stopped playing?  How consistent will selection then be?  Something tells me I may be doing one of those I told you so link backs that we bloggers are so fond of.  When we actually did tell you so, I mean.

Put that next to this: England team changes a sign of chaos.

And put this, about body language, from that same piece of mine:

A similar mistake is made about “body language”.  Bad body language is said to cause you to lose.  Again, there is some truth in this.  Keeping your pecker up and not letting the other fellows see that you think you’re beaten can sometimes make a difference.  But mostly, it is your game going badly which causes your body language to be bad.  As soon as your game starts to pick up, so does your body language.

Next to this, now:

Downton has just assumed the role of managing director of England cricket and made his first appearance at an England net session at the Sydney Cricket Ground the day before the fifth Test. Observing from the back, talking to head selector James Whitaker, Downton kept his thoughts to himself, but cannot have been overly impressed by what he saw. ...

He would have seen a listless warm-up, a long team talk and a joyless net session from which smiles and laughs were absent. England look as if they cannot wait to go home.

Would Downton have preferred the spectacle of England players laughting and joking and having fun, like they didn’t care about losing their last four test matches?  Hardly.