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

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Friday March 24 2017

A few days back, probably because it has long been aware of my fascination with cat fascination, the Great Machine in the Sky presented me with this advertisement:

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Click on it to get to what was being advertised.

What it is, of course, is a system for a machine to become aware of other machines in its vicinity and thereby to communicate with these other machines, and this system is the work of CAT.  But the idea that a machine might somehow learn to realise if there is a cat in its vicinity, and would then, if there is, feel compelled to alert other machines to this menace, is rather clearly suggested.

If you do click on the above piece of horizontality, you will be greeted by the following claim:

WHEN MACHINES TALK, EVERYONE’S SAFER.

In a week’s time, there will be a Brian’s Last Friday meeting at which the speaker, Chris Cooper, will be contesting this claim.

Thursday March 23 2017

Taking pictures like these, which I took earlier in the week, is really easy, if you have a twiddly screen, the way all my cameras have had, ever since I first got a camera with a twiddly screen:

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Imagine how to compose all those shots while looking vertically upwards, the way my camera was.

On a more serious note, what these photos illustrate is the design anarchy of London.  Individual buildings are designed.  Of course they are.  But there is little in the way of aesthetic coordination going on.

But, imagine if there was aesthetic coordination.  There would have to be an aesthetic coordinator, individual or collective.  And what if that coordinator made everything conform to a dreary design?  All those who say that London’s Big Things should be overseen by a Grand Designer all assume that the Grand Designer would impose a Grand Design they would like.  But Big Things are often very ugly, so the Grand Design might be ugly too.

No, I prefer anarchy, where each building does its own thing.  Successful styles are copied.  Failed styles gradually get phased out.  Okay, very gradually.

And each Big Thing developer gets to do what he wants to do with his own property.  The resulting anarchy is something I relish rather than regret.

Wednesday March 22 2017

Incoming from Michael Jennings, who encountered this sign at (a?) (the?) Jodhpur Fort in Rajasthan:

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Hm, what to do?

Easy.  Use a drone instead.

LATER: See first comment.  It’s this:

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There can only be one fort like that.

Categories updated to include Architecture, History, Sport, and War.

Blog and learn.

Tuesday March 21 2017

Indeed:

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Leake Street is that tunnel under the Waterloo approach tracks, filled with an ever-changing display of grafitti.  And of photoers photoing it.

Monday March 20 2017

This evening I attended a talk at Christian Michel’s, about (and against) major increases in the human lifespan.

The speaker quoted luminaries saying that infinite life would lead to infinite meaningless of life.  People would just get bored.  It is death that gives life its meaning.  Immortality would drain the meaning out of life.

But from the floor came a different surmise, to the effect that the imminence of death, to some anyway, causes a slowing down, a draining away of zest.  Greatly prolonged life - accompanied by the enhanced and prolonged energy and zestfulness that would make prolonged life enjoyable, rather than merely bearable, or worse, unbearable - would surely cause many now considered old to get stuck seriously into new projects, confident that they would have a serious amount of time and energy left to devote to them.  Something like immortality would cause more lust for life, rather than less.  People who expect to die soon are now inclined just to sit back and wait for it.

When I first encountered a primitive version of the very word processing that I am indulging in right now, nearly fifty years ago now, I hurled myself into learning to type, confident that the investment of time and effort would more than pay for itself.  Had I been nearly seventy when I first encountered word processing for the first time, would I have bothered with it?  Probably, not.  If, on the other hand, I could now confidently expect another seventy or so years of active life, would I now be more inclined to adapt to new techniques and processes?  Yes.  I am pretty much certain that I would be more adventurous, more willing to invest time and energy, if the pay-off was going to be five or more decades of further potential impact rather than just the one decade or so that I now anticipate.

The speaker from the floor who expressed this most eloquently was Chris Cooper, who is giving my next Last Friday of the Month talk, on March 31st, on the subject of the rise of the robots.  Chris thinks they will become our robot overlords.

What I can say with confidence is that one of the reasons I don’t now get stuck into new ways of doing things, new ways that might greatly improve things for me, is that whereas the investment of effort and energy would be unchanged from what was required fifty years ago, the benefits I can expect to gain, now that death looms, will be greatly diminished.

So, if death did not now loom ...

Sunday March 19 2017

It’s always sad when a bridge collapses, and there is a special poignancy about the recent collapse, in Malta, of this one:

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That picture comes from the best report (courtesy the BBC) that I could find of this sad circumstance, the best because it had both a before and an after picture, of the bridge, and then of the same place, but without the bridge.

Malta’s famous Azure Window rock arch has collapsed into the sea after heavy storms.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the news was “heartbreaking”.

The Azure Window rock arch didn’t collapse because the top of the arch failed.  Rather did the pillar in the sea succumb to erosion.

Here’s wishing Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove, Dorsetshire …:

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… happiness and long life.

Saturday March 18 2017

Indeed:

image

Presumably they were selling stuff like this.

I like it when my pictures include clocks, and that clock is a particular favourite of mine.

Friday March 17 2017

My day in Highbury and Islington (and Canonbury) began with me not seeing much in the way of Big Things from Islington Highbury Fields.  But very quickly, I made my way to the north eastern end of New River Walk, and took the walk along it.

The thing is, Google Maps, what with it being so easy to change the scale of, can mislead about how far apart things are.  One Google map shows you a big area, that it will take you a day to explore properly.  But then, following further button pushing, another map, which looks like it is of an equally big area, is actually of a place you can be all over within less than two hours.  So it was last Monday.

Everything that day was smaller and more suburban and contrived and just nice, compared to what I had been expecting and compared to what the more northerly bits of the New River are like, when GodDaughter One and I checked them out, back in 2015.

In particular, the New River Walk turned out to be a piece of miniature canal that has been turned into a tiny, elongated version of Hyde Park, thanks to some lottery money that was bestowed upon it in the nineties, complete with fountains, and ducks, and carefully manicured footpaths, and views of nearby affluent houses and apartments, thus:

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It’s the sort of place I am happy to have visited just the once, to check out what it is.  But it isn’t really my kind of place.

But, this is Friday, and there were ducks.  And dogs.  Quite a lot of dogs actually.  Also lots of signs saying don’t let the dogs do dog do, or if the dogs do do dog do, then do tidy it up.

Thursday March 16 2017

It went on for a really long time, though.  The show kicked off at 4.30pm, and only ended at 10pm.  There were two intervals, each of just over half and hour.  I was careful to drink very sparingly beforehand.

During the overture, before the curtain went up, I also fretted that there might not be titles in English of what was about to be sung, which would mean me spending the best part of an entire working day of time trapped in a seat and bored out of my skull, with nothing to do except listen to not-my-favourite Wagner, with constant interruptions from singers, of a sort that I typically don’t much like the sound of.  And I further fretted that if there were such titles then we might not be able to read them, what with us being stuck right next to the roof about a quarter of a mile away from the action.  But all was well.  There were titles, and they were clearly readable.

A distressing effect of us sitting up at the back and the top, was that, what with the house being pretty much full and spring having got properly started during the last day or two, it became very hot for us.  I heard one middle aged lady complaining vehemently about the heat to some hapless programme girl during the second interval, and from then on it just got hotter and hotter.

Another drawback of sitting at the top and at the back, for me and my faltering eyesight, was that I couldn’t see properly who was who on the stage.  It was just too far away.  The titles told me the meaning of what was being sung, but omitted the rather crucial detail of which character was actually singing it.  In part one this was a real problem, because the stage was mostly full of similarly dressed and similar sounding bassy-baritony blokes of a certain age, the Mastersingers of the title.  It helped that, as the night wore on, there tended to be fewer people on the stage, and I thus found it easier to deduce who was singing than it had been in part one

But oh boy, Wagner certainly takes his time with this one.  It’s supposed to be a comedy, and occasionally it was.  But one of Wagner’s favourite jokes is that he signals that something is about to happen, but then whichever dithering bass-baritone is supposed to be getting on with it then takes another five minutes actually to do it, or to sing it, or whatever he is supposed to do.  This device peaked in the final act, when Mastersinger Sixtus Beckmesser takes an age to start his butchered version of the prize song, which he has stolen from the tenor.

Leading the caste was the noted (Sir) Bryn Terfel, as Hans Sachs - philosopher, poet, Mastersinger and cobbler.  I was disappointed by him.  Terfel’s voice in no way stood out during part one, with all its other bass-baritones, and one of the other bass-baritones, Mastersinger Pogner I think it was, sounded much better to me.  This was, I believe, this guy.

The tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones, regularly complimented throughout the show on his beauty, was a fat middle-aged bloke who made a point of dressing down, rather than overdressing in the properly pompous Mastersinger style, at any rate in this production.  He looked, from my distant vantage point, more like a nightclub bouncer than a romantic lead.  But, and this is the only thing that really matters in opera, he sang brilliantly.  His voice was amazingly secure.  “Secure” sounds like damning with faint praise, but what I mean is that his voice combined the best qualities of a voice and a really well played musical instrument.  In this respect if in few others, yesterday was exactly like my earlier ROH experience, when tenor Joseph Calleja was also by far the best thing to be heard.  Hughes Jones’s performance of the prize song, right at the end, after Beckmesser’s mangling of it, was, as it should be, the musical highlight of the evening.

As with that earlier Verdi show, everyone else in this Meistersinger cast (apart from Pogner) made the usual operatic singing noises in the usual operatic ways, these usual operatic ways being the basic reason I mostly prefer classical music without singing, and as a rule avoid opera houses.  It isn’t just the crippling cost of the tickets.

There are two ways to sing opera badly.  You can sing with quite nice tone, but with far too much and far too slow and wobbly vibrato, to the point where neither pitch nor meaning are clear, even if you know the language.  Or, you can have less vibrato but a tone that sounds more like an industrial sawing process than a nice voice.  Last night, the singing wasn’t ever bad enough to be seriously off-putting to me, but there was more than a whiff of both styles on offer.  As often happens, the women were the worst wobblers.  And Bryn Terfel was the worst offender, to my ear, in the industrial sawing department, although perhaps the effect was made worse by me having been hoping for something better from him.  He did seem to get better as the evening wore on, although that could just be because both the music and the drama got better.  It got better very slowly, but it got better.

Die Meistersinger is a kind of pilgrimage, from old geezer fustiness to youthful brilliance as exemplified by the prize song, from light opera to heavy opera, from dreary pre-Wagnerian operatic frivolity, which Wagner could do only moderately well, to full-on Wagner, at which Wagner was, as you would expect, the supreme master. 

This production, especially in part one, was a bit off.  It was supposed to start in a church, but instead we were in a posh gentleman’s club, containing Mastersingers who looked more like affluent Victorian eccentrics than the real late-Middle-Ages deal.  Also, the ending was a bit un-Wagnerian, in that the lead soprano, Eva, wasn’t happy about the way the tenor was persuaded to join the Mastersingers, the way she surely was in Wagner’s mind when he wrote it.  But it was never freakishly stupid, like a Samuel Beckett play, and on the whole it didn’t just sound reasonably good, it looked very fine too.  Although Wagner takes an age to tell his story, there is at least a story to the thing that you care about.  Well, I did.  By the end.

Time to bust open the DVD of this opera that I have long possessed, having bought it for a tenner about a decade ago.  The early staging already looks much more convincing.

But, crucially, the tenor doesn’t sound, to me, nearly as good as the one I heard yesterday.  He really was something.

Wednesday March 15 2017

Or maybe Highbury.  The nearby tube station hedges its bets and claims it’s both.  (This particular spot may actually be Canonbury.)

Die Meistersinger goes on for ever, so since I don’t want to be fretting about this blog after it, but before I go to bed, here is a pre-emptive quota photo, taken on Monday:

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The pink blossom signals the arrival of spring.  But happily, 2017’s tree leaves have not yet arrived to spoil the view of the Shard, which you can just about see through the trees, to the left, as we look, of the pink blossom.

Tuesday March 14 2017

Tomorrow, my plan has been made for me.  I am to go to the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, there to witness Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.  Judging by the reviews of it that I’ve just been reading, this is yet another of those productions that sounds glorious, especially when nobody is singing, but looks silly.

Here is paragraph one of what The Times has to say, before its paywall gets in the way:

The best thing about this show - indeed the best thing I’ve experienced in a theatre all season - is Antonio Pappano’s superlative conducting and his orchestra’s stunning playing of Wagner’s epic score. The Royal Opera should rename the opera “Die Meisterinstrumentalisten”, except it might not fit on posters. This is a musical interpretation of exemplary fluidity and pace, stirring in the right places (abetted by a rampant chorus), but also precise, subtle and virtuosic. After five hours and some, I wanted to hear it all again. Possibly, however, with my eyes closed.

Here is what the Evening Standard says.  And here is the Guardian.  The Guardian being the Guardian, he admires it, or tries to.  But you can tell he didn’t really like it.

The consensus seems to be that the best way to be seeing this production is on the radio.

Why are so many operatic productions like this?  My guess is that the opera audience is fixed.  The same old people - to be fair, not all of them actually old - go again and again, to see every new production, provided they expect it to be sufficiently sensational to satisfy their rather jaded tastes.  The last thing they want is a straight production, telling like it originally was when first performed.  They crave novelty, frisson, “interpretation”, and the latest singers who are on the up and up, which is why the chosen few get paid such fortunes.

Why don’t opera houses put on more trad productions, that would make much better sense, especially to newcomers?  Probably because that wouldn’t actually attract newcomers.  There are no newcomers in this market waiting to be attracted, or not in remotely sufficient numbers.  Oddballs like me, who only go about once a decade, just do not signify, economically speaking.  People either join that time- and money-rich audience of addicts who just can’t get enough of this weird art, probably by being the rich offspring of existing audience members, and perhaps also by studying opera singing, at which point they go and go and keep on going.  Or, they don’t.  And mostly, they (we) don’t.  Trad productions would merely piss off the actual audience by being too dull for them, without attracting that fantasy audience of newcomers, of ordinary people.  Sorry Opera.  Nobody ordinary is interested.

I’m only going because of some internet ticket muddle, involving a friend.  No way would I pay the full wack.  I haven’t even dared to ask what that is.

It’s weird when you think about it.  Ours is the age of manic musical authenticity.  God help any conductor who dares to change a single note of the sacred score, to make it sound more relevant to a modern audience, blah blah.  Yet with the staging, you can do any damn thing you like, provided only that you do something out of the ordinary.  This Die Meistersinger is set in some kind of gentleman’s club.  Well, it could have been worse, far worse.  It could have been set on Mars, or in Beckmesser’s drugged imagination, or in a bordello or a space station or a 3D printing factory or a football stadium or in the car park of an opera house, or in some evil combination of several of those things.

I hope I’m wrong about tomorrow’s show.  It sounds like it will at least sound really good.  And I might not hate the solo singing, or not all of it.  (I love good choral singing.) And there may even be bits of it that I like the look of.  Wish me luck.

Monday March 13 2017

The omniscient short-term weather forecasters have ordained that today’s weather will be very good, so I will go somewhere, and take photos.

Here is where I plan to go:

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I am interested in Highbury Fields, from where I hope to be able to see Big Things, uninterrupted by the leaves that will spoil such views later in the year.  And I will also, if I have time, investigate the thin strip of green that goes through where it says CANONBURY, a little bit to the south east.  This is part of the New River, more northerly bits of which I earlier explored with Goddaughter One.

I now plan to go there, because I am so old I now need a plan, in order to get out of the house, good and early, in the first place.

Sunday March 12 2017

I’m still photoing photoers, basically because the photos of photoers I took about a decade ago get more interesting by the year, and so, I’m betting, will photos like these, which I took in Trafalgar Square, last October:

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The difference from ten years ago is that I avoid photoing faces far more than I tried to then.  That means, as explained in this earlier posting, that I find myself photoing a lot of hair, as above.  Although, 3.3 is the hair on a lady’s sleeve, and the guy in 2.3 has no hair.  But, he has a hair style.

But I’m not a hair fetishist.  I’m just a not-face photoer, when I’m photoing strangers who are themselves photoing.

There was a posting at Mick Hartley’s yesterday which showed that concern about photoing the faces of strangers and thereby in some way stealing from them is not new.  Hartley reproduces a great pile of photos, photos like this:

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Scroll down to the bottom of Hartley’s posting, and you will encounter quotes from the man, Richard Sandler, who took all these ancient black-and-white photos, of strangers.  Go to where Hartley got these pictures and the quote, and you’ll get one of the questions, as well as the answer.

Have you had anyone ever question your motives in the street? Did you ever piss off anybody?

Occasionally people get angry and they have a right to, I am stealing a little something from them. Also for many years I used the strobe on the street and so there was no hiding what I was doing ... it can be startling. I have been kicked, spit on, and chased, but not very often. Once a woman with a rabbit pursued me for 30 minutes because I had flashed her and her pet.

Hartley also quotes Sandler saying this:

I think those were more interesting times because the warts of corporate/capitalist society were more visible then they are today, and those contradictions could be photographed more directly than now ... also every third person was not virtual, being on the fucking phone and not really on the street ....

Two things about that.  One, there is something rather exploitative about these photos, as he goes on to admit, sort of like an old school colonist photoing the natives.  Second, why the hell are “fucking” phones not themselves fit objects for his photoing?  Not really on the street? Come on.

They are certainly fit objects for my photoing.

Could it be that Sandler is suffering from a dose of professional jealousy?  Suddenly, the damn natives can photo the warts of corporate/capitalist society for themselves.  And nowadays, they don’t even have to use a dedicated camera.

And as for flash, well, the latest cameras hardly need them.  They can pretty much see in the dark.

Saturday March 11 2017

I spent most of today watching rugger on the telly.

In the first game Italy got beaten by France, and in the second game, Italy got slaughtered by England.

Just kidding.  It wasn’t England v Italy.  It merely felt like England v Italy.  What it was was England v Scotland.  It was a brutal game and several players, both English and Scottish, got smashed out of it.  The difference being that while Scotland have about three superb players around which they have constructed a fine team, England have more like twenty superb players with which they have constructed an even finer team.  Scotland lost one of their best players today.  England also lost an equally good player, from an illegal tackle early on.  England carried on as if nothing had happened.  Scotland were utterly deranged and demoralised.

England were also riled up and determined to do really well, because although they now win every game they play, people had been saying that their last few Six Nations wins were not very good wins, especially the previous one, against actual Italy, where Italy had done some weird stuff with the rucks and had England all confused.  People were saying that Scotland, who have been playing really well, had a decent chance of beating England, despite the fact that the last time they won at Twickenham was in the reign of George III or whenever.

England looked excellent from the kick-off, and I think I must have felt that they were going to win convincingly even then.  I say that because, after about two minutes, one of the Scots did that illegal tackle, so illegally that they were saying he might be red carded rather than merely yellow carded, i.e. sent off for good instead of just for ten minutes.  And I caught myself hoping that he wouldn’t be sent off permanently, because that would spoil the game and mean that England’s inevitable win wouldn’t mean anything.  Much better for England to win against the full fifteen, was my feeling.  Which England duly did.

But those who said England might lose shouldn’t feel bad, because predicting the Six Nations is a mug’s game.  (The only certainly right now is that Italy will get beaten by everyone else.) I mean, put it like this.  Today England smashed Scotland.  In the previous round of games, Scotland hammered Wales, and yesterday evening Wales hammered Ireland.  So, England should have no trouble at all hammering Ireland, in the final game of the tournament, right?  Not necessarily.  The other way of looking at these three games (England/Scotland, Scotland/Wales, Wales/Ireland) is that in each of them, the home team won.  And when England play Ireland, the home team will be Ireland.  England have now beaten France, Italy and Scotland at home, but they only just beat Wales away, with a last gasp try.

But here’s an interesting fact.  Take a look at all the results so far.  Remove all the Italy games, all lost by Italy no matter where they played, and you are left with just one away win, in the form of that Wales/England game.  All the other games between the Not Italy Nations have been home wins, apart from that one Wales/England game.  If England can score another away win next weekend, they’ll be very worthy Six Nations 2017 winners.  They already are the winners.

My guess is that next weekend, England will manage the second of their only two (and the only two) Not Italy Nations away wins of the entire tournament, that Scotland (in Scotland) will smash Italy, and that France (in France) will beat Wales.

Friday March 10 2017

Whenever I encounter interesting vehicles, of which London possesses a great many, I try to photo them.  Taxis with fun adverts.  Diverting white vans.  Crane lorries.  That kind of thing.

In particular I like to photo ancient cars.  And, I also like to photo modern cars which are styled to look like ancient cars, like this one:

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This is the Mitsubishi Pajero Jr. Flying Pug.  How do I know that?  Because I also went round the back and took this photo:

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Is a pug a non-feline creature?  Sounds like a non-feline creature to me.

More about this eccentric vehicle here:

On sale for just three years between 1995 and 1998, it sold reasonably well and has been popular as a grey import. None of which explains what on Earth Mitsubishi was thinking when it devised this horror show, the special edition Flying Pug.

The Japanese have always loved old, British cars. Through the Nineties it was one of the biggest markets for the original Mini, but retro pastiches had become popular as well, led by the Nissan Micra-based Mitsuoka Viewt, which looked a bit like a miniature Jaguar Mark II.

Mitsubishi thought it would jump on the bandwagon. Out of all the cars it made, Mitsubishi decided the Pajero Jr would be the best platform. Ambitiously, the brochure said it had “the classic looks a London taxi.” In fact, it looked more like the absolutely gopping Triumph Mayflower.

The press thought it was ugly and the buying public agreed. Mitsubishi planned to build 1,000 Flying Pugs, but just 139 found homes. The deeply weird name can’t have helped, but Japanese-market cars are notorious for it; another special edition Pajero Jr was christened McTwist.

I agree that “Flying Pug” is a strange name.  And I agree that the Flying Pug doesn’t look much like a London taxi.  But it resembles the Triumph Mayflower even less.

I also do not agree that either the Flying Pug or the Triumph Mayflower are ugly.  And they are definitely not, to my eye, “absolutely gopping”, or a “horrow show”.  Each to his own.

But I do like the fact that I photoed a car of which there are only one hundred and thirty nine copies in existence.