Visiting the RAF Museum in London

I was in England last month, and had a chance to make it out to the RAF Museum, which is in a sort of bleakly redeveloped northern suburb of London. I took the bus partway over from Crouch End (which was a pretty nice bus ride) and then walked from a bus stop on the A406 (this was a pretty long and interesting walk), and eventually arrived at the complex.

The pedestrian approach.

The pedestrian approach.

In scale and presentation, the RAF museum has a lot more in common with Udvar-Hazy than with the main Air and Space museum in Washington. There are some thematic groupings and some interpretive panels (in some instances, the panels seem to have been donated directly from trade show displays, so, for example, there is one for a cluster bomb that basically says “this cluster bomb rules and you should buy it!” which I thought was pretty funny), but in general it’s just rooms with a huge collection of really interesting airplanes. The exception to this is a very nicely-done World War I exhibit which is up in a building that used to be the Royal Aircraft Factory.

A category of person will arrive at a museum like this and want to photograph everything.  I basically fall into that category, and here are some of the pictures I took.

Supermarine Walrus!

One of my favorite seaplanes, the Supermarine Walrus.

Short Sunderland

The Short Sunderland, another classic flying boat.

A Supermarine Stanraer.

The Supermarine Stanraer, despite being a pretty handsome aircraft (if you ask me), was apparently fairly reviled by the people who had to fly it.

Gloster Gladiator

I built a plastic model Gloster Gladiator when I was little, and had read a lot about it, but this is the first time I ever saw one in person.

Fiat CR.42

Fiat CR.42, the Gloster Gladiator’s traditional adversary.

A somewhat overdone painting

This painting had a really appropriately ridiculous name, but I have forgotten what it was.

Dog in uniform and other paraphrenalia

The dog jacket on display was custom-made for a squadron dog, then used to dress a teddy bear until it got into the RAF museum collection.

The English Electric Lightning, a classic Cold War interceptor.

The English Electric Lightning, a classic Cold War interceptor.

Awesome Kangaroo on an ANZAC Lockheed Hudson.

Awesome Kangaroo on an ANZAC Lockheed Hudson.

Aviation needlepoint.

This is part of a tapestry about the RAF that some interested parties put together.

Gloster Meteor DG202/G

The Gloster Meteor DG202/G, one of the earliest jets.

Gloster Meteor F.8 (probably)

Later model Meteor (seriously look at how much more together it is now that they have captured Me-262s to crib from).

He-162 Volksjäger

The Heinkel He-162 Volksjäger.

Avro Vulcan Bomb Bay

Avro Vulcan bomb bay, with a screen showing Avro Vulcans taking off in rapid succession in a practice scramble.

Avro Vulcan

Avro Vulcan and bombs, with stuffed dog and dummy security guy.

Lancaster nose art

The classic claim chowder on the side of this Lancaster should not distract from the fact that so-called “strategic bombing” was both counterproductive and a crime against humanity.

Pathfinder window

A stained glass window honoring the RAF pathfinders, which had formerly been in an actual church. Sort of an atrocity!

wrecked Halifax

This Handley Page Halifax crash-landed and sank in a lake after helping sink the Tirpitz, but was recovered in the 70s.

Nose art on an ANZAC B-24.

Nose art on an ANZAC B-24. I liked the bee.

The Sikorsky R-4, pioneer of the standard helicopter layout.

The Sikorsky R-4, pioneer of the standard helicopter layout.

Hawker Typhoon

Hawker Typhoon, in the “coming right for us” pose.

Percival Mew Gull

Interwar racing plane, of interest for several reasons, particularly its hilarious name.

Nulli Segundus

In view: the tail of a Eurofighter, a P-51, part of a Mosquito, but in particular the gondola of the first British military airship, the Nulli Secundus.


There were several displays of this type, and I thought they were really great.

Hawker Hunter on a stick.

The sky got pretty dramatic as I was leaving, and I got a nice shot of the Hawker Hunter mounted in the parking lot.

Spitfire and Hurricane, under their classic English sky.

And then the classic Spitfire and Hurricane.


Via Infovore, here is a pretty sweet comprehensive introduction to the Salty Bet scene, written up by Rich McCormick for Eurogamer.  There are enough bizarre details that you should just read the article.  But the gist, which is more than sufficiently outrageous, is that there is a site where you can bet (with pretend money) on streamed live AI-played sidescrolling fighting game matches, which are done in an open-source fighting game engine called Mugen, using characters from a fairly extensive collection of nerdly sources (existing fighting games, anime, whatever users suggest.  From the article, here is a fan favorite, in which Barney fights someone from Dragon Ball Z).

I don’t think I would ever want to participate in something like this, but I’m extremely pleased to know that it exists.  And think of all the pieces of popular culture and technology that have come together to make it a real extant thing.

Intentionality and Nice Things

I had been meaning for a while to say more about Tom Dibblee’s LARB review of a history of Anheuser-Busch, which is pretty sweet, and ends up functioning mostly as a meditation on the author’s personal relationship with Bud Light Lime and a summary of the parts of Anheuser-Busch’s corporate history most relevant to this personal relationship.  I really admire the craft, and I am especially pleased that the first comment on the piece is some poor hipster oaf (apparently) earnestly trying to convince the author that he should, if he likes BLL so much, consider trying an objectively better craft beer in the same style.  This is classic lifemanship, but the commenter is apparently insufficiently on top of things to understand that the old “heartfelt recommendation of better craft beers” gambit, while possibly useful in some circumstances, is an automatic fail when used in response to a long essay about the authentic love one feels for deeply inauthentic engineered products.

When I was chatting about the essay with a friend, he mentioned that he had recently been at what sounded like a deeply authentically crafty party, at which, at one point, the conversation had revolved around the way that most of the participants had totally gorged on Fruit Loops when they arrived at college and first had the agency to totally gorge themselves on Fruit Loops.  The friend suggested that the lesson here has to do with “the real pleasure created by foods that have been carefully designed by deep-pocketed corporations to give real pleasure.”  He gave Doritos and McGriddles as other examples of this working in practice.

I don’t know about this, because to me that stuff is obvious poison, and I can’t get into it.  There was a thing on Kottke a while ago (incidentally more or less contemporaneous with the LARB piece) that touched incidentally on the similarity between “McDonald’s super-processed food and molecular gastronomy,” (actual phrase from a piece in The Awl that Kottke was linking to) trying to use the comparison to elevate fast food, but to me this comparison mostly works to demonstrate the inherent vapidity of molecular gastronomy. Nevertheless, I don’t think that authenticity in itself (or “soul” as Dibblee has it) is a very useful marker.  We like a decently-raised pig from up the hill because it tastes better and isn’t bringing a lot of hideous unpriced externalities with it, not because it is ye olde pigge in the classic style.  I am as nonplussed as anyone by long menu notes about sourcing, but a lot of the things you get at those restaurants are pretty nice.  And I like a good straightforwardly hopped up beer like Two-Hearted Ale because that is the kind of beer I like.

I do, though, think that there is a significant difference between trying to be good and trying to be liked, and that this difference, when you can pin it down, is pretty useful.  This is not to say that I would encourage excessive sincerity or whatever, but I think there might be something here to help sort out what is and is not worthwhile.  Anyway, I strongly recommend reading that essay.

An Unfinished Note about Making Games

I have been thinking a bit about what would make a good iPhone game, a big catalyst for this being the times I have been traveling recently, during which I would have liked to have a good iPhone game on which to pass the time. I think a key element would be some sort of persistent and semi-emergent (which is to say not all that scripted) setting or characters, in the mode of something between the Sims and SimCity. So Dwarf Fortress for iPhone, basically, but with an interface that leaves it legible. It would be nice if it also generated something interesting and relatively unique, so that the game also ended up being a kind of composition tool (Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft, and a lot of the Maxis games kind of do this already, and there is probably more to be said elsewhere about “the saved game as a document and the document as a saved game” or something like that).

There was a pretty great piece in Rock, Paper, Shotgun about the general badness of story in games, followed by a somewhat less convincing counterpoint (by the same author, who was using them to set up for a panel discussion he was going to have on the topic, although the discussion didn’t really adhere to the parameters he’d set out in the two pieces) that brought me back to some general questions about narrative in games and what games are good for.

I would claim that there are at least two big categories of narrative in games, which are the narrative laid out explicitly in a game’s fiction, to be followed as you would follow the plot in any of the traditional storytelling media, and then the narrative that gets generated in an individual player’s experience. Explicit narratives are almost always really cheesey and unhelpfully genre, although you will in the course of your life run into that dude who cried at the twist in whichever Final Fantasy it was. But they will still, executed properly, sometimes be pretty ok, and often serve as decent frameworks for hanging fun game elements on. Generated narratives are the part I find really rad, because they will so often feel more real and more funny (it is the difference between “we had been asked by the king to solve the problem of the ancient evil again” and “before the necromancer could finish his first menacing sentence we kicked him into the lava pit because Catbite the Monk had specialized in Necromancer Kicking”). There will often end up being a pretty funny disjunction between these two narrative categories.

The big newer games have kind of worked toward a place where explicit narrative is privileged, and seem to be aspiring, in many cases, to be more like bad action movies, with a lot of very deliberate spectacle that only ever plays out as specified by the scriptwriter (this is a tendency that is taken apart really well in the anti-story RPS article linked above). I would categorize this move as unequivocally bad. I am also against conscious level design, which is sort of in the same vein as overscripting, insofar as it works to create the illusions of choice and the possibility of failure while pushing players into situations that are actually kind of linear, obvious, and hard to ultimately fail.

I should probably finish this later.

-the decent random games, lessons we might learn from them.
-the utility of games as pedagogy, looking particularly at the frog spawning interactive we did for Discovery Place and the Oregon Trail meets Ticket to Ride mail delivery game we did for NPM.

Machines for

Here are a couple of posts that I think go together pretty well:
Timothy Burke on not forgetting to be humane about things – if only there were some way to automate this and save ourselves the constant work of being alive.

Alex Harrowell on machine interfaces making things easier but in some cases not actually making them easier – I strongly recommend watching the embedded video, which is a lecture on autopilots and safety.