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
First, what’s going on in this picture? What’s weird about it? How did I contrive the weirdness?:
Hint: One of the categories for this posting is “Computer graphics”. Another hint: I like reflections.
Second, what’s the Feline Friday connection in this photo, taken earlier this week outside the Tower of London?
Hint: There is also a clue to this one in the categories list.
If nobody else supplies the answers, I will! Only by refusing to read these answers will you be able to escape them.
This article confirms not one but two of my medical prejudices, which is double nice. Experts have their uses, one of which is to tell you that you have been right all along about something they’ve only just discovered.
The article is about artificial sweeteners, and this is how it ends:
What does this all mean?
1. Our gut bacteria matters a lot. Some guts can withstand artificial sugars well and others can’t. It stands to reason that, as we learn more about the uniqueness of our own microbiome, those of us who want to lose weight would be well served by diets that are tailored to the way our body and its biomic mini-me processes sugar.
2. Artificial sweeteners are pervasive and some people still can lose weight and enhance their health while consuming them. But since we now know that, on balance, they seem to be more bad than good, moderating how much we consume might be smart, too.
3. The study suggests that if people replace artificial sugars with real sugars or cut it out, their biomes could change in a way that contributes to the restoration of normal glucose tolerance over time, all other things being equal.
So, artificial sweeteners have a tendency to be very bad for you. That’s prejudice of mine number one. But, they may not be bad for you because, and this is prejudice of mine number two, people vary, physically. There is not just the one way of being healthy. There are a minimum of several, and what is harmless or even beneficial for you and to those like you may be very bad for other sorts of people.
The basic reason I came to think that artificial sweeteners might be bad for me was, to begin with, pure rationalisation of the fact that I have always thought that they taste disgusting, compared to sugar. “Diet” stuff, as a general rule, tasted, to me, horrible compared to regular stuff. In particular, Diet Coke tasted like that pink liqued they make you gargle with at the dentist. I started out believing that Diet Coke is bad for you because I wanted it to be, and I wanted the Regular Coke that I have always chosen when coking up to be less bad. But the more I thought about that early frisson of (literally) distaste, the more I came to believe that my at first merely wishful thinking actually did make some sense. Sugar really is somewhat more natural than most sweeteners, or so I assume, and we are more likely to be creatures that can handle sugar, even if not in the quantities that life now offers.
Plus, about five years ago, my niece told me that aspartame (which she said is an evil chemical used to make evil non-sugar) is evil. Rubbish says Big Aspartame. But I reckon, for some people, it is evil.
See number 4 of these mistranslations. See also, number 2: “RACIST PARK”; number 9: “BAG OF SHIT”; number 16: “Deformity Toilet”; and number 19 (which I have seen before I’m almost sure): “Translate server error”.
Got this via here, of all places, the one he chose being number 6: “Entrance only with Herr Hitler”.
Today, blogwise, has been one of those days. By that I mean not that I have been too busy to do any blogging. I merely mean that I haven’t felt like doing any, and have in fact not, until now. I have had plenty of time to blog. I just haven’t used any of it to blog.
So, it’s just as well that, I now discover, there has been an incoming email from Michael Jennings, entitled:
If you want to ride a really old bus, here is your chance.
Which reminds me that, recently, when mostly photoing photoers photoing Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, I found myself photoing, instead, this:
He wasn’t taking photos. He was checking through photos he’d taken earlier.
I can remember when buses like that were the latest thing.
LATER: More about those Tower of London poppies. I read that Guardian piece before I discovered Guido was already on to it, and I thought it was weird too. Like one of the commenters, and Guido, said: clickbait. Plus, as another commenter said: yeah, the general public likes it, it means something, no wonder the Guardian art critic can’t be doing with it. Let’s hope Natalie Solent gives the piece a good fisking like it’s 2004.
I know what you are thinking. That there is no connection between a big red historic thing which people just never forget about and a big red thing about an historic thing which people just never forget about. Something along those lines?
Next Friday, October 31st, Christian Michel is giving a talk at my home entitled, somewhat provocatively: “Soviet and Nazi Art as Illustrations of Ayn Rand’s Aesthetics”. He is certainly not the first to have pointed out the overlap, so to speak.
Here’s what Christian says about his talk (which I “LATER” (Tuesday) realised I need to insert into this posting, near the beginning):
Art does not feature high on the libertarian agenda. One exception is Ayn Rand, who declared that of all human products art is perhaps the most important. She went on to develop her own theory of aesthetics, and even attempted (as did Jean-Paul Sartre at the same time) to deliver her entire philosophy through the sole medium of literature (both failed).
In my talk this Friday I will sum up Rand’s aesthetics, her contribution to the field, and will show that it was nowhere better illustrated in the twentieth century than in the arts of National-Socialist Germany and Soviet Russia. The point is not to denigrate Rand’s philosophy by that association, but to say that genuine artists find a way to convey their deepest values and sense of life, to express the highest human aspirations and struggles, whatever their circumstances, and that’s exactly what Rand celebrated.
And here is something of what I think about these kinds of things.
Just after World War 2, many an artist said things along the lines of: after Auschwitz, we cannot any longer do purely representational art. (Similar things were said by classical composers: after Auschwitz, we can’t any longer do pretty tunes.) But the artists had been abandoning pictorial representation (and tunefulness) long before Auschwitz happened, so “Auschwitz” has the air of being a rationalisation rather than the real reason for these artistic trends.
The crimes of Soviet Communism never had quite the same effect on most of the artists, even as an excuse for abstraction, although there were honourable exceptions (Mondrian for instance). Too many artists admired the Soviet Union, especially during and just after World War 2, during its struggle and after victory over Nazi Germany.
Realistic art had also been seriously deranged by photography. Photography destroyed the economic foundations of your average painter of realistic portraits and realistic paintings of such things as landscapes, and turned art painting into a sort of cultural bombsite, in which (to quote the words of an early twentieth century popular song) “anything goes”, anything, that is, except realistic pictures of people and of things. Realism, for the average artist, just made him look like a bad photographer. Even the claim that “art” now had to be an attack on the delusional bourgeois habit of trying to make visual and conceptual sense of the world has the feel, for me, of a rationalisation.
But there is much more to “realism” than mere realism. What looks at first glance merely realistic is often aspirational, and to abandon the field of representational art to the mid twentieth century totalitarians was surely a propaganda error, to put it no more strongly. For the likes of Ayn Rand, this was a surrender by the civilised world that should never have happened.
To point out that Rand favoured images that resembled Nazi and Soviet art is not to accuse her of being a Nazi or a Communist. It is to realise that she did not want the still immensely potent artistic weapon that is representational painting and sculpture to be monopolised by the totalitarians.
All of which is something of how I see (and hear) the kinds of things that Christian Michel will be talking about on Friday. As to what Christian himself will say, well, we shall see, and hear.
Meanwhile, here is an abundance of visual clues as to the sort of aesthetic territory that Christian will be traversing in his talk. It will be an illustrated talk. Here, without identification or further comment, from me or from him, are the illustrations he has sent me, in the order (I assume) in which he will be referring to them.
A few of these images are small enough to fit within the 500 pixel horizontal limit that prevails at this blog, a couple being very small indeed. But most can be enlarged (a little or quite a lot) with a click:
Can you quotulate a picture? I just did. I just quotulated a picture of a Canadian train leaving a Canadian railway station, in this posting, at Quotulatiousness.
The original picture, I thought when I saw it, was good, but mostly what I thought it was was good in parts. So, I sliced out the parts that I particularly liked, and I now feature those best bits here:
I also did a bit of rotating.
What I like is the reflection of the train, and the shadows, and especially the shadow of the photographer, a digital photographer thing that I always enjoy, both when I do it, or when others do it.
By homing in on these merits, I believe I draw more attention to them than did the original taker of the photo.
LATER: The Quotulator quotulates me.
It’s one thing to see a photo-drone reviewed in DPReview, and costing the best part of a thousand quid. It’s quite another to see one in the flesh, in a London shop window, on sale for less than four hundred:
Photoed by me through the window of Maplin’s in the Strand, late this afternoon.
Here are the details of this gizmo, at the Maplin’s website.
Okay, that must be a very cheap camera, but even so, this feels to me like a breakthrough moment for this technology, if not exactly now, then Real Soon Now. Note that you can store the output in real time, on your mobile phone. Something tells me that this gadget is going to generate some contentious news stories about nightmare neighbours, privacy violations, and who knows what other fights and furores.
What might the paps do with such toys? And how soon before two of these things crash into each other?
A few days ago, my beloved Panasonic Lumix FZ150 started misbehaving. An immobile black blob, the same blob every time, started inserting itself into all the pictures. Disaster. I shook the camera to see if it might be a superficial problem like a bit of gunk which further shaking might move to a harmless spot, but the black blob never moved, not by one pixel. I am sure this could be mended, but I didn’t have time for that, because last night I was about to attend that Libertarian Home cost of living debate, for free, on the clear understanding that I would take lots of photos.
Besides which, I hate not having a camera on me at all times. Who knows what unimortalisable dramas I might have to endure while being bereft of the ability to photograph them?
So, I immediately went out and bought another camera, from a shop. I chose the FZ150’s smarter younger brother, the Panasonic Lumix FZ200. This camera was a bit costly, yes, but, having been around for a while, not as costly as it might have been. And, it works better than the FZ150 in low light, or so everyone who cares has been saying. At indoor meetings, for instance.
I had hoped that the FZ200, being so very similar to and merely a bit better than the FZ150, would use an identical battery, which would mean that I would then have two spare batteries for the FZ200, in addition to the one it came with, on account of me having bought a spare for the FZ150 when I bought that. Alas, not. The FZ200 has its own somewhat different battery, and that meant I needed yet another spare battery. Now that SD card space is infinite, it is batteries that are now liable to run out, what with all the snaps you can now put on your infinite SD card. One battery, for a big event or expedition, is not now enough.
So, I ordered an FZ200 battery via Amazon, and paid extra for it to arrive yesterday, instead of just whenever.
And it did arrive yesterday. Once again, just as happened with that book that reached me the day before yesterday, the fundamentally important thing got done. I wanted the book and I got it. I wanted a new back-up battery, pronto, and I got it. Good.
An email arrived first thing yesterday morning, saying that the battery would arrive between 11.54 and 12.54, and that I should be in at that time, to sign for the package when I received it. Excellent. This email was identical in format to the ones telling me about how Macmillan Distribution (MDL) would be delivering the book that they had been promising, but I recognised the email about the battery as genuine, because it had lots of Amazon verbiage at the top of a sort that always signifies genuine Amazon business. Again, good. I was all set to write an admiring blog posting about this latest delivery service, the one that delivered the battery, an enterprise called DPD.
Saying when a delivery will be made, to the nearest hour, is a huge step forward, when the receiver is householder in a household rather than an office worker in an office. An office can have someone present throughout any given day, to receive incoming items and generally communicate with the outside world on behalf of all workers based there, present or absent. But the idea that a householder should be expected to wait around all day just to sign for one incoming delivery is, frankly, contemptible. As soon as a delivery person knows approximately when he’ll be arriving, and the chances are he will know this first thing in the morning, that information should be communicated to the householder. This used not to happen, but with these two delivery enterprises, it did. As I say, this is a big step in the right direction.
In both of these cases I did get this message. The book was promised between 8.30 and 9.30, and it arrived then, by which time I just about believed that the book emails were genuine. This battery was promised between 11.54 and 12.54, and it arrived then, just as I expected it to.
But all this fuss and palaver about timing becomes rather superfluous if all that the delivery person actually does when he arrives is leave the thing, unsigned for, in whatever place near to the householder he considers sufficiently near. The whole point, as insisted upon in both emails about this, of stating a specified time of arrival, is to make sure that I, the householder, was present in person, to sign for the thing. But in neither of these two cases was my presence, as it turned out, actually required. My buzzer, the one outside the front door of all the flats where my flat is, is working fine. I checked, using a visiting friend to hear it when I myself went downstairs and buzzed. Yet neither of these two delivery persons deigned to use this buzzer. They knew the number. The book deliverer even found his way right to my own personal door. But, no buzzing.
Let me spell it out. Both delivery companies told me I had to be there during the hours they each specified. Failure by me to sign would mean no delivery and further palaver while re-delivery was negotiated. These proclamations may have been offered in good faith, but they were false. I did not have to be there.
I got what I wanted. But if the original supplier wanted proof that I had received the items in the form of my signature, then DPD and MDL, in the form of the two delivery persons, would be unable to supply this proof without faking it. Were my signatures forged on little electronic devices, I wonder?
In the case of the DPD person, the person who did not even try to get my signature had, according to the DPD email, a name: “Mark”. I had been anticipating something better from “Mark”. Sadly, not.
The basic problem here, I think, is that the service supply chain is too long and is out of control. Suppliers of products promise in all sincerity that products will be delivered in exactly the manner they promise. But the person they are depending on to keep that promise doesn’t care about that promise, or not about all of it. He knows that, so long as the punter gets his hands on his precious thing, then whether any signing happens is, as far as the punter is concerned, a secondary matter. Being commanded to be somewhere you didn’t actually need to be is annoying, yes, and this is what happened to me, twice. But not getting the thing is something else again. Had one of these items (especially the battery) not arrived when stated, then you can be sure that I would have been complaining. But complaining as in trying to get my hands on the damn battery, not complaining as in just marking the whole scenario out of ten, after my basic problem (getting the battery) had been entirely solved.
By the way, when I enabled the graphic decoration of one of the Macmillan Deliveries (MDL) emails, the email then proceeded show me a picture of a DPD van. Either Macmillan are all mixed up with DPD, or else Macmillan stole the DPD email and neglected to expunge DPD from it. Or something. I really do not care.
But that’s typical. Who the hell was I dealing with here? Who, in the event that either of these items had not turned up at all, would I have had to direct my seriously angry complaints? As opposed to these mere grumbles about a basically satisfactory state of affairs, underneath all the crap.
When you have a major complaint to aim at one of these complicated supply chains, then you could well be screwed. It may take you many hours or even days to find out even who to complain to, let alone how to gouge satisfaction out of them. (Although, to be fair to Amazon, they take responsibility for everything that they do or that anyone unleashed via them does, for and to you, which is all part of why I bought that battery through Amazon rather than by some other cheaper but less dependable means. (The previous sentence is a short explanation of why Amazon now rules the world.))
But (and to get back to my point before all the brackets), when it comes to lesser complaints, complaints about blemishes on a system that basically works pretty well, well, this is why blogs were invented. With a blog posting, you can slag off the entire universe. You don’t have to be bothered with which exact bit of the universe it was that did you wrong. You can just tell your story. Then, instead of you begging the universe to correct things, the universe, if any of it cares, has to convince you that there was no problem and to convince you to stop saying it.
In case you are wondering why I have gone on at such length about a basically rather minor problem, the answer is that I am optimistic about problems like this actually being solved. A business often does a basically good thing, but rather crappily, while they struggle to get it totally organised and running totally smoothly. People buy whatever it is, but sneer at the crap, because it is crappy and because they can. The businesses then hears all the sneering and gets it sorted and gets even better. Compare and contrast: the government.
This is a point I have made here before. Follow that link, as you now don’t need to, and you will read me deriding a plan to refer to a Big London Thing as the “Safesforce Tower”. Salesforce is a perfectly decent business, which does whatever it does. But it had a silly plan to change the name of a Big London Thing from something sensible to something very stupid. And guess what, what with all the complaints about this plan from me and from multitudes of others, that ridiculous circumstance has now been corrected. Not in the way I would have liked. Salesforce has still not been shamed into civility. But nearby politicians have forced civility down Salesforce’s throat. And the Heron Tower will not now be officially called the “Salesforce Tower”.
Although, London being London, this tower might now actually be called the Salesforce Tower, unofficially, in perpetuity, as a joke, given that no other joke name now obviously suggests itself for this rather ungainly erection.
By the way, it turned out that one battery sufficed for last night’s meeting. But, I did not know that this would be the case beforehand, and had I only had one battery I would not have felt free to take as many photographs as I did feel free to take. With public meetings, it’s a numbers game. The light is bad and people are constantly moving about, so half your pictures will be rubbish right off, if only because someone was blinking at the time. The trick is for the other half of your pictures still to be a large enough collection for you to be able to pick out a few truly good ones. So, the spare battery was useful, even if I didn’t make any actual physical use of it.
I realise that very few readers indeed will have read right to the end of this ridiculously long-winded and repetitious posting. But, having written it and having posted it, I feel better.
Earlier this evening, I attended this gathering. I took a ton of photos, of which I choose this one to show you:
I choose that photo not because it is any great shakes as a photo, but because it focuses (insofar as it does focus) on what was in many ways the most impressive thing about this event, namely the number and quality of those who attended. In this respect, the evening reminded me of those big Liberty League gatherings that happen earlier in the year. Simon Gibbs and his helpers put in a huge effort to make this occasion work well, and to get a decent turnout of intelligent, paying customers.
Don’t get me wrong, the speakers were numerous and articulate, and all admirably concise, which was necessary given how many of them there were. A lot of ground was covered. A lot of food for thought was served up. If there was a big winner issue, so to speak, that best explains how much harder it has recently got to make ends meet, it was probably the cost of housing. There was general agreement that planning regulations need to be relaxed, although also general pessimism about the politics of accomplishing that. Also making a strong showing were energy costs, and the heavy and rising taxes on petrol and drink and tobacco.
But you can have all the speakers up front that you like. If enough aren’t there to listen, then your event falls very flat. This one was the opposite of that.
Did the junk mail phenomenon always exist? Or is it relatively new? What I have in mind is the way that an entire category of communication becomes broken because it is overused by semi or total crooks shouting rubbish at you, thus overwhelming the actual human persons sending you individually useful messages. Even real messages just sound like arseholes yelling at you. The signal-to-noise ratio becomes so stupid that eventually, no genuine signals get through.
A few days ago, I received an email from something called Macmillan Distribution (MDL). A package was due. There were various buttons for me to press so that I could track the package, or tell them where else to deliver it, or some such thing. I immediately assumed that this was an industrialised garbage message, the purpose of which was for me to tell crooks about myself by pressing one of the buttons. Having received many junk messages just like this in the recent past, I assumed that this one was similarly fraudulent.
I noted that they had my name and address, and this might have supplied me with the clue that this was actually a genuine message about a genuine delivery, from a genuine enterprise, with buttons for me to press which actually did what they said they would do. But instead, I merely thought: oh dear, now the international conglomeration of bastard junk emailer fraudsters knows my name and address. Oh well, more crap to delete.
But this morning, the package actually arrived, at a time that the emails had been referring to. The emails from Macmillan Distribution (MDL) (there were three emails in total) had all been genuine. It was a book that I had already paid for and wanted to read. So, good.
The actual delivery was a mess. Some arsehole just smacked the door of my flat (sounding like when the cleaners vacuum the landings and bang their machines into our doors), and then just stuffed the package through my mail flap (which very luckily was big enough). No electronic buzzing from outside and downstairs, to get my attention while I slumbered, like a proper delivery. And how the hell did this arsehole contrive to get through the downstairs front door in the first place? (We’ve had robberies from people claiming to be delivering things, but actually hoovering up the deliveries of others from our (unlocked and wide open) cubby holes.) So, very unsatisfactory, as home deliveries so often are. But, the thing itself did arrive, which means the delivery scored one out of one on the one measure that really counts.
And, as I say, those emails were all for real.
No doubt there are various twenty first century, social media like methods that I could have used to track this parcel and its delivery, methods which screen out junk and preserve a benign signal-to-noise ratio. Maybe, any decade now, I will have to get with the twenty first century and dump email completely.
I vividly recall when having email first became a necessity, when you suddenly started getting dirty looks at parties if you didn’t have it. And when fax numbers ceased mattering. (Remember those?)
As of now, regular twenty first century people half my age still seem to do email, or so it says on those little cards they give me. But how long will this last?
More about package delivering from 6k, here. “Wumdrop” sounds sort of like Uber, only for things.
There I was, lying in the bath, listening to Radio 3. Some music had ended, and I was now being subjected to a programme which I do not usually listen to, called Words and Music. And I heard the actor Jim Broadbent saying these words, by Michel de Montaigne:
I take the first subject that chance offers. They are all equally good to me. And I never plan to develop them completely. For I do not see the whole of anything. (Nor do those who promise to show it to us.) Of a hundred members and faces that each thing has, I take one, sometimes only to lick it, sometimes to brush the surface, sometimes to pinch it to the bone. I give it a stab, not as wide, but as deep as I know how. And most often, I like to take them from some unaccustomed point of view. Scattering a word here, there another, samples separated from their context, dispersed, without a plan and without a promise, I am not bound to make something of them, or to adhere to them myself, without varying when I please, and giving myself up to doubt and uncertainty, and my ruling quality, which is ignorance.
Sounds like a blogger, doesn’t he? A blogger, that is to say, like me. Especially where he says “without a promise”. I keep saying that. Above all there is that “this is what it is and if you don’t like it you know just what you can do about it” vibe that so many bloggers give off. With Montaigne, we are arriving at that first moment in history when writing and publishing new stuff had become easy. Not as easy as it is when you blog, but a whole lot easier than it had been.
I transcribed the above quote from Broadbent’s reading of it. The punctuation is somewhat uncertain, and at one point assertively creative on my part. I added some brackets, around what is clearly a diversion from his main line of thought to which he immediately returns. It’s a sideswipe at others and it is then forgotten.
Such is the wonder that is the internet that I had little difficulty in tracking down the quote. It is near the beginning of Montaigne’s essay entitled “Of Democritus and Heraclitus”, in volume three of his essays.
The BBC used a more recent translation, which I much prefer the sound of, it being less antique and long-winded. And if Montaigne himself was also antique and long-winded, then I still prefer intelligibility to stylistic accuracy.
LATER: More about Montaigne, also emphasising the modern social media angle, here.
I sympathise with whoever wrote this:
West Brom can hardly believe their luck. Being denied a win at the death by Manchester United is one thing, but having teased a previously woeful Marouane Fellaini back to life must really does takes the biscuit.
“Must really does takes the biscuit.” I reckon he was choosing between, not two, but three different ways of saying what he was saying, but managed to combine all three.
This is the kind of mistake that can only happen with a computer. If you were merely writing, or typing with an old school typewriter, there is no way you would have put that.
When I perpetrate something like that, and I frequently do, and if I later spot the mistake, I then allow myself to correct it, no matter how long ago I made the mistake. Is this wrong? My blog, my rules.
A subsection of Sod’s Law states that whenever you mention someone else’s mistake in something you say on the www, you will make a similar sort of error yourself. If I do this in this posting, I will not correct my error, but will add something “LATER”, in which I identify my error.
Computers. New ways to screw things up.
I attended a talk this evening at Christian Michel’s about robots. The point was made the robot cars probably will be safer, but every once in a Blue Moon, there will be a truly spectacular disaster, of a sort impossible to perpetrate with old school cars.
Here is another way I might get those high up views of London that I am always searching for:
DPReview review here:
In my own experiences, aerial shoots have proven difficult to pull off. The window of shooting time was limited, the cabin was cramped, and the first time I ever stuck my camera out the window, the lens flew off and I miraculously caught it in mid-air. It was also roughly $250 for an hour.
But within the past couple of years, aerial photographers have been introduced to a burgeoning market rife with little flying machines that don’t require passengers, don’t need fuel to operate, and can fit inside a cubic foot. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the era of user-operated photography drones is upon us, and it’s already kicking into warp speed.
I’m guessing that the technology of it would be beyond me, and the legality of it a minefield.
What is it with vegetarians and their veggie sausages and burgers? I’m a meat eater, but I don’t go around making carrots and sprouts out of beef.
This is also a good one:
I work in a call centre in Norwich and we’ve just been told our jobs are moving to India. I’m so excited! I’ve always wanted to visit India and with the salary they pay me I’ll be able to live like a Maharaja over there. Well done Aviva, keep up the good work.
Interesting piece about the rise and fall and rise of Viz, here.
Spent this evening (a) continuing to be ill (thanks for the kind comments), (b) reading a book, because (c) Godot was being built, again, in my kitchen.
This is being posted with Dawkins, because Godot is now not working. For the last fortnight Godot has been working, but not properly.
As for Godot working, properly, up to speed, all bells ringing, all whistles whistling, well, you know the answer to that.
I am still waiting.
LATER, The Guru photos progress:
Digital photography has, I believe, made a huge contribution not only to fun, but to the economy. So much of work is keeping track of what work you have done, and digital photography makes this far easier.
I am rather ill, so will be brief.
I have opened a Bald Blokes Taking Photos photo file. So far, my favourite bald bloke taking a photo photo is this one, taken in July of this year:
I like (a) the Shard in his picture. There are other photos in this file of equally good bald blokes, and some of them have come out even better, with more detail. But you can’t tell from the photo what they’re photoing, which I rate a drawback.
And I like (b) the amazing sort of horizontal rift valley at the back of his head, that many bald blokes have (some of them more than one).
Enjoy. For me, it’s back to being ill.
It’s that time of the year when I go into one of my local supermarkets and immediately start taking photos, like that, or like this:
Yes it’s Halloween. And the shops, in this case Sainsbury’s, are full of Halloween crap. And I photo it. I wouldn’t buy any of it. Oh no. I am far above that sort of thing. But, I photo it.
Except, how about these rather cute buckets? Just the thing for my Last Friday of the Month meetings, to put crappy food in:
Only 50p per bucket! I got two. And I just might go back for more.
Not that. I wouldn’t want one of them. That’s my picture of Sainsbury’s, having the last laugh.
A few days ago I purchased a small loaf of sliced bread of my favourite sort, namely Hovis Original Wheatgerm. And I found something rather strange about it:
Not all the slices were like this, but most of them were.
I’m guessing that what happened here was that part of the previous loaf inside whatever space this loaf was cooked in got left inside, and hence incorporated into the next loaf, my loaf. And, it would appear, it got cooked twice, or at least rather more than the rest of the loaf, and before the rest of the loaf was inserted. And then everything sliced and sold to a supermarket, and bought by me, just as if nothing odd had happened at all.
I happily ate the resulting hybrid loaf, which seemed fine, even if the darker bits were a bit drier. This is not a complaint. If Hovis want to send me more sliced bread, they are welcome, but that is not my purpose with this posting. I’m just trying to entertain, with an oddity. Because, odd, don’t you think? Never seen that before.
On a slight tangent, I believe that I am becoming a better photographer with the passing of the years. By this I do not mean that I am getting technically any cleverer, although mercifully my cameras are. What I mean is that now, I realise that this is the kind of thing that needs to be photographed, before it is merely consumed. A few years ago, I might have eaten this, and then only later realised that I would have liked a photo of it.
Just to emphasise that my improvement as a photographer still has some way to go, I vaguely recall trying not to get any shadows in this photo. But, if I was so trying, I failed. You can make out the shadow of my photoing finger, towards the right. Apologies for that. You get what you pay for here.
When someone shows the world a picture like this …:
… I’m like, as the younger element now puts it, yeah yeah.
But when a newspaper, the kind they still print on paper, reports that they are about to sell bits of it, then that, I say to myself, is actual news. They’re actually going to build this bizarre Thing. Next to Battersea Power Station.
And by selling the flats in advance, I guess they are also crowdfunding it. Interesting trend, that, I think.
Expect (although I promise nothing) more pictures from me as it takes shape. And that is quite some shape, at any rate in the pictures.
Here is what the architecture of Tausendsassa Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser looks like:
Often cited for his colorful and curvilinear forms, his name translates to “Multi-Talented Peace-Filled Rainy Day Dark-Colored Hundred Waters.” In everything from his name to his unusual ideas put forth in manifestos, it is immediately evident that Hundertwasser was no ordinary architect.
Looks to me a lot like a beefed up version of Teletubbies architecture. Did they have that show in Germany? Yes. (This is not the first time the Teletubbies have been hailed as architectural pioneers.) I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I am just, as they say, saying.
I have already quoted a couple of interesting bits from Bill Bryson’s excellent book, At Home. I have now finished reading this, but just before I did, I encountered some interesting stuff about paint (pp. 453-5):
When paints became popular, people wanted them to be as vivid as they could possibly be made. The restrained colours that we associate with the Georgian period in Britain, or Colonial period in America, are a consequence of fading, not decorative restraint. In 1979, when Mount Vernon began a programme of repainting the interiors in faithful colours, ‘people came and just yelled at us’, Dennis Pogue, the curator, told me with a grin when I visited. ‘They told us we were making Mount Vernon garish. They were right - we were. But that’s just because that’s the way it was. It was hard for a lot of people to accept that what we were doing was faithful restoration.
‘Even now paint charts for Colonial-style paints virtually always show the colours from the period as muted. In fact, colours were actually nearly always quite deep and sometimes even startling. The richer a colour you could get, the more you tended to be admired. For one thing, rich colours generally denoted expense, since you needed a lot of pigment to make them. Also, you need to remember that often these colours were seen by candlelight, so they needed to be more forceful to have any kind of impact in muted light.’
The effect is now repeated at Monticello, where several of the rooms are of the most vivid yellows and greens. Suddenly George Washington and Thomas Jefferson come across as having the decorative instincts of hippies. In fact, however, compared with what followed they were exceedingly restrained.
When the first ready-mixed paints came on to the market in the second half of the nineteenth century, people slapped them on with something like wild abandon. It became fashionable not just to have powerfully bright colours in the home, but to have as many as seven or eight colours in a single room.
If we looked closely, however, we would be surprised to note that two very basic colours didn’t exist at all in Mr Marsham’s day: a good white and a good black. The brightest white available was a rather dull off-white, and although whites improved through the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the 1940s, with the addition of titanium dioxide to paints, that really strong, lasting whites became available. The absence of a good white paint would have been doubly noticeable in early New England, for the Puritans not only had no white paint but didn’t believe in painting anyway. (They thought it was showy.) So all those gleaming white churches we associate with New England towns are in fact a comparatively recent phenomenon.
Also missing from the painter’s palette was a strong black. Permanent black paint, distilled from tar and pitch, wasn’t popularly available until the late nineteenth century. So all the glossy black front doors, railings, gates, lampposts, gutters, downpipes and other fittings that are such an elemental feature of London’s streets today are actually quite recent. If we were to be thrust back intime to Dickens’s London, one of the most startling differences to greet us would be the absence of black painted surfaces. In the time of Dickens, almost all ironwork was green, light blue or dull grey.
Famously, the rise of the Modern Movement in Architecture was triggered by, among many other things, a revulsion against the excesses of Victorian-era decoration, especially architectural decoration. Decoration became mechanised, and thus both much more common and much less meaningful. What did all this mechanised decoration prove, what did it mean, when you could thrash it out with no more difficulty than you could erect a plain wall?
What the above Bryson quote strongly suggests, at any rate to me, is that something rather similar happened with colour.
Why is the overwhelming atmosphere of Modernist architecture and architectural propaganda so very monochrome, still. Part of the answer is that it was only recently learned how to do monochrome. Monochrome looked modern, from about 1900-ish onwards, because it was modern. Monochrome was the latest thing. Colour, meanwhile, had become much cheaper and had been used with garish nouveau riche excess, and there was a reaction to that also, just as there was to excessive decoration.
Indeed. You don’t see this kind of thing every day:
But I did. Today.
As a general rule, I don’t advise combining ice cream with photography. Do one or the other. That is the rule I recommend. But these guys were doing an excellent job of merging these two things, and they weren’t just eating their ice creams and doing photography. They were photoing their ice creams.
I congratulated them for the excellence of their photographic imagination, and they were really pleased to hear this. I asked if I could photo them. Yes, they replied. And when I said “photo”, I meant, as they surely understood, photo them and put pictures of them up at my blog:
I also took lots photos of a demo outside Parliament by Kurds, demanding help from Britain in their battles against ISIS. Maybe (I promise nothing) I’ll put some of those snaps either here or on Samizdata, perhaps tomorrow.
The lion statues in Tragalgar Square are famous, and they deserve to be. But there is another lion statue in London that I am also fond of, namely the one on the far side of Westminster Bridge from the Houses of Parliament. I like, when I walk along beside the river next to St Thomas’ Hospital, to photo it lined up with the Wheel.
I really liked this when I saw it. You wouldn’t want a guide lion, but, that’s the joke.
And this other guy liked it too:
I couldn’t wait for Friday to come round so I could show these snaps to you people. Inconveniently, I took them on a Saturday.
It turns out that with us, cats are cats. Then they go outdoors and become lions. They get on better with us than they do with each other. They have evolved to manipulate us into feeding and sheltering them.
With the arrival of the internet, the evolution of cats has entered a new and more intense phase.
LATER: Although guide lions probably wouldn’t work, here’s a 2012 story about a guide cat, who guides a dog.
SUNDAY: I was back there yesterday, and that bit of yellow writing wasn’t there when I first photoed this guide dog lion:
And they have also sorted out that strap around the lion’s front.
More about what is going on here, here.
Dezeen has pretend-photos today of London’s soon-to-be-unleashed new driverless tube trains. As I write this, they’re all over the TV news.
Their pictures are spooky, being mostly of the black and mysterious fronts of the trains:
The BBC reports that the Train Driving Union is angry. I’m sure it is. I guess it will refuse to drive these driverless trains.
Seriously, they’re on a hiding to nothing. The D(ocklands) L(ight) R(ailway) already has driverless trains and having them on the tube is the obvious next step. It’s like they said when the atom bomb was first used in anger. The only important secret, said somebody clever and famous, is now public knowledge. It works.
The picture that interested me rather more was this one (which I found earlier today at the Evening Standard):
This is a trend that has been growing and growing. Instead of each carriage being a separate room, the whole train is now one huge elongated room. The Tube already has trains like this, but they are just a bit clunky at the joins. These new trains, judging by that picture, will accomplish this effect with unprecedented elegance and panache, or so it looks to me. You almost can’t seen the join.
I guess one good consequence of this is that if one part of this single room is extremely crowded, such a crowd is able to spread itself out, towards the not so crowded parts of the room.
That might be the good news. But the other day, I found myself doing something really rather annoying to my fellow passengers, on one of these new, single room trains. I was in a big hurry, and had just managed to catch the train I found myself on. But, I happened to know that, in order to minimise the time of my journey, I needed to be at the other end of the train. So, crowded though the train was, I barged my way through it, as politely as I could but still rather disruptively, thereby getting a lot nearer to where I knew the exit was at my destination station.
Is this a Thing now, I wonder?
I also wonder what other effects there will be of these new and improved connections between tube carriages. What effect, for instance, will this have on busking?
I have started a file of photos called “I Just Like Them”, for those days (very frequent) when I have left blogging for the day to the last possible moment and beyond. The idea is to have a plentiful supply of quota photos, ready to hand.
Here is the kind of thing I mean:
That was taken from the top of the Monument on November 18th 2012.
I could drone on for several paragraphs about what is so very nice about that picture (were I to do this, the redness of two of the cranes there would get a particular mention), but the simple truth is: I just like it.
Busy day. Quota photo time:
Red crane tower. Yellow staircase made of scaffolding
There is lots of building going on in the Victoria area right now. That photo was taken in Victoria Street, on the same day that I photoed yesterday’s bag ladies.
And this other photo was taken of the same construction job. It isn’t really raining. But something watery was being done up at the top of the building (washing something maybe?), and water was descending from there, down through the bright sunshine:
Rain is, I find, hard to photo (although sometimes I get semi-lucky – see photo 2 in this posting). The best way is usually to photo it at the place where it lands. Photoing it in the air as it descends seldom works for me.
This is usually because when it is raining there is no bright light in action to pick out the descending drops. It is amazing how much difference sunshine makes to photography. The eye adjusts, and doesn’t see that huge difference. But the camera gets everything exactly so on a sunny day, but dulls everything down on a dull day. If you are photoing rain, bright sunshine blasting through that rain is what you want. The above wasn’t really rain, but it was like rain - although descending more slowly, which also helped, and the sunshine was, as you can see, at full throttle.
However, you probably need to click on it and make it bigger to register the effect at all clearly.
Last Saturday the weather was vile, in the morning. But, trusting as I always do in the excellence of Britain’s short term weather forecasts (see in particular the final comment there), I prepared myself for a late afternoon expedition with my camera, confident that sunshine would be abundant. Exactly as forecast, it was.
I took many other photos of photographers besides those I took, during that same expedition, of the photographer who took photos of Gramex CDs, including, in particular, these, of bag ladies taking photographs:
Well, not really bag ladies. More ladies also carrying big bags. All three are using the same technique for carrying their various bags, namely putting their entire arms through the bit which would normally only be clutched by a hand. If you think about it, this technique only works when you are pointing your arm upwards. Point your arm downwards and the bag doesn’t stay put. This means you only carry your bag like this when you are taking photos. Which makes this a classic item of Digital Photographer Behaviour, alongside such things as the Waving About of the Fifth Finger (to avoid it finding its way into the picture (as demonstrated by the lady with the next bag)).
Click on any of the squares, and you will get to the exact same square only bigger. These pictures have been thus cropped in order to avoid showing the faces of people standing nearby, in ways that would be easily recognisable, either by people or by machines.
While rootling around in the www like it was about 2003, I found this piece, dating from 2009, which was all about this apparently pretty but otherwise unremarkable abstract picture:
In case you don’t already know what is going on here, the big story here is that the blue bits and the green bits are the same colour. What colour your eyes see something as depends on the other colours in the immediate vicinity.
The writer linked to above found this graphic here, which you can too if you do a bit of scrolling down.
If you saw this around 2009, or something similar around 2003, then apologies for the repetition. That early period of blogging, just after 2000, will always seem to me like a fleeting golden age, when everything of this sort was being discovered and passed on for the very first time. Because we could. Before, we couldn’t. Now, we could. But now (as in now), most of this sort of trivia has been in circulation for a decade, and it lacks the impact it once had. We bloggers must find new things to say, to cover for the fact that blogging itself is no longer new. This is not a bad thing.
Yes, there I was, relaxing in one of the big old armchairs that Mr Gramex reckons have made him so much money over the years, and this guy shows up at the door wanting to photo the CDs.
Mr Gramex has no objection, so, he does. And I photo him. This is what this looked like:
I thought I was the only one who did things like photo CDs in CD shops. Why was he doing this? He was evasive. My guess is some kind of project photoing lots of different stuff in lots of different London shops. Or, maybe wherever he goes, in life, he photos stuff in shops, the way I photo photographers. He said he was from Turkey.
Mr Gramex was very keen that Mr Turkey should also go outside and photo the window display, which he did. Even if he actually cared nothing for this window display the marginal cost of digital photography is zero and if that was how to keep in with Mr Gramex, fine, he’d do it. Which is when I took the photo on the right. Click on that photo, and, in the event that you care at all, you can see me photoing, reflected in the shop window, bottom right.
The bike in the middle picture belongs to Mr Gramex. As you can see from the reviews here, Gramex does not suit everyone. But it suits the people it suits very well.
Yes, dezeen (Dezeen?) continues to be a favourite wwwspot for me. Here are some recent dezeen postings that got my attention, for this or that reason.
First, news that there will be a viewing platform on top of the Walkie Talkie:
The Walkie Talkie Skygarden has yet to open and will, I’m sure, come with a catchier name. But already it is in obvious competition with the Shard – pricey versus free, ascetic steel and glass versus sylvan repose, supreme height versus not being able to see the Walkie Talkie. ...
Very droll. The original was about how you couldn’t see the National Theatre from the National Theatre. But me, I am warming to the Walkie Talkie, and I don’t just mean I’m standing under it and being fried. I especially like how it looks from a distance. The point being: it looks like the Walkie Talkie. Not just some anonymous rectangular London lump, no, that particular Big Thing. Yes it is not properly beautiful. But neither is London. Besides which, anything that just might compete down the price of going to the top of the Shard has my vote. I’ll definitely make my way up there, as soon as they’ll let me
Next up, isn’t fun when someone hitherto impeccably cool suddenly turns into Grumpy Old Man:
Speaking to Dezeen, the 85-year-old English designer said tech products like the iPhone and Apple Watch were turning people into zombies, adding: “I’ve got a certain cynicism of Apple and their motives. It’s a bit of a monster.”
“It’s a game they’re playing and it’s an absolutely straightforward, commercial, ruthless game, and it’s dressed up nicely because they’ve got some talented people in their employ,” he said.
Grange, who was knighted in 2013 for services to design, believes that the tech giant has successfully turned Modernism into “good commerce”, using aesthetics to dress up a self-perpetuating product cycle.
“There are probably few companies around now that absolutely answer the prospect that Modernism is good commerce,” he said. ...
Modernism is good commerce? Can’t have that.
… “They’ve been so bloody ruthless that you almost get no choice in the matter.”
“Almost” there means “not”. (See also: essentially, basically, fundamentally, etc. etc. etc.) Because actually, you get plenty of choice about whether to buy Apple stuff or not. Apart from one rather nice keyboard, I never have.
People always talk about the behemoths of capitalism like this, just as they are starting their long slide down into moderate size and moderate success, into business as usual. How do I know Apple is now at the top of that slide? Easy, they are building a custom-designed headquarters. It absolutely yells: from now on, all Apple-persons will talk to each other and keep everyone else out. And what they will be talking about, to an appalling degree, will be their own living arrangements inside this huge circular corporate burial chamber. They’re doomed, I tell you, doomed. Someone tell Sir Grumpy (above) that he can relax.
Next: what a driverless car might look like. Not. But, it looks very pretty. The basic point, that driverless cars will in the longer run utterly transform the look of the outdoors is, I think, a very good one. Maybe that is how some of them will look.
I really do not like the way this floating bikeway along the River Thames looks, in the pictures there. At the very least, I say, find a way to avoid having those obtrusive shapes above the level of the track, which makes it look like an infinitely extended item of tasteless garden furniture. I get it, that crap is there to enable it to float up and down on the tide. Well, find another way to do that.
Next, some excellent photos of the High Line, in New York. I especially like the distant aerial view of it curving its way over the Rail Yards, with the spontaneous architectural order of Manhattan’s towers in the background.
I do like this rectangular block of a house, but with one end lifted up. Usually the rectangular block houses featured at dezeen are impeccably, terminally tedious. But this one, I like. Apart from the fact that whenever the damn architect called round, you’d have to tidy up all your domestic crap all over everywhere, and turn the place back into the dreary corporate office it resembles in the photos. What is it with architects not wanting homes to look, inside, like homes, but instead like some kind of dystopian hell with nothing in it besides a wooden floor?
Here are some impeccably, terminally tedious rectangular type houses, in Japan. To me, by far, by several hundred miles, the most interesting thing about these photos of them is the amazing amount of electrical crap in the sky over the street outside. If I was photoing in Japan, I would be all over that. More Japanese sky clutter here, in photos of another impeccably, terminally tedious block house with an interior that also looked like a corporate office reception area when the photos were taken.
Google drones. Spooky.
Parisian blocks become wavey.
Finally what with this being Friday, some black cats with bronze bollocks. I kid you not.
Earlier this evening I attended a talk given by Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown in Southwark. Read Michael’s background briefing about the things he talked about further this evening, either here, or here.
I have friends who seem to revel in having their photos taken, but Michael is not one of them. He entirely lacks vanity, and tends, when being photoed, to have the look of a man worrying about how bad he fears he will look in the photo. So it was that, having earlier been asked for a photo of Michael by Simon Gibbs, the organiser of the meeting, I was only able quickly to find one that was remotely good enough. (You can see it at the other end of the second of the above links.) This evening I made a particular effort to correct this, and here is one of the better shots that I took of Michael this evening:
The most dramatic moment in the evening came when the Putin-echoing stooge Russian lady in the audience (there always seem to be one such stooge at any public event mentioning Russia and its current policies) tangled with Michael on the subject of Poland. Why were the Poles so paranoid about Russia and so keen to join NATO?
Michael replied with a short history lesson that was brief, and crushing. Nazi-Soviet Pact. (The stooge later denied that this had even happened, so Michael later told me.) Katyn Massacre. Warsaw Uprising. (Stalin parked the Red Army outside Warsaw and let the Nazis crush it.) An imposed Communist government, that the Poles would never have chosen for themselves, for the next half century. Final sentence, something like: “If fearing Russia after all that means you are paranoid, then yes, I guess the Poles are paranoid.” Applause. With any luck, this little interchange will be viewable on video, along with the talk itself of course.
Earlier, the lady stooge had waxed eloquent to me, in the socialising period before the talk, about the superiority of Russian education over English education. She had a point. Russian children are indeed made to work far harder at their lessons than English children are these days. But what if the lessons they learn are a pack of lies?
See also this, recently at Samizdata.
On a happier note, I harvested several names and emails of various young, clever libertarians to add to my Brian’s Last Fridays list. A couple of them being, so it seemed to me, of exceptional promise. (I hope that doesn’t sound patronising.) I was particularly impressed by this guy.
My best (worst?) experience of this was probably the occasion when my 3 year old son was crying because he didn’t know why he was crying.
My attitude to parents is that they outrank me, and they do this almost no matter how badly they are doing their parenting. They are at least doing it. If I see a mad welfare mother screaming at her mad kids in a supermarket (her kids are mad because she has driven them mad), I still say to myself: respect. She is there, in the female trenches, fighting the good fight. I have chosen not to stand by and pay the bills for such a person. Thanks to her and her husband (in her case that’s probably the government), homo sapiens (in her case homo a bit madens) will be around in a hundred years from now. If that task had been left to me, it would not have been accomplished.
I’m not saying 6k is a bad parent, you understand. Merely that even if he was a bad parent, he would still be a better parent than me. And I also agree that some children are driven so crazy by their parents that they must be rescued, or at least they should have been. (Few civilised principles are absolute.) I mean things like if they murder them, or imprison them and torture them for years on end. Yes, I’m probably doing better than that. But such exceptional extremities aside, like I say: respect.
Taking the first question first: is it practise or practice?
This is the kind of question that, in the days before the www, used to rattle about inside several million heads for decades on end. As it so happens, it did so rattle in mine. But for a decade and more now, such questions could and can be answered, and today I answered this question for myself, by finding my way, very quickly, pretty much as soon as I started trying, to this site. I’d been meaning to do this for a long time. Today, I did. What it says at the other end of that link, assuming I read it right, is that practice is the noun and practise is the verb, as with advice and advise. I know, you knew that. I must be an uneducated pillock not to know it. But, although in many ways not an uneducated pillock, I was for many decades just that, in this particular way. Besides which, the essence of educatedness is not mere knowledge, it is knowing that one needs to acquire this or that further item of further knowledge, and if far later than is dignified, well so be it.
I’m not saying that this answer is correct. I’m just saying that from now on, this is the answer I will try to apply whenever the practice/practise dilemma presents itself to me.
Moving on to the question in the brackets above. Answer: no. The site where I found this answer (right or wrong) is called “Future Perfect”, and its subtitle is “Improving Written Communications”. Like, that’s all it would take to make the future perfect. I do not believe this. I get it. Future perfect is also a piece of grammar, and grammar is (along with spelling) one of the things this place is about. Ho ho. But, future perfect?
Perfect communication could just mean perfectly expressed abuse. Remember that fish in Hitchhiker’s Guide, which enabled everyone to communicate perfectly with everyone else, and which started terrible wars, because now everyone could understood everyone else’s insults. Perfect communication is indeed, maybe, part of the perfect future, but saying perfectly nice things is also an important part of perfection, I would say. And that’s quite aside from the fact that actual perfection would also be terrible, for other reasons.