A bike and a back ache

Today I photoed this guy and his bike, with his permission:

But not his face, although he didn’t seem to mind about that.

I went to the Pedal Me website, but am still none the wiser about the exact relationship between pedal power and e-power that is going on here. What I think is happening is that pedalling does happen, but it creates electricity, and the bike itself is powered by an e-motor. But what do I know? The website is for the benefit of the sort of people who already know, or who don’t care. I should have asked this guy.

A reason I failed to was that I was preoccupied at the time, with my own health or lack of it. These photos were photoed just outside the Victoria Medical Centre, a walk away from me in Wilton Road, which I had been in to find out what was wrong with my back. I’ve had a back ache for about a week, which refuses to go away. Why? Turns out I have a back ache. As in: not a hernia or an appendix misbehaving in a way that would precipitate surgery. Just a muscle strain. Give it a few weeks and it’ll get better, said the doctor. Is walk good? Necause I can still do that pretty comfortably. Yes, he said. So I will be trying, weather permitting, and I promise nothing, to be doing quite a bit of that in the next few weeks.

Because of the above, that recorded conversation between Patrick Crozier and me about The Kink has yet to be recorded. That’s happen when it happens.

Had it not been for The Kink, there’d be no medical centre like the Victoria Medical Centre, and no complicated bicycles like the one in the above photos. Also, no digital cameras such as the one I used to photo the bicycle. So, I am grateful for large mercies, despite my back aching. But, thank goodness I don’t have to ride such a bike myself.

Robot car thoughts

I get emails from Google telling me what the internet has been saying about robot cars, and the most recent such email concerned a Forbes piece, entitled Full Self-Driving Cars Are Still A Long Way Off – Here’s Why. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a robot car believer in the long run, and a robot car sceptic in the short run. People who tell you that robot cars are just about to multiply all over our big cities are hyping – in plain English, lying. But robot cars will eventually happen, and when they do finally get into their stride they’ll change the world. But, I say again, in the short run, it ain’t happening any time soon.

I had another listen to this recorded conversation that Patrick Crozier and I had about transport, in November 2018. Half an hour into this, the fact that Google itself was making noises about how robot cars were now really really going to happen really really soon, just after Christmas, blah blah, was mentioned, and I expressed scepticism. I have now been proved right. Robot cars are still promised, Real Soon Now, and are still not with us in a big way. (The way that e-scooters are already with us in a small way.)

About fifty minutes into that recorded conversation with Patrick, I mention a libertarian headbanger pamphlet I wrote in the 1990s about transport. When I wrote that, I assumed that the system as a whole would be the clever bit, and the vehicles would merely take their orders from this system. I later thought that the way robot cars then started to be developed was proving me wrong. Now, I suspect that the system as a whole will have to be organised differently from the way roads are organised now, and that the system as a whole will end up being highly intelligent, just as I said way back in the last century. More like railways now than the roads now. The reason robot cars are taking so long actually to arrive is that it is being realised that in order for them even to arrive in the first place, the environment they operate in will have to be reorganised in their favour. And once that happens, it will make sense to have lots more central control.

I also had clever things to say about how robot cars would maybe look more like the most expensive sort of Ferraris than regular cars. But that was by-the-by. The point of such whimsy was merely to emphasise that actually, we don’t now know what robot vehicles will end up looking like and behaving like, any more than they knew in the 1890s how cars would end up looking.

Patrick Crozier and I talk about French military disappointments (and so does Antoine Clarke)

These disappointments happened in 1870, 1914, 1917, 1940, 1944(?) and 1954. We don’t talk about them in chronological order, because we started with 1914, which was the failed French Ardennes offensive, right at the start of World War 1. But events in all of those years get a mention.

Listen to our conversation here, where there is also lots of further detail from Patrick. Under where it says “Notes” there are 20 items of relevant information, any one of which could have been expanded into a decent blog posting in its own right.

But hello, what’s this? It’s a conversation between Patrick and our mutual friend Antoine Clarke, whom Patrick and I mentioned in our conversation, several times. This was recorded nearly a decade ago. Not having heard it before, I listened to it last night, further delaying me in putting up this posting.

My main reaction to what Antoine said is that, clearly, what I said about how the French “self image” switched, in Parisian artistic circles, from warmonger to peacenik, took its time spreading to the rest of the country. Antoine talks vividly about his ancestors telling their children that the reason they were born was to get Alsace-Lorraine back from the Germans. Also, he said fascinating things about reparations. French had to pay reparations to get the Germans out of France after the 1870 disaster. And they paid the lot, and the Germans left, far quicker than had been expected. Everyone chipped in voluntarily. I knew none of this.

In general, I think that following our chat about Lockdown, Patrick and I showed a return to form, assuming I’m allowed to say that. Maybe you’ll think better of our Lockdown chat than I do, but for me the trouble with that was that all I recall us doing was expressing our own opinions, much as anyone listening could have done for himself. But people listening need to be told at least some things they didn’t already know, just like Antoine does in his talk with Patrick, for instance with all that stuff about reparations that I knew nothing about. At least, when we talked about France, Patrick and I had read interesting books which people listening might not have read. Patrick had been reading this book, and I’d been reading this book. (I copied both those links from Patrick’s Notes.) That may not be anything like an eyewitness account following one of us having been present as a small child at Dien Bien Phu, or a great uncle reminiscing about bombing French civilians following the D-Day landings. But it is something.

Still Thames water at the beginning of Lockdown

I think that, on balance, this was the best photo I got yesterday:

But I didn’t photo it yesterday. I couldn’t have. This was taken on April 5th, by Alastair. He showed it to me on his phone, and I said, can I stick it here. No problem.

What we see is the effect of Lockdown when it began, and when it was as tight as they could make it. The point being: no boats moving on the River. So, in the absence of wind, the surface of the Thames is ultra-smooth. Not quite as smooth as an actual mirror, but pretty close. On his phone, I had to take this on trust. But with my clunky old C20–style computer with its big C21 screen attached, I can see it clearly. Wonderful.

It is possible that in the above, April 5th should be read as May 4th, but I don’t believe so. I wish the Anglos could have a conference and agree about the order of month and day of month numbers. 4-5-2020, 5-4-2020? May 4, April 5? I never know which is which. When communicating dates, to myself or to anyone else, I try always to use English for the month, and then it’s clear.

But back to the photo, which was taken with his mobile (a Samsung). But of course. When those things learn to do x25 zoom, I’ll probably stop bothering with a camera type camera myself.

Thoughts provoked by a Paul Graham piece about privilege

Paul Graham:

There has been a lot of talk about privilege lately. Although the concept is overused, there is something to it, and in particular to the idea that privilege makes you blind — that you can’t see things that are visible to someone whose life is very different from yours.

But one of the most pervasive examples of this kind of blindness is one that I haven’t seen mentioned explicitly. I’m going to call it orthodox privilege: The more conventional-minded someone is, the more it seems to them that it’s safe for everyone to express their opinions.

It’s safe for them to express their opinions, because the source of their opinions is whatever it’s currently acceptable to believe. So it seems to them that it must be safe for everyone. They literally can’t imagine a true statement that would get them in trouble.

And yet at every point in history, there were true things that would get you in terrible trouble to say. Is ours the first where this isn’t so? What an amazing coincidence that would be.

Surely it should at least be the default assumption that our time is not unique, and that there are true things you can’t say now, just as there have always been. …

This is a particular version of the general tendency to believe that now, finally, this or that age-old problem has been solved. In all previous times, speech was unfree. Now, people can say exactly what they like!

One of my favourite of such intractable problems is the one about how to look after the very poor and very unlucky. When the Attlee welfare state got into its stride, the error of supposing “welfare” to have been sorted was rampant in Britain, although it has abated now, following many bitter welfare state experiences. Looking after the poor has always been and will always remain very hard. How to separate the deserving poor from the undeserving poor? How to provide help without introducing moral hazard? These questions are very hard, have always been hard, and will always be hard.

I am listening to two smug young white people on the radio smugly assuming that their generation has a unique ability to sort out racial problems and unfairnesses, unlike all previous generations, who were either too wicked or too lazy. That they might be introducing new race-related indignities and insults and assumptions does not seem to register. You surely know the sort of dilemmas I am thinking of. Solve racism by assuming everyone is equally qualified! Solve racism by talking about it endlessly and encouraging the downtrodden to blame everything wrong with their lives on racism! Solve racism by never talking about racism and just self-fulfillingly prophesying that, now, it’s not a thing anymore! Solve racism by encouraging the downtrodden to find ways through racism and around racism! All these notions have truths in them, and dangers attached to them.

An equal and opposite error to this sort of temporal arrogance is the belief that the wrongs of our own time are unique to our own time. I regularly hear it assumed that there is something uniquely mediocre and corrupt about our current gang of politicians, uniquely trashy and mendacious about our media, uniquely ugly and ridiculous about our art, uniquely huge about the gap between our very rich and our very poor, uniquely bad about the behaviour of kids these days. Wrong again.

Many things have got much better. Many problems are solvable and have been solved, or will be. Some time around 1780, all the graphs of human comfort and wellbeing stopped being damn near horizontal and switched to being damn near vertical, in a good way. Ever more people since that magic moment have been able to do things for themselves and each other that nobody could do for anyone before it. We in Britain call this event the Industrial Revolution and those of us Brits who know about it are very proud of the part our ancestors played in this dramatic and continuing improvement in human affairs. The greatest form of historical myopia in the world now, certainly my part of it, may well be the unawareness of the fact of this amazing transformation. (Caused by the unique awfulness of our education system. Our teachers are the worst there have ever ever been!)

Patrick Crozier and I will be talking about this Industrial Revolution in our next recorded conversation.

When podcasting clashes with the cricket

Monday before last, on July 20th, Patrick Crozier and I were fixed to do another of our recorded conversations, about France’s military activities and ordeals during the two world wars, and especially the first. However, there was some kind of problem with the kit and we had to postpone. Which suited me because that was the final day of the second test match between England and the Windies. England spent the day pressing for the wickets they needed to win that game, and there might have been silences from me when I was supposed to be responding to Patrick about something or other but was instead checking out the latest wicket.

So, instead of doing it on July 20th, we’re doing it today.

That today is the final day of the third test match between England and the Windies, and England are now pressing for the wickets they need to win this game, and thereby win the series, is just one of those things. Windies began the day 10-2 and just lost their fourth wicket as I began writing this. So for England, so far so good, fingers crossed, touch wood and hope to die, metaphors all working nicely so far. But any sort of prolonged stand, probably involving Windies captain Jason Holder, and it could still get tense.

Our recorded conversation about French militarism (and alleged lack of enough of it (Patrick dissents from that widespread Anglo-allegation)) will eventually, assuming there is no problem doing it this afternoon, show up here.

Windies now five down, and it’s not even lunch. At this rate, it might all be over before Patrick and I even get started. But, now I learn that it’s raining a bit. “Shower” though, as opposed to the real day-ending thing, like they had yesterday. They’re having an early lunch, which will hopefully minimise the time England lose to take those last five wickets.

LATER: Well, we did our recording, and it seemed to me to go okay. And get this. We like to start our conversations at 3 pm, out of habit because that’s when they always started when Patrick called round at my place in person. So, 3 pm is when we started today. And when do you suppose England sealed victory in their game against the Windies by taking the final Windies wicket? 2.58 pm. So, no cricket distraction distracting me when I was picking Patrick’s brain about France and its military vicissitudes.

And it was as well for England that they did this at 2.58 pm. Not long after this, it started raining up there in Manchester. Really raining, as opposed to a mere shower. Had the Windies hung on only a few more minutes, they might have got their draw.

Lockdown chat with Patrick

On June 2nd, Patrick Crozier and I had another of our recorded conversations, this time about Lockdown.

In the course of this, I refer to a photo that I did take, and a photo that I didn’t take. The photo that I did take was this:

That being me, and another bloke, recording the fact of empty shelves in Sainsburys. The photo that I didn’t take, but talk about with Patrick, is the one I should also have taken of how the shelves laden with less healthy food – crisps, chocky bickies etc. – were crammed with yet-to-be-sold stuff, a lot of it offered at discount prices.

Patrick, in his posting about this chat, mentions something he thought of afterwards but didn’t say during, which is that what may have been going on with the crisps and bickies was not that people were shunning unhealthy food, but rather that they were shunning party food, on account of there suddenly being no parties being had. Good point. In my photo above, you can see in the distance, the drinks section. Plenty of drink still to be had also.

I remember, when I used to do chat radio, I used to regret not having said things I should have said, either because I had them in mind but forgot, or because I only thought of them afterwards. But, in due course, I realised that what mattered was what I did say. If that was reasonably intelligent and reasonably well put, then I did okay. People wouldn’t say: Ooh, but he forgot to mention blah blah. They would merely decide whether they liked, or not, what I did say.

Well, this time around, I think there was a huge elephant in the virtual room that we didn’t discuss, which I am sure some listeners would expect us to have at least mentioned. Sport. As in: There hasn’t been any! Patrick and I are both sports obsessives. He is a Watford fan. But he has had no Premier League relegation battle to warm his heart during the last few months. I love cricket, not just England but also Surrey. Likewise for me: nothing, despite some truly wonderful weather at a time when it’s often very grim. But, not a single sporting thing, other than ancient sportsmen reminiscing about sports contests of yesteryear on the telly. Yet we never mentioned any of that. Since a lot of the point of our chat wasn’t to yell at politicians and scientists, hut rather just to remember the oddities of our own lives now, this was a major omission. We talked, as we always do whether that’s the actual topic or not, about war, this time in connection with the question of which economic policy attitudes will prevail during whatever attempts at an economic recovery start being made in the months to come. Yet sport, the thing that has replaced war in so many people’s lives, got no mention by us.

A recorded conversation by phone

Today, Patrick Crozier and I at last got around to doing the recorded conversation we failed to do earlier. About the Allied WW2 bombing offensive.

We did it down the phone rather than face-to-face, and doing it down the phone, what with the phone now being such an antiquated piece of kit, was what had caused the delay. (I am still trying to find the microphone that I swear I do own. Had I found it a fortnight ago, that would have saved Patrick a lot of bother.)

How satisfactory our conversation will turn out to be for others to listen to remains to be heard. I was a bit disorganised, not so much in what I said as in the order in which I said it. I tended to jump back and forth, or so it felt to me. But that wasn’t my phone’s fault, and communication between me and Patrick felt more exact and responsive than I had been fearing. Like most, I make constant use of my phone to keep in touch with friends and collaborators of various sorts, but mere communication is not the same as sharing a performance with whoever’s down the line. I did do performances like this on the radio back in the last century, but then I had no way to compare like with like, because each performance was different, and done with different people. This time I was able to make a more exact comparison, between this conversation with Patrick and previous conversations, of the same sort, also with Patrick. And, as I say, it felt more similar and less of a struggle than I had feared.

Accordingly, I very slightly revise my opinion about the efficacy of working at a distance. It is a little bit easier than I had earlier been thinking. Not that this will diminish the amount of work done in a city like London, and in particular in the centre of London. There is no fixed quantity of work, with more work moving to outside London automatically meaning less work being done in London. On the contrary, the easier it becomes to work outside London, the more busy London will be, keeping track of it all, placing bets on it, and generally doing its London stuff.

The fundamental importance of face-to-face communication remains. In the case of me and Patrick, we know each other well. We’ve met often and talked a lot face-to-face, over the years, in London. Because we know each other well, communication at a distance also works well, and actually, somewhat better than I had expected.


Another recorded conversation with Patrick (about the WW2 bombing offensive)

Tomorrow afternoon Patrick Crozier and I will be recording another of our recorded conversations. Assuming all the technology behaves as it should, it will in due course go here. We’re going to be talking about the World War 2 bombing offensive. Patrick and I like talking about war.

So, what will we be saying? You’ll maybe get a clue of the sorts of things I may be saying if you read this posting, which I did for the old blog in July 2012, and which I have just copied onto this new blog, so you can now read it without having to get past a scary red screen, full of urgings that you go away at once.

I also have in mind to mention the North American Mustang, the birth and evolution of which was a fascinating story, and one perfectly calculated to cheer up any Brit who fears that America ended up making all the running in WW2. It was us Brits that got the Mustang off the drawing board, by paying North American to have a go at developing and building it in numbers. This was in 1940, way before Uncle Sam was interested in such things. And, it was a Brit engine (the Merlin) that ended up powering the Mustang, albeit a version of it made in America. The Mustang made all the difference because it was a great little fighter and it could go all the way to Germany and back.

Unlike our earlier recorded conversations, this one will be done over the phone, which I expect will be tricky. Face-to-face is so much easier. I daresay there’ll be moments when we both talk at once, and other moments where we are both waiting for the other to talk. Awkward.

The ease of face-to-face being a lot of the reason why cities exist. There’s lots of talk now about how work will now go on being done down wires instead of face-to-face, even after the Coronavirus fuss has all died down. More work will then be done down wires, I’m sure. But cities are too good an idea to abandon. Yes, in cities, you can more easily catch a disease. You can also be more easily mass-murdered by bombers, airborne or of a more primitive sort. But cities, I predict, are here to stay, because face-to-face, for all its drawbacks and dangers, will always be the best way to do so many things.

More telecommuting won’t finish off cities. Rather is telecommuting just another thing for people in cities to organise.