A railway without rails in China

The usually ignorable but occasionally very interesting Dezeen has one of its very interesting postings up now, about a driverless bus/train, in China, which looks like this:

That reminds me a bit of those road-trains that they have in Australia.

The system works by scanning the painted road markings, using sensors on the underside of the vehicle. These sensors are able to detect pavement and road dimensions by the millimetre, and send travel information to the train whilst in transit.

Clever. And a lot simpler than a lot of stuff involving seeing and avoiding people, and seeing and avoiding other vehicles, with multiple sensors and artificial intelligence and whatnot. The people have to avoid this bus, just like they have to avoid trams now. This is not a self-driving vehicle. It is merely a development of the driverless train, like the DLR, but with computers and road markings to keep the thing on the straight and narrow rather than rails.

Driverless cars on regular roads, roads with no special markings, are still a few years off, I believe. Too complicated. Too many unknown unknowns. But driverless buses like these, driving along predictable routes, will be no harder to manage than trams or trolley buses are now.

Nobody knows what the long-term impact of driverless vehicles is going to be, other than that it will be very big. But one possible future is that lots of railways might soon be flattened into virtual railways not unlike this one, which will be a whole lot easier to travel along than a regular road.

Meanwhile, I love how, in the picture above, in the bottom right corner, there’s a guy who looks like he’s taking a picture of the cab of this bus, a cab with nobody in it.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

An imperfect posting (with a photo)

This blog regularly suffers from this condition:

The maxim “Nothing avails but perfection” may be spelt shorter: “ Paralysis”.

Today, for instance, I journeyed forth, north, and got some great photos. But I want to get my report of today’s photo-triumphs exactly right, which means that, quite possibly, I won’t ever report them at all. How paralytic is that? Very.

However, this evening, I met some people who every now and again take a look at this blog. Not a read of it, you understand. They look. At the photos. So here is a photo for such “readers”, taken just over a decade ago, of a lady with a nice headscarf taking a photo with her then state-of-the-art but now hopelessly out-of-date mobile phone:

It was not long before then that I started seriously trying to take photos of photoers that excluded their faces.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Mick Hartley on Hadid’s new Antwerp Port House

Yes, favorite blogger-of-mine Mick Hartley has been checking out, and photoing, the now finished Havenhuis, and has this to say about it:

I noted earlier – before I’d seen it in situ – that “it looks like it’s just plonked imperiously on top of the original building, with no attempt at a sympathetic conversation between the two”. Having now had the chance to look around and check it out for myself, I think that’s still a fair summary.

There follow several excellent photos of the building, of the sort that amateurs like Mick Hartley (and I) have a habit of doing better than the hired gun Real Photographers, because we tell the truth about how the new Thing in question looks, and in particular about how it looks alongside the surroundings it has inserted itself into. Real Photographers know that their job is to lie about such things, to glamorise rather than to describe accurately. Their job is to force you to like the Thing. Amateurs like me and like Mick Hartley take photos that enable you to hate the new Thing even more eloquently, if that’s already your inclination.

And of all the photos Hartley shows, this one most perfectly illustrates that “disrespect” that he writes of. “Conversation”? Fornication, more like, inflicted by one of those annoyingly oversexed dogs:

I still like this Thing, though. I mean, time was when any disrespect felt by the architect towards that older building would have resulted in the old building being demolished. Which is worse? Disrespect? Or oblivion? Perhaps the latter would have been more dignified. Execution has a certain grandeur, when compared to a further lifetime of potential ridicule. But I still prefer what happened.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Photoers last Sunday

Last Sunday, in among photoing leaning tower cranes and Twentytwo.

I also photoed photoers. I could probably do blog postings for the next fortnight based on nothing but the photos I took that day. Don’t worry, I won’t. But I probably could.

Maybe I am not as keen on photoing photoers as I was a decade ago. Or maybe it is just that there are now lots of other things that I am also keen on photoing, and so my fellow photoers loom smaller in my thoughts when I am now out and about. But they still loom. I still like to photo photoers, whenever the opportunity presents itself:

It was such a lovely day (3.3), and all the better for being a bit misty (3.1 (a lot of zoom in that one, I think)). There was lots of interesting hair (1.2, 1.3, 2.1, 3.1, and best of all 3.2). There was even a very old-school small dedicated digital camera (1.2), of the kind that has been totally replaced by the mobile phone (unless, like this old guy, you have your old-school digital camera and you like to keep using it – this makes a lot of sense to old guy me.)

My keenness to photo architecture just grows and grows. I notice, and like, a new building, and from then on want to photo it from all angles and distances, basically from wherever I can see it, and aligned with whatever else I can find that is aligned with it.

I also delight in photoing architecture which is on the screens of my fellow photoers. The guy in 1.2, in addition to having interesting hair, is photoing the Boomerang.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Pavlova is back

I had a nice surprise today. As time passes, the number of places I can buy the Gramophone and the BBC Music Mag keeps on diminishing, one of the few that remains being W.H.Smith in Victoria Station. It was once again a beautifully lit late afternoon, and when I stepped outside the station concourse, I encountered this beautiful sight:

Yes, the wraps have come off Pavlova. And far sooner than I had been expecting.

Several of the above photos feature the new Nova building. This fine edifice was awarded this year’s Carbuncle Cup. The dreary grumblers who award this award think that it’s a badge of shame, but I generally find it, and its accompanying runner-up collections, to be a great source of information about interesting and often excellent new buildings. Nova is wonderful, I think. I intend (although I promise nothing), to say more about this enjoyably showy yet elegant addition to Victoria’s mostly rather lumpish architecture.

In 3.2, I got lucky with an airplane.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The electricity meter man photos my electricity consumption with his mobile

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

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.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Video cameras from yesteryear

Yesteryear as in: photoed by me ten years ago today:

Guesses (and I do mean guesses (though the guesses took me ages)) as to what they are, and when they were first manufactured:

Top left: Sharp Viewcam VL-AH151 camcorder – 2002

Top right: Sony DCR-DVD610 DVD Handycam2008 (doh!) 2007

Bottom left: Sony Handycam DCR-TRV265E – 2004

Bottom right: Samsung Sc-d363 Ntsc Camcorder Mini Dv 1200x – 2005

Regular still cameras from ten years ago look very dated. But things that look very like regular cameras used to look are still in use now, despite the rise of smartphone photoing. They’re just a lot better.

Video cameras from ten years ago, on the other hand, now look absurdly, wildly, ludicrously dated. This is because they are (a) often much bigger than almost any cameras are now, and (b) have been pretty much entirely replaced by smartphones, which are tiny.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Photoer photos at the top of the Walkie Talkie

In January of 2016, a year and a half ago now, a friend and I checked out the top of the Walkie Talkie, and we liked it a lot.

I, of course, photoed photoers, of whom there were, equally of course, an abundance. And although at the time I collected the best photoer photos together into their own little subdirectory, I never got around to putting the selected photos up here. But I chanced upon them last night, and I think they deserve the oxygen of publicity. So, here they are:

As the years have gone by, I have come to like photoing photoers as much for the places they photo in and the things they photo as for the photoers themselves. From the above photos you get quite a good idea of what the top of the Walkie Talkie is like and what you can see from it. The weather that day was rather dull, so the actual views I took were rather humdrum. These photoer photos were better, I think.

The Walkie Talkie Sky Garden advertises itself as a sky garden, but it is more like an airport lounge with plants, that has itself taken to the air. Getting access to it is like boarding an airplane, with luggage inspection and a magnetic doorway you have to walk through. In this respect, as well as the splendour of the views, the Walkie Talkie resembles the Shard, which imposes very similar arrangements on all who wish to sample its views. But sky garden or not, I liked it.

One of the many things I like about the Walkie Talkie is that its very shape reflects the importance attached by its designer(s?) to making a nice big space at the top for mere people to visit and gaze out of. As well as, of course, creating lots of office space, just below the top but still way up in the sky, for office drones to enjoy the views from. Their work may often be drudgery, but at least they get an abundance of visual diversion.

In its own way, the Walkie Talkie is as much an expression of the economic significance of views as those thin New York apartment skyscrapers are. The difference being that in a big office you don’t have to be based right next to a window to be able, from time to time, to stroll over to a window. So, as the building gets taller and the views get more dramatic, it makes sense to fit more people in. Hence the shape of the Walkie Talkie.

If one of the jobs of a Walkie Talkie drone happens to be to try to entice clients to come to the Walkie Talkie, to have stuff sold to them, well, those views might make all the difference.

Note that Rafael Vinoly designed the Walkie Talkie, and designed the first of those tall and thin New York apartments. These two apparently very different buildings have in common that both of them look as they do partly because of the views they both offer.

I also like the Walkie Talkie because so many prim-and-proper architect type people dislike it.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Leake Street photoers

Today I journeyed to Waterloo, and then walked from Waterloo to the City, there to inspect the latest batch of City Big Things that they are busy erecting. My inspecting done, I made my weary way to Monument Tube Station, which I reached just as it was starting to rain.

And Monument Tube Station was shut. No District Line. The City is like a morgue at the weekend, that being why I chose the weekend to be there. I wanted to see buildings, not people. The City being the City, there were no buses to anywhere, or not that I could detect. So I trudged, in the rain, as it got heavier, across the river, intending to get to Southwark Tube if all else failed. I did have my umbrella with me, thank goodness, but rain with an umbrella is still far worse than no rain. But then a bus showed up on its way to Waterloo, and at Waterloo I quickly found another bus back home, near enough. So there I was, home, damp, knackered. It could have been far, far worse, but I was still in no state to be doing anything fancy here.

So, here is just one photo that I took today, in Leake Street, right at the beginning of my wanderings. Leake Street is the graffiti tunnel under Waterloo:

Photoers, surprise surprise. But, I like it.

I took a lot of other photos that I like. Later, maybe, although I promise nothing.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog