But the good news is …

Bloomberg reports that A $1 Billion Solar Plant Was Obsolete Before It Ever Went Online.

The US taxpayer faces an eye-watering bill. Which is very bad. But the interesting thing to me is why it was obsolete:

By the time the plant opened in 2015, the increased efficiency of cheap solar panels had already surpassed its technology, and today it’s obsolete — the latest panels can pump out power at a fraction of the cost for decades with just an occasional hosing-down.

I am not a close student of solar power, but to my uneducated eye this sounds like very good news. The savings that this rapid solar tech progress will yield will surely be worth far more than whatever the US government wasted (by being too impatient and/or corrupt) on this particular slice of pork.

There’s a graph in the Bloomberg piece which says that the “Cost of Solar Technology in $ Per Megawatt-Hour” has fallen from around $350 in 2009 to around $50 in 2019. Which sounds like quite a drop. I had heard rumours about how solar power is getting cheaper, but I had not realised how rapid this improvement had been. And, I’m guessing, will go on being.

New and overdue category here: “Energy”.

I am thinking of purchasing a new laptop computer

I will go further. I am thinking of purchasing an ASUS VivoBook X412UA 14 Inch Full HD NanoEdge Laptop.

Does anybody have any comments to offer on the wisdom of such a decision?

I have in mind to use my new laptop, in the event that it ever materialises, for blogging on the move, and for photo-processing on the move for blogging purposes.

So far, the only comment verbally has been: Don’t buy an HP. They’ve had problems.

“It is now well known that …”

I continue to read The Square and the Tower, and very good it is too, just like it says inside the front cover and on the back cover.

In the chapter about the Russian Revolution, appropriately entitled “The Plague”, we read (by which I mean that I read (on pages 214-5)) this:

It is now well known that fewer people were killed in the October Revolution than were killed in the shooting of Sergei Eisenstein’s tenth-anniversary film about it.

Well, this may now be “well-known”, but I did not know it.

Not that this makes the event insignificant. After it, the “plague” spread with astonishing speed.

Only amongst the vast peasantry and the Cossacks did the Bolsheviks lack leaders – which helps explain therapid descent of Russia into an urban-rural civil war in the course of 1918. Essentially, the Bolshevik virus travelled by train and telegraph; and literate soldiers; sailors and workers were the most susceptible to it.

That literacy was at the heart of the Bolshevik story is something that I did know.

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.

Private Kissinger

Here is one of many fascinating little details from Snow & Steel by Peter Caddick-Adams (pp. 662-663), which is about the Battle of the Bulge:

[T]he town of Krefeld, a port lying on the west bank of the Rhine and north-west of Dusseldorf, had fallen to the US 84th (Railsplitters) Division, part of Simpson’s Ninth Army. Order needed to be restored to the town’s 200,000 inhabitants quickly, so the only GI in Divisional Intelligence who spoke German (the rest knew French) was promoted to become Administrator of Krefeld, in charge of everything from gas, water, power and transportation to garbage and hunting war criminals. The fact that he was a mere private mattered not; within eight days he had rebuilt Krefeld’s civilian government: the name of this multi-talented individual was Henry A. Kissinger.

That this book contains so many small pleasures like this one is all part of why it contains so many pages.

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.

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.

An e-scooter obliges me by stopping

For some time now I’ve been wanting to exhibit a photo here, of an e-scooter. Any e-scooter. Trouble is, e-scooters have a way of e-scooting by and being gone, before I can get my camera out and functioning.

But this evening, that changed. Yes the e-scooter scooted by, but then it stopped, at one of the local shops, and parked itself outside:

It’s not the best photo you’ll ever see, but that’s not my point. My point is, that’s an e-scooter, and I’m starting to see them around, quite a lot. Even though riding them on public roads or pavements is apparently still illegal.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, this photo was taken with the permission of its rider. This guy wasn’t behaving like he knew he was breaking any law. At the time, I had no idea about such a thing either.

I don’t know, but I can well imagine a quite near future, for places like London, where e-scooters are having a noticeable impact on transport, especially by commuters, while more elaborate technologies, like robot cars, continue to be Just About To Happen Real Soon Now but still not actually happening. E-scooters, unlike robot cars, already work perfectly adequately. All that’s needed is for the law to catch up, and for cycle lanes and general non-car areas to keep spreading.

A particular plus from where I stand, on the pavement, e-scooters are definitely less scary than rogue cyclists

The thing about bikes is that using them is rather strenuous, and bikes are a bit hard to store. E-scooters are basically vehicles you stand still on, and are surely far easier to store. Next to your desk basically.

E-scooters look to me like a transport technology that is just about to happen. Soon, as opposed to Real Soon Now. I will continue to try to photo these gizmos. Preferably during the hours of daylight, and with people on board.

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.