Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Most recent entries
- Tim Marshall on the warming of the Arctic
- The outdoor map next to the Twelvetrees Crescent Bridge over the River Lea
- Marc Sidwell on experts
- Guess what this is
- Robots build a bridge
- The Robert Stephenson statue at Euston
- Cruelty to a fake animal – kindness to a fake animal
- Shopping Trolley Spiral beside the River Lea
- An Underground sermon
- Rubbish blogging
- Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East
- Opera North’s Ring
- An important game and only a game
- Making blue by copying tarantulas
- An old person television set
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Category archive: Technology
The chapter of Tim Marshall’s book Prisoners of Geography (see also these earlier excerpts: Africa is (still) big. And Africa’s rivers don’t help, Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East) that I found the most informative was the one on The Arctic, because this is the part of the world that he writes about concerning which I know the least. How catastrophic - if catastrophic at all - global warming will eventually become, and whose fault it will be if it ever does become catastrophic and what to do about it , are all matters of fierce dispute. But the fact of global warming is not in doubt, as Marshall explains (pp. 267-271):
That the ice is receding is not in question - satellite imaging over the past decade clearly shows that the ice has shrunk - only the cause is in doubt. Most scientists are convinced that man is responsible, not merely natural climate cycles, and that the coming exploitation of what is unveiled will quicken the pace.
Already villages along the Bering and Chukchi coasts have been relocated as coastlines are eroded and hunting grounds lost. A biological reshuffle is under way. Polar bears and Arctic foxes are on the move, walruses find themselves competing for space, and fish, unaware of territorial boundaries, are moving northward, depleting stocks for some countries but populating others. Mackerel and Atlantic cod are now being found in Arctic trawler nets.
The effects of the melting ice won’t just be felt in the Arctic: countries as far away as the Maldives, Bangladesh and the Netherlands are at risk of increased flooding as the ice melts and sea levels rise. These knock-on effects are why the Arctic is a global, not just a regional, issue.
As the ice melts and the tundra is exposed, two things are likely to happen to accelerate the process of the greying of the ice cap. Residue from the industrial work destined to take place will land on the snow and ice, further reducing the amount of heat-reflecting territory. The darker-coloured land and open water will then absorb more heat than the ice and snow they replace, thus increasing the size of the darker territory. This is known as the Albedo effect, and although there are negative aspects to it there are also positive ones: the warming tundra will allow significantly more natural plant growth and agricultural crops to flourish, helping local populations as they seek new food sources.
There is, though, no getting away from the prospect that one of the world’s last great unspoiled regions is about to change. Some climate-prediction models say the Arctic will be ice-free in summer by the end of the century; there are a few which predict it could happen much sooner. What is certain is that, however quickly it happens and dramatic the reduction will be, it has begun.
The melting of the ice cap already allows cargo ships to make the journey through the Northwest Passage in the Canadian archipelago for several summer weeks a year, thus cutting at least a week from the transit time from Europe to China. The first cargo ship not to be escorted by an icebreaker went through in 2014. The Nunavik carried 23,000 tons of nickel ore from Canada to China. The polar route was 40 per cent shorter and used deeper waters than if it had gone through the Panama Canal. This allowed the ship to carry more cargo, saved tens of thousands of dollars in fuel costs and reduced the ship’s greenhouse emissions by 1,300 metric tons. By 2040 the route is expected to be open for up to two months each year, transforming trade links across the ‘High North’ and causing knock -on effects as far away as Egypt and Panama in terms of the revenues they enjoy from the Suez and Panama canals.
The north-east route, or Northern Sea Route as the Russians call it, which hugs the Siberian coastline, is also now open for several months a year and is becoming an increasingly popular sea highway.
The melting ice reveals other potential riches. It is thought that vast quantities of undiscovered natural gas and oil reserves may lie in the Arctic region in areas which can now be accessed. In 2008 the United States Geological Survey estimated that 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids and 90 billion barrels of oil are in the Arctic, with the vast majority of it offshore. As more territory becomes accessible, extra reserves of the gold, zinc, nickel and iron already found in part of the Arctic may be discovered.
ExxonMobil, Shell and Rosneft are among the energy giants that are applying for licences and beginning exploratory drilling. Countries and companies prepared to make the effort to get at the riches will have to brave a climate where for much of the year the days are endless night, where for the majority of the year the sea freezes to a depth of more than six feet and where, in open water, the waves can reach forty feet high.
It is going to be dirty, hard and dangerous work, especially for anyone hoping to run an all-year-round operation. It will also require massive investment. Running gas pipelines will not be possible in many places, and building a complex liquefaction infrastructure at sea, especially in tough conditions, is very expensive. However, the financial and strategic gains to be made mean that the big players will try to stake a claim to the territories and begin drilling, and that the potential environmental consequences are unlikely to stop them.
Last night I sent out the email concerning the Brian’s Last Friday meeting this coming Friday, at the end of which email I found myself blurting out this:
Whenever I concoct these promotional emails I end up feeling very excited about the forthcoming talk. This time, this effect was especially pronounced.
This was what got me “very excited”:
Marc Sidwell will give a talk entitled: Promoting Freedom in a Post-Expert World.
He will be speaking about “the ongoing erosion of power and technocratic authority (most recently visible in the Brexit vote and the rise of Trump) and proposing some ways libertarians can respond to this shift.”
Other talk titles that were considered: “Twilight of the Wonks” and “The Revenge of Common Sense”.
Marc Sidwell is an journalist, editor, publisher, and writer, most recently of a How To Win Like Trump, now riding high in the Kindle best-seller List. More about Marc, his career and his publications, here.
For further information about the kinds of ideas Marc will be presenting, I strongly recommend a visit to: marcsidwell.com/.
It was there that I gleaned this quote, from Brexit campaigner Dominic Cummings:
“All those amazed at why so little attention was paid to ‘the experts’ did not, and still do not, appreciate that these ‘experts’ are seen by most people of all political views as having botched financial regulation, made a load of rubbish predictions, then forced everybody else outside London to pay for the mess while they got richer and dodged responsibility. They are right. This is exactly what happened.”
It wouldn’t surprise me if that quote gets a mention at some stage during Marc’s talk.
I would add that there are some kinds of expertise that continue to be held in very high esteem. Nobody doubts the expertise of the people who make all the machines and devices, mechanical and electrical, that keep our world ticking over efficiently and entertainingly. Not all expertise is now held in low regard, only the kinds of expertise that Cummings itemises.
The room is already starting to fill up.
Email me (see top left of this blog) if you want to know more about these monthly speaker meetings at my home.
This Dezeen story about robots doing construction work includes this very tasty image:
This is when google image searching does work. You type in “robot bridge” or some such word combo, click on images, and find the story immediately.
MX3D’s CTO Tim Geurtjens explains:
“We start with a piece of metal attached to the canal bank. The robots start from one side of the canal, they print their own support structure, so essentially it prints its own bridge. It stands on the floor of the bridge, 3D prints out more and keeps moving,” ...
There are many more pictures, including, which is how I found this linkage, this:
That second photo being, I’m pretty sure, the original unphotoshopped version of the photo in the first photo, above.
Very pretty. It would seem that the big difference between a regular structure and a 3D structure is that, with 3D printing, joining bits of metal to bits of metal is not a problem, because it’s all one bit, which means you can have as many joins as you like. And the other thing is that you can make everything the exact size it needs to be, and make it like a sculpture, rather than what we are used to in a structure, where all the bits tend to have unvarying shapes in section, if you get my meaning. Once they finally get their hands on this kit, the architects will go mad with it.
This story dates from a couple of years ago. But never mind, these things always take a long time to go from something that is about to explode, to actually exploding. And then when they do explode, it all happens in a completely different way to what had been envisaged.
As regulars here will know, I am interested by the phenomenon of colour. I don’t mean people of colour, and all the arguments around that. I mean the colours of things like paint, walls, modern architecture. Red, blue, green, yellow. Actual colours. (Plus also: black and white.)
So, I was greatly intrigued by a piece that I recently encountered, about how blue tarantula spiders are inspiring techies to make 3D printed blue.
Tarantulas aren’t usually known for having a striking blue color, but the ones that do recently inspired new technology that can produce vibrant, 3D-printed color that will never fade.
Back in 2015, a team of researchers led by the University of Akron marveled at the spiders’ blue hue and concluded that it was created not from pigment but from nanostructures in their hairs. In other words, these tarantulas are blue because of structural color, which is produced through light scattering caused by structures of sub-micrometer size features made by translucent materials.
I love grand histories of everything, which look at the past, present and future of mankind through just the one lens. Weapons. Communications. Spices. Potatoes. That kind of thing. I recently purchased a book called The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World. Well, one of the next books I am going to purchase is likely to be a history of the world seen entirely in terms of mankind’s quest for colour - natural and artificial, or, as above, and I suspect very typically, a combination of the two.
One of the many dispiriting aspects of getting old is that your favourite sorts of technology revert to 1970s standards of reliability, even when brand new. This is because the kind of kit you want to buy is often no longer now being made, so if you can find it, it was made a really long time ago, and that means it is liable to not work properly.
Last week, I wanted to buy a small television set. Everyone else who wants a small television buys a tablet or some such contrivance. But I am me, and I wanted a small television set.
And this was the picture it showed me when I got it home and switched it on:
Yes, a television set that doesn’t work. When did you last experience that? It’s like globalisation never happened, and I am back to buying a television from GEC or Ferguson or some such fiascotic enterprise.
This was the only kind of small television they had. There were several rows of huge televisions, and a single row of even huger ones. But no small ones.
I tried to include in this posting a link to the actual television and where I bought it. But that website wasn’t working.
When I make my way, as I do from time to time, to Gramex (which is near to Waterloo) to get another fix of classical CDs, I tend to use the 507 single decker bus.
Many bus stops have become a lot more customer friendly in recent years by having electronic notice boards which say what buses are arriving, where they will go, and when they can be expected to arrive. Very soothing, especially if you are not in the habit of tracking buses with your mobile, as many are, but not me.
My 507 bus stop sports no such signs, probably because the 507 is the only bus that stops there, and there will be another one soon because they are very frequent.
But inside these 507s, I am starting to see signs looking like this:
Again, very soothing. You get to see progress. You get to learn when you need to be making a move towards the door, if you are seated far away from the door, so you wont be barging past people in a hurry. It all adds to the sense you have that buses are nicer to be on than they used to be.
Tragically, this afternoon, what one of these signs was saying was merely this:
Not even the one item of information it did still offer was right. It was not 6.28pm, nowhere near.
But, I am anything but scornful about this little setback. New kit needs the bugs worked out of it. Things get tried out, and they go wrong. The significant thing here is that these kinds of notices are being deployed, not that they don’t yet work as well as they should.
Here is an earlier posting I did about the bus stop signs, also with photos. And that bus stop sign was malfunctioning also, hence that posting also, and that didn’t stop them pressing ahead with installing those signs either. Quite right too.
I am always banging on about my collection of photos, but my collection of books is also, in some cases, becoming a bit interesting. Here, for instance, is a bit from a book that was published in 1980, by Peter Laurie, called The Micro Revolution. (pp.202-204)
At the time of writing (early 1979) the microprocessor was much discussed and many people were asking what it would do to industry and employment. My own ideas, for what they are worth, are presented here and there through this book; at this point it might be worth summarizing a study by the American management consultancy firm of Arthur D. Little Inc, which was carried out between 1976 and 1978, cost $2 million to perform and whose detailed results are available for $35,000 a copy.
The survey looked at the USA, Britain, France and Germany. It predicted that by 1987 - that is, in seven years time - the annual market for products incorporating microprocessors will be worth $30 thousand million. If computers are added. ‘It appears that by the end of the next decade every citizen of a developed country will spend an average of £100 a year on microprocessors.’
In more detail, the prediction was that American cars would be forced by strict legislation on pollution standards to install micros to control ignition and carburettion. In Europe, where people are less fussy, this development would lag. But in all countries, micros would be widely used for information and entertainment in the car.
It is predicted that the home market will be the largest, with something like 400 million intelligent units a year worth $50 each being sold in 1987. Micros will be used in many different products - we have already talked about the entertainment-communications-computer unit which will look like a TV set with a computer added. There will also be all sorts of intelligent toys, kitchen gadgets, security systems, gardening devices.
In the office there will be a large sale for text processing, facsimile and copying machines, electronic telephones, dictating systems and communication processors. If the Post Offices provide data highways to match, this will result in the ‘virtual city’ described in chapter 9.
Industrial systems will be slower to incorporate micros (a) because they differ one from another and it is not easy to mass produce equipment for this market; and (b) because what is used has to be extremely reliable - and only time can prove that.
Arthur D. Little predicts that micros will generate 400,000 extra jobs in Europe in firms making, installing and servicing equipment incorporating them. It is inescapable that if microprocessors are widely used they will increase material wealth. However, they will also put a lot of people out of work, and there is no guarantee that these people will be easily, or indeed ever, retrained for new jobs. In fact the whole thing looks like producing considerable industrial dislocation; because along with the people who will not be needed there will go a tremendous shortage of people who are needed. As early as 1979, my eighteen-year-old son, with only school computing and three months of work on microdevelopment behind him, was offered £300 a week to work in Holland. GEC said recently that they alone could employ every British electronics graduate. There is no doubt that over the next ten years anyone who can pass himself off as understanding the micro will be in great demand, and will be able to make large amounts of money in exploiting his talents.
For this decade at least there are going to be wonderful opportunities for intelligent and independent people. The classical example is young Wozniak who, in 1976, at the age of 21, with his friend Steve, set to work in his parents’ California garage to build a microcomputer. ‘I sold my calculator and Steve sold his van and we used the money to hire a printed circuit artist to layout the boards.’ In 1979 Wozniak, now 23, and the employer of 200 people was planning to ship $75 million worth of his APPLE computers.
Click on TRUMP to get the Opera House.
This fantastically cost-effective piece of political signage reminds me of the stuff that Julian Lewis MP used do to CND demos in the eighties. They’d put however many hundred thousand pro-Soviet bodies on the street, and he’d put one big sign across the top of Whitehall for them all the walk under, saying something like: SOVIET STOOGES. His sign would get about half the news coverage. Drove them nuts.
The trick with photography is knowing what to photo in the first place. In particular, you need to be photoing things that are not going to be the same if you come back later. Photoing captures the ephemeral, far better than it celebrates the eternal. This being why people like photoing their kids. Soon, they’ll be different. But, a photo of Big Ben? It’s been done. A lot. No point in another of those.
Or what about something else that changes, like the price of a piece of electronics? I took this photo of such a price, in February 2005:
I have helpfully picked out the price and photo-enhanced it, so you can read it without any clicking. That’s a terrible photo, technically, but no other photo in that directory ("miscFeb05") is anywhere near as entertaining.
I love how it is reduced from £7,999.99. So if you had bought it then, you’d have saved five hundred quid! Now five hundred quid is the entire cost. (Which you can now save by not buying it.)
Sustained gunfire rang out over central Tehran on Monday afternoon as anti-aircraft guns targeted what officials said was a drone flying over the Iranian capital.
Many residents ran to rooftops and craned their necks to see what was happening. Others sought shelter as bursts of machine gun fire echoed through the streets.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Tehran Governor Isa Farhadi as saying that the gunfire targeted a drone near restricted airspace in the capital.
It wasn’t clear who owned the drone, which he described as a quadcopter. That suggests it may have been operated by a local hobbyist or aerial photographer rather than a foreign government. The purpose of its flight also wasn’t clear.
The drone escaped - apparently intact - as Gen. Alireza Elhami, deputy chief of Iran air defense headquarters, was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying the drone flew out of the restricted airspace once it came under fire.
This was not the first such recent incident.
I told you these things were going to cause a world of trouble.
How soon before there are pitched battles between squadrons of these amazing things?
In the cold and muggy January of 2017, I and my aching limbs are spending a lot of time indoors. And many of the photos I am looking at were taken long ago.
Here is one that I took in, if my (very first digital) camera is to be believed, March of 2000. It also claims that it was taken at “01.31”, but I believe Big Ben:
The obviously out of date thing about that picture is the big Le Corbusian slabs of the old Department of the Environment, about to the demolished and replaced by less obtrusive new offices and dwellings.
But for me what was startling about this photo and its companion photos that I took that day is how few of them there were. In those far off times of limited SD card storage, the photos were far smaller, about a tenth of the size of the photos I take now. And, on that journey in the Wheel, no less, a trip that would now see me hoovering up views of London near and far, guess how many photos there are, in the relevant directory. Thirty nine. Thirty nine!!!
London has indeed changed, quite a bit. But digital photography has been transformed.
Also of interest is that among those few photos are photos of strangers, who were obviously happy to pose. As were their children. Not long after then, photos of other people’s children pretty much vanish from my archives.
Sport yet again. And yes, I’ve still got plenty to tell you, in January, about one of my favourite days out last year, which was on November 28th, which I have already written about five times already. There was the shining moment described in this, and the three earlier moments linked to from there. And there was this next shining moment. And now there is the Spurs Shop, which looks like this:
Not very exciting, I think you will agree. But the stuff inside, the sort of stuff I have never ever seen before gathered together in one place, was, for me anyway, a remarkable sight:
So, what do we see there?
1.1: is a cardboard model of the old Spurs stadium, the one they are about to trash and replace, yours for £30, but you have to construct it.
1.2: Spurs clothes. Lots of Spurs clothes. Plus big Spurs slogans.
1.3: Spurs cards to tell your associates that this is your room. Really. Very blurry. Only realised that this was what they were just now.
1.4: Spurs mugs. It says everything about the state of the Premier League that I looked at this photo, and read Kane as “Car Nay”, like he’s from Africa. Alli, like Kane, also plays for England.
2.1: More Spurs mugs, this time with the tasteless cartoon cock, rather than the tasteful and elegant proper one. AIA is an Asian insurance company.
2.2: Spurs clocks.
2.3: Spurs wall stickers and, click and look on the right, Spurs flags.
2.4: Spurs luxury rugs. (And more Spurs clothes.)
3.1: Spurs luggage tags. And I don’t know what those yellow striped things on the right are, if you click on that. Some kind of Spurs bags, I think,
3.2: Spurs 5M retractable dog leads and Spurs dog collars. For actual Spurs supporter dogs, I mean. Not Spurs-supporter priests.
3.3: Spurs doormats and Spurs thermometers. Like a lot of the stuff in these pictures, I only noticed the Spurs thermometers now.
3.4: Spurs tea towels and Spurs trays.
4.1: Spurs fridge magnet pens.
4.2: Spurs jelly babies and Spurs “snowies”. (Learn more about snowies here.)
4.3: Spurs white teddy bears.
4.4: Spurs flipflops.
5.1: Spurs footballs. So Spurs supporters actually play this game?
5.2: Spurs scarves.
5.3: Spurs sterling silver earrings.
5.4: Spurs iPhone cases.
Out in the open, there were also Spurs cranes, although there was no price tag on any of them:
No, not really. Not Spurs cranes for sale, just Spurs cranes working away on constructing the new Spurs stadium.
This, says 6k, is going to be fun.
And it is already. One of the rules of toys is that a good toy starts being fun straight away. This one has certainly passed that test:
That’s two 6k kids and two friends of theirs, all helpfully shielding their faces, which means I feel free to borrow it.
I have been tracking the spread of drones, and noting that most of them are in the service of those who command large spaces which they wish to photo. Farmers and pop concert organisers, for example. They are not commanded by those who command only tiny spaces and wish to photo other people’s spaces. A privately owned drone, for me, in tightly packed London, in almost as tightly packed England, makes no sense, however tempted I sometimes feel to get one.
But South Africa (I was told about this last night by someone who had been there over Christmas) is a land of wide open spaces, and a privately owned drone makes sense there, provided only that you have the means to get into those wide open spaces.
I recently opined here that drones are not toys, and here, they aren’t. But in big old Africa, they can be.
Spent my evening getting my colour printer back in business. Took me five minutes to find the on/off switch.
I’ve spent my day pondering my talk on Friday evening, so here, it’s quota photo time, four of them, taken last October:
What we are looking at is the building activity now happening between Waterloo Station and the river, photoed from the Waterloo Station side.
I fear that this buildings are going to have looked prettier when being built than when built.
Hope I’m wrong.