The guidebook issued to prospective cabbies by London Taxi and Private Hire (LTPH), which oversees the test, summarizes the task like this:
To achieve the required standard to be licensed as an "All London" taxi driver you will need a thorough knowledge, primarily, of the area within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. You will need to know: all the streets; housing estates; parks and open spaces; government offices and departments; financial and commercial centres; diplomatic premises; town halls; registry offices; hospitals; places of worship; sports stadiums and leisure centres; airline offices; stations; hotels; clubs; theatres; cinemas; museums; art galleries; schools; colleges and universities; police stations and headquarters buildings; civil, criminal and coroner's courts; prisons; and places of interest to tourists. In fact, anywhere a taxi passenger might ask to be taken.
If anything, this description understates the case. The six-mile radius from Charing Cross, the putative center-point of London marked by an equestrian statue of King Charles I, takes in some 25,000 streets. London cabbies need to know all of those streets, and how to drive them -- the direction they run, which are one-way, which are dead ends, where to enter and exit traffic circles, and so on. But cabbies also need to know everything on the streets. Examiners may ask a would-be cabby to identify the location of any restaurant in London. Any pub, any shop, any landmark, no matter how small or obscure -- all are fair game. Test-takers have been asked to name the whereabouts of flower stands, of laundromats, of commemorative plaques. One taxi driver told me that he was asked the location of a statue, just a foot tall, depicting two mice sharing a piece of cheese. It's on the facade of a building in Philpot Lane, on the corner of Eastcheap, not far from London Bridge.
The goal is to install a complete map of London in the brain of every licensed taxi driver. And indeed, according to neuroscientist Eleanor Maguire, the part of the brain responsible for memory becomes physically bigger as The Knowledge is absorbed.
Seeing, for a Knowledge candidate, is everything -- at its heart, the Knowledge is an elaborate exercise in visualization. When McCabe called-over, he closed his eyes and toggled between views: picturing the city at street level, the roads rolling out in front of him as if in a movie, then pulling the camera back to take in the bird's eye perspective, scanning the London map. Knowledge boys speak of a Eureka moment when, after months or years of doggedly assembling the London puzzle, the fuzziness recedes and the city snaps into focus, the great morass of streets suddenly appearing as an intelligible whole. McCabe was startled not just by that macroview, but by the minute details he was able to retain. "I can pull a tiny little art studio just from the color of the door, and where it's got a lamppost outside. Your brain just remembers silly things, you know?"
I could go on and on...I loved this piece. Don't miss the video of a prospective cabbie calling out the route he would use to go from Rotherhithe Station to the Natural History Museum, entirely from memory without looking at a map. Compare with Google's driving directions.
The UK Parliament passed the first Metropolitan Police Act in 1829. The act was introduced by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel, who undertook a study of crime and policing, which resulted in his belief that the keys to building an effective police force were to 1) make it professional (most prior policing had been volunteer in nature); 2) organize as a civilian force, not as a paramilitary force; and 3) make the police accountable to the public. The Metropolitan Police, whose officers were referred to as "bobbies" after Peel, was extremely successful and became the model for the modern urban police force, both in the UK and around the world, including in the United States.
At the heart of the Metropolitan Police's charter were a set of rules either written by Peel or drawn up at some later date by the two founding Commissioners: The Nine Principles of Policing. They are as follows:
1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
As police historian Charles Reith noted in 1956, this philosophy was radical when implemented in London in the 1830s and "unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public". Apparently, it remains radical in the United States in 2014. (thx, peter)
An instant classic John Gruber post about the sort of company Apple is right now and how it compares in that regard to its four main competitors: Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and Amazon. The post is also about how Apple is now firmly a Tim Cook joint, and the company is better for it.
When Cook succeeded Jobs, the question we all asked was more or less binary: Would Apple decline without Steve Jobs? What seems to have gone largely unconsidered is whether Apple would thrive with Cook at the helm, achieving things the company wasn't able to do under the leadership of the autocratic and mercurial Jobs.
Jobs was a great CEO for leading Apple to become big. But Cook is a great CEO for leading Apple now that it is big, to allow the company to take advantage of its size and success. Matt Drance said it, and so will I: What we saw last week at WWDC 2014 would not have happened under Steve Jobs.
This is not to say Apple is better off without Steve Jobs. But I do think it's becoming clear that the company, today, might be better off with Tim Cook as CEO. If Jobs were still with us, his ideal role today might be that of an eminence grise, muse and partner to Jony Ive in the design of new products, and of course public presenter extraordinaire. Chairman of the board, with Cook as CEO, running the company much as he actually is today.
This bit on the commoditization of hardware, and Apple's spectacularly successful fight against it, got me thinking about current events. Here's Gruber again:
Apple's device-centric approach provides them with control. There's a long-standing and perhaps everlasting belief in the computer industry that hardware is destined for commoditization. At their cores, Microsoft and Google were founded on that belief - and they succeeded handsomely. Microsoft's Windows empire was built atop commodity PC hardware. Google's search empire was built atop web browsers running on any and all computers. (Google also made a huge bet on commodity hardware for their incredible back-end infrastructure. Google's infrastructure is both massive and massively redundant - thousands and thousands of cheap hardware servers running custom software designed such that failure of individual machines is completely expected.)
This is probably the central axiom of the Church of Market Share - if hardware is destined for commoditization, then the only thing that matters is maximizing the share of devices running your OS (Microsoft) or using your online services (Google).
The entirety of Apple's post-NeXT reunification success has been in defiance of that belief - that commoditization is inevitable, but won't necessarily consume the entire market. It started with the iMac, and the notion that the design of computer hardware mattered. It carried through to the iPod, which faced predictions of imminent decline in the face of commodity music players all the way until it was cannibalized by the iPhone.
And here's David Galbraith tweeting about the seemingly unrelated training that London taxi drivers receive, a comment no doubt spurred by the European taxi strikes last week, protesting Uber's move into Europe:
Here's the relevant bit from Wikipedia about The Knowledge:
It is the world's most demanding training course for taxicab drivers, and applicants will usually need at least twelve 'appearances' (attempts at the final test), after preparation averaging 34 months, to pass the examination.
Uber, in this scenario, is attempting to be Microsoft in the 1980s and early 90s. They're implementing their software layer (the Uber service) on commodity hardware, which includes not only iPhones & Android phones, mass-produced cars of any type, and GPS systems but also, and crucially, the drivers themselves. Uber is betting that a bunch of off-the-shelf hardware, "ordinary" drivers, and their self-service easy-pay dispatch system will provide similar (or even better) results than a fleet of taxi drivers each with three years of training and years of experience. It is unclear to me what the taxi drivers can do in this situation to emulate the Apple of 1997 in making that commoditization irrelevant to their business prospects. Although when it comes to London in particular, Uber may have miscalculated: in a recent comparison at rush hour, an Uber cab took almost three times as long and was 64% more expensive than a black cab.
In 1953, the BBC filmed a train trip from London to Brighton. Thirty years later in 1983, they filmed it again and then again 30 years after that, in 2013. Here are all three films synced up and played side-by-side:
1000 extra bonus points to the Beeb for the Star Guitar soundtrack.
[Sherlock season 2 spoilers ahead...] At the end of the second season of the excellent BBC series Sherlock, Holmes jumps off the roof of a building in Smithfield, London. Ever since then, fans of the show have been leaving notes near where he would have landed.
In December 1952, a thick smog settled over London for several days. This was a particularly bad episode of the London Fog, which was hardly a natural occurrence...the "fog" was mostly due to the burning of soft coal. It is now thought that the Great Smog resulted in around 12,000 deaths.
The room is filled with millions of handcrafted ceramic sunflower seeds:
Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall's vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape.
Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China's most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the 'Made in China' phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today.
For the first couple of days, people could walk around on the tiny sculptures (as you can see on Flickr), but health concerns prompted the museum to put a stop to that. Still pretty cool, but this remains my favorite Turbine Hall exhibition. (via hilobrow)
This clip is from a larger film called The Open Road by Claude Friese-Greene. He shot the film with a process his father William had developed called Biocolour.
William began the development of an additive colour film process called Biocolour. This process produced the illusion of true colour by exposing each alternate frame of ordinary black-and-white film stock through a two different coloured filters. Each alternate frame of the monochrome print was then stained red or green. Although the projection of Biocolour prints did provide a tolerable illusion of true colour, it suffered from noticeable flickering and red-and-green fringing when the subject was in rapid motion. In an attempt to overcome the colour fringing problem, a faster-than-usual frame rate was used.
This is a little bit brilliant. Here and There are a pair of maps of Manhattan that start from an on-the-street viewpoint and curl up as you gaze uptown or downtown until you see the rest of the island from a traditional "flat map" view.
As the model bends from sideways to top-down in a smooth join, more distant parts of the city are revealed in plan view. The projection connects the viewer's local environment to remote destinations normally out of sight.
These illustrations show familiar objects across ten orders of magnitude-from familiar aspects down to the level of their constituent atoms. Vast scale differences are usually shown through separate images (e.g., the Eames' Powers of Ten). This illustration employs the artistic convention of perspective-typically used by landscape painters-to show multiple scales in one frame.
So why did the Paris Metro (now operated by the RATP) reject Beck's clear simplification of their beloved system? One reason is visible at each station entrance; Parisians use the maps here as a free public service to help them find their way round the city - the ubiquitous geographic wall map is more than just a Metro plan.
The six paintings are composed in his characteristic swiping, blurred style of over-painted and obliterated layers, fine-tuned nuances of grey and white worked through with coruscating colours -- carmine, emerald, turquoise, cadmium yellow, fiery orange -- dragged across the canvas, smeared, wiped, leaving fragments of beauty on cool but sensuous surfaces. They suggest rain and mist, instability and displacement, absence and endings, classical rigour and postmodern ruin. They echo the northern European palette of earnest darkness and piercing brightness that goes back to Grunewald and Caspar David Friedrich, but Richter is also a minimalist, a denier of meaning, ideals, personal signatures. He has named the works in honour of composer John Cage, in reference to his Lecture on Nothing -- "I have nothing to say and I'm saying it."
Three other things I found interesting there:
1) Miroslaw Balka's 480x10x10, a sculpture consisting of used bars of soap held together by a stainless steel rope hanging from the ceiling. It's not often that contemporary art smells Zestfully Clean.
Next, it is clearly no good to be told that a location is very convenient for your work if you can't afford to live there. So we have produced some interactive maps that allow users to set both the maximum time they're willing to commute, and the median house price they're willing or able to pay.
The commute time slider makes a lovely Mandelbrot-esque pattern as you pinch the times together. (via o'reilly radar)
A comparison: London's Tate Modern versus the MoMA. The MoMA is a stuffy, inaccesible place, while the "Tate Modern is an enormously user-friendly place, physically comfortable and hospitable, with inexpensive places to eat and frequent opportunities to sit."
The origins and common usage of British swear words. "Both Oxford and London boasted districts called 'Gropecunte Lane', in reference to the prostitutes that worked there. The Oxford lane was later renamed the slightly less-contentious Magpie Lane, while London's version retained a sense of euphemism when it was changed to 'Threadneedle Street'. Records do not show whether it was a decision of intentional irony that eventually placed the Bank of England there."
Despite the flurry of remaindered links yesterday morning about the London transport bombings, yesterday was a pretty slow day on kottke.org. Because of the time difference between New York and London, news about the bombings became more scarce around noon ET when the London workday was ending and I decided not to post about anything else for the remainder of the day. Today, I'm resuming the usual flow of frivolous links and commentary around here, but I'll be keeping an eye out for news from London as well.