Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Wednesday October 01 2014

6k (whom I also quoted last night on the subject of Boris Johnson) on the weirdness of being a parent, and the bizarrely insignificant things that drive children crazy:

My best (worst?) experience of this was probably the occasion when my 3 year old son was crying because he didn’t know why he was crying.

My attitude to parents is that they outrank me, and they do this almost no matter how badly they are doing their parenting.  They are at least doing it.  If I see a mad welfare mother screaming at her mad kids in a supermarket (her kids are mad because she has driven them mad), I still say to myself: respect.  She is there, in the female trenches, fighting the good fight.  I have chosen not to stand by and pay the bills for such a person.  Thanks to her and her husband (in her case that’s probably the government), homo sapiens (in her case homo a bit madens) will be around in a hundred years from now.  If that task had been left to me, it would not have been accomplished.

I’m not saying 6k is a bad parent, you understand.  Merely that even if he was a bad parent, he would still be a better parent than me.  And I also agree that some children are driven so crazy by their parents that they must be rescued, or at least they should have been.  (Few civilised principles are absolute.) I mean things like if they murder them, or imprison them and torture them for years on end.  Yes, I’m probably doing better than that.  But such exceptional extremities aside, like I say: respect.

Taking the first question first: is it practise or practice?

This is the kind of question that, in the days before the www, used to rattle about inside several million heads for decades on end.  As it so happens, it did so rattle in mine.  But for a decade and more now, such questions could and can be answered, and today I answered this question for myself, by finding my way, very quickly, pretty much as soon as I started trying, to this site.  I’d been meaning to do this for a long time.  Today, I did.  What it says at the other end of that link, assuming I read it right, is that practice is the noun and practise is the verb, as with advice and advise.  I know, you knew that.  I must be an uneducated pillock not to know it.  But, although in many ways not an uneducated pillock, I was for many decades just that, in this particular way.  Besides which, the essence of educatedness is not mere knowledge, it is knowing that one needs to acquire this or that further item of further knowledge, and if far later than is dignified, well so be it.

I’m not saying that this answer is correct.  I’m just saying that from now on, this is the answer I will try to apply whenever the practice/practise dilemma presents itself to me.

Moving on to the question in the brackets above.  Answer: no.  The site where I found this answer (right or wrong) is called “Future Perfect”, and its subtitle is “Improving Written Communications”.  Like, that’s all it would take to make the future perfect.  I do not believe this.  I get it.  Future perfect is also a piece of grammar, and grammar is (along with spelling) one of the things this place is about.  Ho ho.  But, future perfect?

Perfect communication could just mean perfectly expressed abuse.  Remember that fish in Hitchhiker’s Guide, which enabled everyone to communicate perfectly with everyone else, and which started terrible wars, because now everyone could understood everyone else’s insults.  Perfect communication is indeed, maybe, part of the perfect future, but saying perfectly nice things is also an important part of perfection, I would say.  And that’s quite aside from the fact that actual perfection would also be terrible, for other reasons.

Tuesday September 30 2014

Indeed.  Photoed by me this afternoon:

image

I don’t know what went wrong with this one.

Googling reminds me that there were a lot of complaints, the summer before last, about Boris buses getting too hot.  Has that been sorted?

In general, I am suspicious of these new buses, on two grounds.  First, as its nickname makes clear, this is a very political sort of bus, being the Boris Johnson answer to Ken Livingstone’s Bendy Bus.  When politicians push technology, expect trouble.  I’m not saying they always get things wrong, because they don’t want to look like prunes, and when they push things that go wrong, they do.  But, they are still tempted to push, because, in defiance of what you often hear, politicians are typically very short-termist, being unable to look beyond their next election.  Businessmen, at any rate businessmen of the sort who preside over the design of buses, tend to look further ahead, and not unleash their buses until their are truly ready.

Second, it was designed by a “designer”.  By Thomas Heatherwick, who designed that cute roly-poly bridge in Paddington and also the bridge Joanna Lumley wants to have built across the Thames.  If you want a bus not to malfunction too much, the kind of designer you want designing it is a bus designer, who is thoroughly familiar with the particular problems that buses can get engulfed by and knows all the tried-and-tested recipes for avoiding such problems.  This Heatherwick bus smells to me of change for the sake of it.  This is okay if you are designing something small enough to fail without too much expense, like a chair or a spoon or an iPhone case, or a rather pointless roly-poly bridge.  But buses are serious.  When they go wrong it can cost millions.

And when a “designer” is involved, mistakes do tend to happen, because designers are brought in precisely to design everything.  And when you try to do everything anew, you make mistakes.

And if that happens to a politicised design, such as this bus, other political things cut in.  Politicians and their supporters don’t suffer financially when their pet projects go wrong.  They can start fighting the wrongness by just chucking money at it, and just pass the bill on to the rest of us.  If unlimited money doesn’t sort out the mess and instead becomes part of the mess, then their next impulse is to try to cover things up.  If that fails, Plan C (we’ve reached about C, I’m guessing) is to find someone or something else to blame.  Does that also fail?  Plan D: just walk away from the mess, refuse to talk about it, and insist on talking about something else, anything else, everything else.  Change the subject.  In politics, in the end, all there is is “the subject”.  If politicians keep winning, then they “succeed”, no matter how much havoc in the form of things like crappy buses they leave in their wake.

I’m not saying that these Boris Buses are guaranteed to fail.  New designs, of the sort driven by politicians, can be a triumph.  Sometimes, they are even triumph economically.  Look at the Volkswagen Beetle.  And nor am I saying that one bus attached to a tow-truck is evidence of complete failure.  I’m just saying that this particular bus has a lot of bear traps to get past.

LATER: By pure coincidence, favorite blogger of mine 6k right now also has things to say about Boris.

Quote:

He’s a law unto himself, but if you believe that there’s nothing behind the apparent buffoonery of his outward image, I think you’re mistaken. You don’t get where Boris is by being a buffoon. Acting one, perhaps – being one, no.

Spot on.  The British toff classes are full of people like this.  I had an uncle who behaved exactly this way.

Monday September 29 2014

As revealed in this earlier posting, I recently visited Tate Ancient, which is only a walk away from where I live.  I should go there more often.

One of the big reasons being that it is a wonderful place, not just to learn about Art and all that kind of stuff, but to photograph photographers.  All who frequent this blog know that photographing photographers is an obsession of mine.

Photographers like these two:

image image

The blue-haired lady on the right was photoing the sculpture that can be seen more clearly, behind the man on the left.

Note that neither of the cameras seen in action here are of the old school and conventional sort.  No, they are iCameras.  There was a lot of this going on, not just picture making, but note taking.

Sunday September 28 2014

My interest in what will be happening next in London, architecturally, is intense, but erratic.  It switches on and off.  Occasionally I go looking to see, but neglect to do this for weeks at a time.  Google sends me emails about “new architecture london”, but the results are seldom as dramatic as they ought to be.  Also, I have been in the rather bad habit of filing these emails in a special email file, and then neglecting to return to them, which is a habit I need to change.

So today, I went into that email file and cranked up the latest “new architecture london” email, and found my way to this place, where I learned something I did not know until now.  Apparently the Helter Skelter Tower, the one that looked like (as in: the tallest pointy thing in the very middle of) this, …:

image

... having been stalled for ages when the money ran out, has finally been scrapped.  It will be replaced with an entirely new design.

Interestingly, if you click on the first of the above links, you will, if you persevere within the somewhat unwieldy virtual place that it is (in this case by scrolling sideways), you may manage to find your way to this, concerning “The Pinnacle”:

Designed as the centrepiece of the City cluster

Plans for a tower on-site have been active since 2002

Initial planning application was submitted in June 2005.

Revised application with 19m height reduction approved April 2006.

Current status: Undergoing a redesign, with possible height increase.

Possible height increase. Something quite bland looking (compared to the Helter Skelter I mean) but still very high (like the new World Trade Centre for instance) might work rather well, aesthetically, because it would put the present muddle of the City in its place, if you get my meaning.  Anyway, we shall see.

Saturday September 27 2014

Earlier I showed you a old facade being carefully preserved.  Here is another:

image

But where exactly is this facade.  The photo was taken in May 2012, and I didn’t take any note-taking shots of where this was.  And I cannot now find any mention of it on the www, only a website of the enterprise that constructed it.  (This I learned by taking a closer look at the stuff at the bottom of the picture than I am according to you.  My original pictures are really very large.)

I like to think that I am becoming a better photographer as the years go by.  What I mean by this is not so much that the photos are getting technically better.  They are, but that is largely down to the cameras I use getting better.  What I mean is that I am, I hope, getting better at deciding what to photo, and better at recording what I photoed.

Maybe that is an idle boast.  But maybe what is now only a boast will, because I have here written it down, will become an influence on actual practice in the future.

Friday September 26 2014

Just about to go to bed following a very satisfactory Last Friday meeting, addressed by Priya Dutta, on the subject of education and libertarianism.  Priya, many thanks for an excellent talk, and for attracting such a large and intelligent throng to listen to it.  Although I don’t want to definitely promise anything, I will try to say something more about what you said than that, Real Soon Now.  But right now, I am too tired to attempt anything.

Something I often forget to do at these things is take photos, probably because the photos I take are usually not very good.  Tonight, Rob Fisher took photos, and I of course photoed him doing this ...:

image

... and then I took other photos.  But the really good news is that Rob’s camera is much better than mine, especially in bad light.  He has promised to send me his best, and I look forward to seeing what he got.

For something rather more substantial from me, about libertarianism if not about education, try this recent Samizdata posting.

Wednesday September 24 2014

Here comes another flying car ...:

image

… which I found out about at dezeen.  They put this above their report:

Creators of the AeroMobil flying car propose moving road traffic to the skies

I don’t see this solving any obvious existing traffic problems.  And I see regulators regarding it as a whole new bunch of problems, rather than any sort of solution to anything.

My prejudice is that something which is basically fun is instead being sold as environmentally positive, a solution to traffic problems, blah blah blah.  A few will want flying cars, because they do, money and economic irrationality no object.  Most people, and especially most regulators, will regard flying cars, in any but trivial numbers, as accidents waiting to happen.

I get regular google emails about robot cars.  A point that comes up from time to time in the stuff these emails link to is the idea that flying cars may eventually materialise, but only after robot cars are in regular use.  The point being that machines like the one above will only ever be accepted in the numbers envisaged by the makers of flying cars if these flying cars are driven and flown by robots.  Cars will eventually take to the air, but only when cars have become robot cars, because only robot driven flying cars will be safe enough for flying cars to be allowed to fly in significant numbers.  (If regular cars were being proposed only now, they too would have to be driven by robots to be allowed.) Flying cars driven by humans will just unleash a whole new world of fear and grief, and they won’t be allowed other than as ludicrously expensive curiosities.

If such curiosities as this one ever do fly, driven by mere people, they will be fun, to those to whom such things are fun, but very little else.

From early in the afternoon of Tuesday, yesterday, until early this morning, this blog was out of action.  I couldn’t read it myself, let alone post anything:

image

The non-functioning of BrianMicklethwaitDotCom took out my emailing abilities as well.  If anyone tried to email and got told to get stuffed, please try again - especially if it concerned the meeting at my home this coming Friday evening, at which Priya Dutta is going to speak about education.

I don’t suppose many people suffered much, but I did, because I didn’t know if and when BMDC was ever going to come back to life.

The problem was something to do with the internet provider (which has recently changed hands) for my Hoster.  But spare a thought for Hoster.  I wasn’t his only client ringing up in a state.  He had lots of others doing the exact same thing.  He told me that he will be changing his internet provider asap, but that he couldn’t do that until his internet provider came back on line and he was able to make the necessary arrangements.

Meanwhile, I really need to change how I do email.

More times like these.  I have had a great deal too many and too much of these sorts of times lately.

Monday September 22 2014

Chippendale most of us have heard of.  But Rannie?  Who is, or was, Rannie?  Exactly.

Seven years ago now, I wrote a Samizdata piece about two-man teams.  It still, I think, reads well, and it contained the following assertions:

Even when a single creative genius seems to stand in isolated splendour, more often than not it turns out that there was or is a backroom toiler seeing to the money, minding the shop, cleaning up the mess, lining up the required resources, publishing and/or editing what the Great Man has merely written, quietly eliminating the blunders of, or, not infrequently, actually doing the work only fantasised and announced by, the Great Man. Time and again, the famous period of apparently individual creativity coincides precisely with the time when that anonymous partner was also but less obtrusively beavering away, contributing crucially to the outcome, and often crucially saying boo to the goose when the goose laid a duff egg. If deprived, for some reason, of his back-up man, the Lone Genius falls silent, or mysteriously fails at everything else he attempts. ...

Now read this, from At Home, the Bill Bryson book I am currently reading.  On pages 234-5, concerning Thomas Chippendale, the noted furniture maker, Bryson writes:

He was an outstanding furniture maker but hopeless at running a business, a deficiency that became acutely evident upon the death of his business partner, James Rannie, in 1766. Rannie was the brains of the operation and without him Chippendale lurched from crisis to crisis for the rest of his life.  All this was painfully ironic, for as he struggled to pay his men and keep himself out of a debtor’s cell, Chippendale was producing items of the highest quality for some of England’s richest households, and working closely with the leading architects and designers - Robert Adam, James Wyatt, Sir William Chambers and others. Yet his personal trajectory was relentlessly downwards.

It was not an easy age in which to do business.  Customers were routinely slow in paying. Chippendale had to threaten David Garrick, the actor and impresario, with legal action for chronic unpaid bills, and stopped work at Nostell Priory, a stately home in Yorkshire, when the debt there reached £6,838 - a whopping liability. ‘I have not a single guinea to pay my men with tomorrow: he wrote in despair at one point. It is clear that Chippendale spent much of his life in a froth of anxiety, scarcely for a moment enjoying any sense of security at all.  At his death in 1779, his personal worth had sunk to just £28 2s 9d - not enough to buy a modest piece of ormolu from his own showrooms. ...

Rannie did not make the actual furniture, but he was essential to Chippendale in exactly the sort of way I describe.

It feels good to be so right.

Sunday September 21 2014

Just to drive the point home that not all the photos of mine that I show here were taken several weeks or even months ago, here is yet another which I took (just like the previous two in the previous two postings) today:

image

My picture is somewhat cropped.  Her hair somewhat less so.

Yes, me times 3:

image

Plus Goddaughter 2 and her mum, plus a pot plant, times 2.  Click for the bigger picture.

Taken in an eatery where they have mirrors on every wall, to make a small place feel bigger.  The eatery being the tuk tuk in Old Compton Street.  Cheap.  Cheerful.  Recommended.

Photoed by me in Oxford Street late this afternoon:

image

What this tells you is that architectural modernism has utterly conquered indoors, but that out of doors, modernism is only popular because its totalitarian impulses have been held at bay, by what you might call ancientism.

The Modern Movement founders would have been disgusted by the process portrayed in this picture.

Saturday September 20 2014

Indeed.  Yesterday, three postings.  Today, just the one quota photo, taken just over a year ago, and today rotated quite a bit and cropped quite a bit:

image

The BT Tower is arguably the first great London Big Thing.  The Euston Tower is really notable only for its roof clutter.  What the building in front of the Euston Tower is, I don’t know.

Friday September 19 2014

I only found out about the wonder-gizmo below with its 65x zoom (scroll down a bit there) because I had gone looking for cats stuff.

A fun bit of news on the cats front today illustrates how seriously the oh-so-serious Guardian now takes the whole cats thing, along with the rest of the media after a decade and more of cattery on the internet.

A cat-blogger lady called Jackie Smith has done a book of cat pictures, called Cat Walk:

I don’t think Cat Walk is book about cats. It’s about learning to see beauty within arms reach. It’s about hunting for words like a mouse hunts for cats. It’s about walking, but not really covering distance. The same paths are travelled, but each time the light, the season, the thoughts inside make it different. It does have something to do with the character of cats, but also to do with writing, looking, seeing, being in a place.

This man should be told.

My favourite bit is where she says “It’s about hunting for words like a mouse hunts for cats”.  Because it’s not enough to hunt down the right words.  You have then to arrange them in the right order.  I mean, a mouse hunting for cats?  That’s some mouse you got there lady.