Marble Arch Hill is made of scaffolding!

This is definitely on my To Do List for this summer:

A viewing platform, to look out over and photo London. Made of scaffolding.

BMNB heaven.

I will be taking my zoomiest camera with me, because the nearby views look very dreary. Just a big bunch of boring trees.

“Students stopped caring about literature because the professors stopped believing in its promises of revelation and delight.”

Arts & Letters Daily sent me to this piece, by Mark Bauerlein, about the study of literature in American universities. It made particular sense of way that the descent into wokeness was not one single process, but a series of processes.

Quote, from near the end:

Fifty years ago, a university couldn’t call itself “Tier One” unless it had a renowned English department. No more: Abysmal enrollment numbers in the humanities at such universities prove the irrelevance of literary study. My colleagues around the country bemoan the decline, but they blame the wrong things. English did not fall because a bunch of conservatives trashed the humanities as a den of political correctness. It didn’t fall because it lost funding or because business leaders promoted STEM fields. It fell because the dominant schools of thought stopped speaking about the truth of literature. Once the professors could no longer insist, “You absolutely must read Dryden, Pope, and Swift — they are the essence of wit and discernment”; when they lost the confidence to say that nothing reveals the social complexity of the colonial situation better than Nostromo; if they couldn’t assure anyone that Hawthorne’s sentences showed the American language in its most exquisite form, they lost the competition for majors. Students stopped caring about literature because the professors stopped believing in its promises of revelation and delight.

Meanwhile, outside of universities, the internet has made it massively easier to study literature, and also have a life beyond and beside that, not least because it’s now so much easier to get hold of whatever books you want.

I’m sure, if it’s taught inspiringly, that it’s much more fun to study literature in the face-to-face company of like-minded enthusiasts. But it’s not essential, the way it is if you want to become something like a structural engineer. And if you do want to meet up with fellow enthusiasts, the internet is good at arranging that also. I have organised monthly meetings for nearly half of my life and the admin for this got a lot easier when email, and then the internet, kicked in.

My spell checker says “enrollment” in the above quote ought to be “enrolment”, but I’ve left it as was.

London Fields creatures

And I don’t mean creatures to be seen in the fields of London. I mean creatures to be seen in a particular place in London called London Fields. Until recently, I knew London Fields only as the title of a Martin Amis book.

But, earlier this month I journeyed out to London Fields, to see it and to meet up with a friend.

And I photoed creatures.

Photo 1:

The creature with the devilish horns being the bit that particularly interested me. The rest is, to me, incomprehensible.

Even more impressive, creature-wise, was this:

In this we observe two creatures combining to mimic a third creature. Rather good, I think. I wouldn’t want to shrink it and have it permanently on a wall in my home. It’s not that good. But I like that I could photo it.

Here is the original photo from which the above square was picked out, which included a human:

London seems to be divided into places where this sort of thing is allowed, and even encouraged, and the far greater number of places where it is very much not allowed. I live in the latter sort of place, which is duller, but maybe also safer.

London Fields, the book (see above), is a tale about a murder.

Frisby sings about Wetherspoons and Bollocks

I just received an email from Dominic Frisby, plugging his latest aria video, which is entitled I Love Wetherspoons! State of the art culture warfare, which I highly recommend. The aria, not Wetherspoons. I’m not saying that I don’t recommend Wetherspoons, merely clarifying the point I am and am not making there.

So far so good. But the best moment, for me, came right at the end, when I was offered the chance to sample another Frisby musical delight, in the form of something called …:

Oh, Bollocks.

This is an English word I resort to regularly, and have also already talked about here quite a lot, one of my favourite examples of this word in action being this one, involving taxis. Very satisfying to see bollocks identified by my favourite Dominic as an important English usage. The word communicates a subtle mixture of regret, defiance and hence, consequently, perhaps even a dash (because you never know your luck) of triumph.

The scene with the Angel of Death, right at the end of this video, spoke to me with particular force, what with that personage having recently sat himself down next to me.

INTERNATIONAL CHEESE

Michael Jennings, who is the technical curator of this blog, likes cheese, so maybe he can tell me how I managed to photo this photo:

The thing is, I remember seeing this in front of me recently, just as my train was about to depart from Victoria, and I photoed it, going to a bit of trouble to get it nicely lined up. But the train departed before I was able to discern what the original origin of the message was. “INTERNATIONAL” is just about decypherable from my photo. “CHEESE” is definite.

But who or what was promoting INTERNATIONAL CHEESE? Google google. It’s this. It’s a shop, at Victoria Station. That’s got to be what I photoed.

The Tripadvisor reviews at the other end of that link are what you might call “mixed”. I no longer trust the Internet when pseudonymous people review products, so that severely negative review first up means, to me, nothing.

22 dwarfs 42 (again)

Regular BMNB commenter Alastair James, noting my growing liking for 22 Bishopsgate, just sent me this photo, taken by him from Finsbury Circus:

That’s 22 Bishopsgate looming up behind Tower 42, the NatWest Tower that was.

It so happens I photoed this same Big Thing Alignment from pretty much the exact same direction, back in 2018, when 22 Bishopsgate was still being built:

Finsbury Circus is nearer to these Big Things than where I was when I photoed the above.

If you photo a Big Thing behind a not so big thing, the paradoxical effect can be that the Big Thing actually looks smaller, the nearer you are to it, because even a quite small thing makes its presence felt if it is in the foreground. Get away into the distance, and the bigness of the Big Thing becomes a lot clearer.

This effect is not particularly clear in the above photos, despite the difference in distance. But I did a posting on Samizdata, in which a church totally hides the Big Thing behind it. And that Big Thing was: The Shard.

When taxation is defenestration

Daylight robbery, …

… via Mick Hartley, to whom thanks.

For this guy, only the window tax is “daylight robbery”, because that’s the only tax he can photograph.

Whereas, for this guy

Why electric cars will soon displace petrol cars (and some general thoughts on the significance of non-disruptive technology)

I have been keeping half an eye out for a piece of writing that summarises how, and why, electric cars have been on the up-and-up, and today such a piece presented itself to me, by Justin Rowlatt, the BBC’s Chief environment correspondent:

The first crude electric car was developed by the Scottish inventor Robert Anderson in the 1830s.

But it is only in the last few years that the technology has been available at the kind of prices that make it competitive.

The former Top Gear presenter and used car dealer Quentin Willson should know. He’s been driving electric vehicles for well over a decade.

He test-drove General Motors’ now infamous EV1 20 years ago. It cost a billion dollars to develop but was considered a dud by GM, which crushed all but a handful of the 1,000 or so vehicles it produced.

The EV1’s range was dreadful – about 50 miles for a normal driver – but Mr Willson was won over. “I remember thinking this is the future,” he told me.

He says he will never forget the disdain that radiated from fellow Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson when he showed him his first electric car, a Citroen C-Zero, a decade later.

“It was just completely: ‘You have done the most unspeakable thing and you have disgraced us all. Leave!’,” he says. Though he now concedes that you couldn’t have the heater on in the car because it decimated the range.

How things have changed. Mr Willson says he has no range anxiety with his latest electric car, a Tesla Model 3.

He says it will do almost 300 miles on a single charge and accelerates from 0-60 in 3.1 seconds.

“It is supremely comfortable, it’s airy, it’s bright. It’s just a complete joy. And I would unequivocally say to you now that I would never ever go back.”

We’ve seen massive improvements in the motors that drive electric vehicles, the computers that control them, charging systems and car design.

But the sea-change in performance Mr Willson has experienced is largely possible because of the improvements in the non-beating heart of the vehicles, the battery.

The most striking change is in prices.

Just a decade ago, it cost $1,000 per kilowatt hour of battery power, says Madeline Tyson, of the US-based clean energy research group, RMI. Now it is nudging $100 (£71).

That is reckoned to be the point at which they start to become cheaper to buy than equivalent internal combustion vehicles.

But, says Ms Tyson, when you factor in the cost of fuel and servicing – EVs need much less of that – many EVs are already cheaper than the petrol or diesel alternative.

At the same time energy density – how much power you can pack into each battery – continues to rise.

They are lasting longer too.

Last year the world’s first battery capable of powering a car for a million miles was unveiled by the Chinese battery maker, CATL.

Companies that run big fleets of cars like Uber and Lyft are leading the switchover, because the savings are greatest for cars with high mileage.

But, says Ms Tyson, as prices continue to tumble, retail customers will follow soon.

How fast will it happen?

The answer is very fast.

It’s not just a question of price, although too high a price for a new technology is of course a deal breaker. Equally important is that because of all these recent discoveries and improvements, electric cars will no longer be a disruptive technology. They will fit right into the road system we now have, without too much in the way of expensive infrastructure (think petrol stations), which means, crucially, that as each individual judges that now would be a good time to make the jump, that jump can be made without fuss.

See also, robot cars. These will require infrastructural upheaval on a grand scale, hence the endless delays, with robot cars having been just about to arrive in a big way for about as long as any of us can remember. Hell, even electric scooters are a disruptive technology, because even they require a whole new network of disruptive infrastructure for them to work without constant fatalities and injuries. But these electric cars will be no harder to fit on the roads than regular cars already are.

If you’ve been paying any attention to this change, you will know that electric vehicles are, of course, already with us. If, like me, you have recently taken a taxi ride or a bus ride, and realised that stopping and starting have recently become unnaturally quiet and smooth, then you’ve already travelled in an at least partly electric vehicle, on a regular road.

When a technology arrives without half the people looking at it realising that that’s what it even is, that’s non-disruptive. Because of personal computers, a whole generation has been spouting drivel about the joys of disruptive technology, but the non-disruptive kind is far more transformative. Because, to take the example of electric cars, who knows what they will end up doing, once everyone but a few freakish petrol-headed hobbyists have bought into the basic idea. Eventually, once electric cars have entirely replaced regular cars, there will then be all sorts of disruptive consequences of that having happened, on all manner of other processes and experiences. In the longer run, historians may perhaps decide that the long term significance of electric cars was that they made it possible for cars to be properly robotised, in a non-disruptive way as far as the mere roads are concerned, step by small step, bit by bit. But all of that is still to come.

Another totally non-disruptive technology is 3D printing. Despite all the crap you may have read about 3D printing transforming everything, 3D printing is not now nor is it ever going to be transforming home or work life, the way personal computers have. 3D printing is, quite simply, a new way to make stuff, to add to all the other tricks and turns that stuff-makers have been using down the centuries. Unless you are intimately involved in manufacturing, you could have ignored this new technology completely, just as you may have been ignoring electric cars. Yet 3D printing is already huge.

Anton Howes on how printing got started

Anton Howes has been asking himself Why Didn’t the Ottomans Print More? In the course of sketching an answer, he says interesting things about how printing did get started in Europe:

When we think of the invention of the Gutenberg press, we often associate it with the spread of the Reformation a few decades later. We imagine presses hidden away in people’s basements, where ordinary citizens might churn out subversive tracts. The printing press, with the benefit of hindsight, seems inextricably linked with the spread of heresy, radicalism, and revolution. Yet in the late fifteenth century, before the Reformation, it was a technology that usually enjoyed, and perhaps even required, extraordinary encouragement from the authorities. Printing presses on their own are huge and heavy, even before accounting for the cases of type, the moulds or matrices required to cast new type when it began to wear out, and the punches used to make the moulds in the first place. It was a costly, capital-intensive business, requiring huge investment before you could print your very first page.

Many of the very first printers were either directly funded by rulers, or else obtained special privileges from them. The Gutenberg press didn’t immediately spread from Mainz to the major nearby cities of Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Würzburg, or Koblenz, as we might expect, but leapfrogged them all to Bamberg, where one was set up by the secretary to the city’s prince-bishop. Many of the much closer and larger cities don’t seem to have got their first presses until decades later. Even Venice gained printing earlier, in 1469, when its senate granted a five-year patent monopoly to a German to introduce the art. And when the printing market became over-crowded, Venice also granted temporary monopolies over the printing of particular texts — an extraordinary level of interference in an industry, which was only justifiable in light of the major up-front costs of deciding to print a book.

Such policies were soon replicated abroad. The first press in France was set up by the university of Paris, and the king granted citizenship to the foreign workmen who installed it. The first Italian press, too, was introduced with the support of a cardinal to the monastery of Subiaco, after which it moved to Rome. When it ran into financial difficulties after printing too much, it was bailed out by the Pope. And as the press spread even further afield, the greater the encouragement it required. Far-off Scotland in 1507 granted a monopoly to two printers not just over the use of a printing press, but over all imports of printed works too.

Are you thinking: internet. I am. That also kicked off as an official, government-sponsored project, did it not? Only later did it spread outwards, to mere people, to do more disruptive stuff, which now looks like it may include reversing many of the original nationalistic impacts of printing.

Governments start by seeing only the advantages to themselves of whatever it is, only later to discover that others become empowered also.

See also: drones.

The Howes thesis is that, at first, the Islamic world didn’t so much suppress printing as merely fail to encourage it, at the time when it needed encouraging. And I guess that once printing then got into its disruptive stride, then it became clear what a threat it might be to established beliefs and established government, and the Islamic discouragement, so to speak, kicked in.

I have just signed up to give Howes £100 a year. This may not got on for long, but it’s something. This item of person-to-person internet support is a first for me. I wonder how many such supporters he has?

The age of colourful architecture is getting nearer every day but will still take quite a while to arrive

There’s another street furniture competition going on, in London so I got an email about it. Follow that link, and you will find photos of the shortlisted ones. Here are six of those photos:

You know, if you are any sort of regular here, what I am now going to say about these.

Colour.

Architects only get to do big buildings when they are about sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety. Until then, they get fobbed off, and that’s if they’re lucky, with jobs like designing street furniture. This is because the people who decide who does big buildings are themselves so very, very old.

Now, look at these photos again, and imagine all the children in the photos thirty years older, and doing big noticeable buildings.

It will be a different world.

And as I have recently already said and will now say again, lots of people will hate the new style and suddenly become nostalgic for the dreary rubbish we all have to put up with now.

Architects are soon going to get over their obsession with black, white, brown and grey, and generally pale and lifeless shades of boring … and start doing proper colour on the outside of their now boring buildings, big time. This is a stylistic pulse that I do happen to have my finger on, … and I know whereof I speak. And it can’t come too soon, I say.

Well, when I wrote that I was feeling impatient. My message today is: it’ll happen, but I’ll have to wait a while. The kids doing this are still only kids. As in: around thirty. But give it another thirty years …