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

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Wednesday April 23 2014

Before I forget to link to it, here, very belatedly, is a link to four pictures of central London in the Guardian, which, if you left-click on them, suddenly become populated with soon-to-be-built new Big Things.

This, for example, …:

image

… turns, when you left-click on it, into this:

image

That’s the changing picture of the south bank of the river, just upstream from me.

My personal opinion is: it looks great!  By which I mean not that the second of these pictures looks great, but that the development it attempts to picture will look great, or at least much better than this picture.

This is a general fact about the new Big Things of London of the last decade and more, I think.  All of them have ended up looking, to my eye, better for real than the models and photos of them beforehand looked, which are just too boxy and bland and unrealistic to capture the feeling of how new Big Things will really look.

In particular, the Walkie Talkie looked, to me, terrible, when it was only a faked up computer image.  Now, I like it more and more.  It’s odd.  It’s not beautiful exactly, but it has character.  Once you see it, you don’t forget it.  In short, it is like London.

These new Big Things will, I predict, be like that also.  You can bet that all the architects involved will be trying desperately to upstage each other, by making at least half of these new Big Things systematically more interesting and oddly shaped than these computer mock-ups now make them look.

It occurs to me also to wonder how much difference the ubiquity of such imagery before Big Things get built affects the chances of such Big Things being built.  Could such widely-viewed-in-advance pictures perhaps make Big Thing building easier, by mobilising the support of those who, like me, would like such new buildings a lot, but don’t see it as a life-and-death struggle, the way many opponents of such Big Things perhaps do.  If that’s right, the opponents keep themselves and each other informed even when that is hard, and fight like hell to stop such Things, either out of aesthetic hatred or because some particular Big Thing will, they reckon, wreck their back yard.  Now, we less rabid supporters can all say Go Ahead Build It, but without busting our guts and doing lots of complicated research and politicking, because finding out and saying GABI is now so much easier.

Tuesday April 22 2014

The speaker I had previously arranged had to cancel, hence the delay in me telling the world about it, but … my speaker at my last Friday of the Month meeting on April 25th, i.e. this coming Friday, will be my good friend (and frequent commenter here) Michael Jennings, talking about Russia.  Russia is lways an important topic of discussion, but it is of course now also a particularly timely and newsworthy one.

Here is what Michael has just emailed me about what he will be talking about.

On the 21st of last month, I arrived in Moscow. This was my first trip to Russia. That this was my first trip to Russia was somewhat curious. I have been a frequent traveller for twenty five years and a compulsive one for the last ten years, and throughout that time I would have always put Russia in the top few countries that I wanted to visit, and yet I never did.

This was not, however, remotely, my first trip to the lands of the former Soviet Union. I had previously been to Latvia and Estonia (twice). I had previously been to Ukraine (five times). I had previously been to Moldova (twice). I had previously been to Georgia (four times). I had previously been to Armenia (twice). The former Warsaw Pact countries further west than that, I have been to many times - around 20 times in the case of Poland, half a dozen times to Romania, and multiple times to all the others.

My reasons for visiting these countries have always been private. I go where my curiosity takes me. I go where my financial resources can take me. And I go where other, bureaucratic and practical obstacles are relatively easy.

What factors led to my choice of destinations? Well, two practical factors. One was the ease or difficulty of obtaining a visa. The other was the ease, of difficulty of physically travelling there. The rise of discount airlines was a key factor in all of this, also. Their presence in markets not only makes it easier and cheaper to get there, but is at least an indicator in how open to the west the country is trying to be.

Going east, there has long been a psychological boundary between places looking east to Moscow and places looking west to, well, no particular city or place, but western Europe in general. The business with the visas and discount airlines has made it easy to go up to that boundary, if you will, as it moves around. At times, it has allowed me to go over that boundary, sometimes to slightly hairy places such as Transnistria and Abkhazia - breakaway regions of Moldova and Georgia respectively. More commonly, though, what I mean by this is the drabber regions of Ukraine or Moldova.

However, it was time to bite the bullet, and go completely to the other side. So, Moscow. As it happened, the wall appeared to be permeable. The western discount airlines have started flying to Russia, at least in a small way. The visa process was baroque and Soviet, but the customer service was with a smile. I had Russian contacts who were happy to catch up for a beer in one of the many English pubs in Moscow and St Petersburg. Even when they worked for the Russian government, they were happy to talk pretty frankly about what was going on.

And yet, in the couple of weeks before I arrived, Russia had been asserting its power over Crimea. On the day I arrived, (according to Russia, at least) Russia formally annexed Crimea. (I got to see a lovely fireworks display over the Moskva river in the evening.) The places I could go on a discount airline without a visa retreated that day, possibly for the first time since 1991.

And that was the overall impression I got of Moscow and St Petersburg. There is a feel of modern cities in both places, but certain things are askew. And certain things are absent. (Soviet style customer service still exists in many places. But in others it doesn’t.) Middle class life feels like middle class life in many places, although if you are poorer, I suspect life is very different. On Friday I will describe some of this, and if I am bold I will try to draw some conclusions.

Excellent.  And to Michael, my gratitude for having got me out of a small bind with what will, I am sure, be an excellent talk at rather short notice.  Not that the short notice will affect its quality.  If it is as good as the talk he gave at my home last year about globalisation, all those who attend this Friday will be much educated and much entertained.

I’m guessing that the mood of the meeting will be a lot like this Samizdata QotD from Michael Totten.  But that’s only a guess.

Monday April 21 2014

Indeed:

image

Follow the link above, and you’ll read the headline “China build the World’s Longest Bridge - Jiaozhou Bay Bridge”.  But bridges like this, across huge chunks of sea and with hugely long approaches over that sea, are fairly common now, even if this particular one happens to be the biggest in this genre, for the moment.  The photo has it right.  The bridge is just another bridge, and is rightly stuck away in the distance.  The motorway junction is in the foreground, and quite right too.  Is there, anywhere else on the planet, a motorway junction resembling this one, all at sea?

Ordinary bridge, astonishing approach.  Reminds me of this.

Sunday April 20 2014

Indeed.  Yesterday, late in the afternoon, walking along the south side of the river, near the National Theatre (see below), I saw, and photographed this:

image

Which, for me, was a first.

I took lots of shots where the photographer had only one leg on the skateboard, but with the other leg touching the ground and pushing him forward.  But eventually I got the shot I was waiting for.

A Happy Easter to all my readers.

Saturday April 19 2014

Indeed:

image

Actually it’s National Theatre Bookshop.  But I prefer my edited version.

Friday April 18 2014

So I was in Lower Marsh this afternoon, where I photographed this:

image

Odd.  Why are most of them red, but two of them blue?  And why are the three to the top right seemingly not properly aligned?

At first I thought I was looking at a flock of birdcages. But following closer inspection, of the things themselves and of the photos I took of them, my bet now would be that these are light sockets, and that they will very soon be covered by a giant illuminated arrow, pointing towards the entrance to a new cafe.  But this is only a guess.

I know that you are all now very excited about this.  So, I will be sure to keep you informed, with further photos and reportage.

Thursday April 17 2014

On Monday I was in Trafalgar Square, and photoed this statue:

image

I was in a hurry, and had no time to dwell on what it said on the plinth, but it seemed to be saying “JACOBVS SECVNDVS”, or some such thing.  So, could this really be James II?  I proceeded to my Event and forgot about it.

But just now, seeking a quota photo, I looked it up, and yes, it is James II.

Description of it:

Sculpted by Grinling Gibbons or one of his pupils this is considered a very fine statue. It is a pair with that of Charles II, James’s brother and predecessor, at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, in that they were both commissioned by Tobias Rustat.

Even better description of it:

A strong contender for the title “campest statue in London”, this statue has seen more sites than most, starting off in Priory Gardens, the centre of Whitehall, the forecourt of the Admiralty and now here.

I knew that the Romans tended to be held in higher esteem in former times than they are now.  But I didn’t realise that James II in particular was such an admirer of the Romans.

Was it James II’s decision to be dressed like this?  It had to be a decision he approved of, or would have approved of, because Tobias Rustat was an exact contemporary, and a servant of Charles II.  I.e. not a man who would have done anything to offend Charles II’s brother monarch.

Blog and learn.

As for the camp thing, James’s face in this statue does remind me a bit of this bloke.

LATER: I see that James II regarded himself as the king not only of England, Scotland and Ireland, but also of France.  Odd.

Wednesday April 16 2014

The pictures below were taken on April 16th 2004, in (on?) one of my regular snapping zones, Westminster Bridge (and nearby places), from which, then as now, you get great views of both Parliament and the Wheel, depending on which way you look.

Most of the things I was photoing then haven’t changed that much, but … I was just then starting to realise that my fellow digital photographers were an object worthy of my detailed and prolonged attention, which they have been ever since.  That summer of 2004 was the moment when I first got seriously stuck into this category of photo.  There are still lots of pictures of people just wandering around, being people.  But, the photographers were just starting to figure strongly in the archives.  It took me a while to realise that the cameras mattered at least as much as the people using them, that aspect getting steadily easier as zoom got zoomier.

The privacy concerns associated with just shoving recognisable pictures of strangers up on the internet have only grown since then, but I reckon that pictures this old are not such a problem in that way.  Recognisable pictures taken yesterday, that I tend not to do these days, or not so much.  But pictures of people taken a decade ago, well, I’m more relaxed about that.

The little squares zoom in on the cameras.  Click and get the original pictures as taken that afternoon, which would appear to have been exactly as sunny as today is.

Enjoy:

image image imageimage image imageimage image image

Mostly silver rather than black, mostly much bulkier than the equivalent cameras look now.  But of course there is one exception to all that.  Picture 3.1 shows a kind of camera that looked then pretty much exactly as it looks now.  Black.  Shaped like an old school camera.  These are the cameras that are actually just regular quite good digital cameras, but which enable you think of yourself as the beginnings of a Real Photographer.  My kind of camera, in other words.  Cameras in this category look now exactly as they looked then.  Nothing has changed with those.

Except what they can do.

Here is a series of photos I took, all in the space of a few seconds, of IEA Director Mark Littlewood speaking at lunchtime on the Sunday of last weekend’s LLFF14, while also being rather dramatically photographed by someone else besides me.

I wish I knew how to display photos the way Simon Gibbs has displayed his set of LLFF14 photos here, so that you can just click once and immediately get to the next one.  All I can suggest is scroll down, and maybe get the effect that way.

imageimageimageimageimage

I enjoyed LLFF14 a lot, and not only because the thing itself was good, well organised, etc..  I think this was also because I did some preparatory thought about what I wanted to accomplish by attending and I then duly accomplished quite a lot of this, and that made me happy.  Signing up speakers for my Fridays, wangling invites to universities, that kind of thing.

Plus, I wanted in particular to learn more about this whole minimum income thing, concerning which I am deeply suspicious.  Again I find myself linking to a Simon Gibbs posting, this time entitled Don’t surrender the next 300 years for the next 15, although what good this lunatic scheme is supposed to do in the short run I do not know.  So anyway, I learned more about that, just as I hoped I would.

Just turning up at a event like this with no active idea of what then to do besides sit and listen, means you are liable to come away feeling (probably quite correctly) that you accomplished very little, and that can be depressing.  I did not make that mistake this time.

Tuesday April 15 2014

I love this, from AndrewZ at Samizdata, commenting on this piece by Natalie Solent, which quotes a couple of particularly demented pieces of writing in the Guardian, about cupcake fascism (this phrase should never be forgotten) and about the horrors of tourism.  (Natalie has been agreeably busy at Samizdata of late.)

Says AZ:

The online edition of any newspaper that isn’t behind a paywall relies on advertising to generate income and this depends on maximising the number of page views. The simplest way to do that is to publish outrageous and provocative opinions that will attract links from elsewhere and start a blazing row among the regular commenters. The great liberal newspaper of old is now little more than a group blog that trolls its own readers for advertising revenue.

No link from here to the original pieces, about cupcake fascism or tourism.  Oh no.  BmdotCOM is not falling into that trap.

Now that I have read the rest of them, I can report that all the comments at Samizdata on this posting are pretty good and worth a look.

Monday April 14 2014

This evening I visited New Zealand House, for an ASI do.  On the way out, I passed this bust, with “FREYBERG V.C.” on its plinth:

image

Inevitably, when you stick up a photo of such a notable, you do some googling.  Not only was Freyberg awarded the VC.  He also scored four DSOs.  My Uncle Jack got three of these, but this is the first time I ever heard of anyone getting four.  It seems that sixteen men have won four DSOs, with just two of these (Freyberg and Frederick Lumsden (who died towards the end of WW1)) getting four DSOs and a VC.

Blog and learn.

I see that another of the DSO four-timers - but no VC, although he was recommended for one - was Group Captain Tait, who succeeded Cheshire (VC) as commander of 617 Squadron (aka the Dam Busters).  Tait lead them when they flew from Lossiemouth to Norway and sank the Tirpitz.  I remember reading about Tait when I was a kid, because the book I read about the Dambusters wasn’t just about the dams raid but recounted their whole war.

Sunday April 13 2014

Literally about three people whom I spoke with at LLFF14 may now or soon be flooding in to BrianMicklethwait.com, expecting, perhaps, libertarian profundities.  But this is not that sort of place, is it?  No it is not.

Here, I do things like display photos of London, like this:

image image

On the left, a shot taken by me on May 19th 2004, showing how Vauxhall bus station looked when it was under construction.  On the right, how the same building looked when completed, photoed by me last Christmas Eve.

What a very odd object this is.

The 2004 photo was taken with my second digital camera, which was a Canon PowerShot A70.

Saturday April 12 2014

Back quite late from LLFF14, and too tired to say much about that now, other than that I am enjoying it very much.  So here instead is a blatant quota photo of some painted people I snapped, down by the riverside, from Westminster Bridge, last Thursday, late afternoon:

image

It’s a tough life, having a painted face for a living.  She’s saying: I’ll be home soon.

I thought about cropping this snap, but if in doubt, not, is my inclination on that.

Friday April 11 2014

So I made my way to the Opening Do of LLFF14 earlier this evening, at a bar near Kings Cross Station.  On my way, the light was so good I just had to take some photos.  Not many, but those I did take came out very nicely.  These three were my favourites.  The first is me looking back along Pentonville Road at St Pancras Station.  To think they were once going to knock this down.  The second is just a random piece of domestic architecture.  And the third I took because it looked like it had some rather good cushion type things, such as I might want to buy if I ever get around to making myself a sofa:

image image image

The Do itself was great, until eventually the noise of everyone shouting at each other became more than I could take.  As I said to someone, I couldn’t even hear myself talk.  Not hearing others was bad enough, but when I couldn’t even hear the sound of my own voice, well, there went one of my deepest pleasures in life.  So I left.  That wasn’t a problem.  The main business of LLFF takes place during the day, on Saturday and Sunday, and I will of course return.

On my way from the bar back to Kings Cross tube, I got very lost, despite having my Smartphone with me, with its invaluable map app.  And that was when I noticed something very odd and different about this part of London, compared to where I live.  No helpful signposts, telling you where the nearest tube is, or where Kings Cross or St Pancras Stations are.  I’m guessing because this is a part of town where tourists tend not to go, and most people there just know all that sort of stuff already.  Apart from me.

Thursday April 10 2014

In this:

image

Well, it won’t have taken you long.  But even so, impressive, I think.

The photograph is one of these.

I seem to recall that, in Total Recall (I wish), people’s homes were decorated not with static pictures, but with images that constantly changed.  We are definitely heading that way.

My computer screen now was amazingly cheap, and is by some distance the best one I’ve ever had, a trend that doesn’t look like stopping at all.  Michael J, I know, has two screens attached to his computer, rather than just the one like me.  That too is, I should imagine, a growing trend.  I might do that myself one day soon, if I ever get round to that remodel of my desk that I keep promising myself.  (At present it’s a total shambles, having been designed for one of those horrible pregnant out the back TV sets, and what is worse, one that I hated and immediately swapped for a better pregnant out the back TV, now long gone, of course.)

So, how long before the typical householder connects his computer to about a dozen different screens, scattered around his home.  I’ll never do this, because I have books.  Remember those.  Actually that isn’t very funny, because of course books still abound.  This is because, as Alex Singleton was saying to me only yesterday, the business of reading books off of electronic screens has yet to be perfected.  A few years back, screens to read books with were excellent, because they were built for that and nothing else.  But the arrival of the smartphone, tablet, phablet, thingy has actually caused book reading on the move to get worse, because there’s a trade-off now being made between reading perfectly, and thingy screen perfection.  What you want is a button on all those thingies, to switch to a perfect reading screen when you need that.

These thingies have got to the stage of being essential, but to put it mildly, they are not yet perfect.

An interesting moment will happen when screens are pretty much flawless at doing reproductions of great paintings.

Or to put all this another way, when people look back on our time, they’ll not be impressed with our screens, any more than I am impressed by the screens we had thirty years ago.

And with pictures of the quality of the one above, or of all the others in the set I found it in, being so abundantly available on the www, there’ll never be any shortage of stuff to show on all our screens.  And that’s not even to mention the ones we take ourselves.