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: The internet

Sunday November 04 2018

This makes sense:

There are three separate things the larger Twitter user base demands from the company:

- the ability to send messages out to the entire world

- the ability to interact with fellow users

- the ability to send messages without the fear of toxic responses

The problem is it’s basically impossible to guarantee all three at once. Call it the “Twitter impossibility theorem,” to ape Kenneth Arrow. You can have an open Twitter, you can have an interactive Twitter, and you can have a troll-free Twitter, but it is basically impossible to have all three. One of the demands must be dropped.

Twitter reminds me of that fish in The Hitchhiker’s Guide, which jumps into your ear and translates all the languages of the gallaxy into your language, which started wars because it meant that everyone could understand what you had said, and hate it, and be understood by you hating it.

Twitter doesn’t translate, but it connects the hitherto unconnected.

Friday November 02 2018

I follow the actor James Dreyfus on Twitter, because I liked him in Gimme Gimme Gimme and The Thin Blue Line, and because his opinions seem to be refreshingly un- and often anti-PC.

Dreyfus recently tweeted about a device that the owner of a blind dog had made for the dog, to stop the dog bumping his nose into things, and instead bumping the device into things before his nose got there.  It looks like a sort of horizontal halo, with a curve curving out in front of the dog’s nose.  As a result, the blind dog became willing to wander around, whereas previously he’d been too scared of bumping his nose on things.  There’s video, showing how this device works and what a difference it is making.

James Dreyfus is in favour of kindness to animals, as am I, and he complimented the owner for his kindness and inventiveness, as do I.

When I went a-googling on the subject of blind dogs, I discovered that you can actually buy a device like this, as one of Dreyfus’s commenters points out.  It’s called a halo guide, although it doesn’t do much in the way of guiding.  It just takes the hurt out of bumping into things.  But, it is sort of guiding, because presumably the dog gets to learn his way around.

But, these halo guides are quite expensive, and anyway, how would you know beforehand what are they called, or even that such a thing already exists?  How do you go looking?  I got lucky.  (Before I realised that a commenter had said this.)

However, what I was trying to find out was if any blind dogs are assisted by guide dogs.  But if you google that, Google just sees “blind” “guide” “dogs” and assumes the dogs are for blind humans, as they mostly are of course.  Try telling Google that you want to know about a guide dog and a blind dog.  Can’t be done.  I couldn’t do it, anyway.

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.

Tuesday October 09 2018

When I google “crane”, what I want to see is tall pointy things made of metal for shifting stuff around on building sites, not birds posing en masse in a lake.  You can’t always get what you want.

A further illustration of that same principle came when, this morning, I had reason to google “canada goose”, because this time I actually wanted to learn about a bird.  I photoed some lines of birds a while back, in Rye, and blog pal 6k commented today that they were probably Canada geese.  And because 6k backed this up with some migration info that seemed quite informed, this sounded right, despite the fact that Rye is nowhere near to Canada.

So I googled “canada goose”.

But what I got was lots of expensive jackets with furry hoods.  Even after two pages of links to stuff about the jackets, there was literally no mention of any bird.

You can’t sell a bird for thousand quid, I guess.  Or, not a bird like a Canada goose.  I am not the customer of Google.  I am Google’s product.  Overpriced jacket sellers are Google’s customer.

However, if you google canada geese, sanity is restored.  And I think Canada geese migrating is even better.  It would appear from the images you get if you look there that Canada geese do often form great big mobs, fish shoal style.  It can take them a while to get organised into lines.

Wednesday October 03 2018

This:

image

Photoed by me last night.  And explained here.  The Metropolitan Line came up with this logo just after the regular London Underground logo was devised.  Now this version of it survives,but only on platforms at Moorgate that are no longer used.

Weird.

In the twentieth century, weird is all it would have been.  Then forgotten.  Just another of life’s little mysteries.  But, in the age of the internet, there are no little mysteries.

Tuesday September 25 2018

I was reading this piece by Will Self about the baleful effect upon literature of the internet, screen reading instead of proper reading from paper bound into books, etc.  But then I got interrupted by the thought of writing this, which is about how a big difference between reading from a screen, as I just was, and reading from a printed book, is that if you are reading a book, it is more cumbersome, and sometimes not possible, to switch to attending to something else, like consulting the county cricket scores (Surrey are just now being bollocked by Essex), seeing what the latest is on Instapundit, or tuning into the latest pronouncements of Friends on Facebook or enemies on Twitter, or whatever is your equivalent list of interruptions.

This effect works when I am reading a book in the lavatory, even though, in my lavatory, there are several hundred other books present.  The mere fact of reading a book seems to focus my mind.  Perhaps this is only a habit of mine, just as not concentrating is only a habit when I am looking at a screen, but these onlys are still a big deal.

The effect is greatly enhanced when I go walkabout, and take a book with me.  Then - when being publicly transported or when pausing for coffee or rest or whatever - I cannot switch.  I can only concentrate on the one book, or not.

It’s the same in the theatre or the opera house, which friends occasionally entice me into.  Recently I witnessed Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  The production was the usual abomination, but the orchestra and chorus were sublime, as were occasional bits of the solo singing.  And I now know Lohengrin a lot better.  Why?  Because, when I was stuck inside the ROH, there was nothing else to do except pay attention.  I could shut my eyes, which I often did.  But, I couldn’t wave a mouse or a stick at it and change it to The Mikado or Carry on Cleo, even though there were longish stretches when, if I could have, I would have.  It was Lohengrin or nothing.

I surmise that quite a few people these days deliberately subject themselves to this sort of forced concentration, knowing that it may be a bit of a struggle, but that it will a struggle they will be glad to have struggled with.  I don’t think it’s just me.

This explains, among other things, why I still resist portable screens.  Getting out and about is a chance to concentrate.

Monday September 24 2018

Maybe “art” is putting it a bit strongly, but nevertheless, I do really like this photo ...:

image

… which I took in the summer of 2015, somewhere in the City of London.  The directory I found this in is called “Looking4BroadgateTower”, so that tells you roughly where I was.

BMdotcom-wise, this photo has so many boxes ticked.

- First things first: cranes.  In this case, crane towers.  BMmmmmm.

- Reinforcing rods, sticking out the top of the lump like vegetation.  Reinforcement: insufficiently sung heroism of modernity.

- A crane tower shadow, on …

- … that material they shove over …

- … scaffolding.

- That monochrome thing that happens during sunsets.  And – who can say? - maybe even during sunrises.

- The way that sunlight hits crane towers and just lights them up, which I so often try to get and so seldom manage to get.

- Lots of horizontals and verticals, made possible not by Photoshop(clone)ing but by the excellent zoom lens on my nearly-but-actually-not-SLR camera, with its one brilliant super-zoomy lens.

So, lots to like there.  But what and where was this?  This is the kind of thing I like to know.

Luckily, I took informational photos, as well as arty photos like that above.  Always, when out taking photos like the above, take lots of photos which are not for art, but for information about that art.  I need to keep telling myself, because often I fail to do this.

I fail, that is to say, to take photos like this ...:

image

… which scores about zero for artistic impression, but which tells me what all that art in the first photo above actually was.

In the above (information) photo we see the same crane towers and the same lump, but viewed side on.  It’s definitely the same stuff.

There’s even a name and a website to be seen, if you crop it, and then expand it to be 500 pixels across, like this:

image

So, there we have it.  It’s the earlier stages of this.  Once you have the words to describe what you want to learn about, the internet suddenly starts to work.

This being this:

image

My best guess is that the lump of art in the first photo in this posting is somewhere in the middle of the more complicated computerised Thing on the right.

Sunday September 09 2018

Photoed by me, this afternoon, just outside Acton Central London Overground station:

image

Time was when I would have completely trusted a blog posting like this one, which says good things about this enterprise.  Now I merely trust this blog posting enough to link to it, and enough to hope that what it says is true.  I’ve no reason to think that it isn’t, apart from the fact it’s on the internet.

I know what you’re thinking.  How can you be sure that I am for real?  I am, but I would say that, wouldn’t i?

Saturday September 08 2018

This morning, I was half attending to the Test Match. And I was switching back and forth between the Cricinfo page that showed the latest few deliveries with written ball-by-ball commentary ("live"), and the version that showed the complete England scorecard ("scorecard").  I was doing this because I was trying to track how the England stand in progress, being accomplished by Jos Buttler and Stuart Broad, compared to other stands in the innings, and also how Buttler’s personal score compared to other personal scores in the England innings.  In the end, the Buttler/Broad stand was the biggest in the England innings, and Buttler was the top individual England scorer.  Following a terrible evening yesterday, England had a very good morning this morning.

But this is not a posting only about cricket, it is mostly a posting about internet advertising, and about what I suspect is deliberate deception in the matter of how effective internet advertising actually is.

I know, I know, if I’m not paying, I’m not watching the product; I am the product.  But I suspect that I, the product, am being lied about.

Every time I performed one of the above switches, from the “live” version of the Cricinfo test match page to the “scorecard” version, a noisy video advert cranked itself up at my new destination.  Silencing such video adverts can be difficult.  You tell them to shut up but they just ignore you and carry on shouting, like they own the site, which they sort of do.  However, I have discovered a way to silence these adverts.  Click on them, and immediately close the window that this click opens.  The advert feels that its job is done, and it stops shouting.  Its job is to get “clicks” to whatever the hell it was advertising.

But what were my clicks?  Were they attempts to learn more about the product in question.  No.  They were simply me getting the advert to shut the hell up.  I paid no attention to the adverts.

How many others have discovered this trick?  I can’t be the only one.  So, you stick your annoying advert on a popular website.  People click on the advert, close the window as soon as it opens, but the people who placed this advert assure the purveyor of the product that the advert got “attention”, from me and all the others who clicked purely to shut the advert up.  Because, look how many people clicked on the noisy bloody advert!  I did it half a dozen times for several different adverts, every time I switched from one version of that Cricinfo page to the other, which I did a lot.  That’s a lot of attention!

No it isn’t.  It is a small amount of contempt, for bad-mannered tradesmen shouting at me in my kitchen.

What’s that you say?  I’m a libertarian?  Yes I am.  So, why am I complaining about capitalism?

Try reading my piece for Samizdata entitled ”The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism”.

That link there hasn’t been shouting at you all the time you’ve been reading this posting.  This is a link with manners.  You can follow this link, in silence.  Or you can ignore it, in silence.  You are welcome.

Friday August 24 2018

Here are two fun and silly and consequently viral animal videos that I was recently shown on Twitter, but they both raise a non-trivial question about animals and their degree of self-awareness.

First up, a cat looks in a mirror, and is surely not aware that the other cat is him/her.  Cats are much stupider than they seem to us, because their basic method of going about things is the way a wise human goes about things, often rather slowly, carefully and thoughtfully, or else in a way that looks very alert and clever But, often they are thick as several planks.

Meanwhile, a dog watches herself on TV doing one of those canine obstacle courses in a show.  Dogs behave like stupid humans, with wildly excessive enthusiasm for stupid things, and consequently we tend to think of them as being very rather stupid.  But the typical dog is a lot cleverer than the typical cat, I believe.  Dogs don’t care how stupid they look.  Cats typically don’t either, but cats typically behave like they do care about looking stupid, unless you dangle something in front of them on a string, at which point they go crazy, unless they are too old to care.

But back to my self-awareness point.

As commenter “Matt” says, of the dog watching herself on TV:

This is amazing I hope she knows its her.

In other words, Matt is no more certain than I am that she does know it’s her.  Maybe she’s watching a totally different dog do what she likes to do, and she’s excited about that, just like any other sports fan.

The cat video ends with a variation on what seems to be a regular internet gag about misbehaving reflections (that vid being in the comments on the cat vid), but that’s a different story.  Someone else adds a Marx Brother, or maybe it’s actually two Marx Brothers, doing the same gag, in those far off days before there was an internet.

Tuesday August 14 2018

On that same photowalk with GodDaughter 1, five years ago, that I mentioned yesterday, and a bit earlier than when I took yesterday’s photo, of her and her shadow and my shadow, I took these photos:

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

You can see how that little mind of mine was working, can’t you?  That being one of the amusements of me taking so many photos that comes across years later.  I can now see exactly what I was thinking, in a little photo-moment, five years ago.

I encounter an interesting sculpture.  (I find that I like sculpture more and more, provided I like it of course.) Then, in the distance, I see a favourite Big Thing, in this case the Big Olympic Thing.  I line up the Big Olympic Thing up the sculpture.  I line it up again, this time including only that very recognisable top of the Big Olympic thing, and putting that right on top of the sculpture, like a handle.  Good.  Nice one.

Then I draw back, and take another shot that provides some more context, while being careful to keep the Big Olympic Thing present, to one side.  What I do not do, regrettably, is photo any sign or caption which told me about this piece of sculpture.  What is it?  Who did it?  When?  Why?  What’s it of?  There must have been some clue I could have photoed.

Happily, this is the twenty first century, and a little descriptive googling ("sculpture clasped hands” or some such thing) got me to places like this, which tell the story.  And it’s quite a story.

Wednesday July 18 2018

Chris Martin, in this:

… I’m Christ Martin. ...

Just under the subheading “Transcript”.

But then again, why not?  In the Hispano- and Portugo-(?) spheres, they have lots of people called Jesus.

Friday July 13 2018

Today is Friday, which used to be my day for cat stories but is now also the day here for creatures of other sorts.  But for old times sake, I just got google to tell me some cat news, having had a busy day and not having any recently encountered creature stories of my own to muse upon.

And without doubt, the most intriguing yarns google told me about were these ones, published by cryptoslate.com:

How Two Guys Made $100k Trading Digital Cats on Ethereum, Merit of Digital Collectibles

CryptoKitties Keeps With Ethereum and Goes Open-Source

Millions of Dollars Worth of Cats are Still Infesting the Ethereum Network

The last paragraph of the last of these three stories goes thus:

While CryptoKitties may sound laughable to some, the exuberant on-boarding of Ethereum is sending positive signals around the network.  And in fact, CryptoKitties now accounts for around 4% of all Ethereum transactions; it’s the second most used application on the network. CryptoKitties definitely proves there is definitely market for rare, fungible, digital assets that are traded and exchanged on the blockchain.

Definitely.

Friday May 25 2018

Those photos of Oscar would appear to have made quite a difference to Oscar’s life, because he went missing last Monday, and three of these photos helped to find him and get him home again:

image

GodDaughter2 will be telling me more about all this soon.  Like: Were there any other recent photos of Oscar that would have worked the same trick?  I don’t want to jump to conclusions, as people say when they do want to jump to conclusions, but maybe without my photos, Oscar would have ended up having a totally different life.

The heart of the operation was the much grumbled-about social media.  The above poster was concocted in London by a friend of GD2’s, and then socially media-ed all over the local area in France.  Facebook, take a bow.  In addition to being an actual friend of mine, GD2 is a Facebook “friend”, but I hadn’t been paying attention to her Oscar postings, until she phoned and then emailed me about all this excitement:

About 300 people shared various posts I posted on Facebook to find Oscar. He left Monday, I started looking for him last night and we got him today!

GD2 made all this happen while in London, that email having arrived was yesterday, last night being Wednesday evening.  It seems that Oscar, having got lost, was then cared for by another family.  But when, thanks to the above social media activity, they got in touch and Oscar got back to his original carers, GD2’s family, he apparently spent many hours sleeping, which is not the routine I recall when I was there.  This tells to me that he was very stressed while away, and was relieved to be home.  With home needing no sneer quotes, the way it might with some cats.

6k has also been impressed by these Oscar photos, this one in particular …:

image

…, and he has been making that the basis of various would-be internet memes, of which this one is the latest:

image

Reuniting lost loved-ones is a classic excuse for the Total Surveillance World we now live in.

And actually (see above (sometimes)) quite a good excuse.  If I, or someone, had not been surveilling Oscar, he might still be lost.

I also remember how, in the past, GD2’s parents would grumble about how much time she would spend social-media-ing, instead of doing “real” things, like sleep or homework.  But finding Oscar was very real.

Thursday May 24 2018

In Quimper, the city in Brittany which I recently visited on account of having friends who live there, I photoed this:

image

My camera’s ability to notice details that I didn’t notice at the time …

image

… immediately enabled me to learn who did it, and what else he has done.

I love the internet.