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 October 07 2015

This light, which is in my bedroom, …:


… is behaving strangely.  Strangely in a way that quite a lot of lights behave, come to think of it.  But it’s still strange.

I refer to the fact that when I switch it on, it never actually comes on.  I have to manhandle it, by reaching up to it with my late uncle’s cricket bat.  I push it around a bit, until it comes on.  Then, it stays on, until I switch it off, with the switch.  When I switch it on again, again with the switch, again, it again never works, and it’s cricket bat time, again.  Every time.

Just now, I switched it on, jiggled it on with the cricket bat, and then switched it off, straight away.  Then switched it on again, again straight away.  Nothing.  Only further jiggling made it work, again.

It would seem that the mere physical position of the bulb and the socket is not the point.  The point is that once a connection is made, it stays made.  But once the connection is broken, it remains broken.  It’s like the electricity is a radio signal that has to be tuned into.  Once tuned in, it stays tuned in.  To tune it in, you have to “point” it in the right direction.  Merely cranking up the electricity doesn’t do it.

And like I say, I think this happens quite a lot, with quite a lot of lights.  What is this about?  Does anyone else have experiences like this?  And whether they do or not, what causes this?  Anyone?

Friday October 02 2015

This posting combines two of my interests, white vans, and the way that glass has made buildings so much more fun:


When I took this picture, I knew a white van was involved, because there it was.  But I only guessed that the glass was being used architecturally.  My guess was right.

White van photoed by me today, underneath the railway out of Waterloo.

Wednesday September 30 2015

Remember this shiny little car.  That one was advertising a golf shop.  Today, in Chelsea, I spotted another shiny little car, but this one wasn’t advertising anything.  It was just shiny:


Even more amazing, to me, was what brand of car this was.  Would you have guessed Aston Martin, if I hadn’t already told you with the title of this?  Yet, an Aston Martin it was:


And since I was basically photographing a mirror, I decided to include myself in the picture.

I now discover that this little car is just a Toyota with an Aston Martin badge on it.  You wouldn’t catch James Bond in one of these.  This being because he, in one, wouldn’t catch anyone else.

Tuesday September 29 2015

Photography is light, and in this rather odd photo the light was coming from behind the object I photoed, making it look … odd:


But there is no way to take this photo again, because just after taking the photo but before looking at the photo, I chopped the object into bits with a bread knife and stuffed the bits into a black plastic rubbish sack.  The point here being that Modern Life is all about getting rid of clutter, an in particular, packaging clutter.

Like so much packaging clutter, this piece of packaging clutter was amazingly beautiful in its making, being of a very elegant, abstract sculptural shape, and made of a sort of cross between polystyrene and sponge of the sort you wash with.  Its structural strength and its ability to look after the piece of electronics it was cushioning, on its journey from China to me, had all been perfectly calculated.  How can you just throw something like this away?  But, you must, or you will drown in such stuff.

The packaging industry has clearly been one of the great growth industries of the late twentieth century.  Remember when you used to buy sweeties or paper clips or screws from a bloke in a brown coat, who would shovel them into a brown paper bag, and decide what to charge you by weighing them with a pair of scales?  Perhaps you don’t because those days are now long gone.  Now shops selling sweeties or paper clips or screws sell them in small packages.  Nobody weighs such things in shops any more.  The little things cost about twenty times as much, per little thing.  The packaging also includes anti-theft devices.  The process of selling is speeded up.

Supermarkets still weigh certain sorts of fruit and veg, but I bet they are working flat out to get rid of the need for that, by regularising the size of individual fruits and veges, and by packaging them in ever more cunning ways, with the price already decided for each package, and with the weighing done way back in the supply chain.  (When they do, I might consider using those shopping robots in supermarkets.)

All of which involves literally tons and tons of packaging.  And a discipline of modern life is knowing that such packaging must be binned, no matter how handy you might think it might come in in the future.

Equally troubling to me is cardboard boxes.  These also have to go, and often that involves chopping them up, so that the bloody bits will fit into bins.  When I say “bloody” bits, I am not just swearing, I am describing.  Recently I cut my hand while doing this.  The cushiony thing above was, on the other hand, very easy to carve into bits, and by its nature did not threaten my hands in the process, the same cannot be said of cardboard.

The ultimate expression, so far, of the urge to package is the shipping container, which has literally transformed the economy of the entire world.  Imagine if everything you bought came inside those and you had to chop those up, until the bits fitted inside bin bags.  I would have died of self-inflicted wounds long ago.

Sunday September 27 2015

How much you learn from something that you just read depends not only on what it says, but on what you knew before you read it.  And for me, this short paragraph cleared up several big blurs in my knowledge of Olden Times:

The new technique of fighting which had won the battle of Hastings for the Normans was also adopted in England; instead of standing or riding and hurling the lance overarm, these new warriors, the knights, charged on horseback with the lance tucked beneath the arm, so that the weight of both horse and rider was behind the blow and the weapon was reusable.  Though it required discipline and training, giving rise to the birth of tournaments and the cult of chivalry, a charge by massed ranks of knights with their lances couched in this way was irresistible.  Anna Comnena, the Byzantine princess who witnessed its devastating effect during the First Crusade, claimed that it could ‘make a hole in the wall of Babylon’.

That’s from the second page (page 8) of the first chapter of Agincourt, by Juliet Barket.

That bit in school history where they explained what a knight was and what knights did and how the knights did it … well, I missed it.  And ever since, everyone talking about such things has assumed that I knew it very clearly, when I didn’t.  It’s so obvious.  How would someone like me not know it?

Oh, I sort of knew it, from having seen a hundred films where film actors did this, in film battles and in film tournaments.  But I had not realised that it was a military innovation like the phalanx or gunpowder or the tank or the airplane or the atom bomb.  I had not properly realised that the essence of Knighthood was collective action rather than mere individual virtue, the point being that it was the former which required the latter.  And I had not realised that it was what won the Battle of Hastings.  Or, even more interestingly, I had not realised that it was what won the First Crusade.  (After which, I’m guessing that the Muslims then copied it.

Medieval society did not give rise to Knights.  The Knights technique of fighting gave rise to Medieval society.

I remember reading Tom Holland’s Millennium, and being presented right at the end with the result of the First Crusade, without there having been any mention (that I recall) of how a European military innovation was what won it.  (That doesn’t mean Holland does not mention this, merely that I don’t remember him mentioning it.)

So, at the heart of the European years between Hastings (1066) and Agincourt (1415 (when I now suppose the Knights to have met their nemesis in the form of the next big military innovation, the Archers (hence the picture on the front of Agincourt))) was a technique of fighting.  Like I say, I sort of knew this, but have never before isolated this fact in my head, as a Big Fact.  Instead, I have spent my whole life being rather confused about this Big Fact, reading a thousand things where the Big Fact was assumed, but never actually explained.

Why did I not correct this confusion decades ago?  Because, not knowing it properly, I had not realised what a huge confusion it was.

Sunday September 20 2015

After my recent bout of picture archive trawling, I am convinced of two things.

First, that my pictures have got better and better.  I only now show you the best ones from a decade ago, but most of those taken then were pretty terrible.

Second, that much of the reason for this is that my cameras have got better and better.  I have got better too, but the cameras can do far more now, for the same money than they used to do.  (For another example of this, see a recent 6k posting, with a picture that features a bug (which means that the bug is a feature but still a bug (heh)).)

This recent picture of mine, for instance, would not have come out nearly so well a decade ago:


Photography is light.

For a chilling description of all the various creepy organisations who are or who have been based in this creepy building – political parties, regulators, the UN, even the World Bank - I recommend reading the Millbank Tower wikipedia entry, and going to Occupants.  My photo works perfectly for all that.  I think it looks rather like one of those hyper-realistic oil paintings that the hyper-realist oil painters paint.

Notice how all Millbank Tower photos at Wikipedia are taken from close-up and below, thereby rendering the classic (but creepy) Millbank Tower roof clutter invisible.

Friday September 18 2015

Here he is in action:


That is one of these cat pictures, and the photographer is Walter Chandoha:

Chandoha might be considered the forefather of the Internet’s now-ubiquitous cat photo; and while digital cameras and smartphones have certainly made it easier for people to document their feline friends, as Chandoha sees it, “All of this technology would be for naught if cats were not the sweet, lovable companions they are, and who are held in higher esteem today than those in ancient Egypt when they were worshipped as gods.”

“All of this technology” really has made it a whole lot easier to photo cats, though.  That’s a big part of the cats on the internet thing.  When cats do their funniest stuff, they tend to be moving about a lot, and now, that can all be captured.

Thursday September 17 2015

Today I had a nice surprise.  I was out shopping, and saw a taxi with an advert on it that I’d not seen before, which I photoed it.  But when I got home I discovered that my camera didn’t have its SD card in.

However, being a clever little camera it had stored the pictures up in its own built-in memory, and I went looking for this by attaching my camera direct to my computer with a wire.  Success.  I found the picture of the taxi and its advert.

And, I also found this photo inside the camera, which I had totally forgotten about, and which had been there since June 25th:


Now that’s what I call a headline.  Here‘s the story.

This is one of the things I really like about digital photography.  There are hundreds of things you see that are a laugh, and which you would like to be able to remember and have another laugh about later.  But they aren’t worth buying, just for that second laugh.  But, they are worth photoing.

Also, today, I saw a headline about how naughty persons have been using drones to get drugs into prisons.  But I failed to photo this headline.  I was inside Sainsbury’s, and if I had got my camera out, it might have caused a scene.

I think it must have been this story.  I’ve been saying here for ages that drones were going to be trouble, as well as fun.  Here is another example of drones being both fun, and incurring the wrath of our rulers, that being a story about a man taking aerial photos of things that didn’t want to be photoed.

Tuesday September 15 2015

It’s been a very bad last few days here at BMdotcom.  First there was the domain name fiasco, and then last night and into this morning there was another interruption, caused by a power cut in a totally different part of London to me, which was in its turn caused by all that rain we had recently.  And then the interruption was prolonged by the mishandling of this power cut by my rather creeky and out-of-date version of Expression Engine.  The two events were unrelated.  I think there’s a Macbeth quote that deals with this kind of thing.  One of those plays about a king for whom things are starting to go badly wrong.  But rest assured that there is no sign that BMdotcom is about to be dethroned permanently.

So anyway, here is one of those photo-postings made quick and easy by my “I just like them!” directory.

I just like this, taken in 2007:


And I just like this, taken a month ago:


That second one was already edited and ready to post, with its new name, but I don’t believe I ever got around to actually displaying it.  If I did, well, take another look.

I do not promise more substantial stuff tomorrow, but I do hope for it.

Thursday September 10 2015

This blog is suffering from problems caused by me failing to re-register my domain name.  This has now been done, and it should all be up and running Real Soon Now.  But apparently it can take time for people to re-connect to here.  Glad you have succeeded.  (Because you can’t be reading this if you haven’t succeeded.) It was all I could do to get through to my blog myself, and post this, because my regular method is still not working.

Anyway, here are some random photos, just to be sure that I can also post a photo:


On the left there is a close-up photo I took in France, of part of The Internet.  Not all of The Internet; that would be crazy.  Just a bit of it.  No wonder the bloody thing keeps breaking down.  And on the right, the instructions for The Internet.  Although, to be fair, these pictures were taken nine years ago, so things may have improved a bit since then.  Now, for instance, it can’t any longer be: “A VOS BLOGS!”, but instead: “A TWITTER”, or Tweet Air as they presumably call it over there.

No links to anything else in this, because I am now only getting to my own website, but not to anywhere else.  And if you understand that, then maybe you can explain it to me.  Don’t try emailing me until I tell you you can, because I can’t receive them yet either.

Wednesday September 09 2015


It’s been a week since I clocked this glorious contraption, via Instapundit, I think (yes).  But I want to make sure none of my readers miss such a thing, before I also forget about it:


Picture from here, and the title of my posting from here.

The Telegraph says if it’s manned it can’t be a drone.  Whatever.

Tuesday September 01 2015

I believe I may have said here recently that I did not care for selfies, although I cannot find where I said this.  But whether I said this or not, it is not entirely true.  There is a kind of selfie that I do like, which is when I am photoing some scene or other, and I am able to sneak a selfie into it, in a small part of the picture.

Partly this is because my understanding is that Real Photographers go to enormous trouble to avoid such selfie effects.  As with PR experts, if the Photographer is the story, or any part of the story, then he isn’t telling the story right.  The Real Photographer is not doing his job, which is to create a photo of whatever he is photoing, not of him, the Real Photographer, photoing it.  The Real Photographer is supposed to be invisible.

Well, fair enough, business is business.  But I am not in business.  I am wandering about, having fun.  If I show up in one of my photos, that’s fine, because that was what was going on in front of my camera.  There was this mirror or this window or this shiny windscreen or whatever, and my face bounced back to my camera off of it.  It happens, and it’s all part of how cameras work and what can happen with them.

Besides which, more fundamentally, I am not trying to persuade you that you were or are actually there.  No.  This is a photo. Photos are different from what you actually see if you are there, that being a great deal of the point of them, and a great deal of the fun of them.  Cameras see and tell you about things that you might very well have missed, if you had merely been there, just as I do constantly miss stuff when I was there taking the photo, and only see later.  It’s not reality.  It’s a photo. Which means that someone stood there, with a camera, and took that photo.  And, sometimes, the camera sees that.  Why is that wrong?

All of which is a preamble-stroke-excuse for the following selfie:


I am the bloke in the light green shirt and the dark jacket, reflected in the bus window, underneath the “38” of “38 Victoria”.

Now, I approach my original point, the point referred to in the title of this.  To me, it doesn’t look as if I am standing where I obviously had to be standing.  No, it looks like the bloke in the light green shirt can’t be me, because the bus, all of it, and especially the bit with the reflection of the green shirt bloke, is a bit to my right.  Ergo, green shirt bloke had to have been standing a minimum of about three yards to the right of me, me being the bloke who took the picture.  But, despite all appearances to the contrary, me and green shirt bloke are one and the same.

I presume that this odd effect is the consequence of the lens (there is only one) in my camera being of the very wide angle sort.  This means that the camera takes a very wide view, but then makes the result look not so wide.  Everything that would be seen by the eye as being way off to the side is squeezed into the picture.  And things on the far left, to the left of the photographer at the time, are squeezed into looking as if they were on his right, in the picture.

I don’t think I’d have been able to see this nearly so vividly if this picture had not been, among other things, a selfie.  On the other hand, it was not a selfie in the sense that I deliberately included myself in the picture.  I am pretty sure that just happened, without me trying.

At the time, all I thought I was photoing was a bus, covered in a popcorn advert.

Friday August 28 2015

Incoming photo (which is something I like a lot), from Simon Gibbs, of a sign (I like signs a lot), near Southwark Cathedral:


Click on that to get the bigger, unhorizontalised picture, and read more about what this is about here.  Google sends me regular links to anything that is “new architecture london”, and there’s been lots written about this place.

Although, rather oddly, I couldn’t find any pictures of this sign.  Maybe this will change that.

The gimmick is that this is a pub that sprays alcohol into the air.  That was always going to be catnip to the media, social and regular.  “Breathe responsibly”.  Arf, arf. There are already plenty of pictures around of that sign.

I like statues, by which I mean that I like the statues that I like.  Statues that I like don’t read where it says on my blog that I like them, and then say things like “But you never visit”, when I visit.  They don’t say things like: “So, now that you are visiting quite often, what is this?  Where is this relationship going?” In decades and centuries to come, maybe statues will behave in exactly this sort of troublesome way, but for now, they don’t.  They just stand there.

And, they stand there immobile, which as a rather crap photographer, technically speaking, I greatly appreciate.

Here is a recent London statue that I now like:


That’s also another in my ongoing series of Great Photos Taken Rather Badly, which you, oh Real Photographer, can now go and take better.  Big Ben won’t have moved.  Nor will the legs of the recently unveiled statue of Mahatma Gandhi.  Today, as I write this, looks like being a lot sunnier than it has been in London for quite a while.

(New Gandhi statue unveiled in “London’s Parliament Square”.  Interesting how hitherto national organs now aim themselves at the whole world.  The media they are a-changing.)

I only recently noticed this Gandhi statue.  For decades Parliament Square had no Gandhi statue.  Then, it had one. 

Not that Gandhi as he was was anything like what he is now cracked up to be.  (Thank you Instapundit.)

Thursday August 27 2015

This combines two interests of mine, the use of containers to make buildings, and the use of colour, to make buildings look more colourful:


It a proposal for a bunch of skyscrapers in MumbaiFrank Gehry‘s influence is starting to spread.

But is it serious?  It shouldn’t be.  Making a skyscraper by piling containers on top of each other makes no sense, because the ones at the bottom have to be able to support the ones at the top.  And the ones at the top have to be very light.  The idea of having all the containers of the same structural strength and hence the same weight is foolishness containerised.  The ones at the top will be far too heavy for what they are doing and the ones at the bottom will be squashed flat.

And if you are not piling containers on top of each other, but are merely slotting them into an already constructed structure, then here’s a plan.  Why not save bother by not using big, heavy, lumpy old containers.  The simple fact is, containers are only useful for making regular old buildings of the sort of height that buildings used to be before they invented mechanical lifts and structural steel (even though containers are themselves made of structural steel) and reinforced concrete.

Besides which, it surely only makes sense to make a building out of containers if you can get some leftover containers on the cheap.  There’s no way they could get that many containers by just waiting for them to fall off a container ship.