Day 576 – Sad news

Long time friend of the blog, Brian Micklethwait has died.

Brian was diagnosed with lung cancer late last year and died last week.

I loved that he blogged about whatever he wanted to: whatever had interested him that day, no matter how mundane it might seem to others. He blogged for himself, and his was a very personal blog, simply for that reason. And amongst his regular photographs of photographers, London’s Big Things, local statues or the bridges over the Thames, there were the occasional shop window selfies.

He was described in one of the tributes I read as:

a beacon of sensible thought…

And that’s pretty accurate.

While we didn’t always see eye to eye on some issues, we exchanged emails, blog posts, photographs and ideas for over 12 years. He is mentioned in no fewer than 58 posts (59 now) 6000 miles… and he will be sadly missed.

Day 310 – Another poo mystery solved by science

Via Brian Micklethwait, here’s another one from the category “Who the hell asked?”

Just what we all needed to know. I can finally sleep easy tonight.

Apparently, it’s all to do with the last metre of the intestine and not the shape of the extrusion point. Although, presumably the extrusion point must also be that sort of shape though anyway because isn’t there something about a square peg in a round hole or something?

Ag, it’s actually fine. I really don’t need to know. Really.

There are some delicious little comments in the article, such as the name of the journal in which this study was published: Soft Matter.

It’s not all about shit, either. I was enthralled to read about Phase transition characterization of poly(oligo(ethylene glycol)methyl ether methacrylate) brushes using the quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation by Guntner et al., and really enjoyed the incredible work of Hoeger and Ursell at the University of Oregon, demonstrating Steric scattering of rod-like swimmers in low Reynolds number environments. Who knew?

Anyway, what is the reason that wombats have cube-shaped poo?

Asked why wombats have this feature, Carver said one theory was that wombats, with their strong sense of smell, communicate with each other via faeces and that the cube shape helps prevent the faeces from rolling away.

The researchers also found that cube-shaped faeces on an eight degree slope rolled far less than spherical-shaped models.

Well, I’m glad someone has done the hard research yards and discovered that cubes roll less than spheres. Absolutely groundbreaking stuff. Dice manufacturers will be livid when they read that.
All this time and they’ve been wasting their time working with cubes instead of prolonging our anticipation by using spherical-shaped models:

“Will it be a three…? Will it…? Will it…? Ah. It’s not really stopping.
I might just go and grab a quick drink while we wait until it’s done.
Hang on! There! It’s a two!

 

And it’s also a six.”

Actually, perhaps not.

But if it was so very important for your poo to stay where you left it, why would you evolve:

…big changes in the thickness of muscles inside the intestine, varying between two stiffer regions and two more flexible regions… in addition to the drying out of the faecal material in the distal colon.

Anyway. The paper is here should you wish to read further:

Of course they do.

All your questions will be answered there, aside from the huge, gaping omission: which way do they face when they are doing it?

Day 284 – Catching up

I said yesterday that my plan was to do a bit of catching up and I did make a start on that, but I didn’t get too far because of one thing and another. I started, obviously, with a run down the blogroll and that was where I came across some rather shocking and upsetting news:

This was from Brian Micklethwait’s blog (the new one, because the old one stopped working properly). He posted it on the 28th December, but as I have mentioned already, I’m only now beginning to get to the internet things that the Agulhas internet wouldn’t let me read last week.

Sorry.

His letter follows on below that introduction and is typically chatty, informative and candid as Brian’s posts always have been. It’s full of honesty over what he has done and what he is facing, but there’s also optimism there, which of course there should be: having a diagnosis – no matter how bad that news may seem – is the first step to being treated and recovering – a road along which I hope Brian is already progressing.

Even if you don’t know of Brian or read his blog, you should click through on this link and take two minutes to read and recognise the courage and the humility of what he writes.

The only part of his letter that I’m going to share here is this:

But, let me now tell you what would really boost my morale.

Tell each other which of my writings you have most liked, and do so just as publicly as you feel inclined. Blogs postings, blog comments, social media, the lot. My circumstances are now no secret. If I do die soon, I would greatly prefer to do this in the knowledge that various things that I have said and written over the years have left behind them a trail of enlightenment and entertainment, and might be fondly remembered, for a while at least.

I know from personal experience just how much of a role morale plays in these situations, and so I’m very happy to do my little bit here.

I’m going to divide this up into two parts. Here’s the first.

There are a lot of specialist blogs out there, concentrating their efforts upon one particular subject: geography, photography, politics, technology, art, sport, or design – and then others even more niche that aim for all the myriad sub-genres within each of those categories. If those are well-written, informative, interesting blogs, then they will always attract an audience who share the same passion and interest for those particular subjects.

It’s far harder to write a popular blog about nothing in particular. For people to want to read that, you have to produce well-written, interesting, informative posts and you have to be ten times better at it because in all likelihood, you cannot rely on the immediate engagement of recognition and a shared interest in the subject matter.

I like to think that I mostly do ok with that sort of thing, and I think that Brian also does a great job. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t actually matter.

And here’s why.

One of the first posts I mentioned on here from BrianMicklethwaitDotCom (the old one when it was still working properly) is one (about shelves!) with a line in it that prompted a complete change in my blogging mindset, and a line that I have returned to again and again and again over the years:

“my most important reader is me”

Indeed:

…every so often I have to remind you people that my most important reader is me, in a few months or years time… this will warm the cockles of my faltering heart, the way me burbling on about the Cold War ending, and what a Good Thing that is, never could. Oooh. I see that in April 2008, I was of the opinion that the Cold War ending was Good. Well, twiddledidee.

And he was absolutely right, wasn’t he? Because now, he can look back over the past 16 years and warm his cockles by remembering and reliving his thoughts at any particular moment during that time. And they don’t have to be hugely important thoughts on hugely important subjects. In fact, it’s probably better when they’re not. They might just be thoughts about the weather, the cricket, the new bus service or a new building in London. They might even be thoughts about shelves. Whatever.

And if people want to join in: well, they can. And they can dip in and out, enjoy, be enlightened and entertained. But blogging for oneself, not caring too much about who chooses to read, agree or disagree with what you are writing – making your most important reader you – means that when you take some time to look back over what you have written, you are absolutely fulfilling the purpose of all that effort you have put in over the years.

That’s a fundamental message which underlies a style of blogging, one which Brian has clearly followed extremely successfully over the years. But the second (shorter) part of this post is about how he has found a few… “different” ways of observing everyday things and made them his own. Because never again will I be able to see “roof clutter” or a “thinned photo“, watch a “billion monkey” “photoing” a landmark – perhaps one of London’s “Big Things” – and not think of Brian.

And when struggling for inspiration for a post on any given day, I will always happily fall back into the welcoming easy-way-out of a “quota photo“.

To the outsider, none of these phrases will mean very much, like some sort of in-joke in a comedy series you’ve never watched. But when you have been reading for years and years*, Brian’s ability to share the mundane and yet keep it fresh, relevant and interesting by dropping it into categories he has created, is pretty special and just another reason that he keeps his regulars coming back for more.

 

Reading back over the past 1000-odd words (oops – well done if you’re still reading this far), this reads like something of an awkward homage. But I’m actually fine with that, because I’ve very much enjoyed reading Brian’s blogs for 15-odd years, and I look forward to reading many more.

And if ever there was a time to let him know, then this would certainly be it.

Get well soon, Brian.
My thoughts are with you from… oh… you know… several thousand miles away.

 

* and I, along with many others, have.

Day 243 – Continuing the positivity

After yesterday’s minor – but important – successes, I had a quick gander over at Brian Micklethwait’s New Blog, as I do several (or more) times each week.

Says Brian:

I’ve been feeling down in the dumps lately, and I came to realise that the permanent photo on my computer wasn’t helping. It was of a boarded up house in Brittany, and it was there because that seemed appropriate for the times we are all trying to live past. But, because it was so appropriate it was also deeply depressing, just like the times we are all trying to live past, and it was making those times, for me, even worse.

I’m with you, Brian. I think we all are. 2020 has been an absolute slog.
We shouldn’t underestimate the toll that it has taken on us: we all deserve some recognition for making it through the last few months.

Brian has taken steps to cheer up his background and bring some additional inspiration into his daily life by selecting this photo of the Tate Modern from his archives and setting it as his desktop background:

There is no hidden meaning here. That’s a full-on promise in neon lights (or, given the colour, more likely Xenon or an Argon/Mercury mix, but those technicalities shouldn’t distract from the clear mantra). Yes:

EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT

Brian’s post made me look at my desktop background too. And yes, I had – subconsciously, I think – done exactly the same thing as he had, taking this photo of a typical scene in the Tankwa Karoo and then desaturating it to give me this far more sombre image, which seemed somehow more appropriate and which has been sitting as my backdrop for the past few months.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. But it doesn’t promote happiness, and having read Brian’s post, I decided to find an image that would. I would want a landscapey photo for my desktop background, nothing too busy.
Trouble is, I seem to have a lot of landscapey, not too busy photos that don’t quite fit that bill:

 

I especially like that third one, but it’s not very happy happy joy joy, is it?

Yeah, I have a lot of photos, but very few of them are suitable for a (positively) inspiring desktop.

I’ve ended up going with this one:

OK, I see the rough seas and the dark clouds, but I also see the sunshine and I see hope.

And I see Suiderstrand, which always makes me happier.

And I remember that EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT.

Right? Right.

Day 161, part 2 – Hidden scaffolding

I spotted this image on Brian Micklethwait’s (new) blog – a photo he describes thus:

I mentioned the relatively recent phenomenon of buildings covered in scaffolding, and the scaffolding then being covered with a picture of the building.
Last night, I came across an example of this in the photo-archives, dating from 2013

And here it is:

This isn’t something that I’ve seen much (any?) of in South Africa. It could be that I haven’t been in the right place at the right time, of course. Or it could be that we just don’t do that when historic buildings are being repaired.

Norway, though – definitely. I remember being fooled (from a distance at least) when visiting Bryggen – the old wharf in Bergen – part of which was being renovated.

I mean, now you know it’s there, you can zoom in and have a closer look and yes, there is the temporary false facade. Bingo.
But if I’d shared this image without context, you’d surely never have known that two of those seventeen colourful buildings weren’t genuine.

Go closer (by walking around the harbour to the end of the row) and the requirements of sheer functionality make it rather more obvious:

Somewhere out there, there is a company (in fact, possibly more than one) that manufactures bespoke scaffolding covers like this. They’re probably the same ones who have been making the massive decorative tarpaulins that have been covering the empty seats in football stadiums during lockdown.

It does seem an awfully specific product though. Presumably, when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic or repairing historic buildings once every 100 years, there must be some other use for huge specifically-printed pieces of fabric.

But right now, I can’t think what that might be.