Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Saturday September 29 2018

Another comedy bullseye from Titania:

Good to see Jess Glynne & Ed Sheeran tackling ginger prejudice. Gingers should be treated in exactly the same way as normal people.

I really did LOL.  And again, at this.

Friday September 28 2018

Now that the proper cricket is over for the summer, the cricket fan’s mind turns towards silliness like The Hundred.  This is the idea of having a new slam bang format, in addition to Twenty20.  E(nglish) C(ricket) B(oard) Chairman Graves is now pushing this, and there is push back.

This cricket fan has two things to say about why The Hundred is so very, very silly.

Thing one.  On what planet does a cricket administrator look at cricket on earth, and say: The Trouble With Cricket On Earth Is That It Doesn’t Have Enough Different Formats.  There Should Be Another.  ????

Thing two.  The Hundred reminds me of the days when they mucked about with the limited overs format, with the result that for quite a while, or so I remember it, the English counties were playing 40/40 overs, while internationals were 50/50 overs.  The heart of the problem was that the English administrators thought they ruled cricket, or behaved as if they thought this, and consequently imagined that they, on their own, could impose a new Format.  But, there was a world out there.

And there is a world out there now, an even bigger one than then.  Unless The World agrees that The Hundred is a good format, it will be a flop.  Cricket is governed by The World (sometimes known as: India), not by England.  Do the people pushing The Hundred have the Indians on board with it?  I thought not.

TIL that TIL stands for “Today I learned”.

First word in this, which is about piles.  IL more about piles here and here.

Thursday September 27 2018

For the last four days I have been following Surrey v Essex at the Oval, on Cricinfo mostly.  The scores alone were remarkable, hence my title above.  Those who do not know cricket should know that, to those who do know cricket, the mere numbers above are truly astounding.

Famed Surrey commentator Churchy couldn’t take his eyes off it:

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That’s him on the left.  Don’t know who the other bloke is.  Kevin Howells?  See also this (about the effect on the face of photoing someone from really close-up).  And the second of these two guys (both saying: well done Surrey) is another in-your-face face.

Given how good the weather forecasts were (and given how good weather forecasts are) I thought about going there.  But I still suspect that, had I done so, a cascade of butterfly effects would have been set in motion, and Surrey would have lost by an innings and about three hundred early on day three, instead of by a mere one wicket on the afternoon of day four, having looked, towards the end, well capable of snatching a win.

Anyone who thinks that only winning matters in sport should ponder how much happier a Surrey fan like me is about this game as it finally turned out, compared to how grumpy I would have been if it really had ended early on day three.  Still an Essex win.  Same number of Championship points to both sides.  Surrey still win the Championship anyway.  But what an abject anti-climax that would have been.  And what a great actual-climax to the season it actually was.

Had the County Championship still been at stake, and had it depended on this result, I could not have endured it.  But, if the Championship had been at stake, it would, I think, have been an entirely different game.  Intrinsic to the amazing Surrey recovery was that this was … only a game.  Thus did it end up being a great game, because only a game.

I really want to remember this one, hence this posting.

This phenomenon continues to trouble me.  Intellectually, I know that the people supervising these circumstances have them all under control.  If ever there was a trade in Britain that knows what it is doing, it is the big city building trade.  Things get done on time, all according to plan, and the results work as intended.  And cranes do not fall over.  (The financing can go all over the shop, which means that plans can change dramatically, but that’s a different story.)

But it still feels to me as if this crane might fall over.  It still feels to me that, at any moment, something near the ground, on the left as we look, just might … SNAP!!!!:

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So, another for the collection.  Photoed by me the day before yesterday, from the Rooftop of John Lewis.

I don’t generally do Photoshop(clone)ing, but some rotation was necessary with this one.  In my original, the crane was completely vertical.  And everything else: not.

Wednesday September 26 2018

Last week Bruce the Real Photographer (regular name: Bruce Nicoll) dropped by and we went out for a coffee.  While we coffeed, we got onto the subject of how faces look different depending on how far away the camera is.  By which I mean: Bruce the Real Photographer told me about this.  (He mentioned this famous photo, on the right here, to illustrate what he was talking about.)

Inspired by this portraiture lesson, I at once took a very close up photo of Bruce the Real Photographer, which looked like this ...:

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…, and then I walked away and took this next photo, with lots of zoom, so that his face occupied most of the photo in the same way as it did in the above close-up:

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The contrast is remarkable.  His face is a whole different shape, depending.  And look what happens to the background.

I sort of knew all this.  But sort of knowing something and knowing it for sure are two distinct things.  Knowing it and really seeing it are also two distinct things.

I photo a lot of buildings, close-up, and from a distance with lots of zoom.  But these tend not to be the exact same buildings from one moment to the next, and the above contrast very seldom jumps out at me.

Mostly, what I see is another equally clear contrast but what looks like a very different one.  I see extreme angle differences, like when verticals converge, or not, depending on how far away you are.  I mentioned in passing, yesterday, how buildings do less of this when you are further away.  When you are far away, you cam get exact horizontals and exact verticals, the way you don’t when you are close-up.  See the first photo below, which was done with lots of zoom from far away. 

It all makes perfect sense.  When you work it out, it becomes obvious.  It is obvious that, if you are far away from someone who is wearing glasses and he is looking straight at you, you are more likely to see his face through those glasses and less likely to see the background beyond his face through his glasses.  It’s all a question of angles.

It is obvious that if you are close up, you see only the front of his face.  Further away, and you also see the sides of his face.

And it’s obvious that if you are far away from a rectangle that is at a slightly higher level than you are, it looks more exactly rectangular the further away from the rectangle you get.  Again, the angle changes.

But that’s what knowledge is.  When it becomes “obvious”, that means that you know it.

Here is another photo of Bruce the Real Photographer, which I took immediately after taking the second of two above, but this time with no zoom:

image

This shows that I was never actually that far away from Bruce the Real Photographer.  It’s merely the difference between very close and not so close, two places which are only a second apart from each other.  With buildings, you need to get a lot further away to make much difference.

To show you just how Real a Photographer Bruce the Real Photographer is, go to this long ago posting here, which has a whole clutch of some of his best looking stuff, but small enough to fit on this blog and not to be worth anyone serious about copying to copy.

The first photo there is a particularly good one of the actor Dudley Sutton, who nrecently died, causing much lamentation in the antiques trade.

Tuesday September 25 2018

I was reading this piece by Will Self about the baleful effect upon literature of the internet, screen reading instead of proper reading from paper bound into books, etc.  But then I got interrupted by the thought of writing this, which is about how a big difference between reading from a screen, as I just was, and reading from a printed book, is that if you are reading a book, it is more cumbersome, and sometimes not possible, to switch to attending to something else, like consulting the county cricket scores (Surrey are just now being bollocked by Essex), seeing what the latest is on Instapundit, or tuning into the latest pronouncements of Friends on Facebook or enemies on Twitter, or whatever is your equivalent list of interruptions.

This effect works when I am reading a book in the lavatory, even though, in my lavatory, there are several hundred other books present.  The mere fact of reading a book seems to focus my mind.  Perhaps this is only a habit of mine, just as not concentrating is only a habit when I am looking at a screen, but these onlys are still a big deal.

The effect is greatly enhanced when I go walkabout, and take a book with me.  Then - when being publicly transported or when pausing for coffee or rest or whatever - I cannot switch.  I can only concentrate on the one book, or not.

It’s the same in the theatre or the opera house, which friends occasionally entice me into.  Recently I witnessed Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  The production was the usual abomination, but the orchestra and chorus were sublime, as were occasional bits of the solo singing.  And I now know Lohengrin a lot better.  Why?  Because, when I was stuck inside the ROH, there was nothing else to do except pay attention.  I could shut my eyes, which I often did.  But, I couldn’t wave a mouse or a stick at it and change it to The Mikado or Carry on Cleo, even though there were longish stretches when, if I could have, I would have.  It was Lohengrin or nothing.

I surmise that quite a few people these days deliberately subject themselves to this sort of forced concentration, knowing that it may be a bit of a struggle, but that it will a struggle they will be glad to have struggled with.  I don’t think it’s just me.

This explains, among other things, why I still resist portable screens.  Getting out and about is a chance to concentrate.

Monday September 24 2018

Maybe “art” is putting it a bit strongly, but nevertheless, I do really like this photo ...:

image

… which I took in the summer of 2015, somewhere in the City of London.  The directory I found this in is called “Looking4BroadgateTower”, so that tells you roughly where I was.

BMdotcom-wise, this photo has so many boxes ticked.

- First things first: cranes.  In this case, crane towers.  BMmmmmm.

- Reinforcing rods, sticking out the top of the lump like vegetation.  Reinforcement: insufficiently sung heroism of modernity.

- A crane tower shadow, on …

- … that material they shove over …

- … scaffolding.

- That monochrome thing that happens during sunsets.  And – who can say? - maybe even during sunrises.

- The way that sunlight hits crane towers and just lights them up, which I so often try to get and so seldom manage to get.

- Lots of horizontals and verticals, made possible not by Photoshop(clone)ing but by the excellent zoom lens on my nearly-but-actually-not-SLR camera, with its one brilliant super-zoomy lens.

So, lots to like there.  But what and where was this?  This is the kind of thing I like to know.

Luckily, I took informational photos, as well as arty photos like that above.  Always, when out taking photos like the above, take lots of photos which are not for art, but for information about that art.  I need to keep telling myself, because often I fail to do this.

I fail, that is to say, to take photos like this ...:

image

… which scores about zero for artistic impression, but which tells me what all that art in the first photo above actually was.

In the above (information) photo we see the same crane towers and the same lump, but viewed side on.  It’s definitely the same stuff.

There’s even a name and a website to be seen, if you crop it, and then expand it to be 500 pixels across, like this:

image

So, there we have it.  It’s the earlier stages of this.  Once you have the words to describe what you want to learn about, the internet suddenly starts to work.

This being this:

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My best guess is that the lump of art in the first photo in this posting is somewhere in the middle of the more complicated computerised Thing on the right.

Sunday September 23 2018

I am watching, on my television, Eric Lu’s Leeds Piano Competition performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4, a performance I earlier listened to on the radio.  My impression from the radio was that this was a rather “private” performance, and somewhat more so than I think ideal.  But the exact same performance, on TV, now seems, perhaps because the public nature of the event itself is inescapable, much less private than I had supposed from the radio.  Every bit as good as I recall, but different.  More assertive, more rhetorical, more like a Shakespeare soliloquy spoken out loud, and quite loudly, to a theatre audience than the same soliloquy done as a stream-of-consciousness interior thought process, perhaps also on the radio.  Odd how the medium can have such an impact on the message.

I see from the Eric Lu website that this Beethoven concerto performance, together with two Chopin solo pieces that he played in earlier rounds, is now being made available on CD.

Now I am watching a Chinese guy play the Schumann concerto.  And the contrast in how it comes across is exactly the same as with Lu’s Beethoven performance.

Saturday September 22 2018

At my home on the last Friday of this month (Friday September 28th – which is in six days time), Michael Jennings will be speaking about Iran, and in particular about how he recently spent some time exploring its capital city, Tehran.  The easiest link to learn more about Michael’s amazing globetrottings is to this list of his Samizdata contributions.

Each month, I solicit a few words from the speaker, to email to my list of potential attenders.  A few days ago, Michael sent me rather more than a few words about what he’ll be speaking about, more words than I need for that email. But I don’t want all these words going to waste, so, with Michael’s kind permission, here they all are.  In the email I send out tomorrow evening, I will be quoting from this, but will include the link to this posting, so that all who want to can, as they say, read the whole thing.

So, Michael Jennings on “Exploring Tehran”:

In recent years, I have done quite a lot of travelling in the Middle East.

From the western perspective - and particularly from the perspective of the western media - it is very easy to look at the Muslim Middle East and see something homogeneous. If you are inclined to see militant Islam and related terrorism as a threat, it is easy to see it as a single threat. However, there are two main strains of Islam, Shia and Sunni, and these are centred in two quite different cultures and civilisations: the first in Iran and the second in the Arab world.

These are two of the three largest cultures in the Muslim Middle East - the third being Turkey. These three cultures speak three unrelated languages - Farsi, Arabic, and Turkish - and the history and differences between these three cultures go back thousands of years - long before the time of Mohammed. These cultures are tremendously divided today. Iran fought a truly ferocious war with Arab Iraq between 1980 and 1988, the memory of which hangs over the country the way World War 1 probably hung over Europe in 1935. Much of the wars of the past 15 years in Iraq and Syria have been about Shia Iran (Persia) and Sunni Arab Saudi Arabia jostling for position in the Middle East. As to where Turkey stands in all this - I think Turkey is trying to figure this out.

I am not remotely an expert in any of this stuff. I have, however, spent a considerable amount of time travelling around the Middle East and North Africa in recent years. I love to explore cities on foot. I have done this, or attempted to do this in many places. Slightly less than two years ago I spent 10 days exploring Tehran on foot. Despite the fearsome (justified) reputation of the regime that rules Iran, I found - from my perspective as a Christian westerner - the most culturally familiar and welcoming culture that I had found travelling in the Middle East. Despite the fact that Iran is the only country in the entire world where all women are required to wear a headscarf at all times, I was struck by the fact that the role of women in public life was clearly much higher and that women are clearly much better educated and have a far more prominent role in the economy than in any Arab country I have been to. The Iranian middle class is substantial, and it is a very westernised middle class. At times in North Tehran I found myself in cafes and restaurants that easily could have been in hipster areas of Los Angeles, apart from the lack of alcohol.

I also found something that I should have known already - Iran is a trading, commercial nation. In South Tehran I found myself in shopping streets and bazaars that resembled East Asia - possibly commercial districts of Bangkok or Hanoi - more than anything elsewhere in the Middle East. I found myself sitting in stores being made tea (and being offered illicit alcohol) by merchants who wanted to tell me all about their trading trips to Shenzhen. It was fascinating.

And yet, this is a country that faces sanctions, and is cut off from the official system of international trade. What happens when you cut such a country off from the official system of international trade, and international academia, and international everything and so impoverishing the country, even though this is a culture that wants to participate? Come along to my talk, and I will speculate. Or possibly just show you my holiday pictures.

The basic point of my meetings is for people to attend them, but another point of them is for me to spread a gentle wave of information about people who have worthwhile things to say and interesting stories to tell, even if you do not actually attend.  This posting now means that, this month, that second mission is already somewhat accomplished.

Friday September 21 2018

The high point, literally, of the expedition that GodDaughter2 and I made to Kew Gardens back in August was our exploration of the Great Pagoda. 

From the top of the Great Pagoda, you can see the Big Things of Central London.  But what the Great Pagoda itself looks like is also worth examining.

Here is an early view we had of it:

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And here is how it looked when we got closer:

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The Daily Mail describes the Great Pagoda as Britain’s First Skyscraper.

Now look how it looked when we got closer still:

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So, what are those sticky-outy things on the corners of each sticky-outy roof?

That’s right, dragons.  And we’re not talking merely inflated dragons.  These are solid looking and scary.  You couldn’t kill these dragons with a mere pin prick, and you wouldn’t dare to try.

Most of the Great Pagoda dragons look like this:

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We discovered when we got there that the recent restoration of this Great Pagoda had, only a few weeks before our visit, been completed.  We got very lucky with that.

Read more about these dragons, and about the Pagoda that they now guard, in this Guardian report.

This Great Pagoda, London’s very first Big Thing, was built by Sir Wiiliam Chambers in 1762.  The dragons were a feature of the original Pagoda, but in 1784 they were removed.  Being made of wood, and following a burst of wet weather, they had started to rot.

Wikipedia says that Kew Gardens was adopted as a national botanical garden in 1840.  Would that be when the Pagoda was opened to the general public?  Whenever exactly that was, Kew Gardens and the Great Pagoda have been what we now call visitor attractions for quite a while now.

During World War 2, the Great Pagoda was used to test bombs.  You can still see one of the holes they made in all the floors, to allow the bombs to fall.  Keeping that for everyone to see now is a nice touch, I think.

Kew Gardens contains lots of greenery, and green stuff on sticks.  What do they call those things?  Trees.  Kew Gardens has lots and lots of trees, of many different brands.

So, on the left here, the hole in the floor.  On the right there, the seat made from many trees:

imageimageimageimageimage

And in the middle, the seat, seen through the hole.

But back to those dragons.  The old rotting dragons have now been almost entirely replaced by 3D printed dragons, which look solid but which are actually far lighter than the old-time originals.

On the lowest roof, right near the ground, there was a different sort of dragon, which looked like this:

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I wonder what the story was of that one, for there did indeed seem to be only one such blue dragon.  Had the original plan been to make all the dragons like that one?  But did its structural weakness cause them to abandon that plan, and go with the other darker green dragon with its scary red tongue, and with its rather more solid wings?  Don’t know, but whatever the story is, the winning dragon design is pretty good also.

Everything about how the Great Pagoda looks, inside as well as its exterior, says: class.  This is a visitor attraction that I warmly recommend.  There is no lift, not originally of course, and not now, but the steps, although quite numerous, are at a comfortably mild angle - rather than, say, like the ones in the Monument.  Even better, each flight of steps you go up causes you to reach another actual floor, of the sort you can stand on, with windows looking outwards.  So, oldies like me can go up two floors, say, and then have a comfortable breather, without blocking anyone else on the stairs.  If we are on the right floor, we can even use that multi-treed seat (see above).

The weather on the day that GD2 and I visited Kew Gardens was not perfect.  The dragons look rather dark and menacing in my photos.  But that look works, I think.  And as days out go, this day out was pretty much perfect.

Thursday September 20 2018

To me, nothing says Abroad quite like a poster, somewhere in Abroad, advertising an English speaking movie, whose English title I already know, with a foreign title that is different, but with all the same star names:

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La Taupe means The Mole.  I preferred the TV series, but I love this poster.  Photoed by me in Paris in February 2012.

As was this, on the same expedition:

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In the same directory, I encountered other photos of posters advertising the following movies: Drive (Ryan Gosling), Ghost Rider (Nicolas Cage), Underworld (Kate Beckingsale), and Star Wars Episode 1 (whoever).  But in those posters, the titles stayed in their original English.  Why?

Wednesday September 19 2018

Yesterday I was in Victoria Station, and as I emerged from it into … that mess of activity outside the front entrance, I noticed that the light seemed particularly appealing.  At first what got my attention was the combined effect of the mess in the foreground, in the dark, and the assorted Medium Sized Things in the background, totally missmatched and just jambed down together in the London style, all illuminated.  (See photos 1.1 and 1.2 below.)

But then, I found myself zeroing in, yet again, on Pavlova.  What got me noticing her was that, finally, I seemed to have found the right moment to photo her with that big concrete lump that calls itself “Portland House” behind her.  I have done this a lot, but it has never worked until now.  This time, there was a shadow behind Pavlova, while Pavlova herself, and the dwarfed-by-modernity theatre on the top of which Pavlova dances, were both picked out by the light, a combination of circumstances I have never before encountered, or if I did I didn’t notice.

I took many photos of this effect.  Partly because I can’t decide which one I like best, and partly because I think these photos look good when small, here are 3x3=9 of them:

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Maybe the Wikipedia entry for Portland House does say who originally designed this unlovely edifice, but if it does, I couldn’t find that.  Wikipedia does note, however, that Portland House is a miniature rip-off of the Pan Am Building in New York, now called something else.

Further googling got me to a piece by Mike Higginbottom entitled Pan-Am’s London sibling.  He rather likes it.  Plus, he name checks the now pretty much forgotten architect of said sibling: Howard Fairbairn & Partners.  Modern Movement hulks by big name modernists sometimes have a certain in-your-face impact and memorability about them.  But this hulk has always seemed to me to epitomise Modern Movementism at its dreariest.  It’s not even “brutal”, just big, bland and boring.  I greatly prefer Nova, the red diagonalised Medium Sized Thing nearby, which is also to be seen in photos 1.1 and 1.2 above.

Tuesday September 18 2018

And no, I don’t mean reinforcements for an army.  I mean the kind of reinforcements that end up buried in concrete.

Like these ones:

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All six of these photos also feature one of the more impressive scaffolding arrays near me just now.  The art of scaffolding and the art of creating reinforcements for structural concrete have much in common.  Both involve putting together lots of bits of metal.  Both need to result in a structure that stays put and does not collapse.  Both look pretty to people like me.

But there are also big differences.  Scaffolding is very visible, and it remains visible for the duration of its working existence.  Scaffolding thus proclaims itself to the world, by its very existence.  That we live in a golden age of scaffolding is obvious to all of us, whether we like this fact or hate it.

Also, scaffolding rather quickly punishes those who erect it, if they don’t do it right.  While creating scaffolding, scaffolders make use of the scaffolding they have just been constructing, and they are their own first users.  They thus have a literally inbuilt incentive to do their work well.  And if they don’t, it is not that hard for others to spot this.  Bad scaffolding wobbles.  Such are my surmises about scaffolding.

Reinforcements for concrete are something else again.  By the time they go to work, doing the job they were built for, everyone concerned had better be damn sure that they have done their work well.  But, if they haven’t, the disastrous consequences of that bad work may take years to happen, and even then to be controversial.  Who is to say exactly what caused a building to collapse?  And if the building collapses rather catastrophically, it is liable to destroy a lot of the evidence of what exactly happened, and why.  Investigating such catastrophes being a whole separate job in itself.  So, getting these reinforcements right, with an inbuilt regime of testing and inspection and supervision, all managed by morally upright people whose declarations of confidence in what they have been inspecting can be relied upon, is a whole distinct industry.

But, this is an industry whose products, by their nature, end up being invisible.  We all rely on such work being done correctly, not just “structurally” but also in a morally correct manner.  Yet, we mostly never see this work, only its indirect results.

So, I hereby I celebrate the work, morally as well as merely technically good, that goes into the making of reinforcements for concrete.  I salute the good men and true who make these (I think) beautiful objects, and who ensure that they perform faithfully.  Their moral as well as technical excellence is all part of why I consider such reinforcements to be things of beauty.

I did some googling to try to determine exactly what reinforcements like those in my photos are used for.  The lorry says R. SWAIN AND SONS on it.  But they are hauliers, not makers of concrete reinforcements.  The nearest I got to an answer was this photo, of objects just like those on my lorry, with this verbiage attached: “Prefabricated Piling Cages Made of Reinforced Bars On Site”.  Prefabricated Piling cages.  Piling sounds to me like foundations.  (Yes.) The reinforcing has to be shoved down a hole in one go.  It can’t be constructed bit by bit, in the hole.  It either gets assembled beforehand on site, or, it gets assembled in a factory and taken to the site by lorry, as above.

The reinforcing that a structure needs when it is above ground, on the other hand, can be assembled on site, and I’m guessing that this is what usually happens.

Just guessing, you understand.  My first guess actually was: for an above ground structure, until I came upon the photo I just linked to, and not foundations.  But, what do I know?

Monday September 17 2018

imageRecently I bought a CD set of Show Boat, and yesterday I listened to it.  Show Boat is not really my kind of thing.  When it comes to singing, I tend to prefer either Schubert or the Rolling Stones.  I bought this Show Boat to learn more about a lady called Janis Kelly.  As you can see to the right there, she is one of the star singers in this recording.

Janis Kelly is something of a legend in the classical singing world.  She is a fine singer in operas and music dramas of all kinds, and she sang the part of “Magnolia” in this performance of Show Boat.  She is also a much admired singing teacher, of the sort that singers she has taught spend the rest of their careers boasting that they were taught by, in their CVs and programme notes.  And, Janis Kelly just happens to be GodDaughter2’s singing teacher at the Royal College of Music.  (GD2’s graduation recital being further evidence, to my ears, and eyes, of Ms. Kelly’s teaching prowess.)

Janis Kelly sounded great on this recording, but what surprised me was how much I enjoyed the recording as a whole.  I am used to hearing shows like Show Boat performed in a style that is aimed at audiences who basically prefer pop music to classical or orchestral music, and which typically uses pop brashness and pop exuberance to cover for the small number of musicians being deployed.  This version of Show Boat, however, was “orchestrated”, by Robert Russell Bennett.  The sleeve notes claim that this orchestration is based on the “original 1946 score”, and (I’m guessing) might well be closer to what its composer, Jerome Kern, would have wanted than was any performance that Kern himself ever heard.  This is a performance which makes clear the direct line from opera to operetta, to the music of Kern.  Under the baton of John Owen Edwards, the orchestra makes a far lovelier sound than the din I was expecting.

Mercifully, what has not been opera-ed, so to speak, is the singing style.  Where an operatically-inclined manner is appropriate, that is what happens, as when Janis Kelly sings, for example.  But when it comes to a character like Ellie, sung by Caroline O’Connor, we get the full Broadway closely-microphoned belting style, a style that someone like Franz Lehar, or for that matter Franz Schubert, could never have imagined.

Further proof of the excellence of the singing in this performance is that, in the best Broadway style, and even when the singing is rather operatic, you can hear every word they sing.  Had this show been sung in the full-on operatic style throughout, to emphasise that this is directly descended from Verdi and Wagner and Puccini, that would never have happened.  (I’m still grumbling to myself about a performance of Madam Butterfly at the English National Opera (where everything is sung in English), where most of the solo singers might as well have been singing in Japanese for all the sense I could make of what they were singing.)

My feeling about opera is that I tend not to like how it is sung (too wobbly and verbally incomprehensible (see above)), but I love the sound that it makes, in between the singing.  When it comes to singing, I tend to prefer the Abba style to the noise made by the average opera singer.  (Above average opera singers are a different matter entirely.  (Today I listened to Act 1 of this, also on CD, and it sounded stupendous.)) But as for what accompanies that singing, give me the sound of an opera orchestra every time, over the brash, jazz-band-based instrumental belting, banging and twanging that you mostly get when listening to “music theatre”, provided only that the music is the kind that works orchestrally, which in Show Boat it is.

This Show Boat, then, is for me the ideal compromise, between Broadway and the opera house, being the best of both and the worst of neither.  Not bad for a fiver, which is all Amazon charged me for it.

Sunday September 16 2018

I am currently reading The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert R. Reilly, with a view to reviewing it for Samizdata.  Brilliant.  For as long as I’ve been reading this book, finishing reading it has been my number one concern.  Shoving up brilliant stuff here has … not.  Some Facebook friends of mine have been choosing the books that have most influenced their thinking, and this book looks like it will be added to my list.

Here is a typically illuminating paragraph from this book (on page 144 of my paperback edition – which I am happy to note is towards the end of it):

The enormous influence of Saudi Arabia today in the Muslim world is often thought by Westerners to be almost completely due to its oil wealth - petro-Islam. However, this discounts the fact that many Muslims, including in countries like Egypt, which are traditionally opposed to Saudi Arabia, see this wealth as a direct gift from Allah. Can it be only an accident that these treasures are under the sands of this particular country? No, they must be there as a reward to the Saudis for following the true path. Why else would the oil be there? - a question that has to be answered not by geologists, but within the understanding that God has directly placed the oil there as He directly does all things. The presence of petroleum gives credence to the Saudi claim that its Wahhabi form of Islam is the legitimate one. It is because of the oil that other Muslims are willing to give this claim consideration. This is why Wahhabism has spread so significantly, even in parts of the world like Indonesia that would seem, from their cultural backgrounds, to have little sympathy with its radical literalism. Therefore, it is not only through Saudi oil largess but also because of where the oil is that Wahhabism enjoys such prominence.

For the sort of Muslim Reilly is writing about (and that’s a hell of a lot of them), what we in the West refer to as “reality” is continuously created by Allah, in a succession of miraculous whims.  Even to study the laws of nature is to presume to place limits on what Allah might choose to do, and is accordingly a blasphemy.  Whatever happens was done by Allah, and is accordingly right.  Might is right.

And if the Saudis have most of the financial clout in the Muslim world, that means Allah must be on their side.

Saturday September 15 2018

I was summoned to Chateau Samizdata (which is in South Kensington these days) for lunch today, which meant that when I walked past that Bartok statue at lunchtime today, the light was behind me, rather than in front of me and behind Bartok.

So I was able to have another go at photoing him:

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But with rather mixed results.  The change in lighting made a lot less difference than I had been hoping.

I spent the late afternoon and the evening (a) doing stuff at home, and (b) keeping track of the climaxes of two competitions, this one, which was won by pianist Eric Lu, and this one, which was won by the Worcestershire cricket team.  Which means Worcestershire have had a mixed season, having also been relegated from Division One of the County Championship.  It was like them winning the FA cup but also getting relegated from the Premier League.  However, getting relegated from Division One of the Country Championship makes far less financial difference than dropping out of the Premier League.  So Worcester are probably now pretty happy.  Counties doing well in one format but badly in another is quite frequent.  They all say that, of course, they want to win everything.  But in reality, they prioritise this and neglect that.

Tonight, Radio 3 played the last two Leeds Piano Competition concerto performances, the three others having been played last night.  I will be checking out the performance of Beethoven 1 from last night, because, while they were waiting for them to pick the various prize winners, they played part of a chamber music performance by the guy who had played Beethoven 1, which sounded excellent.  Also, this guy came second in the overall competition, so he’s pretty good.

Tonight’s Beethoven 4, from winner Lu, was excellent, albeit somewhat more subdued than I think Beethoven had in mind when he composed this piece.  Lu’s was a very “private” performance of what was actually, I think, written as a rather public piece (about private feelings).  But that’s very much a matter of (my) opinion.  Given what Lu was doing, he did it very well.  Besides which, who would want all concerto performances to sound the same?  Beethoven might have been surprised by Lu’s delicate and subtle performance, but that doesn’t mean he’d have minded.  On the contrary, he would probably be amazed and delighted that people were still playing the thing at all.

Tonight’s other concerto, the Schumann, was similar in artistic intention to Lu’s Beethoven 4, but to my ear it involved a few too many wrong notes.  The Radio 3 commentators didn’t mention these wrong notes, but I don’t think I imagined them.  I think they chose to ignore them.

Bartok wrote three Piano Concertos, each very fine in their contrasting ways.  None of these were played in the final of the Leeds Piano Competition.

LATER: I’ve just been listening to another county game, just started on Sept 18th, and I realise that the piece I linked to about Worcester getting relegated was dated 2015.  Theoretically, they could still avoid relegation this year.  But they’re not going to.  They’ve just been bowled out for 94 by Essex, and they are about thirty points shy of safety, with Yorks and Lancs both having to cock it up big time for them to escape.  As it is, Worcs and Lancs both look doomed to the trop.  But, in theory, Worcs are still in with a chance of avoiding this.

I am very sorry to have misled you, in the unlikely event that I did, and that you care.

Friday September 14 2018

Last Sunday morning I was trying to have a good old lie-in, but instead I got woken up early by a giant anteater.

Yes.  Having been woken up, I looked out my window towards where all the din seemed to be coming from, and this was the scene I beheld:

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At first I thought the culprit might be that refuse lorry in the foreground, but it soon because clear that the noise had been coming from that red lorry with the crane-like thing attached to it.

Let’s move in closer:

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By the time this photo had been photoed, the big red lorry had lifted its nozzle out of that hole in the pavement on the right there, which I subsequently learned had been dug in connection with electric cables.  Evidently there was muck in the hole which needed to be got out, in a hurry.  Sometimes technology really sucks.

I was intrigued, and at first greatly puzzled, by picture on the side of the red lorry, and it took me quite a while to work it out.  It is a giant anteater.  It looks like at least two creatures, pointing in opposite directions, but the “other creature” is, or so I believe, the giant anteater’s giant tail.  That tail being a lot of what makes the anteater a giant.

Wikipedia tells us what an actual giant anteater looks like:

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I can see why an anteater would have a very long nose.  But why the enormous tail?  Balance, perhaps?  The answer offered here says balance, and also maybe to cover itself when sleeping.  It seems to be mixed up with the anteater having a low body temperature, the tail being there partly to keep heat out.  So, perhaps also some kind of fan?  I couldn’t find a confident answer.

As for the gizmo deployed at the back of the lorry, note how this time, a bendy arm with a tube in it does make use of a bendy tube, unlike that machine for squirting concrete that I mentioned here earlier.  Guess: not so much pressure this time, not least because the material itself being sucked up (this time) is not so heavy and bulky.  Some pressure, but not so much.

That phone number of the side of the lorry got me to the enterprise that supplied this equipment.  But follow that link and you’ll find no mention of any red lorries with anteaters on the side.  By which I mean, I didn’t.

Thursday September 13 2018

Today I was in Bermondsey, seeing a man about a blog, and instead of going straight home again, I got out at Southwark and walked to Parliament Square.  Then I tubed to Victoria, and did some quite strenuous shopping.  All that, plus I am getting old.  So, now I am now knackered, and am in need of an early night..

Here, picked out almost at random, is a photo I took on my travels, in Lower Marsh.

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When photoing this photo, I of course had no idea that part of the blurry crane in the background would be visible, less blurrily, at a weird angle, in the street lamp.  Like I always say, my camera has better eyesight than I do, and what with me (see above) getting old, that gap has been growing.

London street lamps are rather fine, I think.  In the middle of London.  Not so sure about the outskirts.

Wednesday September 12 2018

Earlier this evening, I attended a fascinating Libertarian Home talk given by Jazon Cozens, one of the founders and bosses of Glint.  (Scroll down there a bit, and I think you will see why I think I smell yet another two-man team.) Glint enables those who think that currency ought to be gold-backed to get there hands on just such a currency, thereby personally reversing, as it were, the decision by President Nixon, in 1971, to take the US dollar off the gold standard.

This talk was excellent, and was clearly saturated in Austrianism.  In the highly unlikely event that Jason Cozens has not met up with a conversed with Detlev Schlichter, he should.

Here is a photo I took of Mr Cozens waving an ancient gold coin from Roman era Britain, which he had come by in some way that he did describe but which I immediately forgot:

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And here is that coin, and him holding it, somewhat closer up:

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Glint, however, does not deploy actual gold coins.  Any gold it arranges for you to own stays in a vault in Switzerland.  You get yourself a Glint account, with whatever combination of gold or other popular currencies in it that you want, and you can buy stuff with your card, which looks and works like any other credit/debit card.

Glint would appear to be well worth investigating.

I also found the evening very advantageous on a more personal level.  I was able to solidify no less than two future Brian’s Last Fridays talks, and was able to woo two other potential future speakers of great interestingness.  Others present seemed equally busy making connections of their own.  Which is a lot of the point of such meetings, and which is all part of why I believe in organising a steady stream of them.

Tuesday September 11 2018

If you step outside Sloane Square tube station, and immediately look to your left, you see this:

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This is one of those phenomena which doesn’t photo very informatively.  By which I mean that if you are there, it is far easier to see what is going on.  So let me now tell you what is going on.  This is the inside of a new building, but covered up, while they’re completing the building, with a sheet.  This sheet has another building painted on it.  And there is light coming at the sheet from behind.  When what is behind the sheet completely blocks out light, we see the picture on the surface of the sheet.  But when light comes at us from beyond the sheet, the picture on the sheet is overwhelmed, and we observe either light, or any shapes (in this case steel structure and scaffolding) in silhouette.

What I like about this effect is both its temorariness, and the fact that it ends up looking so much more interesting that it was intended to look.  The idea was that we would only see the picture on the sheet.  What we actually see is a whole lot more diverting.

Here is another photo I took of the same thing, this time including a bit more context:

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It’s a little more clear, in that photo, that there is a picture on a surface as well as all kinds of excitements behind it, on account of the sheet consisting of surfaces at an angle to one another.

Best of all, you can now see that one of the excitements behind the sheet - to be more exact, one of the structures behind the sheet - is a crane.

Monday September 10 2018

If someone is doing this ...:

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... is it okay to photo them and stick the photo up on the internet, somewhere like here?  I feel that it is okay, because, albeit in a very good way, the guy is making something of a spectacle of himself.  He is doing something very individual, in public, in a way that people are bound to notice.  Therefore, he doesn’t mind them noticing, or he wouldn’t do it.  Therefore, he won’t mind me noticing it.

Behind our self-transporter, we can just about make out the towers of Battersea Power Station.  Well, I can, because I know that’s what it is, because that’s where I took the above photo, this afternoon.  At the time, I was busy photoing the road, because in my opinion it is a very interesting road.  For reasons which I may, or may not, explain, here, some other time.

Meanwhile, I miss Transport Blog.

Sunday September 09 2018

Photoed by me, this afternoon, just outside Acton Central London Overground station:

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Time was when I would have completely trusted a blog posting like this one, which says good things about this enterprise.  Now I merely trust this blog posting enough to link to it, and enough to hope that what it says is true.  I’ve no reason to think that it isn’t, apart from the fact it’s on the internet.

I know what you’re thinking.  How can you be sure that I am for real?  I am, but I would say that, wouldn’t i?

Saturday September 08 2018

This morning, I was half attending to the Test Match. And I was switching back and forth between the Cricinfo page that showed the latest few deliveries with written ball-by-ball commentary ("live"), and the version that showed the complete England scorecard ("scorecard").  I was doing this because I was trying to track how the England stand in progress, being accomplished by Jos Buttler and Stuart Broad, compared to other stands in the innings, and also how Buttler’s personal score compared to other personal scores in the England innings.  In the end, the Buttler/Broad stand was the biggest in the England innings, and Buttler was the top individual England scorer.  Following a terrible evening yesterday, England had a very good morning this morning.

But this is not a posting only about cricket, it is mostly a posting about internet advertising, and about what I suspect is deliberate deception in the matter of how effective internet advertising actually is.

I know, I know, if I’m not paying, I’m not watching the product; I am the product.  But I suspect that I, the product, am being lied about.

Every time I performed one of the above switches, from the “live” version of the Cricinfo test match page to the “scorecard” version, a noisy video advert cranked itself up at my new destination.  Silencing such video adverts can be difficult.  You tell them to shut up but they just ignore you and carry on shouting, like they own the site, which they sort of do.  However, I have discovered a way to silence these adverts.  Click on them, and immediately close the window that this click opens.  The advert feels that its job is done, and it stops shouting.  Its job is to get “clicks” to whatever the hell it was advertising.

But what were my clicks?  Were they attempts to learn more about the product in question.  No.  They were simply me getting the advert to shut the hell up.  I paid no attention to the adverts.

How many others have discovered this trick?  I can’t be the only one.  So, you stick your annoying advert on a popular website.  People click on the advert, close the window as soon as it opens, but the people who placed this advert assure the purveyor of the product that the advert got “attention”, from me and all the others who clicked purely to shut the advert up.  Because, look how many people clicked on the noisy bloody advert!  I did it half a dozen times for several different adverts, every time I switched from one version of that Cricinfo page to the other, which I did a lot.  That’s a lot of attention!

No it isn’t.  It is a small amount of contempt, for bad-mannered tradesmen shouting at me in my kitchen.

What’s that you say?  I’m a libertarian?  Yes I am.  So, why am I complaining about capitalism?

Try reading my piece for Samizdata entitled ”The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism”.

That link there hasn’t been shouting at you all the time you’ve been reading this posting.  This is a link with manners.  You can follow this link, in silence.  Or you can ignore it, in silence.  You are welcome.

Earlier in the week, on my way to St James’s Park tube, and again on my way back home from St James’s Park tube, I photoed what I described to Google as a “concrete pump”.

This concrete pump was helping to build a clutch of apartment blocks where the old New Scotland Yard used to be, before New Scotland Yard moved to a new New Scotland Yard, back where the original Scotland Yard used once to be.

I got enough images to suggest that a “concrete pump” is indeed what this extraordinary contraption is, but not enough to suggest that I had named the contraption correctly, using the preferred words of those who deploy it.

Nevertheless, enjoy.  I did, especially the close-ups of the joints.

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All this, just to be able to squirt concrete from a lorry into a hole.  (I’m guessing, from the invisibility of building action behind all the solid fences, that his concrete was for the foundations.  This being where concrete, as opposed to steel on its own, still seems to be essential.) And with a big long arm like that one, with all its joints, I’m guessing it can reach all sorts of complicated and out-of-the-way spots.  (If you guess that I do a lot of guessing when I see something like this, then you guess right.)

There must be a reason why they don’t use a flexible tube, but have to make do with a rigid tube, but with the occasional rotating joint.  So elaborate are those joints that they end up looking biological rather than merely mechanical.  So, as with the previous posting, also about technology rather than biology, I have categorised this posting as, among other things, “other creatures”.  (I’ve also added “sculpture” to the category list.  Does regular sculpture come any better than this?  Sometimes maybe, but not very often.)

The concrete itself must be a marvel of blending and general wonderfulness.  Able to travel as a near-liquid along this elaborate pipe, under (guess) great pressure (another guess: that’s why the pipe has to be made of metal rather than of something bendier), but then able, at exactly the right time, to solidify in the deep cylindrical holes into which it is squirted.  At which point it has to stay solid for ever.  (Is something added, at the critical moment, to make it solidify?)

There is much that is very wrong with the world.  This sort of stuff is what is very right with the world.

Friday September 07 2018

Driverless cars will happen, eventually.  But when they do, who knows what they will be like, or look like, what they will do or not do, what other changes they will precipitate?  When this finally happens, it will surely be the railways, or the internet, in the sense that it will be big, and that nobody now knows how big or what the details will consist of.

Two driverless vehicle articles came to my attention today, both of which illustrate how very different driverless vehicles could end up being to the vehicles we are now familiar with.

This Dezeen report reports on a scheme by Land Rover to put eyes on the front of driverless vehicles, to communicate with pedestrians, the way pedestrians now look at the faces of drivers to negotiate who goes where, when.  Makes sense.  With no driver, and the vehicle driving itself, it could use a face, or else how will the vehicle be able to participate in after-you-no-after-you-no-afteryou-no-I-insist-so-do-I sessions?

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So, does a robot with a working face (in due course robot faces will be a lot better than that one) count as: “Other creatures”?  I say: yes (see below).

Will the Thomas the Tank Engine books prove to be a prophetic glimpse into the future of transport?  Eat your hearts out, SF movies.  Didn’t see that coming, did you?

And here is a posting about how people might choose to sleep in driverless vehicles on long journeys, instead of going by air.  The problem with going by air being that you have to go by airport, and that sleeping in the typical airplane is for many impossibly uncomfortable.  But, if we do sleep on long distance driverless vehicles, what will we do about going to the toilet?  Stop at a toilet sounds like an answer.  But what will the toilet be like?  Might it also be a vehicle?

The point is: nobody knows how driverless vehicles will play out.  Except to say that if they look like cars and vans and lorries look now, that would be an insanely improbable coincidence.

LATER: More about those eyes here.

Thursday September 06 2018

I enjoyed this Twitterxchange. here.

Colin Kaepernick:

Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.

Scott Adams:

I’m pro-Kaepernick (for his effective protest on a real issue) but this is the worst life advice you will ever see. Develop a talent stack instead.

One of the classic career counselling clashes, the one between meaning and process.  There is a distinct whiff of Jordan Peterson in what Kaepernick says, or is said by Nike to be saying.

I’m sort of in between on this one.  I’d say: believe in something and develop a talent stack that achieves it, or failing that, something else worth achieving.  And I’d add that we all end up sacrificing everything in the end, or at least losing it.  We all must die of something.  Let it be of something meaningful or at least having attempted something meaningful.

I’m now catching up with Scott Adams, and in particular, am viewing this.  I like how Adams’s videos to camera begin with a piece of “simultaneous sip” nonsense, because this means that you don’t have to go back to the beginning when you crank one of them up.

Wednesday September 05 2018

One of the more tiresome things about Twitter is the way that a photo goes viral, without the photoer who photoed the photo getting any credit for the photo.

So, I am happy to report that, when I learned, via Mike Fagan, whom I follow, that a tweeter by the name of Arturas Kerelis reported that “someone” took this photo …:

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… in Chicago, on September 3rd, the photoer was eventually identified.  Commenter Chris Gallevo, to whom thanks and respect, steered any who cared, which included me, to the Instagram site of Kevin Banna, where the above photo is to be found.

I was not able to discover what Kevin Banna himself looks like.  That’s the trouble with image googling the name of a photoer.  Are the results photos of him, or merely photos by him?  It’s not easy to know, without more labour than I was prepared to give to the question.

In a backhanded compliment to Banna’s photo, and also to the extreme drama that the weather in Chicago is apparently capable of providing from time to time, some commenters accused “someone” of having Photoshopped this image.  Other commenters assured us that the weather in Chicago that day really was very dramatic, in just the way the above photo portrays, and that it general it regularly lays on such displays and dramas.

Tuesday September 04 2018

Every so often my friend Patrick Crozier and I get together to have a recorded conversation and we did one a while back on the subject of President Trump.  You can now listen to this, by going here.

Scroll down here, to get all our recent conversations.

For further thoughts from me about what a microphone can achieve and what it mostly does not achieve, try this posting here.

Monday September 03 2018

So I went looking for interesting new bridges, as I do from time to time, but found nothing interesting that I didn’t know about.  Like I say, the bridge news these days is when they collapse.

So I gave up on bridges, and instead thought about doing a posting about the Brunel Museum, which I visited on Saturday.  There is, of course, a website.  But there is also a Wikipedia entry.  And look what I found there.  That’s right, it’s the Royal Albert Bridge, Saltash, made smaller and sittable upon, with a train:

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I’m pretty sure that, while waiting to be told about the nearby Brunel tunnel under the Thames (set in motion by Brunel’s dad Marc), I and my two pals were sitting sipping our drinks within a few feet of this bridge-bench.  But it was dark, and I only found out about it just now.

Here are two things I did see:

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On the left, a bust of Marc Brunel, in the little museum.  On the right, a photo of son Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the famous photo with the huge chains behind him, projected onto the extremely grubby and deranged wall of the place where we listened to a lecture about the tunnel.  The guy is saying: “Well, you just can’t get the walls these days.”

No, he wasn’t.  He was saying something I didn’t catch because I wasn’t concentrating hard enough to make it out.  That being because the acoustics of this strange vertical cylinder in the ground were about as reverberationally bad as acoustics are able to be, and I could only make out about one in three of the words spoken by the guy, despite him being an actor who enunciated very clearly, and despite him standing about four yards from where we were sitting.

But despite all of the above, it was a fun evening.  Basically (a) because of the company, and (b) because now, when people ask me if I know anything about the Brunel Museum in Bermondsey, I can now say: Yes.  I’ve been there.  And because I had fun photoing.

Sunday September 02 2018

Here.

Sometimes a blog posting could just as well have been a tweet.  But most of my bog postings couldn’t.  If Twitter had arrived before blogging, blogging would surely have been considered an improvement.

Every so often, I rootle through my rather chaotic (increasingly so as I go backwards) photo-archive, and every so often when I’m doing that (as I was doing last night), a particular photo jumps out, that I have no recollection at all of having taken, but (and) which I really like.

Such as this one:

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The sunlight hitting the trees, and the pavement and the road, looks rather like snow.

That’s exactly as it came out of the camera.  Which was only my second ever digital camera, a Canon A70.

Which sort of suggests that although things like superzoom on your camera have got a lot zoomier and cheaper, the basic way these things work hasn’t changed that much.

The screens on the backs of cameras, on the other hand

Although come to think of it, what we see above is a scene with an abundance of light bouncing around in it.  It’s when things get darker that the latest cameras really come into their own, compared to this old thing.  The indoor photos in the same directory, of some long ago event in Brussels that I attended, now look very blurry and dated in their appearance.  Either that, or hideously flashed, which I hate, and never do now, no matter what my camera says.

Saturday September 01 2018

I distinctly remember photoing the old Pimlico School, which was a walk away from where I live, just the other side of Vauxhall Bridge Road.  And today, I came across those photos.  Just the two, of which this, after a bit of rotating and cropping, was the better one:

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At the time I photoed it, way back in 2004

I had no idea that it would be demolished, in 2010, and replaced with an Academy.  Read about that here.

On the very same day I took that photo of the old Pimlico School, I also took this photo:

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That was a scene that I knew would change, and now, many years later, it is changing.  But that’s quite unusual.  That was a landmark building that was definitely going to be “redeveloped”, and the only mystery was when, and in what way.  More often, buildings just get smashed down or transformed without warning.  Big scenes get rebuilt, without warning.  Oh, there is warning, if you spend your entire life looking out for such warnings.  But, I don’t.

This being part of why I take lots of photos.  Especially, now that it is so easy to take lots of photos, and so easy to store them.  That way, I am more likely to get lucky with photos of things which no longer exist, or which do still exist but which later look very different.