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

Monday December 10 2018

A slow motion catastrophe, all the more inevitable because this is, after all the internet.  But, it doesn’t happen.

This popped up on my computer screen, courtesy of Facebook.  What happened was was that I activated a video a Friend had stuck up, and this was what Facebook wanted me to see next.  It looked like a nice little catastrophe to pass the time with, so I activated that as well.  And although that catastrophe didn’t happen, what did happen was even better.

Do the people who arrange things like this play with toys beforehand?  That would make sense.

Apparently Transport Blog may be coming back to life, any month now.  But, it promises nothing.

Saturday December 08 2018

Stow-Away is a recent arrival in Lower Marsh:

Stow-Away is a new sustainable and eco friendly apart hotel concept. Stow-Away Waterloo is our first London base made from 26 re-purposed shipping containers, stylishly designed to provide a snug comfortable Stow-Away sleeping experience.

Lots of people have tried to do architecture with old shipping containers, but personally I doubt if it makes much sense.  But, if your task is to sell hotel rooms, then shipping containers are perhaps a good gimmick, for attracting attention and for giving guests something to talk about.  “I slept in a shipping container.” Etc.  I’ve never done this.

It got my attention:

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I enjoy in particular the various reflections there.

All but the last of these photos were photoed in one burst, last September.  The final photo was photoed more recently, in the evening.

I think this hotel is quite good fun, especially those strange looking shades, red on the inside, that are a feature of the front.  But, I regret the trend of which this “apart hotel” is a part, which is the transformation of Lower Marsh from a fascinating and quite cheap thoroughfare, full of diverting shops and eateries, into a dreary and expensive thoroughfare, stripped of all those diverting shops and eateries.

This happens all the time.  A street contains lots of lively and amusing stuff.  Word of that liveliness spreads, and the rents then go through the roof.  The liveliness is priced off to another part of town.  Such is urban life.

What I am really saying is: RIP Gramex.  Follow that link and you find “an important message to our much-valued customers”.  That would be me.  But this “important message” is dated 4th August 2017.  I gave up hope at least a year ago.

Thursday December 06 2018

On the same day, September 24th 2013, that I took all those artistic photos not of cranes, I also photoed something else that wasn’t a crane either.  In addition to liking cranes I also like bridges, but this other something wasn’t a bridge either, despite looking a lot like one.  I refer to this contrivance:

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So far as I can work it out, this is a structure to protect a road against some power lines which are crossing that road.  The road in question being the A1014, aka “The Manorway”, just before it runs out of puff at a roundabout.

I know.  Why this one structure, there?  What’s so special about these power lines?  Were people about to start working on them, and were they scared that they might fall on the road and set light to a lorry laden with some highly inflammable liquid, of the sort they concern themselves with in Coryton?  Could be.  According to this, there used to be a refinery there (hence yesterday’s ruins).  Now, there either already is or there is about to be a diesel import terminal.  Yes, apparently this got going last year.

Maybe the structure I photoed is somehow a consequence of this change.

Wednesday December 05 2018

So I was looking, as I do from time to time, through one of my Stanford-le-Hope directories (the one memorialising September 24th 2013), expecting to be amazed by photos of the giant cranes of London Gateway.  Instead I noticed how much else there was in the Stanford-le-Hope vicinity besides giant cranes:

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There was decaying industrialisation.  There was vegetation.  There were pylons.  There was roof clutter.  Even ground clutter.

So I went all the way to Stanford-le-Hope, so far away from London that I had to pay to get there, and some of my favourite things were things that we have lots of in London.  But, it was great.  Out there in Beyond London, everything is all spread out, and it is easier to photo things.  But, you need to check beforehand that there are things.  And there were lots of things at or near London Gateway, even back in 2013

Time I checked out London Gateway again.  Some time next summer, I think.

Monday December 03 2018

October 21st of this year was a good photoday for me.  There was this, and then this.  Now let me show you nine chimney pot photos, taken on that same day:

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The first four were photoed in the vicinity of South Kesington tube station.  Then I tubed myself to the West End, which is where the rest of these photos were photoed.

I think my favourite is the fifth, or perhaps 3.2, depending on how you prefer your numbering to be done.  But I like them all, or I’d not have shown them to you.

The final one, 9 or 3.3, was taken from the inside of the top of Foyles.

I’ve called this “chimney pots” because all these photos have that in common.  But there are many other kinds of roof clutter also on show.  I rejected including “roof clutter” in the title, because although most chimney pot arrays do indeed beome very cluttered, as in randomly varied and chaotic, that cannot be said of photo 4, aka 2.1.

The satellite dish in 1.3, aka 3, looks, to a casual observer, aka me when I first encountered it in the directory (not when I actually photoed I), the moon.

Which I like.  And I also like it when there are chimney shadows, as in 1.1 (1), and 5 (2.2).  And there are other sorts of shadows in 6 (2.3).

Plus there’s a crane (7 (3.1)). and a pigeon (9 (3.3)).  But, not any scaffolding that I can see.

Thursday November 29 2018

Further to that chat that Patrick Crozier and I recently had about transport (in which we talked about robot cars), here is a little clutch of interesting guesses by Audi, about how robot cars and robot airplanes – i.e. flying cars – might, one day quite soon, work.  “Guesses” is not an insult.  It’s all guesses at this stage in the story.

The Audi “airplane” is a big drone, like a giant photo-drone, although actually the prototype they recently showed off was the idea in miniature.  It carries a people pod, like a regular photo-drone carries its camera.  The drone extracts or drops the people pod from or into a “car, which is a car with a big hole where the people bit is in a regular car.

This makes sense to me.  Cars and big drones presumably need very different sorts of engines, and it does not make sense for the drone to be lugging a big old car engine around with it wherever it flies.  Any more than it makes sense for a “flying car” to be lugging a even bigger old set of airplane engines around with it, wherever it drives.  (I’m guessing (me too) that the Harrier Jumpjet technique would be too expensive and complicated.)

But, “makes sense” is not the same as “will happen this way”.  Nobody knows.  After all, maybe the future will just be people ... you know … climbing out of their cars into their airplanes, much as they do now.

In other robot car news, I was intrigued by an email I recently got from this enterprise about how robot car engines will be lighter and more efficient, on account of not having any longer to be so “driver friendly”.  Robots will prioritise safety and comfort.  They won’t be concerned, when driving, about having the Lewis Hamilton experience.  Again: makes sense.

Thursday November 22 2018

Following yesterday’s very generic, touristy photos of the Albert Memorial (although some of them did involve a breast implant), here is a much more temporary photo, of the sort most tourists wouldn’t bother with:

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You obviously see what I did there, lining up what looks like a big, all-seeing eye with a clutch of security cameras, cameras made all the scarier by having anti-pigeon spikes on them.

And what, I wondered when I encountered this in my archive, and you are wondering now, is the provenance of that big eye?

Turns out, it was this:

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So, not actually a photo about and advert for the Total Surveillance Society.  It merely looked like that.

However, just two minutes later, from the same spot of the same electronic billboard, I took this photo:

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So as you can see, the Total Surveillance Society was definitely on my mind.  Terrorism, the blanket excuse for everyone to be spying on everyone else.  The two minute gap tells me that I saw this message, realised it was relevant, but it then vanished and I had to wait for it to come around again.  Well done me.

According to the title of the directory, and some of the other photos, I was with a very close friend.  A very close and very patient friend, it would seem.  Hanging about waiting for a photo to recur is the sort of reason I usually photo-walk alone.

I took these photos in Charing Cross railway station on April Fool’s Day 2009.  I would have posted them at the time, but in their original full-sized form, they unleashed a hurricane of messy interference patterns.  But just now, when I reduced one of them to the sort of sizes I use for here, those interference patterns went away.  I thought that these patterns had been on the screen I was photoing.  But they were merely on my screen, when I looked at my photos.  And then, when I resized all the photos, it all, like I said, went away.  Better late than never.

Monday November 19 2018

Another for the Department of I’ll-Believe-It-When-I-See-It:

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Yes, a Tulip, for the City of London, right next to (and dwarfing) the Gherkin, a Big Thing from which to gaze at and photo all the other nearby Big Things:  And to be photoed from the other Big Things, and from everywhere else in the vicinity.

No comments on that Dezeen report (with lots more photos (i.e. fake photos)) as of me now writing this, but I expect a lot of derision from people who dismiss it as a mere Foster publicity stunt.  Which I dare say it is.

I’m for it of course, even if it will surely cost a fortune to actually go up it.  So I won’t be doing that very much, I don’t suppose.  But I will photo it constantly, from near and from far.

What’s the betting it does get built, but not in London?

During our recent chat about transport (already mentioned her), Patrick and I talked about robot cars.  I expressed particular skepticism about their supposedly forthcoming arrival en masse on the roads of our cities.  We mentioned, in contrast to the idea of robot cars immediately conquering our cities, the fact that robot vehicles are already in successful operation in certain niche situations.  We were able to think of two such.  They already use giant robot lorries in the mining industry.  And, Amazon already has robots wizzing about in its warehouses.  Both environments have in common that they are wholly owned by the operator of the robots, so if the humans in the place need to learn the habits of these robots and to give them whatever assistance and whatever slack the robots need, then such humans can simply be commanded to do this.  Unlike in big cities.

More recently, I met up again (as in: more recently than that meeting), with Bruce the Real Photographer, and mentioned that Patrick and I had been doing recorded chats, mentioning in particular our robotic ruminations.  And Bruce then told me about another niche use that robot vehicles have apparently been occupying for quite some time time now.  It seems that in Spain, a country that Bruce knows very well, the tyre company Michelin has a big testing track, and on this track, robot vehicles drive around and around, testing Michelin tyres.

You can see how this would make sense.  The robots can travel at exactly the desired speed, along a precisely preordained route, and thereby, say, subject two only slightly different sets of tyres to the exact same “driving experience”, if you get my drift.  Getting humans to perform such perfect comparisons would be very difficult, but this is exactly the kind of task, and in general the kind of operation, where robot vehicles would be ideal.  And, reports Bruce The Real Photographer, they are ideal.

Me having just written all that, I wonder if Google has anything to say about this Michelin testing operation.  Not a lot, it would seem.  They are far keener to sell their tyres than to tell us the details of how they test them, which makes sense.  But, this bit of video seems like it could be relevant.  And this …:

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... would appear to be the particular place that Bruce mentioned, because he recently tried - I don’t recall him saying why – but failed to get in there and see it.  To take Real Photographs perhaps?

And here is another bit of video about how Bridgestone is using robot vehicles to check out tyre noise.

So, testing vehicle components.  An ideal job for robot vehicles.  Robots are very precise.  They don’t get tired.  And you can use a special track where all the humans involved are on their best behaviour.

Friday November 16 2018

Time for some more horizontality:

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Click on that to get the 1000x750 original bigger picture, which I found here.

Notice the title of the posting.  Hartley really is fascinated by colour, whether present, as here (in the sky), or absent, as is the case for the black and white birds here.

Interesting that stripping out the context, which makes it that bit clearer that these are birds, makes these birds that little bit harder to see clearly, as birds.

Tuesday November 13 2018

With blogging, excellence is the enemy of adequacy, and often what you think will be excellence turns out not to be.

Eight days ago now, Patrick Crozier and I had one of our occasional recorded chats, about transport this time.  Train privatisation, high speed trains and maglevs, robot cars, that kind of thing.  I think it was one of our better ones.  We both had things we wanted to say that were worth saying, and both said them well, I think.  Patrick then did the editing and posting on the www of this chat in double quick time, and I could have given it a plug here a week ago.  If I have more to say about transport, I can easily do other postings.  But, I had some stupid idea about including a picture, and some other stuff, which would all take far too long, and the simple thing of supplying the link to this chat here was postponed, and kept on being postponed.

Usually, this kind of thing doesn’t matter.  So, I postpone telling you what I think about something.  Boo hoo.  But this time I really should have done better.

There.  All that took about one minute to write.  I could have done this far sooner.  Apologies.

Wednesday November 07 2018

One from the I Just Like It directory:

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That’s the view you get of Central Hall Westminster, that you now get looking over where New Scotland Yard used to be.  I walk past this view whenever I go to St James’s Park tube.  Well, that’s the view you get if you go to as much trouble as I did to frame Central Hall Westminster with a concrete pump.

There is now a glut of new luxury apartments in London, so I suppose it’s possible that this view may become a bit less temporary than it would have been two or three years ago.  But my guess is that Ten Broadway, which (from a helicopter) will look very approximately like this…:

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…, is now too far advanced for it to make sense for them not to finish it.  Although maybe not as ostentatiously as that picture suggests.

Monday November 05 2018

Incoming from Darren:

Took this photo a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t help think of you. …:

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… I didn’t discover that the photoer had been caught in the picture until later. Taken from on a train while going through Blackfriars station. As you can probably tell, it was just taken using a phone.

I emailed Darren back, saying I’d feature his photo here.  He then said that I shouldn’t feel in any way obligated to do this.  He just thought I’d like the photo.

I thought about why I was so glad to receive this photo, and so keen to show it here, along with what he says about it.  I think the reason is that Darren clearly “gets”, as they say, this blog.  He gets that I am fond of the unfolding and ongoing drama of the architecture of central London.  He gets that I notice how others like to photo London, too, it’s not just me.  He gets that I am fond of the new Blackfriars railway station, straddling the river the way it does, and that I love the sort of views you can see and photo from it.  And, Darren gets that I am deeply impressed by the photographic prowess of mobile phones.

He even refers to his photographer as a “photoer”.  Until now, that was just me.

Saturday November 03 2018

I have just been contacted by Christian Michel for the title of my annual 6/20 talk at the beginning of next year.  I kept him waiting for a day, because I wanted to get this more right than I would have if I had just dashed off a reply in a few minutes.  But the job got done, as best I could manage.

Here it is: “The difficulty and the ease of the making of and the distribution of cultural objects: A history of human civilisation in three layers”.

Does that explain itself?  It doesn’t?  Maybe you should attempt to attend.  Maybe I’ll write it out beforehand, read it out on the night (that often works very well), and post it here.

Thursday November 01 2018

In this:

Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook have a combined market capitalization of $3.7 trillion, equal to Germany’s gross domestic product last year.

Quoted at Instpundit by Stephen Green, who says that this is an “incredible figure”.  It certainly is very big, if that’s what “incredible” means, when you are describing a very big number.