Life at the top of the slope

I am about to journey to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, at the far end of the Fulham Road, to get two distinct sets of X-rays done. Chest, and hip. I have been coughing a lot. And I have pains in and around the arse, back, right leg, and nearby spots. It kind of moves around. “Pain in the arse” is now yet another of those hitherto innocuous phrases which have become filled with meaning in recent weeks. Not the actual orifice itself, you understand, just the bones – or is it the muscles? – in that general area. “Old fart” and “under the weather” are other common phrases that have both, for a while now, made a lot more sense than they did when I was younger.

I am at the top end of the slope, at the far end of which is: death. My body is just beginning seriously to disintegrate. Two years ago, I could stride about London for hour after hour, or babble away on the telephone without a care. Now, not so much. The majority of the efforts of the National Health Service seem to be devoted to looking after the likes of me, softening the blows of ever older age, and thereby prolonging it.

I am hoping that this first serious clutch of discomforts will be curable, or at least treatable after a fashion, to the point where I’ll be able to walk and talk more fluently than I do now. But I do not now assume this.

Only a small risk of getting rabies

Michael Jennings:

Oh, those glorious days of the past when I could be bitten by dogs in beautiful places with glorious mountains, churches, food and wine, with only a small risk of getting rabies. I miss those days so much.


The top bit of Alderney looks like a conductor

Yes. Did you know, that the top bit of Alderney, the northern most Channel Island, looks like a conductor. With a baton.

Photo on the right there, photoed by me from the plane back to London from Brittany, in July 2007. Now suitably rotated and cropped.

It would seem that a lot of people don’t know that. I can find no other references to this on the Internet, but cannot believe that I am the only one to have noticed this important musico-geographical fact.

Did you also know that the French for a conductor’s baton is “baguette”? That may be quite wrong, but I do recall hearing this somewhere, from someone. And it would seem that there may be some truth in this notion.

Really go places!

Another taxi, another advert, saying this:


Unless this happens:

Same photo, photoed in the summer of 2017 outside the Royal Albert Hall, but with the bigger picture included.

2020? Really going places is not something being much encouraged.

Cars as giant electric skateboards

We are enterting a period during which there is maximum confusion concerning the future of vehicles, what they’ll be, how they’ll look, and so forth. It’s rather like the confusion that reigned around 1900 about what exactly automobile was, and would look like. And of all the things I’ve recently seen that bear on the next phase in powered vehicle history, this is probably the one that grabbed my attention in the most grabby way:

Because electric motors are now delivering the same punch for a fraction of the volume, weight and all round fuss of the petrol engine, it has, it would appear, become possible to think of road vehicles as being formed of two distinct and separable elements, the vehicle itself, and its load. Look at those things. They’re basically the bottom bit of an electric scooter, with the wheels doubled up for stability, and made big enough to replace old school cars.

Suddenly, in the constantly promised but never quite delivered world of the robot cars of the future, we get a glimpse of how those robots might actually end up looking, and how they might function.

I note with pleasure that Ree, one of the companies apparently busiest in this area, is based in Israel, the state of Israel being one of my favourite states.

The article to which I just linked, and where I found the above photo, talks only of permanently bolting the top onto these sorts of bottoms, if you’ll pardon the expression. But why does the load have to be permanently attached? The load can now become a separate object of robotised transport. Which makes all kinds of transport fun and games possible. You don’t get into your car in the morning, to travel to Timbuktu. You get into your pod, made of super-lightweight super-materials. And your pod then gets automatically taken to Timbuktu. By container ship, plane, train or automobile of this newly flattened sort, depending on how much of rush you are in and which forms of transport happen to be the cheapest at that moment.

Presumably, they have thought of making a lorry-stroke-electric-skateboard of this sort that can have a shipping container loaded onto it. It would be very odd if they haven’t.

Those are just first thoughts, and could be all wrong. Because rule number one of these transport upheavals is: Nobody Really Knows. Please friends and commenters, tell me of any related developments of this sort that you learn about.

Michael Jennings London photos

I have done a lot less photo-wandering of late than I would have liked, so I have kept meaning to post a Michael Jennings London photo here, to fill that gap here. But, I’ve never quite got around to doing this. Time to correct that, with a gallery of some of his recent photos, as already shown by Michael, one at a time, on Facebook:

The same circumstances that have had me staying at home more than usual have caused Michael to be staying in London more than usual.

All of the above were photoed, I believe, with a mobile phone, during the late afternoon or evening, that being an interesting time of day for light, especially when natural light and artificial light are about even in strength. (Is that why it’s called “evening”? Could be.) This also accounts for the predominantly sepia colouring that one normally associates with nostalgia-prompting photos of times long gone.

Will there be nostalgia for Lockdown, if and when it ever ends? Probably yes, on the same principle that some people, for accidental reasons, remember WW2 with some fondness, in among all the grief and stress. Many will remember liking the peace and quiet, even as they realise that it could not be allowed to last. Michael himself has spoken to me of the cleanness of the air. Not least because it allows photoing to be better.

Blue mountains in the far distance

Here is a panoramic photo by 6k, of a striking local (to him) scene. Panoramic presumably means that he photoed a big spread of photos and then some cunning computer programme stitched them together into what you now see:

Like 6k says, wow. That’s my 1000 thingies across version, but the original is massively bigger. From it I picked out these very distant mountains, and even they had to be shrunk to fit here properly:

Thereby making the already horizontalised even more horizontalised. And in this case I’m horizontalising with an actual horizon.

I assume that these very distant mountains are blue for the same sort of reason that the sky is blue, which is that between us and it there is lots of space for blue light to wander into the picture, because blue light does that, more than other sorts of light. It must also help that in the foreground of the picture there is lots of yellow and orange, like one of those photos of an indoor scene at night, artificially lit, which turns the grey outdoors that you see through the window into bright blue, which it really isn’t when you look at it.

I sense also that this illusion is relevant. It shows how our eyes adjust when scanning the same thing but in a setting that changes, in a way we just can’t stop ourselves doing. Which cameras don’t do. It takes software to do that.

So, we don’t see those mountains as blue when we home in them, but when a camera doesn’t home in on them, but is being very hi-res and we merely crop out the distant mountains, they’re blue.

Good vapour trail – evil vapour trail – hybrid vapour trail

This posting began several evenings ago as a quota photo post, with this pretty little scene being the beginning and the end of it:

But then I again got thinking about how significant it is that, typically, vapour trails look at they do above, but do not look like this, below:

That evil vapour trail (there’s another dimmer one further away) is made dark and evil by a line of cloud in the distance, in the evening, allowing the sun to continue lighting up the sky, but throwing a huge shadow over the vapour trail itself. This combination of circumstances, with everything all lined up just so, is rather rare.

Finally, here’s a fun photo, where the shadow from the evening cloud doesn’t engulf all of the vapour trail, merely some of it:

I know I keep banging on about how air travel wouldn’t be so popular if vapour trails typically didn’t look so pretty, but I really think this is true.

Equally significant is that the nastiest internal combustion engine pollution is now invisible. Just about all the actual smoke, certainly in London (where all of the above photos were photoed), has been done away with. If you do see smoke in London, chances are something’s on fire, in an undeliberate way.

A rearrangement

Around three days ago, GodDaughter2 and I fixed to meet up, face to face, for the first time since Lockdown began, and before she disappears to the South of France for a month. We agreed on: Royal College of Music, 2pm. I would have preferred somewhere different, like somewhere nearer to where she’s been living over the summer (Acton), because I like having reasons to journey to and photo new places, and because the College is a bit of a walk from South Kensington tube and a walk I’ve now done many times. Also, a couple of hours later would be better, because I’m a lazy old bastard. Plus, I don’t mind long train journeys because I can sit and read a book, undistracted by the Internet, which I don’t do nearly enough of. But what the hell, RCM 2pm it is.

But, this morning, an email from GD2 arrives. She’s running a bit behind, and could we possibly (grovel grovel xxx) make it Acton Central Overground Station, 4pm?

Yes. I can do that. No problem. It’ll be fine.

Whatever I say in such circumstances will sound like a polite lie and a big old sacrifice, even though it’s nothing of the kind. Sometimes, when your Jewish Mother says to you: “Don’t you worry about me, I’ll be fine”, what she really means is: “Don’t you worry about me, I’ll be fine.”

Flying cars are stupid

Apparently some idiots in Japan have tested something they describe as a flying car. What it really is is an aircraft capable of lifting a car. Big bloody deal. Why would you want to combine a car with an aircraft? They’re two different things. Cars are compact, to avoid occupying too much road. Aircraft reach outwards into the air, with big propellers or with big wings, to grab hold of the air and push themselves upwards. Two totally different things. Oh, you can build a “flying car”, that is to say a car which always carries a huge set of wings or propellers around with it. To put it another way, you can make an airplane capable of travelling on a very long runway shared with lots of other vehicles, by, you know, folding up its wings or propellers really really tightly. Yes. And you can make a baby pram that can also mow your lawn, really quietly so as not to enrage the baby. You can make a toaster that can also do the ironing. You can make an umbrella that doubles up as a snooker cue. But what the hell is the point of doing two such distantly related things, both very badly? Why not just do each thing separately, and each thing well?

I tried googling “flying cars are stupid”, for the first time just now. The least silly thing I read was this called that exact thing, by someone called James McNab. McNab ignores the point I just made and makes a whole other point, which is that flying cars would need to be driven by people as careful and skilful as pilots are now, rather than people as careful and skilful as car drivers are now. “You can’t handle flying cars!”, is how he puts it, referring to that movie where Jack Nicholson says “You can’t handle the truth!” Which, now I think about it is actually the same point as my point, but put in another way. Why waste a pilot driving a mere bus with hideously low mileage for half his working day, merely because, if you are rich enough and stupid enough, you could preside over such an arrangement? Makes no sense. We’re back to cars and planes being different.

Another big flying car idiocy is that flying cars will get rid of traffic jams. No, they’ll just create bigger and jammier traffic jams in the sky.

McNab also makes another point, which concerns why people who ponder innovation often start thinking that innovation has slowed down and may soon stop.

One source of innovation pessimism would be if you “invent” something that you think ought to have happened by now, like a flying car, note that it still does not exist, and say that therefore “innovation” itself has stopped. No mate. It was just a stupid idea, that did not happen for bloody good reasons. There’s plenty of non-stupid innovation going on nowadays. You are just fixating on stupid stuff. McNab accuses Peter Thiel, no less, of this non sequitur, when he goes from the non-arrival of flying cars to the slowing down of all innovation.

Interestingly, the writer of a book called The Rational Optimist has since written a book about innovation which ends rather pessimistically, in just this kind of way that McNab talks about. Matt Ridley’s fixation is on genetically modified crops, which don’t now work as well as they could because a lot of governments don’t like them. But those same governments have allowed plenty of other new stuff to happen. One of the features of a successful innovation is that it doesn’t piss off politicians too much. It sneaks under the political radar, and by the time the politicians have noticed it, the people already have millions of the things.

As you can surely tell, I am stream-of-consciousness-ing about this, thinking in internetted words. Which is one of the things this blog is for.