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Odds and Ends #2: Another insane HS2 decision
Plus, low carbon graphics, weird old British TV, and the LibDems actually doing good at building stuff.
Hello! This is the second issue of Odds and Ends, a round-up of interesting links, ideas, and nonsense as we track the progress of O’Malleyism from ironic, self-aggrandising running-joke to world-conquering ideological force (revolution date TBC).
When I launch a paid tier (which, er, might be soon), Odds and Ends will be a bonus that’s only for subscribers on Thursdays, to complement the longer essay drops, which will usually be on Tuesdays1.
So if you value my writing, and would like me to write more often, then now is a great time to pre-pledge your subscription. Tell me that when I pull the trigger, I can be confident that I’m launching something sustainable. Become an O’Malleyist today, and after the revolution I’ll let you have your pick of the Means of Production (that you’ll then have to competently administer and carefully reform).
Anyway, here’s this week’s links.
In what is good news for consumers, many modern televisions include energy-saving features as standard. We wanted to explore the physical properties of displays, to see if adapted BBC content could take deliberate advantage of these characteristics, and reduce energy consumption.
Modern screens often include 'local dimming' features, enabling light level management for individual parts of an image, sometimes even at the individual pixel level. Older TVs did not necessarily behave this way. Modern dimming features are able to adjust backlight power accordingly in specific parts of the screen. Therefore, reducing luminance wherever possible in parts of an image should also decrease energy usage.
We wanted to understand this luminance vs energy relationship further, in order to experiment with adapted graphics and understand any graphics 'rules' that could then trigger energy saving behaviour in these screens.
This was some super interesting research published by the BBC’s excellent R&D department. Basically, they’ve shown that by changing what graphics are broadcast, because of the way some modern TVs work, darker graphics use less energy.
It’s definitely very clever, and scaled over potentially millions of homes, could make an impact in energy usage across the country. Great.
But – of course there’s a but – I can’t help feeling a little depressed by this.
Why? Because it’s a really great illustration of the “eco-austerity” mindset. Sure, it’s great that energy is being saved – but we can aim much higher. The technology exists today to create abundant, carbon-free energy – using renewables and nuclear. The goal should be to be a carbon-free South Korea at night, not a dark and depressed North Korea.
Going green shouldn’t mean making our lives darker. It doesn’t have to. We should be aiming for an abundant future, where we can have bright screens, bright lights and bright lives – carbon and guilt free. This is a core tenet of O’Malleyism.
It took decades of campaigning for Prohibition campaigners to win in the US, getting alcohol banned in the early twentieth century. Once they'd won, their victory seemed set to last. Yet in less than a decade and a half their victory had been undone and the the idea killed off politically. So can pro-Europeans take heart from drawing parallels between Prohibition and Brexit?
I really enjoyed listening to Mark Pack’s podcast interview with Ben Ansell, Professor of Comparative Democratic Institutions at Oxford, on the parallels between Brexit and prohibition. And I’m not just saying that because I was terribly mean about the Liberal Democrats last week, and Mark happens to be the President of the party.
I also, relevant to my earlier piece, enjoyed an earlier episode on the show, interviewing a LibDem councillor from Eastleigh about how to build houses and still win elections. So despite my harsh words, it appears there are some LibDems doing some good stuff on the actually-building-stuff front. Hurrah!
If there really were an award for the Most Interesting Man in the World, 39-year-old Jonny Kim would be a top contender. He’s a Navy SEAL, a medical doctor, an aviator, and a NASA astronaut. His successes are even more remarkable for all the obstacles he had to overcome to achieve them. As the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fires, Kim was shaped into the extraordinary man he is today by circumstances that would have broken most people.
It’s probably a little bit too early to make predictions about the 2044 United States Presidential election, but I reckon this guy - Jonny Kim - stands a good chance of seeing off Mayor Pete in the Primary, and beating Don Jr to the White House.
If we were to run the personnel equivalent of a “fundamentals” model, it’s hard to find anyone with a more pitch-perfect CV: Navy Seal, Harvard Medic, literal fucking astronaut. Plus a suitably tragic backstory involving gun crime, which he can lean on to win over the Democratic Party.
Similarly, by the time he runs for President, he’ll have spent some time in Texas (Houston) and Florida (Cape Canaveral) astronaut training, so will have a little cred when he claims to understand what it is like in the crucial purple states too. (Though Florida is trending red, Texas is slowly getting bluer.)
Oh, and there’s a non-zero chance that he’ll be one of the people setting foot on the actual Moon when the Artemis programme kicks into gear.
Here’s this week’s example of a generative AI thing that blew my mind. Corridor Digital, a small VFX studio, has managed to make a credible looking animation using basically a green-screen for performance capture, and an AI model trained on a specific animation style. The results are… really quite impressive.
And the thing is, what they did with a small team will obviously scale and the technology will improve too. So I bet we’ll see a full theatrical feature made using this technique within five years.
And just like how 3D animation killed traditional cell animation (for a time) in the early 2000s, I won’t be surprised if there’s a broader shift to this technique across the industry.
Oh, and all of your Zoom calls in 2030 are going to be like scenes from an anime.
Two of HS2’s large tunnel boring machines are to be buried into the site at Old Oak Common next year so they can wait there until a decision is taken about how to build Euston station.
The two tunnel boring machines (TBMs) are needed to dig the two railway tunnels linking Old Oak Common to Euston, but when construction of Euston station was paused earlier this year, there was also the decision taken to delay the two connecting tunnels as well.
Although there’s no practical reason that delaying the Euston station build would require the two connecting tunnels to be delayed, with Euston station effectively on lockdown at the moment it would require the station site to be partially reopened to allow the tunnel portals to be constructed for the TBMs to arrive.
If you heard a faint cry of despair in the distance the other day, I can confirm that it was me after reading this piece by the excellent IanVisits on the utter insanity happening on HS2.
Simply put, because of arbitrary spending restraints imposed by the Treasury – a totally made up number that the government never actually sticks to anyway – construction work on HS2 has been paused at Euston station, so they can spend the money to build it at a slightly different time.
So as a result of the inaction, the machines that will dig the tunnels are being literally buried until they are needed. And this is not to mention that the Euston plans are also being revised to make the station much worse.
Unsurprisingly, this makes my blood boil and I view this as symptomatic of everything going wrong in Britain at the moment. We could be building a functioning high speed railway right now. And there is literally no reason why not.
And all it means is that when HS2 does finally begin operations in 2074, it’ll probably terminate at Old Oak Common until they get around to finishing the Euston connection. And we all know that this just means that people are going to complain about how HS2 isn’t actually any faster than the West Coast Mainline if you want to reach central London, because of the need to transfer via the Elizabeth Line.
In summary then, I am a raging ball of fury about this.
Rural and local communities across England will be supported in setting up local energy projects that will provide local jobs and deliver energy security, thanks to a new £10 million government fund.
Both urban and rural communities will have the chance to win a portion of a new £10 million Community Energy Fund - new government grant funding to help communities develop local renewable energy projects. The Community Energy Fund will open to applications in the early Autumn.
This funding will help to kickstart projects including small-scale wind farms and rooftop solar partnerships, as well as battery storage, rural heat networks, electric vehicle charging points, and fuel poverty alleviation schemes - all proposed, designed and owned by local people.
The government has announced a new pot of funding for some very worthy Net Zero projects. Which is surely better than spending nothing. But hang on, let’s have a look at the size of the pot.. £10m? Is… that… it?
Leaving aside the fact that we’re so absurdly centralised as a country that central government is in charge of dishing out a few pennies to pay for a handful of solar panels, isn’t £10m almost a homeopathic amount of money for the government to announce that it is spending on… well, pretty much anything?
This is obviously apples-to-oranges, but according to my very rough calculations, given the NHS budget in 2022/23 is £160.4bn, the government is shouting about what is equivalent to what the NHS spends in… about half an hour.
I daresay we’ve still not quite grasped the scale of the whole climate thing.
Stuart Millard is one of my favourite YouTubers. His schtick is digging through archive British TV from the 80s and 90s, and offering his own wry commentary on the highlights – and the lowlights. His videos really demonstrate that the past really is a completely different place3.
Here’s one recent example, digging into an ancient ITV impressions show Copy-Cats from 1987. Aside from discovering the astonishing level of racism that was acceptable on prime time TV during my lifetime, the other thing that amuses me is how many of the impressions are not of massive Hollywood stars, but of people who surely wouldn’t have been hard to book for real. Was the real Benny from Crossroads too busy to cameo in a Comic Relief-style send-up?
And that’s it! Don’t forget to check out this week’s big essay on why we should densify our towns and cities to save the high street (includes a bonus photo of teenage me). And if you want a culture war fix, have a read of my piece arguing that ‘woke’ does represent a new ideology, and isn’t just a word that racists use to slightly-more-secretly be racist.
And don’t forget to tell me your value my writing by pre-pledging to get more of this sort of thing direct to your inbox!
Though I reserve the right to muck around with the release schedule if there’s some burning hot issue I want to wade in on early. Because god forbid I can’t shoot my mouth off before taking a moment to think about it first.
It’s interesting to see which parts of that essay have aged badly – it’s almost all of the comparisons to Disney, which is in a very different state now the era of low-interest rates is over. (Though the fundamental point about the future of the BBC remains entirely correct.)
His videos are also an absolutely brilliant way to introduce your Canadian partner to deep-cuts in the British culture she has decided to adopt as her own.