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

Thursday August 28 2014

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all-in-one master computer is when this or that particular one of its excessively numerous functions becomes seriously out of date.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.

Tuesday August 26 2014

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.

Sunday August 24 2014

One of these (which was one of these):

image

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

Friday August 22 2014

I loved them when I photoed them last January.  Now the chimney pots and rooftops of Paris get serious Real Photographer attention, from Michael Wolf:

image

One of David Thompson’s latest clutch of ephemera.

Thursday August 21 2014

I’m still suffering from God problems.  God needs a new everything.  New fan, new processor, new graphics card, even some new RAM.  His old body will do, and hopefully all his hard discs can stay where they are, and continue to have all the same stuff on them, but the stuff that enables God to do his mysterious work is all change.  Overheating, The Guru said.  There was much dust inside, which will not surprise anyone who has ever visited my home.

Here is a picture of God’s inner workings, not that it tells me much:

image

Apparently overheating is big deal in computing these days, and there are an amazing number of little systems inside a computer like God which are just there to stop things getting too hot.  The Guru pointed out various little cooling mechanisms, and there were about half a dozen of them.  Not just obvious things like big fans, but small things like strategically placed bits of metal to get ride of the head in some tiny little sub-system.

I recall reading a book about the man who invented the first Supercomputers.  Cray?  It said that Cray computers were actually of a rather conservative design, because that way they wouldn’t go wrong.  The brilliant idea was to combine such a computer with a refrigeration system.  Apparently nobody had thought of that, until Cray did.  But, said Cray, who says you can’t put a computer in a fridge?

By the way, odd that fridge is spelt fridge, but refrigeration is spelt refrigeration, without a d in the middle.  Google it if you don’t believe me.  I only just found this out, from my spell checker and then from googling it myself.

The bad news is that without God I am without email.  I know, this is ridiculous.  I keep meaning to switch from FuckupMail (the system supplied to me by The Guru (who disapproves of Google “on principle")) to Gmail, because you can access Gmail from anywhere.  So what if you have to donate your soul to Google?  What would they do with my soul?  Very little, I am almost sure.

FuckupMail works fine, until you try to access it from another computer.  Then it causes me to call it that.  So, for example, on my recent French trip, I just ignored email and hoped for the best.  But now I have things coming up that need organising, and I can’t wait until the middle of next week for email, so FuckupMail has to migrate to Dawkins.  So, I am currently engaged in doing that.  But every time Dawkins gets to the emails concerning back-ups, which happen every day at three in the morning, he goes on strike for about five minutes and I often have to shut the email system and then open it again, after which it takes another five minutes before it deigns to transfer any more emails, which it eventually does until 3am comes around again.  I have had to stop the email system and start it up again about three hundred times.  “Should take about two hours” said The Guru.  Turned out more like forty, and it still isn’t done.  The only exception was when the emails concerned the fact that the back-up system wasn’t working, which it wasn’t for about one blessed month earlier this summer.  They transferred fine.  I know.  Ridiculous, but I had no idea it would take as long as it did.

Should.  This is a computer technical term meaning, “should but actually won’t”.  Whenever you hear this word coming out of the mouth of a Computer Guy, trouble.  Every time.

It’s only when you don’t have email that you realise how much you depend on it.

This is what Dawkins looks like:

image

Which I include just to tell you, in case you are confused.

This, on the other hand, is the new graphics card, which I include because I like it:

image

It looks like a cross between a helicopter and a bra, both fine inventions.

By the way, please don’t leave any “helpful” comments on this, about what, in your opinion, you think I ought to do about all this, instead of what I am doing.  I already know (a) why I am doing what I am doing, (b) why it is ridiculous but why I’m doing it anyway, and (c) what I intend to do about it all to stop similar absurdities in the future.  If you agree with me about how annoying this is, that’s okay, but if you have any opinions about any of this that are different from mine, keep them to yourself.

Wednesday August 20 2014

One of my favourite www destinations just now is the Evening Standard website.  Presumably because there are other Evening Stardards in the world besides the Evening Standard, the Evening Standard of London, the website of the Evening Standard is called “London News” (even as its website is something different, involving the world “standard").

A lot of this is because, more and more, I love London, and the Evening Standard, not unnaturally, has lots of London stories.

A particularly fine one recently featured this delectable photo:

image

The young woman is an Evening Standard journalist, Miranda Bryant, and the swimming pool is on floor 52 of the Shard, being one of the amenities offered by the Shangri La hotel.

One of the edges of this swimming pool is right next to the glass wall of the Shard, and I can’t help thinking how great it would be if the glass wall of the Shard were to double up, at this point, as the wall of the swimming pool.  Think of the photographs this would provoke.  This is why God invented x50 zoom lenses.

An ultrazoom photo I have long wanted to take of the Shard would feature a gorgeous young woman in silhouette, at the top, where the light goes right through the building.  But such a woman swimming might be even better, especially if the light could go right through that also.

One of the reasons why architecture is such an influential profession these days (if you are one of the top dogs of the profession – one of the “starchitects") is that the kind of down-the-pecking-order architects and engineers whose job is to contrive things wanted by their bosses or clients, and make these things work properly, can now, it would appear, make absolutely anything work properly.  Therefore, the starchitects, the ones who decide how things are going to be and to look, can now make them be and look any way that their starchitectural whims determine.  (See, e.g.: Zaha Hadid.) Not so long ago, a swimming pool high up in a skyscraper would be a disaster waiting to happen to everyone foolish enough to situate themselves anywhere below it, and in particular a disaster for any idiot architect silly enough to ordain such a thing.  Now, it is just a matter of some starchitect saying “do it”, and it is done.

Tuesday August 19 2014

Which is BrianMicklethwaitDomCom-speak for “my big old home computer is not working”.  I am using Dawkins (my little laptop) instead, at home, with a wire from my regular internet external box (?) plugged into the side.  But I am not happy about this.  I would rather read a book than do this.  So, I will, but I promise nothing.  I may soon do more blogging from Dawkins.  Or, I may not.

Tomorrow, The Guru will be dropping by, and after he has done his thing, all should be well again.

Saturday August 16 2014

Before I start ruminating more convolutedly about my recent stay in France, there is just one more shot that I want to show you from that ASI boat trip.

It’s a photo I took of the guy who was driving the boat, and (I presume) the man who was in command of the boat:

image

I can find no mention anywhere here of the actual people who command and work on the boats, just lots of stuff about how great the boats are for partying on.  So I don’t know the name or rank of this man.  But, whoever and whatever he is, I love his look of calm but ever so slightly suspicious watchfulness, with his ever so slightly raised right eyebrow.  It’s the face of a man who knows that, mostly, his job is just a job, but that this is a job that just possibly might, were he seriously to neglect his duties, turn very nasty.

Besides which, you never quite know what those people back there partying might get up to, under the influence of all that drink that the other members of the crew are serving them.  A boat full of tipsy revellers, even more than a normal boat, needs a sober worker to guide it and to see that all is well, no matter how friendly the waters they are travelling on.

There’s something else about this picture that intrigues me.  When I was a kid, wearing short trousers was the essence of being a kid, and graduating to long trousers was the essence of ceasing to be only a kid and starting to grow up.  Yet now, more and more indisputably grownup men, doing their indisputably grownup work, wear shorts.  Anyone care to speculate about what this means, or about why it is happening?

Monday August 04 2014

Blogging here will temporarily cease after this posting, and will resume at or about the middle of next week.  I will be back.  Have a good week.

Meanwhile, as a visual au revoir, here is another of the many photos I took last night, from that tiny little artificial urban mountain that is Stave Hill:

image

Through the gasometer in the foreground, we see the Dome of St Paul’s (attended by many cranes), the BT Tower, and on the left, with the spikey bobble on its top, the top of the Monument.

I tried to time my arrival at Stave Hill with the arrival of sunset, but got there far, far too early.  So, I waited, and read a book.  I hope you agree with me that it was worth the wait.

Friday August 01 2014

I get google emails whenever “3D printing” is mentioned at all prominently on the www, and the latest one definitely got my attention.  It linked to a story about a guy who has been 3D printing in his garden.

A building contractor living in Minnesota has developed his own 3D printer which can print concrete directly from CAD design software, and he has used it to 3D-print a castle in his back garden.

Here is how that looks:

image

Calling that a “castle”, as this story does, is a bit of a stretch.  At the moment, if this is anything to go by, open-air and architectural 3D printing seems to have all the deft elegance and aesthetic flexibility of a dot matrix printer.  But the equivalents of laser printers, and then (what we have now) cheap laser printers, and cheap colour printers, will surely soon be with us.  And in due course the building trade will become something completely different, and hence buildings will too.

Yet another reason why I would love to remain alive for another century, just to see how this kind of stuff develops.

In England, this guy would either have failed to get planning permission for this erection, or else he would now be being told to take it down, for having failed to get planning permission.

Tuesday July 29 2014

Wow:

MAYOR OF LONDON Boris Johnson has announced that the capital will have access to 5G mobile connectivity by 2020, allowing Londoners to download a film in less than a second.

Not that I understand nearly completely what that means, and certainly not that I understand nearly completely what that might possibly mean for me.  But, … wow.

I’m guessing that Mayor Boris is doing that old politician trick of standing next to something that looks good, but which he had nothing to do with.  Or is actual politics involved in contriving this seeming miracle?  Is it done with wires?  Do the wires need the Mayor to let his roads be dug up?

Comments will be particularly welcome on this.

Sunday July 27 2014

I just heard someone say in an American TV sitcom (I love American TV sitcoms) that they’re not going to answer the phone without knowing who it is, “like it’s 1994”.

I still do this, with my old 1994 style phone, which I greatly prefer to mobiles, because when I am out and about, I don’t have to answer it, and because phones connected to your house with wire cannot be lost, and because I know exactly where it is when it rings, and because that ring never changes.

Quite often, when I do answer, it’s a junk phone call, offering to extricate me from a financial error that I personally have not made by urging me to commit another financial error, and as soon as I realise it’s junk, I put the phone down.  Does this constitute some sort of “success” for the junk phoning enterprise?  Look, they answered!  Because obviously they knew who we were, this not being 1994, and yet still they picked up the phone!  Hey, we’re getting through!

Much of life these days seems to consist of doing many futile things, but contriving for these things the appearance of non-futility.  These days?  I suspect all days that have ever been, with humans involved, and no doubt many other species also, both before and now during the human epoch.  Only the futile things and the means of contriving a non-futile appearance for them change from time to time.

I don’t mind junk phone calls.  If they were more frequent, they would annoy me.  As it is, if there is a pause in incoming phone calls lasting a few hours, it is soothing to be informed, even if only by a robot actor voice spouting nonsense, that my phone is still working.  The pause was because nobody wanted to talk to me.

When answering junk phone calls, I pause any music that may be playing.  I do not mind this.  There is a part of my brain (yours too?) where you remember the musical phrase you were listening to when you last paused the music, and when you unpause it you carry on listening just as you would have done normally.  I even suspect that pausing deepens my response to particular pieces of music, by fixing particular moments of them in my brain more firmly than might have happened otherwise.

Since I am now rambling like the really old person that I am rapidly becoming, let me ramble some more.  In connection with none of the above, here are the wheels of a big mobile crane that I photoed in Victoria Street a while back.  Click on it to get the crane:

image

I like cranes.  That one is, I think, the Spierings SK599-AT5.  I love how you can find out about things like this, these days.  And this time it really is these days, rather than all days. 

Here is a link to a toy version of this crane.  Do contractors use toys like this to plan their jobs, I wonder?  As well as just to decorate their offices or amuse their spoilt children?

It is now late morning on Sunday.  Are sermons like this, when the priest is getting old, but is too well liked for anyone to want to sack him?  With a blog you can ramble anyway, because nobody can sack you.

Tuesday July 22 2014

I haven’t yet finished showing you photos from that Adam Smith Institute Boat Trip, that I got in on and took lots of photos of, at the beginning of this month, and which I have been showing here, now and again, ever since then.  I’m hardly even close.

For instance, it’s taken me three quarters of a month to get around to it, but, of course, there were other photographers present besides me:

image image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image image

I chose these pictures simply because they fitted the bill subject matter wise, and because they look nice.  I did not choose them to illustrate any particular point about digital photography.

The result being that they do illustrate a particular point about digital photography.  Consider the stats.

There are two regular old school digital cameras to be seen snapping (1.1 and 1.3), three if you count mine.  There is also just the one big tablet being used (3.3). 

All the other photographers are using mobile phones.

Usually, when I photograph photographers, there are more regular old school dedicated digital cameras to be seen.  But this is because I am photographing lots of “photographers”, i.e. people like me, who see themselves as more photography-minded than regular people.

What this boat trip illustrates is how much regular people now use their mobiles to take photos, in among all that networking and connecting and chatting and socialising.  It isn’t so much that mobiles have replaced those tiny, cheap digital cameras, although yes it is that, a bit.  But it is more that mobiles can now take photos, so now they do.  A lot of photos are now being taken that would not have been taken at all, before mobile phones learned how to take photos, by people for whom mobile phones are essential, and photography with mobile phones began only as an extra.

And you can bet that many of the photos that the above people were taking were already flying off into the big www beyond, to work their propaganda magic, promoting the ASI, its Boat Trip, and the people who went on it, before the trip was even over.

Young people these days are quicker off the mark than I am.  That’s their job.  And being slower off the mark is mine.

Saturday July 19 2014

You don’t see many of these these days:

image

I’m talking about round headlights on cars.  About ten years ago, and I have photos that notice the moment, car headlights, having been round for about three quarters of a century, went absolutely mental, with silver moldings and weird shapes of all kinds.  It’s been like that ever since.  Now, a car with round headlights is an old car.

Like this one, the car with the above headlight:

image

It appears to be one of these, or if not then something very like it.  I photoed this car this afternoon.

A while ago, I started photo-collecting round headlights, and the cars that sport them.  There may accordingly, although I promise nothing, be a huge spread of them here, any month, or year, or decade, now.

Some new cars these days have pretend round headlights, such as the new German Mini.  But they are only pretend round.  Look carefully, and they are not properly round, like the one above.

Thursday July 17 2014

The are two photos which I took last Monday.  The one with the bright blue sky, me looking up, was taken in Wigmore Street.  The one looking down, was taken from the ME Hotel Radio Rooftop Bar.

They are photos not so much of roof clutter, as of roofs, roof in all their elaborately designed glory.  But, you can spot the late twentieth century incursions:

image image

The aesthetic impact of radio and television aerials does not seem to be much discussed in the architectural world.  It could be that it has, and I merely haven’t noticed, but I don’t think that’s it.

Here is what I think is going on inside the heads of architectural aestheticians, on this subject.  The deal we will make with you mindless philistines is: you can have your damn aerials, because we know that if you are not allowed, by us, to have your damn aerials, you will hut us down and burn us at the stake.  But, we refuse to talk about them.  We will not incorporate them into our aesthetic theories of how things look, and should look.  We will not see them.

Which is how we got from the above scenario, where everything on the roof is elaborately designed, but the first few aerials have crept into the pictures, but have not been seen by the architects and their aesethetic guides, to this:

image

Yet still, they don’t see it and they don’t talk about.

Really, really weird.

I’ve been pondering roof clutter for a while now, but the more I ponder it, the more weird the phenomenon is.

What this reminds me of is a distinction that my sociology teachers at Essex University all those years ago made much of, that between the sacred and the profane.  The sacred stuff here is the regular “architecture”, the walls, the windows, the roofs, the interiors, and so on.  All of that is sacred, and is accordingly obsessed over, every tiny square inch of it, every subtle colour change, just as priests obsess about every word in a prayer.

But those aerials are profane.  They don’t register.  They aren’t architecture, any more than a tracksuit worn by a impoverished member of the congregation in a church is a sacred vestment, the details of which must be argued about by bishops and theologians, or the sales pitch being done over the phone on Monday morning (by someone who had been devoutly praying on Sunday) is itself a prayer.  That sales pitch is profane.  Forget about it.  Don’t even think about it.

Those aerials, in among the sacredness of all those designed chimneys and roofs and little towers, are profane.  And hence invisible.  Aerials are designed, by aerial designers, to make sense of radio waves.  But they are not designed to be looked at.  They are a pure case of form following function.  Architects ought to love them, if they believed their prayers.  But they don’t because what is there for architects to add?  Nothing.  The job has all been done, by profane aerial designers.

Well, I don’t know.  I’m thinking as I go along here, but writing it anyway.  Which is all part of why I have this blog.  At this blog, I am allowed to be wrong.  This is a thinking allowed zone, you might say, a place where the thinking does not have to be done before the blogging begins.  This is, you might say, a profane blog.