Rapid electric charging station in Woolwich

Further to this posting about electric cars, incoming from Alastair, photoe by him a few days ago:

The temporary railings show that this is new.

Everything depends now on the cost. Can you get further, for less, with one “filling”? If so, then there follows the rapid switch, followed presumably by a price hike (to stop regular electricity bills going through the roof and (worse) regular electricity supplies being buggered up and to encourage popular demand for new power stations (surely including nuclear)), followed by the slow but sure demise of the petrol car.

I take the point made in the comments on the earlier posting about how this will cause demand for electricity to rise. Nevertheless, a step-by-step process is easily imaginable, unlike with electric scooters going more than trivially faster than regular scooters. Electric scooters of a speed worth bothering with will require infrastructural upheaval. The difference between building this charging station, and that power station, repeatedly, each in just the one place, and on the other hand re-building the entire road system, all gazillion miles of it, to the disadvantage of all larger vehicles (definitely including electric cars), at huge expense, is all the difference.

Out east in 2012

I haven’t been getting out much lately, so am instead exploring my photo-archives.

These from March 24th 2012, when I journeyed (and not for the first time) out east to the Victoria Docks, in the vicinity of the then-under-construction Emirates Air-Line, which is that strange ski lift that goes across the River:

As you can see, I especially like the cranes. And the barbed wire. There were even pylons to be seen. Best of all is that newish (-ish now) footbridge.

I used to love that place, and especially then, with all manner of new stuff going on. Memo to self: go back and see how things there have changed. Because, they have surely changed quite a lot.

And this could be the biggest change of the lot. Apparently, spurred on by TikTok, people have recently been riding on the ski lift in large numbers. There’s a first.

Why electric cars will soon displace petrol cars (and some general thoughts on the significance of non-disruptive technology)

I have been keeping half an eye out for a piece of writing that summarises how, and why, electric cars have been on the up-and-up, and today such a piece presented itself to me, by Justin Rowlatt, the BBC’s Chief environment correspondent:

The first crude electric car was developed by the Scottish inventor Robert Anderson in the 1830s.

But it is only in the last few years that the technology has been available at the kind of prices that make it competitive.

The former Top Gear presenter and used car dealer Quentin Willson should know. He’s been driving electric vehicles for well over a decade.

He test-drove General Motors’ now infamous EV1 20 years ago. It cost a billion dollars to develop but was considered a dud by GM, which crushed all but a handful of the 1,000 or so vehicles it produced.

The EV1’s range was dreadful – about 50 miles for a normal driver – but Mr Willson was won over. “I remember thinking this is the future,” he told me.

He says he will never forget the disdain that radiated from fellow Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson when he showed him his first electric car, a Citroen C-Zero, a decade later.

“It was just completely: ‘You have done the most unspeakable thing and you have disgraced us all. Leave!’,” he says. Though he now concedes that you couldn’t have the heater on in the car because it decimated the range.

How things have changed. Mr Willson says he has no range anxiety with his latest electric car, a Tesla Model 3.

He says it will do almost 300 miles on a single charge and accelerates from 0-60 in 3.1 seconds.

“It is supremely comfortable, it’s airy, it’s bright. It’s just a complete joy. And I would unequivocally say to you now that I would never ever go back.”

We’ve seen massive improvements in the motors that drive electric vehicles, the computers that control them, charging systems and car design.

But the sea-change in performance Mr Willson has experienced is largely possible because of the improvements in the non-beating heart of the vehicles, the battery.

The most striking change is in prices.

Just a decade ago, it cost $1,000 per kilowatt hour of battery power, says Madeline Tyson, of the US-based clean energy research group, RMI. Now it is nudging $100 (£71).

That is reckoned to be the point at which they start to become cheaper to buy than equivalent internal combustion vehicles.

But, says Ms Tyson, when you factor in the cost of fuel and servicing – EVs need much less of that – many EVs are already cheaper than the petrol or diesel alternative.

At the same time energy density – how much power you can pack into each battery – continues to rise.

They are lasting longer too.

Last year the world’s first battery capable of powering a car for a million miles was unveiled by the Chinese battery maker, CATL.

Companies that run big fleets of cars like Uber and Lyft are leading the switchover, because the savings are greatest for cars with high mileage.

But, says Ms Tyson, as prices continue to tumble, retail customers will follow soon.

How fast will it happen?

The answer is very fast.

It’s not just a question of price, although too high a price for a new technology is of course a deal breaker. Equally important is that because of all these recent discoveries and improvements, electric cars will no longer be a disruptive technology. They will fit right into the road system we now have, without too much in the way of expensive infrastructure (think petrol stations), which means, crucially, that as each individual judges that now would be a good time to make the jump, that jump can be made without fuss.

See also, robot cars. These will require infrastructural upheaval on a grand scale, hence the endless delays, with robot cars having been just about to arrive in a big way for about as long as any of us can remember. Hell, even electric scooters are a disruptive technology, because even they require a whole new network of disruptive infrastructure for them to work without constant fatalities and injuries. But these electric cars will be no harder to fit on the roads than regular cars already are.

If you’ve been paying any attention to this change, you will know that electric vehicles are, of course, already with us. If, like me, you have recently taken a taxi ride or a bus ride, and realised that stopping and starting have recently become unnaturally quiet and smooth, then you’ve already travelled in an at least partly electric vehicle, on a regular road.

When a technology arrives without half the people looking at it realising that that’s what it even is, that’s non-disruptive. Because of personal computers, a whole generation has been spouting drivel about the joys of disruptive technology, but the non-disruptive kind is far more transformative. Because, to take the example of electric cars, who knows what they will end up doing, once everyone but a few freakish petrol-headed hobbyists have bought into the basic idea. Eventually, once electric cars have entirely replaced regular cars, there will then be all sorts of disruptive consequences of that having happened, on all manner of other processes and experiences. In the longer run, historians may perhaps decide that the long term significance of electric cars was that they made it possible for cars to be properly robotised, in a non-disruptive way as far as the mere roads are concerned, step by small step, bit by bit. But all of that is still to come.

Another totally non-disruptive technology is 3D printing. Despite all the crap you may have read about 3D printing transforming everything, 3D printing is not now nor is it ever going to be transforming home or work life, the way personal computers have. 3D printing is, quite simply, a new way to make stuff, to add to all the other tricks and turns that stuff-makers have been using down the centuries. Unless you are intimately involved in manufacturing, you could have ignored this new technology completely, just as you may have been ignoring electric cars. Yet 3D printing is already huge.

Anton Howes on how printing got started

Anton Howes has been asking himself Why Didn’t the Ottomans Print More? In the course of sketching an answer, he says interesting things about how printing did get started in Europe:

When we think of the invention of the Gutenberg press, we often associate it with the spread of the Reformation a few decades later. We imagine presses hidden away in people’s basements, where ordinary citizens might churn out subversive tracts. The printing press, with the benefit of hindsight, seems inextricably linked with the spread of heresy, radicalism, and revolution. Yet in the late fifteenth century, before the Reformation, it was a technology that usually enjoyed, and perhaps even required, extraordinary encouragement from the authorities. Printing presses on their own are huge and heavy, even before accounting for the cases of type, the moulds or matrices required to cast new type when it began to wear out, and the punches used to make the moulds in the first place. It was a costly, capital-intensive business, requiring huge investment before you could print your very first page.

Many of the very first printers were either directly funded by rulers, or else obtained special privileges from them. The Gutenberg press didn’t immediately spread from Mainz to the major nearby cities of Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Würzburg, or Koblenz, as we might expect, but leapfrogged them all to Bamberg, where one was set up by the secretary to the city’s prince-bishop. Many of the much closer and larger cities don’t seem to have got their first presses until decades later. Even Venice gained printing earlier, in 1469, when its senate granted a five-year patent monopoly to a German to introduce the art. And when the printing market became over-crowded, Venice also granted temporary monopolies over the printing of particular texts — an extraordinary level of interference in an industry, which was only justifiable in light of the major up-front costs of deciding to print a book.

Such policies were soon replicated abroad. The first press in France was set up by the university of Paris, and the king granted citizenship to the foreign workmen who installed it. The first Italian press, too, was introduced with the support of a cardinal to the monastery of Subiaco, after which it moved to Rome. When it ran into financial difficulties after printing too much, it was bailed out by the Pope. And as the press spread even further afield, the greater the encouragement it required. Far-off Scotland in 1507 granted a monopoly to two printers not just over the use of a printing press, but over all imports of printed works too.

Are you thinking: internet. I am. That also kicked off as an official, government-sponsored project, did it not? Only later did it spread outwards, to mere people, to do more disruptive stuff, which now looks like it may include reversing many of the original nationalistic impacts of printing.

Governments start by seeing only the advantages to themselves of whatever it is, only later to discover that others become empowered also.

See also: drones.

The Howes thesis is that, at first, the Islamic world didn’t so much suppress printing as merely fail to encourage it, at the time when it needed encouraging. And I guess that once printing then got into its disruptive stride, then it became clear what a threat it might be to established beliefs and established government, and the Islamic discouragement, so to speak, kicked in.

I have just signed up to give Howes £100 a year. This may not got on for long, but it’s something. This item of person-to-person internet support is a first for me. I wonder how many such supporters he has?

A strange discovery on the other side of the River from me

Just over a year ago, in May 2020, I went walkabout, across the River, after Lockdown had really started to kick in. At the time, I wrote here about how I crossed Lambeth Bridge, and then …:

… wandered in the general direction of Waterloo, and made a strange discovery, which I’ll tell you all about some other time, maybe, I promise nothing.

Just as well I said that, because nothing further materialised here about that strange discovery, until now:

I love that these galleries are now so much easier to contrive, and so much easier to click through for those on the receiving end of them, than they used to be with the Old Blog.

As for the photos in this gallery, I remember at the time thinking that maybe if I wrote here at the time about this discovery and how I wandered about in it, I might get myself into trouble, for, I don’t know, trespassing or something. The place was totally deserted, and I remember getting the distinct impression at the time that the front gate at the top of those stairs was only unlocked because whoever should have locked it forgot to lock it. So, I hesitated to show photos like these, and then the photos sank into the ocean that is my photo-archives, and I forgot about them.

I suspect that my then undiagnosed lung cancer was already making me a much more timid soul, less inclined to just barge into whatever places I felt like barging into (provided only that nobody physically stopped me), and more inclined to fear being filmed and then arrested. Silly, but as you get older, the answers you get when you ask yourself the question “What’s the worst that could happen?” start getting a lot worse. At that stage, I was still willing to do dodgy things, but was already reluctant to brag about having done them here. What if some legit inhabitant of this strange place were to google its name and encounter all my photos? What if I then got blamed, however unfairly, for some disaster that happened there, at around the time I visited?

Until I stumbled upon it, and stumbled up the stairs into it, I had no idea at all that this place even existed. I imagine these “creative” little districts eking out their existence where the owners are still making up their minds what they will really be doing with their property, and in the meantime could use a trickle of rent from the kind of people who are trying to get started in this or that line of “creative” business, but who don’t have a lot of heavy and complicated kit that they’ll have to shift if they make any sort of success of what they’re doing and then need to move somewhere smarter. I plan to return there to observe any changes I can, although I promise nothing.

In among all the creatives, there seemed to be some railway inspectors of some sort. Like I say, a very strange place indeed.

In several of the murals, there are strange creatures, as well as people. Hence this posting appearing on a Friday.

Duck & Waffle views yesterday

Yesterday’s Duck & Waffle socialising was with, get this, GodDaughter1 and GodDaughter2, These two favourite people of mine had, until yesterday, only met very fleetingly during parties or events at my home, and never properly connected. Yesterday, they got to really talk. And it says everything about what mattered to me about this meetup, and what didn’t, that I actually forgot to bring my regular camera with me, and had to make do with my mobile, which I had with me not to photo but to ensure that we all met up successfully. Which to cut a long and boring story down to its proper size, … we did.

Even more remarkably, I really wasn’t more than mildly bothered to have forgotten the proper camera, because I reckoned the mobile would be okay for my purposes, and I reckon it was. Here, as not promised yesterday evening, are my favourite photos from yesterday, of favourite place of mine, London, as seen from above:

These views could only be photoed through plate glass, so there were many reflections getting in the way. But, you get the pictures. Roof clutter heaven. There were some clouds in the sky (see photo 1), unlike on Saturday, but these were few and small.

The background noise in the place was louder than I’d have liked. It meant I had to shout a bit, and that now makes me cough. On the other hand, we probably had the best table in the house from the views point of view, looking out west, north and east, from its spot on in the far left corner of the floor. Plus, there was a bar which we later visited which had windows looking south, to other nearby Big Things, most notably the Gherkin, but also the top of 22 Bishopsgate, the D&W being at the top of 110 Bishopsgate.

Both these Bishopsgate towers are so bland that they neither of them, to my knowledge, have yet been awarded nicknames. But, 22 Bishopsgate. which is the biggest City of London Big Thing by quite a way, is growing on me. The view of it from the main exit of Liverpool Street Station is very fine, especially in the slightly misty sunshine that prevailed yesterday.

The Tower of London, to be seen in photo 8 above, the one with the Gherkin dominating the foreground, used once upon a time to be the biggest Big Thing in London. Now look at it. Tiny. Tiny even compared to Tower Bridge, let along all the other bigger Things.

And for me, another highlight is the way that the BT Tower stands out west, in photo 6, in isolated splendour. Isolated, I presume, because nothing is allowed to get in the way of all the signals it sends out and receives.

Castelnou

Castelnou is a small and impossibly picturesque hill town in the lower reaches of the Pyrenees, in the far south of France. GodDaughter2’s parents and I went by car, just over five years ago now, in May 2016, to check it out. And yes, the weather was as marvellous in Castelnou as it has recently been unmarvellous in London.

Nowadays, I find that my expeditions have as their officially designated destination a spot where I have arranged to meet up with a friend and exchange chat, rather than just a particular physical place I especially want to check out. But as my death approaches, not as fast as I feared it would last Christmas but still faster than I had previously supposed that it would, I find that mere Things, in London or anywhere else, aren’t enough to make me get out of the house at the time previously determined. Partly this is because if I fail to arrive at the Thing at the planned time, the Thing won’t ring me up and ask me where I got to, whereas people are inclined to do just that. And partly because the Internet tells you lots about Things, whereas actually meeting people bestows knowledge and pleasures more profound and subtle than you could obtain by any other communicational means.

The point of this Castelnou expedition was that it was with GodDaughter2’s parents, not that it was to Castelnou. Castelnou was just an excuse for us all to spend time with each other, plus it gave us things to talk about.

But of course, once in Castelnou, I photoed photos galore, of which these are just a few:

A few more things to say.

First, there are cats and dogs involved (as well as a bird statue), hence this posting appearing here on a Friday. The cats were very friendly and sociable. The dogs were more cautiously proprietorial, but none were aggressive. Which I think reflects well on us tourists. We all behave well towards these creatures, and they behaved towards us accordingly.

Second, what’s wrong with being a tourist? I am sure that “tourists” have been featured on the popular TV show Room 101. But if I was ever on Room 101 I would want to banish from the world “tourists who complain about all the other tourists”. Tourism is a fine thing, enjoyable for those of us who do it or we wouldn’t keep doing it, and profitable for those who cater to our needs. Many good things happen because of us tourists. Besides all the deserving people who get to earn a living from it, there are the conversations that tourists have with the locals whom they encounter, and with each other, which can sometimes have have wonderfully creative consequences. Many an economic success story has started with a conversation involving tourists. Tourists bring the world, as it were, to particular places, and places into contact with other places, and thereby are able to provoke creative thoughts that would otherwise not have occurred to anyone.

Does tourism “spoil” places like Castelnou? Hardly. I’ll bet you Castelnou is a much happier, prettier and more interesting place than it was before it started attracting tourists.

And finally, Castelnou is a fine example of an aesthetic process that fascinates me more and more, which is the way that when an architectural style first erupts, it is hated, but then when it settles back into being only a few surviving ruins, people find that same style, to quote my own words in the first sentence of this posting, impossibly picturesque. Castelnou began as a castle, which then gathered dwellings around it. And you can bet that the people in the vicinity of this castle hated it and feared it, that being the whole idea. But once the castles stopped being built in such numbers and when the castles that survived began turning into ruins, they then also turned into objects of affection, first for locals, and then, even more, for visitors from many miles away.

Tangenting somewhat, I was yesterday predicting that the next wave of architectural fashion is going to be a lot more colourful. And it is. But, lots of people will, for as long as this new fashion lasts and seems to be on the march (the military metaphor is deliberate), hate that fashion, and regret the passing of the drearily monochromatic tedium that they now only grumble about (because that is now still on the march).

Is Castelnou perchance the French, or maybe the Catalan, for Newcastle? Sounds like it to me.

Mice infestation is a big Lockdown problem

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend, about what is a big topic of now, working at a distance and all that. She mentioned the rise of big work places that consist of hundreds of desks at which you sit with your laptop and work, doing hotdesking, or whatever it’s called. You don’t have your own office, because you aren’t there often enough for that to make sense. And in these hotdesking places two things happen.

First, people eat while working. The people at the other end tend to want you online all the time, and to grumble if you insist on a “lunch hour”, during which you are incommunicado. But, people have to eat, so they do.

Second, the cleaning is not always of the highest standard. For posh all week long offices, cleaning is excellent, but less so for these more downmarket offices.

And the result is a building in which humans are now becoming heavily outnumbered by … mice.

These mice make their homes in the now copious spaces in modern office buildings, between the regular floors, where information cables all have their being. When the office is a bit less occupied than usual, out they come, to eat.

Working at a distance is a good idea, and it is here to say. But it brings and will go on bringing unforeseen difficulties.

I miss proper light bulbs

One from the I Just Like It directory:

March 2019. A sure sign of a true Big Thing is that you recognise it even when it’s out of focus. Well, even if you don’t, I do. Plus, is that a photoer on the bridge there? Maybe it’s just two people.

Now the above photo just makes me angry about how lightbulbs have degenerated into these bullshit bulbs that look pretty, but don’t give off enough effing light. Why didn’t I buy a lifetime’s supply of the old ones, that worked properly, when I had the chance?

Facadism ten years ago

On May 20th 2011, in other words a decade and three days ago, I photoed these photos, of a fine example of facadism in the process of being contrived. That is, an old facade is preserved, but an entirely new modern interior is inserted behind that facade:

I don’t know exactly when I started noticing this phenomenon, but these photos prove that I been doing this for over a decade.

Sadly, the resolution of these photos, photoed with my ancient last camera but about five (about six if you count the new mobile), a Canon S5 IS, is such that although there are street names to be seen in some of these photos, they are too blurry for me to read them clearly. So, I don’t know exactly where this was. The only other photos photoed that day provide no clues.

On the day, I would appear to have been at least as much interested in the crane.

What I mostly now note from the above photos is that in May 2011, the weather was the sort of weather that May weather should be. Our current May may get some nicer weather just before it ends, but that is still only a hope.