Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Saturday May 31 2014

Yesterday was the last Friday of the month, and that means a do at my place.  This time I remembered to take photos:

image

I’m not expecting many marks for artistic impression with that one, but it gets across what these things are like quite well.  It’s not a big place, so there’s only room for a few more than a dozen, a dozen in comfort, and that is always the number of people that seems to show up.  (There were a few more present last night than you can see in that picture.)

What the turnout lacks in quantity it really seems to make up, time and again, in quality, and that was especially so last night.  And because numbers are small, that means that people can really dig into the subject.  They can really think aloud, so to speak, rather than just soak up what the speaker says and then maybe ask the one snappy question. Which means that people who came to learn about the subject, really do, more than they would have done from just the one speaker.  Afterwards, there isplenty of time for further talk and networking, what with the place being mine, rather than some hired venue that has to be vacated in a rush.

Although I promise nothing, I will try to say more about the actual topic (Internet Governance - more about that in this posting) in future blog postings.  Today was busy for me, and tomorrow will also be crowded, although the main reason for that is I’m meeting my mates in a pub to watch the IPL Final.

What’s that you say?  What does IPL stand for?  IPL means Indian Premier League, 20-20 cricket, tomorrow’s final being between the Rajasthan Royals and the Kolkata Knight Riders.  Last night was also full of acronyms.  More about them (see above) later.  Maybe.

Talking of acronyms, who knew that Detlev Schlichter had opinions about the England and Wales Cricket Board?

Friday May 30 2014

Dan Hannan:

It’s over for the Liberal Democrats. They may not realise it, but it is. Before the 2010 general election, the party was pursuing two contradictory strategies at the same time. On the one hand, it presented itself as a moderate, centrist party, liberal on both social and economic issues, broadly pro-business if occasionally interventionist. On the other, it was a radical, anti-war alternative to Labour.

As long as the party was in opposition, these two stories could be maintained simultaneously. As with Schrödinger’s cat, both states were, so to speak, co-existential. But, when the Lib Dems entered government, the box was opened. Only one version of events could now be true. And it was clear which version that had to be.

Nick Clegg could no longer lead a protest party of the Left: half his voters had walked away in disgust at his deal with The Evil Heartless Tories. The Lib Dems’ sole remaining option was to make the Coalition work, to show themselves to be competent and responsible, to make a virtue out of having put the national interest first. To behave, in short, like an adult party of government.

Oh, dear. For once, the string of mixed metaphors that the Daily Mail often makes its house style is apt: “The poison at the heart of the Liberal Democrat party burst into the open last night after an explosive resignation statement which rocked the political establishment…” The impression of haplessness and hopelessness, to say nothing of nastiness, is overwhelming.

The Lib Dems have, in short, managed to make a mess of both strategies, showing all the inept crankery of a party of permanent opposition, but without any commensurate principles. Schrödinger’s cat lies cold and stiff.

What a miserable, tawdry end for a party with such noble antecedents. ...

Actually, this Schrödinger’s cat metaphor is itself pretty chaotic, because the question originally posed by Schrödinger was not: What kind of cat is Schrödinger’s cat?  It was: Is Schrödinger’s cat alive or already dead in the box?  Hannan’s own piece is about both what sort of Lib Dems the Lib Dems are, and about whether the Lib Dems are themselves, now, alive or dead, on account of them previously having been contradictory things.  What the Lib Dems were concealing was the contradiction between two different versions of the Lib Dems, not the possibility that the Lib Dems might already be dead.  So, as so often in human affairs, Hannan accuses the Daily Mail of just the sort of metaphorical muddlem that he is guilty of.  It’s like that rule about how, if you ever accuse someone of spelling something wrong, you spell something else wrong yourself.  No doubt there are other mixed metaphors in this.

But the box bit of the metaphor works okay.  The box is now open, and we are seeing the Lib Dems for what they are.

However, I think that saying the Lib Dems are merely two-faced is an absurd understatement, as Hannan himself goes on to say, later in this same piece:

The rest of the party became what it is today: a tricksy, self-righteous alliance of convenience, prepared to say whatever local people want to hear.

In other words, they present not a merely two faces, but as many faces as there are people to be talked to.  They tell you what you want to hear, no matter what that is.  Almost every former Lib Dem voter will thus have been swindled by the Lib Dem bit of the Coalition.  All have been promised things that the Lib Dems subsequently didn’t even argue for, let alone make the Cameron government do.  Even people like the Greens were promised far more and far Greener stuff than the Lib Dems have come near to delivering on that front.

If the Lib Dems now start fighting like cats in a sack, good, because that will also destroy another carefully cultivate Lib Dem myth, which is that they are nice people, unlike all the other nasty politicos.  Ask any nasty Labourites or nasty Tories with any campaigning experience, and they will all agree on this one thing, that the Lib Dems are utterly unprincipled shits (this being the private between-ourselves version of Hannan’s “tricksy” above).  The ones who are not unprincipled shits are deluded idiots, their big delusion (usually one among many) is that their particular version of LibDemery is getting somewhere, by being a part – big, small, tiny, one solitary member - of the Lib Dems as a whole.  No, as current events are now proving.  A vote for the Lib Dems really is a wasted vote, because it’s anybody’s guess what voting Lib Dem means.  Mostly what it means is that if you voted Lib Dem, you were lied to, successfully.

What the Lib Dems are now actually finished remains to be seen.  Hannan clearly hopes so.  So do I.

Perhaps the Lib Dems are dead, but there will be a dead cat bounce.

If I have a particular hatred of the Lib Dems, it is because the old Liberal Party as was – pretty much all of it - used to stand for something very like my particular opinions, which of course they went on telling me were really what they all wanted, long after that had stopped being even remotely true.  Hannan feels the same.

More responses to the Hannan piece at Samizdata (in the form of a different selected quote), and at Libertarian Home (ditto). Between the three of us, we quote pretty much all of it.

Thursday May 29 2014

If you’ve not been there before, I recommend visiting Handpicked London.  I’ve just been browsing through it, and found my way from it to Photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed are found in a skip, from December 2011, which I do not remember noticing at the time.  (The first two of those are Facebook links, and maybe they don’t last.  You have to register, is what the second one just said.)

These photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed have been unveiled after a stash of hundred-year-old photos were found in a skip. The 50 sepia pictures, the most recent of which date back to 1892, reveal in incredible detail the ingenuity behind one of the capital’s most popular tourist destinations.

One of the photos:

image

Hybrid modernism.  Modern in its manner of creation.  Ancient in appearance.  An architectural style with a lot of mileage in it.

LATER: More stuff from me about towers here.

Wednesday May 28 2014

Goddaughter 2 is at the very early, tadpole stage of becoming an opera star.  She has already been identified as possessing operatic superpowers, but there are, of course, many obstacles for her still to overcome.  So, fingers crossed.

This summer she will be performing at a Festival in Belle-Île, which is off the south coast of Brittany.  Her family, who live in Brittany, are kindly including me in their expedition to see and hear GD2 in action.

Obviously, there is a Festival website, and equally obviously it is basically a French thing, but it also supplies an English translation:

Welcome to the Festival lyrique international de Belle-Île-en-Mer.

With much excitement, the preparations for our 2014 season are well underway, with artists from all over the world preparing to travel to Belle-Île to rehearse and perform two dramatic masterpieces, Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.  Meanwhile the Festival Choir is busy rehearsing Haydn’s sublime oratorio The Creation, heard for the first time on the island.  There will be an orchestral Mozart evening, the ever-popular Ad Libitum gala concert, early-evening recitals by our young artists at the Café Bleu in Sauzon, and a series of masterclasses.

As the excitement builds, we hope you will join our festival family, and be a part of this rich, unique and inspiring season.

Which is fine.  But before reading that, on account of having not at first realised that they offered their own English version of the above, I accepted an offer from a little window at the top right of my screen to do a translation of the French original of the above, with some sort of mechanised-computerised process.

It went like this:

Welcome to the International Opera Festival of Belle-Ile-en-Mer.

The preparations for the 2014 season are progressing well, with joyful excitement.  Artists from around the world are preparing to come to Belle-Ile to rehearse and perform two masterpieces lyric, Leoncavallo Pagliacci and Gianni Schicchi by Puccini which will be donated to Arletty room.  Meanwhile the choir festival works and repeats Creation, sublime oratorio by Haydn, which will be given for the first time on the island, in the churches and the Cathedral of Vannes.  Also on the program, the Citadelle Vauban, an orchestral concert of Mozart and the ever popular concert Ad Libitum.  Finally, two concerts of our talents in the late afternoon at Café Bleu in Sauzon and a week of master classes. 

While riding the excitement, we hope you will join the family of opera festival and be this rich season unique and exciting.

Which I prefer.  It’s actually not that bad.  Most of the mistakes seem to consist of getting words in the order wrong.

The Salle Arletty is mentioned in the original French version, so it also gets a mention in the mechanised English version as a place to which musical performances will be donated.

For the original French version, go here.

My family used to go on holidays to the southern coast of Brittany when I was small, to a place from which you could see Belle-Île, but we never actually visited it.  Expect Belle-Île photos here, when all this happens.  Are you already riding the excitement?

Tuesday May 27 2014

I like to browse through Jonathan Gewirtz’s photos from time to time, and on my latest browse I came across this photo, of a brightly lit building in Urban Florida.  Miami?  Don’t know, and it doesn’t matter.

What particularly got my attention was the fact that Gewirtz included in the picture: his own shadow.

imageI have taken the liberty of reproducing this detail here.  “Copyright ©2011 Jonathan Gewirtz” is what it says just before saying “jonathangewirtz.com”, but I trust my little excerpt does not break any rules.  (Rules often being the point of copyright violations, I’m guessing.  Maybe this particular copyright violation, on its own, would not be a problem, but once the line is crossed, by anyone ...) If Gewirtz wants this little piece of his work removed, he has only to say and it will be removed forthwith.

Okay, with that out of the way, the point that I want to make here is that I suspect that this thing of including your own shadow in pictures is a practice that has filtered upwards to the Real Photographers like Jonathan Gewirtz, from us digital amateurs.

Your own shadow in the picture often starts as a mistake, but then you think: well, okay, that’s my shadow, but what’s so wrong with that?  I was standing there, with the sun behind me.  I mean, did you think this wasn’t a photograph, and that someone standing there throwing a shadow into the picture wasn’t even there?  Did you think that God took the picture?  Cameras gobble up whatever they see in that moment, and in this moment, for instance, my shadow was part of what it saw.  Often, the shadow is all there is, and very amusing it is too.

The crux of the matter is, I think, who the picture is for and what the point of it is.  Is it for someone else, someone paying?  Is perhaps a happy couple being photographed on their wedding day?  In which case, they are the point, not the photographer.  Likewise if the point is to photo this dish of salad, or that house interior, or this beloved pet or that sports team, well, the Real Photographer is not being paid to insert himself into the scene, and he will be careful not to.

But if, on the other hand, you are a snapper who is just having a bit of fun, then why shouldn’t you, the snapper, also become your own snappee?

But the thing is, when Real Photographers are out having fun, the way Jonathan Gewirtz presumably is when taking photos in Miami or wherever, just because he likes to, they are liable to take their ingrained Real Photographer habits of self-effacement with them.  So, interesting that Gewirtz did not do this, at any rate not this time.

I’ll end with a slice out of one of these photos:

image

The crooked forefinger being mine.

Monday May 26 2014

Whenever I am hit by a question about modern life, I generally get better answers from my tiny band of readers than I do by merely googling.

Today’s question is: What are “chinos”?  I missed it when chinos first arrived, and since that moment of arrival, at which point presumably chinos were explained, nobody has taken the time to explain chinos to me.

What is the difference between chinos and long trousers.  According to this website:

Designed for the British and French military in the mid-19th century, chinos were originally called khakis and are made from a twill fabric usually in cotton.

A “twill” fabric?  What the hell is that?

So, I’m guessing that they stopped calling them “khakis” because they wanted to be allowed to change the colour, and khaki is a colour as well as a style of clothing.

Also, is there any connection with China?

It was like this for me at school.  I kept getting left behind by, you know, things, and then when I asked, people would laugh at me.  But if you don’t ask, how will you ever learn?

I think what the laughers were trying to prove to me was that I was not as clever as they thought I thought I was.  But cleverness is not knowing stuff already all the time.  It’s knowing that you don’t know it and knowing how to find it out, and understanding it once you have found out.  And the way to find things out is to ask.

“Laugher” doesn’t feel like a word, does it?  Laughter (larfter) yes, but laugher (larfer), not so much.  But according to google, laugher is a word.  However, my blogging software puts a squiggly red line under laugher, so it doesn’t think laugher is a word.  But then again, my blogging software puts a squiggly red line under “google”, and that’s definitely a word.

Sunday May 25 2014

There was a truly terrific cricket game today, in Mumbai, between the Mumbai Indians and the Rajasthan Royals.

Rajasthan got 189, which is a pretty damn good score in twenty-twenty cricket.  But the Mumbai Indians had to do better than do better than that.  They had to get their run rate above the Rajasthan run rate, by getting 190 in 14 overs and 3 balls.  Which is ridiculous, impossible, crazy.  So, they duly failed in their quest to get 190.  After 14 overs and 3 balls there were: 189-5.  They tried to run two off ball 14.3, to get 190, but instead they got just the one, and there was a run out.

Rajasthan Royals celebrate!  They’re through to the play-offs!

But no.  It then emerges - frantic messages and conferences on the pitch establish this - that if Mumbai’s new batsman hits his first and only ball to the boundary, the Mumbai run rate still climbs above that of Rajasthan, and Mumbai still can win through to the play-offs, at the expense of Rajasthan.  The new guy does!  He hits it for six!  And Mumbai do win through!

Shiva Jayaraman explains:

In the calculation of net run rate (NRR), the final score, and not the target, is the relevant number. For Mumbai Indians, the requirement to finish the chase in 87 deliveries was only subject to their final score being 190. The chasing team, if they take a few extra deliveries to get home, can still push their NRR up to the required fraction if they manage to achieve a final score that is sufficiently higher - by finishing things off with a boundary.

Mumbai Indians, despite failing to score that all-important extra run off 14.3, had already inched ahead of Rajasthan Royals’ NRR when they had drawn level on 189. At that stage, Mumbai Indians’ NRR read 0.078099, while Royals’ was 0.076821. Had Mumbai Indians just run the single they needed for victory off the fourth ball, though, their NRR would have gone below that of Royals’.

Since they were using the extra ball, they would have needed to get their score up to at least 191 off that delivery. Running two was not an option, as they needed just the one run to win. So their only option was to hit a boundary.

But the story doesn’t end there.

However, had they played out a dot ball, they still would have not been out of it. They could have hit a four off 14.5 or 14.6 and still finished with a NRR better than that of Royals. If they played out three dots, they would have needed to hit a six off 15.1 to bump their NRR up above Royals’. If this had happened, Mumbai would have ended with a NRR of 0.080519 against Royals’ 0.074163.

I watched all this, and I swear nobody knew this last bit at the time.

Cricket meets The Onion.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the IPL games don’t mean anything.

In other cricket news, Kevin Pietersen had another horrible day leading his Delhi Daredevils to a crushing defeat, again.  But Pietersen himself batted effectively, and when he gets back to England to play for Surrey, not only will he be wanting to be proving a point, but he looks like he might be capable of proving it.  Especially given that he won’t be the captain of Surrey, and have to carry the can for Surrey now being so crap.

England, having recently dispensed with the services of Pietersen and then got an actual win in the first ODI against Sri Lanka, were today totally creamed, in ODI number two.  Pietersen would not be human if he didn’t smile, just a little.

Actually, Surrey may be bouncing back from total crapness.  Today, they had a half decent day, bowling out Essex for not much.  Now they’re talking about Gareth Batty, the ancient Surrey spin bowler responsible for this, as England’s replacement for Swann.  Well, Batty is.

Saturday May 24 2014

The steps of Chelsea Town Hall (wedding location number 16 of these), late this afternoon:

image image image

Is confetti usually that colour?  Was the bride perhaps also pretty in pink?

Friday May 23 2014

I don’t like my mobile phone, because I don’t use it enough to justify the expense.  Only the map app is of any real use to me.  I rarely use either the phone itself (i.e. for phoning) or the camera.

Or rather, I did hate it, until I read this, at David Thompson’s blog, about how much power it takes to charge up a mobile phone, and therefore how much it enlarges the carbon footprint and hence the self-hatred of an agonised mobile-phone-using Guardian writer:

How terrible should I feel, and what can I do?

A helpful commenter, apparently, responded thus:

Telephone chargers use pathetic small quantities of energy.

Is that true?  I had been assuming that my mobile uses a formidable large quantity of energy whenever I recharge it, and hence a formidable large quantity of money.  Which is why I have been hating it.  All that juice, just for a map and about three calls a month.  But if my phone only uses a pathetic small quantity of energy, and hence only a pathetic small quantity of money, then I am happy about it again.  I may even get to like it.  It’s a Google Nexus 4, by the way.

So, how much does it cost (to hell with my carbon footprint – let the trees around whatever power station I use gulp that in for their breakfast) for me to power my phone from empty of power, to full?  Answers gratefully received in the comments.  Educated guesses welcome.

Incidentally, a pet hate of mine is when I ask someone, who knows something quite accurately (that I want to know) and far more accurately than I do but who nevertheless refuses to guess, because he can’t be as accurate as he would like to be.  (It’s almost always a he – only human males are regularly this socially obtuse and lacking in empathy.) How much does this cost?  Don’t know.  Guess!  No, can’t, don’t know.  Rough figure?  Less than a quarter of a pee?  Oh no, definitely more than that.  More than ten quid?  Oh no, less than that, obviously.  (Obviously to him, in other words.) Right, so you do have a rough idea.  So, what is this rough idea?  Five pee?  Five quid?  What?  What?!?!  You get the idea.

I am not calling you an idiot, unless you do have an educated rough idea of what it costs to power up a mobile phone like mine, but refuse to part with it on the grounds of your answer being too vague to satisfy you, in which case I definitely am calling you an idiot.  If you know but can’t be bothered with telling me, or if you know but you now don’t like my tone, well, I can’t say I’m happy about that, but I perfectly understand.

Thursday May 22 2014

Amazing:

image

Old car factories had a harmful impact on the environment, releasing toxic chemicals into the air, land and water. But it wasn’t all ugly. Oddly enough, one of the by-products of car production was Fordite, also known as Detroit agate. The colorful layered objects take their name from agate stones for their visual resemblance. But instead of forming from microscopically crystallized silica over millions of years, Fordite was formed from layers of paint over several tens of years. Back in the day, old automobile paint would drip onto the metal racks that transported cars through the paint shop and into the oven. The paint was hardened to a rock-like state thanks to high heats from the baking process. As the urban legend goes, plant workers would take pieces home in their lunch pails as a souvenir for their wife or kids.

Since then, car production has modernized and Fordite has been rendered a relic of the past. Artisans have been using the colorful material for jewelry but it’s not a stretch to imagine a future when these pieces sit behind glass in a museum. The colors can also be used to judge how old they are because car paint was subject to different trends. In the 1940s cars were mostly black or brown enamel while the 1960s ushered in an age of colorful lacquers.

Something tells me the 3D printers will have something to contribute to processes like this.  I tried googling “fordite 3d printing” but all I got were lots of pieces about each but, so far as I could see, none about both.  Give it time.

Wednesday May 21 2014

The majority of postings at Dezeen are of very little interest to me, but occasionally something of extreme interest to me appears there.

Like this write up of a new book called Building as Ornament.

image

My guess is that what the book is describing is a part of the story of how architects have for some time now been making more of an effort to please the wider public with their big set-piece buildings then was the case with the first full-scale assault upon the world by the Modern Movement in Architecture, following the evolution of the architectural modernity in America around 1900, and following all the earlier skirmishes there had been before WW2.  (The Modern Movement, you might say, was evolved architectural modernity, but militarised and uglified.) Well, the conquered population fought back, and now architects are far more ready to make buildings that look cool and even beautiful, to mere punters, as opposed merely to making buildings that seem “important” to other architects.  Big new Things have to look distinctive rather than anonymous, different rather than the same old same old, if people are to become fond of them.  (London’s Gherkin would not have been nearly so well liked if there had already been another identical shaped building elsewhere.) Having a Big Thing shaped like a big capital letter is one way to accomplish such distinctiveness.

On the other hand, you probably wouldn’t want your own little suburban house to be shaped like a letter of the alphabet, instead of like all the other houses in the road.  But that’s because houses are for living in, not to be “iconic”.

The disdain with which old school modernist architecture critics feel towards the the new Wow! style of architecture is well captured in this quote, from Charles Jencks:

“Ninety-five percent of iconic buildings are failures, because we lack an iconography and an iconology, and the artistic conviction to carry metaphors through,” says architectural theorist Charles Jencks in another of the interviews.

When Jencks says “failures”, you just know that what he means is that he doesn’t like them.  I don’t think he is talking box office success here, the sort based on people generally liking whatever it is.  Or, the horror the horror ... the mere clients actually getting something that they like!  But, I haven’t read this book yet, and what “you just know” could be wrong.

Another point worth making is that any big building that actually gets built is a very big success right there.  “Iconography” is as much about getting the Big Thing built, as it is about it looking good when it is built.  Discuss.

So this is me trying to post this.  I just wrote a posting about something else, but it refuses to register all the text.  So, will it register this text?  This posting may be your lot for today, I’m afraid.

Well, this seems to be working.  So why not the earlier posting, which actually said something?

Odd.

LATER:  Problem (sort of) solved, for the posting you see above is now visible, above.  I had omitted an ”< / a >“, which signifies the end of a link, so the link went on for ever, and immediately after that for ever link I tried to include that rather big picture.  This was too much for the system and it just refused to register any of the text as having any sort of future on the blog itself, even though it was still all there.

And now I’m not sure that ”< / a >“ will come out, so now this posting may degenerate into chaos.  It has.  I had to rewrite it as ”< / a >“ with lots of unnecessary gaps, for it to show up at all.

Good night.

Tuesday May 20 2014

Regulars here, or for that matter there, will know that I have for many years now been at enthusiastic fan of the French historian and social scientist Emmanuel Todd.  In recent years, this enthusiasm has at last started to become a bit more widespread.

Two of the world’s most important Todd-enthusiasts are now James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus.  Quite a while ago now, they sent me an email flagging up a piece they had contributed to Hungarian Review, which contains some interesting biography about Todd, and about how his own particular family history contributed towards making him into the historian of the world that he later became.

Todd developed this grand theory, about how literacy triggers particular sorts of political upheavals in particular places, depending on Family Structure, and then when the political dust has settled fuels economic development, But what got Todd thinking about all this?

According to Bennett and Lotus, the starting point was: How Come The French Communists Are Doing So Badly And Never Seem To Do Any Better No Matter What They Try?

He was the product of an extended family of French Communist Party activists and journalists, and grew up hearing his father and relatives arguing around the kitchen table. Anglo-Americans had tended to regard the French Communist Party of that era as formidable, successful, and continually on the verge of seizing power. From the inside, Todd grew up hearing his family lament the eternal failure and futility of the Party. (He left the orthodox Communist movement quite early, and in fact was one of the first scholars to predict, in 1976, the coming collapse of the Soviet system.) For some reason, the Party was well established in certain regions, and completely without support in most others. The Socialists were dominant in others, and it was noticed that the same social classes would tend to support either Socialists or Communists, depending on the region, but never split between the two, and when they failed to support the one, would not switch to the other, preferring alternative parties. In other parts of France, neither party had a foothold, and the same social classes that supported either Socialists or Communists in their stronghold regions supported entirely different, and not particularly Marxist, parties. The reason for this split was constantly debated in Todd’s family circle, but no possible explanation seemed to hold water. It was a great mystery.

Once Todd began studies at Cambridge, and encountered what we are calling the Continuity School, he began developing a social analysis that perfectly predicted the voting patterns that had been such a mystery in his family’s kitchen debates. France is far from homogenous, and in fact is a patchwork of quite different cultures and family systems. When Todd saw the distribution of the various family systems of France, as established by inheritance rules and customs, he saw at once that both the Communist and Socialist electoral strongholds corresponded to the areas dominated by two distinct family systems. Where other systems prevailed, neither the Communists nor the Socialists could gain any real foothold.

You can see how Todd was perfectly primed to generalise the principle from France, and then England, to the entire world.

In the course of my Todd readings and meanderings, I probably was told (perhaps by Todd himself in his book about French politics (which I have long possessed (and which I see you can now get second hand for £2.81 (in English)))) that Todd had been raised by baffled and frustrated Communists.  But I had not really taken it in.

Monday May 19 2014

Wikipedia on it, here.

More pictures here.  Plus, this:

To celebrate the 38th anniversary of the liberation of Da Nang, the government of Vietnam has constructed the world’s largest dragon-shaped bridge over the Han River. Not only is it the steel bridge the largest of its type in the world, but it is covered in over 2,500 LED lights - and it breathes fire!

Inauguration report, and another great picture here:

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I think that’s terrific.  I just went looking for new bridges, not having done this for a while, and this one jumped out at me.

As a general rule, I find sunsets both difficult to photo and rather pointless to photo.  After all, we have all seen as many sunsets as we want to have seen, photoed by the best of the best, photography-wise.  But, the effect of the setting sun on things is a different matter entirely:

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I checked the blog and could find no trace of this photo at the time (June 2012), but I reckon it deserves a showing, if not then, then now.  It’s those big diagonal things that make it so pretty.  We’re looking down river from Waterloo Bridge.

But what is that building?  Maybe a commenter will know, or someone cleverer at Streetview than I.  But I don’t.  But, I didn’t want this ignorance on my part to postpone me showing you the picture itself.

The boring concrete stump top right is the inside of the Walkie Talkie.  And nearer to us, we see the new Blackfriars Bridge railway station, with its ziggy-zaggy rooves, under construction.

LATER: And, I just found this snap, taken moments before the one above:

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I have sliced out the sky, but I think it looks better with the sky, dwarfing the buildings.  Click if you want to see whether you agree.

Gherkin, but no Cheesegrater.

Sunday May 18 2014

Instead of doing blogging (until I realised I could combine the two), I am watching an enthusiastic American trying to sell me something called a Go Chef.  The channel is ITV, and the show is The Store.  I am very tempted.  Am I being wise, or foolish?  I bought a big non-stick frying pan off of the telly, and that worked out very well.

And yes, you are right, this is, according to the clock, tomorrow.  But tomorrow begins when I wake up tomorrow morning, not at twelve midnight.  My gaff, my rules.

This video is the kind of thing I am now watching, but no enthusiastic American is involved in this one.

Now, they’re going on about how easy it is to cook rice in the Go Chef.

Beware rice.

It would appear that non-stick ceramics is one of the great areas of technological advance in recent decades.  I remember an excellent cartoon, way back, of a US Space Program Bigshot saying to the guy with him, concerning a nearby rocket that they were walking past: “Yes, this all began as a spin-off from a program to develop a non-stick frying pan.”

Saturday May 17 2014

I am very fond of the ballerina statue at the top of the Victoria Palace Theatre.  I recently photoed it with a red crane behind it, that being one of my favourite recent snaps.

This afternoon, I photoed it again, again with craneness:

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What I had not realised until today is that this is a statue of Anna Pavlova.  Says the Victoria Palace Theatre:

From 1911, the year after its rebuilding to its present design by Frank Matcham, the Victoria Palace had a gilded statue of prima ballerina Anna Pavlova poised above it. This was owner Alfred Butt’s homage to the dancer he had spectacularly introduced to London.

The tribute was not appreciated by the superstitious ballerina, who would never look at her image as she passed the theatre, drawing the blinds in her car. The original statue was taken down for safety reasons in 1939 before the blitz and has completely disappeared. It is not known whether it is in someone’s garden or was turned to wartime military use, such as bullets.

The Victoria Palace moved into the new millennium with an adventurous building programme; enlarging the Foyer, WC facilities and increasing the dressing room space, whilst maintaining all the feel and character of a historic building.

In 2006, a replica of the original statue of Pavlova was reinstated to its original place above the cupola of the Victoria Palace and her gold-leafed figure once again gleams above us.

Blog and learn.

Friday May 16 2014

I see cat faces on bags:

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On the left, in Trafalgar Square.  On the right in a shop window, somewhere or other.

I see Hello Kitty continuing its conquest of the world:

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On the left: Patriotic Kitty, both an English Nationalist and a British Unionist.  (Hello Kitty is patriotic everywhere.) On the right: Hello Kitty colonises one of my local supermarkets.  Today shower gel, tomorrow, who knows?  One day, there will be Hello Kitty versions of everything.

And now I see this vast cat face on the outside of a building site at the top end of Victoria Street:

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Note the surveillance camera right in front of it.  Those things are also now everywhere.

This huge cat face was what got me noticing that Victoria Masterplan.

Apparently the cat face is an art installation.  Scroll down here if you doubt me:

A bold new art installation has landed here at Nova, Victoria. The enigmatic gaze of a 37ft tall black cat will become the new landmark to greet people as they arrive in SW1. Taking up residence on site, the portrait is the first European commission by American artist, Marlo Pascual. The chic black cat occupies the Victoria Street facade of our four storey site cabins, converting a disheartening grey slab into the most stimulating of canvases.

The untitled installation kicks off a series of iconic and non-conformist art projects that will unfold at Nova, Victoria on its journey to becoming the most forward-thinking and aspirational place to work, live, eat, drink, shop and enjoy in London’s West End.

So, people, nice big photos of cat faces are now iconic and non-conformist.  Modern Art eat your heart out.

(See also the bit where a discussion about “THE FUTURE OF LONDON DINNING” is advertised.)

All of which pales into insignificance beside what has undoubtedly been the week’s biggest cat news, which concerned an amazing YouTube video of a cat attacking a dog.  This story is now everywhere.  The dog was doing serious damage to the youngest son of the family, and was about to do even more serious damage than that.  But the dog reckoned without Tara the Cat, who launched what looked like a suicide bomber attack on the dog, which not surprisingly caused the dog to retreat.  Tara behaved exactly as if the small boy was one of her kittens.

Cats are complained about for being like perfectly evolved parasites on humans. We feed them, stroke them, put a warm roof over their heads, buy anything with cat faces on it, and in return they do pretty much nothing.

Tara, on the other hand, has surely repaid any debts she ever owed.

Yes, Surrey just won a cricket match.  I know.  You don’t care.  All you care about is football.  But I have supported Surrey ever since I was a tot, while football doesn’t really grab me.  I am not totally hostile to it.  I like it when Spurs win, and I watch the World Cup.  But basically, I just don’t find the regular things that footballers do, when playing football but when not scoring goals, very interesting.  At school I was a goalie, rather than a regular football player, and I never became that interested in how the people out there in that big field contrived to make balls fly towards me and my goal.  All I cared about was stopping them, which is nothing to do with most of what happens on a football pitch.  It was more like fielding in cricket, or wicketkeeping (which I also did).

When I say I “supported” Surrey I don’t mean I actually went to any games, but I did follow them on the radio, and now I follow them on the Internet.  And this week, for the first time in about two years, and after being relegated from Division One of the County Championship at the end of last season, Surrey finally won a first class four day county match, against Gloucester.

Day one saw a clatter of wickets, with Surrey, having bowled Gloucester out cheaply, throwing away the chance of a first innings lead by losing six cheap wickets themselves.  On day two, Surrey’s first innings having ended with its customary ignominy, Gloucester were building a big lead, and I went into “only a game” mode.  I forgot about it in other words.  Later I remembered, and by then Gloucester’s second innings had been ripped to bits by Chris Tremlett, the fast and very tall bowler who went on tour with England to Australia last winter but was hopelessly ineffective.  On Tuesday, for the first time in ages, he stopped being ineffective.  If he carries on bowling like this, Surrey could end up doing as well as people said they would at the start of the season.

So, by the end of day two, Surrey were already starting their fourth innings, chasing 267 to win, and then came another huge surprise.  I assumed they’d be four down by the close and would lose by over a hundred, such has been the awfulness of the post-Ramprakash post-Maynard post-that-other-South-African-bloke Surrey batting.  Instead, by the close, Surrey were forty four without loss.  Astonishing.

The next day was almost entire rained off, and Surrey made it to forty seven, again without loss.  The final day, Wednesday, was sunny, and Smith, Surrey’s ageing guest worker captain who until recently captained South Africa, also come good at last with the bat and got a hundred.  Steve Davies, after abandoning his wicketkeeper’s gloves in this game to concentrate on batting (thereby kissing any chance of an England return goodbye), and after a disappointment in the first innings, got sixty, only getting out in a final little clatter of wickets just before the end.  The end was actually quite funny.  Jason Roy and Davies both got out with only one more good clout needed to win it, and then the dot balls started piling up, as if speed of scoring was proportional to the number of runs still needed, with the Surrey score becoming ever more static even as victory beckoned.  Asymptotic, I think this is called, as when a graph nearly gets to a particular point, but never quite gets there, even as it keeps getting ever closer.  But a single occurred, and then a two was finally managed, and all was well.  So.  Hurrah.

In other cricket news, it seems that England’s cricket bosses continue to take their time about adjusting to the IPL.  I have been telling these people that the IPL is something else again for years, but although I am sure that they are aware of my views, they still choose not to act on them.  This guy agrees with me.  Of the relations between the IPL and England’s cricket bigwigs, he says this:

If the hand of friendship is being extended there, it’s being extended on the quiet, far from public view. A cold-war chill persists publicly, perhaps hardened by the presence of the establishment’s own Voldemort, Kevin Pietersen, in Delhi. One of the many irks that led to his estrangement was his ardent advocacy of the tournament.

That was attributed to money, and only a fool would deny its role, yet Pietersen’s sharpened cricketing instincts also recognised other values: the chance to deliver under pressure in front of hysterical crowds; the opportunities it provided as a learning experience and an information exchange; the way it was driving the patterns and techniques of the sport forwards. To be isolated from the less attractive elements of IPL cricket was also to be isolated from its benefits. The other day Chris Gayle tweeted news of a dinner he’d had with Pietersen, Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh. Maybe they didn’t speak about cricket at all, but maybe they did too, and imagine what a conversation that would have been.

Actually, Pietersen is having a wretched time of it in the IPL right now, captaining the Delhi “Daredevils”, who are now bottom.  Well, someone has to be.  Gayle is also not doing well this year, so far, because he is hurt.  One of the ITV4 commentators recently described him as a liability to his team.  Ouch.

Next year, apparently, the IPL will stop being free-to-view on ITV4 and will instead by on Sky.  So, finally, I will stop recording all the games, as I have been doing, and can settle down to mining these past games for blogging purposes, on an “end of an era” basis.  And apparently, it being a well known fact that Sky TV is the nearest thing to a World Government that the world now possesses, this means that the England cricket panjandra will be told to fit English cricket in with the IPL, and they will obey.  That way, England players will be in the IPL, instead of just Pietersen, Sky will make more money.

Perhaps I’ll get out more and watch the IPL in pubs.  Maybe I’ll get Sky, although my understanding is that Sky don’t do what they blitheringly obviously should do which is sell me all their cricket and nothing else for ten quid a month, or perhaps all their cricket and all their rugby union for fifteen quid a month.  (Ten quid a month for one sport, five quid more for each extra sport.) I refuse to pay forty quid a month for sport the majority of which is of no interest to me.  I can’t be the only one who doesn’t want football but wants other Sky stuff, but at present people like that are just not catered for.

This afternoon, the Big Bang or Big Blast or whatever, the rejigged English county cricket version of T20, begins.  Instead of concentrating all the T20 games in one concentrated burst IPL-style, the Big Whatever will see T20s every Friday evening throughout the summer.  It might work.  Trouble is, it will be harder to get the best foreigners involved, if they have to be here all summer long just for one little tournament.  We shall see.  Aaron Finch, recent T20 tormentor of England, will be playing for Yorkshire, presumably only after he has completed his duties at the IPL.  And a chastened Pietersen will have “a lot to prove” with Surrey, but is he now getting past it?  With luck, greed will kick in, and he will want to hang on in there for the sake of his bank balance.  If his mate Yuvraj Singh can do it, he will even now be telling himself, so can he.

(In the first edition of this posting I erroneously claimed that Finch would be playing for Surrey, when actually he will be playing for Yorkshire.  Apologies.  It tells you something about my subconscious that I began by spelling Yorkshire as “Yorkshite”.)

Thursday May 15 2014

Here:

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Outstanding.

Thank you Jackie D, who saw this and thought of me.  Everything an incoming email to BrianMicklethwaitDotCom should be.

Google this and you’ll get a lot of hits.  I’m not the only one who is impressed.

Wednesday May 14 2014

Taken by me this afternoon.  Click to get large:

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On the left, greenery in the garden at the bottom of the big tower opposite where I live, photoed by me from the landing.  On the right, the trees that are casting the shadows, bounced off a car, in the road between the garden and my front door.

The left shot is the one that impresses me.  The right is just for a bit of context.

A digital camera on automatic doing very good work, I think.

Tuesday May 13 2014

Today, when out and about, I encountered a big building site with a website on it, and when I got home I investigated.  And I found my way to this computer-modified photo of Victoria Street, other side of from me:

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Click on that and you get the bigger picture, which I am keeping here, for when it inevitably disappears from its original home.

Masterplan my nether regions.  More like a random assemblage of mostly rather ugly great lumps, with no discernible aesthetic affinity other than lots of plate glass being involved, with lots of strange little peculiarly shaped spaces in between.  The London Look, in other words.  Perfect.

For the benefit of all those pathetic wretches reading this who are not native to London, the London Look of my title is a reference to this advertising campaign.

Monday May 12 2014

This is one of my favourite Big Thing Alignment shots, to be observed by emerging from Oval tube and walking north east along the A3.  Do that, and you soon see Strata in the distance, and directly behind it, the Shard, thus:

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These shots are two of many such that I took on June 25th 2012.

On the left: the heart of the matter.  On the right: the context.  Often, when you have a zoom lens, you show the zoomed shot, and neglect how it actually looked, along with all the other stuff you could see.  When I say “you” I of course mean “I”.

I worked out that this shot might be there for the taking by looking at the map.  Strata is at the Elephant and Castle, which is the big yellow roundabout in the middle of this map:

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And the Shard is at London Bridge railway station, top right.

What this shows, I think, is another contribution made by technically rather poor photographers like me.  We may not take our pictures that well, from the point of view of using the right cameras, lenses, f numbers, and general technical jiggery pokery.  But we often take great shots, as in, we often take great shots rather badly.  A technically better photographer might see this posting, and say to him or herself: Hey I like that shot.  I’m going to go out there and do it again, properly, while crediting the person who first did the shot and thus showed me that the shot was gettable.

(Are Real Photographers reluctant to do this kind of copying-stroke-improving of amateur shots, for intellectual property (and hence money) reasons?  Is there a sense in which, photogaphically speaking, I now “own” this view?)

A similar point could have been made in the course of this posting, which also included a map showing how that shot happened, and where to go to get it.  That too was a great shot, done just about well enough to show what a great shot it might have been, but only just.

Sunday May 11 2014

Outside Brockley railway station last Friday afternoon:

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The sky, with all that blue and white and grey, adds to the pictorial pleasure, I think.

The blue bit can be observed in more detail, here.  Another angle here.

Rival wall artists have left it alone, but time is taking its toll.

Saturday May 10 2014

L. Neil Smith:

When you get to be my age, time flies whether you’re having fun or not.

I found it here.

Friday May 09 2014

I photoed this piece of sculpture just over a year ago, on May 1st 2013.  It’s just outside Southwark Park, in the middle of the Rotherhithe Roundabout, having been put in place to celebrate the Tour de France hitting London in 2007.  It is the work of Heather Burrell

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Burrell later did another cyclist sculpture, for the 2012 Olympics.  Based on photos like this one, I don’t (or maybe that should be wouldn’t) like it nearly so much.  The curviness of the 2007 work is most agreeable.  The flatness of 2012 is just tacky and trashy, or so it looks to me.  Seeing this latter work for real might make me think differently, but I doubt it.

Thursday May 08 2014

In 2013, on September 5th, 18th, 24th and 29th, I visited the area in and around London Gateway, the new container port they’re building on the north side of the Thames Estuary, first to see if I could photo the cranes, and then to photo them again, and again, and again.  And everything else amusing I saw on my wanderings.  (I would never have remembered these dates if my camera hadn’t.)

I showed a couple of photos here of one of those expeditions at the time, but that was only the tip of the photographic iceberg.

These were undoubtedly among my best photo-expeditions of 2013, right up there with visiting Beckton Sewage Works with Goddaughter One, a superb day which I see that I seem never to have mentioned here at all.

My problem is, when I sit down at my computer and try to pick out a few good snaps from one of these huge photo-perambulations, I just don’t know which to pick.  There are just so many nice ones. I end up picking none at all and write about something else entirely.

So, I now pick another one, from one of my four trips to London Gateway, to show you, which I just found when trawling through them all, again.  One.  Just the one.  It features me, but not looking good.  No, looking appalling, with my appallingly flabby chin all scrunched up as I look downwards at my twiddly camera screen, which is how I actually do look when wandering around doing this kind of thing.

But, showoffy though it is, I think it’s a rather effective photo:

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See also the first five cranes, of the twenty four that will finally be at London Gateway.  That snap was snapped on September 24th. 

When all those twenty four cranes are up and running and the place really gets into its stride, I will definitely return to check them out, as will all the world and its digital cameras.  Mark my words.  When they open this thing for business, the media, mainstream and irregular, social and anti-social, will be flooded with it.  Flooded I tell you.

But just now, they are busy building it, and the last thing they want is people like me wandering around photoing it.  So, they keep quiet about it.  Seriously, I’d be willing to bet that there are quite a lot of PR persons whose entire job consists of persuading journalists not to mention this thing until it’s finished, but then to mention it big time.  Silence now will be rewarded with access later.

Wednesday May 07 2014

For quite a while now, I’ve had a window open (which I would like now to shut and now I can) on these STUNNING PHOTOS OF WHAT THE WORLD LOOKS LIKE FROM THE COCKPIT, and in particular on this photo, which is number 4 of the set, of some houses outside Las Vegas:

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Visuals can be misleading.  It looks like a prison, or perhaps a military encampment.  People are either being kept in, or it must be possible, as and when, to keep people out.  America, land of the free?  Certainly not.  But neither is the actual story, is it?

Here is another picture from the same set (number 7), of another scene out in the desert near Las Vegas:

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Put that picture next to the first one, and perhaps you get a true handle on what is going on, in both pictures.  What is being controlled here is not people.  It’s water.  Those golf greens are there because water keeps them green.  There are even a couple of big old artificial lakes.  No water, and everything turns light brown again, and the desert takes back everything.

And the reason the houses are all in a clump like that, rather than scattered around the landscape, is surely also, at least partly, again: water.  All those houses depend on the same centralised water supply.

Two of the other pictures in this set also involve organised water.  Number 1 is an artificial wave pool, in Florida.  And the final picture involves a swimming pool, in Boston.

So, despite the appearance of the first picture, America is a free country.  But it is also a very organised country.

I particularly smile at how that golf course is in a giant ocean of sand, and in it they contrive these elongated artificial islands of green, and then within these green islands, they put smaller bits of artificial desert.  Where else would you see bits of fake desert, in a real desert?

Tuesday May 06 2014

Indeed.  The picture on the left is the only one I managed at Richard Carey’s talk about the Levellers last Thursday at the Rose and Crown.  I forgot my proper camera, and so took a few shots with my mobile, of which only one was the slightest use.  And then when I got home, I could not persuade my mobile to transfer its picture to my regular computer.

The problem is, I use this process too infrequently.  The simple truth about computer processes, always and everywhere, is that a computer process you use regularly is easy, while a computer process you use only very occasionally is extremely difficult.  Ignore all prattle about “computer friendliness”.  Either you know it, in which case all is simplicity.  Or you don’t in which case your chances of success plummet towards impossibility.  Repeat business is all.  And I use my mobile phone so rarely to take photos that I do not regularly transfer photos from it to my regular computer, and that causes this process to be impossible.  I looked at various videos claiming to answer this question.  All were useless.  My phone did not do any of the things they said it would do when I pressed the buttons they told me to press.  Why not?  Who can say?

So instead, I simply photographed my mobile phone with the picture on it (getting it simply to display the picture was itself very difficult), and that is the picture you see below, on the left.  On the right is a picture of a mug, which I found while searching for a better version of the picture of John Lilburne than what you see in my picture of Richard Carey’s T-shirt:

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Richard’s talk was outstanding, and I am told that the video of it will be available very soon.

By the way, I tried to put a thin black line all around the mug picture, but I very seldom do this and couldn’t make that work either.

Monday May 05 2014

Here:

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On Saturday, having dropped Goddaughter 2 off at Westminster Tube, I took a stroll over Westminster Bridge and snapped snappers, just like old times.  And the rising tide of people photoing with smartphones rather than just with dedicated cameras was unmistakable.  With about the next but one iteration of the smartphone, will there be any small digital cameras left?  Soon, it will likely be as above.  Big old Real Cameras, and lots of smartphones.

Or then again, maybe instead of all phones having cameras in them, some cameras will have phones in them, and small, cheap digital cameras will carry right on as if nothing had happened.

Sunday May 04 2014

Number 30 of these Evening Standard photos:

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I seem to recall Homer once upon a time saying he didn’t need to learn English, because he would never be going to England.

This portrait of Homer is in the same place as this guy was doing his stuff.

Saturday May 03 2014

Am very tired, after walking around in the sunshine with Goddaughter 2 and one of her French friends.  Took many photos.  Liked this one:

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That’s looking through an office building on the south bank of the river, to the buildings on the other side.  We see the buildings on this side reflected back.

File under: I just like it.  Actually, what I particularly like is that, for once, I got everything that was supposed to come out horizontal and vertical actually to come out horizontal and vertical.

This was not typical of the pictures I mostly took.  The big story today was how many other people had the same idea as us.  I have never before seen the banks of the Thames in London so crowded.  But, am now too tired (see above) to elaborate.

Friday May 02 2014

I know I’ve been saying lately that I don’t show faces of strangers here like I used to.  But honestly, if you look this gorgeous, you are going to get noticed and frankly, you look like you want to be noticed.  And then when you do this, right in front of me, about three yards away, what is a digital photographer spotter and digital photography blogger supposed to do?  Just ignore it all entirely.  Can’t be done:

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Click and enjoy.

Photographer with two cameras rather than just one, taking a selfie with the other one, which is a smartphone with a great case.  Great semi-transparent bag action.  A woolly hat.  Tick tick tick tick.  That second camera says she’s well on her way to being a Real Photographer, closer to it than I’ll ever get.  She’d surely understand.

These snaps were not snapped yesterday.  I found them while trawling the archives looking for something else entirely, and was reminded.  They date from … well let’s just say: a while ago.

Wednesday April 30 2014

I have not been a fan of the Shell Building.  That stone slabs (or are they perhaps concrete slabs, you can’t be sure) look is not one that I like.  I prefer fancy reflective glass.  Usually, the only time I like the Shell Building is when the Wheel throws interesting shadows on it.

But almost any building looks good if you light it well, and if you stick a dark sky behind it.  That’s a look I love.

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The light blue at the bottom (another big reason why I like this picture) is the front of the single story Waterloo Library, in Lower Marsh.

I see that 6k has also taken to shoving up a picture which he took, and then explaining why he likes it so much.  I don’t see any problem with this sort of behaviour, because successful photography of the sort that 6k and I do is about two things: having luck (by taking lots of photos (which guarantees that some will be very good)), and then recognising that we had that particular bit of luck, by realising that this particular photo is a good one that deserves be flaunted.  This is different from something like painting, or for that matter writing.  Saying you were lucky is not boasting.  Saying you did good stuff is.  Although, I sometimes boast about my writing, on the grounds that if I don’t talk my writing up, who will?

I now learn that the Shell Building may soon be looking like this.