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

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Category archive: Technology

Saturday November 22 2014

On the way back from the Royal College of Music to South Kensington tube after that magic Magic Flute, I encountered, for the first time, in Exhibition Road, the phone box that you see to the right.

imageIt is a telephone box, but a telephone box with a difference.  The windows have been replaced by sheets of reflective metal, and the telephone is now outside.  Inside is whatever gubbins is needed to support a cash machine, which is also to be seen on the outside.

The reason I was only seeing this item for the first time is that I usually use the tunnel, but GD2 and her mum, with whom I was walking, prefer to stay above ground.

The classic London phone box, like the double decker bus, refuses to die.  It helps that it can survive, in all its essentials, a sustained period of neglect and it is hard work actually to destroy.  So, the period between the relevant bureaucrats deciding, for their own bureaucrat type reasons, to scrub these phone boxes from the face of the earth and the mere people deciding to revive them was a period that the phone box was able to survive, in numbers.

Next step, make replica phone boxes out of newer materials.  Has that happened already, I wonder?  Yes it has.

I further wonder: Is the the phone box in my photo one of these phoneys?

Sunday November 16 2014

Something a lot of people don’t get about rather small and incremental improvements is that even if they don’t mean anything to you (by which I mean to them) they can definitely mean something to someone, and potentially a great deal, and to quite a lot of someones.  My understanding of economics is that this is one of the most basic ideas embodied in it.  (The notion even has its own intellectual revolution: the Marginal Revolution.)

A price increase of around fifty pence for something costing, say, thirty quid may not seem much, and it may not change your behaviour.  But for some people this will be the proverbial straw that changes a light bulb to parsnips, the difference that makes all the difference.

Consider these slightly new, slightly snazzier trains, that have been announced by Eurostar, to replace their existing trains, next year.  Their front ends, so we are now being told, will look like this:

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The Evening Standard (where I found all these pictures) tells us that these new trains will slash the journey time from London to Paris, but it neglects to reveal by how much.  Google google.  Here we go.  The Daily Mail supplies the answer to this obvious question.  It turns out that the journey time from London to Paris will be “slashed” (their word too) by … fifteen minutes.

But this posting is not (see above) a rant about how little difference this will make to most people.  It is a rant about how much difference it will make to some people.  For some people this fifteen minute reduction will make the difference between being able to go to Paris in the morning, get the job done, and then return to London that same day in time to read a story to a daughter.  Or … not.  Connections just missed will turn into connections just made, and fifteen minutes (doubled for the two journeys) will stretch out into something more like two hours.

Not for most people.  Just for some people.  And when you consider how many people might or might not choose to use Eurostar, depending on considerations like the above, that “some” people turns out to be really quite a lot of people.

In short, fifteen minutes does make a difference.

Or consider another small improvement that these new trains will involve, this time an improvement measured not in minutes but in inches.

Here is how the new trains will look on the inside:

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Now that may not seem very interesting.  But it interests me greatly.  It’s been a while since I travelled on Eurostar, but my abiding memory is of how small and cramped and dreary the interior of the carriage was.  For such a supposedly twenty first century experience, the whole thing had a very twentieth century feel to it, in a bad way.  The above picture immediately makes me think that these new trains will be a significantly more spacious and less soul-destroying experience than the old ones, the old ones that I will still be partaking of when I journey to France and back, just after Christmas.

Judging by this photo ...:

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… it would appear that they have done to the design of the Eurostar what they have also been doing to some of the trains in the London Underground.  These new London tube trains now bulge outwards, over the platforms.  Not by much, but by just a bit, just enough to make a real difference to the inside.

A few days ago, I overheard a conversation between some out-of-towners who were enthusing about the new and wider tube trains that were recently introduced on London’s Circle Line.  They were rhapsodising.  It was like listening to the scripted pseudo-public babbling away on a TV advert, so delighted were these truly regular members of the public about the new train that they and I were travelling on.  And I agree with them.  Whenever a train that I am awaiting emerges from its tunnel and reveals itself to be one of these new and slightly wider trains, my spirits are lifted.

And that was just inside a tube train.  When it comes to Eurostar, we are talking about two hours.  Two hours stuck in a dreary little tube, or in a rather less dreary, rather less constricted sort of tube.  That is quite a difference.  I can easily imagine, when some future decision about a cross-Channel journey presents itself to me, that these extra few inches ("cramped" is all about inches) could be the difference that will be all the difference, to me.  At the very least, I will try to give the new carriages at least one try, when they do finally appear.

Friday November 14 2014

Every so often I toy with the idea of dumping my Feline Friday habit.  But what am I supposed to do with a headline that reads FBI’s most wanted cybercriminal used his cat’s name as a password?  Just ignore it?  Hardly.

And now that I am already doing a cat posting with a hi-tech vibe about it, how about What robots can learn from cats.  One of the things robots can learn from cats, it would seem, is how to land on their feet without doing themselves damage.  My favourite bit of this report is where some computer genius says:

“It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop at the end.”

How very true.

More hi-tech plus cats news: Buy your cat a robot: Mousr acts like real prey.

But as the tsunami of cattery on the www roars out across the planet threatening to drown everyone in feline freak facts, the backlash is getting underway.  Can a wave cause a backlash?  It can now.  What research says about cats: they’re selfish, unfeeling, environmentally harmful creatures.  They don’t love you, they slaughter endangered bird species, and they spread parasites that do your head in.

Finally, here are a couple of pictures I took last Sunday, in a Portobello Road coffee cafe:

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On the left there, Perry de Havilland (Samizdata supremo) shows me a cat picture on his mobile, and on the right, on Michael J’s mobile, no cat connection, but far too good a headline to ignore.

People drone on about how our new toys have replaced real socialising.  But here we observe them spicing up real socialising, by giving us something to chuckle about, while sitting right next to each other.

Also mentioned during our little bit of face-to-face socialising was this epoch-nailing scene.

Thursday November 06 2014

This sounds dramatic:

The area below London’s 737ft landmark ‘Cheese Grater’ skyscraper has been condoned off, after two metre-long steel bolts broke.

Earlier in the week, one bolt slid from the nineteenth of the slanted building in the City of London but remained in place. But another broke off from the fifth floor yesterday and part of it hit the ground.

The word “floor” (after “nineteenth") has presumably slid from that first sentence there.

Let’s hope it’s only a wobble.

The buildings contractor, Laing O’Rourke, and its structural engineers, Arup, have launched an investigation to ensure the building’s remaining bolts are safe.

Arup were the engineers who presided over that wobbly bridge.  That all ended well.  The bridge looks great, and it never now wobbles.  Let’s hope something very similar applies to the Cheesegrater.

A while back I predicted that sooner or later there is going to be a big skyscraper collapse, probably in China.  Wouldn’t want to be proved right about the skyscraper collapse bit, but wrong about the country.

LATER: See also at Dezeen:

In a statement, British Land confirmed that two bolts had broken but said there is “no risk to the structural integrity of the building”.

The answer to the obvious question, but still slightly scary.

Wednesday November 05 2014

Loadshedding, said favourite-blogger-of-mine 6k a few days back, is back, and it makes blogging very difficult.  Is this, I wondered, some sort of psychological affliction?  I dismissed the question as just one of those questions I could perhaps ask someone about, someone like 6k, but couldn’t be bothered to.  Life is full of mysteries, and it looked like, for me, loadshedding would be one of them for ever.

But then came another 6k loadshedding post, this time with a ton of significant looking links, and at that point, I remembered Google.  Google answers questions immediately, if it can at all.

Sure enough:

When there is not enough electricity available to meet the demand from all Eskom customers, it could be necessary to interrupt supply to certain areas. This is called load shedding.

I see.  It’s a South African electricity thing.

Is something like this in my future also?  That’s the kind of question Google is not so good at answering.  All it can do is report on other people asking the question also:

Looking ahead to demand for energy in the UK over the winter, Energy Secretary Ed Davey pledged over the weekend: “There will be no blackouts. Period.”

Period.  The vehemence of that worries me.  It suggests that quite a lot of people are asking the question, and that Mr Davey is starting to get angry about that fact.  And if a lot of people are asking the question, maybe the answer is not as Mr Davey says it is.  See also: “There is no question of …”.  This means that there is, and that someone just asked it.

But, a little bit below the reporting of Mr Davey’s verbiage, comes better news:

Mr Davey’s reassurance comes days after a warning by Professor John Loughhead, of the Royal Academy of Engineering, about the “catastrophic” consequences of a two-day power outage to somewhere like the City of London.

A government science adviser said that power cuts are a bad thing, not that any such cuts are at all likely in the UK this winter.  So, this quote actually works as a rather more reassuring denial of imminent power cuts than Mr Davey’s protestations.

Davey’s position is explained at greater length in this earlier report.  He says that the Tory backbench attack on wind farms could lead to higher energy bills, and I’m sure it could.  After all, if you waste a ton of money on wind farms, you may then get a small amount of energy.  If you then scrap the wind farms you then get even less energy, but you still get the bill for the damn wind farms already built.

If wind farms cost more to keep running than they yield in energy, then scrapping them makes sense, and ought to reduce energy bills.  But, the scrapping of wind farms might be used as an excuse to raise energy bills again, and could in a sense then be described as a cause of energy bills going up, in the sense that it made it easier for people who want energy bills to go up to contrive that.  “Scrapping wind farms could raise energy bills” could be read not as analysis, but more as a threat.

Scary times.

Tuesday November 04 2014

The other day, I forget which one, I worked something out that had been confusing me. Why, given all the fun I get out of photography and given all the time I spend doing it and thinking about it, have I not immersed myself in all the technicalities of photography?  Why is it that the only setting on my camera that I regularly use is the one called “Automatic”?  Why am I no nearer to understanding manual focussing than I was a decade ago?

The answer is that it is the point-and-shoot sort of photography that strikes me as the most interesting sort of photography now happening.  Not in art galleries where the latest black-and-white photos of plague victims or under-age African soldiers are on display, in photos that cost more to buy than paintings and took more trouble to produce.  That is all so twentieth century, and even, actually, nineteenth century.  What counts now, for me, are the photos you can take with your mobile phone camera, or with the jumped-up mobile phone camera that I use, and the sort of photos that regular people are now able to take, of regular stuff rather than of foreign catastrophes that someone will pay them to take art-gallery standard photos of.

In short, I take point-and-shoot pictures because I like to be part of history, and this is where the history of photography now is.  (If you disagree, realise that what you are reading is not an argument.  It is a description of a feeling.)

What I have is called a “bridge” camera, but all that this means is that it is a bog-standard point-and-shoot camera that takes somewhat better photos when you go click, and which has a twiddly screen, and a lens that can go from close-up to mega-zoom without any faffing about with multiple lenses.  I have the best cheap camera that I can get, rather than the cheapest proper camera.  Oh, you can set my camera on manual and go all Real Photographer with it.  But if you want to do that, you should have a proper Real Photographer camera, not a bridge camera, and you should have a rucksack full of lenses, each perfect for each oh-so-carefully-taken shot.  What “bridge” means is the best camera you can have without having to give any thought to “photography”.  Instead, you just think about the picture.  More precisely, you think about what you see and which of the things that you see are the most interesting, and why.

My camera is not really any sort of “bridge”.  Bridge suggests that I am going somewhere with it, somewhere different, as in different from the technical point of view.  But I’m not.  Technically, I am staying right where I am.  If I am getting better at photography, it is because I am getting better at choosing what to point my camera at.

A bridge camera is rather like “crossover” music in that respect.  Crossover music is not for people who are actually doing any crossing over, from one sort of music to any other sort of music.  Crossover music is its own sort of music.  The people who like crossover music (and there’s nothing wrong with that) are people who like crossover music and who will continue to listen to crossover music, with no actual crossing over from any other sort of music to any other sort of music happening at all.

No links, because I thought of this all by myself.

Monday November 03 2014

Indeed:

image image

On the left, an iPad case in Currys PC World inTottenham Court Road, photoed a few days ago.  On the right a table in the street just outside of (and owned by) the pizza restaurant Soho Joe, photoed earlier this evening.

Okay, just these two colour-altered UJ snaps are not that much, but I have others that I have taken by mistake, so to speak, and I think I have now started to collect such UJ snaps on purpose.  A large collection of such snaps, all in a big clump, would really be something, I think.

Monday October 27 2014

Next Friday, October 31st, Christian Michel is giving a talk at my home entitled, somewhat provocatively: “Soviet and Nazi Art as Illustrations of Ayn Rand’s Aesthetics”.  He is certainly not the first to have pointed out the overlap, so to speak.

Here’s what Christian says about his talk (which I “LATER” (Tuesday) realised I need to insert into this posting, near the beginning):

Art does not feature high on the libertarian agenda. One exception is Ayn Rand, who declared that of all human products art is perhaps the most important. She went on to develop her own theory of aesthetics, and even attempted (as did Jean-Paul Sartre at the same time) to deliver her entire philosophy through the sole medium of literature (both failed).

In my talk this Friday I will sum up Rand’s aesthetics, her contribution to the field, and will show that it was nowhere better illustrated in the twentieth century than in the arts of National-Socialist Germany and Soviet Russia. The point is not to denigrate Rand’s philosophy by that association, but to say that genuine artists find a way to convey their deepest values and sense of life, to express the highest human aspirations and struggles, whatever their circumstances, and that’s exactly what Rand celebrated.

And here is something of what I think about these kinds of things.

Just after World War 2, many an artist said things along the lines of: after Auschwitz, we cannot any longer do purely representational art.  (Similar things were said by classical composers: after Auschwitz, we can’t any longer do pretty tunes.) But the artists had been abandoning pictorial representation (and tunefulness) long before Auschwitz happened, so “Auschwitz” has the air of being a rationalisation rather than the real reason for these artistic trends.

The crimes of Soviet Communism never had quite the same effect on most of the artists, even as an excuse for abstraction, although there were honourable exceptions (Mondrian for instance).  Too many artists admired the Soviet Union, especially during and just after World War 2, during its struggle and after victory over Nazi Germany.

Realistic art had also been seriously deranged by photography.  Photography destroyed the economic foundations of your average painter of realistic portraits and realistic paintings of such things as landscapes, and turned art painting into a sort of cultural bombsite, in which (to quote the words of an early twentieth century popular song) “anything goes”, anything, that is, except realistic pictures of people and of things.  Realism, for the average artist, just made him look like a bad photographer.  Even the claim that “art” now had to be an attack on the delusional bourgeois habit of trying to make visual and conceptual sense of the world has the feel, for me, of a rationalisation.

But there is much more to “realism” than mere realism.  What looks at first glance merely realistic is often aspirational, and to abandon the field of representational art to the mid twentieth century totalitarians was surely a propaganda error, to put it no more strongly.  For the likes of Ayn Rand, this was a surrender by the civilised world that should never have happened.

To point out that Rand favoured images that resembled Nazi and Soviet art is not to accuse her of being a Nazi or a Communist.  It is to realise that she did not want the still immensely potent artistic weapon that is representational painting and sculpture to be monopolised by the totalitarians.

All of which is something of how I see (and hear) the kinds of things that Christian Michel will be talking about on Friday.  As to what Christian himself will say, well, we shall see, and hear.

Meanwhile, here is an abundance of visual clues as to the sort of aesthetic territory that Christian will be traversing in his talk.  It will be an illustrated talk.  Here, without identification or further comment, from me or from him, are the illustrations he has sent me, in the order (I assume) in which he will be referring to them.

A few of these images are small enough to fit within the 500 pixel horizontal limit that prevails at this blog, a couple being very small indeed.  But most can be enlarged (a little or quite a lot) with a click:

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Saturday October 25 2014

It’s one thing to see a photo-drone reviewed in DPReview, and costing the best part of a thousand quid.  It’s quite another to see one in the flesh, in a London shop window, on sale for less than four hundred:

image

Photoed by me through the window of Maplin’s in the Strand, late this afternoon. 

Here are the details of this gizmo, at the Maplin’s website.

Okay, that must be a very cheap camera, but even so, this feels to me like a breakthrough moment for this technology, if not exactly now, then Real Soon Now.  Note that you can store the output in real time, on your mobile phone.  Something tells me that this gadget is going to generate some contentious news stories about nightmare neighbours, privacy violations, and who knows what other fights and furores.

What might the paps do with such toys?  And how soon before two of these things crash into each other?

Friday October 24 2014

A few days ago, my beloved Panasonic Lumix FZ150 started misbehaving.  An immobile black blob, the same blob every time, started inserting itself into all the pictures.  Disaster.  I shook the camera to see if it might be a superficial problem like a bit of gunk which further shaking might move to a harmless spot, but the black blob never moved, not by one pixel.  I am sure this could be mended, but I didn’t have time for that, because last night I was about to attend that Libertarian Home cost of living debate, for free, on the clear understanding that I would take lots of photos.

Besides which, I hate not having a camera on me at all times.  Who knows what unimortalisable dramas I might have to endure while being bereft of the ability to photograph them?

So, I immediately went out and bought another camera, from a shop.  I chose the FZ150’s smarter younger brother, the Panasonic Lumix FZ200.  This camera was a bit costly, yes, but, having been around for a while, not as costly as it might have been.  And, it works better than the FZ150 in low light, or so everyone who cares has been saying.  At indoor meetings, for instance.

I had hoped that the FZ200, being so very similar to and merely a bit better than the FZ150, would use an identical battery, which would mean that I would then have two spare batteries for the FZ200, in addition to the one it came with, on account of me having bought a spare for the FZ150 when I bought that.  Alas, not.  The FZ200 has its own somewhat different battery, and that meant I needed yet another spare battery.  Now that SD card space is infinite, it is batteries that are now liable to run out, what with all the snaps you can now put on your infinite SD card.  One battery, for a big event or expedition, is not now enough.

So, I ordered an FZ200 battery via Amazon, and paid extra for it to arrive yesterday, instead of just whenever.

And it did arrive yesterday.  Once again, just as happened with that book that reached me the day before yesterday, the fundamentally important thing got done.  I wanted the book and I got it.  I wanted a new back-up battery, pronto, and I got it.  Good.

An email arrived first thing yesterday morning, saying that the battery would arrive between 11.54 and 12.54, and that I should be in at that time, to sign for the package when I received it.  Excellent. This email was identical in format to the ones telling me about how Macmillan Distribution (MDL) would be delivering the book that they had been promising, but I recognised the email about the battery as genuine, because it had lots of Amazon verbiage at the top of a sort that always signifies genuine Amazon business.  Again, good.  I was all set to write an admiring blog posting about this latest delivery service, the one that delivered the battery, an enterprise called DPD.

Saying when a delivery will be made, to the nearest hour, is a huge step forward, when the receiver is householder in a household rather than an office worker in an office.  An office can have someone present throughout any given day, to receive incoming items and generally communicate with the outside world on behalf of all workers based there, present or absent.  But the idea that a householder should be expected to wait around all day just to sign for one incoming delivery is, frankly, contemptible.  As soon as a delivery person knows approximately when he’ll be arriving, and the chances are he will know this first thing in the morning, that information should be communicated to the householder.  This used not to happen, but with these two delivery enterprises, it did.  As I say, this is a big step in the right direction.

In both of these cases I did get this message.  The book was promised between 8.30 and 9.30, and it arrived then, by which time I just about believed that the book emails were genuine.  This battery was promised between 11.54 and 12.54, and it arrived then, just as I expected it to.

But all this fuss and palaver about timing becomes rather superfluous if all that the delivery person actually does when he arrives is leave the thing, unsigned for, in whatever place near to the householder he considers sufficiently near.  The whole point, as insisted upon in both emails about this, of stating a specified time of arrival, is to make sure that I, the householder, was present in person, to sign for the thing.  But in neither of these two cases was my presence, as it turned out, actually required.  My buzzer, the one outside the front door of all the flats where my flat is, is working fine.  I checked, using a visiting friend to hear it when I myself went downstairs and buzzed.  Yet neither of these two delivery persons deigned to use this buzzer.  They knew the number.  The book deliverer even found his way right to my own personal door.  But, no buzzing.

Let me spell it out.  Both delivery companies told me I had to be there during the hours they each specified.  Failure by me to sign would mean no delivery and further palaver while re-delivery was negotiated.  These proclamations may have been offered in good faith, but they were false.  I did not have to be there.

I got what I wanted.  But if the original supplier wanted proof that I had received the items in the form of my signature, then DPD and MDL, in the form of the two delivery persons, would be unable to supply this proof without faking it.  Were my signatures forged on little electronic devices, I wonder?

In the case of the DPD person, the person who did not even try to get my signature had, according to the DPD email, a name: “Mark”.  I had been anticipating something better from “Mark”. Sadly, not.

The basic problem here, I think, is that the service supply chain is too long and is out of control.  Suppliers of products promise in all sincerity that products will be delivered in exactly the manner they promise.  But the person they are depending on to keep that promise doesn’t care about that promise, or not about all of it.  He knows that, so long as the punter gets his hands on his precious thing, then whether any signing happens is, as far as the punter is concerned, a secondary matter.  Being commanded to be somewhere you didn’t actually need to be is annoying, yes, and this is what happened to me, twice.  But not getting the thing is something else again.  Had one of these items (especially the battery) not arrived when stated, then you can be sure that I would have been complaining.  But complaining as in trying to get my hands on the damn battery, not complaining as in just marking the whole scenario out of ten, after my basic problem (getting the battery) had been entirely solved.

By the way, when I enabled the graphic decoration of one of the Macmillan Deliveries (MDL) emails, the email then proceeded show me a picture of a DPD van.  Either Macmillan are all mixed up with DPD, or else Macmillan stole the DPD email and neglected to expunge DPD from it.  Or something.  I really do not care.

But that’s typical.  Who the hell was I dealing with here?  Who, in the event that either of these items had not turned up at all, would I have had to direct my seriously angry complaints?  As opposed to these mere grumbles about a basically satisfactory state of affairs, underneath all the crap.

When you have a major complaint to aim at one of these complicated supply chains, then you could well be screwed.  It may take you many hours or even days to find out even who to complain to, let alone how to gouge satisfaction out of them.  (Although, to be fair to Amazon, they take responsibility for everything that they do or that anyone unleashed via them does, for and to you, which is all part of why I bought that battery through Amazon rather than by some other cheaper but less dependable means.  (The previous sentence is a short explanation of why Amazon now rules the world.))

But (and to get back to my point before all the brackets), when it comes to lesser complaints, complaints about blemishes on a system that basically works pretty well, well, this is why blogs were invented.  With a blog posting, you can slag off the entire universe.  You don’t have to be bothered with which exact bit of the universe it was that did you wrong.  You can just tell your story.  Then, instead of you begging the universe to correct things, the universe, if any of it cares, has to convince you that there was no problem and to convince you to stop saying it.

In case you are wondering why I have gone on at such length about a basically rather minor problem, the answer is that I am optimistic about problems like this actually being solved.  A business often does a basically good thing, but rather crappily, while they struggle to get it totally organised and running totally smoothly.  People buy whatever it is, but sneer at the crap, because it is crappy and because they can.  The businesses then hears all the sneering and gets it sorted and gets even better.  Compare and contrast: the government.

This is a point I have made here before.  Follow that link, as you now don’t need to, and you will read me deriding a plan to refer to a Big London Thing as the “Safesforce Tower”.  Salesforce is a perfectly decent business, which does whatever it does.  But it had a silly plan to change the name of a Big London Thing from something sensible to something very stupid.  And guess what, what with all the complaints about this plan from me and from multitudes of others, that ridiculous circumstance has now been corrected.  Not in the way I would have liked.  Salesforce has still not been shamed into civility.  But nearby politicians have forced civility down Salesforce’s throat.  And the Heron Tower will not now be officially called the “Salesforce Tower”.

Although, London being London, this tower might now actually be called the Salesforce Tower, unofficially, in perpetuity, as a joke, given that no other joke name now obviously suggests itself for this rather ungainly erection.

By the way, it turned out that one battery sufficed for last night’s meeting.  But, I did not know that this would be the case beforehand, and had I only had one battery I would not have felt free to take as many photographs as I did feel free to take.  With public meetings, it’s a numbers game.  The light is bad and people are constantly moving about, so half your pictures will be rubbish right off, if only because someone was blinking at the time.  The trick is for the other half of your pictures still to be a large enough collection for you to be able to pick out a few truly good ones.  So, the spare battery was useful, even if I didn’t make any actual physical use of it.

I realise that very few readers indeed will have read right to the end of this ridiculously long-winded and repetitious posting.  But, having written it and having posted it, I feel better.

Wednesday October 22 2014

Did the junk mail phenomenon always exist?  Or is it relatively new?  What I have in mind is the way that an entire category of communication becomes broken because it is overused by semi or total crooks shouting rubbish at you, thus overwhelming the actual human persons sending you individually useful messages.  Even real messages just sound like arseholes yelling at you.  The signal-to-noise ratio becomes so stupid that eventually, no genuine signals get through.

A few days ago, I received an email from something called Macmillan Distribution (MDL).  A package was due.  There were various buttons for me to press so that I could track the package, or tell them where else to deliver it, or some such thing.  I immediately assumed that this was an industrialised garbage message, the purpose of which was for me to tell crooks about myself by pressing one of the buttons.  Having received many junk messages just like this in the recent past, I assumed that this one was similarly fraudulent.

I noted that they had my name and address, and this might have supplied me with the clue that this was actually a genuine message about a genuine delivery, from a genuine enterprise, with buttons for me to press which actually did what they said they would do.  But instead, I merely thought: oh dear, now the international conglomeration of bastard junk emailer fraudsters knows my name and address.  Oh well, more crap to delete.

But this morning, the package actually arrived, at a time that the emails had been referring to.  The emails from Macmillan Distribution (MDL) (there were three emails in total) had all been genuine.  It was a book that I had already paid for and wanted to read.  So, good.

The actual delivery was a mess.  Some arsehole just smacked the door of my flat (sounding like when the cleaners vacuum the landings and bang their machines into our doors), and then just stuffed the package through my mail flap (which very luckily was big enough).  No electronic buzzing from outside and downstairs, to get my attention while I slumbered, like a proper delivery.  And how the hell did this arsehole contrive to get through the downstairs front door in the first place?  (We’ve had robberies from people claiming to be delivering things, but actually hoovering up the deliveries of others from our (unlocked and wide open) cubby holes.) So, very unsatisfactory, as home deliveries so often are.  But, the thing itself did arrive, which means the delivery scored one out of one on the one measure that really counts.

And, as I say, those emails were all for real.

No doubt there are various twenty first century, social media like methods that I could have used to track this parcel and its delivery, methods which screen out junk and preserve a benign signal-to-noise ratio.  Maybe, any decade now, I will have to get with the twenty first century and dump email completely.

I vividly recall when having email first became a necessity, when you suddenly started getting dirty looks at parties if you didn’t have it.  And when fax numbers ceased mattering.  (Remember those?)

As of now, regular twenty first century people half my age still seem to do email, or so it says on those little cards they give me.  But how long will this last?

More about package delivering from 6k, here.  “Wumdrop” sounds sort of like Uber, only for things.

Tuesday October 21 2014

There I was, lying in the bath, listening to Radio 3.  Some music had ended, and I was now being subjected to a programme which I do not usually listen to, called Words and Music.  And I heard the actor Jim Broadbent saying these words, by Michel de Montaigne:

I take the first subject that chance offers.  They are all equally good to me.  And I never plan to develop them completely.  For I do not see the whole of anything.  (Nor do those who promise to show it to us.) Of a hundred members and faces that each thing has, I take one, sometimes only to lick it, sometimes to brush the surface, sometimes to pinch it to the bone.  I give it a stab, not as wide, but as deep as I know how.  And most often, I like to take them from some unaccustomed point of view. Scattering a word here, there another, samples separated from their context, dispersed, without a plan and without a promise, I am not bound to make something of them, or to adhere to them myself, without varying when I please, and giving myself up to doubt and uncertainty, and my ruling quality, which is ignorance.

Sounds like a blogger, doesn’t he?  A blogger, that is to say, like me. Especially where he says “without a promise”.  I keep saying that. Above all there is that “this is what it is and if you don’t like it you know just what you can do about it” vibe that so many bloggers give off.  With Montaigne, we are arriving at that first moment in history when writing and publishing new stuff had become easy.  Not as easy as it is when you blog, but a whole lot easier than it had been.

I transcribed the above quote from Broadbent’s reading of it.  The punctuation is somewhat uncertain, and at one point assertively creative on my part.  I added some brackets, around what is clearly a diversion from his main line of thought to which he immediately returns.  It’s a sideswipe at others and it is then forgotten.

Such is the wonder that is the internet that I had little difficulty in tracking down the quote.  It is near the beginning of Montaigne’s essay entitled “Of Democritus and Heraclitus”, in volume three of his essays.

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The BBC used a more recent translation, which I much prefer the sound of, it being less antique and long-winded.  And if Montaigne himself was also antique and long-winded, then I still prefer intelligibility to stylistic accuracy.

LATER: More about Montaigne, also emphasising the modern social media angle, here.

Monday October 20 2014

I sympathise with whoever wrote this:

West Brom can hardly believe their luck. Being denied a win at the death by Manchester United is one thing, but having teased a previously woeful Marouane Fellaini back to life must really does takes the biscuit.

“Must really does takes the biscuit.” I reckon he was choosing between, not two, but three different ways of saying what he was saying, but managed to combine all three.

This is the kind of mistake that can only happen with a computer.  If you were merely writing, or typing with an old school typewriter, there is no way you would have put that.

When I perpetrate something like that, and I frequently do, and if I later spot the mistake, I then allow myself to correct it, no matter how long ago I made the mistake.  Is this wrong?  My blog, my rules.

A subsection of Sod’s Law states that whenever you mention someone else’s mistake in something you say on the www, you will make a similar sort of error yourself.  If I do this in this posting, I will not correct my error, but will add something “LATER”, in which I identify my error.

Computers.  New ways to screw things up.

I attended a talk this evening at Christian Michel’s about robots.  The point was made the robot cars probably will be safer, but every once in a Blue Moon, there will be a truly spectacular disaster, of a sort impossible to perpetrate with old school cars.

Sunday October 19 2014

Here is another way I might get those high up views of London that I am always searching for:

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DPReview review here:

In my own experiences, aerial shoots have proven difficult to pull off. The window of shooting time was limited, the cabin was cramped, and the first time I ever stuck my camera out the window, the lens flew off and I miraculously caught it in mid-air. It was also roughly $250 for an hour.

But within the past couple of years, aerial photographers have been introduced to a burgeoning market rife with little flying machines that don’t require passengers, don’t need fuel to operate, and can fit inside a cubic foot. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the era of user-operated photography drones is upon us, and it’s already kicking into warp speed.

I’m guessing that the technology of it would be beyond me, and the legality of it a minefield.

Friday October 17 2014

Spent this evening (a) continuing to be ill (thanks for the kind comments), (b) reading a book, because (c) Godot was being built, again, in my kitchen.

This is being posted with Dawkins, because Godot is now not working.  For the last fortnight Godot has been working, but not properly.

As for Godot working, properly, up to speed, all bells ringing, all whistles whistling, well, you know the answer to that.

I am still waiting.

LATER, The Guru photos progress:

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Digital photography has, I believe, made a huge contribution not only to fun, but to the economy.  So much of work is keeping track of what work you have done, and digital photography makes this far easier.