Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Category archive: Technology

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

Tuesday September 20 2016

In September 2006, in other words exactly ten years ago, I was in Quimper, which is in Brittany.  And today, looking for a quota photo, I looked through the photos I took on that expedition.  As it happens, I was blogging only very lightly at the time, and I didn’t get around to posting many of the shots I took on that trip.  Here is one.  There’s another in this.  And that was about it.

So here, now, is another of the photos I did on that trip:

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I chose that one because a blogger with whom I have a mutual enjoyment club, this guy, likes lighthousesQuote:

… I’m a sucker for a photograph which includes a lighthouse, ...

If he clicks on the above shot, he’ll get to just the lighthouses in that shop window picture, a lot bigger.  Sadly, the picture, even in its original and unshrunk size, is a bit blurry and hard to decypher, although I could when I really tried.

So, here is another lighthouse, the smaller of two lighthouses in the seaside town of Bénodet, which is near to Quimper, a shot I took during that same stay:

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Neither of the two Bénodet lighthouses - not this one, which is called “Le Coq”, nor the other bigger one - is in that group portrait of lighthouses at the top of this.  Even the big one is not big enough, I guess.

LATER: 6k responds, with some dramatic detail about the second lighthouse from the left in the poster.  He also explains what the circles mean, which had me puzzled.

Monday September 12 2016

imageI refer honourable readers to the posting I did earlier, about a pink van (miniature version of this pink van on the right there).  And I ask you to note, again, the difficulties that this pink van’s decorators had in making what they had to say fit in with the indentations on the side of the van.  The roller-blading fox has a big kink just under his midriff.  The website information is written in letters too big to fit in the space chosen for it, but they have to be, to be legible.  It all adds to the general air of amateurishness.

But now, let’s see how the professionals deal with similar problems:

image

I was all set to write about how this very “designed” piece of design made all the same mistakes as the pink van, but actually, I don’t think it does.

The thing is, the pink van is decorated in a way that says: this is a flat surface.  Therefore, the fact that, actually, it is not a flat surface is a real problem.

But what the Sky van says is: you are looking through the surface of the van, to this three dimensional wonder-world beyond and within.  Yes, it’s a van, and its outer surface has strange and random rectangular indentations and even stranger horizontal linear interruptions.  That’s because it’s a van.  Vans are like that.  But all these vanly banalities merely happen to be in front of the real picture that we are showing you.

So, for me, this Sky van is a great success.

As for the world it depicts, the show in question is this.  I’ve not seen any of it, but I do recall Karl Pilkington with fondness from that chat show he did with Ricky Gervais, which I seem to recall watching on television, in the early hours of the morning, even though it was supposed to be a “podcast”.  Pilkington himself also remembers this earlier show with fondness, it would seem.

Monday September 05 2016

And in other bridge news …

I earlier linked to a Dezeen report which reported:

The world’s tallest and longest glass bridge opens in China

But now comes this:

World’s tallest and longest glass bridge closes after just two weeks

The more appealing the bridge, the more of a muddle its opening is liable to be, so this is not a particularly terrible thing.  This bridge, for instance, has opening problems because many more people than they expected want to walk upon it:

Thousands flocked to the attraction when it opened on 20 August 2016, but less than two weeks later its popularity has led to its closure.

The bridge is designed to hold up to 800 people and receive up to 8,000 visitors in a day, however demand has far outstripped capacity.

“We’re overwhelmed by the volume of visitors,” a spokesperson from the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon’s marketing department told CNN.

The spokesperson said that 80,000 visitors had attempted to visit the bridge each day, leading to its closure for improvement works on 2 September 2016.

There are no reports of when the attraction will reopen.

Whenever.  There’s nothing as cheap as a hit.  Especially if your target demographic is: China.  And then, when the word gets around, which the above story will hugely help it to: The World.

Saturday September 03 2016

One of the reasons I have such a pathologically enormous CD collection is that I fear the power that music holds over me.  I fear being in the position of wanting to hear something, but not being able to.

This morning, on Radio 3, they played a piece of piano music which I liked a lot, both the piece itself and the playing, but did not recognise.  I thought it was perhaps Mozart, played by Brendel, maybe.  It turned out to be Haydn, played by Pletnev.  I just dug around on the www, and here is Pletnev playing that same piece.  Whether that’s the exact same performance I don’t know, but it is playing right now and it sounds pretty good to me.  The piece is snappily entitled: “Variations in F minor”.  Until now, this was not a piece I had paid any attention to.

But I hit the age of musical addiction combined with the money to feed the habit long before there was any www.  For me, having music at my command doesn’t mean knowing about a link.  It means possessing a shiny plastic circle, in a square plastic case.  So, as soon as I had set the radio to record CD Review, as is my Saturday morning habit, I searched through my CD collection (subsection: Haydn), for that Pletnev performance.  No show.  But Amazon informed me that there is a Pletnev Haydn double album with Haydn piano concertos on disc one and Haydn solo piano music on disc two.  I looked again, in the Haydn subsection (sub-subsection: piano concertos).  Success.  I possess the exact same performance thad was played on the radion this morning.  So now, this music doesn’t control me.  I control it.

The question of who is in charge of music and music-making is actually a big deal, historically.  Beethoven’s career, and then later Wagner’s career, were all about Beethoven, and Wagner, being in charge of their music and of their music-making, rather than their patrons or their audiences.  You can tell this from just listening to their music.  Haydn, on the other hand, predated that era, and was dependent upon aristocratic patronage, and this shows in his music.  He would probably not enjoy reading this blog posting, by this annoying and undeserving control freak from out of the future.  But he would not have made a fuss.  Or such is my understanding of his character.

Or, he might have rejoiced that he could have made recordings of his music, in circumstances completely within his control, and that I could then listen to them in circumstances completely within my control.  For me, this is the best of both worlds, and it would be nice to think that it might have suited him also.

Thursday September 01 2016

In this case police cyclists, photoed by me in Waterloo Road last Tuesday, after I had descended from the top of the Tate Modern Extension:

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I am not showing you this photo for artistic impression, strictly for its content.  At the time I just thought I was photoing police on bikes, which is about as common as police on horses.  But while I took the photo, I heard a voice next to me say something like: “There go the police, ignoring the red lights.” And they were, as is evidenced by the green light telling us pedestrians that we could cross.  At the time I also thought: did I get the green light?  Yes I did.  And I don’t think that the lady on the other side of the road is that impressed either.

Also, the policeman on the right is holding a mobile phone in his right hand, which is the kind of behaviour that the police are cracking down on when anyone else does it.

A few years back, cyclists behaved like the law didn’t apply to them, which presumably it didn’t, in the sense that nobody applied it to them.  Cyclists would grab all the rights and privileges of motorists and of pedestrians, switching from one to the other whenever they felt like it, doing such things as biking past you at speed, on the pavement.  But then, in London anyway, somebody did apply the law to them.  My experience is that cyclists now behave much better than they used to.

But these police cyclists don’t seem to have got that memo.

Wednesday August 31 2016

Yesterday - yesterday morning - I visited the top of the Tate Modern Extension again.  I went in the morning because I needed the light coming from the direction it comes from in the morning, for reasons that I may (although I promise nothing) explain at some future date in some future posting.  Also, the weather forecast forecast a lot of light yesterday.  It was right about this, because it is right about everything.

I took about seven hundred photos, of which I suppose about two hundred or so were each good enough to display here.  But which to show?  And to illustrate what opinion?  So many photos.  So many opinions.

After many minutes of failed deciding, I eventually decided on one almost at random.  This:

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At the centre point of this photo is Centre Point, now kitted out in its revamp costume.  It doesn’t look like that normally, and soon it will (I presume) be back to looking as it always did.

Once again, we observe the Wembley Arch, this time supplying the backup visuals for a crane.

And the other notable sight here is Renzo Piano’s Other London Building, in the form of his multi-coloured office block, right next to Centre Point.  I’ve already mentioned this, here, and here.

I linked from the latter posting to this Evening Standard piece about this building, which includes this:

The material of the coloured walls is glazed ceramic, assembled out of thousands of individual pieces. This material will barely fade and is self-cleaning in the rain, so will look much the same as it does now for decades

Good to know.  This is the kind of thing that Renzo Piano tends to get right.

I also like the little orange box, presumably for getting revamping materials to all the parts of Centre Point that need it.

How soon before Centre Point itself bursts into colour?

Sunday August 28 2016

I’m actually rather surprised that this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often:

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The story is that a lorry with a digger on the back of it drove under a bridge, but the digger hit the bridge and broke half of the bridge off so that it fell on the road below, or to be more exact, onto another lorry, also going under it at the time.  A motorcyclist was nearly killed, but wasn’t.

Cranes helped to clean up the mess:

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One of the scarier things about all this, if I understand what has happened correctly, is that half the bridge is still sticking out over the motorway, and traffic is even now passing underneath it:

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Is that right?  And if that is right, is that .. you know … right?

Thursday August 25 2016

Here:

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So far as I can tell, though, this is not a glass bridge, more a metal bridge with lots of windows in its floor, which I don’t think is the same thing.  But, it’s still a step in the right direction, towards the day when they build a bridge entirely out of glass.

Thursday August 18 2016

My blogging time this evening was totally bent out of shape by – surprise, surprise – a game of cricket.  This went on for longer than I expected, and it seeed and sawed hither and thither.  Sangakkara scored a brilliant hundred.  Jade Dernbach also did important things for Surrey.  And Surrey won.  It was like I was there!

Sangakkara’s brilliance is well explained in this report of the game.  But Dernbach deserves a bit more immortalising than his performance might otherwise get.  First off, he took three top order Northants wickets, including those of Levi and Duckett, both dangerous, for small scores.  And just as in that game in 2015 against Notts, the penultimate over that Dernbach bowled, and the contrast between it and the penultimate over of the Surrey innings, also involving Dernbach, proved crucial.

In the penultimate over of the Northants innings, Dernbach conceded just two runs, after the over before that one had gone for eighteen.  And he got the wicket of his opposite number – the Northants number eleven, Azharullah – with the last ball of that penultimate over, thus ending a troublesome last wicket stand, and denying Kleinveldt one final over of tumultuous hitting, because thanks to Dernbach getting Azharullah there was no final over.  Kleinveldt might have got a century, and Northants might have got three hundred.  As it was, Kleinveldt had to be content with 76, and Northants with 276.

But whereas Northants had scored two off their last two overs, with one wicket left at the beginning of the second last over, Surrey, also with only one wicket standing, found themselves needing twenty four off the last two overs to win the game.  Dernbach was batting alongside Sanga, and thanks in no small part to Dernbach, Surrey did win.  Dernbach scored eight, including a much needed boundary during that penultimate over, and the rest of his runs in singles of the sort that got the strike back to Sanga.  And Sanga did the necessary slogging and won the game for Surrey with an amazing six during the last over and a four off the last ball of the match.  But Dernbach’s support was vital.  He played a few shots and did not get out.

Here is a not very dramatic picture I took of Dernbach at the Oval, at the game I attended last month, just after he had taken three top order Gloucester wickets in that game:

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And here is a rather better picture that I took, during that game in 2015, of a picture someone else took of him, along with the Shard and a crane and a gasometer:

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Perhaps one reason Dernbach played so very well in this evening’s game is that he is now, what with being quite old, a one-day specialist.  If Surrey had lost this game, I’m pretty sure that that would have been the end of his season, because Surrey would have been knocked out of this fifty overs tournament, and have already been knocked out of the twenty overs tournament.

Wednesday August 17 2016

Here are three pictures, on the left below.  On the right below are the pictures that explain the real pictures.  On the left: artistic impression.  On the right: what’s going on that enabled me to photo the artistic impression.

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

Top, in Victoria Street.  I have never noticed this particular effect (left) before, but in the bright sunlight the other day, I did.

In the middle is a way to decorate a wall of windows that I’m not sure I like the look of, except in photos.  On the right there, we see that the building in question is next to The Monument.

The photo on the right, bottom, I took out of a train window, as I journeyed towards the Horniman Museum.  No rotating needed.  Good shot.  Photoing out of a train window works well in bright light, so long as you get no reflections.

Note the big things - Gherkin, Cheesegrater, Walkie-Talkie, lurking behind the blue building, on the left as we look. 

Another example of bright colours in modern architecture, which is a trend I am noticing quite a lot.

As with photo 2, I’m not sure I like the building, but I do like the photo.

Tuesday August 16 2016

I continue to hoover up White Van pictures whenever an interesting one presents itself.  And this one, that I encountered yesterday evening in Victoria Street, is surely a classic of the genre:

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What I enjoy so much about this van is how this enterprise clearly started out in a state of in-your-face honesty.  Yeah, we do lavs.  Our boss is Dave.  Workplaces need lavs.  You got a problem with that?  Everyone needs to piss and/or shit every now and again.

But then, as business expanded, the euphemisms crept in.  Changing the website was too complicated, but the surrounding verbiage got more polite and decorous.  That’s my take, anyway.  Have you ever seen the word “welfare” used like that?  I haven’t.  “Welfare Vans” sounds a bit like something laid on by the Japanese Army during the war, providing you-know-what to the soldiery, and for which they still refuse to apologise to the women thus made use of.

Go to www.davlav.com and it’s all explained:

These self-contained welfare vans offer independent diesel heating, washing, toilet and kitchen/eating facilities. Also included are auxiliary power microwave, hand wash and water boiler. Our welfare vehicles offer superior standards and are completely mobile, providing staff with all the facilities required by current employment law. All parts comply with the new legislation for Whole Vehicle Type Approval.

I might have guessed there’d be government regulations involved.