Isolating those epitaxially deposited transistors

I mentioned here the other day about the extreme difference in interestingness, to me, of the Samizdata technological comments and the political ones.

Even – and maybe that’s especially – when I don’t understand the techno-comments, I often still love them:

Julian Taylor refers to silicon-on-insulator technologies. These have been a holy grail for years in semconductors. It’s not that crystals can be grown in any shape which is the potential advantage (every SOI wafer I have seen is a conventional round flat shape), it’s that the transistors deposited epitaxially on top can be electrically isolated, thus avoiding the parasitic capacitances and other parasitic structures inherent in bulk silicon substrates. However, this is easier said than done . . .

And not that easy to say, I would say.

That was here.

Maybe someone will elucidate, here or there.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog


I’m watching a TV show about movie editing. And the editors are saying that they totally control the performances of actors. I wholly agree.

I have seen a lot of movies where the actors got completely trashed by the critics, but where the critics should have trashed the editing. It’s not the actor’s fault if he is “slow” putting his lines next to the other guy’s, or if he indulges in meaningless looks. That’s the editing. Likewise, if the actors look at each other with intense meaning, in a way you can’t forget, in a way that carries so much emotion you want to weep, that’s editing again.

Now Spielberg is saying that the editor is so important, because he wasn’t wrapped up in making the film, casting it, setting it up, directing it. The editor sees the result of the director’s work with an objectivity that the director cannot achieve.

Okay now let me watch the rest of this. It’s good.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog


I am listening to a Radio 3 show about Pierre Boulez, in case anything is said by him or about him which will make me despise this man somewhat less than I do. So far, nothing.

Boulez was not really a composer at all, more one of those many French wordspinner charlatans who have flourished mostly in academia. The only difference is that Boulez illustrates his wordspinnings with noises, rather than by just letting the words confuse for themselves.

I admire Daniel Barenboim greatly, and he greatly admires Boulez. But there my admiration for Barenboim stops. Barenboim does not admire Shostakovich. Ditto. The trouble, for Barenboim, is that Shostakovich scores are not complicated. Exactly! Shostakovich manages to say a great deal with very little. Boulez does the opposite, saying very little with great municipal rubbish heaps of noises and printed squiggles to go with them. Barenboim loves all that complication. Sadly, there is very little music there.

What music there is there is a kind of post-Debussian, post-Ravelian waterfall – flutes, bells, glissandi, washes of string sound. Very French. Boulez’s musical impulses, such as they were, seem to have had little connection with his musical theories, which might explain why the music dried up.

He has been a pretty good conductor, especially, I find, of Wagner. Boulez was “clear, cool, dispassionate” (the words of an American musician) as a conductor. Since Wagner provided all the heat and passion you could possibly want, this made his Wagner rather good, to my ear. Sometimes his Mahler is good too, for the same reason. But sometimes, he drains the life entirely out of Mahler, and turns conducting into mere arm-flapping and time-beating..

What is coming across very strongly is that Boulez does have presence, force of personality, a steely look in his eye – as well as great charm, which he can switch on like the house lights in a theatre. You do not forget him. He is like a great general or a great politician. Sadly, he uses this genuine talent mostly in the service of foolishness, and to get lots of other people’s money to pay for these foolishnesses. He has presided over the creation of many publicly funded buildings. These are (says the presenter) a tribute to his “winning combination of ruthlessness and charm”.

Roger Scruton is involved in this programme, and he is the one who is talking the most sense. “My feeling is that the place of Boulez in the history of music is a very marginal one.” “A brilliant dead end.”

“Mocking Boulez is so very easy to do”, says the presenter. How true. He is no harder to laugh at that any other unconscious, non-intentional clown. If he is a great general, he is one of those great generals who was great, until it came to fighting his most important battle. Which he lost.

The musicians like Boulez and admire Boulez. That’s now being explained. Maybe the truth is simpler, that Boulez is just another of those failed-composers successful-conductors who dominated the classical music scene throughout the last century. Every one of those big names – Klemperer, Walter, Kubelik, and the rest of them – turn out to have had absurd and pointless symphonies and piano sonatas in their bottom drawers, before they gave in to the inevitable, and conducted great music instead of composing ungreat stuff. And the failed effort to compose more musical greatness did seem to make them all much better conductors. They recognised greatness when they heard it, and were able to put it across. Some of these great conductors did make it as composers. Mahler, Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten spring to mind. Some did not bother to master conducting, because the composing went so well. Shostakovich. But Boulez’s composing was a mess, and he too switched to performing stuff by others. He just made a bit more of a fuss of his music than did Klemperer, Walter, etc. He was that most tragic of figures, an incompetent maker of things, but a brilliant seller of them, thereby publicising his failure far more cruelly. (Karl Marx springs to mind. He marketed Capital brilliantly, before he had written it, and after he had written it and knew it to be tosh. But it is still tosh. Marx’s failure has been hideously public.)

But, don’t let me stop you enjoying Boulez’s creations, if you do enjoy them. He isn’t nearly as bad as Karl Marx. He never did that much harm. And whereas with Karl Marx, the way it sounded only served to publicise evil nonsense and make it stick all over the twentieth century, Boulez was merely … Boulez.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

On free trade and on being persuasive (and unpersuasive)

Madsen Pirie at the Adam Smith Institute blog, also quoted at greater length by Alex at the Globalisation Institute blog:

The reason for optimism is this. One senses the end of an era, as protectionism collapses into a mass of contradictions and absurdities. From the current shambles people are learning that free trade tends to get the goods produced by those who do it best, and we all become richer as a result. It is also easier than trying to micro-manage. Perhaps those who learn will include Mr Mandelson, who is also a very good learner.

Let’s hope so.

I get the feeling here that Madsen Pirie actually knows Peter Mandelson, that Peter Mandelson actually knows Madsen Pirie, that Peter Mandelson might actually read that, and that it might actually help to change his mind.

Far too much “propaganda” is just bombastic name-calling of the sort that hasn’t a prayer of changing the mind of the man being criticised. The text is: You fool! But the sub-text is: He’ll never actually listen to me, (a) because no one important listens to me, and/because (b) I am too much of a fool. For a thousand examples you need look no further than the political, “Bliar” (how I despise that word) type comments on Samizdata.

The Madsen Pirie quote above is the opposite of all that drivel.

(By the way I am not trying to persuade such commenters to mend their ways with what I am saying here. I am trying to persuade you not to imitate them. You are persuadable and worth persuading. They are not and not. Although, come to think of it, if you denounce a class of people as idiots, rather than picking on one of them by name, maybe you will persuade some of the idiots to leave the herd and mend their ways and become ex-idiots. So maybe I am trying to persuade these idiots to mend their ways. Yes.)

The technological comments on Samizdata are quite different and frequently superb. See, e.g., some of the comments attached to this posting about nanotechnology that I did there last week.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Douglas Jardine and Spike Milligan

I see that BBC4 TV is showing a programme about the late Spike Milligan tonight. In fact I have just started watching it. So far it has been a parade of dreary Milligan relatives who I do not want to know about.

It so happens that I was having Spike Milligan thoughts myself today, without any such TV provocation.

My Milliganic thoughts were prompted by a little piece they did during the lunch interval of the C4 TV coverage of the Ashes Test Match (England 229-4 after a rain interrupted first day) about the notorious Bodyline Tour of 1932, the one where England bowled short and nasty balls at Don Bradman.

In particular, they showed some clips of the notorious England captain on that tour, Douglas Jardine, pictured on the right. Jardine had a long, thin face, and a mouth which, like Milligan’s, did not go all that far sideways. Jardine also had a way of talking that combined pomposity, slowness (as if talking to a foreigner), and fear of the camera, which you could see in his darting and nervous eyes. I swear Milligan must have watched this, because many of his upper class twit routines were just like this. Voice, manner, nuances, everything. Maybe all posh people talked like that on camera in those days, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to learn that Mlligan paid particular attention to Jardine.

See also the two further – extremely Milliganic – pictures of Jardine at the other end the above link.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Lady photographer doing it in the road

Blatant quota posting, in the form of an intriguing little photography scene right near where I live, in Vincent Square, this afternoon, as I was walking home. Many is the time I have taken photos through those railings, often of things like the sun on the Wheel, or of Big Ben which can be seen above and beyond the cricket pavilion (which you can just see on the top left here) on the far side of the square.

I like how the Vincent Square sign is included. This is the exact picture I took, no cropping, even though I don’t remember giving any thought to that sign. I think it was just luck.

Click to get it bigger.

I like the shoes that the ladies are each wearing.

More opportunist photography from me here. I took that picture only minutes before taking this one.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Moths with cameras

How cool/scary is this?

It’s a spy plane:

The Wasp air vehicle has a 13-inch wingspan and weighs 6 ounces.

As the long haired Young One would say: heavy man.

I got to this via Lynn S and whoever this guy is.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Home movies are getting better

Interesting Times piece about how editing software helped a wedding film nerd turn his wedding video footage into something that the people in it actually enjoyed watching.

The amateurs are creeping up on the professionals. Cheap editing software is already good enough to threaten the professionals. Soon the cheap cameras will be too.

As David Carr said (in 1998): DIY Hollywood.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Benjamin Nabarro and the Belmont Ensemble

Last night I and some friends attended a concert given by the Belmont Ensemble of London, in St Martin-in-the-Fields, which is the splendid and beautifully decorated early eighteenth century church at the top right corner of Trafalgar Square.

It was one of those concerts of baroque and not long after string orchestra favourites, of the sort that only the public has much fondness for. Bach Brandenburg 3, Mozart Divertimento K137, Pachelbel Canon, Mozart Adagio and Fugue, Bach Double Violin Concerto, and in the second half Handel Arrival of Queen of Sheba, and finally Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

The first half was excellent. Sometimes the accoustics at classical concerts make it sound as if someone has turned up the treble knob, which is the opposite of what I do at home. But in St Martin’s, the accoustic is very echo-y and forgiving, and provided you play in tune, which these young string players all did with only very rare deviations, you will sound pretty good. Also, the conductor, Peter Gilbert-Dyson, clearly knows what he is about. He chose good tempi, and kept things bowling along well. His orchestra is not called the Belmont Ensemble for nothing.

In part one, it was the Adagio of the Mozart Adagio and Fugue which had the most impact for me, partly because it is an amazing piece of music, and partly because of all the pieces played in the concert, it was one I knew least well. What weird harmonies. I will now dig out whatever CDs I have of this extraordinary piece and will definitely be listening to this piece again very soon.

Nevertheless, part one had a strange feel to it. It had me thinking that posh music-making has finally come full circle and we are back to the age when classical musicians are domestic servants. The Great Recordings of all this music have all been made. The Great Conductors who presided over these recordings have come and gone. The Belmont Ensemble either cuts its own CDs and sells them for a fiver in the foyer to friends, to relatives, and to CD-maniacs like me, or they don’t. Those are their recording choices. Otherwise serving up classical hits, for tourists who clap after first movements, and for the aging Classic FM listening middle classes, is about all there is. Being the best of their generation is no longer enough, because there have now been too many generations.

Actually they were charging a tenner for their CDs, which is twice as much as the LSO charges for theirs and a quid more than what the LSO charges for its SACDs. Which might explain why they have only made three CDs so far and why the last one they made was recorded in the mid-nineties. A tenner is too much. No doubt there are all manner of complicated reasons, involving the phrase “business model”, why they can’t charge only a fiver, but I repeat: a tenner is twice too much.

So in other words, part one of this concert, although expertly played, got me thinking about the History of Music. My mind wandered somewhat. These people were the hired help. They were good at being the hired help, and performed their duties with an expertise that was beyond criticism, certainly from the likes of me. But, it was all ever so slightly routine.

This air of expert routineness was only reinforced by the Bach Double Violin Concerto, the last piece played in part one. One of my friends grumbled about some poor tuning from the lady leader of the orchestra, Anna Bradley, who stepped up to play the second violin part in this, but she sounded fine to me. Having fallen in love in my teens with the Oistrakh DGG recording of this I was ready to be severely unimpressed, but I enjoyed this performance a lot. It is extraordinary music and Ms. Bradley, joined by first violinist Benjamin Nabarro, played it very well. Good speeds. Well conducted. No bum notes that I could spot. None of that authentic crap, where you overdo the first note in each bar, swallow the rest, and play everything too fast. Lovely.

The first violinist, Benjamin Nabarro, wearing a dark shirt with no tie and with the top button undone, played excellently, but I kept thinking how he might have looked dressed as an eighteenth century servant, scraping away for a humble living in the service of the Elector of Somewhereburg. He is a short fattish bloke with a beard, who looked more like one of these people who come to mend your computer or your sink than any sort of virtuoso violinist. A Hobbit. Twenty years ago, such a chap would have made a decent living in an orchestra, maybe even a decent career as a soloist. Fifty years ago, he might have been a household name. As it is, history has passed him by. Life is unfair, and playing the fiddle this cleverly counts for extremely little nowadays. In ten years Benjamin Nabarro will be exactly what he is now, Benjamin Who? That’s how it seemed to me.

Until, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons got under way. With that, everything changed.

The Four Seasons is one of those pieces that is often underrated by the experts, because it is so popular. I agree with the public that it is by far Vivaldi’s best set of pieces. Something about the challenge of depicting the unpredictabilities of the weather, instead of just writing a bunch of concertos, seemed to stir Vivaldi’s creative juices. Unlike that Bach concerto, the Four Seasons features many abrupt changes of tempo and mood, and numerous oppportunities for both the soloist and the orchestra to create different moods and atmospheres. It’s like film music, and it greatly benefits from having show-off musicians playing it, who exphasise its numerous special effects.

This was one of the best performances of this group of concertos that I have ever heard. Or maybe it was just the contrast with all that had gone before, and it merely sounded like it at the time. Whatever. I really, really enjoyed it, and forgot about the History of Music for the duration. The slow movements were especially well done, with beautiful, still, almost vibrato-less playing the like of which I have seldom heard. It was the kind of performance where I stopped saying to myself, oh he did that bit wrong and not the way I prefer it, and said to myself instead, ah that’s how he did that bit, how wonderful.

Benjamin Nabarro, this time out at the front on his own as the soloist, was a man transformed, from a dutiful servant into the master both of his instrument and of all he surveyed, with his conductor matching his every move. Despite being dressed in the same nondescript clothing, he even looked different, not like a Hobbit at all. He looked like a star violinist. And whereas earlier I had felt sorry for him for missing out on the Great Recording Project, I now believe that he might yet be a part of whatever remains of this project, and become a household name even now. By the time I got home and googled him, I was not a bit surprised to learn how distinguished he seems to be, and with what a variety of ensembles and orchestras he has played, and what a variety of concertos he has performed.

Looking back on it, my guess is that the Vivaldi was the thing they all really practised. The other pieces, they practised enough to be sure they would not make fools of themselves, but the Four Seasons they practised enough for it (them) to really sparkle. Which it did.

Thinking about the History of Music some more, I still think that these deserving and worthy young people are destined for oblivion, having been born at one of the worst possible times for “classical” music-making ever, after the Great Recording Project (more about that by me and many commenters in this Samizdata posting), but before the Great Recovery from the Great Recording Project (concerning which more anon) gets seriously under way. But for as long as they were playing the Four Seasons, I forgot about that.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog