On how we love animals (except when we love how they taste)

While in France, I read the whole of The Square and the Tower, and then embarked upon The Ape that Understood the Universe.

In the latter book, the matter of how humans get all sentimental about animals is mentioned (pp. 59-60):

… Why do so many people take such delight in string at infant members of other species? It’s not as if, say, porcupines enjoy staring at baby chickens. As with porn, our love of these nonhuman animals is probably not an adaptation. More than likely, it’s spillover from psychological mechanisms designed for more human-centered purposes. There’s a certain cluster of traits that people everywhere find irresistibly cute. This includes big round eyes in the center of the face, a small nose, and plump, stubby limbs. Our affection for creatures with these features presumably evolved to motivate us to care for our own infants and toddlers. But the same features are found in many other infant mammals, and even in the adult members of some nonhuman species. As a result, we often feel affectionate and protective toward these individuals as well – not because it’s adaptive, but just because adaptations aren’t perfect. By the way, as you might already have
noticed, the spill over hypothesis doesn’t just explain our fondness for cute animal videos. It also hints at an explanation for a much older and more pervasive phenomenon: our habit of keeping pets.

Motivated I am sure by exactly this sort of fondness for animals myself, I have become more and more intrigued by this general human propensity. Which is why so many of my photos involve non-human creatures of one sort or another.

Here are some of the non-human creatures photos I photoed while in France recently:

Even the photos involving signs urging dog owners to clear up canine crap (photos 12, 14 and 17) are about our positive feelings towards animals, because the offending dogs are pets. And even the two plastic barrier things (photo 16) are “other creatures”, in the sense that we insist on seeing the faces of creatures where there are none, even though these particular non-creatures each have only one eye. Yes, we do love these creatures.

And yet, by way of a corrective, we also do these kinds of things to particularly tasty creatures, in this case to various mammals and to fishes:

Yum.

Electric tree

Last week I dined in Putney with friends. Delightful, even if it did make my coughing worse. And then, almost as delightful was the electric tree I encountered next to the big red building, aka Novaat Victoria Station, having arrived there by bus at about one in the morning.

These photos are only so-so, but I think the tree deserves celebrating nevertheless. I especially like how it looks so different from different angles:

The main reason I’m posting these particular photos, vertical ones, is to make sure I can. My Photoshop(clone) and Windows Photo Viewer between them manage to introduce confusion about whether vertical photos are really vertical, or need rotating. It turns out they need rotating through ninety degrees, and then in Windows they seem like the tree has been laid down on its side. But when I then transfer them into the blog, they come out standing upright.

By the way, the third photo is the tree reflected in a nearby shop window.

What I’ll be talking about on January 6th at Christian Michel’s

I just sent this blurb to Christian Michel, about the talk I’ll be giving at his place in the New Year:

The function of a bottle opener is relatively uncontroversial. It’s to open bottles! But nearer to the opposite end of the simplicity-to-complexity spectrum is architecture, and especially the sort of large and visible architecture that the most ambitious and showy architects yearn to design and build.

I don’t think that the modernist architect and polemicist Le Corbusier ever wrote about bottle openers, but he famously described the house as a “machine for living in”. But what does “living in” a house mean? A house can surely proclaim meanings, that being one of its functions. It can display a certain attitude to life, evoke an atmosphere and perhaps trigger happy memories of an earlier time. The ideal house communicates, both to those who live in it and to those who see it from outside. It says more things and different things to merely what it does and how its internal mechanisms function. It says what life is all about. A house is surely more than a mere dwelling, and something similar can be said about almost all buildings, certainly about the really good ones.

To the early modernists architectural ornament was a moral issue, a crime. They pointed to such things as grain silos, locomotives and early airplanes, and they said: architecture should be like that! It should be functional and it should look functional, rather than conceal its function behind a pompous public facade. Form should follow function, as a famous modernist slogan had it. (The truth is more that form follows fashion.)

To many Modernists, the whole idea of a functional “style” was a contradiction. It wasn’t a style; it was what happened when you turned your back on style and just let the building be what it is, with no artifice, with no “style”.

Yet now, the functional, er, way of doing architecture is often just as much of a facade for communicating meaning while concealing what goes on behind it as any traditionally ornamented architectural frontage.

There was also the fact that certain other modernist ideas, such as the idea of “going back to first principles” and of being “logical” about design rather than relying on outmoded tradition, lead, especially in the early years of modernism, to many modernist buildings not functioning very well. The “functional style” had a habit of not actually being very functional.

But, as modern architecture has become a tradition of its own, it has become more functional. And more stylish.

Saying all that may not take very long, but there’s plenty more I can say about this stuff, should I need more.

Scene and screen mystery

Also photoed on Christmas Day:

And there it was, a seemingly unattended screen, staring impassively at The Wheel. I took lots of photos, including many close-ups, but nobody identified themselves as being in charge of this thing. Was this some sort of experiment? Was I being photoed myself? Was I not being photoed, but was I supposed to guess, as I did, that I might be being photoed myself?

And look, the screen is broken. Recent?

Sometimes you never find out what you were truly photoing.

Ancient cars in LA

Indeed:

That was photoed by this blog’s setter-up Michael Jennings, last month, in Los Angeles. Presumably these cars were for some sort of movie or TV show. Whenever you see cars being carried about in lorries like that in London, that’s why they’re doing it.

I missed this photo when MJ first put it up at his Facebook site. But I encountered it more recently when an email incame, alerting me to another MJ photo. I liked that one, but then I scrolled back through all his recent Facebooked photos, and liked the above photo even more.

Early good impressions of my new Dyson vacuum cleaner

My home is too dusty, and that’s partly because vacuuming with an uncordless (cordful?) vacuum cleaner is not fun. So, I don’t do it nearly enough. There is a big push on to get us all to buy cordless vacuum cleaners, and I told my friend that I wanted one too, and could she help? She did. Upshot, a new but very mildly obsolete Dyson V6, which was much admired by all who intennet-reviewed it, at a considerably reduced price, refurbished and guaranteed by Dyson itself. It arrived this afternoon, thanks to a nearby post office.

I’ve already done a bit of cleaning with it, and although it is rather noisy, it is clearly going to get more used than the old vacuum cleaner with its electric wire all over the place everywhere and its tediously long pipe connecting the bit that does the dusting to the clunky old mothership but still not nearly long enough to avoid having the lug the damn machine around when I am vacuuming.

But the thing that really impressed me was this:

That’s the adapter, for recharging this new gizmo. That’s the plug and the wire that makes this new wireless vacuum cleaner actually wireless, when you’re actually vacuuming with it. And it is highly likely that this adapter/recharger will remain completely recognisable as the recharger for my vacuum cleaner. It even has “Dyson” written on it.

Most such contrivances look like these ones:

That’s a photo I also took today of the drawer were I keep some of my many no-longer-used adapters. (I have others.) I fear to chuck out any of these because who knows when I might turn out to need one of them? These things can be hellishly expensive to replace, because the internet can detect your desperation and it prices accordingly, and anyway, when you want to find the right sort of adapter you want to get your hands on it now. But, once any of these get separated from the original object of their attentions, it becomes pure guesswork which one is the right one. Or rather, it becomes a skill that I personally don’t have. I have friends who could probably help me with this nonsense, but it’s still nonsense.

But this Dyson adapter will continue to identify itself as the adapter for my Dyson vacuum cleaner. It’s a weird not-quite-black colour, the exact same weird not-quite-black-black colour as its gizmo. It is a very individual shape, unlike all the other regular-black adapters in the above drawer. Best of all, it says Dyson on it.

I’m impressed. This suggests to me what already feels like it’s true for the gizmo as a whole, which is that this Dyson V6 has been very well designed, with every aspect of its design having been thought about carefully.

Churchill War Rooms gallery

One of the nice things about people coming to stay is that you often find yourself visiting touristy but interesting things that you’d never quite get around to seeing on your own. Later, maybe, but not today. It’ll always be there won’t it?

Touristy things like: the Churchill War Rooms. In February of last year, nearly two years ago now, GodDaughter2’s Dad was in town, and that’s one of the places we went.

And I took the odd photo or two. Well, more like 350, of which here are 84:

A big spread of photos like that would have been an impossibly tedious operation to stick up at Brian Micklethwait’s Previous Blog, and an equally tedious business for you to be scrutinising. But now, here they all are, and you can do the usual, clicking through as quickly or as slowly as you like. Enjoy. Especially if you rarely or never visit London, and have no plans to see this place for real.

There’s a million things I could say about it. One of the more striking of the photos above is photo 33, which shows how thick the concrete was protecting everything, from all but the most direct of direct hits, that passage that you see having been drilled through afterwards, when they were turning these working spaces into a place people could visit and circulate around.

Other talking points? Well, lots of signs and souvenirs, often signs made into souvenirs, for sale in the inevitable gift shop. And also: signs that are not Original but Modern. Signs with lots of words. Which is appropriate, given how important Churchill knew words (see photo 80) to be.

Most of the human figures that you see are not real; they’re sculpted. And “Other creatures” is in the category list because, inevitably, there are bulldogs.

I did all the bard work for this posting before I got ill, and I’m still not fully recovered. So, please continue to wish me well.

Boundary Dragon – Boundary Dragon shadow

I love the City of London Boundary Dragons, and I am pretty sure that the photo below is my favourite City of London Boundary Dragon photo that I have ever photoed:

That is one of the two Dragons on the south end of London Bridge. I photoed this photo on August 12th 2008.

When a strong shadow and weirdness are involved, the Thing itself is usually clear, but the shadow is weird. But in the above photo, the Thing is weird. And the shadow makes everything clear again. Which is an effect that I especially like. And I think we can tell from the framing that I noticed this at the time. This was not a fluke, except in the sense that this effect was there to be noticed and I had the luck to notice it. What I mean is: I did notice it at the time. It didn’t just happen to show up in a photo that I photoed for other reasons, or for no reason.

And what of that building reflected in the window? I rather think that may now have been obliterated, to make way for The Boomerang. Memo to self: go back and do the same photo again, preferably at the same time of day. On August 12th 2020 perhaps? But even without the shadow, a different (or maybe the same) reflection would be worth a go.