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

From now on I’m going to try to put something up here every day

Yes. Something. Very possibly something short, or trivial, or banal, or just plain stupid. But something.

I do not believe that it is an unbreakable law of blogging that all bloggers must update their blogs every day. Some of the blogs to your left remain unaltered for days and even weeks on end. But I already know from experience that this something-each-day rule works well for me. I can do something every day, usually with no inconvenience. On the other hand, if I let the days go by, the obligation to resume with a splash instead of just a plop causes a feedback loop of delay, which I do not enjoy. So I am being entirely selfish here.

Also, my best writing is probably done in phrases and sentences, rather than in long, carefully thought out paragraphs and essays. These good fine phrases and good sentences are just as likely to be provoked by obligatory postings – “quota” postings, as I sometimes call them – as by things I feel an inner compulsion to say. Anyway, inner compulsion is overrated.

If there are interruptions, I will try to flag them up beforehand.

Please note the word “try” in the above, twice, and again in the title. As always, I promise nothing. You get what you pay for.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

An east London photo on the right

More housekeeping, this time to sort out how to have a picture on the right, and text next to it on the left.

First I will just have a picture which isn’t clickable, but if I can, I’ll make it so you can click and get the original and wider version.

For those not familiar with London, and I have to face the fact that I do share a planet with millions of such people, the towers in the distance are the towers of Docklands, and the chair in the foreground is a chair in the foreground.

That part of London is one of my favourite places in the world. The magic of it for me is in the constant contrasts you get between the mundane foreground – industrial estates, chain link fencing, weeds, parked cars, security guard signs, joggers, families on bicycles, pubs, giant rusting machinery like in the last scene of Get Carter (by the sea), and new apartment blocks beyond counting – and the vastness of the distant towers or the distant Dome, which is a wonderful structure even if they have yet to think of anything meaningful to put in it. Because both the towers and the Dome were put there by politicians, rather than being straight commercial bets, there is this constant mismatch between the relatively low key foreground, and the high tech background. These are not objects that thrust up from the seething surface of a city – a city with nowhere else to go except up. They are more like parked spacecraft.

Is that going to be enough chitchat, I wonder? I don’t like it when the picture goes further down than the text.

Well, that is enough text but the problem remains of the gap between the text and the photo. I hoped it would be 10 pixels minimum, but that doesn’t seem to be registering. Until that is sorted, forget about clicking for a bigger picture. A call has gone to my technical staff to get them to put their heads together and sort this out.

Plus, re my liking for that bit of London, I realise I ought to prefer the atmosphere of libertarian type edifices to that of mixed economy edifices like these ones. What next? Preferring Brazilia to Rio de Janeiro? But there you go, that’s how I feel it. At least these towers are a capitalist muddle rather than an identical national socialist matching set, like in Brazilia.

More on the margin thing. In case anyone suggests this as an alternative, I don’t want to stick a margin all around the picture, first because I just don’t, but second, because I also want to be able to put a photo on the left and have text next to it on the right, with the left hand edge of the photo aligning vertically with the main text. I knew you’d be excited.

DONE! It turned out that the answer was to replace “10” with “10px”. As simple as that. As I always say, everything involving computers is easy when you know, and f***ing impossible and f***ing infuriating when you don’t.

By the way, my team of web developers and software engineers have said that they would like to be thanked in person, as well as being paid all the fees I am paying them. They are: Patrick Crozier.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Some art to be linked to from elsewhere

More picture sizing, and a picture of railway station graffiti which I have just been writing about for elsewhere. If a trackback materialises, that will be it.

Is there a special word for a link in a piece by X to another piece elsewhere also by X? There should be. An “ego-link” perhaps?

UPDATE CLARIFICATION: What is the difference between an “ego-link” (if that’s what it is called) and a Natalie, a usage which I first kite-flew here. The answer is that although a Natalie is definitely an ego-link, an ego-link need not be a Natalie. A Natalie is that particular sort of link which goes from a piece by X saying “I have a piece up here about dinosaur hunting when on holiday”, on X’s small personal blog to another piece by X on a big impersonal blog, or for that matter at a steam-driven website or mainstream media outlet.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Look what I saw from the airplane

I almost forgot.

About a month ago, I spent a few days in France, with Goddaughter 2 and her family, way down in the south just beyond Perpignan. I sat on the left hand side of the airplane on the way down, and just when I had abandoned hope of seeing anything interesting, look what I saw!

That’s right, the magnifique Millau Viaduct.

My 10x optical zoom lens and anti-shake software, on my new camera, together worked a wonder. If anything, the zoom actually worked too well. This shot shows four towers, but there are seven in all.

This posting may come and go and come again. This is because I will be fiddling about with the size of the picture until the width is exactly right.

I’m still housekeeping, in other words.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

I’m still at the housekeeping stage which is why I haven’t deliberately told anyone about this blog

I did tell a lot of people without realising I was doing it, when I started compiling my blogroll. Apparently some or all the blogs thus rolled thereby learned of this blog’s existence. But I haven’t been sending out messages to mere readers yet, e.g. by linking to this blog from Samizdata. This is not because I despise readers. I like readers, mostly. It is because there is still tweaking and tuning to be done, and I am still at the navel gazing stage. I am still mostly blogging about “This blog” rather than doing much in the way of real blogging about culture, education, the Billion Monkeys (concerning whom more anon), etc..

Some people have the trick of getting everything perfect before they start something, but when it comes to blogging I’m a load-fire-take-aim kind of character. I start it up, in a visible but totally unadvertised way that I can’t be blamed for. Some people then pick it up on their radar systems and have a look, and tell other people anyway, and so it starts. And only then does it become clear to me what else needs to be done.

For instance, the bit where it says .COM after BRIAN MICKLETHWAIT in the picture at the top has got to go. As stated here, Brian Micklethwait is title enough. A new picture has been concocted, but the means of getting the blog itself to pay attention to this new picture had not yet been put in place.

The sidebar stuff to the left is okay at the main page and for the archives, but is still the same mess it was to start with when you start commenting or investigating who has tracked back.

And so on. More necessary changes will doubtless become obvious to me as the days and weeks pass.

And of course, by the time I am ready to start telling people about this blog on purpose, everyone who cares will know about it already.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Giving the blogs what they want

I have just posted a bit on Samizdata about the failure of “Khubilai” Khan to conquer Japan. His entire invasion fleet sank in a typhoon, in what was apparently the greatest naval disaster ever.

This posting was originally submitted for publication at the Globalization Institute Blog, but it was rejected for being off message. It would, said GI boss Alex Singleton, stick out like a sore thumb. So what’s not global about a Mongolian battle fleet sinking, on the other side of the world, and being on the telly in one of those documentaries with actors who don’t say anything so the voice over can be in any language? As we used to say in a Restoration comedy I once acted in at Essex University: Pshaw.

This posting is not me trying to start a campaign, or anything foolish like that. Alex is paying me for GI Blog postings and as far as I am concerned he is entitled to reject what I send, no matter how irrational and wrong-headed his explanation or with no explanation at all. I believe in blogger sovereignty. So instead, I quickly did another piece about child labour.

I am now being paid to contribute, once a week, to four blogs. There’s the GI blog, and the ASI blog, and two of the CNE blogs. (See also the list on your left.) Last Sunday some people said to me: What do you do? By which I took them to mean: What do you get paid to do? And for the first time in my life I said: I’m a writer.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog


So. Let me see whether I can contrive to upload a photo.

It seems to have worked.

And I surely cannot be accused of misusing this lady’s likeness, stealing her soul, or suchlike.

However, more work is needed making it smaller, so the box doesn’t get bigger than it should.

Which has now been done. If anything the picture is now too narrow. But too narrow is better than too wide.

Slumps back in chair exhausted.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog