A ball point pen for eight pence!

Here are two more photos photoed with my Samsung Galaxy Something mobile phone:

I came upon these pens while seeking something else, as you do. I then took these photos because what I was seeing reminded me of a conversation I recently had with Michael Jennings about why the cameras in things like my Samsung Galaxy Something mobile phone are so good. He said that when you are ordering up the cameras for a production run of mobile phones like mine, or for an iPhone or some such thing (Michael J has the latest iPhone (with which he now takes photos like these)) you’re talking about ordering a billion of the things, literally. When you are working on that sort of scale, then the economies of scale really start to kick in. A camera which would have cost five times what the mere phone costs now, if you sold it only to photographers, now costs only a dozen or two quid for my phone, or a couple of hundred for the latest iPhone. He’s not wrong.

Research and development for dedicated cameras has pretty much stopped about five years ago. All the effort now goes into making mobile phone cameras into miracle machines, and that’s really starting to be visible in the results.

I remember thinking, when digital cameras first arrived, that in the long run, cameras would have no reason to look like old school cameras, of the sort that had film in them. But at first they all did, because that was what people felt comfortable with. But now, that long run is starting to arrive. Cameras now consist only of a screen, and what is more a screen that can do a hundred other things besides photo photos.

And the above photos illustrate this same economies-of-scale which can fund mega-research-into-making-them-even-cheaper principle in action down at the bottom of the market, where they thrash out ball point pens by the billion. One pound for a dozen of them! Like I say in the title of this, that’s hardly more than eight pence a pen. And that’s after all the transport costs and retail mark-ups and goodness knows what else have also been paid. Amazing.

Shame they can’t make food and heating and rent that cheap. The one thing that never seems to get any cheaper nowadays is energy, aka the essentials of life. Are we due another human transformation, to go beside this one, when energy gets miraculously cheaper? Nuclear? Fusion? Bring it on.

That previous kink, I recently read in one of Anton Howes‘s pieces, was maybe made to seem more abrupt than it really was by the fact that there came a moment when they finally worked out how to extract and distribute energy on a serious scale, but energy remained quite expensive, hence the sudden kink upwards in the numbers. Actually, life had been getting better for some time, and didn’t suddenly get a hundred times better, merely about three or four times times every few decades.

Meanwhile, things like absurdly good cameras and absurdly cheap ball point pens don’t show up in graphs of how much mere money everyone is chucking around. Which causes people in a country like mine to underestimate the improvements of recent decades. These have not taken the form of us all having tons more money. No. What has been changing is the stuff we can now buy with the same money. Like my latest (mobile phone) camera, and like ball point pens. Provided you have some cash left over after you have fed and housed yourself and kept yourself warm (not everyone does), then life has got lots more fun, given how many and how much better are the toys and times you can now buy for the same money.

Life has not improved much for those who have fun only when the fun they get is too expensive for most others to be able to indulge in. But that’s a thought for a different posting.

More cruelty-free meat news from Israel

From the Daily Mail:

A juicy ribeye steak is a treat for many, but meat eating is increasingly falling out of fashion due to ethical and environmental concerns.

Now, an Israeli company has revealed the world’s first ever 3D bioprinted ribeye made with real cow cells, and it is completely cruelty and slaughter-free.

Scientists took swabs from two cows, cultivated them in a lab, and pieced them all together to form a replica steak.

What is it about artificial meat and Israel? Maybe it’s just that Israel happens to be a very inventive place just now, and whatever innovation you happen to be a spotter of, you’ll find yourself being directed towards Israel.

I wonder if the pariah status of the state of Israel is some kind of cause of this super-inventiveness, if that’s what it is. If so, it reminds me of how religious non-conformists in Britain, similarly cut off from polite society, were so heavily involved in the Industrial Revolution.

Death and detail

Yesterday, my Senior Designated Friend and I communed with my lawyer, via Zoom (which my SDF organised on her laptop). All seemed to go well. I had been ignoring Zoom, until the lawyer said he needed it.

I had hoped by now to be blogging profundities, but am still at the stage of trying to arrange my affairs in such a way that, were I to die soon and without further warning, or perhaps become terminally incapable, those affairs would be, as they say, “in order”. It would be clear what everything consists of and who gets what, and what to do about switching me off, should the question arise. Thank goodness for the SDF, who is doing almost all of this arranging, and without whom I would now be in a state of gibbering uselessness. It’s an exhausting business, even though my contributions are only occasional. Maybe death soon, and taking care of details in the meantime, death being why that has to be done. I remember that same combination when my mother died. Death, detail.

Meanwhile, you must forgive the decline in blogging quality here lately, and the possible feebleness of a lot of the next lot of postings also.

The magic drug seems to be working. I think I can feel a definite improvement. But now I just want to rest up and let it work its magic.

Quiet the mind?

In March of 2020, I journeyed to Battersea, to check out progress in all the new Machines For Living In that they were building in those parts. Frank Gehry, who specialises in the architecturally strange, is building his first London building there, and I had in mind to be checking that out in particular.

But I saw something which I personally reckon to be even stranger than that.

These signs:

As so often, I only really took in how very odd these signs were when I got home. But no matter, I said to myself, I’d go back and really check these signs out, make sure I knew who had put them up, and so on and so forth. Surprise surprise, I have yet go back. All I have by way of context is this photo, that I photoed by way of a farewell-I’ll-be-back, on the same day and just after I’d photoed all the other photos:

It would appear that the workforce of one of the many enterprises toiling away in that part of London had to run a gauntlet of uplifting propaganda whenever they clocked on and clocked off.

I still don’t know what I think about that. I do know that I was intrigued, and that I still am. Certainly management is setting itself up for one hell of a pratfall, if it fails in any way to live up to these standards itself. And I now reckon that one of these signs is itself a very public error of judgement, namely the one that says: “Quiet the mind and the soul will speak”. Do you want people putting up a building with mush like that slurping around in their heads? I definitely do not. “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work”. says another of the signs. It failed to put very much perfection into that “Quiet the mind” sign. “Be PROUD of what you have done today”. Not that day.

Hey, I think I convinced myself what I think of these signs. A badly thought-through mistake. Only one big thing had to go wrong, and it did. Just as soon as the signs went up.

On April 1st, according to this, all work stopped in that particular part of Battersea, the bit where they were building stuff. I wonder if those signs were there when work restarted. If it even has.

“You’re never a loser until you quit.” I reckon they rather boxed themselves in.

The Moose Cup Powered By Daraz

The Moose Cup Powered By Daraz being the trophy that the Sri Lankan and English cricket teams are now battling, out there in Sri Lanka, to win.

Moose. Daraz.

The Moose Cup Powered by Daraz is a regular cricket trophy, except that its giant cricket ball has antlers. On the right, Joe Root, England captain. On the left, not sure, but I presume that’s Karunaratne, not the Sri Lankan captain for this game because he damaged himself and couldn’t play in it.

There have been two days of cricket so far, and England have the upper hand.

On the first day, Endland’s Dom Bess didn’t bowl well

Steven Johnson’s history of what we do for fun

Tell ’em what you’re going to say, tell ’em, tell ’em what you said. I believe that’s the formula that many preachers follow when they give their sermons. The bit from a book below is from the “tell ’em what you’re going to say” bit, in other words the Introduction (pp. 8-11), of Steven Johnson’s Wonderland, which I ordered from Amazon back in October, and am now starting to dip into:

Delight is a word that is rarely invoked as a driver of historical change. History is usually imagined as a battle for survival, for power, for freedom, for wealth. At best, the world of play and amusement belongs to the side bars of the main narrative: the spoils of progress, the surplus that civilizations enjoy once the campaigns for freedom and affluence have been won. But imagine you are an observer of social and technological trends in the second half of the eighteenth century, and you are trying to predict the truly seismic developments that would define the next three centuries. The programmable pen of Jaquet-Droz’s Writer – or Merlin’s dancer and her “irresistible eyes” – would be as telling a clue about that future as anything happening in Parliament or on the battlefield, foreshadowing the rise of mechanized labor, the digital revolution, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

This book is an extended argument for that kind of clue: a folly, dismissed by many as a mindless amusement, that turns out to be a kind of artifact from the future. This is a history of play, a history of the pastimes that human beings have concocted to amuse themselves as an escape from the daily grind of subsistence. This is a history of what we do for fun. One measure of human progress is how much recreational time many of us now have, and the immensely varied ways we have of enjoying it. A time-traveler from five centuries ago would be staggered to see just how much real estate in the modern world is devoted to the wonderlands of parks, coffee shops, sports arenas, shopping malls, IMAX theaters: environments specifically designed to entertain and delight us. Experiences that were once almost exclusively relegated to society’s elites have become commonplace to all but the very poorest members of society. An average middle-class family in Brazil or Indonesia takes it for granted that their free time can be spent listening to music, marveling at elaborate special effects in Hollywood movies, shopping for new fashions in vast palaces of consumption, and savoring the flavors of cuisines from all over the world. Yet we rarely pause to consider how these many luxuries came to be a feature of everyday life.

History is mostly told as a long fight for the necessities, not the luxuries: the fight for freedom, equality, safety, self-governance. Yet the history of delight matters, too, because so many of these seemingly trivial discoveries ended up triggering changes in the realm of Serious History. I have called this phenomenon “the hummingbird effect”: the process by which an innovation in one field sets in motion transformations in seemingly unrelated fields. The taste for coffee helped create the modern institutions of journalism; a handful of elegantly decorated fabric shops helped trigger the industrial revolution. When human beings create and share experiences designed to delight or amaze, they often end up transforming society in more dramatic ways than people focused on more utilitarian concerns. We owe a great deal of the modern world to people doggedly trying to solve a high-minded problem: how to construct an internal combustion engine or manufacture vaccines in large quantities. But a surprising amount of modernity has its roots in another kind of activity: people mucking around with magic, toys, games, and other seemingly idle pastimes. Everyone knows the old saying “Necessity is the mother of invention,” but if you do a paternity test on many of the modern world’s most important ideas or institutions, you will find, invariably, that leisure and play were involved in the conception as well.

Although this account contains its fair share of figures like Charles Babbage – well-to-do Europeans tinkering with new ideas in their parlors – it is not just a story about the affluent West. One of the most intriguing plot twists in the story of leisure and delight is how many of the devices or materials originated outside of Europe: those mesmerizing automata from the House of Wisdom, the intriguing fashions of calico and chintz imported from India, the gravity-defying rubber balls invented by Mesoamericans, the clove and nutmeg first tasted by remote Indonesian islanders. In many ways, the story of play is the story of the emergence of a truly cosmopolitan worldview, a world bound together by the shared experiences of kicking a ball around on a field or sipping a cup of coffee. The pursuit of pleasure turns out to be one of the very first experiences to stitch together a global fabric of shared culture, with many of the most prominent threads originating outside Western Europe.

I should say at the outset that this history deliberately excludes some of life’s most intense pleasures-including sex and romantic love. Sex has been a central force in human history; without sex, there is no human history. But the pleasure of sex is bound up in deep-seated biological drives. The desire for emotional and physical connections with other humans is written into our DNA, however complex and variable our expression of that drive may be. For the human species, sex is a staple, not a luxury. This history is an account of less utilitarian pleasures; habits and customs and environments that came into being for no apparent reason other than the fact that they seemed amusing or surprising. (In a sense, it is a history that follows Brian Eno’s definition of culture as “all the things we don’t have to do.”) Looking at history through this lens demands a different emphasis on the past: exploring the history of shopping as a recreational pursuit instead of the history of commerce writ large; following the global path of the spice trade instead of the broader history of agriculture and food production. There are a thousand books written about the history of innovations that came out of our survival instincts. This is a book about a different kind of innovation: the new ideas and technologies and social spaces that emerged once some of us escaped from the compulsory labor of subsistence.

The centrality of play and delight does not mean that these stories are free of tragedy and human suffering. Some of the most appalling epochs of slavery and colonization began with a new taste or fabric developing a market, and unleashed a chain of brutal exploitation to satisfy that market’s demands. The quest for delight transformed the world, but it did not always transform it for the better.

Horse hearse – practising?

Today is Christmas Day and all that, and I hope you are having or had a good one. But today is also a Friday, which means it’s my day for non-human living creatures. So, today is the day to say that, just after I’d had another go at Mozart, yesterday morning, I was presented with this wondrous spectacle:

I have never seen such a collection of horses and riders before in London, doing this.

Odd, I think you will agree. At the time I had little idea of what I was merely at the time noticing and photoing. Now, looking at these photos more closely, I see that this is clearly a hearse, for carrying coffins to and maybe from funerals. But, London is locked-down. Why go to all this bother if nobody can be there? Besides which, who’d have a funeral on Christmas Eve? Maybe there are good answers to such questions, like: London Lock-down actually does still allow funerals, or: yes, people often have funerals on Christmas Eve in the morning. But to me, it makes little sense.

Unless … My best guess? Since the funeral business must have been so very flat lately, and because the roads of London are particularly empty just now, what they were doing was practising. Further guess: the lady riding at the back of this procession was the one in charge, watching all the riders and the lady stander in front of her, taking at least mental notes. Later she will tell them what they did right, and what they did wrong.

You frequently see police horses walking about in London, keeping in trim between demonstrations and such like. But, like I say, I’ve never seen this before.

Let me now see if the Internet can offer any further information about such enterprises. Nope, no exact fit. Plenty of horse hearse services, but nothing that seems to match. Can anyone enlighten me and the rest of my readers?

Merry Christmas – no sarcasm intended

On Christmas Day and the days surrounding it, my trickle of readers becomes even less of a trickle than usual, so the chances are that you are reading this posting, if at all, not on Christmas day itself, but rather some time in early January, doing a catch-up of what I have babbled and blogged about over Christmas, just as it is your occasional habit to do a catch-up of recent stuff here at other times of the year.

Nevertheless, if you are one of the self-selected few reading this today, only minutes or hours after I posted it, I wish you in particular a very …:

As I reported yesterday, I did a little walkabout yesterday morning, and I walked past many shops. But I didn’t see any signs saying things like that. How could you say that, in the window of your shop, totally closed for the duration, without sounding sarcastic and getting just broken glass or graffiti for saying such a thing? Or worse, of appearing to accuse passers-by of being the kind of heartless bastards who intend to have a merry Christmas and screw the rest of humanity? You couldn’t. Maybe its different in the less affluent parts of London, but in my vicinity, “Merry Christmas” is surely being spoken quietly but it is not being publicly proclaimed, in lights or in any other way.

Which means that above photo is from my photo-archive, having been photoed (in or next to (guess) the then still rather new Victoria Station shopping appendage) in the run-up to Christmas 2010.

I have other Christmassy things that I may or may not get around to reporting from my walkabout yesterday morning, but I just wanted to get that basic message up and posted, especially, as I say, if you are reading this on the actual day itself. Merry Christmas. You won’t want to go around shouting this in the streets to strangers, as I have myself sometimes done in the small hours of Christmas morning when returning home on foot from a Christmas Eve feast with friends. But, I hope you are having one nevertheless.

I miss those Wicked Campervans

I do ever more trawling through my photo-archives, and every time I do this, I seem to come across more Wicked Campervans, Wicked Campervans that I have not shown on a blog before, like (I’m pretty sure) these two, which I photoed in the summer of 2014:

I don’t really understand either of these WCVs, but the one on the right has definitely non-human creatures on it, so it’s suitable for a Friday here.

I miss these vans a lot. They used to live not far from Lower Marsh, where I used to go to buy second-hand CDs. And there was a brief time when they used to congregate in Lower Marsh itself, in a piece of dead land now built upon to a much more lucrative purpose.

That arrangement was never going to last, and they’ve now moved up north.

The chaos from which buildings arise

It is the sundrenched late afternoon of April 21st 2009, and they’re busy building something:

What I’m getting at with the above imagery is:

(1) This is a construction site, and these people clearly know what they are doing. Constructions almost always turn out exactly as planned.


(2) Look at the state of it!!!

I recognise various individual bits of tech there, like the reinforcing rod tubes, and that big blue propeller for digging holes, to put such things as reinforcing rod tubes in. But all that stuff jammed together in a confined space like that? It looks like someone’s attic for goodness sake.

Yet, it was from this outdoor attic that there duly emerged … the Shard.