Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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- Guess what this is
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- An important game and only a game
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This and that
I spent a lot of today doing an elaborate Samizdata posting with twelve photos in it, and now I am doing the same here. Most of these ones are just of the I Just Like It sort.
Whether I have the time and energy left after posting the photos to say something about them remains to be seen. Anyway, here they are, one for each month, in chronological order:
Okay, let’s see if I can rattle through what they are, insofar as it isn’t obvious.
1.1 was taken outside Quimper (which is in Brittany) Cathedral, where they were selling that sugary stuff on a stick called I can’t remember what. I stalked the guy for ever, until he finally obliged by sticking his sugary stuff on a stick in front of his face. Never clocked me, I swear. Although, when others stalk me when I’m photoing, I never notice them.
1.2 is the amazing coffee making equipment owned by the friend also featured in these earlier pictures.
1.3 is the men’s toilet in the Lord Palmerston pub, near Suicide Bridge, photoed soon after I took those.
2.1 explains itself. 2.2 is Anna Pavlova, reflected in the House of Fraser building in Victoria. 2.3 was taken on the Millenium Footbridge.
3.1 is 240 Blackfriars. What I like about it is that in some photos, such as this one, it looks like a 2D collage stuck onto the sky, instead of a 3D building in front of the sky.
3.2 is the new entrance to Tottenham Court Road tube/crossrail station, outside Centre Point, seen from further up Tottenham Court Road.
3.3 is the Big Olympic Thing, seen from Canning Town railway and tube station. A tiny bit of it, anyway. To me, unmistakable. To you, maybe an explanation needed.
4.1 shows me photoing shop trivia, in this case a spread of magazines dominated by the scarily intense face of one of British TV’s great Tragedy Queens, the actress Nicola Walker. I first clocked her when she was in Spooks. Now she’s in everything.
4.2 and 4.3 are both film crew snaps. 4.2 features a London Underground Big Cheese, who is a bit put out to find himself being photoed by the wrong person instead of by his own tame film crew. He was drawing a lot of attention to himself, so I reckon him fair blogging game. 4.3 is another film crew, in Victoria Street, just loving the attention, who will be ecstatic when they hear about how they have hit the big time. I like how there’s a movie advert on a bus right behind them.
There, that wasn’t so bad. Although there are probably several mistakes that I am, as of the smallest hours of 2016, too tired to be fixing.
Happy New Year to all who get to read this.
Photoed by me somewhat over a month ago, on Westminster Bridge. I hope you agree that the darkness confers anonymity.
Photoing the Wheel is great, and you should do this as frequently as you can. But, you must always have an angle.
In the summer of 2012, there was lots of sculpture made with plastic milk bottles in and around the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Part of it looked like this:
I remember greatly enjoying this at the time, when I chanced upon it on June 9th 2012 (which happens to be the same day I took these photos of Cannon Street station and St Paul’s and its surroundings, and this photo of a lady wearing sunglasses and holding two cameras). It helped me enjoy this sculpture that I did not know what I know now (through following the link above), which is that this was in aid of the Olympics.
I came upon this while searching for Wicked Camper vans. More about that later. Maybe. I promise nothing.
About a week before Christmas I paid my brother Peter a visit, to see him, but also to check out his new home.
But before talking to him at length, and before taking much of a look at the place he now lives in, I got a pleasant surprise, in the form of these:
These being geometrical objects made of cocktails sticks. This stick object habit was one that I first acquired as an architecture student at Cambridge. Then, when I switched to doing “social studies” at Essex, I had the time to indulge in stick object construction on a grand scale. It is amazing how many such things you can fit into a small student room, if you are careful about things like swinging your arms or getting out of bed. The volume over the bed was filled with these things, as I recall.
Peter must have gone to a lot of trouble to contrive for these few surviving objects to be transported, from the family home that he has been guarding for the last year or two to his new abode. I am flattered that he thought this worth doing.
The above photo, believe it or not, is one of the better photos of any of these things I have ever taken, in the sense of showing the world what they look like.
When a person looks at these things, he jiggles his head around a tiny bit and thereby gets the 3D picture. But cameras don’t work if they jiggle. They don’t “build up a picture” inside their heads. They don’t have heads, and all they do to a picture is “take” it, in 2D. Again and again, I have photoed my ever-dwindling collection of these (to me) fascinating 3D objects, and every time, all I got was indecypherable 2D shapes and patterns. Sometimes the shapes and patterns were quite pretty, but that is all they were. Their origin was absolutely not clarified, only obscured, more or less completely.
Also, as a result of trying to light them better, I would get lots of shadows. The above photo is exceptional in not featuring lots of shadows. I didn’t plan this. It was a fluke. A Real Photographer would know how to photo these things. But I am not one of these personages.
Somewhere, I possess a collection of black and white slides I took of these things at the time I made them. I should take a look at those again, if there is anything left to look at.
Here are two more snaps of another of these objects:
As you may note, behind this thing, on the right, is a person. That would be my brother, and that picture was an early attempt to get a portrait of him, with blurry bits of stick object in the foreground.
That is included here with Pete’s permission. So now, people will accost him in the street, with cries of: “Hey, you’re BrianMicklethwaitDotCom’s brother, Pete!”
I find some people very hard to photo. But whenever I photo Pete, I seem to get something good. A lot of my pictures of these stick objects often look like that picture, but without a person in them. I don’t know what the white blob on the right is.
I was intending to include something in this about Pete’s home. Nothing personal, you understand, just general stuff about what new homes seem to be like these days. (Basically, very good.) But I’ll leave that for another time.
Consider the reform of China’s economy that began under Dfen Xiapeng in 1978, leading to an economic flowering that raised half a billion people out of poverty. Plainly, Deng had a great impact on history and was in that sense a ‘Great Man’. But if you examine closely what happened in China in 1978, it was a more evolutionary story than is usually assumed. It all began in the countryside, with the ‘privatisation’ of collective farms to allow individual ownership of land and of harvests. But this change was not ordered from above by a reforming government. It emerged from below. In the village of Xiaogang, a group of eighteen farmworkers who despaired at their dismal production under the collective system and their need to beg for food from other villages, gathered together secretly one evening to discuss what they could do. Even to hold the meeting was a serious crime, let alone to breathe the scandalous ideas they came up with.
The first, brave man to speak was Yen Jingchang, who suggested that each family should own what it grew, and that they should divide the collective’s land among the families. On a precious scrap of paper he wrote down a contract that they all signed. He rolled it up and concealed it inside a bamboo tube in the rafters of the house. The families went to work on the land, starting before the official’s whistle blew each morning and ending long after the day’s work was supposed to finish. Incentivised by the knowledge that they could profit from their work, in the first year they grew more food than the land had produced in the previous five years combined.
The local party chief soon grew suspicious of all this work and this bountiful harvest, and sent for Yen, who faced imprisonment or worse. But during the interrogation the regional party chief intervened to save Yen, and recommended that the Xiaogang experiment be copied elsewhere. This was the proposal that eventually reached Deng Xiaoping’s desk. He chose not to stand in the way, that was all. But it was not until 1982 that the party officially recognised that family farms could be allowed - by which time they were everywhere. Farming was rapidly transformed by the incentives of private ownership; industry soon followed. A less pragmatically Marxist version of Deng might have delayed the reform, but surely one day it would have come.
I did a Samizdata posting earlier today, soliciting help in decyphering a piece of text in a photo. Earlier this month I photoed this lady holding up a message for the lady she was videoing to read. Trouble is, the text was in something that looked like it was Russian.
According to Samizdata commenter Alex, the text is Kazakh. It would appear that the lady being videoed was making a video message for her sister. I expect further details to follow.
Ah, Kazakhstan. Known in Britain mostly for being the home of Borat.
As it happens there’s a Borat photo I’ve been meaning to stick up here, of Borat on the back of a bus. Here is that photo, on the right below, together with another Borat related photo which is one of my all time favourite snaps. I took this Borats-plural photo, on the left here, in Piccadilly, on March 9th 2007, and it has been shown here already, on the day after it was taken. The Borat on the bus photo was taken on March 14th, and is being shown here for the first time:
Click to see these photos bigger.
When I googled for more serious Kazakhstan information, the most interesting info I found was definitely this. Blog and learn.
Once again, the topic (du jour) is deer, this time the non-rein type deer of Richmond Park.
Here are some of the lady deer, looking very cute:
And here are a few of the deer lads, on their way …:
… to join the rest of the lads:
And here is another shot of the ladies, this time with a single gentleman deer in their midst:
I’m guessing that this is the deer who hits the annual genetic jackpot. He locks antlers with all the other male deers, and comes top, and wins … the ladies.
But I may have all this totally wrong. What do I know about what goes on in parks? Anyone really know what’s happening here?
Whatever it is, it sure makes for pretty pictures.
Happy Christmas, as and when you get around to reading this.
The weather this Christmas has been terrible. Warm, yes, but relentlessly cloudy and rainy. It seems like it’s been raining in London ever since I said here early last month that in London rain is quite rare. Wednesday was a brief respite, which the weather forecasters duly noted beforehand, but yesterday and today it’s back to mostly cloudy and rainy. So here is some Christmas photo-cheer from just before Christmas last year, when the weather was mostly what it should be around this time, suitably cold and frequently bright and sunny.
I mentioned earlier my intention to focus of a Friday on non-deline as well as feline members of the animal kingdom. This fine beast was to be seen last Christmas outside the old Covent Garden Market, where they used to sell fruit and veg - all that having moved to this place - and where they now sell stuff.
And here are two more photos, of the beast’s head, with a dose of that proper Christmas weather behind it, and of the sign at the beast’s feet, about how you mustn’t molest it in any way:
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom would not be BrianMicklethwaitDotCom if I hadn’t photoed photoers and stuck some of the resulting photos up here, so here are some of the many other photoers who photoed this reindeer. The first two have the reindeer on their screens:
And my favourite one didn’t have anything on her screen that I could see, but did have reindeers on her excellent woolly top.
Relevant website. Like I said, stuff.
Yes indeed, this is posting number seven - seven - about a walk that G(od)D(aughter) One and I did, in June of this year. Is this Proustian attention to detail? Or is it just travel boring on an epic scale? If you think the latter, the titles of such postings as this one will chase you away. You are not sitting in my living room. I would love it if you did read this posting, and if you did click on all of the photos below and if, having done that, you enjoyed them all. But this is a blog, not a kidnapping.
For those still sitting attentively on this blog’s metaphorical sofa, first: thank you for you continuing kind attention; and: the central point of this posting is that not only are Humans now using smartphones to take photos, on an epic scale. So too are Real Photographers.
GD1 is a very Real Photographer indeed. She does Real Photography for a living. GD1 had her Real Camera with her for the day, yet for a number of reasons she spent most of our walk that day taking photos not with her big Real Camera, but with her iPhone. I vaguely recall that her Real Camera had not been sufficiently recharged, but I may be imagining that. Or she was wanting to send photos to friends as only iPhones and iPhone-like cameras can do. Or perhaps she was just curious to see how good iPhotos are capable of being. Or maybe she just wanted a change, on this day out, from her day job. Whatever her reasons were, as my photos of her show, she spent most of the day iPhotoing, rather than Real Photoing. I think that’s a very interesting sign of the times.
Photo 1.1 sets the tone of these photos by concealing GD1’s face, in this case with an iBag. I never tire of taking such photos, usually of strangers, but also of friends upon whom I do not wish to inflict face-recognition angst.
In 1.2 we observe GD1 photoing London’s Big Things. I don’t know if I have influenced her at all in this matter. Maybe.
Photos 1.2, 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 show her doing something that has definitely influenced me, which is photoing inconsequential objects to create consequential photographic effects. 1.2 and 2.1 both involve water, which is a particular source of photographic effects of the sort that the eye seems programmed not to see when looking at actual water, only when looking at photos of water. This does much to explain GD1’s liking for walking beside canals, which I definitely share, but for rather different reasons.
Mirrors (2.2 and 2.3) are another source of photographic effect. I too like mirrors, because they enable me to include me in my pictures. Which I like to do from time to time, because it drives home the point that I am not and will never be a Real Photographer. (Real Photographers only photo themselves by mistake.) Sadly, I could find no photos of GD1 photoing bits of mirror, with me reflected in any of the bits. Must try harder.
3.1: a swan family (I think maybe this is the iPhone influencing her – this would be too cute, I think, for her Real Camera). 3.2: gasometer.
In 3.3 we have arrived at our final destination, Alexandra Palace, from which Big Things can be seen. So I photo the Big Things, and she iPhotos Alexandra Palace.
Will there be further postings featuring photos taken by me on this journey? I promise nothing, but … almost certainly yes.
Many more here, as Hartley adds, at Calvin Seibert’s My “Sand Castles” Flickr site.
Here, I think we can say with confidence, is another impact of digital photography. Seibert doesn’t say in his short introductory spiel (click on “show more") how important digital photography is in preserving something of these castles before the incoming tide or human destructiveness or accident claims them. But it obviously is. Would he have developed this way of sculpting, if he had had no convenient way of recording it?
And my other thought is that the website where Hartley learned about these castles, which is called Amusing Planet and which I had not previously heard of, will be well worth making regular visits to. It says in this post that Amusing Planet has now been in action for nearly eight years. I must have been there before. But, I didn’t pay any attention to the surroundings of whatever posting I was looking at. I should have.
This morning, I met up for a late breakfast in Eltham with regular commenter here Alastair. I took a ton of photos, because after we had breakfasted we checked out a great view of London just to the south, which Alastair had recently chanced upon and had told me about. But before I even look at all the photos I took, here is a photo that Alastair showed me today, which he took on November 1st. November 1st was very foggy, and this is the Walkie Talkie, smothered in fog:
If you like the Walkie Talkie, as both Alastair and I do, then: Hurrah! It’s the Walkie-Talkie!
If you hate the Walkie Talkie, and many do hate it, cheer up. In this picture of the Walkie Talkie, you can hardly see the Walkie Talkie at all!
At that excellent party last night, the one that gave rise to last night’s spectacular non sequitur of a posting, Rob Fisher mentioned that he had thoughts from time to time which are too inconsequential and un-thought-through for Samizdata, but which are still definitely thoughts that he wants to put out there, but for which he has no outlet. He used to have a personal blog, but not since he started writing for Samizdata.
My response was this: Write these thoughts down. Send them to BrianMicklethwaitDotCom, explicitly identifying them as submissions to BrianMicklethwaitDotCom. And the chances, overwhelmingly, are that I will post them here as guest postings. After all, as last night’s spectacular non sequitur of a posting illustrates, the quality control here is very, very relaxed. Sometimes stuff here is good, but it absolutely doesn’t have to be. It just has to be stuff.
I just wanted to make that clear, in case Rob has forgotten, or has remembered but thought that I was just rambling drunkenly and didn’t mean it.
This is not a general invitation to all of my acquaintances to bombard me with drunken would-be bloggage. And it is certainly not an invitation to wanker social media PR slaves to “submit” boring pieces about things I don’t care about by people I don’t care about, sometimes hinting at money that I will never get, and causing my email address to get onto yet more lists, wielded by yet more wanker social media PR slaves. Not that me saying that will put these wanker social media PR slaves off. But I just wanted to get it out there.
I did a posting at Samizdata in 2012, about a trip I made to One New Change, but I don’t believe I ever displayed this photo, which I took soon after visiting the top of that excellent venue:
It is quite clear that this is a drycleaners. Its name, alas, is not, in my photo, quite so clear.
Photo of this enterprise taken without my deliberate and rather malicious mistake here.
I have just got back from a party at Mchael J’s, having failed to do anything here before departing to it, and this was all I could manage.
But, I can add this. During that party Michael said, while travel-talking about the Middle East:
The thing you have to remember about that part of the world is that Hezbollah are the good guys.
I think he was talking about Syria, but I could be wrong. It was a good party.
Perry de Havilland also said something else very funny, but I have forgotten what it was. It was a good party.
Good night. Sleep well. I will.
The commenters on this Guardian piece by Oliver Wainwright and Monica Ulmanu disagree about what it all means and whether it’s good or bad. But all who express an opinion on the subject consider the piece itself to be an outstanding piece of explanatory work. I share this opinion. If you want to know why London looks the exact way that it does and how it is developing the exact way that it is, then you really should read this.
It contains this graphic, which concerns the elaborate rules that have accumulated over the years concerning views of St Paul’s …:
… and much else besides.
I think I’ve linked to this guy quite a few times before, but before I just called him The Guardian. Which he is. But he is also somewhat more than that. By that I mean that his work is better than his mere opinions, and the latter is probably a very reasonable price to pay for the former.
The plan was that this week, I would be catching up with myself on the blogging front. Instead I have found myself going out and doing things, and I have got even further behind.
So it is again this evening. After another busy day doing things, I have time and energy left now only to show you a snap I took of a shop window display somewhere in Oxford Street:
Yes, it’s a Star Wars stormtrooper facing a communications crisis, and improvising, with some obsolete and inconveniently large equipment.
I love shop window displays, especially at Christmas Time of course, when they erupt into Vesuvii of invention. Again, these are not things that you would want to buy, even the bits of them that are for sale. But I do enjoy photoing them. Not least because they are usually very well lit.
Indeed. I said (without actually promising (I try never to promise)) that I might be doing another posting today involving non-feline animals. I had in mind something more elaborate and more beautiful, but that will have to wait for another Friday. In the meantime, here are the above mentioned creatures, painted on a van:
Like I say, Wicked.
Photoed by me, earlier this month, in Lower Marsh, where these Wicked Vans are often to be observed in a herd.
I am happy for all those who enjoy such postings, but recently I have found myself visiting Colossal rather less than I used to. The Art featured there typically now strikes me as excessive in its laboriousness-to-effect ratio. I only went there today because guided to this by David Thompson.
The highly positive laboriousness-to-effect ratio is one of the things I especially like about photography. Click, and it’s done. Often with an effect that echoes on for decades. Wow! Look at that! And the Wow! in question took almost no time at all to produce. Okay, there may have been lots of creeping about, and many hours spent learning exactly where and how to creep about and exactly when to go click and what to click at, but you surely get my point. There’s a basic efficiency about photography that is often lacking in Art. With Art, it can take ages to contrive the effect, and then you look at it, and, well, yeah, okay, quite nice. And that’s it.
I agree that digital photography and the internet have between them greatly increased the effect side of the equation. Without those influences a lot of Colossal Art simply could not and would not have been done. But the effect still feels to me fleeting, given the amount of time and effort appears to have been expended.
What distinguishes much Colossal Art from the more usual sort of Art that currently hegemonises is that it is not typically done to outrage, but rather to amuse, intrigue and entertain. The bourgeoisie are not being epatered. Rather are we being indulged. A lot of it is the sort of stuff you buy in “gift shops”, just a little bigger and somewhat more complicated and expensive.
And as with the stuff in gift shops, I often like to photo it, or, for a while, take a look at it on the internet. But I don’t buy it.
So, how about the photography department at Colossal? Alas (for me), here also we encounter elaborately contrived fakery. Here too are, mostly, not wondrous moments snatched from the jaws of reality itself, but not-that-wondrous moments faked-up with great effort. Pass again.
But, and to finally get to the point which got me started on this posting, I did like these photos, for here Mother Nature has done all the work:
Friday is my day for matters feline. But recently I gave a Friday mention to some other non-human creatures, and I think I will carry on doing that. There may even, although I promise nothing, be other non-human, non-cat postings today.
Yes, my website, from where I sit, is behaving oddly. I seem to be able to get to it, but only v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. So this is all you’ll get today.
Well, on second thoughts, here’s a photo, to see if it will load. It’s fun but rather blurry, so no clicking and expanding. This is it:
That took a long time to load.
Indeed. Hardly slept last night, but had to get up at a sane hour this morning as have things to do during the next few days. Can’t afford for the internal clock to be totally deranged.
So, quota photo time. From the trusty I just like them! directory, taken five years ago but some things don’t change:
Most of the usual Wheel views have been photoed to death, but that effect is a bit out of the ordinary, I think. I hope.
That’s the Shell Building registering the shadow, by the way. (Er, no. It’s not. See comment.) I never normally like it (i.e. the Shell Building - which that isn’t - no wonder I like this picture but not the Shell Building - it all makes sense.) It (the Shell Building) is about to be joined by more lumps. Which may - we can hope - not be so lumpish as the Shell Building.
ALSO (and also later, like the above corrections)… I like this picture of the Wheel, which I took way back in 2007:
If that’s not the Wheel hiding in there, then I give up.
Today I spent my blogging/libertarian time transcribing a talk given by Syed Kamall MEP to Libertarian Home, back on June 4th of this year. The following very early bit from this talk, which was no more, on the night, than the self-deprecating self-introduction, convinced me that transcribing the whole thing, even though it will also be available to view on video, might be worthwhile.
Having joined the Conservative Party in 1987, I actually stood for my first election in 1994, in the London Borough of Lambeth. As you can imagine, I lost. A year later, I had my first post-doctoral job at Bath, and they asked me to stand, and I lost, in some local elections. In 2000, the Greater London Council was formed, and I stood in the GLA elections for the first time. And I lost. This is going somewhere, I promise you. [laughter]
In 2001, I stood in that well-known Conservative stronghold of West Ham, and thought I could defy history. And I nearly did. I think I lost by about fifteen thousand votes. [laughter] And then – a year later, no, when was it? - in 2004, I stood in the European elections, and I was fourth on the list, and we got three Members of the European Parliament in London. So therefore I lost, but a year later another MEP became a MP, … she became a Member of Parliament and, thanks to the list system, I moved up.
So, you can summarise my political career up to that date as: stood five times, lost five times, and ended up as an MEP. I know my Party is supposed to be against Proportional Representation, but I’ve done all right out of it, thank you very much.
There is an old cliché that goes: it matters not who won or lost, but how you played the game. I only know this because it was mocked in Beyond The Fringe, but in times gone by people took this sort of thing very seriously. Well, the case of Syed Kamall illustrates that there are circumstances when this cliché can literally be true. Because you see, the secret of Syed Kamall’s success, is that he lost all these contest so very gracefully and sportingly. That way, everyone in his Party liked him, and he levitated.
There is also the fact that, in politics, it is probably unwise to win any of your early elections, because then you have to hang around and actually do a rather insignificant job, instead of moving on to a bigger and better contest, and winning that.
My bet? It won’t be built in New York. It will be built somewhere else.
Yes, number 1.2 here is not taking, he’s making, and I photoed his screen instead of him. (This would seem to explain the (to me) decidedly off-putting not to say offensive slogan on the back of his costume.)
Although quite late in the day, which was in April of this year, the light is still fairly bright, so no pictures on electrical screens. Just faces from behind (IYGMM (if you get my meaning)) and faces front on, but with cameras in the way:
I am well aware that my obsession with photoing strangers photoing is somewhat creepy, this being why nobody ever seems to comment on these postings. Even to comment is to get too close to the obsession and to risk being thought to share it, or just to reckon it not creepy. But I happen to believe that willingness to be a bit creepy is a major slice of photoing talent, and I regularly risk this. Although I do definitely care what people think of me, I care even more about getting good photos.
And I reckon that, what with me having now done so much of this kind of photoing, the best of these photos that I take now are indeed getting to be pretty good. Of those shown above, I particularly like 1.3, with its intriguing contrast between the manliness of his pock-marked yet handsome face and the girlified phone he is using to take his photo, of his pock-marked yet handsome face, with the four-pointed Parliament tower (actually it is probably Big Ben in his photo) in the background.
The skeleton being photoed by the guy in 2.1, in case you were wondering, is an attack on capitalism, as the Guardian explains. But if this has to be explained, and it does, then it’s not much of an attack, is it?
I can’t make out what type of camera the guy photoing the skeleton is using. But of the seven other cameras, four appear to be mobile phones, and the other three to be quite big and quite expensive hobbyist cameras like mine. Mobile phones would appear to be gobbling up the small, cheap-and-cheerful digital camera market. All phones are now cameras. How soon before all cameras are phones? (See the graphs in this earlier posting here.)
I’ve been keeping an eye and a camera lens open for White Vans, and they regularly un-disappoint, if you get my drift.
But, does this White Van look like its own website? Yes, clearly the work of the same designer or designers. Either that or the White Van decorators were simply told to copy the website.
So, could a White Van actually be a website? With some kind of touchscreen on it? Probably not a good idea.
One of the things I have had to learn as a blogger is to go ahead with my little photo essays, even if I absolutely know that there are more relevant photos to be found in my archives, which I would love to include if only I could find them quickly. When that happens, I should just go ahead anyway. If I later encounter the photos I would like to have included the first time around, fine. I should do another posting and link back to the first one.
You are probably expecting a photo here, to back up the above point …:
… so there is a photo. It’s a nice photo. But it doesn’t really make the point above it. Perhaps, somewhere in my archives, there is a photo which does exactly make that point. But, it would take too long for me to find it.
Photographs are, as all the world has recently been learning, except those whose business – paid or unpaid – it is to complain about what all the world has recently been learning, a wonderful aid to memory.
And many of the happiest memories of our extraordinarily comfortable and frequently very happy times involve food. So - and the complainers complain about it with a venom they seem to reserve only for this, and for selfies - people now like to photo food. Food that they have themselves prepared. And food that others have prepared for them.
And I like to photo them photoing the food. This also makes happy memories.
Man prepares meat: Man photos meat: Man prepares salad: Man photos salad:
These are happy memories from last August. Visit to friends in the outer suburbs.
The outer suburbs? What do they look like? Well, one of the things they look like (horizontalisation opportunity) is this:
That’s the large patch of grass, beyond the back wall of their back garden. And sadly, although those things in the distance do vaguely resemble Big Things, they are actually rather smaller trees.
We are beyond the “Green Belt”. The above photo, especially if clicked on, offers a glimpse of what the Green Belt might usefully be turned into, instead of it remaining for ever the wasteland of pointless open space that it is now. It would need livening up a bit. A bit of open-caste mining, or a temporary phase as a juvenile race track? Then let nature take its course, and you’ll have a lovely place. Apparently some industrial type activity (gravel?) is about to happen in that particular stretch of grass. That will stir up some interesting nature, when the industrialising is done.
Finally, this being Friday, here is a visitor to our jollifications who dropped by that afternoon:
Like many cats in places like this, this cat seems to have a basic home of basic benefactors, and daily rounds to visit other potential and not-so-basic benefactors. This visitor acquired no happy food memories with his/her visit, on the day I photoed him/her. Not that day.
But I have plenty. Without my camera, these memories would soon have gone.
Where would we be without maps? In what world would we be living, without maps? A very different world, I think, and a much less coherent and join-up world. While travelling we consult maps, and are often unable to distinguish later what we learned by actually going there and being there, and what we merely saw on maps while going where we went, and being where we went. That was my experience anyway, when, much younger, I roamed about in Europe, on a bike.
However, when I am on a walk with Goddaughter One, I tend to learn rather little from maps, until afterwards. She is usually the one choosing where we go, and I just follow her lead. And, I don’t consult a map, because I always have my bag with me, and my camera in the other hand, and would need a third hand for a map, but do not have a third hand. There is accordingly a basic sense in which, after one of our joint expeditions, I don’t know, at the time, where I am, and don’t know, afterwards, where I have been.
It would be different if I was taking photos with my mobile phone, and also using that as a map. But, I use a regular old camera to take the pictures I take. I only use a mobile when (a) I want to take a photo, (b) have forgotten to bring my regular camera, and (c) have remembered to bring my mobile. This circumstance is very rare.
Take our most recent trek, the one which began when we met up at Manor House tube, talked for a while, and which only really got started after we had found our way to that amazing castle. I only worked out quite recently that we had started our walk here:
When we walked from Manor House tube we were walking south. When we reached the Castle Climbing Centre, we arrived at the southern most point of our travels that day. Then we took the path in an easterly direction along the canal, i.e. the blue line. The map looks a bit like a pair of spectacles, I think.
Here are some of the pictures I took that day, when the journey really began:
As you can see the path we took is called the New River Path (the canal being the New River). Wikipedia seems to be quite informative about “New River (England)”, but my blogging software seems to refuse to do that link (brackets?), so you’ll have to take my word for it that some of the words there are these ones:
The New River is an artificial waterway in England, opened in 1613 to supply London with fresh drinking water taken from the River Lea and from Chadwell Springs and Amwell Springs (which ceased to flow by the end of the 19th century), and other springs and wells along its course.
I don’t know when those reservoirs happened. Later, I presume. Until this expedition, I had no idea that the “New River” even existed.
As I said at the end of this recent posting here, I have some catching up that I want to do.
From Rob Fisher, who knows my interest in 3D printing, incoming email entitled:
It’s no longer a rare feat to 3D print blood vessels. Printing vessels that act like the real deal, however, has been tricky… until now. Lawrence Livermore researchers have successfully 3D printed blood vessels that deliver nutrients and self-assemble like they would in a human body. The key is to print an initial structure out of cells and other organic material, and then to augment it with bio ink and other body-friendly materials. With enough time, everything joins up and behaves naturally.
Right now, the actual structures don’t bear much resemblance to what you’d find in a person - you get a “spaghetti bowl” of vessels. Scientists hope to organize these vessels the way they exist in nature, though. If that happens, you could one day see artificial tissue samples and even transplants that are about as realistic as you can get.
A while back, I worked out that 3D printing was going to be just as huge as everyone is saying, but that it was not going to get “domestic”, in the manner of like black-and-white laser printers for instance, in the foreseeable future (with the possible exception of certain kinds of food preparation). 3D printing is a vast range of specialist manufacturing techniques, and it will, for that foreseeable future, be used by people who already make specialist stuff by other and clumsier means, or who would like to make particular specialist stuff for the first time, of the sort that only 3D printing can do. See the quoted verbiage above.
This is why I receive emails from Google about failing 3D printing companies along with other emails about successful 3D printing activities, mostly by already existing companies. 3D printing is best done by people who already know a hell of a lot about something else, which they can then get 3D printed. Like: blood vessels.
The principle economic consequence of 3D printing will be to provide an abundance of jobs for people everywhere, but especially among the workers of the rich world, who, during the last few decades, have been famously deprived of many of their jobs by the workers of the poor world.
Prediction/guess. Because of things like 3D printing, schools in the rich world will soon become (are already becoming?) a bit more successful, back towards what they were like in the 1950s. This is because, as in the 1950s, there will again be an economic future for everyone in the rich countries, the way there has not been for the last few decades. For the last few decades, in the rich countries, only the geeks (in computers) and the alpha-male super-jocks (in such things as financial services (and in a tiny few cases in sports)) and posh kids (whose parents motivate them to work hard no matter what (this is a circular definition (posh kids are the ones motivated by their parents))) have had proper futures to look forward to. (These three categories overlap.) Accordingly, they have been the only ones paying proper attention in school. The rest have not been able to see enough point to it.
My spell of education blogging taught me, among many things, that when it comes to schools being successful, teacher quality is absolutely not the only variable. Good teachers can get bad results, if the kids just can’t doing with it. Bad teachers can preside over good results, if parents and helpers-out, paid or unpaid, after regular school supply good supplementary teaching, or if the kids were highly motivated and determined to learn despite their crappy teachers.
The one exception to the rule about 3D printers not becoming meaningfully domestic is that they have a big future as educational toys, training kids to go into the bouncing-back manufacturing sector.
Two other people’s screens while avoiding their faces photos, taken on a muggy evening last September:
The one on the right is okay, because Westminster Abbey looks more interesting on someone else’s screen than in does in a regular photo, or in real life come to that, I reckon.
But the one on the left is really nice because the lady with the matching pink iPhone case and pink spectacle frames is photoing one of those little assemblages of modern architecture of the sort I especially like. There are all those apartments across the bridge approach from where James Bond’s bosses live, and to the right of these apartments (which already look rather tatty from close up but which look much better from afar) we observe the Spraycan. The Spraycan will soon, I believe, be joined by other towers, as that whole part of town erupts with activity sparked by the new US Embassy a bit further up river.
And, she is holding a map. Does she not know that she could whistle up a map on the phone she is photoing with?
And here are two more photos of people photoing, taken within the same short time-frame as those above:
The total amount of anonymity supplied to these two dudes is about right, but is, unfortunately, rather unevenly distributed. Dude 1 on the left is not showing us his screen, but I do like how I used that lamppost to prevent any machine from being able to spot him. Although, we can all see where the photo was taken, thanks to that road sign, which I also like including in photos.
But could a machine maybe identify Dude 2, on the right, perhaps from the rather blurry and shadowy image on his screen? A human who knows him would know him from that photo, but that isn’t the question. Here’s hoping that no machine will be interested.
Trouble is I like the photo too much to keep it to myself. You can even see the Wheel, on his screen.
Photo-screens come into their own, as objects of photography, when the light fades. They stay bright.
Fascinating point made in this piece at Libertarian Home by Simon Gibbs, about how and how not to educate computer programmers:
I am skeptical of whether formal education teaches programming, or whether programming is an innate aptitude. My computer science education is certainly a part of what made me a good programmer and I have met very good people who have retrained from other industries and become successful programmers. I have also met people who have had years of training and still lack the fundamental skill of breaking a process down into steps, despite passing various exams and tests. I graduated with such people and not with dramatically higher grades either. Formal education seems ill suited to capture, transmit, and assess the nuances of this particular skill. The ease with which code is plagiarised is one factor, as is the process of mugging up for exams, but the real problem is that the skill itself is a form of implicit knowledge which you cannot simply write down.
Further, learning to program is not an easy process. It is damned hard and no single resource or bootcamp or whatever will help you navigate a route by which you can deliver value. You have to get there on your own and that is, by definition, not something that anyone else can easily help with.
I can remember that, when I education-blogged, the above rumination was the kind of thing I would seize upon.
What Gibbs says sounds like the point that I have recently been making, generally and in particular in connection with this book (about PR (by another friend of mine (Alex Singleton))), that learning how to do something like play the violin (or do PR (or computer programming)) is fundamentally different from merely reading a book about how to play the violin (or reading a book like this one about how to do PR). Most people will never be able to play the violin well (or do PR well), no matter how much else they are able to learn about playing the violin (or doing PR). By writing a mere book about how to do PR, Singleton has not given away his personal-professional crown jewels by teaching thousands of others how to replace him. On the contrary, his crown jewels are his “innate aptitude” (honed by much practising) for combining and deploying all the PR techniques he knows of and knows how to do, when solving a PR problem. He has turned himself into a PR industry go-to media guru (which means he gets to advertise himself free) and made himself even more employable, in a kind of PR positive feedback loop. After all, the better Singleton is at doing his own PR the better he’ll probably be at doing yours.
Gibbs also makes it very clear that he reckons himself to be a good programmer, in a way that many rivals, clever in all sorts of other ways, will never be. He too does some good PR for himself, even though it’s incidental to the main point of his piece. To learn which, read it in full, by clicking on the link at the top of this posting.
Last night I gave a talk about London’s Big Things and their historical and theoretical backstory, at Christian Michel’s place. The talk felt very disorganised from where I was sitting, on account of me trying to say too much, but it seemed to be quite well received. Aiden Gregg was kind enough to compare my talk to London itself: crazy, but lots of interesting things vying for attention.
Last July, I featured a computer fake-up picture of the next London Big Thing, and there on the right is the same picture, again, smaller. The new building, under construction now, is the one in the middle, and the tallest.
But now, just a day after giving my Big Thing talk, I learn of the next but one London Big Thing, which will, if all proceeds according to the current plan, look like this:
I like it. On its own it’s nothing very fantastic, but presumably, this being the City of London, the detailing will be stylish. And it will lift the City Big Thing cluster to new heights. I think the combined effect will be excellent, and I rather think that the consequence may be that after it goes up we may talk of the City Cluster, rather than of its individual Big Thing bits. I also think I detect the influence of the Broadgate Tower, with those big Xs all of it.
A pattern seems to be emerging with these Big Things, aside from the patterns on the outside of them I mean, which is that they stick an eatery-and-drinkery and a viewing gallery at the top, to get at least some of the public (definitely me) behind the Big Thing.
The architects are really selling this latest Big Thing as something that may help to stir up the weekend in the City, weekends in the City at the moment being about as lively as the inside of a coffin. Not only are they throwing in a bar/restaurant and a viewing gallery at the top, open free of charge to all comers, but they are also clearing out some space at the bottom of the Big Thing for us punters to wander about in, and presumably buy yet more stuff. We’ll have to ask nicely on the internet the night before to go to the top of this Big Thing, if the rules for the similarly welcoming Walkie-Talkie top are anything to go by. But the big space at the bottom will - presumably again – be a place you can just show up in and enjoy. Photoing upwards from that space should really be something, as well as outwards and downwards from the top.
I don’t really know how this sort of thing works, but what seems to be happening is that they are trying to make this Big Thing as popular as possible out here in punter-land, to maximise its chances of getting a smooth ride on the planning permission front. I’m guessing that in a deal like this, there is just nothing better than getting your Big Thing built really big (and it really is big), as planned and on schedule, with no grief from the politicians. That’s all well worth a public space and whatever places up top that Joe Public (aka: me) and his digital camera may desire.
LATER: The Guardian - 1 Undershaft, the tallest skyscraper in the City of London, revealed - goes into much more detail, very informatively, if a bit sniffily in the way you’d expect from the Guardian talking about trade. Ends by saying what I say about how the City Big Thing cluster will “congeal” into one lump.
Will this Big Thing just be called “The Undershaft”?.
Ever since I expressed interest in their picture processing programme, which is called Zoner Photo Studio, the Zoner Photo Studio blog/magazine has been sending me news of articles in that blog/magazine. I don’t mind this. Often I find these pieces quite interesting.
Like the one in which I read this, for instance:
Loss of detail in red objects is a common problem in digital photographs. Digital cameras’ sensors are more sensitive to the red color channel than the other two (blue and green), and meanwhile overexposure of the red channel can lead to the loss of detail in red objects.
The article then goes on to explain how to deal with this loss of detail in red objects, an explanation that I can live without for the time being. No, what interested me was the claim that cameras get more excited by red than they do by other colours.
I found myself thinking about this fact, if fact it be, when preparing this set of photos, of photographers, taken exactly a year ago to the day, on December 6th 2014, in Piccadilly Circus. When doing this, I thought it would be fun to pick out small squares, not with a view to necessarily showing the most important bit of the picture, but in order to make a pleasing collection of squares. And while doing this, I did indeed feel that I detected exactly this tendency of my camera to see red with great intensity (where there was red to be seen), and also to see pink (where there did not seem to be much in the way of red to be seen at all).
Maybe this is just because people like red, and so the camera-makers deliberately make cameras which particularly see red. They could tell the cameras not to see so much red, but if they do, people like it less. If that means that people can’t see so much detail in the red bits of their pictures, well, they don’t care that much. Red is, after all, the colour of Christmas cheer. When seeing the best in something, we are seeing it through rose coloured spectacles. Red makes people happy. Could that be it?
Anyway, here are those pictures. My camera, when taking them, saw a lot of red, and presumably these other people taking photos were also photoing a lot of red. See in particular the one where it says Mamma Mia on the screen. Mamma Mia is in blue letters, but the surrounding colour on the screen has a distinctly pink tinge to it, even though I am pretty sure that the original background was white:
Once again, here is a result of a photoshoot that was really quite good, so why didn’t I show this or a similar result at the time? Well, first, there was really no rush, was there? It’s not as if people taking pictures in Piccadilly Circus is any sort of revelation. It wasn’t news. It could wait. But why did it, for a whole year? Well, basically I take far more pictures than I can reasonably show and tell about. If I thought that just shovelling snaps into Flickr was worth doing, I would do it, but I don’t. For me, it has to be photoblogging. But photoblogging takes time. Also, I like to mix it up, and not just have posting after posting consisting of great masses of photos, taken by clever old me. So, for me, photoblogging takes even longer. And the blogging bit tends to get left behind by the photoing.
Over Christmas I intend to stay in quite a lot, basically doing more writing than usual. And I also intend to do a bit of photoblogging catching up, harking back to sunnier times, last summer, and perhaps also in the more distant past. Although, as always, I promise nothing.
Blatant quota photo, in the form of an interestingly informative vehicle snapped by me earlier this evening:
Shame about the superfluous piece of punctuation.
Earlier, my host and his guests were chuckling at a big flag host had in his living room, which said: DONT TREAD ON ME. For DONT read DON’T.
Shame the apostrophe cannot somehow be transferred from the car to the flag, thereby bringING (see comment) the grammar universe into alignment.
Back to the car: COMERCIAL is missing an M.
None of which should be brought up if he is rescuing you and your vehicle from a predicament.
And, I bet this posting contains a grammar or spelling mistake, because this is one of the subsections of Sod’s Law. Whenever you sneer at someone else’s grammar or spelling, yours goes wrong.
Last Tuesday I attended the A(dam) S(mith) I(nstitute) Xmas Party, to which I had been looking forward. Sadly, when I got there (and this is nothing whatsoever at all to do with the quality of the ASI Xmas Party) I found that I was in a decidedly anti-social mood. Grumpy Old Men are not a cliché for nothing.
But before making my gracelessly early exit, I did manage to strike up a conversation with a young woman fresh out of studying the history of media censorship, at Cambridge. This, she said, “could not be a more libertarian subject”. True. Good. More and more libertarians seem to be emerging from universities these days, in considerable part thanks to the ASI.
Me carrying a camera caused her to mention that she too was keen on photography. I asked her what is the best photo you’ve ever taken? And she said, tapping away at her iPhone: probably one of these. Definitely a cat person. I reckoned it a bit too uncouth to be photoing her, but I did photo her iPhone, which is also good when the light is a bit dodgy, as it was that evening.
Later, I cursed myself for not remembering to ask Anton how his expedition to the USA had gone. But, as I keep having to remind myself, this is the twenty first century. You can look things like this up. And sure enough, at Anton’s Twitter Feed, I found this ("U can now watch my presentation (of thesis for the very first time!) at Columbia’s Center for Capitalism & Society: ..."), which takes you straight to this, the second this being the video of him in action. I just watched it. Excellent. And recommended to all who want to know how the world got from almost universal penury to something rapidly becoming almost universal creature comfort, in which all can have, if they wish, cat pictures on their iPhones.
These are Shanghai, Seoul, Beijing, London, New York:
The rest here.
I’ve been reading more of Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything, from which a previous excerpt can be found here, here. It continues to be very good. In this bit, Ridley discusses the relationship between genetic and cultural evolution:
What sparked the human revolution in Africa? It is an almost impossibly difficult question to answer, because of the very gradual beginning of the process: the initial trigger may have been very small. The first stirrings of different tools in parts of east Africa seem to be up to 300,000 years old, so by modern standards the change was happening with glacial slowness. And that’s a clue. The defining feature is not culture, for plenty of animals have culture, in the sense of traditions that are passed on by learning. The defining feature is cumulative culture - the capacity to add innovations without losing old habits. In this sense, the human revolution was not a revolution at all, but a very, very slow cumulative change, which steadily gathered pace, accelerating towards today’s near-singularity of incessant and multifarious innovation.
It was cultural evolution. I think the change was kicked off by the habit of exchange and specialisation, which feeds upon itself - the more you exchange, the more value there is in specialisation, and vice versa - and tends to breed innovation. Most people prefer to think it was language that was the cause of the change. Again, language would build upon itself: the more you can speak the more there is to say. The problem with this theory, however, is that genetics suggests Neanderthals had already undergone the linguistic revolution hundreds of thousands of years earlier - with certain versions of genes related to languages sweeping through the species. So if language was the trigger, why did the revolution not happen earlier, and to Neanderthals too? Others think that some aspect of human cognition must have been different in these first ‘behaviourally modern humans’: forward planning, or conscious imitation, say. But what caused language, or exchange, or forethought, to start when and where it did?
Almost everybody answers this question in biological terms: a mutation in some gene, altering some aspect of brain structure, gave our ancestors a new skill, which enabled them to build a culture that became cumulative. Richard Klein, for instance, talks of a single genetic change that ‘fostered the uniquely modern ability to adapt to a remarkable range of natural and social circumstance’. Others have spoken of alterations in the size, wiring and physiology of the human brain to make possible everything from language and tool use to science and art. Others suggest that a small number of mutations, altering the structure or expression of developmental regulatory genes, were what triggered a cultural explosion. The evolutionary geneticist Svante Pääbo says: ‘If there is a genetic underpinning to this cultural and technological explosion, as I’m sure there is .. .’
I am not sure there is a genetic underpinning. Or rather, I think they all have it backwards, and are putting the cart before the horse. I think it is wrong to assume that complex cognition is what makes human beings uniquely capable of cumulative cultural evolution. Rather, it is the other way around. Cultural evolution drove the changes in cognition that are embedded in our genes. The changes in genes are the consequences of cultural changes. Remember the example of the ability to digest milk in adults, which is unknown in other mammals, but common among people of European and east African origin. The genetic change was a response to the cultural change. This happened about 5,000-8,000 years ago. The geneticist Simon Fisher and I argued that the same must have been true for other features of human culture that appeared long before that. The genetic mutations associated with facilitating our skill with language - which show evidence of ‘selective sweeps’ in the past few hundred thousand years, implying that they spread rapidly through the species - were unlikely to be the triggers that caused us to speak; but were more likely the genetic responses to the fact that we were speaking. Only in a language-using animal would the ability to use language more fluently be an advantage. So we will search in vain for the biological trigger of the human revolution in Africa 200,000 years ago, for all we will find is biological responses to culture. The fortuitous adopting of a habit, through force of circumstance, by a certain tribe might have been enough to select for genes that made the members of that tribe better at speaking, exchanging, planning or innovating. In people, genes are probably the slaves, not the masters, of culture.
What it shows is that the building on the right there (click to get it bigger), 62 Buckingham Gate, seen there from Victoria Street, looking north, which is where I usually see this building from (and where all the first four outdoor ones of these six pictures of it at the 62 Buckingham Gate website, has a park on his roof.
To learn this you need to go round the other side, and step away a bit. My photo here was taken from a much frequented spot, but one which I do not myself much frequent, namely the public area in front of Buckingham Palace. Most of the people outside Buckingham Palace are not at all interested in the top of 62 Buckingham Gate.
But I was:
I still am.
Modern architectural aesthetics now is often about just such juxtapositions, between this modern material and that, between the modern and the ancient, and, as here, between the sleek and urban and the rough and rural. Not properly rural, of course, but you know what I mean. We are seeing more and more rurality-on-rooves these days.
See also this earlier 62 Buckingham Gate posting, at Samizdata, also about a contrast, this time between the finished object and how the object looked when under construction. I see that I used the same picture of the finished building then as I did in this.
LATER: And as if to prove the point ...
Photoed by me, earlier this evening:
This is my regular laundrette.
There seems to me to be something doom-laden about these messages.
LAST WASH: 6.45PM
And may God have mercy upon your soul.
It’s the severity and coldness of the machines and the negativity of the news about that wash, after which no further washes may be washed, and about the close, after which the rest is silence. In most other circumstances those merry wishes would be cheerfully inconsequential. But not these ones. They too seem to be spoken with funerial gloom, in a way that portends a Christmas which will, this time, be anything but merry.