Saturday, September 13, 2003


It is a beautiful clear, sunny autumn day in London. It's cool enough to make it absolutely wonderful walking weather, and I am taking advantage of it. I am going to walk along the Thames from Battersea to Kingston or maybe Richmond. So, I think there is not much blogging today. (One of my longer pieces will be coming reasonably soon).

Update: I had hoped to walk from Battersea Park to Kingston upon Thames (which is actually rather further than Richmond, although it may not appear that way from the way I put it previously). In London Transport terms the aim was to walk from the outer boundary of Zone 1 to somewhere in the middle of zone 6. As it was, this turned out to be too much for me and I stopped in Richmond (which is in zone 4). Kingston is a few more miles. (I could have got to Kingston if I had left the river at Putney, but following the river was the point). Following the river path, I kept having to get out of the way of cyclists, with who pedestrians share a thoroughfare. I could see their point, however. It is a lovely route on which to go cycling, also. And given the distances, this is perhaps more appropriate than walking. Also, there were lots and lots of English people walking their dogs beside the river. (What is it with English people and dogs, anyway?)

The Thames has traditionally been a working river up to about Chelsea/Wandsworth, but above that most of the activity on the river is actually leisure related. Lots and lots of rowing clubs, for one thing. If I had ever bothered to go and watch the Oxford Cambridge boat race, I would have seen this before, but I have never bothered, despite being an actual alumnus of one of the universities. Further up the river there were a few recreational power boats and other things as well.

And of course, the curious thing about London is that the more genteel parts of the city on which to live have spent most of the last 300 years moving upstream. This is presumably mostly a response to industrialisation, as the downstream parts became more polluted, but there is still something curious about the way in which people who work in the City (and now at Canary Wharf as well) often live in places that are extraordinarily hard to get to work from, especially given the nightmare that is transport in London. And some areas that are very close to these workplaces - in particular parts of the East End - have traditionally been seen as hellholes, although gentrification is occurring. (Like gentrification everywhere, it is being driven by younger people and older people take a while to notice).

In any event, I got to Richmond. This place was the subject of my favourite movie line of last year: Nicole Kidman as Virginia Wolf in The Hours saying "If it is Richmond or death, I choose death". The place doesn't really deserve that. It's pretty, contains lots of nice pubs in which to sit by the river, and has an air of genteel Englishness that (along with it being on a major rail line) makes it popular with expatriate bankers who prefer genteel Englishness to the vibrant consmopolitanism that is to me the biggest attraction of London. (On the other hand I went to Cambridge and have had all the genteel Englishness I could ever want already).

Friday, September 12, 2003


When the Euro was introduced, the denominations of the coins and the banknotes had to create some sort of compromise between the monetary habits of the various European countries. Really, there were three issues. How small do you make the smallest coins, at what point do you switch from coins to notes, and how large is the largest note?

The ultimate choice made was coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents, and of 1 and 2 euros. Notes are 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros.

The 1 and 2 cent coins are hardly used in France and Germany, but if you go somewhere where prices are lower (in my recent experience Spain) then you see them quite often. They are probably even more common in Portugal and Greece, and when the poorer countries of central Europe are admitted to the euro they will be needed there. So issuing these coins was the right thing to do, even if they are not used.

Prior to the euro, some countries used notes for quite small amounts of money. Most notably, Italy had 1000 lira notes, worth only about 50 American cents. Now, their smallest note is ten times that amount. The Italians have had to get used to high value coins. No big deal. I am sure they did.

However, habits for the largest note varied widely throughout the EU. The largest denomination note that I know of was the 1000 Mark note used in Germany. And the strange thing is that these notes were actually used. In Britain, the highest value note is 50 pounds, but you seldom see them. If you try to pay for things in small stores with the note, then it will often be refused. The largest note commonly used is the 20 pound note. (Similarly, in Australia you very seldom see 100 dollar notes, although 50 dollar notes are seen all the time). However, in Germany you have always seen high value notes being used all the time.

For some reason the Germans like to use cash even for very large transactions. The 500 Euro note was therefore created largely for them. In most countries this note exists, but it is seldom used. Germany though is Germany.

Hence, in Berlin last week I saw somebody walk into Starbucks and buy a cup of coffee. To pay for it, he handed over a 500 euro note. (That's more than 800 Australian dollars). The girl behind the counter looked at it carefully, but accepted it, and gave him about 497 euros change. This was treated as totally unremarkable.

(Traditionally, international organised crime has used suitcases of American 100 dollar bills as its main transactional currency. As the largest euro note is five times as valuable, there was some speculation before the introduction of the euro that suitcases of 500 euro bills might take their place, as these could then be much smaller. I have not done any major deals with international crime figures since the introduction of the euro, so I am not sure if this has happened. I doubt it though. There is just something about greenbacks).

Thursday, September 11, 2003


I have a piece on using satellite tracking technology to charge for road use at The White Rose and Transport Blog. (It's the same piece in both places).

Wednesday, September 10, 2003


I have a piece on German beer glasses over at Samizdata. Thankfully I am also now feeling a lot better.

I have had a cold for several days. And today I managed to have a migraine as well. Horrible.

Comments do seem to be back. I would like to encourage readers to quickly browse again the posts of the last week and a half, and then post the comments they impulsively got the urge to write when first reading the articles but were unable to do so. (Come on. You know you want to).

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

No commentary necessary

(Via Brian, and a chain of links back to some original source).
More cricket

I have a piece on England's schedule for next season over at Ubersportingpundit.

In the last few weeks, I have moved most of my cricket coverage over to ubersportingpundit. Part of this has been because Scott Wickstein, whose blog it is, has been very busy and unable to write much for that blog himself, and I felt it was a good thing to provide content. Secondly, when I meet readers of this blog, they seem to think that I am obsessed with cricket. I'm not, really, at least no more than I am obsessed with a lot of other things. (Can one have lots of obsessions, or does the word imply that you can only have one, or maybe two or three at the most). I do like to delve deep into subjects, however, and I do this with cricket like I do with anything else.

I like writing about cricket, because it appeals to my mathematical mind, but it has subtlety and poetry to it as well. (Plus it gives me the opportunity to drink beer and shout loudly when I am in Australia, although not so much if I am at Lord's). Plus it is utterly trivial, so I can have opinions that are as weird or eccentric as I like, and they won't offend anybody, or at least if they do an appropriate response is to tell the other person to lighten up. (Somebody once called cricket (or was it football) "the most important of all the unimportant things", which is a nice way of putting it. I cannot remember who said it, however.
Weird Anachronisms

David Adesnik at Oxblog discusses this New York Times editorial, which argues that the US constitution should be amended to allow immigrants to stand for president. (At present the position is restricted to "natural born Americans"). David argues that now might be a good time to go for this, as there are people in both parties who could gain from this.

I agree with both David and the Times that such an amendment is a good idea, as the status quo makes naturalised citizens to be second class citizens in an important way. However, I would merely like to point out that there are weirder anachronisms in the world. Citizens of Commonwealth countries living in Britain have the same political rights as citizens of the United Kingdom. This means that I get the vote here, although I am not a citizen. It also means I may stand for parliament. If elected to the House of Commons, I can then become Prime Minister, even though I am not a British citizen.

The reverse is definitely not the case in Australia. To stand for parliament there I may not be "under allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power". When the constitution was enacted in 1901, Britain definitely was not a "foreign power", but in 1999 the High Court of Australia ruled that at some point between 1901 and then Britain had become one, and that people who held dual British/Australian citizenship were no longer eligible to stand for parliament. The court ruled that MPs in Australia must have Australian citizenship and no other. People with dual citizenship are required to relinquish (or at least take all reasonable steps to relinquish) the foreign citizenship before standing for parliament. This has meant that parliamentary candidates must be very careful, because in a country of immigrants like Australia, many people with foreign parents and grandparents have foreign citizenship without realising it.

I have a piece on the end of the international cricket season in England at ubersportingpundit, and a brief comment on German railways at Transport Blog.
Back to Blighty

When I flew back from Provence a month ago I flew into London on a gloriously clear night. I was flying in to Stansted airport north of London and the plane flew over the English Channel, right over the centre of London and then to the airport at Stansted in Essex. The lights of London were a beautiful sight, and many features (including of course the Thames) were very readily visible.

Yesterday, when flying back from Berlin, the night was ever clearer, if anything. There was no cloud anywhere from Berlin to London. As we came in from the East over the North Sea, we didn't get the same view of London. However, we got a great view of the mouth of the Rhine and the port and city of Rotterdam. (The captain was nice enough to point this out to passengers, too). And it turned out that we did get a view of London.

When we arrived in Essex, we were put into a holding pattern for about ten minutes and we did a big circle. The area around the airport is not very densely populated (there really isn't very much between London and Cambridge, although this is actually going to change. (The British government has three zones for the expansion of the London Metropolitan area: one is the "Thames Gateway", consising mostly of brownfield sites in northern Kent, another is the area up the M1 motorway and the West Coast mainline northwest between London and Milton Keynes, and the third is the "Stansted Zone" up the M11 motorway and the West Anglia railway between London and Cambridge).

However, at the moment the area around Stansted airport consists of the odd village, but not much else. However, the plane circled south towards London. The southernmost point of the arc was about the top of the M25 orbital motorway. We could see the immense pattern of lights of the great city stretching far to the south, just extended to the region directly below us. Then we flew north again, over the green belt and then past a number of disconnected satellite commuter towns: part of London economically but not physically connected to it for planning reasons (the abovementioned green belt). Then it was back to occasional little villages, the bright lights of the airport, and landing. (When I first started using Stansted airport in 1992, it had been built as a major airport but received very little traffic. It is now extremely busy. Passenger movements have increased from three million a year to twenty million (this is about the same as Sydney airport) - a major airport in a major city, although only the third busiest in London. The contrast with Berlin is quite striking actually. Berlin has three airports (Tegel and Tempelhof in the former West, and Schonefeld, which was the airport I flew from, in the former East), but all of them are basically spruced up World War 2 landing strips. Although Berlin is the fifth largest metropolitan area in Western Europe (London, Paris, the Ruhr, and Madrid, to answer the obvious question) and both the capital of the third largest economy in the world and an obvious place for an air hub for getting to and from Eastern Europe, at present it essentially just receives connecting flights. Lufthansa was not permitted to fly to Berlin at all until 1990 (domestic flights within Germany to and from Berlin were actually flown by Pan-Am) and it does not operate a hub there. You cannot even fly directly from the UK to Berlin on Lufthansa, although there are flights on various other airlines. And the airports are small scale and outdated and provincial looking.

Still, however, they are much better than what is further east. There are at least cheap flights out of Berlin, as I was taking advantage of. On the flight to London there were lots of people talking in slavic languages (presumably mostly Polish) and lots of people carrying Polish passports. It is much easier and presumably much cheaper to fly to London from Berlin than it is from anywhere in eastern Poland (and I suspect from anywhere else in Poland, although at some point the distance from Berlin becomes an issue).

The German authorities have been busy rebuilding all manner of other facilities in Berlin and recent years, and a new airport is one of the next things on the agenda. An all new, large and completely modern and up to date "Berlin Brandenburg International Airport" is to be built essentially over the top of the existing Schonefeld airport. This will be a two parallel runway affair capable of handling 50 million passengers or so a year. At that point, one expects that Lufthansa will make Berlin a hub and lots of other airlines will add lots of traffic to the city as well.
This is a public service announcement

Sasha Castel is trying to get the message out that her blog can no longer be reached via the URL . It can still be reached via or . The last one is apparently case sensitive, which is horribly bad manners in a URL. Sasha has asked that people update their links, so I am assuming this is permanent.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

German annoyances

When I first came to Britain in 1991, one of the most annoying things about the country was the fact that most shops were not allowed to open on Sundays. This was deeply annoying. Eventually progress was made, but there are still restrictions and shops are still required to open late and close early on Sundays.

Of course, in Germany shops are still not allowed to open at all on Sundays. There isn't much to say. This is deeply annoying.

There are some glorious examples in the east of trendy, stylish, and well upholstered bars, cafes, shops selling pop cultural detritus and the like in old decaying buildings in the east. There is nothing like finding a specialist Hello Kitty store in the middle of a crumbing warehouse built by the communists (or perhaps the Nazis).

Meanwhile, I visited the New Synagogue, which was built in the late 19th century, and which escaped being destroyed by fanatical Nazi mobs in 1938 due to the bravery of some German policemen, but was reduced to a ruin by the combination of Allied bombing and the East German communist state. What remains of it has been restored and is now a museum. (It was covered in scaffolding last time I was here in 1992. Outside it are five or six policemen carrying machine guns, and when you go in you have to go through a lot of security. To tell the truth it rather appalls me that this is necessary. But if it is necessary, it must be done. Any kind of terrorist attack on this site would be unspeakable. (I visited a similar ruined synagogue in Warsaw once, and there was a great deal of anti-Semitic graffiti nearby. I find it mindboggling that anybody could do such a thing given the history of the 20th century, but somehow they still do).

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