Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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- The outdoor map next to the Twelvetrees Crescent Bridge over the River Lea
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- Guess what this is
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- Rubbish blogging
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- Opera North’s Ring
- An important game and only a game
- Making blue by copying tarantulas
- An old person television set
- Battersea from Clapham Junction
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This and that
Remember this shiny little car. That one was advertising a golf shop. Today, in Chelsea, I spotted another shiny little car, but this one wasn’t advertising anything. It was just shiny:
Even more amazing, to me, was what brand of car this was. Would you have guessed Aston Martin, if I hadn’t already told you with the title of this? Yet, an Aston Martin it was:
And since I was basically photographing a mirror, I decided to include myself in the picture.
Photography is light, and in this rather odd photo the light was coming from behind the object I photoed, making it look … odd:
But there is no way to take this photo again, because just after taking the photo but before looking at the photo, I chopped the object into bits with a bread knife and stuffed the bits into a black plastic rubbish sack. The point here being that Modern Life is all about getting rid of clutter, an in particular, packaging clutter.
Like so much packaging clutter, this piece of packaging clutter was amazingly beautiful in its making, being of a very elegant, abstract sculptural shape, and made of a sort of cross between polystyrene and sponge of the sort you wash with. Its structural strength and its ability to look after the piece of electronics it was cushioning, on its journey from China to me, had all been perfectly calculated. How can you just throw something like this away? But, you must, or you will drown in such stuff.
The packaging industry has clearly been one of the great growth industries of the late twentieth century. Remember when you used to buy sweeties or paper clips or screws from a bloke in a brown coat, who would shovel them into a brown paper bag, and decide what to charge you by weighing them with a pair of scales? Perhaps you don’t because those days are now long gone. Now shops selling sweeties or paper clips or screws sell them in small packages. Nobody weighs such things in shops any more. The little things cost about twenty times as much, per little thing. The packaging also includes anti-theft devices. The process of selling is speeded up.
Supermarkets still weigh certain sorts of fruit and veg, but I bet they are working flat out to get rid of the need for that, by regularising the size of individual fruits and veges, and by packaging them in ever more cunning ways, with the price already decided for each package, and with the weighing done way back in the supply chain. (When they do, I might consider using those shopping robots in supermarkets.)
All of which involves literally tons and tons of packaging. And a discipline of modern life is knowing that such packaging must be binned, no matter how handy you might think it might come in in the future.
Equally troubling to me is cardboard boxes. These also have to go, and often that involves chopping them up, so that the bloody bits will fit into bins. When I say “bloody” bits, I am not just swearing, I am describing. Recently I cut my hand while doing this. The cushiony thing above was, on the other hand, very easy to carve into bits, and by its nature did not threaten my hands in the process, the same cannot be said of cardboard.
The ultimate expression, so far, of the urge to package is the shipping container, which has literally transformed the economy of the entire world. Imagine if everything you bought came inside those and you had to chop those up, until the bits fitted inside bin bags. I would have died of self-inflicted wounds long ago.
Here at BMdotcom, we like a bridge. Even if, from some angles, it does not look much like a bridge. Like a bridge that I encountered yesterday, near Epping:
Looking back through the day’s snaps, I especially enjoyed the contrast between how this bridge looked, above, as I and my walking companion were approaching it, and what we saw, only moments later, from it:
That’s the M11, snaking its way towards London, just before it arrives at its junction with the M25.
You can tell it’s London because if you look (carefully) in the top right hand corner of that picture (after you have doubled its size by clicking on it) you can just make out the tops of the Docklands towers.
How much you learn from something that you just read depends not only on what it says, but on what you knew before you read it. And for me, this short paragraph cleared up several big blurs in my knowledge of Olden Times:
The new technique of fighting which had won the battle of Hastings for the Normans was also adopted in England; instead of standing or riding and hurling the lance overarm, these new warriors, the knights, charged on horseback with the lance tucked beneath the arm, so that the weight of both horse and rider was behind the blow and the weapon was reusable. Though it required discipline and training, giving rise to the birth of tournaments and the cult of chivalry, a charge by massed ranks of knights with their lances couched in this way was irresistible. Anna Comnena, the Byzantine princess who witnessed its devastating effect during the First Crusade, claimed that it could ‘make a hole in the wall of Babylon’.
That’s from the second page (page 8) of the first chapter of Agincourt, by Juliet Barket.
That bit in school history where they explained what a knight was and what knights did and how the knights did it … well, I missed it. And ever since, everyone talking about such things has assumed that I knew it very clearly, when I didn’t. It’s so obvious. How would someone like me not know it?
Oh, I sort of knew it, from having seen a hundred films where film actors did this, in film battles and in film tournaments. But I had not realised that it was a military innovation like the phalanx or gunpowder or the tank or the airplane or the atom bomb. I had not properly realised that the essence of Knighthood was collective action rather than mere individual virtue, the point being that it was the former which required the latter. And I had not realised that it was what won the Battle of Hastings. Or, even more interestingly, I had not realised that it was what won the First Crusade. (After which, I’m guessing that the Muslims then copied it.
Medieval society did not give rise to Knights. The Knights technique of fighting gave rise to Medieval society.
I remember reading Tom Holland’s Millennium, and being presented right at the end with the result of the First Crusade, without there having been any mention (that I recall) of how a European military innovation was what won it. (That doesn’t mean Holland does not mention this, merely that I don’t remember him mentioning it.)
So, at the heart of the European years between Hastings (1066) and Agincourt (1415 (when I now suppose the Knights to have met their nemesis in the form of the next big military innovation, the Archers (hence the picture on the front of Agincourt))) was a technique of fighting. Like I say, I sort of knew this, but have never before isolated this fact in my head, as a Big Fact. Instead, I have spent my whole life being rather confused about this Big Fact, reading a thousand things where the Big Fact was assumed, but never actually explained.
Why did I not correct this confusion decades ago? Because, not knowing it properly, I had not realised what a huge confusion it was.
Not very busy day today, tidying up from my Last Friday meeting last night, but I neglected this blog, until now, at which point I am too tired to really say anything.
When in that state, I trawl through the archives, recent and not so recent. And I just found this picture, taken in 2009:
What (I think) separates this from your average cheesy London sunset photo is the way that what’s left of the sunshine picks out one of the cranes, the one in the middle, just to the right of St Paul’s as we look. That’s in the middle suggests to me that photoing this crane was not accidental on my part. I was aiming at it.
I often see effects like this, when the sun sets fire to something, so to speak. (Apologies if you read this far hoping that a crane would be on fire literally.) I usually photograph such brightly lit things whenever I see them, but my camera, on its automatic setting, usually then deliberately removes the fire from the picture. It wants nothing extreme. But extreme is what I want, when I do this.
But this picture left the fire at the top of that crane in.
The cloud behind the crane helps.
Yes, because that was when I took this photo:
One of the ways I have got (I think) better as a photographer is that I have gradually identified more classes of object or circumstance to be worth photoing.
This often starts with me just photoing something, because, what the hell, I like it, or it’s fun, or it’s interesting, or it’s odd, or it’s getting more common, or nobody else is noticing it and talking about it, or whatever and I just photo it, without even telling myself why, in conscious words.
Later, often much later, the conscious, verbalised thinking starts. Perhaps because, as in this case, someone else starts talking about it. Guido having a go at that Labour politician was what got my conscious brain into gear on the subject of White Vans. And I then decide to get more systematic about photoing whatever it is.
Mobile Pet Foods is still going, and if that link doesn’t convince you, then note the date on the latest piece of customer feedback here. (That this feedback may be fake doesn’t alter the fact that the dates are recent.)
There is, of course, a cat angle to this.
The platinum blonde woman who sings the introductory song sounds very unmusical and strangulated to me. When she sings “A new age has begun”, it sounds like “Anewwayjazzbeegun”, with no breaks between words at all. Very peculiar. I now learn that I am not the only one to be unhappy about this singing.
My first observation of the actual rugby: lots of handling errors. My impression is that the balls are bigger, fatter, lighter, bouncier, a bit like balloons. So, when they hit your chest they don’t just stick there, they bounce off your chest and you’ve dropped it.
How good were Japan? Yes, very good. But. But. How bad were South Africa? Very, very bad. There is a back story there, which the television commentators I am hearing seem extremely anxious not to discuss. It’s all: the mighty Boks. Apparently, they haven’t persuaded enough black men to play rugby, and racial quotas are deranging and demoralising them. “Political football” etc. Lawrence Dallaglio mentioned this stuff once, in passing, speaking of them “falling off tackles” (I think that was the phrase). Of not really trying, in other words. Other than that, nothing. Japan got totally stuffed by Scotland yesterday, 45-10. Okay, the Japanese hadn’t had much of a rest. But even so, a bizarre result, unless Japan beating South Africa was at least as much because South Africa were bad as because Japan were good. Scotland v South Africa might be … very interesting.
I really like London’s new Olympic Stadium. Whenever I saw it before, it contained the 2012 Olympics, and I hate the Olympics so much that I couldn’t see how very nice the stadium is. Now I can see this. I think I now prefer the inside of the Olympic Stadium to the inside of New Wembley. The only interesting thing about New Wemley is the big arch, seen from the outside. That’s terrific. One of London’s great new landmarks. But the inside of New Wembley, which I have actually visited in person, is very dreary. But maybe I was just in a bad mood, on account of it being football, and on account of this idiot jumping about in front of me whenever anything faintly interesting happened, so I had to either get up off my seat to see anything, or remain seated and in ignorance.
England look okay to me, but okay presumably won’t be enough to win. But then again, most other teams seem only okay also. Except the All Blacks of course. How will they contrive to lose this tournament, I wonder? They usually seem to find a way. Last time around, they did win, but only by one point.
I’m referring to this:
Click on it to see.
The orange and black bit spoils it rather, and if you only see the top half on your screen, that makes it easier. But I still think it’s fun. It’s dancing, and it has a very big left foot.
Taken in 2007, but some things really don’t change from decade to decade, or even from century to century.
Time for some weird transport, here at BMdotcom. So, google google, this kind of thing doesn’t take long. Here are three photos of transport arrangements, all three of which make use of the tricycle principle to not keep falling over.
First, a combined bicycle and shopping trolley, which, if you think about it uses the shopping trolley not only for transportation purposes but also to turn the bicycle into a sort of tricycle, although actually it is more like a quincycle, what with this device now having four small wheels at the front:
Second, this new slant on the tricycle principle, which actually combines three cycles, the one at the back motor- and the two at the front bi-. Magnificent, I think you will agree.
And, the third of these triple-based transport arrangements, a tractor that used to have four wheels but which has lost one, leaving only three:
Back-seat passengers are seldom all that helpful to a driver, but this one is essential.
I think that these snaps date from around 2009 (they are three of these ones), and you’ve very possibly already seen them. But they are new to me, and me is what matters here.
This kind of nonsense is why the internet exists. And beneath and beyond such photos is a very significant subtext, about people getting on with their lives, with determination, inventiveness, and above all without wars or catastrophes, unless one of these contrivances collapses into the road. Before the internet, too much “world news” consisted of disasters, and of helpless and miserable people begging to be rescued from these disasters. The begging continues, but there are now also other and more encouraging messages to enjoy.
I actually think that this change in how the world sees the rest of the world will make invasions by powerful parts of the world of less powerful parts less frequent. Invasions won’t stop, but the desire to rescue (by invading) will be at least somewhat moderated.
A while back, there used to be Walkers Marmite flavoured crisps. Then, they went away. I mourned their passing.
… they’re back! That being a celebratory photo I took earlier this evening. Apparently I have democracy to thank.
I wonder, will there be a day when political elections include the added attraction of a prize draw, for all who vote?
I shan’t be voting for any other crisps to join Marmite crisps. Marmite was, as far as I am concerned, the big one. I am now happy.
I have a distinct recollection of posting a photo of Marmite flavoured crisps, here or somewhere, way back. But when I tried to find such a posting, all I could find was a photo of some Marmite spoons. But, by looking for crisps without mentioning Marmite, I did find a posting I did about an earlier round of Walkers crisp voting.
After my recent bout of picture archive trawling, I am convinced of two things.
First, that my pictures have got better and better. I only now show you the best ones from a decade ago, but most of those taken then were pretty terrible.
Second, that much of the reason for this is that my cameras have got better and better. I have got better too, but the cameras can do far more now, for the same money than they used to do. (For another example of this, see a recent 6k posting, with a picture that features a bug (which means that the bug is a feature but still a bug (heh)).)
This recent picture of mine, for instance, would not have come out nearly so well a decade ago:
Photography is light.
For a chilling description of all the various creepy organisations who are or who have been based in this creepy building – political parties, regulators, the UN, even the World Bank - I recommend reading the Millbank Tower wikipedia entry, and going to Occupants. My photo works perfectly for all that. I think it looks rather like one of those hyper-realistic oil paintings that the hyper-realist oil painters paint.
Notice how all Millbank Tower photos at Wikipedia are taken from close-up and below, thereby rendering the classic (but creepy) Millbank Tower roof clutter invisible.
Jade Dernbach’s international career ended last year, amidst much derision and recrimination.
Surrey very nearly won today’s ODI Final against Gloucester. If Surrey had won, everyone would now be talking about how well Dernbach has done for Surrey this year. As it was, Surrey, having been ahead of the game all day long, instead lost three tail end wickets in a heap at the end and lost by six runs.
Had Surrey won, Dernbach would have been Man of the Match, having taken six wickets, including a hat trick at the end of the Gloucester innings and even better, at the beginning of the Gloucester innings, the prize wicket of Michael Klinger for a three ball duck in the first over of the game.
As regulars here will know, I was at the semi-final at the Oval that got Surrey to today’s final. (It was probably my day of the year so far.) Dernbach did well in that game also.
Sangakkara hit 19 runs off Surrey’s penultimate over of batting. Notts, needing 19 to win in their last 2 overs, could only manage 5 and a wicket off their penultimate over, bowled by Dernbach. The wicket was Notts captain Chris Read, bamboozled by Dernbach’s disguised slow ball. Read is the kind of batsman who could have got Notts home with balls to spare, but Dernbach did him. Those two penultimate overs were the difference between the two teams that day.
As for me, I photoed the first of these two penultimacies:
But when I should have been photoing the equivalent scoreboard description of the second penultimacy (you can read about it by scrolling down here), I was instead busy taking this photo:
Which just goes to show that photoing cricket matches, like photoing anything else, is a skill. Everything you have to do - which actually means everything you have to remember to do - at the right time and in the right order - is easy and obvious, just commonsense really. But, doing seventy three bits of commonsense at the exact right time and in the exact right order adds up to uncommon sense. Or, as it is commonly known, knowledge.
I digress. But the point of my digression is that I also digressed in my photography at that cricket game, at what was clearly, at the time I digressed, a critical moment. There really is no excuse for the above photographic omission, except for me to say that I have not photoed very many cricket matches and am not very good at it.
After my day at the Oval, I am now strongly tempted to correct that, given what else you can see from the place, if you are a member. A crane and a Shard are a bug, when you should be photoing the scoreboard. But normally they would be a feature.
LATER: In other sports news, Perry de Havilland has a strange dream, and I had the exact same dream myself.
Here he is in action:
Chandoha might be considered the forefather of the Internet’s now-ubiquitous cat photo; and while digital cameras and smartphones have certainly made it easier for people to document their feline friends, as Chandoha sees it, “All of this technology would be for naught if cats were not the sweet, lovable companions they are, and who are held in higher esteem today than those in ancient Egypt when they were worshipped as gods.”
“All of this technology” really has made it a whole lot easier to photo cats, though. That’s a big part of the cats on the internet thing. When cats do their funniest stuff, they tend to be moving about a lot, and now, that can all be captured.
Today I had a nice surprise. I was out shopping, and saw a taxi with an advert on it that I’d not seen before, which I photoed it. But when I got home I discovered that my camera didn’t have its SD card in.
However, being a clever little camera it had stored the pictures up in its own built-in memory, and I went looking for this by attaching my camera direct to my computer with a wire. Success. I found the picture of the taxi and its advert.
And, I also found this photo inside the camera, which I had totally forgotten about, and which had been there since June 25th:
Now that’s what I call a headline. Here‘s the story.
This is one of the things I really like about digital photography. There are hundreds of things you see that are a laugh, and which you would like to be able to remember and have another laugh about later. But they aren’t worth buying, just for that second laugh. But, they are worth photoing.
Also, today, I saw a headline about how naughty persons have been using drones to get drugs into prisons. But I failed to photo this headline. I was inside Sainsbury’s, and if I had got my camera out, it might have caused a scene.
I think it must have been this story. I’ve been saying here for ages that drones were going to be trouble, as well as fun. Here is another example of drones being both fun, and incurring the wrath of our rulers, that being a story about a man taking aerial photos of things that didn’t want to be photoed.
Now, some more pictures from that fabulous day out at the Oval, which was over a week ago now.
This time, it’s adverts. The crowd was, as already discussed, sparse. It was sparse because the game was played on a Monday, so that Sky could fit it into its schedule, but because Sky were present, the adverts at the ground packed an extra punch. I assume that a cricket club like Surrey has people who obsess not so much about cricket as about money, and it must be good news on the money front that all these adverts were to be seen on Sky TV.
You see adverts in lots of the photos of and television coverage of sports events, but it isn’t much talked about. Neither are all the empty seats that so often occur at sports events nowadays, particularly cricket matches. But, these pictures focus attention on all the adverts I saw at that game, by cropping out everything else.
Click on these adverts, and you get the original pictures from which I extracted them, which mostly also feature a lot of empty seats:
An odd effect of what I did here with all these adverts is that the more money you spent on your advert and the bigger and wider and more noticeable your advert was, at the Oval, the thinner it now is on BMdotcom.
Life can be cruel.
It’s been a very bad last few days here at BMdotcom. First there was the domain name fiasco, and then last night and into this morning there was another interruption, caused by a power cut in a totally different part of London to me, which was in its turn caused by all that rain we had recently. And then the interruption was prolonged by the mishandling of this power cut by my rather creeky and out-of-date version of Expression Engine. The two events were unrelated. I think there’s a Macbeth quote that deals with this kind of thing. One of those plays about a king for whom things are starting to go badly wrong. But rest assured that there is no sign that BMdotcom is about to be dethroned permanently.
So anyway, here is one of those photo-postings made quick and easy by my “I just like them!” directory.
I just like this, taken in 2007:
And I just like this, taken a month ago:
That second one was already edited and ready to post, with its new name, but I don’t believe I ever got around to actually displaying it. If I did, well, take another look.
I do not promise more substantial stuff tomorrow, but I do hope for it.
A notable Brian has just died. Close.
Scyld Berry writes about the bravest man to ever play cricket:
The story was that when a ball hit him on the head at short-leg, he shouted “catch it!” Eric Morecombe joked that the start of the cricket season was the sound of leather on Brian Close.
RIP Tweet by Alan Butcher (which was how I learned about this):
Was once in a Roller with Brian Close. Went over a speed bump too quick. His head went clean through the roof upholstery.
Close was also one of the few men ever to make Boycott get a move on (see para 11).
He was a great England captain, briefly, but was then sacked for … well, for wanting to win too much, basically. Then reinstated briefly, much later. Should have been captain all that time.
Excellent piece in the Daily Mash about photography and its impact, entitled Everyone sad because of photo of thing that’s been happening for months. I only just noticed this piece, probably because it didn’t include a photograph:
It has been confirmed that everyone kind of knew the thing was happening, but now they are very sad and angry because there is a photo of it.
The thing about a photo is that a vivid photo can tell a story very quickly, this being why this particular one is getting around so much and being talked about so much. Not necessarily a true story, not straight away, but a story. And that’s what you want, if you are The Media. The Media sell stories. Truth, factual and/or moral, is nice too, but not the essence of the product. That photos do their job well is not a “conscience” thing. It is a speed of communication thing. Photos communicate a lot very quickly.
The speed with which a picture tells a story is why I have so many photos here. This is a kitten blog. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and it doesn’t expect you to take it seriously, unless you want to. My photos don’t consume your time, unless you want them to. Often, I only tell my stories here at all if I have a photo. It would take too long to explain with mere words, and anyway, what would be the point?
Headlines aren’t necessarily true either. In fact, I would say that the biggest media lies are to be found in photos and in headlines. Photos typically lie, when they do lie, by omission. Headlines just lie, and you can often tell they’re lies simply be reading the story under them.
Why do headlines lie? Because that often makes for a more appealing story. The truth is usually more mundane. But mundane doesn’t get you eyeballs.
The day I spent at the Oval with Darren last Monday was enjoyable for me in so many ways. I am now definitely considering becoming a Surrey Member myself next season, a snip at just under two hundred quid. Seriously, that’s how great a day it was for me. But it was not quite the day that I had been expecting.
The thing was, Surrey had, after many disappointments in the recent past, finally been promoted just three days earlier. Half way through the game against Derby, the reportage was all about how well Derby had been doing. But the Surrey first innings tail did not so much wag as flail like the tail of a crocodile, and then the Surrey spinners polished Derby off on day four, to win the game by an innings and plenty, with several hours to spare.
So, last Monday, I was expecting the Oval to be seething with boisterous celebration. But once the game began, I soon realised that this was not going to happen. The place was that far from being deserted, and looked even more sparsely populated from where Darren and I were at first sitting, what with the bulk of the Surrey support being below us and out of our sight.
The thing about last Monday was that it was on a Monday. And why this game, of all games, on a Monday? A semi-final of the annual 50-50 county tournament ought surely to be staged at a time when regular people can show up to watch it, shouldn’t it? So, why wasn’t it?
The answer of course is: television:
That’s Gary Wilson of Surrey striding off at the end of the Surrey innings (they batted first), doing a great job of pretending that the TV guy who is poking his huge camera in his face just isn’t there.
These are not the kind of pictures of cricket that you usually see, are they? Usually, you see only the sort of pictures that this TV guy himself is taking, not pictures of him. He is not supposed to be part of the story which he is, so very obtrusively, helping to tell. Yet even the very day on which this match took place cannot be explained without reference to that TV guy, and all his mates.
That’s a picture, taken moments later, of Sky TV discussing that Surrey first innings with Notts fast bowler and recent England Ashes hero Stuart Broad. What did Broad say? I don’t know. I wasn’t watching this game on my telly. I was merely there.
But why Monday, rather than Sunday or Saturday? I mean, more people watch the telly at the weekend, surely. Well yes, they do. And Sky TV did indeed show the first semi-final on Sunday. (Yorkshire, crowned only days later as the 2015 champions of the four day game, were beaten in this first semi-final by Gloucester, with surprising ease.) So, why not the other semi- between Surrey and Notts, on the Saturday?
Because on Saturday, Sky TV were showing the second England v Australia ODI, and there would be no point in Sky buying both those games if they had happened on the same one day. So, the other semi- got shoved over to Monday. The schools were back at school. Workers were back at work. But, television rules.
So this was mostly an Old Geezer day, from the live spectator point of you. But, despite all those empty seats, this particular Old Geezer had a terrific time, not least because of all those TV cameramen whom I was able to take photos of.
I promise nothing, but I do now hope that there’ll be a whole lot more to follow about this marvellous day out.
By which I mean the wait for Eclipse to update (or whatever it has to do) its DNS (domain name system), in such a way that it enables me to reach my own damned website.
As it is, the one way I can reach my own website is by using an alternative route, which works fine, except for the small matter of it not connecting to the rest of the internet. Each time I start that up, I have to restart my computer.
It’s like I never left the twentieth century. That kind of thing is fine if it’s voluntary, like me having lots of CDs because I like them, and still carrying books made of cardboard and paper with me in the tube and on buses. But this is like I’ve been kidnapped by Time Lords and spat out of their Tardis in about 1996. Which may not be long by their standards, but for me, it is most inconvenient. Actually it is weirder than that, now that I think about it, because I have the internet, but no email. And, rather unusually for me, I have urgent stuff I need to do, involving email. And I really, really don’t want to have another email address. I hate it when other people have several different email addresses, and I don’t want to do that to others. But, if this crap doesn’t end soon, I will have to do that. After that, maybe a discussion with Eclipse about whether they continue to be my internet provider.
I am not a happy kitten blogger:
I found that picture of a pissed off cat wearing spectacles ... somewhere, but since I can’t check if links work, no link to where that was.
I am being told that this could all go away at any moment. But, which moment?
And how long will all the other internet providers take to re-acknowledge BMdotcom’s existence? That’s another worry.
This blog is suffering from problems caused by me failing to re-register my domain name. This has now been done, and it should all be up and running Real Soon Now. But apparently it can take time for people to re-connect to here. Glad you have succeeded. (Because you can’t be reading this if you haven’t succeeded.) It was all I could do to get through to my blog myself, and post this, because my regular method is still not working.
Anyway, here are some random photos, just to be sure that I can also post a photo:
On the left there is a close-up photo I took in France, of part of The Internet. Not all of The Internet; that would be crazy. Just a bit of it. No wonder the bloody thing keeps breaking down. And on the right, the instructions for The Internet. Although, to be fair, these pictures were taken nine years ago, so things may have improved a bit since then. Now, for instance, it can’t any longer be: “A VOS BLOGS!”, but instead: “A TWITTER”, or Tweet Air as they presumably call it over there.
No links to anything else in this, because I am now only getting to my own website, but not to anywhere else. And if you understand that, then maybe you can explain it to me. Don’t try emailing me until I tell you you can, because I can’t receive them yet either.
It’s been a week since I clocked this glorious contraption, via Instapundit, I think (yes). But I want to make sure none of my readers miss such a thing, before I also forget about it:
The Telegraph says if it’s manned it can’t be a drone. Whatever.
Just under a week ago, last Wednesday, there was rainbow weather over London. I was in my local laundrette, which is just at the corner where Horseferry Road stops going at a right angle to the river and does a sharp right towards Victoria Street. But even thought I was lugging a big bag of shirts with me, I followed my camera rule, which goes: always have it on me. Consequently, I had my camera on me, and was able to take photos.
Not as pretty a foreground is it might have been, and must have been for many others who were out and about in London at that time, or who were told to get out and about by others. But: cranes, scaffolding, a tree with no leaves cluttering it up, that chess board building I like, the Millbank Tower and its classic roof clutter (see the right hand one of these photos). I wasn’t complaining:
Whenever I photo a rainbow, I am pessimistic about how good it will end up looking in my pictures. This is partly because a rainbow is pure light. There are no sharp edges for your camera to grab hold of, and inevitably the original somewhat blurry thing tends to come out just that fatal bit more blurry, and to look fatally less striking than the original did.
But, even more fundamentally, everyone knows that a rainbow is a photo op. Indeed, I saw several other people taking photos, and the only reason I didn’t photo them photoing was that we all had our backs to the same wall, and I couldn’t get behind them, in such a way that I could have got them and the rainbow in the same snap.
Anyway, my point is that because rainbows are universally regarded as ultra-photogenic, rainbow photos are really rather mundane (because so very common), compared to actually seeing the thing itself.
The best photos tend to show you things that you are not already used to seeing in photos.
But, I enjoyed myself. And I certainly like that in the final one, bottom right, you can make out a second and much fainter rainbow, above the main act.
So, if I spend a day contemplating a game of cricket, in the flesh, at the actual place where the game is being played, I have to give up on contemplating London’s Big Things. Right?
That was one of the first pictures I took at the Oval today. It was not the last.
Terrific contest, won by the team I support (Surrey), after a fluctuating and utterly absorbing day. The Surrey victory was only nailed down with the very last ball of the day.
No more time to elaborate now, but just to say, this was all courtesy of Surrey Member and occasional and always supportive commenter here, Darren, to whom grovelling gratitude for a truly wonderful day.
Indeed. An Asian couple, photoed this afternoon, in Green Park.
The hooded guy crouching in the middle of my shot was the official photographer. The photographer standing on the right was an interloper. As was I of course. Sorry about all the muck on my lens. Photoing into the sun will do that. Personally I think that can actually add to the sunny feeling of things.
Next, my definite favourite shot of this photo-session. The guy running off stage right, has just thrown the white thing into the air and is trying to get out of the picture:
And here is one more, for luck, taken moments later:
Sometimes leaves are okay.
Sometimes, even rather pretty.
I wish them well.
One of the many fine things about the internet – and in particular that great internet business, Amazon – is that you can now easily get hold of books that seem interesting, even if they were published a decade and a half ago. Steven Johnson’s book, Emergence, for instance. This was published in 2001. I think it was some Amazon robot system that reckoned I might like it ("lots of people who bought this book you just bought also bought this one"). And I read some Amazon reviews, or whatever, and I did like it, or at least the sound of it, and I duly sent off for it. (I paid £0.01 plus postage.) And now I’m reading it.
Chapter one of Emergence is entitled “The Myth of the Ant Queen”. Here is the part of that chapter that describes the research then being done by Deborah Gordon, into ants:
At the heart of Gordon’s work is a mystery about how ant colonies develop, a mystery that has implications extending far beyond the parched earth of the Arizona desert to our cities, our brains, our immune systems - and increasingly, our technology. Gordon’s work focuses on the connection between the microbehavior of individual ants and the overall behavior of the colonies themselves, and part of that research involves tracking the life cycles of individual colonies, following them year after year as they scour the desert floor for food, competing with other colonies for territory, and - once a year - mating with them. She is a student, in other words, of a particular kind of emergent, self-organizing system.
Dig up a colony of native harvester ants and you’ll almost invariably find that the queen is missing. To track down the colony’s matriarch, you need to examine the bottom of the hole you’ve just dug to excavate the colony: you’ll find a narrow, almost invisible passageway that leads another two feet underground, to a tiny vestibule burrowed out of the earth. There you will find the queen. She will have been secreted there by a handful of ladies-in-waiting at the first sign of disturbance. That passageway, in other words, is an emergency escape hatch, not unlike a fallout shelter buried deep below the West Wing.
But despite the Secret Service-like behavior, and the regal nomenclature, there’s nothing hierarchical about the way an ant colony does its thinking. ‘’Although queen is a term that reminds us of human political systems,” Gordon explains, “the queen is not an authority figure. She lays eggs and is fed and cared for by the workers. She does not decide which worker does what. In a harvester ant colony, many feet of intricate tunnels and chambers and thousands of ants separate the queen, surrounded by interior workers, from the ants working outside the nest and using only the chambers near the surface. It would be physically impossible for the queen to direct every worker’s decision about which task to perform and when.” The harvester ants that carry the queen off to her escape hatch do so not because they’ve been ordered to by their leader; they do it because the queen ant is responsible for giving birth to all the members of the colony, and so it’s in the colony’s best interest - and the colony’s gene pool-to keep the queen safe. Their genes instruct them to protect their mother, the same way their genes instruct them to forage for food. In other words, the matriarch doesn’t train her servants to protect her, evolution does.
Popular culture trades in Stalinist ant stereotypes - witness the authoritarian colony regime in the animated film Antz - but in fact, colonies are the exact opposite of command economies. While they are capable of remarkably coordinated feats of task allocation, there are no Five-Year Plans in the ant kingdom. The colonies that Gordon studies display some of nature’s most mesmerizing decentralized behavior: intelligence and personality and learning that emerges from the bottom up.
I’m still gazing into the latticework of plastic tubing when Gordon directs my attention to the two expansive white boards attached to the main colony space, one stacked on top of the other and connected by a ramp. (Imagine a two-story parking garage built next to a subway stop.) A handful of ants meander across each plank, some porting crumblike objects on their back, others apparently just out for a stroll. If this is the Central Park of Cordon’s ant metropolis, I think, it must be a workday.
Gordon gestures to the near corner of the top board, four inches from the ramp to the lower level, where a pile of strangely textured dust - littered with tiny shells and husks-presses neatly against the wall. “That’s the midden,” she says. “It’s the town garbage dump.” She points to three ants marching up the ramp, each barely visible beneath a comically oversize shell. “These ants are on midden duty: they take the trash that’s left over from the food they’ve collected-in this case, the seeds from stalk grass-and deposit it in the midden pile.”
Gordon takes two quick steps down to the other side of the table, at the far end away from the ramp. She points to what looks like another pile of dust. “And this is the cemetery.” I look again, startled. She’s right: hundreds of ant carcasses are piled atop one another, all carefully wedged against the table’s corner. It looks brutal, and yet also strangely methodical.
I know enough about colony behavior to nod in amazement. “So they’ve somehow collectively decided to utilize these two areas as trash heap and cemetery,” I say. No individual ant defined those areas, no central planner zoned one area for trash, the other for the dead. “It just sort of happened, right?”
Cordon smiles, and it’s clear that I’ve missed something. “It’s better than that,” she says. “Look at what actually happened here: they’ve built the cemetery at exactly the point that’s furthest away from the colony. And the midden is even more interesting: they’ve put it at precisely the point that maximizes its distance from both the colony and the cemetery. It’s like there’s a rule they’re following: put the dead ants as far away as possible, and put the midden as far away as possible without putting it near the dead ants.” I have to take a few seconds to do the geometry myself, and sure enough, the ants have got it right. I find myself laughing out loud at the thought: it’s as though they’ve solved one of those spatial math tests that appear on standardized tests, conjuring up a solution that’s perfectly tailored to their environment, a solution that might easily stump an eight-year-old human. The question is, who’s doing the conjuring?
It’s a question with a long and august history, one that is scarcely limited to the collective behavior of ant colonies. We know the answer now because we have developed powerful tools for thinking about - and modeling - the emergent intelligence of self-organizing systems, but that answer was not always so clear. We know now that systems like ant colonies don’t have real leaders, that the very idea of an ant “queen” is misleading. But the desire to find pacemakers in such systems has always been powerful-in both the group behavior of the social insects, and in the collective human behavior that creates a living city.
It’s not much of a mystery why I like old cars, with round headlights. They date from the time of my childhood. The more closely an old car resembles the cars I was gazing at adoringly circa 1955, the better I like them.
This old car, which showed up in Tottenham Court Road late this afternoon, just when I happened to be there myself, looks like it dates from that exact time.
The light was dim and fading, but I got a few shots of it before it had vanished:
Click and enjoy. That’s if you enjoy old cars somewhere near as much as I do. If not, well, there’s the rest of the internet. There must be something in it today that you would enjoy.
What I particularly like is the way the rear wheels of this jolly green giant are encased down to ankle level, in line with the car body, if you get what I mean. That and all the chrome, which is in remarkably good nick. Some of it right on top of the headlights.
I don’t know what brand of car this is. It looks very American, but Brit cars of those times were very American-influenced. (Now the influence seems to go more the other way, from Europe to America. Or maybe it’s just everyone being influenced by Japan.) What settles it, for me, is (see the first two pictures) that the car is left hand drive. Got to be American. But what variety of American?
It looks like a coloured version of the sort of black cars that they had in the Godfather’s funeral, in The Godfather.
This afternoon I was meeting someone at London City Airport, and while waiting for their flight to arrive I took this photo, of the big TV screen showing flight arrivals:
Milan, Alitalia. Amsterdam, CityJet. Exeter, Flybe. Isle of Man, British Airways. Okay. But what is Rotterdam, “Jet Centre”? And what of London Biggin Hill, “Jet Centre”? That was the one that got me noticing this. Biggin Hill? I didn’t realise that was any sort of regular London airport.
Googling, when I got back home to my desk, confirmed my earlier guess that wherever it says “Jet Centre”, this means it’s a private jet, leaving from the “Jet Centre” at wherever it was. I am still not entirely clear about this, but that does seem to be what is happening. Can anyone confirm or correct this?
Private jets, and the people wafted hither and thither in them, inhabit a world that I pretty much never encounter. But at London City Airport, assuming I’m right about the “Jet Centre” equals private jet thing, the worlds of value-for-money regular-people aviation and of money-no-object plutocrat aviation overlap, to the point where both of these worlds appear on the same London City Airport TV screen. Whether the plutocrats use the same airport facilities as the rest of us, I do not know. Same runways, presumably. But same arrivals and departures places? I suspect not.
Either way, I bet it costs them. I guess it’s a case of if you have to ask, then you can’t afford it, but I have to ask. How much do they charge to land a private jet near to the middle of London? Excuse me while I do some more Googling. …
Well, I still don’t know, but according to this piece, there is no London airport in the top ten on the list, so it must cost less than £2,530. I was expecting it to be a bit more than that, somehow.
There is every chance that, by and by, Michael Jennings, globetrotter extraordinaire, will append a comment to this posting. If he does, you can be sure that his comment will be a lot more informative than this posting has been.
What follows is one of the better commentaries on British politics that I have recently read. It is pertinent to the current dramas involving Jeremy Corbyn and what appears now to be his likely victory in the Labour Party leadership election, because it focusses on something which I think has been somewhat neglected by other commentators, namely the weakness of Corbyn’s opponents. It is by former Conservative Party Leader William Hague.
But since the Telegraph only allows me to see thirty (I think it is) articles each month before it blocks me (for about half the month), and since I never blog about things that my readers can’t read just by clicking on a link, which means that I am actually not interested in things that readers can’t read just by clicking on a link, here is the piece, here, in full. Now I am able to be interested in what follows, because here it is.
The original article contains links to other Telegraph pieces. These I have reproduced. But I have not checked if they work, because I don’t want to exhaust half my allotted Telegraph links with the month hardly having started.
If the Telegraph asks me to remove it from here, I will immediately remove it, and will instead replace what follows with smaller quotes and further commentary. And then I will lose all interest in it, except perhaps as an interesting little event concerning the rights and wrongs of intellectual property.
In late 1997, having rather rashly taken on the job of Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I discussed with the new prime minister, Tony Blair, which of us had the most difficult job. “You have,” he said, without a moment’s doubt.
Blair was right. And that job was doubly more difficult because it was one pitched every day against him, the most formidable electoral opponent the Conservative Party has faced in its entire history. Before him, Labour had only twice since its foundation won a decisive majority; with him it did so three times in a row.
Although he is despised in Labour’s current leadership election, Blair was a Tory leader’s worst nightmare: appealing to the swing voter and reassuring to the Right-leaning, it was hard to find a square on the political chessboard on which he did not already sit. When people told me I did well at Prime Minister’s Questions, I knew I had to, since I had very little else going for me at all – I had to raise the morale of Conservatives each Wednesday to get them through the frustration and impotence of every other day of the week.
Blair courted business leaders and Right-wing newspapers, often to great effect. He was a Labour leader who loved being thought to be a secret Tory, a pro-European who was fanatical in support for the United States, a big spender who kept income taxes down, an Anglican who let it be known he wanted to be a Catholic and regularly read the Koran. He could be tough or soft or determined or flexible as necessary and shed tears if needed, seemingly at will. To the political law that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time he added Blair’s law – that you can make a very serious attempt at it.
This was the human election-winning machine against which some of us dashed ourselves, making the Charge of the Light Brigade look like a promising manoeuvre by comparison. Yet now, only eight years after he left the scene he dominated, his party’s election is conducted with scorn for the most successful leader they ever had.
The first reason for this is the truly extraordinary rule allowing huge numbers of people to join up for the specific purpose of selecting the new leader. If there was an NVQ Level 1 in How To Run a Party, the crucial nature of the qualifying period to vote in a leadership election would be on the syllabus, possibly on the first page. Every student plotting to take over a university society knows that the shorter that period, the easier it is to mount an insurgency from outside. But this basic fact seems to have escaped Ed Miliband, along with every other possible consideration of what might happen after his own unnecessarily rapid departure.
The result of this is that Labour’s leader is being chosen by a largely new electorate, with correspondingly little sense of ownership of the party’s history, in which the desire to align the party with their own views outweighs any sense of duty to provide the country with an alternative government.
The second reason is the weakness of the mainstream candidates to an extent unprecedented in any election in a major party in British parliamentary history. Even in 1935, an even darker time for the Labour Party when it had far fewer MPs than today, the leadership election was between Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison: great names that are etched into our history. This is the first election of a Labour leader in which none of the candidates look like they could be prime minister five years later.
This weakness partly explains the third and most significant factor in what appears to be, in the form of Corbynmania, a sharp move to the pre-Blair, old-fashioned, Michael Foot-was-a-moderate, Seventies Left, which is that none of them has been able to articulate what a social democratic, centre-Left party should stand for in the first half of the 21st century.
Blair’s ability to win elections was not accompanied by a coherent philosophy. The seminars he held with Schroeder’s German SPD and Clinton Democrats on the “Third Way”, the ultimate attempt at government by triangulation, collapsed in ridicule. And the question neither Labour’s candidates nor their socialist colleagues abroad can now answer is – in a century in which markets dominate, more power passes to consumers, technology gives more choice by the day to individuals, working lives are more flexible than ever, and class-based voting is dying out, what is the role and purpose of the moderate Left?
You can scan in vain the speeches of Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham for a clear answer to this question, although I do not necessarily recommend it unless you find it hard to sleep. You might think there is a modern social democratic case to be made that some people – the less educated, unskilled, and immobile – could miss out on the benefits of the information revolution and that changing that is a new purpose of the centre-Left. Instead, in Britain and across Europe, it is left to fringe parties to prey on those dissatisfied with the vast and rapid changes in modern society.
And most revealing of all, those same speeches (yes, I really have read them), point to no model abroad of the Left in power, no hero to be admired or policy to be emulated. The main parties of the Left have turned into partners of conservatives in Germany, reformist liberals in Italy, back-pedalling socialists in France, catastrophes in Latin America, and been annihilated by extremists in Greece. There is still a Socialist International, but there is no longer a common ideology to underpin it.
Seen in this context, the agony of Labour’s leadership election is easier to understand. This is a tribe lost in a desert with no star to follow, and no inspirational leader to point to a new one. Across the world, parties that thrived on the socialist ideals of an industrialising society are losing their relevance, and what we are witnessing is a symptom and dramatic demonstration of that fact.
Faced with that awful reality, Labour is turning to something, anything, that seems authentic, passionate, and consistent. The failure, in Britain and abroad, to find the social democratic version of that is a failure of historic proportions.
I believe I may have said here recently that I did not care for selfies, although I cannot find where I said this. But whether I said this or not, it is not entirely true. There is a kind of selfie that I do like, which is when I am photoing some scene or other, and I am able to sneak a selfie into it, in a small part of the picture.
Partly this is because my understanding is that Real Photographers go to enormous trouble to avoid such selfie effects. As with PR experts, if the Photographer is the story, or any part of the story, then he isn’t telling the story right. The Real Photographer is not doing his job, which is to create a photo of whatever he is photoing, not of him, the Real Photographer, photoing it. The Real Photographer is supposed to be invisible.
Well, fair enough, business is business. But I am not in business. I am wandering about, having fun. If I show up in one of my photos, that’s fine, because that was what was going on in front of my camera. There was this mirror or this window or this shiny windscreen or whatever, and my face bounced back to my camera off of it. It happens, and it’s all part of how cameras work and what can happen with them.
Besides which, more fundamentally, I am not trying to persuade you that you were or are actually there. No. This is a photo. Photos are different from what you actually see if you are there, that being a great deal of the point of them, and a great deal of the fun of them. Cameras see and tell you about things that you might very well have missed, if you had merely been there, just as I do constantly miss stuff when I was there taking the photo, and only see later. It’s not reality. It’s a photo. Which means that someone stood there, with a camera, and took that photo. And, sometimes, the camera sees that. Why is that wrong?
All of which is a preamble-stroke-excuse for the following selfie:
I am the bloke in the light green shirt and the dark jacket, reflected in the bus window, underneath the “38” of “38 Victoria”.
Now, I approach my original point, the point referred to in the title of this. To me, it doesn’t look as if I am standing where I obviously had to be standing. No, it looks like the bloke in the light green shirt can’t be me, because the bus, all of it, and especially the bit with the reflection of the green shirt bloke, is a bit to my right. Ergo, green shirt bloke had to have been standing a minimum of about three yards to the right of me, me being the bloke who took the picture. But, despite all appearances to the contrary, me and green shirt bloke are one and the same.
I presume that this odd effect is the consequence of the lens (there is only one) in my camera being of the very wide angle sort. This means that the camera takes a very wide view, but then makes the result look not so wide. Everything that would be seen by the eye as being way off to the side is squeezed into the picture. And things on the far left, to the left of the photographer at the time, are squeezed into looking as if they were on his right, in the picture.
I don’t think I’d have been able to see this nearly so vividly if this picture had not been, among other things, a selfie. On the other hand, it was not a selfie in the sense that I deliberately included myself in the picture. I am pretty sure that just happened, without me trying.
At the time, all I thought I was photoing was a bus, covered in a popcorn advert.