Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
priscila on The ups and downs of English
Simon Gibbs on Wedding photography (4): Preparations
6000 on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Darren on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Michael Jennings on Wedding photography (2): Signs
MarkR on Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
MNB Achari on Google Nexus 4 photos
MNB Achari on The ups and downs of English
Robert Hale on Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
Laurence Sheldon on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Most recent entries
- Big Things blocked by the trees of Southwark Park
- Wedding photography (4): Preparations
- Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
- Reflections on a strange coincidence involving an Android app and a malfunctioning bus stop sign
- Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
- Rothko Toast
- Wedding photography (3): Technology as sculpture
- And another posting from my smartphone
- Posted from my new smartphone
- Google Nexus 4 photos
- Wedding photography (2): Signs
- Wedding photography (1): The superbness of the weather
- A Fleet Street lunch
- So painters also used to “take” pictures
- Funniest run out ever?
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Category archive: Travel
Immediately after my first relaunched Last Friday, the one at which Sam Bowman spoke, I suffered a dose of success depression. This is when you achieve a goal, and then feel not happy but empty, because deprived of the goal. The event had gone well. But I expected a little too much from it by way of immediate good consequences. A wise friend who attended the evening later told me that good results would indeed happen, but more gradually than I had been assuming, and that is now starting to happen.
One of the better consequences of these events is that because I send out emails to anyone I half know or know of who I think might be interested in attending, I have re-established contact with a number of friends and semi-friends who I was in danger of losing touch with.
One such, Alastair James, a libertarian friend from way back, recently sent me an email which included this:
I know you mostly like shots of one thing (often with some clutter in the foreground), but if you are also interested in panoramas I wonder if you’ve ever been to Blythe Hill Fields in Lewisham. I think it has some of the best views in London of Canary Wharf and the City but I rarely see it mentioned.
For years I have been nagging people to tell me about good spots to photo London from, but mostly without success. And now that turns up, pretty much unsolicited, merely through me being in touch with Alastair and discussing his son’s sporting triumphs, they being the reason that he often finds Fridays rather hard to do.
As it happens, I had never heard of Blythe Hill Fields, but it immediately sounded very promising, the clues being in the name. A hill, with nothing in the foreground getting in the way, just fields. Ideal for wandering around on, to find the best shots, and so, yesterday it proved.
I immediately found out where Blythe Hill Fields is (from Google maps), identified the nearest station, Honor Oak Park, and soon discovered (from this train website) that there is a train direct to Honor Oak Park from Victoria, which is very near to me. I also learned (from a weather website) on Monday evening, that the short-range weather forecast for Tuesday was, in a word: superb. Not a cloud in the sky, they said, and so it proved. So, a superb forecast in the other sense also.
Yet again, we see here the working through of one of my favourite Laws, which says that new methods of communication (in this case the internet) do not replace older methods of doing things (in this case going there). Rather do the new methods complement and as likely as not reinforce the older methods. Writing gives people more to talk about. Printing makes writing massively more productive, and gives rise to masses more talk. Television adapts books and sells books and provides yet more conversation fodder. Email makes meetings, at which we can all talk to each other some more, far easier to organise and publicise. And now the internet makes wandering around London (also the world) massively easier.
This posting is already getting rather unwieldy, so I’ll hold the photos I took at and around Blythe Hill Fields yesterday for another posting. Instead let me finish up this posting by quoting and commenting on another bit of the Alastair James email, which further emphasises the point about how the internet makes travelling easier, and in his case more fun:
BTW I recently finally got a Smartphone and I find it much easier to follow blogs since I got it – I’ve always felt guilty sitting in front of a PC reading a blog that I’m doing something unproductive. Anyway I just wanted to say that I’ve been reading yours and how much I enjoy it!
You might be surprised to learn what a difference declarations of that sort can make to the morale of a blogger like me, who doesn’t now get many comments, still less comments like that. Without my Fridays, I never get to hear that, which is a perfect example of a somewhat delayed effect that my friend in paragraph one above talked about.
But note also the smartphone thing. Presumably Alastair now uses his to read blogs in circumstances where more serious work would be difficult, such as while travelling.
I am myself currently engaged in buying a smartphone, helped by my friend Michael Jennings (who is giving the next Friday talk this Friday – do come if you want to). Whereas for Alastair James a key app is reading blogs on the move, for me the killer app is definitely being able to learn exactly where I am at any point in my various wanderings, and how to get to where I want to go to next. It would have come in quite handy yesterday, but because of some serendipity that occurred without it (more about that later), I am actually quite glad that yesterday I did not have Google maps with me. That’s another story, for which stay tuned.
I suspect that Alastair and I are not the only ones now, finally, kitting ourselves out with smartphones. I sense a general society-wide stampede in this direction, as the iPhone works its magic. The iPhone defines what a smartphone is, and all those for whom money is no object get one. That tells the Taiwanese copyists what to copy at half the price, and now they have pretty much got there.
I will also be buying a “bluetooth” (Michael J says that will work) keyboard, much like the black keyboard in this posting (scroll down a bit), to go with my smartphone, the idea being that I will be able to type stuff in as well as read things. (That keyboard is also a straight copy, in black, of an Apple keyboard, incidentally. Again with the Apple influence.) A smartphone screen too small for typing, you say? My very first computer, an Osborne, had a screen that was hardly any bigger, and I loved that. Osborne equals a very stupid version of a smartphone, plus a keyboard, plus half a ton of electro-crap that is no longer needed. Discuss. I feel one of those ain’t-capitalism-grand postings for Samizdata coming on.
The trouble with my current laptop is that, like the Osborne if with less extremity, it is still quite heavy. This means that I don’t always have it with me, in fact I pretty much now never have it with me, because when I do take it with me on my travels I often never actually use it, and in the meantime greatly resent its weight. The idea is that I will always have my smartphone with me (obviously), and always (fingers crossed) with the keyboard. So whenever a blogging opportunity beckons, when I am out and about, I will be able to respond.
The smartphone I am getting also has a rather good camera included. It’ll be interesting to compare that camera with my present one.
At his talk chez moi on Friday Feb 22nd (see below) on How globalisation has made the world less rather than more homogenised, Michael Jennings intends to show us some photos. Indeed, he will be dropping by earlier in the week to make sure that the relevant technology can be guaranteed to work properly on the night. This may also require some creativity with the seating.
Here, in the meantime, are a few photos that he has emailed to me, together with commentary. Enjoy.
This is in Sukhomi, Abkhazia, a breakaway non-recognised state that is de jure part of Georgia (and is supported by Russia). Mango is a fashion label that grew out of a stall in the Ramblas market in Barcelona, and is now to globalised retail what the sub-prime market is to home ownership.
An interesting phenomenon occurs when there is a market for a particular international business, and that international business does not operate in that particular market for whatever reason: because the market is too small, too distant, too poor, too corrupt, or there are political problems. Clones of the business will often spring up. These can be particularly entertaining in places where there is no trademark law, trademark law is weak, or where it can be legally difficult to pursue claims from the owner of the trademark. This burger place in northern Cyprus in no way resembles Burger King. Obviously.
One of the most extreme cases in which this phenomenon occurred was in South Africa under apartheid. Many international companies boycotted the country, which in some ways was a modern country with a sizeable middle class, economy and legal system. (In various other ways, it wasn’t and isn’t.) South Africa in 1990 was therefore full of quite good clones of international businesses, that until then were constrained as to where they could operate, but faces competition only from one another at home. Post 1990, the international businesses that they were clones of entered South Africa in a big way, and the South Africans themselves were subsequently able to compete in the wider world. The South African clones weren’t good enough or rich enough to compete in the home markets of the major internationals, and have subsequently expanded into countries that are poorly served by the internationals for a variety of reason - this means Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, parts of Asia, parts of the Middle East. Politically dubious markets of questionable legitimacy a lot the time. One often finds South Africans and Russians side by side.
One could write an entire book about fake Apple Stores. The ones in China (this one is in Tianjin) are the most awesome. The entire story of international brands in China is itself fascinating. Everyone is there, because of the perceived size and importance of the market. Yet the country is far more chaotic, far more unstable, far more corrupt, for more authoritarian, has weaker copyright and patent laws and a weaker rule of law in general than many of the markets these companies would generally consider operating in.
India is more problematic in some ways: bureaucratic beyond words, and culturally difficult in ways that make foreign business models work less well, or at least require a lot more adaptation. (Imagine you are McDonald’s, and you are told that you are not permitted to use either beef nor pork in the food you sell). There have historically been limits on foreign investment. Supermarkets are only now in the process of being legalised. Very large companies can find entry to the Indian market - car makers or mobile phone companies. Medium sized companies - which is where most of the interesting stuff happens - find it much harder.
It’s going to be an interesting evening.
As already mentioned here, my next Last Friday of the Month (i.e. Feb 22 – please arrive at my home between 7pm and 8pm) speaker is to be my good friend Michael Jennings. The long version of his talk’s title is:
How the globalisation of commerce has made the world less rather than more homogenised, and what I have learned out this by travelling the world.
Which I will hereby shorten down to:
How globalisation has made the world less rather than more homogenised.
As all his friends will unite in telling you, Michael has done a lot of travelling.
Emails will soon be going out confirming all this, and in particular drawing the emailee’s attention to the following, which is Michael writing at a little more length about the kinds of thing he intends to be talking about:
Around a decade ago, a friend of mine decried the fact that the American clothing chain “The Gap” was expanding around the world, and destroying the local character of the cities she was visiting. I then asked her in which cities, precisely, she had seen their stores. She paused for a moment, and said “New York, Toronto, London, and Paris”.
At the time she said this, The Gap had stores in precisely five countries in the world: The United States, Canada, The United Kingdom, France, and Japan. (They have since spread a little wider, but not much wider. And certainly, not much deeper. In many of the countries they operate in, they might have one or two stores in the capital city, but they are not a brand that ordinary people will interact with on a day to day basis.) This said far more about her than it did about The Gap: she travelled to the very small number of places that were its target market - places containing people similar to her - and assumed that this was “the world”.
An observation I made then was one that has been confirmed to me since: when you find someone who decries the corporate homogenisation of the world caused by globalisation, one immediately realises that they haven’t travelled very widely. With more thought, one also realises they haven’t travelled very deeply. The number of interesting restaurants in a city is strongly correlated with the number of McDonald’s outlets and the number of fast food chains present, and it is a positive correlation. The number of interesting coffee shops (and Bubble Tea cafes, and Polynesian Cava outlets) is strongly correlated to the number of Starbucks outlets, and once again it is a positive correlation.
The question really, is whether correlation is causation. Does the spread of McDonald’s and Starbucks cause local ecosystems of food, drink, and other retail outlets to become more complex and more sophisticated? If so, how do they spread, and why do they spread?
I have spent much of the last five years travelling the world, chasing the answers to these questions in various countries and quasi-countries. (Quasi-countries such as Northern Cyprus, Palestine, or Kosovo are particularly interesting, in that the forces that spread businesses and cultures are impeded and obstructed in certain ways, while simultaneously being not obstructed in other ways that they are obstructed in real countries, and one can learn a lot about what these forces are from this.) In doing so, I have learned much about the spread of international corporations, but also much about real estate booms and cheap money. The spread of international business confirms, in many ways, the starkness of international borders and the power of international institutions and how these things trump commerce. A quick glance at shopping malls and high streets in a foreign country can tell huge amounts of information about the governance and legal systems of a country - merely through the presence and absence of brands, and through what alternatives fill the gaps left by the absence of international brands.
On February 22 I shall attempt to draw and share some conclusions from what I have learned.
As to Michael’s question about correlation, causation, and so on, between on the one hand Starbucks et al, and on the other hand greater eating diversity, my untravelled guess would be that both are caused by globalisation, and in particular by lots of foreigners descending on the place, because of easier and cheaper travel, more globalised business activity, and so on. Some of these foreigners want their familiar stuff, i.e. Starbucks. And other foreigners welcome the change to get away from all that, and want sample local delicacies and diversions, perhaps guided by local work colleagues. Opposite sides of the same global coin, you might say.
But what do I know? Less than Michael Jennings, that’s for sure. He has not merely travelled. He has travelled, to use his own excellent phrase, deeply.
If you want to attend this event, email me, or leave a comment here, and I’ll get back to you to confirm that you will be very welcome, as you surely will be.
More incoming signage weirdness from Michael J:
I do love a good biblical mixed metaphor.
I guess this means that the plants can talk, but in lots of different languages.
Another foreign sign from Michael here.
As promised, more Croydon Shop Stuff, feline because it’s Friday:
Top left, superior Egyptian cats, and: a meerkat. They’re cats too, right? Well, kats, anyway.
Top right, you can see a hippo, next to all the exotic, big, wild cats. Hippos are extraordinarily rare in such situations, given how appealing you would think they might be. Stuff Shops are full of animals, such as monkeys, bears, cows, dogs, cats (of course), horses, and dinosaurs. But, hardly ever hippos, in fact pretty much never. I know this because Perry de Havilland collects hippos, and I am constantly on the lookout for them, to repay him a bit for all the free dinners I cadge off of him (and her).
The one in that picture is by something called Naturecraft, and it’s the only hippo they do. It costs £25 quid, and I’d be willing to go that far, but I reckon Perry already has one of these exact hippos. They aren’t hard to find on the www, so if he wants one, he already has one.
According to this site, Naturecraft was bought up and rejigged, and doesn’t do these animals any more. Maybe the problem was that people photoed them in shops, but didn’t buy them.
Today I took a trip to place I keep meaning to check out: Croydon. My fascination with Croydon dates back to a day in the 1960s when I was on a bicycle, on the way to an East Coast port, to get me to Scandinavia, about two hours from home on the very first day of the expedition. I was on this flyover on the south side of London, which I was anxious to avoid, and suddenly, there it was, like the towers of Pheonix, Arizona, or some such place. South London’s very own tower block cluster.
Being in the middle of Croydon this afternoon confirmed a suspicion, which is that you have to be in just the right spot to see the various Big Things of Croydon as a cluster. In reality, they are spread out. The closer to them you get, the less clustered they become. But, they are scattered along an approximate line. Which means that you see them as a cluster if you get in line, as I just happened to do, all those years ago.
Today, it got dark long before I might have found this sweet spot, and the Big Things of Croydon that I photoed were utterly lacking in any architectural punch, in the manner, say, of the Docklands Towers.
I’ll be back.
So, instead of a picture of the Croydon Tower Block Cluster, here is a quite different photo I took, in one of Croydon’s many Stuff Shops. It features me, but what I really like about the photo is all the vertical and horizontal lines, mostly here combining into rectangles. I really like rectangles:
The metal rectangles in the foreground, which are what lift this snap out of ordinariness, are, to me, mysterious. Are they things to screw televisions to? Or something else shop related? Or something people buy? Don’t know.
The shop in which I snapped this snap was your basic Stuff Shop, with a bias towards carpets, but also containing things like horses and elephants and pictures of the Last Supper.
I love Stuff. Croydon has tons of Stuff Shops, and I love gawping at Stuff. As a general rule, I prefer Shop Stuff to the Stuff you see in art galleries. Stuff Shops are windows into the soul of contemporary England, as art galleries can never be. Art galleries are merely windows into the souls of artists and gallery owners
Thank God for digital cameras, because with a digital camera you can photo Stuff, instead of being tempted to buy any of it.
Although I promise nothing, I hope to post further Croydon Stuff photos tomorrow.
This Samizdata posting, for instance, is about a guy using a great big iPad to photo Westminster Abbey. Scorn was expressed by some commenters at how stupid this man was making himself look. I disagree strongly, as did Michael Jennings.
Michael’s comment about this deserves further attention and here it is in full:
It is believed that the reason that the first generation iPad did not have cameras was because Steve Jobs believed that people using it to take photographs would look ridiculous. This received complaints, not so much for people who wanted to use it to take photographs, but for parents of small children. Point the iPad at the baby, start up a video conference with the grandparents, allow the grandparents to watch the baby, and the grandparents will be happily occupied for hours.
However, people then started using the iPad for taking photographs anyway. So, Apple gave it a decent camera. I have one myself, and I prefer taking photographs with it to taking photographs with a cellphone camera. Whether that is the quality of the camera, I am not sure. (By standards of cellphone cameras, the one in the iPad is of high quality, but most high end phones have cameras of similar quality). I think it may be the screen. Everybody who takes digital photographs knows the experience of taking what you think is a good photograph, but discovering later that it is blurry, but being unable to tell that at the time on the tiny screen on the camera. The iPad has a large, very high resolution screen, so you have a much better ability to tell at once if you have taken a good picture or not. If you haven’t, there may even be a chance to take it again.
A final good thing about the iPad is its fantastic battery life. (This isn’t hard to explain - if you look at pictures of the innards of an iPad it is almost entirely battery). At the end of a busy day, its not uncommon to find that your batteries are low or completely depleted on all your devices except the iPad. You see something that needs photographing, so you use the iPad simply because it is still going.
As for looking ridiculous, that is all about what is normal and expected. If everyone does it, it no longer looks ridiculous.
To me what is truly ridiculous is refraining from doing what works best, because you think that looks ridiculous. It’s like that thing about being cool. If you are trying to be cool, you are by definition failing. If your over-riding concern is not to look ridiculous, then you are being ridiculous.
To illustrate the matter further, Michael immediately added another comment, which included this photo, also deserving of a wider audience than it may get while buried in a comment thread:
Underneath which Michael added:
For instance, if on a slow afternoon you unexpectedly find your self at the tomb in Jerusalem where protestants believe that Christ rose from the dead, it can be really helpful to have your iPad with you.
Last night, Michael and I both attended the Adam Smith Institute Christmas Party. Here is my photo of Michael, taking a picture of me with his iPad:
And here is my photo of Michael’s photo of me, as instantly displayed on his iPad:
Michael could be sure that his photo was in focus even as he was taking it, and certainly immediately afterwards. I could only be sure that my photo of his photo was also in focus when I got home, and actually, a great many of the other photos that I took at this shindig were not properly in focus, there being somewhat insufficient light (with what there was of it typically being ill-directed for my purposes), and people being prone to move about when they converse with one another. Which makes Michael’s point yet again.
Madsen Pirie has a posting up about the Parisian origins of the Statue of Liberty, featuring one of my all time favourite photographs. Which gives me an excuse to exhibit some snaps I took in Paris last February, of the Statue of Liberty.
There are two miniature Statues of Liberty in Paris. Before visiting Paris I didn’t realise there were any, and since being in Paris until now, when I looked it up on the www, I hadn’t realised that Paris contained two. There is a very small one in the Jardin du Luxembourg, and a less small one next to Grenelle Bridge, which is the one I went to see:
I still have tons more Paris photos to show off, but that’s a start.
Dream and reality in Mumbai
What’s up with that?
Space launch monster
James Tooley discovers private schools for the poor in the slums of Hyderabad
Possible light blogging for the next week
Choosing a Clean Food Outlet in Lawas is as easy as ABC
Health and safety on a mountain in Borneo
The Armstrong Gun
A Spanish geography lesson
Delayed action Dubrovnik cat
Alex Ross on Hollywood film scores
Another ephemeron for David Thompson?
Abandoned Bangkok tower
Rockets are a great improvement on balloons
Another link enema
Yesterday and today
Peaceful time in war zone
Shard sitings and and an agreeably honest rabies prevention sign
A busy blogging day?
Voice and exit
Two bridges in Portugal
Chained cat in Vietnam
Two red cats
My sleep and luggage and bus and fluid travel hell
Possible holiday interruption
Cricket talk tonight
Towers under the weather - and a steam engine steams to the rescue
Short posting (with short photo) about SpaceShipTwo
David Farrer photos
Shadows on rings
Green eyed monster devouring cat food
Back lit by the sun
Signs of the times in Belfast
Long platform ticket
Ancient Sheffield dwarfed by modernity
By bus to Sheffield
TARP stuff - and a trip to Sheffield
Second Class power
Happy New year (if possible)
A view from Vauxhall Station
Snapped in Egham
My Oxford talk on Google video – or summarised by a friendly blogger
Resized picture done with Jesus but quickly
Preparing for Oxford
Blogging elsewhere and talks elsewhere
First picture posted to this blog from the wild
Now I’m going to try to stick up a picture with Jesus
Brisbane church dwarfed by modernity and this posting behaving very strangely
A thin bridge in Wales
Resizing Slim with Expression Engine
Twenty20 cricket on Sky TV
Two adverts in the tube
A new British citizen
What I have seen so far while abroad
Nanpu Bridge in Quimper
Posting here may be sporadic for the next few days
Ducks - frogs - turtles – beavers – Galaxy Quest
Self-guided photo-tour of the streets of San Francisco
Paying a visit to Mum
Billion Monkey Alan Little?
Twickenham shop attacked by the Dark Side of The Force
Posting with Jesus at the far end of the Kings Road
Moore versus Stossel on Cuban medical care
Eee PC not eeesy to get in Asia either
More St Pancras snaps
The A380 bulge
Comment is free and WiFi should be too
Adriana and Ivan in Addis
The (very) slow fade of Bolshevik Cuba
Toy train to Darjeeling
Taipei with skyscraper
Very very low cost kitten in space