Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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- Triple selfie
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- 65x zoom!!!
- Bill Bryson on the miracle of crop rotation
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- Breaking my Samizdata silence
- On the problems of half-parking with a half-car
- Roof party
- Crane lamp
- Headlights with cleaning brush
- Sign with sarcastic sneer quotes
- Godo and flowers
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Category archive: Technology
Photoed by me in Oxford Street late this afternoon:
What this tells you is that architectural modernism has utterly conquered indoors, but that out of doors, modernism is only popular because its totalitarian impulses have been held at bay, by what you might call ancientism.
The Modern Movement founders would have been disgusted by the process portrayed in this picture.
My current camera, a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, has been my best ever bar none, and it has resulted in my longest ever period of not looking at new digital cameras since I first started looking at new digital cameras. Oh, the FZ200 did cause me a twinge of annoyance. But the FZ150 was basically the answer to all my prayers.
But now, this Canon SX60 HS has well and truly got my attention:
What that has is 65x zoom. (My FZ150 has 25x.) 65x zoom! 65x!!!
I already know, because I have seen pictures like the one above, that this Canon SX60 HS has a twiddly screen This for me is a deal breaker, if a camera doesn’t have it I mean. I’ll be reading the reviews to see if it seems any better in a general kind of way, and in particular at picture quality (which, after all, is what it is all about), and if they say it is better, generally and particularly, then I will be very tempted.
I’ve been reading Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, and very entertaining and informative it is too. Strangely, one of the best things about it for me was that he explained, briefly and persuasively, both the rise to global stardom and the fall from global stardom of British agriculture. The rise was a lot to do with the idea of crop rotation. I remember vaguely being told about this in a prep school history class, but although I did remember the phrase “crop rotation”, I didn’t care about it or about what it made possible.
Here is Bryson’s description of this key discovery:
The discovery was merely this: land didn’t have to be rested regularly to retain its fertility. It was not the most scinitillatingof insights, but it changed the world.
Traditionally, most English farmland was divided into long strips called furlongs and each furlong was left fallow for one season in every three - sometimes one season in two - to recover its ability to produce healthy crops. This meant that in any year at least one-third of farmland stood idle. In consequence, there wasn’t sufficient feed to keep large numbers of animals alive through the winter, so landowners had no choice but to slaughter most of their stock each autumn and face a long, lean period till spring.
Then English farmers discovered something that Dutch farmers had known for a long time: if turnips, clover or one or two other suitable crops were sown on the idle fields, they miraculously refreshed the soil and produced a bounty of winter fodder into the bargain. It was the infusion of nitrogen that did it, though no one would understand that for nearly two hundred years. What was understood, and very much appreciated, was that it transformed agricultural fortunes dramatically. Moreover, because more animals lived through the winter, they produced heaps of additional manure, and these glorious, gratis ploppings enriched the soil even further.
It is hard to exaggerate what a miracle all this seemed. Before the eighteenth century, agriculture in Britain lurched from crisis to crisis. An academic named W. G. Hoskins calculated (in 1964) that between 1480 and 1700, one harvest in four was bad, and almost one in five was catastrophically bad. Now, thanks to the simple expedient of crop rotation, agriculture was able to settle into a continuous, more or less reliable prosperity. It was this long golden age that gave so much of the countryside the air of prosperous comeliness it enjoys still today, ...
The fall of British agriculture was all mixed up with refrigeration, which enabled the wide open spaces of the late nineteenth century world to make masses of food and to transport it to hungry urban mouths everywhere before it went bad. Prices fell below what the farmers of Britain (where there were no wide open spaces by global standards) could match.
This morning, I finally finished a big old piece for Samizdata about the benefits to the old of superpowerful computers, at the end of which I linked to these two pieces here. (There is already a comment up, from Paul Marks, saying that computers have been bad for him, by keeping him indoors, and also confused.)
This piece has not only ended a long Samizdata silence by me; it also explained it. I can’t quite explain why this makes it feel so much easier to put lots of stuff up there again, like I used to until this last month or more. But, it does.
LATER: Quotulated, even if it’s only the preamble.
We have most of us seen these tiny little cars they make nowadays, which are about half the length of regular cars. A seemingly obvious usefulness of such vehicles, aside from them using half the metal and less money and power to make them and move them, is that they can be parked at ninety degrees to regular parking, which does away with the need for all that “parking” and doubles (and more) the amount of space available for everyone to park in.
But you seldom see such cars actually parked liked that, and when you do …:
… (as I did about a week ago near to where I live) you realise that this is actually a much more complicated arrangement than it might at first appear to be.
Suppose you see a half-parking-space, between two other cars, and you park your half-car in that space, at ninety degrees to those two cars.
You just might be making it impossible for one or even both of those cars to get out, unless you do first. I mean, maybe the car beyond the half-car above can get out. Maybe those two cars are cooperatively parked, so to speak, with both vehiclese arriving and leaving at the same time. But maybe the bigger car arrived first and will want to leave first, and was relying on being able to move backwards to get out, in which case …
Which actually makes me think this was cooperative parking, by the two vehicles in concert. Otherwise there would be just too much potential grief involved.
I can’t think, off hand, of an easy way to sort all this out. So, just as well it’s not my job to worry about such things.
There is also the fact that the half-car in my picture, isn’t actually quite a half-car, more like a two-fifths- or three-quarters-car, and it sticks out annoyingly. This doesn’t matter much in a big wide road like the one shown, but in other roads it might matter a lot.
I want one:
Dawkins just couldn’t handle www.dezeen.com, so today I had fun looking back through the last few days (with many more days yet to be looked at). This cried out to be immortalised on BrianMicklethwaitDotCom.
The Guru was finally able to deliver God/Godot this evening, but he only just finished, so time only for a quota cat, photoed by me in Tate Ancient yesterday:
More about that picture here. It’s by David Hockney.
I didn’t know that you are allowed to take photos in the Tate, but I did so with increasing confidence. There were official looking people well able to intervene and stop me, if they had wanted to. But, they didn’t. Interesting. Was that always the rule, or is it only recent, in response to an irresistible tidal wave of students taking notes with their iPhones?
New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross writes about how he still loves his classical CDs. Partly, he admits, it’s nostalgia. CDs were such a huge leap forward when they first arrived that that moment of pure joy is very hard to turn your back on. I can still remember what my first CDs were: Nielsen 3, Brahms Sextets, Barenboim complete Beethoven piano sonatas, Strauss Alpine Symphony … Then there was the realisation that classical CDs would just get cheaper and cheaper and abundanter and abundanter, and then very soon the reality of that happy circumstance. Gramex Boss Hewland prices his stuff with more than half an eye to what Amazon charges, and it remains worthwhile to visit Gramex from time to time, even as all the other central London second hand CD emporia have faded away. He piles them high and sells them cheap.
Yes, the physical space occupied by CDs is a problem. Those piles can get very high. (Visit my home to see that problem on an enormous scale.) But, for me, the internet remains an unenticing place to purchase and play classical music. I have accumulated some virtual titles, as a result of buying them new on Amazon and having an additional “cloud” version of the same thing piped into my computer. But I wouldn’t want to be without the CDs whose purchase provoked this additional twenty first century response.
I wrote recently about the value of keeping things separate, in my case my big home computer and my music making equipment. Even as my big home computer continues not to materialise, I still have music as good as ever, with no messing with some new kind of system to make it work.
But the central problem with classical music on the internet is that it remains, I believe, a mess. Pop music having overwhelmed classical music economically during the last hundred years or so, pop music is the big driver of internet music, and internet music is entirely organised for the benefit of pop fans, and their discreet tracks. We classicists are liable, as Alex Ross explains, to get lumbered with such things as John Eliot Gardiner’s Beethoven Nine labelled as being the work of Lyuba Organosova, merely because she tops of the list of soloists for the final movement. The labelling of classical tracks on Amazon, where they offer you little snippets to listen to, is routinely done by naming the pieces with such things as their tempo or loudness markings, while neglecting to tell you what the piece is or what number movement it is. They just can’t be bothered to get it right. Fair enough. I understand why they can’t be bothered. We classicists aren’t worth bothering with. Buy the CD or don’t and consider yourself lucky, is the message. Until someone really big and well organised does bother about it, classical music on the internet will remain an off-putting afterthought, piggybacking systems devised for something else, rather than an enticing attraction.
When things get reissued, the labelling is liable to go completely to buggery. I, for instance, have that Barenboim set of Beethoven sonatas on EMI from way back, long before the internet, when it first came out as a set of CDs. Since then it has been reissued. So, when the internet tries to assist me in cataloguing recordings I myself have made of it onto my hard disc, it gets it all wrong. Useless.
Classical music on the internet will eventually get sorted out. And when it does, I will, if not dead, presumably hear about it from my classical music mags. A consensus will be announced, saying things like “Classical CDs really are pointless nowadays”, and when you read such articles, it will, after about a decade of premature enthusiasm of the geek-bollocks sort ("all you have to do is blah blah dance on the head of twenty seven pins blah blah blah turn seventy three cartwheels blah blah blah what could be easier? … yes it might all crash but to solve that blah blah blah ..."), eventually become true. A actual, real world majority of Classical freaks will be using this single, best arrangement, and it will work, all the time, like email. Or not.
Even when such a new classical dispensation does emerge, I will probably not bother to switch. It’s not just sunk costs; it will also be declining costs. As internet classical music becomes ever more appealing, so the price of mere CDs will sink and sink, until all of them can be purchased by me from Amazon, for £0.01 plus postage.
Meanwhile, I like that my CD filing system (aka my CD collection) is always accurate. When I dig up a CD that says it is so-and-so’s recording of Brahms 4, it is, and then when I play it, it will be played in the right order. Notes will be to hand to read about this recording if I want to, conveniently stored right next to the CD.
I do have lots of virtual music, as an addendum to my CDs, like those files that Amazon spontaneously volunteers, and like stuff I have recorded from the radio. But the latter starts out being called something like DAB002, and I have never sorted out how to file it conveniently, or even to edit it into individual performances. Life is too short to be bothering. Why edit, when CDs are already edited. Virtual music is strictly an afterthought for me. Plastic music remains the thing itself, for me. And (see above) I don’t believe I’m just being sentimental, even if I am somewhat.
I am still waiting for God. But when God returns, he will be different. Major internal organs will have been exchanged for faster and better ones, or that is the idea. But, the new dispensation is taking for ever to arrive.
A new name suggests itself, for the new computer, when I finally get it and get it going.
Taken a few minutes after I had taken this photo.
I should take that shot again, and get those spy cameras looking like they’re looking right at her.
This, you see, is why I like photoing in London, rather than in foreign parts. In foreign parts it is inconvenient to go back and take a picture again. In London, I can do this.
As threatened here many times, more and more postings here are going to be about getting old. One of the symptoms, certainly for me, is short-term memory loss. (That isn’t the only kind of memory loss I now suffer from, but forgetting immediately something that happened two seconds ago is particularly disconcerting, if for most of your life this has not happened.) Thank goodness for word processing. Everything you just wrote is now there in front of you, rather than forgotten. Right now, instead of wondering what that last sentence was, I can read it back again. The problem just doesn’t exist any more. When I am talking, on the other hand …
Which is one of the many reasons why the speed of a computer is so important. I am now using my back-up computer, a very slow laptop, aka: Dawkins. Mercifully, word processing, once I have persuaded Dawkins to concentrate on it, is fine. Letters appear on the screen as soon as I type them, no matter how fast I type. But when it comes to internetting, or any kind of switching from one sort of software to another, it’s like I’m back in the 1990s or even the 1980s. It takes around ten seconds for Dawkins to switch his attention from this to that. And ten seconds is easily long enough for me to forget what I am doing, and why I decided to make the switch I just tried to make. Finally it appears. But why am I reading it? Did I want the link for something I am writing? Was there some thought I was thinking? Was I just bored with previous thing?
I can remember articles by unimaginative future-fearers (see Postrel: The Future and Its Enemies - no link, see below) saying Do We Really Need very fast computers to do boring old domestic stuff, computers which are massively faster than we are, and which we therefore can’t keep up with? Well, maybe not “need”, but want, definitely. And maybe not “we” but I, definitely.
I turns out that lightning speed is immensely useful, to someone with my kind of brain, still wise after a fashion, but getting less superficially clever by the month. The lightning speed is not something I have to keep up with. The lighting speed keeps me up to speed.
Lightning speed within a programme, which with dumb word processing I still have. And lightning speed between programmes, which I do not now have. It turns out that really quite a lot of my computering consists of switching from one programme to another, to add a link and to copy and paste something from somewhere, or just to meander, whether randomly or to follow a logical train of thought. Straight word processing is still the instant joy that it was from 1981 onwards, but anything else is like wading through treacle. (And I am now experiencing that 1981 joy again, by experiencing the contrast with everything else.)
Oddly enough, adding photos (see yesterday) is not too bad, because adding photos and writing about them can all be done in the same piece of blogging software. (Which reminds me, I haven’t made a word processed copy of yesterday’s posting, which I like to do. That will involve more treacle-wading.)
You want links? Give it another week. As you can tell, all that talk (see … whenever) about God being back in business last Thursday or whenever did not materialise. Maybe this week.
This afternoon, The Guru is coming by to reconstruct God, so God (the other one) willing, I will be back in serious computing business by this evening.
When I was recently in Brittany, my hosts supplied me with a state-of-the-art laptop and a state-of-the-art internet connection. These last few days, without God (my one) and having to make do with Dawkins (my obsolete and clunky little laptop, the thing I am typing into now), I have felt less connected to the world than I did in Brittany. I am connected, after a fashion. But Dawkins is so slow and clunky that I have been doing only essentials (like finding out about England being hammered in the ODI yesterday), and checking incoming emails, and shoving anything however bad up here once every day. It’s like I’ve regressed to about 2000.
I have managed to put up a few pictures here, in God’s absence. But Dawkins’ screen makes these pictures look terrible. I am looking forward to seeing God’s version of these pictures and hope they will be greatly improved compared to what I am seeing now.
Thank God (the other one) I haven’t been depending on God (my one) for music. As I have surely explained here many times, one big reason I prefer CDs (and separate CD players scattered around my home) to all this twenty first century computerised music on a computer is that if God goes wrong, as he just has, I don’t lose music. I also have music concerts recorded off of the telly, onto DVDs, which I can play on my telly, which is likewise a completely separate set-up to God.
In general, the argument against having everything done by one great big master computer is that when something goes wrong with that master computer, everything else in your life also goes wrong, just when you may need those things not to. One of the things that willgo wrong, rather regularly, with your all-in-one master computer is when this or that particular one of its excessively numerous functions becomes seriously out of date. I mean, if it has a vacuum cleaner included, what happens if vacuum cleaners suddenly get hugely better? In Brian world, all I have to do is get another new and improved vacuum cleaner, and chuck out the old one. In all-in-one master computer world, you are stuck with your obsolete vacuum cleaner. Or, if you can, you have to break open your all-in-one master computer and fit a new vacuum cleaner, and probably also lots of other new stuff to make sure the new vacuum cleaner works, which buggers up a couple of your other functions that used to work fine but which no longer work fine. Or at all. I prefer to keep things simple, and separate.
Something rather similar applies with how to handle (the other) God. That is another arrangement you don’t want to have running the whole of your life for you either. It’s okay if you do God for some of the time and keep Him in his place, but you want scientists telling you about science, doctors about medicine, and your work colleagues about your work, and so on. If, on the other hand, absolutely everything in your life, and worse, everything in the entire world you live in, is controlled by ((your version of) the other) God, everything is very liable to go to Hell. (Aka: Separation of Church and State. Aks: don’t be a religious nutter.)
I have my own particular take on (the other) God, which is that He is made-up nonsense. But just as wise believers in (the other) God don’t let that dominate their thinking on non-God things, nor do I think that my opinions about (the other) God can explain everything else as well. These opinions merely explain the particular matter of (the other) God being made-up nonsense.
Do not, as they say, put all your eggs in one basket.
I’ve started reading Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies, years after everyone else who has read it. I haven’t got very far yet, but I am delighted to discover that one of the Enemies that Postrel takes several cracks at is John Gray, that being a link to a crack that I took at Gray at Samizdata a while back.
And I see that Postrel, like me, does not confine herself to analysing and criticising Gray’s arguments, but notes also the cheapness of the tricks that Gray often uses to present his arguments.
What disguises the trickery, at least in the eyes of Gray and his followers, is the air of profundity that is regarded as being attached to the process of foreseeing doom and disaster. In truth, incoherent pessimism is no more profound than incoherent optimism, which is to say, not profound at all.
Says Postrel (p. 9):
Although they represent a minority position, reactionary ideas have tremendous cultural vitality. Reactionaries speak directly to the most salient aspects of contemporary life: technological change, commercial fluidity, biological transformation, changing social roles, cultural mixing, international trade, and instant communication. They see these changes as critically important, and, as the old Natinoal Review motto had it, they are determined to “stand athwart history, yelling, ‘Stop!’” Merely by acknowledging the dynamism of contemporary life, reactionaries win points for insight. And in the eyes of more conventional thinkers, denouncing change makes them seem wise.
Seem. Amen. I’m still proud of this in my piece about Gray, which makes that same point about the seeming wisdom of being a grump rather than a booster:
He trades relentlessly on that shallowest of aesthetic clichés, that misery is more artistic than happiness, that any old rubbish with a sad ending is artistically superior to anything with a happy ending no matter how brilliantly done, that music in a minor key is automatically more significant than anything in C major.
There are plenty more Gray references in Postrel’s book, if the Index is anything to go by and it surely is. My immediate future is bright.
The economics of car ownership is interesting. On the face of it, I might be the sort of person who would get a really small car (even if not this exact one). But the way I (and many others?) see it is: If I go to the bother of getting a car, and finding somewhere to park it, and a way of insuring it, and of protecting it from burglars and vandals, I might as well spend a bit more and get a proper car. You either buy a car, of the sort that can do all the things proper cars do, like transport another four people, transport bits of furniture, drive to Scotland or Paris or some such place, impress rather than amuse friends and enemies, and so forth. Or, you don’t.
You don’t buy a bit of car.
The only exception is if your entire country has only just started buying cars, in which case even a bit of car is worth having. Especially if, for the time being, that’s all you can get
One of David Thompson’s latest clutch of ephemera.