A photo-rumination on French rail clutter

6k has Flickred a wonderful little collection of photos he took on a recent expedition to France (he blogs about these here), of which this was one of my favourites:

I particular like the extreme middle of this photo, which I have taken the liberty of cropping out and lightly sharpening:

I love roof clutter. So it’s no surprise that I also love rail clutter. And France, so excellent at roof clutter, also does rail clutter exceptionally well.

Rail clutter embodies the exact same aesthetic contrast that roof clutter points to. One part of what you are looking at is obsessed over, aesthetically. The facade of a building is minutely contrived to look the way it should look. And then on top of it, you can just shove up anything you like, to let out smoke, receive and send signals and generally do stuff on the roof. Well, rail clutter is a lot like that. The trains (especially the trains in France (and especially the high speed trains in France)) are aesthetically magnificent, or at least are intended to be are are considered to be by their creators (and I happen to agree with them). Yet all around them is rail clutter, to feed the power into the trains, and this clutter is built in a totally functional manner, to do that job, no matter what kind of a jungle of mess that results in.

Let’s see what the photo-archive tells me about how this obsession played out on my own most recent expedition to France.

Here are two rail clutter photos, both featuring one of those beautiful trains, and both taken at Quimper railway station:

On the left, you can pretend that the rail clutter isn’t there, if you really want to. But on the right, the photo is photoed in such a way that you really can’t do that. Look at that clutter! I lined it all up with itself, just like 6k did in his rail clutter photo.

Here are a couple more photos of Quimper, taken from the footbridge over the main railway line off to the west of the city, right near where my hosts live, and in particular of the twin towers of Quimper Cathedral. These two photos point to that same rail clutter aesthetic contrast by shoving it next to a cathedral, instead of next to a train. But it’s the same point. The cathedral has been obsessed about aesthetically for centuries. The rail clutter just looks how it looks and to hell with that.

But for me, perhaps most interesting of all, here are a couple of photos which point to a closely related phenomenon, which is the matter of clutter actually on the top of the trains. That’s right. Trains also, themselves, have roof clutter on their roofs:

I remember noticing this phenomenon, pretty much for the first time (as in really noticing it), when I took this little clutch of photos. From that same footbridge in Quimper.

I have the feeling that British trains are not so roof cluttered. Memo to self: look into that. But that can wait. There’s been more than enough cluttertalk for this posting.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Cats – Dogs – Hitler – and Surrey don’t win


I encountered this on Twitter this afternoon. This is now all over the www. But, I could not discern who had first taken this photo, or what they had said about it. Twitter is bad like that. People shove up photos like this one, but never say what their provenance is. The worst offender when it comes to not linking when they should is “You Had One Job”, a gang of internet thieves, basically. Whom I will not dignify with a link.

This has been a holding operation. I have three quarters finished at least two different postings, but I don’t want to rush them.

This one, on the other hand, I do want to rush. You want a funny caption? Do your own.

You what? I’m angry, and taking it out on you people? Damn right I’m angry. Surrey amassed a stupendous 250 in their T20 innings against Kent earlier this evening, and then instead of Kent failing to chase this down (Kent would definitely have failed to chase this down), it bloody rained and the two points were shared between the two sides. There ought to be a rule that says if you make that many, and then it rains, you automatically win. But is there such a rule? Is there? Of course not.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

James Bond’s next Aston Martin


Basically it’s a drone that can twiddle two of its propellers. A robotised, propeller version of a Harrier Jump Jet.

However, the notion that flying cars will reduce or avoid traffic congestion is absurd. Once such contraptions are finally made to work, they will not reduce or avoid traffic congestion They will cause traffic congestion to take to the skies. They will give a new dimension to what is now a merely two dimensional phenomenon, and not in a good way.

Enjoy these days of big, empty, blue skies, while you still can.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Tim Harford at Think 2018

Here. Video, lasting just over twenty minutes. Just watched it. Good.

Particularly interested by what he says about how, without cheap paper, the revolutionary changes ushered in by the printing press could not have happened. Mass produced printed material printed on animal skins not economically doable.

Harford ends on what he thinks is a depressing note, about a woman who supplies the final bit of muscle to a huge warehouse system, by receiving verbal orders from an all-powerful robot, which she simply obeys, second by second. Go here, get this, this number, take it here, …

Well, it’s a job.

Personally, I think that having to think all the time about your work, when you are at work, is hugely overrated. Whenever I have had a “job”, I liked it when my job was my job, but my thoughts were my own. Best job? Driving a van, delivering number plates. Drove on autopilot most of the time. Thought my own thoughts. Didn’t “buy into the company vision”. Not “committed”. Wasn’t “invested” in the work. Just did it, mostly without having to think about it. Bliss.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The Trump blimp

It continues to be hot, and so the quota photos continue. At least this one is relatively recent.

I walked to Parliament Square last Friday morning, and caught the fag end of the anti-Trump demo. What the demo had consisted of at its height, I don’t know, so my impressions of what went on in Parliament Square, just after the Trump blimp had been brought down to earth, and just before it was deflated by its minders and put in a van and driven away, don’t necessarily mean much. But for what it’s worth, it all seemed pretty feeble to me. There were lots of placards saying how much the holders of the placards hated Trump and wanted him to go home, drop dead, fuck off, etc. But they didn’t seem to want any particular policy to change. They just hated Trump. And his tweeting.

The whole atmosphere was strangely relaxed. It made me think I wasn’t the only non-sympathiser present, attracted to the demo by the Trump blimp, and by the general desire to see what all the fuss consisted of.

When the weather cools down, I might manage some more thoughts about all this anti-Trumpery, for Samizdata, but I promise nothing.

In my photo, it looks to me like Trump owns them, rather than the demoers doing anything to him that he need worry about. But then, I don’t sympathise.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Crypto Kitty news

Today is Friday, which used to be my day for cat stories but is now also the day here for creatures of other sorts. But for old times sake, I just got google to tell me some cat news, having had a busy day and not having any recently encountered creature stories of my own to muse upon.

And without doubt, the most intriguing yarns google told me about were these ones, published by cryptoslate.com:

How Two Guys Made $100k Trading Digital Cats on Ethereum, Merit of Digital Collectibles

CryptoKitties Keeps With Ethereum and Goes Open-Source

Millions of Dollars Worth of Cats are Still Infesting the Ethereum Network

The last paragraph of the last of these three stories goes thus:

While CryptoKitties may sound laughable to some, the exuberant on-boarding of Ethereum is sending positive signals around the network. And in fact, CryptoKitties now accounts for around 4% of all Ethereum transactions; it’s the second most used application on the network. CryptoKitties definitely proves there is definitely market for rare, fungible, digital assets that are traded and exchanged on the blockchain.


Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog