Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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This and that
Indeed. Photoed by me this afternoon:
I don’t know what went wrong with this one.
Googling reminds me that there were a lot of complaints, the summer before last, about Boris buses getting too hot. Has that been sorted?
In general, I am suspicious of these new buses, on two grounds. First, as its nickname makes clear, this is a very political sort of bus, being the Boris Johnson answer to Ken Livingstone’s Bendy Bus. When politicians push technology, expect trouble. I’m not saying they always get things wrong, because they don’t want to look like prunes, and when they push things that go wrong, they do. But, they are still tempted to push, because, in defiance of what you often hear, politicians are typically very short-termist, being unable to look beyond their next election. Businessmen, at any rate businessmen of the sort who preside over the design of buses, tend to look further ahead, and not unleash their buses until their are truly ready.
Second, it was designed by a “designer”. By Thomas Heatherwick, who designed that cute roly-poly bridge in Paddington and also the bridge Joanna Lumley wants to have built across the Thames. If you want a bus not to malfunction too much, the kind of designer you want designing it is a bus designer, who is thoroughly familiar with the particular problems that buses can get engulfed by and knows all the tried-and-tested recipes for avoiding such problems. This Heatherwick bus smells to me of change for the sake of it. This is okay if you are designing something small enough to fail without too much expense, like a chair or a spoon or an iPhone case, or a rather pointless roly-poly bridge. But buses are serious. When they go wrong it can cost millions.
And when a “designer” is involved, mistakes do tend to happen, because designers are brought in precisely to design everything. And when you try to do everything anew, you make mistakes.
And if that happens to a politicised design, such as this bus, other political things cut in. Politicians and their supporters don’t suffer financially when their pet projects go wrong. They can start fighting the wrongness by just chucking money at it, and just pass the bill on to the rest of us. If unlimited money doesn’t sort out the mess and instead becomes part of the mess, then their next impulse is to try to cover things up. If that fails, Plan C (we’ve reached about C, I’m guessing) is to find someone or something else to blame. Does that also fail? Plan D: just walk away from the mess, refuse to talk about it, and insist on talking about something else, anything else, everything else. Change the subject. In politics, in the end, all there is is “the subject”. If politicians keep winning, then they “succeed”, no matter how much havoc in the form of things like crappy buses they leave in their wake.
I’m not saying that these Boris Buses are guaranteed to fail. New designs, of the sort driven by politicians, can be a triumph. Sometimes, they even triumph economically. Look at the Volkswagen Beetle. And nor am I saying that one bus attached to a tow-truck is evidence of complete failure. I’m just saying that this particular bus has a lot of bear traps to get past.
LATER: By pure coincidence, favorite blogger of mine 6k right now also has things to say about Boris.
He’s a law unto himself, but if you believe that there’s nothing behind the apparent buffoonery of his outward image, I think you’re mistaken. You don’t get where Boris is by being a buffoon. Acting one, perhaps – being one, no.
Spot on. The British toff classes are full of people like this. I had an uncle who behaved exactly this way.
As revealed in this earlier posting, I recently visited Tate Ancient, which is only a walk away from where I live. I should go there more often.
One of the big reasons being that it is a wonderful place, not just to learn about Art and all that kind of stuff, but to photograph photographers. All who frequent this blog know that photographing photographers is an obsession of mine.
Photographers like these two:
The blue-haired lady on the right was photoing the sculpture that can be seen more clearly, behind the man on the left.
Note that neither of the cameras seen in action here are of the old school and conventional sort. No, they are iCameras. There was a lot of this going on, not just picture making, but note taking.
My interest in what will be happening next in London, architecturally, is intense, but erratic. It switches on and off. Occasionally I go looking to see, but neglect to do this for weeks at a time. Google sends me emails about “new architecture london”, but the results are seldom as dramatic as they ought to be. Also, I have been in the rather bad habit of filing these emails in a special email file, and then neglecting to return to them, which is a habit I need to change.
So today, I went into that email file and cranked up the latest “new architecture london” email, and found my way to this place, where I learned something I did not know until now. Apparently the Helter Skelter Tower, the one that looked like (as in: the tallest pointy thing in the very middle of) this, …:
... having been stalled for ages when the money ran out, has finally been scrapped. It will be replaced with an entirely new design.
Interestingly, if you click on the first of the above links, you will, if you persevere within the somewhat unwieldy virtual place that it is (in this case by scrolling sideways), you may manage to find your way to this, concerning “The Pinnacle”:
Designed as the centrepiece of the City cluster
Plans for a tower on-site have been active since 2002
Initial planning application was submitted in June 2005.
Revised application with 19m height reduction approved April 2006.
Current status: Undergoing a redesign, with possible height increase.
Possible height increase. Something quite bland looking (compared to the Helter Skelter I mean) but still very high (like the new World Trade Centre for instance) might work rather well, aesthetically, because it would put the present muddle of the City in its place, if you get my meaning. Anyway, we shall see.
Earlier I showed you a old facade being carefully preserved. Here is another:
But where exactly is this facade. The photo was taken in May 2012, and I didn’t take any note-taking shots of where this was. And I cannot now find any mention of it on the www, only a website of the enterprise that constructed it. (This I learned by taking a closer look at the stuff at the bottom of the picture than I am according to you. My original pictures are really very large.)
I like to think that I am becoming a better photographer as the years go by. What I mean by this is not so much that the photos are getting technically better. They are, but that is largely down to the cameras I use getting better. What I mean is that I am, I hope, getting better at deciding what to photo, and better at recording what I photoed.
Maybe that is an idle boast. But maybe what is now only a boast will, because I have here written it down, will become an influence on actual practice in the future.
Just about to go to bed following a very satisfactory Last Friday meeting, addressed by Priya Dutta, on the subject of education and libertarianism. Priya, many thanks for an excellent talk, and for attracting such a large and intelligent throng to listen to it. Although I don’t want to definitely promise anything, I will try to say something more about what you said than that, Real Soon Now. But right now, I am too tired to attempt anything.
Something I often forget to do at these things is take photos, probably because the photos I take are usually not very good. Tonight, Rob Fisher took photos, and I of course photoed him doing this ...:
... and then I took other photos. But the really good news is that Rob’s camera is much better than mine, especially in bad light. He has promised to send me his best, and I look forward to seeing what he got.
For something rather more substantial from me, about libertarianism if not about education, try this recent Samizdata posting.
Here comes another flying car ...:
… which I found out about at dezeen. They put this above their report:
Creators of the AeroMobil flying car propose moving road traffic to the skies
I don’t see this solving any obvious existing traffic problems. And I see regulators regarding it as a whole new bunch of problems, rather than any sort of solution to anything.
My prejudice is that something which is basically fun is instead being sold as environmentally positive, a solution to traffic problems, blah blah blah. A few will want flying cars, because they do, money and economic irrationality no object. Most people, and especially most regulators, will regard flying cars, in any but trivial numbers, as accidents waiting to happen.
I get regular google emails about robot cars. A point that comes up from time to time in the stuff these emails link to is the idea that flying cars may eventually materialise, but only after robot cars are in regular use. The point being that machines like the one above will only ever be accepted in the numbers envisaged by the makers of flying cars if these flying cars are driven and flown by robots. Cars will eventually take to the air, but only when cars have become robot cars, because only robot driven flying cars will be safe enough for flying cars to be allowed to fly in significant numbers. (If regular cars were being proposed only now, they too would have to be driven by robots to be allowed.) Flying cars driven by humans will just unleash a whole new world of fear and grief, and they won’t be allowed other than as ludicrously expensive curiosities.
If such curiosities as this one ever do fly, driven by mere people, they will be fun, to those to whom such things are fun, but very little else.
From early in the afternoon of Tuesday, yesterday, until early this morning, this blog was out of action. I couldn’t read it myself, let alone post anything:
The non-functioning of BrianMicklethwaitDotCom took out my emailing abilities as well. If anyone tried to email and got told to get stuffed, please try again - especially if it concerned the meeting at my home this coming Friday evening, at which Priya Dutta is going to speak about education.
I don’t suppose many people suffered much, but I did, because I didn’t know if and when BMDC was ever going to come back to life.
The problem was something to do with the internet provider (which has recently changed hands) for my Hoster. But spare a thought for Hoster. I wasn’t his only client ringing up in a state. He had lots of others doing the exact same thing. He told me that he will be changing his internet provider asap, but that he couldn’t do that until his internet provider came back on line and he was able to make the necessary arrangements.
Meanwhile, I really need to change how I do email.
More times like these. I have had a great deal too many and too much of these sorts of times lately.
Chippendale most of us have heard of. But Rannie? Who is, or was, Rannie? Exactly.
Seven years ago now, I wrote a Samizdata piece about two-man teams. It still, I think, reads well, and it contained the following assertions:
Even when a single creative genius seems to stand in isolated splendour, more often than not it turns out that there was or is a backroom toiler seeing to the money, minding the shop, cleaning up the mess, lining up the required resources, publishing and/or editing what the Great Man has merely written, quietly eliminating the blunders of, or, not infrequently, actually doing the work only fantasised and announced by, the Great Man. Time and again, the famous period of apparently individual creativity coincides precisely with the time when that anonymous partner was also but less obtrusively beavering away, contributing crucially to the outcome, and often crucially saying boo to the goose when the goose laid a duff egg. If deprived, for some reason, of his back-up man, the Lone Genius falls silent, or mysteriously fails at everything else he attempts. ...
Now read this, from At Home, the Bill Bryson book I am currently reading. On pages 234-5, concerning Thomas Chippendale, the noted furniture maker, Bryson writes:
He was an outstanding furniture maker but hopeless at running a business, a deficiency that became acutely evident upon the death of his business partner, James Rannie, in 1766. Rannie was the brains of the operation and without him Chippendale lurched from crisis to crisis for the rest of his life. All this was painfully ironic, for as he struggled to pay his men and keep himself out of a debtor’s cell, Chippendale was producing items of the highest quality for some of England’s richest households, and working closely with the leading architects and designers - Robert Adam, James Wyatt, Sir William Chambers and others. Yet his personal trajectory was relentlessly downwards.
It was not an easy age in which to do business. Customers were routinely slow in paying. Chippendale had to threaten David Garrick, the actor and impresario, with legal action for chronic unpaid bills, and stopped work at Nostell Priory, a stately home in Yorkshire, when the debt there reached £6,838 - a whopping liability. ‘I have not a single guinea to pay my men with tomorrow: he wrote in despair at one point. It is clear that Chippendale spent much of his life in a froth of anxiety, scarcely for a moment enjoying any sense of security at all. At his death in 1779, his personal worth had sunk to just £28 2s 9d - not enough to buy a modest piece of ormolu from his own showrooms. ...
Rannie did not make the actual furniture, but he was essential to Chippendale in exactly the sort of way I describe.
It feels good to be so right.
Just to drive the point home that not all the photos of mine that I show here were taken several weeks or even months ago, here is yet another which I took (just like the previous two in the previous two postings) today:
My picture is somewhat cropped. Her hair somewhat less so.
Yes, me times 3:
Plus Goddaughter 2 and her mum, plus a pot plant, times 2. Click for the bigger picture.
Taken in an eatery where they have mirrors on every wall, to make a small place feel bigger. The eatery being the tuk tuk in Old Compton Street. Cheap. Cheerful. Recommended.
Photoed by me in Oxford Street late this afternoon:
What this tells you is that architectural modernism has utterly conquered indoors, but that out of doors, modernism is only popular because its totalitarian impulses have been held at bay, by what you might call ancientism.
The Modern Movement founders would have been disgusted by the process portrayed in this picture.
Indeed. Yesterday, three postings. Today, just the one quota photo, taken just over a year ago, and today rotated quite a bit and cropped quite a bit:
The BT Tower is arguably the first great London Big Thing. The Euston Tower is really notable only for its roof clutter. What the building in front of the Euston Tower is, I don’t know.
A fun bit of news on the cats front today illustrates how seriously the oh-so-serious Guardian now takes the whole cats thing, along with the rest of the media after a decade and more of cattery on the internet.
A cat-blogger lady called Jackie Smith has done a book of cat pictures, called Cat Walk:
I don’t think Cat Walk is book about cats. It’s about learning to see beauty within arms reach. It’s about hunting for words like a mouse hunts for cats. It’s about walking, but not really covering distance. The same paths are travelled, but each time the light, the season, the thoughts inside make it different. It does have something to do with the character of cats, but also to do with writing, looking, seeing, being in a place.
This man should be told.
My favourite bit is where she says “It’s about hunting for words like a mouse hunts for cats”. Because it’s not enough to hunt down the right words. You have then to arrange them in the right order. I mean, a mouse hunting for cats? That’s some mouse you got there lady.
My current camera, a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, has been my best ever bar none, and it has resulted in my longest ever period of not looking at new digital cameras since I first started looking at new digital cameras. Oh, the FZ200 did cause me a twinge of annoyance. But the FZ150 was basically the answer to all my prayers.
But now, this Canon SX60 HS has well and truly got my attention:
What that has is 65x zoom. (My FZ150 has 25x.) 65x zoom! 65x!!!
I already know, because I have seen pictures like the one above, that this Canon SX60 HS has a twiddly screen This for me is a deal breaker, if a camera doesn’t have it I mean. I’ll be reading the reviews to see if it seems any better in a general kind of way, and in particular at picture quality (which, after all, is what it is all about), and if they say it is better, generally and particularly, then I will be very tempted.
I’ve been reading Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, and very entertaining and informative it is too. Strangely, one of the best things about it for me was that he explained, briefly and persuasively, both the rise to global stardom and the fall from global stardom of British agriculture. The rise was a lot to do with the idea of crop rotation. I remember vaguely being told about this in a prep school history class, but although I did remember the phrase “crop rotation”, I didn’t care about it or about what it made possible.
Here is Bryson’s description of this key discovery:
The discovery was merely this: land didn’t have to be rested regularly to retain its fertility. It was not the most scinitillatingof insights, but it changed the world.
Traditionally, most English farmland was divided into long strips called furlongs and each furlong was left fallow for one season in every three - sometimes one season in two - to recover its ability to produce healthy crops. This meant that in any year at least one-third of farmland stood idle. In consequence, there wasn’t sufficient feed to keep large numbers of animals alive through the winter, so landowners had no choice but to slaughter most of their stock each autumn and face a long, lean period till spring.
Then English farmers discovered something that Dutch farmers had known for a long time: if turnips, clover or one or two other suitable crops were sown on the idle fields, they miraculously refreshed the soil and produced a bounty of winter fodder into the bargain. It was the infusion of nitrogen that did it, though no one would understand that for nearly two hundred years. What was understood, and very much appreciated, was that it transformed agricultural fortunes dramatically. Moreover, because more animals lived through the winter, they produced heaps of additional manure, and these glorious, gratis ploppings enriched the soil even further.
It is hard to exaggerate what a miracle all this seemed. Before the eighteenth century, agriculture in Britain lurched from crisis to crisis. An academic named W. G. Hoskins calculated (in 1964) that between 1480 and 1700, one harvest in four was bad, and almost one in five was catastrophically bad. Now, thanks to the simple expedient of crop rotation, agriculture was able to settle into a continuous, more or less reliable prosperity. It was this long golden age that gave so much of the countryside the air of prosperous comeliness it enjoys still today, ...
The fall of British agriculture was all mixed up with refrigeration, which enabled the wide open spaces of the late nineteenth century world to make masses of food and to transport it to hungry urban mouths everywhere before it went bad. Prices fell below what the farmers of Britain (where there were no wide open spaces by global standards) could match.
Alert readers of this blog will long have known that I have a soft spot for interesting vehicles, often because they are old. (In general, the aesthetic nature of cars and of our response to cars interests me more and more.)
So, here is an amusing matching pair of vehicles:
The full size Mini was photoed not far from my friend Perry‘s home. The mini Mini was, as you can probably see for yourself, in a tourist crap shop window. Only the two white stripes on the bonnet of the mini Mini spoil the identicalness.
This morning, I finally finished a big old piece for Samizdata about the benefits to the old of superpowerful computers, at the end of which I linked to these two pieces here. (There is already a comment up, from Paul Marks, saying that computers have been bad for him, by keeping him indoors, and also confused.)
This piece has not only ended a long Samizdata silence by me; it also explained it. I can’t quite explain why this makes it feel so much easier to put lots of stuff up there again, like I used to until this last month or more. But, it does.
LATER: Quotulated, even if it’s only the preamble.
We have most of us seen these tiny little cars they make nowadays, which are about half the length of regular cars. A seemingly obvious usefulness of such vehicles, aside from them using half the metal and less money and power to make them and move them, is that they can be parked at ninety degrees to regular parking, which does away with the need for all that “parking” and doubles (and more) the amount of space available for everyone to park in.
But you seldom see such cars actually parked liked that, and when you do …:
… (as I did about a week ago near to where I live) you realise that this is actually a much more complicated arrangement than it might at first appear to be.
Suppose you see a half-parking-space, between two other cars, and you park your half-car in that space, at ninety degrees to those two cars.
You just might be making it impossible for one or even both of those cars to get out, unless you do first. I mean, maybe the car beyond the half-car above can get out. Maybe those two cars are cooperatively parked, so to speak, with both vehicles arriving and leaving at the same time. But maybe the bigger car arrived first and will want to leave first, and was relying on being able to move backwards to get out, in which case …
Which actually makes me think this was cooperative parking, by the two vehicles in concert. Otherwise there would be just too much potential grief involved.
I can’t think, off hand, of an easy way to sort all this out. So, just as well it’s not my job to worry about such things.
There is also the fact that the half-car in my picture, isn’t actually quite a half-car, more like a
two-fifths- three-fifths- or three-quarters-car, and it sticks out annoyingly. This doesn’t matter much in a big wide road like the one shown, but in other roads it might matter a lot.
While browsing the archives looking for a photo to have on the front of my computer, combining niceness with not making my stuff invisible, I came across a rather good photo.
The horizontalisation opportunity was too good to miss:
Click to get it all.
Not good for the front of my computer. Too much going on. No big clear slabs of nothing for computer ikons to be seen against. But I like it.
It was taken in 2012, from the top of a car park in Peckham.
More shots of and from the same spot, here.
I want one:
Dawkins just couldn’t handle www.dezeen.com, so today I had fun looking back through the last few days (with many more days yet to be looked at). This cried out to be immortalised on BrianMicklethwaitDotCom.
Yes, you read that right. Sunday. I am celebrating the fact that I now have a Proper Computer (a temporary arrangement called Godo) at my command by doing more than one posting here today. There may (although I promise nothing) be even more than two. The thing is, during the Time of Dawkins, I accumulated lots of interesting little titbits which it was too bothersome to be bothering with, but which I now want (as they say in California and now regrettably everywhere else (see also the even more vomit-inducing “reach out”, which means pestering by telephone)) to “share” with you.
So, first up, this luxurious Rolls Royce, from the time when us Brits were in charge of how they looked:
As it says just above the roof, photoed in Lower Marsh, on Sept 1st.
Round headlights, but … four of them! This car dates from the days when the only way to jazz up car headlights was to have two of them side by side. How impossibly glamorous is that?!?! I seem to recall that the puppet woman who presided over International Rescue on the telly had a pink roller, with the same kind of headlights. Lady Penelope? Yes. Follow that link, and you will be reminded that Lady P’s roller had two sets of three headlights. Only a billionaire, or millionaire as they used to be called, could afford that kind of headlight array. (To say nothing of those doubled-up front wheels.)
(And it is so great that I am now back to hunting things like that down in about fifteen seconds. There is nothing like deprivation to make you grateful for large mercies.)
But Lady Penelope missed a trick. Her imaginary roller didn’t have a brush to clean its headlights, but some real rollers did! You will see what I am talking about if you take a closer look at this:
Yes, a sort of elongated rich person shaving brush, to keep those lights clean!
You didn’t get those on Morris Marinas.
Here. They may not have intended it to be sarcastic, but that’s how it reads.
My computer is in a sort of half-way state between being God and being Godot, and I feel that I am still awaiting the latter. All the innards have been changed, as was promised, but it turned out they didn’t fit very well into the old case. A new fan could only go in one place in the old case, and that place was awkward, involving stretching wires around things. The graphics board went in a non-ideal place in order not to stretch the wires too much. So, soon there will be another case, about an inch wider, which will enable the fan to be in a better place and that, I feel, will be Godot. What I have now is something in between God and Godot. Godo?
Anyway, I have spent my entire day catching up with myself, transferring stuff over from Dawkins to Godo, sending emails to myself (don’t ask), and sorting out all the pictures I’ve taken, which have remained on SD cards during the time of Dawkins, because Dawkins is not where I would even want them to be.
So, once again it is quota photo time. And this time it is not cranes or a bridge or roof clutter but … flowers, in Victoria Street, photoed by me at the beginning of this month:
So, nature then? Not really. Behind, we have offices. And the entire effect has been very carefully contrived by Westminster Council’s Nature Department. I have never seen flowers growing like that when not coaxed into that shape by nature-controllers. I think it looks a bit like a wasps’ nest.
I know, it’s over-lit. But I like that. It was a sunny day, and that’s how sunshine behaves when there are no Real Photographers about to take the strength out of it with their fancy filters and exactly calculated exposure times. Sometimes the way that light overwhelms an autofocus, snap-and-hope snapper like me tells the story just as well as it would be told by a Real Photographer, and perhaps even better.
Anyway, I like it, and I hope you do too.
The Guru was finally able to deliver God/Godot this evening, but he only just finished, so time only for a quota cat, photoed by me in Tate Ancient yesterday:
More about that picture here. It’s by David Hockney.
I didn’t know that you are allowed to take photos in the Tate, but I did so with increasing confidence. There were official looking people well able to intervene and stop me, if they had wanted to. But, they didn’t. Interesting. Was that always the rule, or is it only recent, in response to an irresistible tidal wave of students taking notes with their iPhones?
Inevitably, in some of these cross-examinations, this blog came up, with me saying that I write here about whatever I feel like writing about, with very little thought for the interests of my readers. Cats on Fridays, general trivia, etc. I do Big Issues at Samizdata and trivia here. Blah blah.
However, an American lady friend, whom I had not met in quite a while and whom I was very pleased to meet again, told me that she quite liked my trivia stuff, and that she even read my postings about cricket (this being the most recent one). I thought that only I and Michael Jennings and Darren the Surrey Member were at all interested in those. It seems not.
I’m guessing that this interest on her part is partly actual interest, but also partly that a principle is at stake here. Which is: that the trivia that other people are interested in, but not you, is not actually an entirely trivial matter. Life is not only Big Issues. It is the small pleasures that give colour and texture and individuality to life. Watever matters, to someone, matters. Your opinion about what the Big Issues are should not be allowed to drive a tank or a government bureaucracy over my trivial pleasures.
So, her reading about the trivial pleasures of others is her asserting this Big Issue to herself, as well as maybe learning something about other little parts of the world, like the world of cricket (actually quite big of course, as I daresay are the worlds of embroidery and gardening and croquet and rap music and all the other little things in life that I don’t personally care about, other than to believe that tanks or government bureaucracies should not be driven over them).
Me being me, my way of asserting the importance of trivia, in general, to people, in general, is me writing about the trivia that interests me.
Her way of asserting the importance of trivia to people generally is her reading about the trivia that others write about. But we are both making the same point.
I don’t want to say that I have entirely described why my American lady friend likes to read what I write about cricket. I merely speculate that the above speculations might be a quite small part of why she does this.
(She, like me, probably also thinks that thinking about trivia can often lead to interesting angles on Big Issues, of the sort that merely looking straight at the Big Issues might cause you to miss. Pointless fun and truly original insight are often delightfully close neighbours, I think. But that’s a tangent for another time, hence this paragraph being in brackets.)
This evening I attended a young friend’s fortieth birthday party. (You know you are old when people aged forty are young.) And I took lots of photos. Before doing this, I asked our young hostess (the one who is now aged forty) if she would like me to take photos, or would actually prefer me not to. She said please do take photos, so I did, in abundance. The best of them will be my birthday present to her.
As usual, my first look at them when I got home was a big disappointment. The lighting was difficult and the background was a lot easier to focus on than dimly lit faces tend to be, so I have huge numbers of snaps of perfectly detailed backgrounds with blurry faces in front of them. But the best of them will, I reckon, come out okay. Most are not suitable for blogging, because private, but here is a crowd scene showing what the place looked like:
As you can see, an ecclesiastical setting. The Cloister Cafe of St Bartholomew the Great, which is near the Barbican.
That photo is exactly as it came out of my camera. No beefing up of the dark bits, which means that you can see what a tricky place it was to photo in. I just took lots of pictures, in the hope that some would turn out okay, and I think that this is what happened. There were many failures, but a few successes. Once I get to work with my Photoshop clone, there may be more successes than it now appears.
Maybe I should have used flash, as my camera spent the entire evening urging me to to do. But, I hate hate hate flash. It is appallingly antisocial, and the results usually look terrible, as in: “Hey, that was taken with flash, wasn’t it?” and “Doesn’t your software have a tool to removing red-eye?” It probably does, but … uurrgghh!!
New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross writes about how he still loves his classical CDs. Partly, he admits, it’s nostalgia. CDs were such a huge leap forward when they first arrived that that moment of pure joy is very hard to turn your back on. I can still remember what my first CDs were: Nielsen 3, Brahms Sextets, Barenboim complete Beethoven piano sonatas, Strauss Alpine Symphony … Then there was the realisation that classical CDs would just get cheaper and cheaper and abundanter and abundanter, and then very soon the reality of that happy circumstance. Gramex Boss Hewland prices his stuff with more than half an eye to what Amazon charges, and it remains worthwhile to visit Gramex from time to time, even as all the other central London second hand CD emporia have faded away. He piles them high and sells them cheap.
Yes, the physical space occupied by CDs is a problem. Those piles can get very high. (Visit my home to see that problem on an enormous scale.) But, for me, the internet remains an unenticing place to purchase and play classical music. I have accumulated some virtual titles, as a result of buying them new on Amazon and having an additional “cloud” version of the same thing piped into my computer. But I wouldn’t want to be without the CDs whose purchase provoked this additional twenty first century response.
I wrote recently about the value of keeping things separate, in my case my big home computer and my music making equipment. Even as my big home computer continues not to materialise, I still have music as good as ever, with no messing with some new kind of system to make it work.
But the central problem with classical music on the internet is that it remains, I believe, a mess. Pop music having overwhelmed classical music economically during the last hundred years or so, pop music is the big driver of internet music, and internet music is entirely organised for the benefit of pop fans, and their discreet tracks. We classicists are liable, as Alex Ross explains, to get lumbered with such things as John Eliot Gardiner’s Beethoven Nine labelled as being the work of Lyuba Organosova, merely because she tops of the list of soloists for the final movement. The labelling of classical tracks on Amazon, where they offer you little snippets to listen to, is routinely done by naming the pieces with such things as their tempo or loudness markings, while neglecting to tell you what the piece is or what number movement it is. They just can’t be bothered to get it right. Fair enough. I understand why they can’t be bothered. We classicists aren’t worth bothering with. Buy the CD or don’t and consider yourself lucky, is the message. Until someone really big and well organised does bother about it, classical music on the internet will remain an off-putting afterthought, piggybacking systems devised for something else, rather than an enticing attraction.
When things get reissued, the labelling is liable to go completely to buggery. I, for instance, have that Barenboim set of Beethoven sonatas on EMI from way back, long before the internet, when it first came out as a set of CDs. Since then it has been reissued. So, when the internet tries to assist me in cataloguing recordings I myself have made of it onto my hard disc, it gets it all wrong. Useless.
Classical music on the internet will eventually get sorted out. And when it does, I will, if not dead, presumably hear about it from my classical music mags. A consensus will be announced, saying things like “Classical CDs really are pointless nowadays”, and when you read such articles, it will, after about a decade of premature enthusiasm of the geek-bollocks sort ("all you have to do is blah blah dance on the head of twenty seven pins blah blah blah turn seventy three cartwheels blah blah blah what could be easier? … yes it might all crash but to solve that blah blah blah ..."), eventually become true. A actual, real world majority of Classical freaks will be using this single, best arrangement, and it will work, all the time, like email. Or not.
Even when such a new classical dispensation does emerge, I will probably not bother to switch. It’s not just sunk costs; it will also be declining costs. As internet classical music becomes ever more appealing, so the price of mere CDs will sink and sink, until all of them can be purchased by me from Amazon, for £0.01 plus postage.
Meanwhile, I like that my CD filing system (aka my CD collection) is always accurate. When I dig up a CD that says it is so-and-so’s recording of Brahms 4, it is, and then when I play it, it will be played in the right order. Notes will be to hand to read about this recording if I want to, conveniently stored right next to the CD.
I do have lots of virtual music, as an addendum to my CDs, like those files that Amazon spontaneously volunteers, and like stuff I have recorded from the radio. But the latter starts out being called something like DAB002, and I have never sorted out how to file it conveniently, or even to edit it into individual performances. Life is too short to be bothering. Why edit, when CDs are already edited. Virtual music is strictly an afterthought for me. Plastic music remains the thing itself, for me. And (see above) I don’t believe I’m just being sentimental, even if I am somewhat.
Yes, I love it when that happens:
Congratulations to Jackie D for capturing it.
I am still waiting for God. But when God returns, he will be different. Major internal organs will have been exchanged for faster and better ones, or that is the idea. But, the new dispensation is taking for ever to arrive.
A new name suggests itself, for the new computer, when I finally get it and get it going.
Late this afternoon I had another go photoing the Ballerina, the idea being to do this photo again, but better.
But then I noticed what comely wenches the statues below her were, photoed them, and then picked one and photoed her with a crane behind her:
What I like about her is that she looks so relaxed and happy about what she is doing, and for that matter about what she is wearing. Pavlova, dancing up above them, looks otherworldly and untouchable. The statues look like girls next door, but really nice looking. To be more exact, they look like the kind of girls you wish had lived next door, instead of the ones who actually did.
When I click on either of the above photos, I get the big versions rotated ninety degrees. All I can say about that for now is: my apologies. It is far too late at night for me to be working out why this happens. Does it happen for you? Comments would help, as would explanations of what I am doing wrong or what is going wrong, or whatever.
You wait years for a classical music posting at BrianMicklethwaitDotCom, and then two come along in three days. The day before yesterday there was one such. Now there is this one.
Goddaughter 2, who is an aspiring classical singer, told me something this evening that many people in the world have long known but which I did not know, until now. Or maybe I sort of knew it, but was glad to have my knowledge firmed up into real knowledge. What GD2 said was: that the process of having a child, if you are a lady singer, can radically alter or even ruin your voice. Something to do with hormones and muscles, and such things. A friend of hers, who was a mezzo soprano, had a child, and became a soprano. I.e. in plainer English, her voice went up higher. Another singer, hired to sing at a noted provincial opera house in France because she was known already to have been very good in the part, had a child between being hired and the performances, and she had to be sacked because she went from excellent at singing to no good at all.
What a cruel world.
Taken a few minutes after I had taken this photo.
I should take that shot again, and get those spy cameras looking like they’re looking right at her.
This, you see, is why I like photoing in London, rather than in foreign parts. In foreign parts it is inconvenient to go back and take a picture again. In London, I can do this.
That posting I did the other day about how a really fast computer perfectly fills in for the imperfections of my own deteriorating mental processes may not have impressed anyone else, but it impressed me. And now I am listening to Beethoven symphonies on my CD player, and I am thinking that something similar may happen between a really good symphony orchestra and a conductor.
“Great conductors” are famous for carrying on into their dotage. Lots of people have written and talked about this. The Great Conductor’s grasp of everyday life and its processes collapses, yet the great man’s ability to go on conducting seems mysteriously unimpaired. Why?
This only applies to “great conductors”. Merely good conductors have to jack it in. Again, why? Why this difference? Why do only the Great Conductors often keep going so long?
The usual answers to questions about why this happens tend to focus on the mental processes of the Great Man himself, and upon the magical power of music to improve the brain, or in this case prevent its collapse. But how about considering also the musicians whom they conduct, and the general situation that conductors in generally tend to find themselves in as they get old, and how about also the essence of what a conductor does and does not do, when he is conducting.
A merely good conductor doesn’t get to conduct a Great Orchestra, and accordingly, his job is to make merely good orchestras, or even not that good orchestras play better. Lots of instructions and arguments are involved. You’re doing this, you ought to be doing it like this, and so on. So our merely good conductor finds himself in circumstances where his declining mental abilities are often cruelly exposed. He forgets what he said to the first oboist ten seconds ago, and so so. And, being merely good, and there being plenty of other merely good conductors available, our merely good conductor in due course gets a free transfer into conducting retirement.
But now consider the Great Conductor. He is conducting a Great Orchestra. Because he can. Two circumstances now prevail which are absent when a merely good conductor conducts a merely good orchestra. First, the concert is a sell-out, every time. The CDs continue to sell, no matter how much bodging and stitching and patching up the engineers have to do afterwords. (All sorts of rumours circulate in classical music about this kind of thing.) But second, crucially, the Great Conductor is not called upon to do anything except conduct the Great Orchestra that he is still able to be put at the front of.
I surmise that if you are conducting a Great Orchestra, the effect is rather similar to the effect I described of me sitting at the keyboard of a super-fast state-of-the-art computer (such as I am still being deprived of as I type this). I type and the computer reacts immediately. I switch from one thing to another, and the computer follows me, instantaneously. Well, does not rather the same thing apply when a Great Conductor conducts a Great Orchestra? I suspect it does.
What goes ragged and unreliable when you get old is memory, short-term being especially embarrassing, but basically all varieties of it. But what remains, typically, is your senses, your grasp of right now. And conducting is all about being, as modern parlance has it, “in the moment”, “in the now”. What matters is what you are telling the orchestra to do, right now, and they do it, right now, in the same moment. This, we oldies can still be a part of. What we can’t do is always remember precisely how things went ten seconds ago, or yesterday, or a week ago. But guess what, when you are conducing, you don’t need to think about that! In fact, it may even be an advantage if you make a habit of not thinking about that. Insofar as you do need to be reminded of where you’ve got to, the orchestra does this, by playing what must now be played.
What I am surmising is: it’s not that the Great Conductors are “kept young” by the process of conducting an orchestra and by the gloriousness of the music itself. What is happening here is that as a Great Conductor gets old, at much the same rate and in much the same way that the rest of us do, he finds himself in a situation where the kinds of deteriorations that happen to us all do not matter. The show is able to go on for about another decade or more beyond when you would think it should have ground to an embarrassing halt. His wife has to butter his toast and remind him which symphony he is about to conduct and tell him which city they are in. But once the playing begins, all is well. Any conducting mistakes, and the orchestra irons them out, which may even keep them more alert and awake.
For yes, being conducted by a really old Great Conductor may even work better than usual. A sixty year old Great Conductor may have all kinds of tyrannical and complicated ideas about how to interpret the music which he may insist on talking about at insulting length during rehearsals. He may want to rearrange the orchestra’s membership. He may be a bully and a tyrant. And he may still be quite good at all this, as in: able to make life hell for the orchestra. But all that one of these ninety five year old Great Conductors is able to do is wave a stick in front of the orchestra on the night. The occasional unclear wobble of that stick is not a problem. A great orchestra just takes its cue from its leader and its various section leaders. They know how to play well, no matter what idiocy is going on on the podium, especially if they have played the piece lots of times before with the Great Conductor.
The key variable may simply be: do they like the Great Conductor, or do they not? Perhaps fifteen years ago he was a sadistic bastard, in which case as soon as he starts forgetting people’s names or forgetting what he was trying to say a moment ago in rehearsal, then he is gently but firmly told to stop. But, if they like the old geezer, then all he has to do is stand in front of them on the night, and they are easily able to turn his increasingly vague wavings into a performance of genuine substance and distinction.
Don’t get me wrong. The Great Conductor is still truly great. He is still contributing that certain special something that even the greatest orchestras – perhaps especially the greatest orchestras – do truly need. But that’s now all that the Great Conductor is contributing. And that, if you think about it, could be just about the perfect arrangement for all concerned.
Scrub all of the above if the conductor goes deaf, as Beethoven did quite early in his life. He had to give up performing altogether, and concentrate entirely on composing. Poor old Beethoven. Lucky old us.
Indeed, I love that ballerina and her cranes:
Photoed by me this afternoon.
A little googling suggests to me that I am almost the only one who enjoys this confluence of balletic grace, old and new. But my googling is nothing to write home about and maybe the www is awash with Pavlova with cranes photos.
As threatened here many times, more and more postings here are going to be about getting old. One of the symptoms, certainly for me, is short-term memory loss. (That isn’t the only kind of memory loss I now suffer from, but forgetting immediately something that happened two seconds ago is particularly disconcerting, if for most of your life this has not happened.) Thank goodness for word processing. Everything you just wrote is now there in front of you, rather than forgotten. Right now, instead of wondering what that last sentence was, I can read it back again. The problem just doesn’t exist any more. When I am talking, on the other hand …
Which is one of the many reasons why the speed of a computer is so important. I am now using my back-up computer, a very slow laptop, aka: Dawkins. Mercifully, word processing, once I have persuaded Dawkins to concentrate on it, is fine. Letters appear on the screen as soon as I type them, no matter how fast I type. But when it comes to internetting, or any kind of switching from one sort of software to another, it’s like I’m back in the 1990s or even the 1980s. It takes around ten seconds for Dawkins to switch his attention from this to that. And ten seconds is easily long enough for me to forget what I am doing, and why I decided to make the switch I just tried to make. Finally it appears. But why am I reading it? Did I want the link for something I am writing? Was there some thought I was thinking? Was I just bored with previous thing?
I can remember articles by unimaginative future-fearers (see Postrel: The Future and Its Enemies - no link, see below) saying Do We Really Need very fast computers to do boring old domestic stuff, computers which are massively faster than we are, and which we therefore can’t keep up with? Well, maybe not “need”, but want, definitely. And maybe not “we” but I, definitely.
I turns out that lightning speed is immensely useful, to someone with my kind of brain, still wise after a fashion, but getting less superficially clever by the month. The lightning speed is not something I have to keep up with. The lighting speed keeps me up to speed.
Lightning speed within a programme, which with dumb word processing I still have. And lightning speed between programmes, which I do not now have. It turns out that really quite a lot of my computering consists of switching from one programme to another, to add a link and to copy and paste something from somewhere, or just to meander, whether randomly or to follow a logical train of thought. Straight word processing is still the instant joy that it was from 1981 onwards, but anything else is like wading through treacle. (And I am now experiencing that 1981 joy again, by experiencing the contrast with everything else.)
Oddly enough, adding photos (see yesterday) is not too bad, because adding photos and writing about them can all be done in the same piece of blogging software. (Which reminds me, I haven’t made a word processed copy of yesterday’s posting, which I like to do. That will involve more treacle-wading.)
You want links? Give it another week. As you can tell, all that talk (see … whenever) about God being back in business last Thursday or whenever did not materialise. Maybe this week.