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Category archive: Technology

Monday October 24 2016

Or should that be smart batphone?:


He is also holding a weapon, a knifey thingy. somewhat like this.

Photoed by me in Trafalgar Square last Friday.

Keeping things nice and face-recognition-hostile.

Saturday October 22 2016

Well, for some, maybe they are.  But not for many.  Like I said, they’re a business.

Further evidence: University of North Dakota Offers Class on Starting Your Own Drone Business.

Further confirmation.  My TV screen takes a while to warm up, so I often leave it on and just switch off the sound.  And a moment ago, while listening to the radio, I was also watching daytime TV silently selling quite complicated looking drones at giveaway prices.  A lot of money got poured into these things, to sell at around five hundred quid, in the highstreet, to people, to play around with.  But these drones were today on sale for less than fifty.  As individual things to have, they just haven’t caught on.

See also: 3D printers.  Also not toys.

Monday October 17 2016

When you talk about an airplane being blown up, that usually means it has been exploded, destroyed, incinerated.  This airplane, however, has been blown up, yet it looks like this:


Details at 6k.  This posting here is basically a celebration, of the fact that I am now able to get to 6k, copy pictures from 6k, etc.

For the last few days, right up until nearly now, my computer was unable or unwilling to access 6k.  Everything else: okay, but rather clunky.  6K: not.  I checked if this was 6k’s fault by trying to access 6k via my mobile, and that worked.  Ergo, it was me.  Strange, and rather frustrating, because I like 6k.  And now, for some equally bizarre reason, my computer did some sort of internet connection hiccup involving that thing where it says something about a testing process and says you have to check in again, with some password you never knew you had which you can actually ignore by just opening a new window, and once I reopened a new window, everything was suddenly back working properly.  And: 6k returned.

Dodgy connection?  Well, maybe, but I hadn’t touched any of the connections.  Why did this happen?  Don’t know.  And: don’t care, unless it happens again.  Then: it did happen again.  Fiddled about with connections.  TURNED COMPUTER OFF AND TURNED COMPUTER ON AGAIN.  Seems now to work.  Weird.

Also weird is what the Russians are about to be getting up to.  (The airplane above is Russian.) Some things never change.  The Russians are always doing one of two things: pretending to be weaker than they are, or pretending to be stronger than they are.  They seem to be in a stronger than they are phase just now.

Life is full of mysteries.  More so, as you get older.

Saturday October 15 2016

I’ve already given you Rod Green’s Dangereuse.  Here’s another, longer bit from his book about Magna Carta, a bit which he entitled “Boys and Men” (pp. 61-66) I was especially struck by the part near the end, about people who could pronounce Latin words but who didn’t know what they meant.  Sounds horribly familiar:

Not so long ago, it was widely assumed that the concept of “childhood” simply didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. The view was that the kind of life led by a modern child - where good health, play and education experienced as part of a loving family environment is seen as the norm - was in stark contrast to the lives of children 800 years ago, who were treated as a burden to be tolerated until they were old enough to be of some use.

Recent research, however, shows that this may not have been entirely the case. Studies of toys from the period have shown that children were encouraged to play. The toys may have been homemade in many cases, but models of mounted knights made out of metal would have been bought or specially commissioned, showing that some parents cared enough about their children’s play time to lavish gifts on them.

Children do not feature prominently in illustrated manuscripts, paintings or tapestries doing anything more than emulating their parents, but in some cases they can be seen playing games like tag or “king of the castle” and riding on hobby-horses. They were, it seems, encouraged to play and enjoy an active childhood, although their lives were set on a predetermined course at an early age.

In the early thirteenth century, a child surviving the first year of life had a reasonable chance of fighting off disease long enough to acquire the strength needed to survive in the harsh and unhygienic medieval world. In fact, 25 per cent of those born to wealthy parents and up to 50 per cent of those born to the poor did not. A whole host of infectious
diseases for which we now have myriad names would then simply have been classed as “fever” or “food poisoning”.  Life expectancy was only around 30 years, although anyone from the ruling classes who made it, strong and healthy, to the age of 21, might well have had another 40 years to look forward to.  In the fourteenth century, the Black Death was to reduce life expectancy dramatically.

In the days of King John, however, a fit young boy born into a noble family could expect to live in his parents’ grand house or castle until he was about seven years old.  He would then be sent off to live in another castle, most likely in the house of a nobleman a rung or two up the feudal ladder from his own parents, perhaps even in one of the king’s
own residences.

Here he would serve first as a page, running errands and generally waiting on the lords and ladies of the household.  However, he would also learn how a large house functioned and how people interacted with one another, as well as learning about customs and proper manners. He might also be taught how to read and understand Latin and, if it were not already his native tongue, the version of French spoken by the Norman nobility.

A young boy would also learn how to ride and, if he showed promise, he might, when he was around 14 years old, become apprenticed to a knight as a squire. They had to train hard to learn the art of combat, which included lifting heavy stones to build muscle, throwing the javelin, fighting with a quarterstaff, archery, wrestling, acrobatics and sword fighting.  Swordsmanship was taught using a blunted sword and a buckler, a small shield the size of a pot lid. This trained the would-be knight how to parry sword thrusts and how to use his shield as an offensive weapon without the novice having to start off with a full-sized, cumbersome shield. Similarly, the blunted sword was used against heavily padded protective layers, although the dull blade could still inflict painful wounds.

The squire would learn how to clean and prepare the knight’s armour and weapons, although major repairs had to be undertaken by a blacksmith or armourer.  He would also need to help his knight put on his armour, which meant more than simply helping him to dress - the various elements of the heavy steel all had to be strapped into place in the correct sequence to make sure that they overlapped and allowed for movement in the right way.

This, of course, meant that the squire went with his knight to compete in tournaments. He would eventually get the chance to compete in his own right, even before he became a knight, as there were special contests organized solely for squires.

Whether a squire lived in his knight’s house, or whether he lived in a baron’s castle where landless knights also lived as part of the baron’s permanent military force, he would have regular chores to perform, which would include acting as a servant when his masters sat down to eat.  Squires were expected, for example, to learn the correct way to carve meat at the table.

The squire’s apprenticeship would last until he was around 21 years of age, at which point he might expect to be knighted himself. However, he might want to avoid that happening - a squire could be made a knight either by his local lord or by the king, but it wasn’t an honour that everyone could afford. The squire’s family, whom he may have visited only a couple of times a year since he was sent away as a seven-year-old, would have to pay for the costly armour, weapons and warhorse that a knight required, as well as funding any forays he might make to tournaments far and wide. Being a knight could be prohibitively expensive, especially if a second, third or fourth son, who might not inherit any part of his father’s estate when he died (the bulk of property often being bequeathed to the first-born).

Around the beginning of the thirteenth century, there was a growing “middle class” of merchants, tradesmen and professionals, particularly in the new cities and busy ports.  Trade with continental Europe had expanded enormously since the Norman Conquest, although Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurs are known to have traded extensively with partners as far away as Russia. Clauses 41 and 42 of Magna Carta make special mention of such merchants.

The son of a merchant would live an entirely different life from that of a boy born into the nobility. From a very young age, he would learn about the family business, in order to play a full part as soon as he was old enough. A boy might also become apprenticed to another merchant or tradesman, a privilege for which his family would have to pay, and be sent away from home to live with his new master.

Merchants, especially those dealing in foreign trade, had to be able to speak and read Latin, which was the international language of commerce, the legal profession and the Church. The sons of the middle classes learned Latin either through private tuition or at one of the new schools that were beginning to appear.

Merchants donated money to set up schools in the most important trading towns and boys would be sent to school to learn arithmetic and Latin grammar, the institutions becoming known as grammar schools. The schools were allied to a particular trade, making them private schools, although fee-paying schools would later be established that were open to anyone who could pay, such establishments being termed “public” schools.

There would have been few if any books in schools.  These were hugely expensive, hand-written items - the first printed books didn’t begin appearing until the mid-fifteenth century. Boys learned their lessons verbally, repeating their Latin phrases time and time again, and earning themselves a beating if they got anything wrong.

Some might learn mathematics or become proficient in the use of an abacus, but few would continue their formal education beyond a basic level or contemplate attending one of the new universities.

As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford University had been growing in stature since the latter part of the eleventh century and the colleges of Cambridge University can trace their history back to around the same time.

Peasants, still by far and away the largest portion of the population, could not afford to send their sons to school.  A peasant boy was expected to do chores as soon as he was old enough to learn how to feed chickens or help to herd livestock. When he was strong enough, he would help with the back-breaking work in the fields and perhaps spend some time working in the local landowner’s house or castle, if such was required by the terms of his family’s tenure.

The Church played a major role in everyone’s lives and even the most lowly peasants attended church on a regular basis.  However, all services were conducted in Latin, so most people couldn’t understand what was being said - sometimes not even the priest.  Despite being the most educated man in the village, while the priest might be able to pronounce written Latin, the chances are he did not understand it.  For a lucky few, a well-educated priest might teach boys how to read, but even as late as the fourteenth century it has been estimated that 8 out of 10 adults in England were unable even to spell their own names.

Friday October 14 2016

This time last week, it was birds on an aerial.  Today, more birds on another aerial:


It been very aerial here of late.  What with yesterdays aerial videoers, and another aerial on Tuesday.

It’s the bright blobs of light on the TV aerial that gets me putting that here.  Taken in Quimper in June 2008.

TV aerials in France appear to be exactly the same as in England.

As with cranes, what I like is the absolute functionality of aerials.  They are as they are because that does the job best.  Aesthetics has nothing to do with it.  Yet, the result looks, to me, aesthetically most pleasing.  See also: pylons.

Thursday October 13 2016

I recently photoed this van:


What intrigued me about it was its minimalist propaganda message.  “GREY MOTH”.

My original thought was that, in the age of google, you don’t actually need a mass of information to find out all you want to know about an enterprise.  That’s what this posting was going to be about.  (I still remember fondly that van outside the Oval, which just said “VOITH”.  I quickly learned all about VOITH.)

Trouble is, if the name of the enterprise is “GREY MOTH”, and you google “grey moth”, well, in addition to the GREY MOTH enterprise, somewhere in there, you get lots and lots of grey moths.  (If you google “voith”, all you get is VOITH.  A voith is not a regular thing, from which the VOITH enterprise merely took its name.)

Luckily, however, there was a website on the van, front and back.  This website was back to front at the front, ambulance style, but I was still able to decypher it as:, crucially including that all-important hyphen.  Which, as you see, gets us where we need to be.  And it turns out to be a very interesting business.  I was thinking that it would be some dreary fashion enterprise, but not a bit of it.  Turns out, it’s an aerial videoing business, using drones.

I’ve been keeping an eye on drones for a while.  And after initially wondering if I might ever buy one, I eventually concluded: no.  If you get a drone, then you will either have to take it very seriously and learn all about how to do it, and become a full-time droner, mastering not only all the technical problems of drones but also the many legal minefields that droners must walk across (safety and privacy to name but two).  Or: not.  And I decided: not.

Drones, in other words, are not toys.  But, they are a huge business opportunity, both for businesses that can make serious use of them, like farms or pop concert promoters or movie-makers, and for people willing to master drone use for a living and to hire themselves out.  Like Grey-Moth does.

Speaking of minimalist propaganda, those Guys & Dolls Unisex Hair Stylists look like they are ("UYS DOL S") on their last hair curlers, if not already gone.

Wednesday October 12 2016



Click at will, to get bigger, less square pictures.

Displayed in chronological order.  Taken between May 2011 and August 2014.  When I took that last one, of the bikini-wearing bottle openers, that got me collecting all the others.  That last one is definitely the one where the Union Jacks are having the most fun.

Tuesday October 11 2016

A perhaps not very much known about vantage point from which to take photos out over London is from the top of John Lewis, in Oxford Street.  Although, it seems that, as of now, this Roof Garden is closed.  It will be opening again soon.

I went up there last summer, and looking at the photos I took then, I particularly like this one:


That’s the artistic version.

Here is the more informative version:


That makes it a bit clearer what the background is.  But I think that’s also rather artistic.

Big Things: tick.  Cranes: tick.  Roof clutter: tick tick tick.

Big Things plural, because in addition to The Wheel, we can also observe, hiding behind chimneys and crane on the right is the top of the Strata, the three holed tower at the Elephant and Castle.  You can see the Strata in the top picture also, bottom right.

I don’t know what that ecclesiastical looking spike is on the left, and nor do I know what the black jaggedy roof is.

But I like the pictures anyway, whatever the jaggedy roof is.  Maybe, any month now, I’ll go looking for it.  I find that Google Maps, the aerial (hah!) photo version, can be useful for things like this.  Maybe later, although I promise nothing.

I’m becoming rather fond of aerials.

Friday October 07 2016



Photoed at the same time I took this.

LATER: It occurs to me to wonder why all the pigeons are pointing in the same direction.  It’s like they are all watching TV.  It was a windy morning.  Maybe they were all pointing away from the wind.  Or maybe they were all pointing at ninety degrees to me, so that they could keep an eye on me.  Not both eyes, because (guess) that’s not how most bird eyes work.  (Owl eyes, yes.)

Thursday October 06 2016

Yesterday I was reminding myself that we live in an age when pub quiz questions have instant answers.  So when, soon after posting that posting, I came across this photo I took a while back, of a boat, …:


… with the words “THAMES RIB EXPERIENCE” written on it, I set to work to find out what the “RIB” bit means.  I had vaguely supposed that this was some sort of steakhouse sponsorship deal.  The world is now full of ridiculous arrangements of that sort, sponsored by commercial enterprises whose only way to sell more of their stuff is to cause even more people to have heard of it.  The mere merits of the product being irrelevant, for their purposes.  “Yes it’s bad for you but it tastes really nice” not being a message they want to be too publicly and explicitly associated with, because then they’d have the health fascists all over them.

So “Thames Rib Experience” as an exercise is boosting meat consumption?  But which ribs should we be consuming.  Just ribs generally?  The British Rib Council, a combined consortium of ribbers, combining to boost ribs in general?  It didn’t seem very plausible.  So, what does RIB really mean?

It turns out that RIB means rigid inflatable boat.

This is a triviality, of course, unless you are in life-threateningly urgent need of a rigid inflatable boat trip on the Thames.  But the change in the world towards a state where it is much easier to find things out is not trivial.  The story that lots of people mention in this connection, and lots of people are not wrong, is the ease with which a formerly dirt poor farmer now can, in the depths of the African countryside, keep himself informed about the prices he can expect to get for his products, when he takes them to market.

Quicker and better answers to questions is all part of why all this stuff has been happening lately.

Wednesday October 05 2016

I took this photo from the roof of my block of flats this morning, of a brick tower, out beyond Victoria, with a rather startled expression on its face:


What is that?

We now live in a time when questions like that have pretty much immediate answers, and I went looking.

And I was reminded that the internet can be wrong as well as right about things, even about things which ought not to be a matter of opinion.  Which I already knew, but it’s interesting to get caught up in the wrongness, from time to time.

Some have called this tower a shot tower:

A shot tower is a tower designed for the production of shot balls by freefall of molten lead, which is then caught in a water basin. The shot is used for projectiles in firearms.

But more confident and more numerous internet places persuade me that this is actually a pumping station tower.  Or rather, it was.

Apparently, over there in Chelsea, there used to be a canal, the Grosvenor Canal.  Bits of it are still there, but most bits, it would seem, not.

A remaining waterworks building, known as the Western Pumping Station still remains beside the site of the canal and its chimney is something of a landmark in the area. However, the chimney now acts as a ventilation shaft for sewers rather than its original purpose of being the chimney for boilers.

So, never a shot tower.  Once a pumping station tower.  Now a ventilation chimney.

Wednesday September 28 2016

Last year I posted three bits from Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything, here, here and here.

Earlier, in 2014, I posting another bit from a Matt Ridley book, this time from The Rational Optimist.  I entitled that posting Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science.

Here is another Matt Ridley book bit, on this same subject, of how technology leads science.  And it is also from The Evolution of Everything (pp. 135-137):

Technology comes from technology far more often than from science. And science comes from technology too. Of course, science may from time to time return the favour to technology. Biotechnology would not have been possible without the science of molecular biology, for example. But the Baconian model with its one-way flow from science to technology, from philosophy to practice, is nonsense. There’s a much stronger flow the other way: new technologies give academics things to study.

An example: in recent years it has become fashionable to argue that the hydraulic fracturing technology that made the shale-gas revolution possible originated in government-sponsored research, and was handed on a plate to industry. A report by California’s Breakthrough Institute noted that microseismic imaging was developed by the federal Sandia National Laboratory, and ‘proved absolutely essential for drillers to navigate and site their boreholes’, which led Nick Steinsberger, an engineer at Mitchell Energy, to develop the technique called ‘slickwater fracking’.

To find out if this was true, I spoke to one of hydraulic fracturing’s principal pioneers, Chris Wright, whose company Pinnacle Technologies reinvented fracking in the late 1990s in a way that unlocked the vast gas resources in the Barnett shale, in and around Forth Worth, Texas. Utilised by George Mitchell, who was pursuing a long and determined obsession with getting the gas to flow out of the Barnett shale to which he had rights, Pinnacle’s recipe - slick water rather than thick gel, under just the right pressure and with sand to prop open the fractures through multi-stage fracturing - proved revolutionary. It was seeing a presentation by Wright that persuaded Mitchell’s Steinsberger to try slickwater fracking. But where did Pinnacle get the idea? Wright had hired Norm Wapinski from Sandia, a federal laboratory. But who had funded Wapinksi to work on the project at Sandia? The Gas Research Institute, an entirely privately funded gas-industry research coalition, whose money came from a voluntary levy on interstate gas pipelines. So the only federal involvement was to provide a space in which to work. As Wright comments: ‘If I had not hired Norm from Sandia there would have been no government involvement.’ This was just the start. Fracking still took many years and huge sums of money to bring to fruition as a workable technology. Most of that was done by industry. Government laboratories beat a path to Wright’s door once he had begun to crack the problem, offering their services and their public money to his efforts to improve fracking still further, and to study just how fractures propagate in rocks a mile beneath the surface. They climbed on the bandwagon, and got some science to do as a result of the technology developed in industry - as they should. But government was not the wellspring.

As Adam Smith, looking around the factories of eighteenth-century Scotland, reported in The Wealth of Nations: ‘a great part of the machines made use in manufactures ... were originally the inventions of common workmen’, and many improvements had been made ‘by the ingenuity of the makers of the machines’. Smith dismissed universities even as a source of advances in philosophy. I am sorry to say this to my friends in academic ivory towers, whose work I greatly value, but if you think your cogitations are the source of most practical innovation, you are badly mistaken.

Tuesday September 27 2016

Sunday was a good photography day.  After lunching with a friend in the Waterloo area, I made my way, as reported yesterday, to the Tate Modern Extension.  When up at the top of this I took many photos, and some quite good photos.

But none, for me, was better than this, which I spied just before getting into the lift from Floor 10 back to the ground:


I can’t remember exactly when the change happened from plaster casts to … that, but happen it did, and I am impressed.  I’m guessing that one of the many advantages of this system is that you can take it off and put it back on again, to do things like assess progress, or deal with skin discomforts.

I’m further guessing that you can dismantle one of these things, give it a good wash, and then use it again.

More from me on the subject of plastic and its newly devised applications in this at Samizdata earlier today.

Sunday September 25 2016

I love the various visual effects you sometimes get when a piece of reinforced concrete is being destroyed and when it puts up a fight.  I can’t say that it always does this, because you wouldn’t see anything when it is routed into oblivion in the space of a few hours, would you?  But when it does fight for its life, it can be quite a sight.  These effects are particularly worthy of being photographically immortalised because however long the fight lasts, it will still end, and pretty soon.

And, I find that the more I see of 240 Blackfriars, from near and from far, the more I like it.

So, here is today’s photo, taken today:


I took this while on my way from Waterloo to Tate Modern and its Extension viewing gallery, which I am visiting a lot these days, before the Let Them Get Net Curtains row causes the place to be closed or at least severely curtailed.

240 Blackfriars is the work, I have just learned, of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, whom I have now started to learn more about.  I never heard of them until now.

Preliminary findings: I think that 240 Blackfriars will probably turn out to be my favourite of their buildings so far.  And: they make a lot of use of colour, which I favour, but which can often look very tacky and Seventies-ish if you don’t do it right.

Thursday September 22 2016

Continuing with snaps taken ten years ago, in Quimper and nearby spots, the French love their Harley Davidsons.  Here is one:


And moment later, I zeroed in on one of this particular Harley Davidson’s details, a lady wearing a yellow top and blue trousers, listening to music, with evident pleasure:


It’s not the first time I have photoed a Harley Davidson in France.  I still recall this photosession fondly, which happened five years later.