Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Thursday August 21 2014

I’m still suffering from God problems.  God needs a new everything.  New fan, new processor, new graphics card, even some new RAM.  His old body will do, and hopefully all his hard discs can stay where they are, and continue to have all the same stuff on them, but the stuff that enables God to do his mysterious work is all change.  Overheating, The Guru said.  There was much dust inside, which will not surprise anyone who has ever visited my home.

Here is a picture of God’s inner workings, not that it tells me much:

image

Apparently overheating is big deal in computing these days, and there are an amazing number of little systems inside a computer like God which are just there to stop things getting too hot.  The Guru pointed out various little cooling mechanisms, and there were about half a dozen of them.  Not just obvious things like big fans, but small things like strategically placed bits of metal to get ride of the head in some tiny little sub-system.

I recall reading a book about the man who invented the first Supercomputers.  Cray?  It said that Cray computers were actually of a rather conservative design, because that way they wouldn’t go wrong.  The brilliant idea was to combine such a computer with a refrigeration system.  Apparently nobody had thought of that, until Cray did.  But, said Cray, who says you can’t put a computer in a fridge?

By the way, odd that fridge is spelt fridge, but refrigeration is spelt refrigeration, without a d in the middle.  Google it if you don’t believe me.  I only just found this out, from my spell checker and then from googling it myself.

The bad news is that without God I am without email.  I know, this is ridiculous.  I keep meaning to switch from FuckupMail (the system supplied to me by The Guru (who disapproves of Google “on principle") to Gmail, because you can access Gmail from anywhere.  So what if you have to donate your soul to Google?  What would they do with my soul?  Very little, I am almost sure.

FuckupMail works fine, until you try to access it from another computer.  Then it causes me to call it that.  So, for example, on my recent French trip, I just ignored email and hoped for the best.  But now I have things coming up that need organising, and I can’t wait until the middle of next week for email, so FuckupMail has to migrate to Dawkins.  So, I am currently engaged in doing that.  But every time Dawkins gets to the emails concerning back-ups, which happen every day at three in the morning, he goes on strike for about five minutes and I often have to shut the email system and then open it again, after which it takes another five minutes before it deigns to transfer any more emails, which it eventually does until 3am comes around again.  I have had to stop the email system and start it up again about three hundred times.  “Should take about two hours” said The Guru.  Turned out more like forty, and it still isn’t done.  The only exception was when the emails concerned the fact that the back-up system wasn’t working, which it wasn’t for about one blessed month earlier this summer.  They transferred fine.  I know.  Ridiculous, but I had no idea it would take as long as it did.

Should.  This is a computer technical term meaning, “should but actually won’t”.  Whenever you hear this word coming out of the mouth of a Computer Guy, trouble.  Every time.

It’s only when you don’t have email that you realise how much you depend on it.

This is what Dawkins looks like:

image

Which I include just to tell you, in case you are confused.

This, on the other hand, is the new graphics card, which I include because I like it:

image

It looks like a cross between a helicopter and a bra, both fine inventions.

By the way, please don’t leave any “helpful” comments on this, about what, in your opinion, you think I ought to do about all this, instead of what I am doing.  I already know (a) why I am doing what I am doing, (b) why it is ridiculous but why I’m doing it anyway, and (c) what I intend to do about it all to stop similar absurdities in the future.  If you agree with me about how annoying this is, that’s okay, but if you have any opinions about any of this that are different from mine, keep them to yourself.

Wednesday August 20 2014

One of my favourite www destinations just now is the Evening Standard website.  Presumably because there are other Evening Stardards in the world besides the Evening Standard, the Evening Standard of London, the website of the Evening Standard is called “London News” (even as its website is something different, involving the world “standard").

A lot of this is because, more and more, I love London, and the Evening Standard, not unnaturally, has lots of London stories.

A particularly fine one recently featured this delectable photo:

image

The young woman is an Evening Standard journalist, Miranda Bryant, and the swimming pool is on floor 52 of the Shard, being one of the amenities offered by the Shangri La hotel.

One of the edges of this swimming pool is right next to the glass wall of the Shard, and I can’t help thinking how great it would be if the glass wall of the Shard were to double up, at this point, as the wall of the swimming pool.  Think of the photographs this would provoke.  This is why God invented x50 zoom lenses.

An ultrazoom photo I have long wanted to take of the Shard would feature a gorgeous young woman in silhouette, at the top, where the light goes right through the building.  But such a woman swimming might be even better, especially if the light could go right through that also.

One of the reasons why architecture is such an influential profession these days (if you are one of the top dogs of the profession – one of the “starchitects") is that the kind of down-the-pecking-order architects and engineers whose job is to contrive things wanted by their bosses or clients, and make these things work properly, can now, it would appear, make absolutely anything work properly.  Therefore, the starchitects, the ones who decide how things are going to be and to look, can now make them be and look any way that their starchitectural whims determine.  (See, e.g.: Zaha Hadid.) Not so long ago, a swimming pool high up in a skyscraper would be a disaster waiting to happen to everyone foolish enough to situate themselves anywhere below it, and in particular a disaster for any idiot architect silly enough to ordain such a thing.  Now, it is just a matter of some starchitect saying “do it”, and it is done.

Tuesday August 19 2014

Which is BrianMicklethwaitDomCom-speak for “my big old home computer is not working”.  I am using Dawkins (my little laptop) instead, at home, with a wire from my regular internet external box (?) plugged into the side.  But I am not happy about this.  I would rather read a book than do this.  So, I will, but I promise nothing.  I may soon do more blogging from Dawkins.  Or, I may not.

Tomorrow, The Guru will be dropping by, and after he has done his thing, all should be well again.

Monday August 18 2014

Richard Morrison’s article about the impact of WW1 on music, for the Times, is very interesting, but it suffers from an outbreak of PID (Permanent Italics Disease).  This is when you switch on the italics, but then forget or fail to switch them off again.  Here is a screen capture of the offending moment and its surroundings:

image

This was posted on August 16th, in connection with a Prom that happened last night, but it has yet to be corrected, as I write this.

PID is particularly pernicious when it afflicts not only the rest of the text of the piece itself, but then continues throughout the entire page as you see it, as it does here.  That is a site software blunder, as well as a posting blunder.

I got to this piece via Arts and Letters Daily, which perhaps explains how I got to it at all, what with the Times paywall and all.  Does anyone know how that system is working out for the Times?

It seems a bit shoddy that you have to pay for such typographical ineptitude.  It’s not so much the original error that I am unimpressed by.  It’s the fact that nobody quickly corrected it.  And the fact that the site software doesn’t confine the problem to the one posting.

To be a bit more serious, about the content of the article, I have long regretted Schoenberg’s depressing impact upon music, but I had no idea that the man himself was such a German chauvinist.  “Now we will throw these mediocre kitschmongers into slavery, and teach them to venerate the German spirit and to worship the German God …” Good grief.

Sunday August 17 2014

I departed for France on Tuesday August 5th.

My flight from London City Airport to Quimper in Brittany was due for lift off at 11.40am, so I obviously had to leave home at about 9.20am, thereby reaching City Airport as early as I could without having to pay for the journey.  (Old Git passes only cut in at 9.30am, or such is my understanding.) We infrequent flyers can’t be too careful.  I would far rather wait two hours at an airport while reading a good book than endure any fear of missing my flight at any point on my journey to the airport, still less actually risk missing it.

One way to get to London City Airport would have been to take the District Line to Tower Hill, and then the D(ocklands) L(ight) R(ailway) from then onwards, with just the one (somewhat complicated) change.  But my computer said it would be quicker to change twice, first at Westminster from the District Line to the Jubilee Line, and then again at Canning Town to the DLR.  The Jubilee Line is quicker than the trundlingly antique District Line and quicker than the relatively new but cautiously robotic DLR, and it may also have realised that both these changes are far easier than the one change from Tower Hill (District) to Tower Gateway (?) (DLR).  So, I changed at Westminster, and again at Canning Town.

All of which explains why, when I got to Canning Town, and was awaiting the DLR train on to City Airport, I got to see this:

image image

I couldn’t believe my luck.  I hadn’t even left London, yet already I was beholding once-in-a-lifetime wonders!  For yes, your eyes do not deceive you.  That is a crane, holding a bridge.  I love cranes, especially when they are doing something interesting.  I love bridges, especially new ones and especially when they are still being built.  So you can imagine my delight at observing a bridge being craned into position, by a crane.  And all of this presented to me as if by a performer who is determined to communicate to the maximum effect with his audience, assembled on the top deck of Canning Town Tube/DLR station.

On the left there, the first picture I took.  On the right, a later picture which shows where the bridge was about to be deposited.  There are two bright red bits, the same bright red as the bridge itself, clearly at each end of where the bridge would shortly be.

All of this happened on Tuesday August 5th.  A day earlier and it would not have started.  A day later and it would have been a fait accompli, with the installed bridge presumably looking exactly as it looks now.  Only by being there exactly on August 5th, and only by choosing the exactly correct railway journey combination, was I able to observe this delight.

(Imagine if I had happened to sale past this, on August 14th 1999.)

My week in Brittany had got off to a great start.

Saturday August 16 2014

Before I start ruminating more convolutedly about my recent stay in France, there is just one more shot that I want to show you from that ASI boat trip.

It’s a photo I took of the guy who was driving the boat, and (I presume) the man who was in command of the boat:

image

I can find no mention anywhere here of the actual people who command and work on the boats, just lots of stuff about how great the boats are for partying on.  So I don’t know the name or rank of this man.  But, whoever and whatever he is, I love his look of calm but ever so slightly suspicious watchfulness, with his ever so slightly raised right eyebrow.  It’s the face of a man who knows that, mostly, his job is just a job, but that this is a job that just possibly might, were he seriously to neglect his duties, turn very nasty.

Besides which, you never quite know what those people back there partying might get up to, under the influence of all that drink that the other members of the crew are serving them.  A boat full of tipsy revellers, even more than a normal boat, needs a sober worker to guide it and to see that all is well, no matter how friendly the waters they are travelling on.

There’s something else about this picture that intrigues me.  When I was a kid, wearing short trousers was the essence of being a kid, and graduating to long trousers was the essence of ceasing to be only a kid and starting to grow up.  Yet now, more and more indisputably grownup men, doing their indisputably grownup work, wear shorts.  Anyone care to speculate about what this means, or about why it is happening?

Friday August 15 2014

Yes, I’ve been in France, and now I’m back.  Have been for several days actually, but I spent my recent blogging time doing this, which is a photo-decorated ramble on various things I saw in France, or thought I did, for Samizdata.

I really want to get back into the swim of things over there, after a recent dry spell, and was accordingly determined to finish that ramble before I resumed rambling here.

Since this is Friday, here are some French cats.

Cat number one stands outside Vannes town hall:

image

Cat number two is impressively perched on an impressively high ledge, somewhere or other.  Cat number three, the cat of the friends I was staying with, is shown here, not being very impressed with cat number two:

image

This photo was taken by Tony, to whom thanks, and to whom thanks also for emailing it to me.

Here, on the other hand are two further photos that I did take of cat number three:

image image

No, I don’t know why his right ear is green on the inside.  I only noticed this when I got home.

His name is Caesar (sp?), and he actually does answer to that name.  It’s not tone of voice, it’s the name, because when I said this to him for the first time, he immediately looked up to see what I had in mind.

There is another cat, Basil, who drops by at the home of Tony et famille from time to time, but he is more shy.  He was otherwise engaged, on my last day there which was when I finally decided I wanted to photo the two cats.  Caesar showed up, but not Basil.  Another time, maybe.

Caesar is now very old, and I may never meet with him again.  We got on well.

Monday August 04 2014

Blogging here will temporarily cease after this posting, and will resume at or about the middle of next week.  I will be back.  Have a good week.

Meanwhile, as a visual au revoir, here is another of the many photos I took last night, from that tiny little artificial urban mountain that is Stave Hill:

image

Through the gasometer in the foreground, we see the Dome of St Paul’s (attended by many cranes), the BT Tower, and on the left, with the spikey bobble on its top, the top of the Monument.

I tried to time my arrival at Stave Hill with the arrival of sunset, but got there far, far too early.  So, I waited, and read a book.  I hope you agree with me that it was worth the wait.

Sunday August 03 2014

I’ll let this guy explain it:

The areas around Rotherhithe and Surrey Quays was once a series of docks that were slowly filled in and lost in the 1970s and early 1980s.

As befits an area that was originally a marsh, and then an industrial hub, it was entirely flat, so it may surprise people to learn that there is a decent sized hill lurking right in the middle of these former docks.

Stave Hill is however a very modern edifice, being made up largely from rubble left over from the clearance of the docks and then shaped into a sharply defined flat-topped cone.  It is also only just about as high as most of the houses that surround it, so while you get a view from the top that is almost entirely free of blockages, the hill itself is hidden from people looking the other way.

The reason I’ve no time to describe it is I’ve just got back from taking photos from the top of it myself.  I took a million zoom shots of individual Big Things, on their own and in clumps, but here is a panoramic shot that gives you a sense of what the place is like:

image

I forced myself to pick just the one shot from the twenty seven million I took.  Well, 463 to be more exact.  Often, after one of these photo-expeditions, I pick out about twenty of the best shots, and and then never get around to showing them here at all, because it becomes too complicated, and there is too much to be said about them all.  This time I’ve kept it simple, and stolen stuff from elsewhere, and that way, I got it done.

I will say this, though.  The sheer number of Big Things you can see from this spot is truly amazing.  Some of my favourites are Big Things that you can just see the very top of, like Big Ben and the tower of Westminster Cathedral.  And I think I also spotted the tops of two of the chimneys of Battersea Power Station, but that needs to be checked.  Definites include; the Gherkin, the Shard, the Cheesegrater, the Walkie Talkie, the Strata, the Spraycan, the Wheel, Tower Bridge, the Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Monument, and, away on the other side, the Docklands Towers.  The tricky bit is getting as many Big Things as possible into the one shot, which is quite hard.  For instance, you can’t see the Gherkin in the picture above.  Those trees do not help.  For this reason, it might be fun to go back in the winter, when the damn leaves have gone away.

Saturday August 02 2014

Overheard in a TV advert for sweeties:

You can’t trust atoms.  They make up everything.

Talking of which, I am now reading Lee Smolin’s book about String Theory.  Basic message: It’s a cult.  I haven’t yet read him using that actual word, but that’s what he is saying.

I am, of course, not qualified to judge if Smolin is right, but you don’t have to be qualified to express a judgement, and I judge that Smolin is right.  And the way I like to learn about new stuff is by reading arguments about it, starting with the argument that says I am right about it.  Smolin is basically telling me that my ignorant prejudice that String Theory is one of the current world’s epicentres of the Higher Bollocks is right, although he is careful not to express himself as crudely as I just did, for fear of upsetting his physicist friends, and because, unlike me, he sees some merit in String Theory.

I have known that String Theory was in trouble for some time, because Big Bang Theory’s resident String Theorist, Dr Sheldon Cooper, has been having doubts about it.  He wanted to switch to something else, but they said: We hired you as a String Theorist and a String Theorist you will remain.

The above link is to a blog I had not heard of before, entitled Not Even Wrong.  Not Even Wrong is the title of another book I have recently obtained with has a go at String Theory.  I have not yet started reading this.

It’s true.  You can’t trust atoms.  And grabbing both ends of one and stretching it out into a string doesn’t change that.  It makes it worse.

Friday August 01 2014

Trawling through the archives this evening, I came across this fine feline:

image

Photoed by me, in Battersea, about two months ago.

In other cat news, pet cats in Vietnam are being stolen and sold to restaurants.  And not because the restaurants want cats for their customers to mingle with.  Oh no.  This is Vietnam, not Paris.

Back here in evil Britain, hundreds of black cats are being abandoned by their owners because, according to the Daily Mail, these black cats don’t look good in SELFIES (their capital letters):

Today the RSPCA announced a rise in the number of black cats being abandoned by their owners, and attributed it to them not photographing well.

A spokesman for the animal welfare charity said that more than 70 per cent of the 1,000 cats in its care were black, and blamed the trend for people taking pictures of themselves with their phones.

He said: ‘There are a number of reasons for us having so many black cats, including the fact that black animals tend not to photograph as well as other cats with more distinctive markings.

Other cats are also easier to tell apart, he said.

The spokesman added: ‘There is a national problem with rehoming cats of this colour.

‘We really are puzzled as to why this still happens but we would urge people to never judge a cat by its colour and look at its personality instead.’

This story is everywhere.  I sense hostility towards digital photography, and in particular towards the evil practice of taking photos of yourself, an evil practice which now has its own word.

However, a selfie is when you take a photo of yourself.  Owners are including themselves in their cat photos on incidentally.  Often only the cat is in the picture.  These photos are not being taken by cats, so they are not selfies.

Cats don’t take photos of themselves.  If they had been caught doing this, on video for instance, I would definitely have learned about it and passed the news on to you people.  All that is actually going on here is that black cat owners are finding it hard to photo their black cats and are consequently abandoning their black cats, and obtaining other cats, more like the one in my picture above, that are easier to photo.  That’s a wicked enough story as it is, without misreporting it and put your mistake in capital letters.  Socks, Daily Mail.  Pull yours up.

Next up, an Italian shooting champion is on trial for using live cats as target practice.  I sense hostility towards shooting champions, but it may just be towards Italians.

Finally, Cats is being revived, in the Millenium Centre, Cardiff:

The highlight of the evening was the singing which included lots of harmonies ...

Which is what you want.  What with Cats being a musical show, consisting mostly of people dressed as cats, singing, and trying to be harmonious about it.

Rachel Howells continues:

Cats is at the Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 9th August and includes many matinee showings so you have no excuses not to miss it.

Once again, we see the mainstream media getting their facts in a twist, this time because of faulty grammar.  No excuses not to miss it?  It would appear that, at least when it comes to their online content, the writing and/or editing at the South Wales Argus has gone to the dogs.

I get google emails whenever “3D printing” is mentioned at all prominently on the www, and the latest one definitely got my attention.  It linked to a story about a guy who has been 3D printing in his garden.

A building contractor living in Minnesota has developed his own 3D printer which can print concrete directly from CAD design software, and he has used it to 3D-print a castle in his back garden.

Here is how that looks:

image

Calling that a “castle”, as this story does, is a bit of a stretch.  At the moment, if this is anything to go by, open-air and architectural 3D printing seems to have all the deft elegance and aesthetic flexibility of a dot matrix printer.  But the equivalents of laser printers, and then (what we have now) cheap laser printers, and cheap colour printers, will surely soon be with us.  And in due course the building trade will become something completely different, and hence buildings will too.

Yet another reason why I would love to remain alive for another century, just to see how this kind of stuff develops.

In England, this guy would either have failed to get planning permission for this erection, or else he would now be being told to take it down, for having failed to get planning permission.

Thursday July 31 2014

Yes, that about says it:

image

Taken by me, yesterday afternoon.

Wednesday July 30 2014

Nothing from me here today, but something at Samizdata (which makes a change), in the form of a remarkable song lyric from the 1920s by Cole Porter.  Pure libertarianism.  They maybe did not have the word back then (I don’t know), but they certainly had the thing itself:

Live and let live, and remember this line:
Your business is your business,
And my business is mine.

Indeed.

Tuesday July 29 2014

Wow:

MAYOR OF LONDON Boris Johnson has announced that the capital will have access to 5G mobile connectivity by 2020, allowing Londoners to download a film in less than a second.

Not that I understand nearly completely what that means, and certainly not that I understand nearly completely what that might possibly mean for me.  But, … wow.

I’m guessing that Mayor Boris is doing that old politician trick of standing next to something that looks good, but which he had nothing to do with.  Or is actual politics involved in contriving this seeming miracle?  Is it done with wires?  Do the wires need the Mayor to let his roads be dug up?

Comments will be particularly welcome on this.