BMdotcom comedy quote of the day

Another comedy bullseye from Titania:

Good to see Jess Glynne & Ed Sheeran tackling ginger prejudice. Gingers should be treated in exactly the same way as normal people.

I really did LOL. And again, at this.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The Hundred is silly

Now that the proper cricket is over for the summer, the cricket fan’s mind turns towards silliness like The Hundred. This is the idea of having a new slam bang format, in addition to Twenty20. E(nglish) C(ricket) B(oard) Chairman Graves is now pushing this, and there is push back.

This cricket fan has two things to say about why The Hundred is so very, very silly.

Thing one. On what planet does a cricket administrator look at cricket on earth, and say: The Trouble With Cricket On Earth Is That It Doesn’t Have Enough Different Formats. There Should Be Another. ????

Thing two. The Hundred reminds me of the days when they mucked about with the limited overs format, with the result that for quite a while, or so I remember it, the English counties were playing 40/40 overs, while internationals were 50/50 overs. The heart of the problem was that the English administrators thought they ruled cricket, or behaved as if they thought this, and consequently imagined that they, on their own, could impose a new Format. But, there was a world out there.

And there is a world out there now, an even bigger one than then. Unless The World agrees that The Hundred is a good format, it will be a flop. Cricket is governed by The World (sometimes known as: India), not by England. Do the people pushing The Hundred have the Indians on board with it? I thought not.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

TIL about TIL

TIL that TIL stands for “Today I learned”.

First word in this, which is about piles. IL more about piles here and here.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

67 & 541 – 477/8d & 134/9

For the last four days I have been following Surrey v Essex at the Oval, on Cricinfo mostly. The scores alone were remarkable, hence my title above. Those who do not know cricket should know that, to those who do know cricket, the mere numbers above are truly astounding.

Famed Surrey commentator Churchy couldn’t take his eyes off it:

That’s him on the left. Don’t know who the other bloke is. Kevin Howells? See also this (about the effect on the face of photoing someone from really close-up). And the second of these two guys (both saying: well done Surrey) is another in-your-face face.

Given how good the weather forecasts were (and given how good weather forecasts are) I thought about going there. But I still suspect that, had I done so, a cascade of butterfly effects would have been set in motion, and Surrey would have lost by an innings and about three hundred early on day three, instead of by a mere one wicket on the afternoon of day four, having looked, towards the end, well capable of snatching a win.

Anyone who thinks that only winning matters in sport should ponder how much happier a Surrey fan like me is about this game as it finally turned out, compared to how grumpy I would have been if it really had ended early on day three. Still an Essex win. Same number of Championship points to both sides. Surrey still win the Championship anyway. But what an abject anti-climax that would have been. And what a great actual-climax to the season it actually was.

Had the County Championship still been at stake, and had it depended on this result, I could not have endured it. But, if the Championship had been at stake, it would, I think, have been an entirely different game. Intrinsic to the amazing Surrey recovery was that this was … only a game. Thus did it end up being a great game, because only a game.

I really want to remember this one, hence this posting.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Another leaning crane

This phenomenon continues to trouble me. Intellectually, I know that the people supervising these circumstances have them all under control. If ever there was a trade in Britain that knows what it is doing, it is the big city building trade. Things get done on time, all according to plan, and the results work as intended. And cranes do not fall over. (The financing can go all over the shop, which means that plans can change dramatically, but that’s a different story.)

But it still feels to me as if this crane might fall over. It still feels to me that, at any moment, something near the ground, on the left as we look, just might … SNAP!!!!:

So, another for the collection. Photoed by me the day before yesterday, from the Rooftop of John Lewis.

I don’t generally do Photoshop(clone)ing, but some rotation was necessary with this one. In my original, the crane was completely vertical. And everything else: not.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Two faces of Bruce the Real Photographer

Last week Bruce the Real Photographer (regular name: Bruce Nicoll) dropped by and we went out for a coffee. While we coffeed, we got onto the subject of how faces look different depending on how far away the camera is. By which I mean: Bruce the Real Photographer told me about this. (He mentioned this famous photo, on the right here, to illustrate what he was talking about.)

Inspired by this portraiture lesson, I at once took a very close up photo of Bruce the Real Photographer, which looked like this …:

…, and then I walked away and took this next photo, with lots of zoom, so that his face occupied most of the photo in the same way as it did in the above close-up:

The contrast is remarkable. His face is a whole different shape, depending. And look what happens to the background.

I sort of knew all this. But sort of knowing something and knowing it for sure are two distinct things. Knowing it and really seeing it are also two distinct things.

I photo a lot of buildings, close-up, and from a distance with lots of zoom. But these tend not to be the exact same buildings from one moment to the next, and the above contrast very seldom jumps out at me.

Mostly, what I see is another equally clear contrast but what looks like a very different one. I see extreme angle differences, like when verticals converge, or not, depending on how far away you are. I mentioned in passing, yesterday, how buildings do less of this when you are further away. When you are far away, you can get exact horizontals and exact verticals, the way you don’t when you are close-up. See the first photo below, which was done with lots of zoom from far away.

It all makes perfect sense. When you work it out, it becomes obvious. It is obvious that, if you are far away from someone who is wearing glasses and he is looking straight at you, you are more likely to see his face through those glasses and less likely to see the background beyond his face through his glasses. It’s all a question of angles.

It is obvious that if you are close up, you see only the front of his face. Further away, and you also see the sides of his face.

And it’s obvious that if you are far away from a rectangle that is at a slightly higher level than you are, it looks more exactly rectangular the further away from the rectangle you get. Again, the angle changes.

But that’s what knowledge is. When it becomes “obvious”, that means that you know it.

Here is another photo of Bruce the Real Photographer, which I took immediately after taking the second of two above, but this time with no zoom:

This shows that I was never actually that far away from Bruce the Real Photographer. It’s merely the difference between very close and not so close, two places which are only a second apart from each other. With buildings, you need to get a lot further away to make much difference.

To show you just how Real a Photographer Bruce the Real Photographer is, go to this long ago posting here (LINK TO THE OLD BLOG), which has a whole clutch of some of his best looking stuff, but small enough to fit on this blog and not to be worth anyone serious about copying to copy.

The first photo there is a particularly good one of the actor Dudley Sutton, who nrecently died, causing much lamentation in the antiques trade.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Thoughts on concentra …

I was reading this piece by Will Self about the baleful effect upon literature of the internet, screen reading instead of proper reading from paper bound into books, etc. But then I got interrupted by the thought of writing this, which is about how a big difference between reading from a screen, as I just was, and reading from a printed book, is that if you are reading a book, it is more cumbersome, and sometimes not possible, to switch to attending to something else, like consulting the county cricket scores (Surrey are just now being bollocked by Essex), seeing what the latest is on Instapundit, or tuning into the latest pronouncements of Friends on Facebook or enemies on Twitter, or whatever is your equivalent list of interruptions.

This effect works when I am reading a book in the lavatory, even though, in my lavatory, there are several hundred other books present. The mere fact of reading a book seems to focus my mind. Perhaps this is only a habit of mine, just as not concentrating is only a habit when I am looking at a screen, but these onlys are still a big deal.

The effect is greatly enhanced when I go walkabout, and take a book with me. Then – when being publicly transported or when pausing for coffee or rest or whatever – I cannot switch. I can only concentrate on the one book, or not.

It’s the same in the theatre or the opera house, which friends occasionally entice me into. Recently I witnessed Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The production was the usual abomination, but the orchestra and chorus were sublime, as were occasional bits of the solo singing. And I now know Lohengrin a lot better. Why? Because, when I was stuck inside the ROH, there was nothing else to do except pay attention. I could shut my eyes, which I often did. But, I couldn’t wave a mouse or a stick at it and change it to The Mikado or Carry on Cleo, even though there were longish stretches when, if I could have, I would have. It was Lohengrin or nothing.

I surmise that quite a few people these days deliberately subject themselves to this sort of forced concentration, knowing that it may be a bit of a struggle, but that it will a struggle they will be glad to have struggled with. I don’t think it’s just me.

This explains, among other things, why I still resist portable screens. Getting out and about is a chance to concentrate.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Art and information

Maybe “art” is putting it a bit strongly, but nevertheless, I do really like this photo …:

… which I took in the summer of 2015, somewhere in the City of London. The directory I found this in is called “Looking4BroadgateTower”, so that tells you roughly where I was.

BMdotcom-wise, this photo has so many boxes ticked.

– First things first: cranes. In this case, crane towers. BMmmmmm.

– Reinforcing rods, sticking out the top of the lump like vegetation. Reinforcement: insufficiently sung heroism of modernity.

– A crane tower shadow, on …

– … that material they shove over …

– … scaffolding.

– That monochrome thing that happens during sunsets. And – who can say? – maybe even during sunrises.

– The way that sunlight hits crane towers and just lights them up, which I so often try to get and so seldom manage to get.

– Lots of horizontals and verticals, made possible not by Photoshop(clone)ing but by the excellent zoom lens on my nearly-but-actually-not-SLR camera, with its one brilliant super-zoomy lens.

So, lots to like there. But what and where was this? This is the kind of thing I like to know.

Luckily, I took informational photos, as well as arty photos like that above. Always, when out taking photos like the above, take lots of photos which are not for art, but for information about that art. I need to keep telling myself, because often I fail to do this.

I fail, that is to say, to take photos like this …:

… which scores about zero for artistic impression, but which tells me what all that art in the first photo above actually was.

In the above (information) photo we see the same crane towers and the same lump, but viewed side on. It’s definitely the same stuff.

There’s even a name and a website to be seen, if you crop it, and then expand it to be 500 pixels across, like this:

So, there we have it. It’s the earlier stages of this. Once you have the words to describe what you want to learn about, the internet suddenly starts to work.

This being this:

My best guess is that the lump of art in the first photo in this posting is somewhere in the middle of the more complicated computerised Thing on the right.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Eric Lu playing Beethoven 4 on the TV

I am watching, on my television, Eric Lu’s Leeds Piano Competition performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4, a performance I earlier listened to on the radio. My impression from the radio was that this was a rather “private” performance, and somewhat more so than I think ideal. But the exact same performance, on TV, now seems, perhaps because the public nature of the event itself is inescapable, much less private than I had supposed from the radio. Every bit as good as I recall, but different. More assertive, more rhetorical, more like a Shakespeare soliloquy spoken out loud, and quite loudly, to a theatre audience than the same soliloquy done as a stream-of-consciousness interior thought process, perhaps also on the radio. Odd how the medium can have such an impact on the message.

I see from the Eric Lu website that this Beethoven concerto performance, together with two Chopin solo pieces that he played in earlier rounds, is now being made available on CD.

Now I am watching a Chinese guy play the Schumann concerto. And the contrast in how it comes across is exactly the same as with Lu’s Beethoven performance.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Michael Jennings explores Tehran

At my home on the last Friday of this month (Friday September 28th – which is in six days time), Michael Jennings will be speaking about Iran, and in particular about how he recently spent some time exploring its capital city, Tehran. The easiest link to learn more about Michael’s amazing globetrottings is to this list of his Samizdata contributions.

Each month, I solicit a few words from the speaker, to email to my list of potential attenders. A few days ago, Michael sent me rather more than a few words about what he’ll be speaking about, more words than I need for that email. But I don’t want all these words going to waste, so, with Michael’s kind permission, here they all are. In the email I send out tomorrow evening, I will be quoting from this, but will include the link to this posting, so that all who want to can, as they say, read the whole thing.

So, Michael Jennings on “Exploring Tehran”:

In recent years, I have done quite a lot of travelling in the Middle East.

From the western perspective – and particularly from the perspective of the western media – it is very easy to look at the Muslim Middle East and see something homogeneous. If you are inclined to see militant Islam and related terrorism as a threat, it is easy to see it as a single threat. However, there are two main strains of Islam, Shia and Sunni, and these are centred in two quite different cultures and civilisations: the first in Iran and the second in the Arab world.

These are two of the three largest cultures in the Muslim Middle East – the third being Turkey. These three cultures speak three unrelated languages – Farsi, Arabic, and Turkish – and the history and differences between these three cultures go back thousands of years – long before the time of Mohammed. These cultures are tremendously divided today. Iran fought a truly ferocious war with Arab Iraq between 1980 and 1988, the memory of which hangs over the country the way World War 1 probably hung over Europe in 1935. Much of the wars of the past 15 years in Iraq and Syria have been about Shia Iran (Persia) and Sunni Arab Saudi Arabia jostling for position in the Middle East. As to where Turkey stands in all this – I think Turkey is trying to figure this out.

I am not remotely an expert in any of this stuff. I have, however, spent a considerable amount of time travelling around the Middle East and North Africa in recent years. I love to explore cities on foot. I have done this, or attempted to do this in many places. Slightly less than two years ago I spent 10 days exploring Tehran on foot. Despite the fearsome (justified) reputation of the regime that rules Iran, I found – from my perspective as a Christian westerner – the most culturally familiar and welcoming culture that I had found travelling in the Middle East. Despite the fact that Iran is the only country in the entire world where all women are required to wear a headscarf at all times, I was struck by the fact that the role of women in public life was clearly much higher and that women are clearly much better educated and have a far more prominent role in the economy than in any Arab country I have been to. The Iranian middle class is substantial, and it is a very westernised middle class. At times in North Tehran I found myself in cafes and restaurants that easily could have been in hipster areas of Los Angeles, apart from the lack of alcohol.

I also found something that I should have known already – Iran is a trading, commercial nation. In South Tehran I found myself in shopping streets and bazaars that resembled East Asia – possibly commercial districts of Bangkok or Hanoi – more than anything elsewhere in the Middle East. I found myself sitting in stores being made tea (and being offered illicit alcohol) by merchants who wanted to tell me all about their trading trips to Shenzhen. It was fascinating.

And yet, this is a country that faces sanctions, and is cut off from the official system of international trade. What happens when you cut such a country off from the official system of international trade, and international academia, and international everything and so impoverishing the country, even though this is a culture that wants to participate? Come along to my talk, and I will speculate. Or possibly just show you my holiday pictures.

The basic point of my meetings is for people to attend them, but another point of them is for me to spread a gentle wave of information about people who have worthwhile things to say and interesting stories to tell, even if you do not actually attend. This posting now means that, this month, that second mission is already somewhat accomplished.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog