Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Friday November 24 2017

Yes it’s a busy time here at Chateau BMdotcom.  I have a meeting here this evening, for which I must now prepare, but, preparations are not helped by the fact that the two biggest supermarkets in my vicinity, Tescos Warwick Way, and Sainsburys Wilton Road, are both now shut, so that they can rearrange themselves, refurbish themselves, in time for Christmas presumably.  (And in order to take our minds off the fact that the prices of everything are now shooting upwards.)

This is bizarre.  Couldn’t they collude to take it in turns to shut, rather than colluding (I assume) both to be shutting at the same time.  I am too busy, doing such things as trying to think where I will be going instead to buy food for this evening, to be able to expand here upon this peculiar matter.  Let’s just say it’s lucky for capitalism that I really like it.  If I didn’t, this might have tipped me over the edge into full-on Bolshevism, at which point I might have become the straw that broke the camel of capitalism’s back.

After tonight’s meeting, I then have a succession of pre-Christmas socialisings fixed, for over the coming weekend and into next week.  All very nice and everything, but a struggle to keep track of, and to fit other necessary things around.  Which is why postings here have been a bit perfunctory of late, and why that may continue for a few more days.

Or, it may not.  Because actually, the urge to blog is, for me, hard to estimate the strength of beforehand.  Often, I think, the feeling I feel when busy that there are Things I Must Do, causes me then to avoid doing these Things by instead … blogging.

Right now, for instance, I am supposed to be preparing for this evening.  But instead ...

Yesterday I showed a photo that I actually took yesterday, rather than last year or last decade.  And today I’m doing the same.  I’m showing you another photo that I took yesterday:

image

That’s the inside of the domed roof in the middle of Leadenhall Market in the City of London.  This is another of those photos which is a lot easier to take if you have a twiddly screen, such as I always now have.

Here is the next photo I took, to show you which place I mean:

image

To me, one of the odder things about Leadenhall Market is that all the enterprises plying their trade in it would seem to be obliged by the house rules to proclaim their names in the exact same style and size of lettering.  This is not what you get in most shopping centres, which is what this place basically is.  But, fair enough: their gaff, their rules.  And although in one sense this is uniformity gone a bit mad, in another sense it is variety, because this is not something you see very often.

It is clearly a recent thing, and Wikipedia confirms this:

Between 1990 and 1991 the market received a dramatic redecoration which transformed its appearance, enhancing its architectural character and detail. The redecoration scheme received a special mention in the Civic Trust Awards in 1994.

Ah yes.  Commercial, you understand, but not too commercial.  The subtle business of not being too businesslike.

I passed through this place on my way to Monument tube, having been wandering towards the City and its Big Things from the Bethnal Green area, enjoying the last daylight of a very fine yesterday.  Of which maybe more here later, and of which maybe not more here later.  (This blog is also not very businesslike.)

Thursday November 23 2017

Indeed.  And, I got him to hold the pose while I photoed it:

image

Okay, mine’s a rubbish picture, but: you get the picture, and in any case the fact that you can’t read the numbers is a feature rather than a bug.  I’m sure he got his picture.  He has already typed into his other little machine a note of my address and electricity score.  So it will be entirely clear to him which number he is confirming, or conceivably correcting, with his photo.

Just another example of what mobiles contribute to the economy, not just by doing newsworthy stuff like transmit big gobs of money or send portentous messages to and from people on the move, but simply by helping workers to do little bits of work.  Often, mobiles and their cameras are used to record the progress of work.  This is using mobiles and their cameras actually to do the work, because this particular work is recording.

I know: smart meter.  Well, someone recently tried to install one, but for some reason it couldn’t be done, or not yet.

To really appreciate this, you have to have experienced what happens to your electricity bill when your electricity consumption is recorded wrongly.

Wednesday November 22 2017

It’s been a while since there’s been any horizontality here. (That isn’t the most recent piece of horizontality here, just one that I happen especially to like.) So, allow me now to correct this, thus:

image

Click to get the bigger original.

It’s a shop just off Lea Bridge Road, opposite the station.  Photoed by me almost exactly one year ago.

Tuesday November 21 2017

When it comes to showing off my photos, I am currently in full-on retro mode, and my latest little retrospective is of a few more photos I took when I was At the 2010 Farnborough Air Show, those being a rather greater number of photos which I posted from that show at the time, at Samizdata.

All four of these photos here feature the Avro Lancaster, and the final one also features a Lancaster and also the mighty Avro successor to the Lancaster, the Vulcan:

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

It was a great day.  And it got me thinking quite a bit more about the Avro Lancaster, and in particular about its highly distinctive and recognisable shape.

Monday November 20 2017

Ten years ago today, in a posting entitled Chanelle and Ziggy - romance in the age of total surveillance, I showed a photo, of some magazines on display:

image

But all I showed of that photo was the magazines bit, because, as the above title makes clear, that was the bit I was interested in:

image

Funny.  Still.

But now, the bit at the bottom, where the maps are, seems just as interesting, because, now, so very dated.

image

Celebrity romance has, with arrival of social media, just got that bit more public, having been very public even in 2007.  But those maps!  Where have all the maps gone?  Gone to smartphones every one.

Which just goes to show: If in doubt, take the photo! The more trivial and ephemeral it may seem at the time, the more likely it is to be of interest in a decade’s time.

Sunday November 19 2017

I once was once briefly acquainted with a quite close relative of Robert Mugabe, and that person was truly remarkable in being utterly incapable of understanding how anyone could possibly disagree with the truth that he saw so very clearly.  This person also looked exactly - spookily - like Robert Mugabe. (It was asking about this resemblance that got me the information that he was a close relative of Mugabe.) I have never known a more deeply stubborn person, ever.  But it was not a stubbornness made merely of the desire or the determination not to change his mind.  No.  He was simply unable to change his mind.  The idea of him every having been wrong, about anything, was simply impossible for him to grasp.

If Robert Mugabe is anything like this relative of his, and everything I know about Robert Mugabe tells me that Mugabe is, in this respect, exactly like him, Mugabe may find himself sacked, imprisoned, or even executed, but he will never resign, or ever change his mind about the wisdom of anything he ever said or did.  That he has not yet resigned has, according to the Guardian headline linked to there, has “stunned” Zimbabwe.  I was not stunned.

They’ll have to force him out, like King Richard II was forced out by King Henry IV.  But if Mugabe is forced out, there will be no scenes like the closing scenes of Shakespeare’s version of Richard II, where the deposed Richard comes to see the world and its ways differently, and to understand things more deeply.  Simply, Mugabe is right, has always been right and will always be right, and if everyone else disagrees with him, it can only be that everyone else is, was, and will be, hopelesslyl wrong.  Mugabe is literally incapable of understanding matters in any other way.

Mugabe is indeed now a rather confused old man.  But his confusion concerns only how it is possible for so many people to be so completely mistaken.

Saturday November 18 2017

I’ve started reading Adam Zamoyski’s Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe, the importance of the events described in this book being neatly summarised in its subtitle.  Here is Zamoyski setting the stage for, and then introducing, the Polish leader Jozef Pilsudski.

This was not so much an issue of territory as of Russia’s need to break into Europe and Poland’s to exclude her from it; yet it had brought Russian armies into the heart of Poland, and a Polish occupation of Moscow as far back as 1612. The matter had been settled at the end of the eighteenth century by the partition of Poland between Russia, Prussia and Austria and its disappearance from the map. Despite a continuous struggle for freedom and repeated insurrections, Poland remained little more than a concept throughout the next hundred years, and its champions were increasingly seen as romantic dreamers.

But the partition that had removed Poland from the map had also brought her enemies into direct contact, and, in 1914, into deadly conflict. In February 1917, undermined by two and a half years of war, the Russian empire was overthrown by revolution. In October of that year Lenin’s Bolsheviks seized power, but their grip on the country was weak, and they were in no position to prosecute the war with Germany and Austria-Hungary. In the spring of 1918 they bought themselves a respite: by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk they ceded to Germany Russia’s Baltic provinces, Lithuania, the parts of Poland under Russian occupation, Byelorussia and Ukraine. A few months later revolutions in Vienna and Berlin toppled the Austro-Hungarian and German empires, which left the whole area, still occupied by German and Austrian troops, effectively masterless. The Poles seized their chance.

Under pressure from President Wilson, the allies had already decided that the post-war settlement should include an independent Poland. They had even granted recognition to a Polish National Committee, based in Paris, which was preparing to form a provisional government. But they had no authority in German-occupied Poland, and no influence at all over the Bolshevik rulers of Russia, whose government they did not recognize. It was clear that the fate of Poland would be decided on the ground rather than in the conference room, and with Russia floundering in her own problems, the Poles, or rather one Pole, took the initiative.

imageHis name was Jozef Pilsudski. He was born in 1867 into the minor nobility and brought up in the cult of Polish patriotism. In his youth he embraced socialism, seeing in it the only force that could challenge the Tsarist regime and promote the cause of Polish independence. His early life reads like a novel, with time in Russian and German gaols punctuating his activities as polemicist, publisher of clandestine newspapers, political agitator, bank-robber, terrorist and urban guerrilla leader.

In 1904 Pilsudski put aside political agitation in favour of para-military organization. He organized his followers into fighting cells that could take on small units of Russian troops or police. A couple of years later, in anticipation of the coming war, he set up a number of supposedly sporting associations in the Austrian partition of Poland which soon grew into an embryonic army. On the eve of the Great War Austro-Hungary recognized this as a Polish Legion, with the status of irregular auxiliaries fighting under their own flag, and in August 1914 Pilsudski was able to march into Russian-occupied territory and symbolically reclaim it in the name of Poland.

He fought alongside the Austrians against Russia for the next couple of years, taking care to underline that he was fighting for Poland, not for the Central Powers. In 1916 the Germans attempted to enlist the support of the Poles by creating a kingdom of Poland out of some of their Polish lands, promising to extend it and give it full independence after the war. They persuaded the Austrians to transfer the Legion’s effectives, which had grown to some 20,000 men, into a new Polish army under German command, the Polnische Wehrmacht. Pilsudski, who had been seeking an opportunity to disassociate himself from the Austro-German camp in order to have his hands free when the war ended, refused to swear the required oath of brotherhood with the German army, and was promptly interned in the fortress of Magdeburg. His Legion was disbanded, with a only handful joining the Polnische Wehrmacht and the rest going into hiding.

They did not have to hide for long. Pilsudski was set free at the outbreak of revolution in Germany and arrived in Warsaw on 11 November 1918, the day the armistice was signed in the west. While his former legionaries emerged from hiding and disarmed the bewildered German garrison, he proclaimed the resurrection of the Polish Republic, under his own leadership.

Pilsudski was fifty-one years old. Rough-hewn, solid and gritty, he invariably wore the simple grey tunic of a ranker of the Legion. His pale face, with its high, broad forehead, drooping moustache and intense eyes, was theatrical in the extreme. ‘None of the usual amenities of civilized intercourse, but all the apparatus of sombre genius,’ one British diplomat noted on first meeting him.

Pilsudski felt that thirty years spent in the service of his enslaved motherland gave him an indisputable right to leadership. His immense popularity in Poland seemed to endorse this. But that was not the view of the victorious Allies in the west, nor of the Polish National Committee, waiting in Paris to assume power in Poland. After some negotiation a deal was struck, whereby the lion-maned pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who had devoted himself to promoting the cause of Poland in Britain, France and particularly America, and was trusted by the leaders of those countries, came from Paris to take over as Prime Minister, with Pilsudski remaining titular head of state and commander-in-chief. While he allowed Paderewski to run the day-to-day business of the government and its relations with the Allies, Pilsudski continued to direct policy in all essentials. And he had firm ideas on how to ensure the survival of Poland.

Friday November 17 2017

Indeed:

image

Tilbury, September 2013.  That’s what a BMdotcom wildlife photo should be.  Creatures, yes, but also cranes.

At around that time, I made a series of trips out to London Gateway, London’s new container port, which is just downstream from Tilbury.  Here‘s a recent report of how London Gateway is doing, which also has further news about animals in the area:

The £1.5bn construction saw a staggering 350,000 animals moved off site into new habitats. At one stage DP World’s office building on the site homed tanks of great crested newts before they were moved into newly created ponds.

However, the horses in the above photo were not disturbed, because they were just outside Tilbury.  London Gateway is further down river.  It was only several hours later that day that I set eyes on those cranes, from a great distance. Despite the gloomy weather, it was a great day.  The photos bring it all back.

Thursday November 16 2017

Although “pipeline” is wrong, because these are solid-state batteries, to replace liquid batteries.

Instapundit says it’s “YUGE IF TRUE”, that Fisker has filed patents for solid-state batteries:

The reason all these companies are working on developing solid-state batteries is because they present a whole host of advantages over what you’ll find in today’s phones, computers and cars. The two big ones are greater energy density and rapid charging times. Fisker claims the batteries it’s developing have an energy density 2.5 times that of current batteries, and they should be capable of providing a 500-mile driving range. The company also says the batteries could be recharged in as little as a minute.

Companies don’t usually straight-out lie about things like this, but they do often get carried away.  In particular, they gloss over what may prove to be big obstacles.  But the obstacles get overcome, eventually.  They say they’re going to have this tech rolling in the early twenties.  Make that the thirties.  But, my guess: it will soon, historically speaking, happen.  They’re going to be very expensive, at first.  But that always happens.  Got to pay for all that inventing.

A key item of evidence for my optimism is that the report states that other companies are working on the same stuff, besides the one in the headline.  This suggests one of those inventions that is ready to be made, that Matt Ridley goes on about.  For decades this or that gizmo is promised, but: nothing.  Then suddenly: four companies all arrive at it, “independently”.  In other words, all the necessary inventions, that needed to be made before this one could be made, had finally been made.  At which point the gizmo goes from impossible, to inevitable.

Can these batteries be made really small, small enough for all those phones and computers?  If so, it really will be a new era.

As I keep saying, the one big aspect of our civilisation that is still working really well is … stuff like this.

Wednesday November 15 2017

On Thursday November 23rd, the latest manifestation of The Ashes kicks off:

image

I took the above photo in the pedestrian tunnel that goes north from South Kensington tube towards the Royal Albert Hall, or in my case towards the Royal College of Music (where GodDaughter 2 was singing in a concert).

But look more closely.  This is not an advert for The Ashes themselves, an advert, that is to say, for the chance to watch or otherwise witness some actual cricket games.  No.  This is an advert for the means to play in a computerised cricket game.

The last licensed Ashes game was Ashes Cricket 2013. It was developed by Trickstar Games (also based in Melbourne, Australia) but was so irredeemably terrible it was comically cancelled after it had been released (it was quietly released on Steam in November 2013 but yanked down just four days later).

I knew nothing of this until now, even though I follow actual cricket very keenly.  The only computer game I ever play is Solitaire.  Blog and learn.

I wonder how the income earned from the sale of this computer game will compare with the income earned by the actual Ashes cricket games.  I’m guessing that, assuming they’ve now done a better job of it than was done in 2013, the comparison will be quite favourable. Although: Bairstow, Root, Ballance, Broad, Anderson and Cook will presumably be getting their slices of the computer game action.

Tuesday November 14 2017

A lot of the stuff at Digital Photography Review these days is about money-no-object high-end DSLR cameras, and about the many different money-no-object lenses you can shove on the front of DSLRs.  When DPRev descends from this Olympus (or this Canon or this Nikon) they usually then prattle on about the cameras on smartphones.

But this report, even though it says it’s about DSLRs, I did find interesting.  Canon have filed a patent for a new sort of bigger flip out screen, in other words a bigger version of the sort of screen that I for one could not now do without:

While a hinged DSLR rear display is nothing new, Canon’s patent shows a design that would allow for a large and reversible display unlike anything we’ve seen before. In fact, the LCD shown in the patent’s illustrations covers the entire back of the camera, making it necessary to tuck the rear dial and several buttons behind it, though several others are exposed on either side of the viewfinder.

I can remember when flip out screens were held in contempt by the DSLR fraternity.  But many of us digital snappers took to them with eagerness, having worked out that there are many photos that are pretty much unphotoable without such screens.  The one where you hold your camera as high as you can above your head, for instance, yet still manage to compose your photo accurately as you point your camera slightly downwards to capture a scene that you can’t yourself see directly because you are stuck in a crowd, but which you can see on your twiddly screen.

To be fair to Canon, after an initial period of head-in-the-sand stupidity, they have for quite a while now lead the way with adding flip out screens to DSLRs, and all the other big manufacturers have followed along.  There are still plenty of cameras available without flip out screens, for idiot Not-As-Real-As-They-Thing Photographers who take positive pride in not liking these screens, and maybe for some truly Real Photographers who truly do not need them.

As the report goes on to acknowledge, filing a patent and actually making and selling the thing patented are two different things.  But Canon’s new and much bigger variation on the flip out screen theme suggests that the huge added value of these screens is now widely understood by camera makers.

Monday November 13 2017

Busy day.  Busy evening.  So just a couple of quota photos, both taken a little under ten years ago, just before Christmas 2007.

First, Guys Hospital, looking as good as it ever could:

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At first, all I was thinking was: artistic impression.  But it also has interesting info in it.  No Shard.  Which got me noticing another, at the time very commonplace photo, of the Gherkin.  Also interesting info in it.  No nearby Big Things.  There it stands, in splendid isolation.

image

I also photoed lots of photoers that day, and have so far showed you only some of them.  There are several more good photoer photos deserving of resuscitation, all with impeccably concealed faces, but these will have to wait.

Sunday November 12 2017

A few weeks ago, I watched and recorded a Shakespeare documentary series, in one episode of which Jeremy Irons talked about, and talked with others about, the two Henry IV plays.  And that got me watching two recorded DVDs that I had already made of these plays, the BBC “Hollow Crown” versions, with Irons as King Henry and Tom Hiddleston as the King’s son, Prince Hal.  While watching these, I realised how little I really knew these wonderful plays, and how much I was enjoying correcting that a little.

More recently, partly spurred on by what Trevor Nunn in that same documentary series had to say about it, I have been doing the same with The Tempest, this time making use of a DVD that I long ago purchased for next to nothing in a charity shop but had failed ever to watch.

By accident, when this DVD of The Tempest began, there were subtitles to be seen, and I realised that these written lines, far from getting in the way, only added to my enjoyment, so I left them on.  And, if subtitles were helping, why not the entire text?  Maybe I possess a copy of The Tempest, but if so I could not find it, so instead, I tried the internet, which quickly obliged.  My eyesight not being the best, I beefed up the magnification of the text until it was nearly as big as those subtitles.  So, I watched, I read subtitles, and I was able to see who was saying what, and what they were about to say.  And very gratifying it all was:

image

On the telly, on the left, David Dixon as Ariel and, on the right, Michael Hordern as Prospero, both very impressive.

And here, should you be curious, is the text they were enacting at that particular moment, as shown on the right of the above photo, but now blown up and photoshop-cloned into greater legibility:

image

I think the reason I found this redundancy-packed way of watching The Tempest so very satisfying is that with Shakespeare, the mere matter of what is going on is secondary to the far more significant matter of exactly what is being said, this latter often consisting of phrases and sentences which have bounced about in our culture for several centuries.  As ever more people have felt the need to recycle these snatches or chunks of verbiage, for their own sake, and because they illuminate so much else that has happened and is happening in the world, so these words have gathered ever more force and charismatic power.  As the apocryphal old lady said when leaving a performance of Hamlet: “Lovely.  So full of quotations.”

The thing is, Shakespeare’s characters don’t just do the things that they do, and say only what needs to be said to keep the plot rolling along.  They seek to find the universal meaning of their experiences, and being theatrical characters, they are able, having found the right words to describe these experiences, to pass on this knowledge to their audiences.  This is especially true of Hamlet, because central to Hamlet’s character is that he is constantly trying to pin down the meaning of life, in a series of what we would now call tweets, and consequently to be remembered after his death.

Prospero in The Tempest is not quite so desperate to be remembered, any more, we are told, than Shakespeare himself was.  In Prospero, as Trevor Nunn explained in his documentary about The Tempest, many hear Shakespeare saying goodbye to his career as a theatrical magician and returning to his provincial life of Middle English normality. But Shakespeare was Shakespeare.  He couldn’t help creating these supremely eloquent central characters.  Even when all they are doing is ordering room service, or in the case of Prospero doing something like passing on his latest instructions to Ariel, they all end up speaking Shakespeare, with words and phrases that beg to be remembered for ever.  These famous Shakespeare bits are rather like those favourite bits that we classical music fans all hear in the great works of the Western musical cannon.

So, a way of watching these plays that enables these great word-clusters to hang around for a while is just what you want.  (Especially if, like Prospero, you are getting old, and your short-term memory is not what it was.) It also helps being able to press the pause button from time to time, to enable you to savour these moments, to absorb their context, better than you could if just watching the one unpausable performance in front of you.  Although I agree, having a pause symbol on the furrowed brow of Prospero, as in my telly-photo above, is not ideal.

I am now browsing through my Shakespeare DVD collection, wondering which one to wallow in next.

Saturday November 11 2017

I took this photo out in the Epping region, while walking about there with a friend, in the autumn of 2015.  And I believe that even when I took it, it seemed like a modern take on Remembrance Sunday and all that.  Death in a major war, although itself no doubt often a very solitary experience, is experienced by the rest of us, especially as events like World War One recede into history, as a vast collective, shared, catastrophe.  It’s the scale of the death, the sheer numbers, that hits home.  And much poppy imagery reflects this, for instance in the form of all those poppies that were recently planted around the Tower of London.

So this poppy photo perhaps suggests the individuality and isolation of military death, when fighting on behalf of a country like ours, now.  Your son dies.  But nobody else for miles around is suffering in the same way.  You’re on your own.

image

The yellow of the surrounding flowers suggests cowardice, which I dare say is how some bereaved people feel about their loss: that everyone else is scared to get stuck in.  But there the metaphor probably breaks down.  I certainly think that the people of Britain would be more than ready in the future to fight another big war, if they thought it made sense.

But it was a striking sight, nevertheless.