Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Museums of Amsterdam

The main reason we went to Amsterdam—aside from the fact that we really like it there—was to visit the Rijksmuseum. It was closed when we visited last time and has only recently reopened after a 9-year refurbishment. So that was our number 1 destination.

The Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam's new logo.
Whoever came up with Iamsterdam ( deserves a raise.
Now, I like to take pictures, and I don’t mean just when I go away on holiday. I carry a camera with me everywhere, even when I walk into town because you never know what might strike me, and a lot of things do. I take photos of the market, flowers, trees, people, buildings—so much so that it drives my wife crazy. Despite this, I am always pleased to see prominent signs in art galleries and museums stating, “No Photography” because it means I can put my camera away and simply enjoy the experience.

There were no such signs in the Rijksmuseum.

This surprised me at first, but then I realized museums were not likely concerned about art theft via photography any longer because you can get a copy of any picture off of the internet. The other reason to ban cameras was that the constant flash could damage the exhibits but, for the most part, cameras no longer need a flash.

Even so, as we entered, I pretending I did see such signs to encourage myself to keep my camera in my pocket. Then I discovered another reason cameras should be banned in museums; they—and the people using them—are highly annoying.

Like many art galleries, the Rijksmuseum has its stars, and the biggest one—in both fame and size—is The Night Watch by Rembrandt. This huge painting was displayed in a large room for all to see. Sort of.

This is a picture of The Night Watch I downloaded from the Internet:

This is what I saw of The Night Watch in the Rijksmuseum:

Granted, most of the people were in the Night Watch gallery, but there were enough people crowding up to other paintings with their mobile phones or tablet PCs held aloft to completely spoil the experience. They were utterly clueless, rude, oblivious to others around them and just really, really annoying. After a while I began amusing myself by stepping in front of as many of them as I could.

It’s strange to think of people coming all that way just to glimpse a timeless masterpiece through the viewfinder of their iPad.

This picture, painted by Coen Metzelaar in 1880, proves that iPads
were around as early as the 1870s, though I expect this was version 01.
On the other hand, whole wings of the museum were all but empty so we contented ourselves by looking at the “stars” on posters in the gift shop and toured the remainder of the exhibits in relative peace.

I think most of these exhibits were titled, "Not the Night Watch."
Only mildly miffed, we extracted as much culture as we could stand then went and had lunch. The next day, we visited the nearby Van Gogh Museum.

The Van Gogh Museum, as the name suggests, is dedicated to the art of this one man, He was quite prolific (although an active artist for only the last ten years of his short life, he produced more than 2,100 paintings) but the museum is a fraction of the size of the Rijksmuseum, yet they charge the same, rather extravagant, price. (Say what you like about Britain, but our museums are free.) 

The other irritating thing we discovered was that there is only one loo, and it is outside the museum—you have to leave in order to use it. That is just not on.

The Van Gogh museum layout; plan ahead.
But at least they forbid the taking of pictures.

This random and startling exhibit was in the Rijksmuseum
and it appears to be the actual beacon used to contact the Mother Ship.
Another museum of note is the Anne Frank House. We had already seen it and, inspiring as it is, we decided not to go again. We did, however, tour the outside and it reminded me of Justin Bieber’s visit last April. The Biebs, after earning the wrath of the British, hopped over to the Netherlands and wangled a private tour of the Anne Frank House.

Somehow, the horrors and persecutions of millions of Europeans—personified by this one young girl—failed to make him see beyond his own little bubble, wondering only if she might have been a benefit to him, because, in the guest book, he wrote: “Hopefully she would have been a belieber.”

Anne Frank: WWII heroine or Justin Bieber fan? You decide.
What a self-involved little ass-monkey.

But overall, despite the cost and the cameras, the museums of Amsterdam are well worthy of a visit. Just watch out for narcissistic celebrities and twits with cameras.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Technology is Not Your Friend

Have you ever heard this sound?

You’re coming out of the mall after a successful shopping spree, you remotely unlock your car from the entranceway, scoop all your newly acquired belongings into your arms and toddle out to your car, but just as you curl your one free finger under the door handle, you hear it—the sound of your car re-locking itself because it got tired of waiting for you:


Yes, that sound—it is the sound of technology kicking you in the keister.

Technology, I am here to tell you, is not your friend. It has not, however (Terminator movies notwithstanding) become the enemy so much as it has turned into a simpering, sycophantic little lackey, the kind who hovers around trying to ingratiate himself by being ever so helpful but who ends up just being an interfering little shit. You don’t want to tell him to piss off, though, because you know he means well and it would hurt his feelings but, when you and your friends go out after work for a pint, you often “forget” to invite him. Then you sit around all evening laughing about what a twit he is.

Technology stopped being helpful when, well, it stopped being helpful; at some point it ceased inventing things that solved real-life problems and began inventing things just because it could.

Like “intelligent” car locks.

Even our little unpretentious C-3 locks itself (yes, I have heard the thunk). Not only that, it will not unlock itself until you stop the car, turn off the engine and take the key out of the ignition, which makes fly-by drop-offs very inconvenient. Now, you might postulate that this locking mechanism is designed specifically to stop me from doing something that foolish, but therein lies my point: why is it up to my car to tell me what I can and cannot do? When did my car become my mom?

If I want to swing onto the shoulder of a busy freeway and slow down to 2 miles an hour so my passenger can jump out, well that’s my prerogative. And if this action results in unintended (though practically inevitable) consequences, then, well, maybe the gene-pool needed a little clean-up. (Come to think of it, if you’re a mobster taking a guy “for a ride” how are you supposed to shove him out of a speeding car? I bet the techno-engineers didn’t account for that scenario.)

As a suitable replacement for our own brains, technology is rubbish. It cannot hold a candle to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator (even the beta version) when it is working well, and far too often it is not.

After the bus station in our town was rebuilt, I spent eight weeks using a side door because the technologically advanced don’t-worry-about-us-we-know-when-to-open, automatic sliding doors wouldn’t open. (Though that did sort of improve my life because it was great fun watching people bang face first into the glass. Yeah, there were signs, but it was early in the morning.) Then, after the door was fixed, it began opening. And closing. And opening. And closing. And…

Listen up, Technology: this is not helpful, and next time I go out with my friends I’m going to forget to invite you along.

But, bless them, they try. I can see them now, gathered in R&D meeting rooms all over the country, staring at squiggles on a white board, trying to think up yet another way to make our lives easier. And to them I say, “Stop it!!! Stop it right now!!”

We live the most cosseted, cushy, cosy lives of any people in the history of the world. Do we really need something to make it even less inconvenient? The innovations we enjoy could not have been dreamed of by the great minds of the past and we fail to appreciate them, so why should we want, or expect, more? We have, literally, at our fingertips, the means of accessing the accumulated knowledge of mankind, yet we use it to exchange pictures of kittens and argue with strangers. If that doesn’t prove we don’t deserve additional life-enhancing inventions then I don’t know what will.

So you guys in the R&D Departments, stop spending huge amounts of time, resources and money trying to improve life for people whose lives don’t need improvement. There are many, many people in this world that could do with a little less inconvenience in their lives. Somewhere, there are children living in garbage dumps; somewhere, there are mothers trying to raise a families in dirt-floor shacks without running water; somewhere—and I know you will find this hard to believe but, trust me, it is the truth—there are people who exist without WiFi.

Help them, please, and leave us alone; you will make the world—all of it—a better place.

What’s New

This is more of an addendum than a proper What’s New, but I happened to hear a snatch of news today (I always try to avoid listening to the news; it never ends well) and I heard that Wales is planning to ban electronic cigarettes on the basis that it looks too much like smoking.

The mind boggles.

At least this puts to rest the question of whether the nannies are genuinely interested in our well-being or are simply interfering busybodies. They want to ban something that could save the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people because it looks too much like something they don’t want you to do.

Based on that logic, they should ban public exhibitions of the two-man luge because it looks too much like, well, you’ve seen them.

And we need a law forbidding men from using ATMs because it looks like they are taking a whizz against the side of the bank, and that is certainly not something we wish to encourage.

The logic is impossible to debate because it is totally illogical. Seriously, I weep for the human race: we have lost all common sense.

So I will leave you with this quote from C. S. Lewis and make sure all the radios in the house are not tuned to news channels:

“Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”