Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Javier on Droneverts
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Rob Fisher on What does Thames "RIB" Experience mean?
Heathrow Transfers on Miguel aligns his message with his van
Brian Micklethwait on So shiny it looks fake
Patrick Crozier on So shiny it looks fake
Patrick Crozier on So shiny it looks fake
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Brian Micklethwait on Miguel aligns his message with his van
Natalie Solent on Miguel aligns his message with his van
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- The internet is for telling me what’s on the telly
- Pavlova under wraps
- Batman consults his smartphone
- The art of taxi advertising
- Drones are not toys
- Snake on a car
- A particularly good panoramic view of central London
- Coastline politics at Samizdata
- Wembley Arch lighting contrast
- A blown up airplane and a dodgy internet connection
- Rereading a Rebus
- Rod Green on Boys and Men at the time of Magna Carta
- More birds on a TV aerial
- Van – grey but very interesting
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Category archive: Books
It’s for lots of other things, for other people, like: a telly. But that is definitely one of the things that the internet is, for me.
Whenever a new kind of information storage or information transmission comes along, people fret that it will replace all the previous ones. And the others, which when they started were things that people fretted about, become good for you. When reading by the masses got started, there was concern that the masses were doing too much of it, getting addicted to it, enjoying it too much. Dear oh dear, can’t have that. But then telly came along, and reading suddenly became good for you. Telly was the thing that people were enjoying too much, wasting their lives on, etc. etc.
And now that the internet is here, you even hear people moaning that Young People These Days don’t spend enough time watching telly, because they are, you’ve guessed it, addicted to their smartphones (on which they watch telly).
My own feeling is that Young People These Days spend far more time than is good for them gadding about in the open air and watching tiny screens and not enough time sitting at home watching proper telly and proper computer screens, big enough to see what’s going on, the way God and Nature intended. But that’s a feeling, based entirely on which exact generation I happen to be a member of, not a real opinion. Young People These Days, as always, have better eyesight than oldies like me, and, unlike me now, they like to get out and have fun. When I was a (moderately) YPTD, I loved small screens, like the one on the Osborne. (Look it up. Another thing the internet is is a machine for telling you things like what an Osborne was.)
The thing is, new methods of information storage or information transmission typically give the old ones a new lease of life, rather than the kiss of death, at any rate at first and often for ever. Printing didn’t stop people talking to each other, it gave them interesting things to talk about. Trains caused a surge in horse transport, to get people to and from the station. The telly adapts books into telly-dramas, and people buy the books to find out what’s going on and who these people all are. Telephones, email and now smartphones make it easier to organise face-to-face meetings. The first big internet business sold books. And lots of telly shows now consist of bits from the internet, for those who like telly.
And now, for me, one of the most useful uses of the internet is enabling me to keep track of what’s on the regular old telly. Recently, for instance, I recorded a whole stash of Columbo episodes onto DVD. But, which episodes were they and what order should they go on the DVD in? The Radio Times only tells you so much? How many Columbo episodes were there? Who else besides Columbo himself was in them? Step forward, the internet, to tell me all about that.
See also this other blog posting that I just did, in which, among other things, I give a plug to a face-to-face meeting that I will be hosting tomorrow evening.
The internet is fighting back against … cats!
Cats are colonizers: this is what they do. They have colonized the internet just as they have colonized so many other habitats, always with the help of humans. This is the lesson of Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, a new book by conservation scientist Peter P. Marra and travel writer Chris Santella. From remote islands in the Pacific to the marshes of Galveston Bay, Cat Wars traces the various ways in which felines have infiltrated new landscapes, inevitably sowing death and devastation wherever they go.
Perhaps the most famous case of genocide-by-cat is that of the remote Stephens Island in New Zealand. Before the end of the 19th century, it was home to a unique species: the Stephens Island wren. One of only a few species of flightless songbirds, the wren ran low to the ground, looking more like a mouse than a bird. After a lighthouse was built on the island in 1894, a small human settlement was established; and with humans, invariably, come pets. At some point a pregnant cat, brought over from the mainland, escaped and roamed wild. The island’s wrens, unused to facing such a skillful predator, were no match for the feral cats that spread throughout the island. Within a year, the Stephens Island wren was extinct. It would take another 30 years to eradicate the feral cats.
This is not an isolated incident. Cats have contributed to species decline and habitat reduction in dozens of other cases. Because they’re so cute and beloved, we have little conception of — and little incentive to find out — how much damage cats are doing to our environment. When researcher Scott Loss tallied up the number of animals killed by North American housecats in a single year, the results were absolutely staggering: between 6.3 and 22.3 billion mammals, between 1.3 and 4 billion birds, between 95 and 299 million amphibians, and between 258 and 822 million reptiles.
Most books that get multiple reviews on Amazon get around four stars out of five, on average, because most of the reviews are from admirers and there are just a few from detractors. This book gets a star average of one and a bit.
I’ve been suffering from something a lot like hay fever. Yesterday, the doctor gave me some anti-hay-fever spray to spray it with, up my nose, which I hate. My symptoms are: aches and pains that wander around all over the left side of my head. I knew you’d be excited.
But, from the same doctor who wants me to spray chemical effluent up my nose I learned that if you get something stuck in your throat, which is what set all this off, they recommend: coca cola. I did not know that. So last night, when I went out for drinks, someone offered me a drink, and I though, no I’ve had enough (what with the headaches and so forth), but then I thought: yes, get me a coca cola. Apparently it clears out stuff in your throat by dissolving it. How come it doesn’t dissolve your entire mouth? (Maybe it does.) But whatever, it felt like it worked, and I’m drinking more coke now.
Last night, at that drinks gathering, I heard something else diverting.
We were having a coolness competition. What’s the coolest thing you’ve done lately? That kind of thing. I contributed the fact that my niece is about to become the published author of a work of crime fiction, which is not bad, and which I will surely be saying more about when this book materialises. It will be published by a real publisher, with an office in London and a name you’ve heard of, which intends to make money from the book and thinks it might. More about that when I get to read it. I usually promise nothing but I do promise that, here or somewhere I’ll link to from here. It would be a lot cooler if it was me who had accomplished this myself, but it is pretty cool even from a moderately close relative.
But another friend from way back whom I hadn’t seen for years trumped this, with something which in my opinion made him the winner, not least because he did the thing in question himself.
Remember the Concorde crash in Paris, back whenever it was, just before 9/11. And remember how the other Concordes all got grounded for ever after that crash. What you may not recall quite so clearly is that the other Concordes were not grounded for ever immediately after the crash. That only happened a few weeks later. And my friend told us that he took a trip on Concorde, on the day after the Concorde crash. How cool is that? Very, I would say. There were many cancellations, apparently, but he was made of sterner stuff, which is all part of what made it so cool.
I know, a bit of a ramble. It comes of me being somewhat ill. Illnesses can be cool, I suppose. But this one, which is just uncomfortable enough to be uncomfortable, but which hasn’t actually stopped me from doing things, merely from doing them energetically and enthusiastically, definitely isn’t cool.
Yes, I’ve been continuing to photo taxis with adverts. Here are half a dozen of the most recent such snaps.
First up, further proof, if you need it, that the internet has not abolished television. People still like to be passively entertained, surprise surprise. But the internet is in the process of swallowing television, so that they end up being the same thing:
Next, become an accountant! Note how they include the word “taxi” in the advertised website, presumably to see whether advertising on taxis is worth it. Note to LSBF: I have no plans to become an accountant.
Note also the Big Things picture of London, something I always like to show pictures of here, and note also how out of date this picture is. No Cheesegrater, for a start:
Next up, a taxi advertising a book. I do not remember seeing this before, although I’m sure it has happened before:
Next, Discover America. I thought it already had been:
Visit a beach. I didn’t crop this photo at all, because I like how I tracked the taxi and its advert, and got the background all blurry, and I want you to see all that blurriness. Nice contrast between that and the bright colours of the advert. A little bit of summer in the grey old February of London:
Finally, a snap I took last night, in the Earls Court area. And now we’re back in the exciting world of accountancy, this time in the form of its Beautiful accounting software:
As you can see, it was pitch dark by the time I took this. But give my Lumix FZ200 even a sliver of artificial light and something solid to focus on, and it does okay, I think. A decade ago, that photo would have been an unusable mess.
I am finding that taxi advertising changes very fast these days. All of the above photos, apart from the one with the beaches, was of an advert I had not noticed before.
Which means that in future years, these taxi photos will have period value, because the adverts will have changed over and over again with the passing of only a handful of years.
I am greatly enjoying the progress of Soon-To-Be President Trump. File under: guilty pleasures. My libertarian friends mostly express horror at Trump’s irresistible rise, and his terrible opinions, and his terrible hair, but surely you never really know what you’ll get with a new President. During the Thatcher years some of the people who most agreed with me did very little that I liked, while others, impeccably governmental sorts, who were just doing what seemed sensible to them, did quite a lot of good things. See: privatisation. Maybe Trump will turn out like that. Maybe he will even decide to have dignified hair.
Trump seems to me like he’s going to be the USA’s first Television President, by which I mean someone who got to be President via television. Didn’t they have one of them in Brazil not so long ago? Some guy who had got well known by being some kind of TV talent show host, or some such thing, and then, to the horror of the Horrified Classes parlayed that into being President. It was probably a disaster, but Brazil usually is. And now, Brazil has one of the strongest libertarian movements in the world, does it not? Maybe that’s how libertarianism wins. First you have a crazy TV guy, and then libertarianism. I can hope.
Anyway, Trump. This piece about Trump by Scott Adams is a good laugh, as are comments on it like this:
I liked the one in Arkansas when the manager of the facility announced that Trump broke the all time attendance record set by ZZ Top in 1978. lol
He is certainly a canny operator, as Adams explains very cannily, cataloguing Trump’s many previous successes, such as a best selling book on how to negotiate.
Part of the skill of getting the Republican nomination is to behave like a guy the Mainstream Media are confident they can easily destroy, in due course. Which means that instead of destroying you straight away, they destroy all the other fellows, who they thought were stronger than you, which by definition they can’t have been, can they? You have to be like Russia, and look either much weaker than you are, so the media don’t bother with you, and then much stronger than you are, so the media then grovel, as they do when they face a force of nature, in other words a force bigger than them.
I could of course be quite wrong, but I reckon Trump is going to walk it, when he gets around to dealing with whichever car crash of a candidate the Dems stick in front of him. And it will either be Clinton or that old socialist guy, the ones already in the race. Nobody else will want to join, because the prize for winning the Dem nomination will be getting Trumped all over, and who needs that? Those two old crocks both joined the race while Trump was still in his ridiculous phase.
The practice of facadism emerged in the 1980s, when construction technology made it possible to retain a mere sliver of a frontage, and as the rise of the conservation movement increased pressure to preserve the historic streetscape – even if it didn’t care much for what happened beyond the surface.
And more to the point, there are some great photos. Photos like this:
Wainwright is of course angry about this unequal style collision. He writes for the Guardian, and being angry about capitalism (aka everything except Guardianism) comes with the job. But I actually quite like it when big modernism rises up behind smaller ancientism. To put it another way, in Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, the architect-hero Howard Roark is disgusted when a committee seeks to stick an ancientist front door at the bottom of his modernist skyscraper. But I think this front door, at any rate as shown in the film they made of The Fountainhead, improved things. It certainly made it easier to see where the front door actually was, which is often hard with totally modernist buildings, and used for about a decade to be impossible. Ancientism evolved a way of handling front doors in a way that makes sense to all, and there is no more virtue in destroying these ground-level conventions than there is in abolishing English and trying to replace it with Esperanto.
Besides which, buildings are often hated, to begin with, for the very thing that causes them at a later date to be loved, namely their distinctiveness and their oddity. Think of the Eiffel Tower, which at first was greatly disliked. My guess is that much the same will apply to the above Cardiff oddity.
I also believe that the Carbuncle-Cup-winning Walkie Talkie will in the fullness of time mutate from Carbuncle to National Treasure. I visited that building today. More about that visit Real Soon Now, maybe, I promise nothing.
Fascinating point made in this piece at Libertarian Home by Simon Gibbs, about how and how not to educate computer programmers:
I am skeptical of whether formal education teaches programming, or whether programming is an innate aptitude. My computer science education is certainly a part of what made me a good programmer and I have met very good people who have retrained from other industries and become successful programmers. I have also met people who have had years of training and still lack the fundamental skill of breaking a process down into steps, despite passing various exams and tests. I graduated with such people and not with dramatically higher grades either. Formal education seems ill suited to capture, transmit, and assess the nuances of this particular skill. The ease with which code is plagiarised is one factor, as is the process of mugging up for exams, but the real problem is that the skill itself is a form of implicit knowledge which you cannot simply write down.
Further, learning to program is not an easy process. It is damned hard and no single resource or bootcamp or whatever will help you navigate a route by which you can deliver value. You have to get there on your own and that is, by definition, not something that anyone else can easily help with.
I can remember that, when I education-blogged, the above rumination was the kind of thing I would seize upon.
What Gibbs says sounds like the point that I have recently been making, generally and in particular in connection with this book (about PR (by another friend of mine (Alex Singleton))), that learning how to do something like play the violin (or do PR (or computer programming)) is fundamentally different from merely reading a book about how to play the violin (or reading a book like this one about how to do PR). Most people will never be able to play the violin well (or do PR well), no matter how much else they are able to learn about playing the violin (or doing PR). By writing a mere book about how to do PR, Singleton has not given away his personal-professional crown jewels by teaching thousands of others how to replace him. On the contrary, his crown jewels are his “innate aptitude” (honed by much practising) for combining and deploying all the PR techniques he knows of and knows how to do, when solving a PR problem. He has turned himself into a PR industry go-to media guru (which means he gets to advertise himself free) and made himself even more employable, in a kind of PR positive feedback loop. After all, the better Singleton is at doing his own PR the better he’ll probably be at doing yours.
Gibbs also makes it very clear that he reckons himself to be a good programmer, in a way that many rivals, clever in all sorts of other ways, will never be. He too does some good PR for himself, even though it’s incidental to the main point of his piece. To learn which, read it in full, by clicking on the link at the top of this posting.
Today, however, it’s practically in the air. I could flick through a copy of em>Wired magazine in a supermarket, or see the statue of James Watt in St Paul’s Cathedral. Innovation is unstoppable, but not because the Internet has innumerable nodes of useful information, as Ridley claims. It’s unstoppable because across the world, innovation is so deeply rooted in our speech, thought and culture. And we don’t even know it.
Innovation is, at root, the idea of innovation! And the idea that innovation is a good idea!
Anton Howes is making good progress as a scholar, his latest little victory being that he has been invited to present his findings at this event at Columbia University. My thanks to Simon Gibbs for alerting me to this latter happy circumstance.
A lot of my postings just now involve me showing you photos I took quite a while back, and this one is also one of those.
What happens is, I rootle through all my past photos, and then sometimes get an idea for a posting about a certain category of thing or human conduct or mode of transport or some such thing, and I start gathering photos to illustrate this, in a separate directory. I am careful to copy photos into the new directory, rather than just transfer them there. One of my rules is, keep all the photos you took on a certain day on a certain expedition all in one place. But, no harm in copying from those directories into other ones which are about particular things rather than particular trips or particular times.
However, what often then happens is that I forget about it all. So, the directory sits there, sometimes for years, and then years later I come across it again. This happened last night, when I encountered a collection of photographs, assembled in 2010, of photographers who were also holding guide books. I could tell that I had never used them in a blog posting, because when I do that, I always give photos different names.
Here are four of those photographers-holding-guide-books photos, all of which involve guide books with the word “Londres” on them:
Click to get the bigger pictures.
I’m guessing that both the French and the Hispanics spell London as Londres, with the French calling it Londr and the Hispanics calling it Lon Drez. But that’s only a gez.
And, yes (google google), I gezzed right:
Londres, the French, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan and Filipino language name for London, capital of the United Kingdom and England
The guide book while photoing thing always appealed to me, not least because even then I was looking for ways to not photo people’s faces, and guide books often achieved that outcome for me very nicely. But the phenomenon is also interesting because, slowly, it is fading away. You do still see photographers flaunting guide books, but it is rarer now.
Instead, the smartphone is the new guidebook. And, of course, increasingly, the new camera, for people like those shown above. Makes perfect sense.
As for the lady above (in the picture bottom right) whose face I do here display (if you click), well, she was wearing a T-shirt saying, in London’s own language and therefore to attract the attention of Londoners like me: “believe me… i’m incredible”. Somehow I don’t think it was “incredulous”. Ergo, she was attracting attention with her own attention-attracting behaviour, ergo she was and is fair game for her face to go up, totally recognisably, (but nearly a decade later) on my blog.
Nearly a decade later because these photos were taken by me in 2006 and 2007.
In it, Richard J. Evans criticised some of the more casual observers of the libel case that his book described, for arguing that David Irving ought to be allowed to write what he wanted, as if the case was all about David Irving’s right to be heard. But it was not. It was about whether David Irving could silence one of his more prominent critics, Deborah Lipstadt, who had called him a bad historian and a Holocaust denier.
Yet, there was a reason why this error kept getting made by less than conscientious observers of this case, as Evans himself explained (p. 201):
Yet as the trial got under way, it quickly became apparent that lrving was going to find it difficult to set the agenda. The bias of the English law of defamation brings its own perils for the unwary Plaintiff. By placing the entire burden of proof on the defence, it allows them to turn the tables and devote the action to destroying the reputation of their accuser. Indeed, once the defence has admitted, as Lipstadt’s did without hesitation, that the words complained of mean what they say and are clearly defamatory, justifying them in detail and with chapter and verse is the only option left to them. A successful libel defence therefore has to concentrate, in effect, on massively defaming the person and character of the Plaintiff, the only restriction being that the defamation undertaken in court has to be along the same lines as the defamation that gave rise to the case in the first place, and that it has, of course, to be true. The defence had to prove that Lipstadt’s accusations of Holocaust denial and historical falsification were justified in Irving’s case. Thus it was lrving, not Lipstadt, whose reputation was on the line. By the end of the third week of the trial, as Neal Ascherson observed, the defence had thus succeeded in turning the tables, ‘as if David lrving were the defendant and Deborah Lipstadt the plaintiff’, an observation shared by other commentators too. ‘In the relentless focus on Irving’s beliefs,’ wrote Jenny Booth in the Scotsman, ‘it was easy to forget that it was actually Lipstadt’s book which was on trial. Increasingly it seemed that it was Irving himself.’
Having thus put himself on trial, Irving was then found to be guilty as charged.
This posting is not so much me passing on advice as me seeking to solidify some ludicrously overdue advice from me to myself, about how to photograph speakers.
Don’t try to do it when they’re speaking.
Last night I took about two dozen photos of Dominic Frisby, who was addressing the Libertarian Home crowd at the Two Chairmen pub in Westminster. Almost all these photos were useless. This was because Frisby was talking, and when people talk, they move. The indoor light was very scarce, so the slightest motion meant a blur, and a succession of blurs was accordingly all that I got. My only photographic successes during the Frisby talk were when I switched my attention to the people listening to him. They were keeping still.
People like Richard Carey:
I think Rob clocked me, don’t you?
The only half-decent Frisby photos I got were during the Q&A, when, just like the two persons featured above, he too was listening rather than talking:
Doesn’t he look adorkable.
As to what Frisby said (on the subject of Bitcoin), well, it was all videoed, although the video camera was being hand-held, as this further snap of Richard Carey, helping out with that, illustrates:
I include that snap also because of the John Lilburne reference, Lilburne being a man whom we libertarians should be bigging up every chance we get.
Finally, a book photo. On account of Frisby’s talk beginning a few minutes earlier than I had been expecting it to, I arrived a few minutes late, and the only seat I could find was the one with Frisby’s books on it, which he had presumably earlier been sitting at. That explains the odd angle of this photo:
Both books highly recommended. More about Frisby by me (+ further links) in this Samizdata posting. In this I mentioned that Frisby was working on a Bitcoin book. As you can see, that book has now materialised.
It helps that books, like people who are listening, or for that matter doing photography, and unlike people who are talking, do not move.
You can tell that the bridge is Blackfriars Bridge because it has that written on it.
And then, moments later, I photoed someone else with the same combination of ideas:
Both photoed at that magic hour in the evening when everything is lit like it’s in a movie and when pictures on other people’s cameras show up in my pictures . Movie people call this magic hour “Magic Hour”, or so said a book I read a while back called Magic Hour.
Around ten days ago, I took lots of rest (the medical term for sleeping) during the day, and then couldn’t sleep properly at night. Since then the lurgy has persisted and I haven’t really got back to sane hours.
In the meantime, what did not help - did not help at all - was the latest from Madame Harry Potter, who now, some of the time, goes by the name of Robert Galbraith. I read the first Cormoran Strike tale when it came out, and a few days back I was awake all night reading number two. It was daylight when I finished it.
One of the many things I like about Cormoran Strike is that he operates in London. His lair is a flat on top of one of the shops in Denmark Street, which is London’s pop musical instrument street.
Here is a clutch of Denmark Street photos I took recently:
Lots of amateurish reflections there, in among the occasional deliberate ones, but what the hell? I am an amateur. (Spot the selfie.)
That grey-blue front door (on the right of the picture bottom middle) is how I imagine/presume Strike’s front door to look.
Having kept up with all the Rebus books, I found it much more fun actually knowing a lot of the places haunted by The Detective. And with this in mind, I have now started on this first crime novel by Tony Parsons. All this searching has just told me that it is the first of three. This is (these are) also set in London. This morning I was reading about The Detective visiting something called Westminster Public Mortuary in Horseferry Road, which is a five minute walk away from where I live. (The Tony Parsons detective is called DC “Max Wolfe”. Why can’t fictional detectives ever be called something like Colin Snail or Brian Sludge or John Watson?)
“Robert Galbraith“‘s Cormoran Strike is a freelance, but Max Wolfe is regular police, so he often visits New Scotland Yard, which is not much further away from me than that Mortuary, another five minutes walk in the same direction. Here is a photo I took of New Scotland Yard from the roof of my block, in 2006:
London possesses roof clutter arrays that are denser and more voluminous, but none that I know of is more elegant.
The other day (to be more exact: on this day) I described England as a “dead team walking”, in the currently unfolding Cricket World Cup. So, if England now turn around and start winning and winning well, well, that’s good because hurrah England. But if England carry on losing, and losing badly, then hurrah me for being right.
How to snatch happiness out of thin air: be a prophet of doom proved right. There are other ways to place a bet besides spending money.
This explains a lot about the world, I think. Basically, as Steven Pinker has pointed out in the first half of that excellent (because of its first half) book of his, everything (approximately speaking) is getting better, slowly and with many back-trackings, but surely. Yet to listen to publicly expressed opinion, both public and posh, you’d think that everything was getting worse, all the time. And it’s been like that throughout most of recorded history. But people are not really that pessimistic. All that is really happening is that people are predicting the worst in order to be happy if the worst happens, and also happy if the worst does not happen.