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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

Tuesday June 21 2016

As I write, this game is boiling up nicely, following an England collapse at the start of their run chase.  And then, in the midst of all the drama, there was this:

Ilanks: “Isn’t there a Ben Foakes being discussed as a potential keeper for England. If he’s selected, England could have Stokes, Woakes and Foakes in the line-up!” Yes indeed. And wouldn’t that be A Thing?

A Thing indeed.  And if Chris Woakes was instead Ben Woakes, it would be Ben Stokes, Ben Woakes and Ben Foakes.  An even thingier Thing.

Today Surrey had one of their best days of the season so far, given what a crappy season they’ve had so far.  At the start of today, in their game against Notts at the Oval, Notts were 82-2, in reply to Surrey’s 323, following a very rainy day two.  But this morning, Notts rolled over for only another hundred, and Surrey (who threw away a similar big first innings advantage in an earlier game) then built a big lead.  If Surrey can do tomorrow what they did this morning, they could get their first win of the season.

I am becoming more and more of a Real Cricket Supporter, in the following sense: that my county doing well matters more to me than my country doing well.  I would not have swapped Surrey’s strong position for a better England position earlier this evening, against Sri Lanka.  I would still prefer a Surrey win tomorrow to an England win this evening.  Although, now I think about it, an England loss would be easily corrected by a win next time, but a Surrey win would be far huger for Surrey.  It could, as they say, kick start their season.  So maybe I just prefer a huge win to a nice win.  That could be it.

Ben Foakes, by the way, is the Surrey wicketkeeper.  I knew you’d be excited.  Plus, I heard indefatigable Surrey radio commentator Mark Church say yesterday that the best spin bowler in England just now, if England want a good one for their forthcoming tour of India, is Surrey’s veteran captain Gareth Batty.  Batty’s bowling today: 11.4 overs, 3 maidens, 23 runs, 4 wickets.  I know, I know, it’s almost too much excitement to take, in just one paragraph of one blog posting.  You’d best have a little lie down.

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That guy was photoed last Sunday, watching day one of the Surrey Notts game.  I really should, every now and again, visit the Oval and support Surrey in person, having paid some money.  It looks like I should just about be able to squeeze in.

LATER: Well.  I just nipped out to Sainsburys for a loaf of my favourite sort of bread, and while there I consulted Cricinfo on my mobile, one of the few things that my mobile (as controlled by me) knows how to do non-contemptibly.  (Don’t get me started on phone calls.) It revealed that England needed seven runs to win with one ball to go.  So, that, I assumed, was that.  But when I got home, I learned that Plunkett had hit the last ball for six, and it was a tie!  As you will already know, if you followed the first of the above two Cricinfo links.  Fan electronic bleeping noise tastic.

A DAY LATER: Well, well.  Yesterday morning, Notts went from two down to all out, for a further hundred runs.  This afternoon they went from two down to all out, for less than fifty, and Surrey got their first Championship Division One win of the season.  (Follow the second link above for the details.) Finally.  This time, it was the Surrey spinner whom England are likely to take to India (because he has a big future (unlike Batty)), Zafar Ansari, who did the damage.  11.3 overs, 3 maidens, 36 runs, 6 wickets.  Notts lost their last eight wickets for thirty eight, and crucially, went from 119-2 to 124-6, courtesy entirely of Ansari.  Ansari can also bat.  Moeen Ali look out, he’s coming for you.  Ansari would already be an England player, had he not bust his finger thumb at the end of last season.

LATER: Cricinfo agrees.

Sunday June 19 2016

Here is a photo taken by a friend with her mobile, of a construction site in New York, complete with cranes:

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I love it when friends send me snaps of things they know I will like.

I am particularly glad to see New York construction cranes in action.  After doing that posting about how there has been no construction in the southern end of Manhattan, mentioning absence of cranes as evidence of no construction, I started to wonder if, in New York, they do things differently.  I wondered if they built skyscrapers without using cranes, but just lifting all the stuff up the building, as they built it.  Or something.  But of course they use cranes in New York, same as everywhere else.

Just to be quite sure about that, I googled “construction cranes new york”.  And I was greeted with scenes of crane carnage like you would not believe.

Apparently cranes in New York occasionally fall over, and this is the one time when the average person is interested in them.  As a result, the average person has a totally distorted idea of the positive contribution made by construction cranes to modern society.

Monday June 13 2016

Indeed.  Just after snapping that WWWhite Van (see below) in Lower Marsh, on Saturday, I then photoed, in the same road a bit further on with a new name (The Cut) another means of transport of interest, in the form of this:

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I have not seen an electric car being charged before, in the flesh, as it were.  Not in London, not anywhere else.  As you can see, this electric car originated in Brighton, the San Francisco of England.

I am sure all my libertarian friends would want to tell me that such cars only exist because of Big Green Blob giving them Money, and that in a real market, they would not exist.

Sunday June 12 2016

Photoed by me yesterday, in Lower Marsh:

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How soon before you will be able to take a smartphone photo of such a vehicle, and then, on your screen, press on the Twitter or Facebook squares, or on the website, and get there.  Presumably, with that squiggly square, you can already do something like this.

That would certainly be an “intelligent advertising” improvement on what I have heard threats of, which is that adverts will change when they see you coming, to something they believe you are interested in.  But I don’t believe that will happen any time soon, because how would you stop other people seeing what the advert thinks you are interested in?  Leaving it up to you to investigate further, if you want to, will be much more civilised.

Saturday June 11 2016

To you, yes, I hope that you had one, but actually what I’m saying is: I did.

England came belting back against Sri Lanka at Lords.  After sampling the London weather last night, I had a feeling that might happen.  It was not bright and sunny, more overcast and sweaty.  It felt like swing bowler weather, which made SL’s reply yesterday afternoon (to England’s 416) of 162-1 rather strange.  Dropped catches apparently.  Well, this morning, order was restored and SL are now 218-6.  Woakes, luckless yesterday, got a wicket with his first ball.  England now look likely winners of that series 3-0.  The longer the series goes on, and the more the Lankans get acclimatised (following seriously inadequate practising games), the more it counts beating them.  The first game, where SL collapsed twice, meant nothing, I reckon.  I’ve been following the score here.

Deep thanks to Michael Vaughan, who mentioned on one of the bits of cricket commentary I listened to that England were also playing Australia.  At rugby.  Aus 28 Eng 39.  Must have been some game, and according to the BBC live updates, it was.

And before all that, I even managed a quick (they’re often the best) Samizdata posting, about something odd I heard on the radio, about the EU.

Here is one of the funner pictures I took while out and about last night, this one taken at the Parliament end of Whitehall:

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Great reflections in her sunglasses, right?  On the left, as we look, the two devices she is holding, and on the right, you can just see a tiny Big Ben.  Is that red thing she is holding a charger?

Plus an elephant.

The onward march of mobile phones into photography continues apace.

I haven’t always been blogging here as early as I’d like to in recent days, but today, I did it.

If you had as good a morning as I did, lucky you.

Friday June 10 2016

As I understand it, the big reason why miniature helicopters work is because modern computer magic can control all the propellers and stop them crashing.  Proper big helicopter piloting is notoriously skilful.  Now, a tiny little robot can fly a tiny little helicopter, all by itself.  But, first generation consumer drones are going to look very foolish to later drone-flaunters, because so big, and because they are just so clunky and dangerous.

This looks much more of a serious prospect, especially for indoors:

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If that does an Enrique Iglesias to you, it will do you far less damage and do itself far less damage, not least because humans are less liable to beat it to death after it attacks them.

Regular commenter here Michael Jennings is fond of enthusing about the miraculous advances in materials technology we’ve been having lately.  I bet this gizmo is a fine example, especially those propeller covers.  If they’re too heavy, they sink (literally) the entire idea.

I wonder how noisy it is.

Not very, if this quicky engadget youtube review is anything to go by:

You wait a decade for videos at BMdotcom, and now two come along at once.

LATER: 6k drone blues.  Maybe cancel “Lily”, and get the above?

Friday June 03 2016

Here is a picture of the Lower Manhattan end of New York, the bit with the tallest skyscrapers, topped off in 2001 by the Twin Towers:

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And here is another picture of the exact same scene, taken fifteen years later in 2016, this time topped off with the single replacement tower for the Twin Towers:

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The guy who took these pictures was interested in which photograph is photographically superior.  The first one was taken with old-school film and the second is digital.

To me the two pictures look nearly identical.  Their technical identicality does not interest me.  But their architectural identicality, aside from the Twin Towers alteration, is something that I find fascinating.

Skyscrapers have exploded all over the world in the last decade and a half.  New York is one of the world’s great cities.  And yet, here are two photos of New York taken at opposite ends of the last fifteen years, and aside from the rather dramatic change imposed upon the place by terrorism, nothing at all seems to have changed.

Things were not changing in 2001 and they aren’t changing now.  Consider the cranes in these pictures.  Basically, barring a few microsopically invisible ones, there are no cranes.

I don’t know why this is, but it strikes me as an extremely remarkable circumstance.

It’s not that you aren’t allowed to build towers in New York any longer, unless you are replacing something like the Twin Towers.  In the part of New York a bit further to the north, just to the south of Central Park, there is an explosion of skyscrapers under way.  Skyscrapers that are very tall, but very thin.

Here is a picture of how these new New York Thin Things look like they will look:

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People have long feared that skyscrapers would make all big cities the world over look alike.  But the shape of individual skyscrapers varies from city to city, and does the shape of skyscraper clusters as a whole, and as does the variations in the heights of buildings.  A city where the newest and tallest towers are a lot taller than the older buildings is one sort of city.  A city where new towers are only slightly taller than old ones looks very different.

New York’s newest towers are, as I say, these tall Thin Things, a lot taller than their surroundings.  In London, the typical new tower is a much fatter looking Thing, the extreme recent case being the Walkie Talkie which is big on the ground compared to its height, and which then bulges outwards as it goes upwards.

Interestingly, the Walkie Talkie is the work of Rafael Vinoly, as is this new Thin Thing in New York.  (You can just see the top of this new Thin Thing in the second of the two Lower Manhattan photos above, bottom left, in the foreground.  That’s the one big change in these photos aside from the Twin Towers having been replaced.) It’s like Vinoly wants to do his bit to make great cities look distinct and recognisable, rather than them all looking the same.  Good for him.

Tuesday May 31 2016

Yes, quota photo time.  I have spent the day doing ... other things, and am in that familiar tizz of having to shove up any old thing before going to bed.  So here is another snap, to add to the one I earlier showed of all those bridges, of that model of the City of London, in the City of London, which I visited last Saturday:

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The point of this picture being that it doesn’t just show what is there now.  It shows what it is intended will soon be built.

The biggest of those Big Things there is, I presume, this.

Isn’t it terrible how horrible modern skyscrapers are ruining the view of the Gherkin.

Saturday May 28 2016

I was very proud of this photo of seven London bridges ...:

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… when I first posted it here.

Today I took another photo of these same seven bridges:

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I said I’d check this model of the City of London out, and today I did.

I wish this model included Westminster as well as the City, but it’s a model of the City.

Thursday May 26 2016

One of my regular automatic google-searches is “face recognition”, and just now this has been alerting me to all the various tricks that are coming on stream for making face recognition not work, by putting on make-up, or spectacles, and such like.

Here is my contribution to this discussion:

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I know what you’re thinking.  Who might that be?

Exactly.  Although, if you’re are supercomputer, you have probably worked it out.  You have a special programme which tells you to take particular interest in any faces that are trying to not be recognised.

Most of my libertarian friends think that such tech solutions are the front line of this battle.  I have long assumed that the world is moving rapidly towards a state where the question of what is X doing at the moment is technologically answerable, and impossible to prevent being answered.  For me, among other desirable things, libertarianism is the claim that although we can see X saying or doing something we don’t approve of, we shouldn’t legally prevent him or her from doing that, unless it is really, really bad.

In a world of Total Surveillance by the Big Machine, the proliferation of stupid rules and regulations with no huge moral content becomes a problem like it never used to be.  I means rules about things like what you should eat or smoke or, now, say in conversation.  Rules like that mean that we can all now be seen and heard breaking such rules.  (Okay, maybe not now, maybe not yet, but that’s where things are headed.) And that means that anyone who wants to fuck up your life or my life (for an actual real reason that has bugger all to do with the stupid rule actually being broken) can then do it.  Worse, some legislative maniac might demand that anyone that the Big Machine sees breaking this or that rule that he personally is obsessed about, should be automatically fucked over, by the Big Machine, with no human intervention involved.  With a big long list of exceptions, like legislators.  The Big Machine can’t touch them.  Libertarianism has arisen, partly, because it has become ever more necessary to insist on certain principles, principles which were imposed upon the world in former times by sheer ignorance of what other people were getting up to.

The other thing people have to do is develop thicker skins, psychologically speaking I mean, because although legislative pressure is not now a problem for most people, social pressure can become a big problem, for example if you find yourself being mobbed on the internet for some innocuous thing you said or ate.  Just because a million idiots on the internet are screeching that you are an idiot, that doesn’t mean you are, or that if you are, it matters.  When it does matter, bosses should chill, and not fire people just because the mob is screeching.  I applaud, tentatively, the recent tendency to give social media mobsters a going-over, using the same methods on them that they have been using.  Who is this mad bitch?  What has she (it does often seem to be she) been up to lately?  What is her job?  Who is her boss?  Etc.  (In the age of cyber-bullying, I feel that I now understand witchcraft crazes better.)

Another problem is that as something easily mistaken for a state of everyone knowing everything increasingly pertains, that old illusion that everything will accordingly be centrally plannable is likely to keep rearing its very ugly head, and keep on having to be experienced as a disastrous illusion.  (More libertarianism.) The point is, everyone doesn’t know everything.  Nothing like.  We can’t.  Our heads aren’t big enough, and even if they were, knowledge is not like that.  Everyone can known anything in particular that is easy to know (like where X is just now) that they want to know and ask the Big Machine about.  That’s entirely different from actual omniscience.

Wednesday May 25 2016

I already showed you some Narbonne bridges, snapped during my France expedition.  Here are more bridges.

Are these first lot of bridges really bridges, or are they just buildings with holes in the bottom of them to let people through?  I reckon these make the cut, but once the buildings start really piling up on top of the holes …?:

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I’m doing these bridge photos in sets of three, and next is a clutch of photos of a set of three bridges that connect the town of Ceret to the other side of the local river.  Picasso spent time in Ceret, because of the light.  (I also photoed Renault Picassos.)

The regular shot of these bridges is from below, as you can see if you click on the second of these photos.  But I was with people who were in a hurry, so I only got to photo the bridges from the other bridges, or in one case, the shadow of a bridge, from the bridge.  And oh look, photographers!:

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In the first of these next three bridge photos, there are three more bridges, by my count.  They’re in the seaside town of Collioure.  The other two are in Perpignan, where, just like in Quimper (where I have also visited these same friends (G(od)D(aughter)2’s family) – they have houses all over the place), there is a river flowing through the middle of the town with multiple bridges over it.

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Finally, here are some rather more modern bridges.  First there is one of the main motorway from France to Spain, which carries a lot of lorries.

The motorways of Europe may, I surmise, be the place on earth where robot drivers have their first seriously big impact.  Robot cars are too complicated, and to start with, what will be the point of them?  But robot lorries will be able to travel a lot faster than regular lorries, for a lot longer than regular lorries, on roads that are the most controlled and predictable roads in existence.  European motorways carry colossal amounts of freight, unlike in the USA, where a lot freight goes by train, Europe’s railways being full of passenger trains.  And there’s nothing like a sight of this particular motorway, handily shown off by being placed on the side of a mountain in full view of the local and non-charged version of the same road, to see all this.

In the middle below is a hastily snapped shot from a bridge as we drove over it, over a newly constructed high speed passenger railway, again connecting France to Spain.  Brand new railways lines have a certain pristine charm, I think, with the gravel under the tracks yet to be blackened by constant use.

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Finally, we have what may well be my favourite South of France bridge photo of them all, on the right there.  This is one of those unselfconsciously functional footbridges, which more and more abound in towns and cities (London has many such bridges), and which join work spaces off the ground to other work spaces off the ground.  This particular footbridge is in Perpignan.

Quite why such bridges, which have long been around, are now proliferating is an interesting question.  Maybe it is just that organisations are getting bigger, and demand bigger buildings, and connecting two buildings by a footbridge of this sort turns two buildings into one building, at any rate for certain purposes.  If two bureaucracies that live across the road from each other merge, then a bridge joining the top floors together is the logical first managerial step.  This allows the new bosses to commune with one another, without having to trundle up and down and across the road all day long, rubbing their shoulders with the unclean shoulders of their underlings.  Lower footbridges bridges enable functional specialisation to proliferate among lesser personages.

But, what do I know?  My point is, I like such footbridges.  And whereas most of the other bridges in this posting are the sort that feature in lots of other people’s photos and in picture postcards, these Brand-X urban footbridges are only a Thing because I say they are.  Which is a major purpose of truly good photography.  Truly good photography doesn’t just celebrate the already much celebrated; truly good photography offers new objects of potential celebration.

So now I will celebrate this Perpignan footbridge some more:

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As I was photoing it, I was banging on to my companions about this footbridge and about footbridges like it, and they asked me if I was familiar with this London footbridge.  Oh yes.

Thanks to that little spot of googling, I just came across, for the first time, this bridge blog.  Do you want to meet bridges in your area?  That seems like a good place to look.

Saturday May 21 2016

Pictures taken by me earlier this month:

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I keep telling myself to take notes during photo sessions like this, but I didn’t, and it took quite a bit of googling to work out where all this keeping up of appearances was.  But here it is:

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It’s the big block in the red rectangle.  The big spread to its left as we look is Buckingham Palace.  Hence, I suppose, the Palace in Palace Street.

The former civil service block is being demolished, apart from its Grade II listed façade, and converted into 72 homes within yards of the perimeter wall of the palace grounds.

Then there’s a lot of sales babble, the gist of which is that if you have to ask you can’t afford it.  And then there’s this:

The building, designed by Chelsea Barracks architects Squire & Partners, will be completed in 2017 and reflect five architectural styles: 1860s Italianate Renaissance, 1880s French Renaissance, 1880s French Beaux Arts, 1890s Queen Anne, and contemporary.

Presumably “reflect” here means “preserve the outsides of buildings done in: ...”.

Or, it means “fake”.

Thursday May 19 2016

Another French picture, but this time taken in Paris, by my friend Antoine Clarke (to whom thanks):

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That would be La Defense, unless I am much mistaken, that being Paris’s new Big Thing district.

I cropped that photo slightly, to moderate that leaning-inwards effect you get when you point a camera upwards at tall buildings.

imageThe email that brought the above snap to my desk, earlier this month, was entitled “warmer than when you were here last”.  When I last visited Paris, it was indeed very, very cold, so cold that water features became ice features (see the first picture there).

Today, Antoine sent me another photo, also suffering somewhat from leaning-inwards syndrome, and also cropped by me, more than somewhat.  See right.

Mostly what I think about Antoine’s most recent picture is: What an amazing crane!  So very tall, and so very thin.  It’s amazing it even stays up, let alone manages to accomplish anything.  I don’t remember cranes like that existing a generation ago, but maybe that’s merely because no towers that high were being built in London.  Not that Antoine’s crane is in London.  It is somewhere in America, but where, I do not know.

I just did a bit of googling for books about cranes, and if my googling is anything to go by, books about construction cranes and their history are a lot thinner on the ground than are construction cranes.  When you consider how many tons of books have been written about the buildings that construction cranes construct, it is surprising that so little is written about the mighty machines without which such construction would be impossible.

It reminds me of the analogous profusion of books on the history of science, and the comparative neglect of the history of scientific instruments.

As I think I have written before, one major defect of my blog-posting software is that I do not get an accurate picture of how the final blog posting will look, and in this case, whether there is enough verbiage on the left hand side of this tall thin picture of a tall thin crane, to prevent the picture of the tall thin crane impinging upon the posting below.  Hence this somewhat verbose and superfluous paragraph, which may not even have been necessary, but I can’t now tell.

Tuesday May 17 2016

I had today, May 17th, as the day when I would finally have recovered from the strain and stress of taking a holiday in the south of France earlier this month.

So, what else is there to say about France.  Well, a thing I love about France is … The Wires!  Just like all those dezeen pictures of bland new Japanese dwellings, surrounded by The Wires!, France also seems to have no inhibitions about hanging The Wires! everywhere, and in particular above the roads.

Below are sixteen South of France clutter photos, chosen from a clutch of clutter photos several times larger than that.  Included in these photos are views of The Wires!, and also of regular roof clutter consisting of kit for receiving entertainment.  Sometimes both:

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I am fascinated by all this clutter, because I am.  But in addition to just liking it, I think that it illustrates an important point about the modern world, which is that if clutter is so visually appealing – as I believe it often is – then people should, on aesthetic grounds, be allowed to do erect whatever they like.  Chances are, it will look amusing rather than ugly, in much the same way as a forest or a crystal cluster.

But, I have to admit that the general south of Franceness of it all also appeals.  All those orange tiled rooves, and stucco, and all that amazing light.  Almost anything looks good in light as nice as it often is down there, which it was for the first few days.

Most of the above photos were taken in the town of Thuir, where my hosts have a house.

Monday May 16 2016

Today I attended Deirdre McCloskey’s talk for the Adam Smith Institute.  I know what you’re thinking.  Okay, okay, photos, as per usual.  But: What did she say? Fine.  Go here, and you can find out.  What I can find no link to is any information about the event – when, where, and so on.  It’s all now gone.  Maybe it was never there in the first place.

But the Man from the Adam Smith Institute told me to send in some of my snaps, and these are the ones I sent them:

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McCloskey’s basic point was what is rapidly becoming the libertarian orthodoxy, to the effect that (a) the world started getting humungously rich in or around 1780 (Yaron Brook‘s preferred date for this is 1776 (to coincide with America starting and Smith’s Wealth of Nation’s getting published)), and (b) we did this.  Our enemies tried to stop us and they failed.  We know how to make poor people rich, and we’ve been doing it ever since.  Our enemies only know how to make rich people less rich and poor people more poor.  Bastards.

My recent favourite example of enrichment is a very tiny one offered at today’s talk by McCloskey, which is that you can now use your smartphone as a mirror.  Better yet, McCloskey said, before the talk she was giving, she spotted Steve Baker MP doing this exact thing with his smartphone, while perfecting his appearance prior to doing his MP socialising bit.

The reason I particularly like this is that I just recently learned about this trick myself, when I saw someone doing it, and took a photo of it:

If you photo someone looking in a mirror, they can see their face, but you can’t.  (Unless it’s a crap movie, in which case the audience sees the face and the person with the face doesn’t.  I know.  Ridiculous.  But this is truly what often happens.) But, if you photo someone using their smartphone as a mirror, both you and they can see their face.

Thus:

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McCloskey’s point was that enrichment doesn’t only come in the form of more money, but also in the form of the ever more amazing things that you can buy with your money.  Like a phone that is also a NASA circa 1968 supercomputer.  And a face mirror.

Finally, here are a couple more photography-related photos.  On the left is the official photographer for the McCloskey talk:

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And on the right there is a photo which I also took at the venue for the McCloskey talk, which I will not name, because the people in charge of this place might then learn of this blog posting and see this picture and then who the hell knows what might happen?  Are you wondering what I am talking about?  Click on the picture and work it out.  I only realised what I had photoed after I had got home.