Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

Home

www.google.co.uk


Recent Comments


Monthly Archives


Most recent entries


Search


Advanced Search


Other Blogs I write for

Brian Micklethwait's Education Blog

CNE Competition
CNE Intellectual Property
Samizdata
Transport Blog


Blogroll

2 Blowhards
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adloyada
Adventures in Capitalism
Alan Little
Albion's Seedling
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Alex Singleton
AngloAustria
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Biased BBC
Bishop Hill
BLDG BLOG
Bloggers Blog
Blognor Regis
Blowing Smoke
Boatang & Demetriou
Boing Boing
Boris Johnson
Brazen Careerist
Bryan Appleyard
Burning Our Money
Cafe Hayek
Cato@Liberty
Charlie's Diary
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
Chicago Boyz
China Law Blog
Cicero's Songs
City Comforts
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Clay Shirky
Climate Resistance
Climate Skeptic
Coffee & Complexity
Coffee House
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Contra Niche
Contrary Brin
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Скрипучая беседка
CrozierVision
Dave Barry
Davids Medienkritik
David Thompson
Deleted by tomorrow
deputydog
diamond geezer
Dilbert.Blog
Dizzy Thinks
Dodgeblogium
Don't Hold Your Breath
Douglas Carswell Blog
dropsafe
Dr Robert Lefever
Dr. Weevil
ecomyths
engadget
Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights
English Cut
English Russia
EU Referendum
Ezra Levant
Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
Ferraris for all
Flickr blog
Freeborn John
Freedom and Whisky
From The Barrel of a Gun
ft.com/maverecon
Fugitive Ink
Future Perfect
FuturePundit
Gaping Void
Garnerblog
Gates of Vienna
Gizmodo
Global Warming Politics
Greg Mankiw's Blog
Guido Fawkes' blog
HE&OS
Here Comes Everybody
Hit & Run
House of Dumb
Iain Dale's Diary
Ideas
Idiot Toys
IMAO
Indexed
India Uncut
Instapundit
Intermezzo
Jackie Danicki
James Delingpole
James Fallows
Jeffrey Archer's Official Blog
Jessica Duchen's classical music blog
Jihad Watch
Joanne Jacobs
Johan Norberg
John Redwood
Jonathan's Photoblog
Kristine Lowe
Laissez Faire Books
Languagehat
Last of the Few
Lessig Blog
Libertarian Alliance: Blog
Liberty Alone
Liberty Dad - a World Without Dictators
Lib on the United Kingdom
Little Man, What Now?
listen missy
Loic Le Meur Blog
L'Ombre de l'Olivier
London Daily Photo
Londonist
Mad Housewife
Mangan's Miscellany
Marginal Revolution
Mark Wadsworth
Media Influencer
Melanie Phillips
Metamagician and the Hellfire Club
Michael Jennings
Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal
Mick Hartley
More Than Mind Games
mr eugenides
Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism
My Boyfriend Is A Twat
My Other Stuff
Natalie Solent
Nation of Shopkeepers
Neatorama
neo-neocon
Never Trust a Hippy
NO2ID NewsBlog
Non Diet Weight Loss
Normblog
Nurses for Reform blog
Obnoxio The Clown
Oddity Central
Oliver Kamm
On an Overgrown Path
One Man & His Blog
Owlthoughts of a peripatetic pedant
Oxford Libertarian Society /blog
Patri's Peripatetic Peregrinations
phosita
Picking Losers
Pigeon Blog
Police Inspector Blog
PooterGeek
Power Line
Private Sector Development blog
Public Interest.co.uk
Publius Pundit
Quotulatiousness
Rachel Lucas
RealClimate
Remember I'm the Bloody Architect
Rob's Blog
Sandow
Scrappleface
Setting The World To Rights
Shane Greer
Shanghaiist
SimonHewittJones.com The Violin Blog
Sinclair's Musings
Slipped Disc
Sky Watching My World
Social Affairs Unit
Squander Two Blog
Stephen Fry
Stuff White People Like
Stumbling and Mumbling
Style Bubble
Sunset Gun
Survival Arts
Susan Hill
Teblog
Techdirt
Technology Liberation Front
The Adam Smith Institute Blog
The Agitator
The AntRant
The Becker-Posner Blog
The Belgravia Dispatch
The Belmont Club
The Big Blog Company
The Big Picture
the blog of dave cole
The Corridor of Uncertainty (a Cricket blog)
The Croydonian
The Daily Ablution
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Kitchen
The Dissident Frogman
The Distributed Republic
The Early Days of a Better Nation
The Examined Life
The Filter^
The Fly Bottle
The Freeway to Serfdom
The Future of Music
The Futurist
The Happiness Project
The Jarndyce Blog
The London Fog
The Long Tail
The Lumber Room
The Online Photographer
The Only Winning Move
The Policeman's Blog
The Road to Surfdom
The Sharpener
The Speculist
The Surfer
The Wedding Photography Blog
The Welfare State We're In
things magazine
TigerHawk
Tim Blair
Tim Harford
Tim Worstall
tomgpalmer.com
tompeters!
Transterrestrial Musings
UK Commentators - Laban Tall's Blog
UK Libertarian Party
Unqualified Offerings
Violins and Starships
Virginia Postrel
Vodkapundit
WebUrbanist
we make money not art
What Do I Know?
What's Up With That?
Where the grass is greener
White Sun of the Desert
Why Evolution Is True
Your Freedom and Ours


Websites


Mainstream Media

BBC
Guardian
Economist
Independent
MSNBC
Telegraph
The Sun
This is London
Times


Syndicate

RSS 1.0
RSS 2.0
Atom
Feedburner
Podcasts


Categories

Advertising
Africa
Anglosphere
Architecture
Art
Asia
Atheism
Australasia
Billion Monkeys
Bits from books
Bloggers and blogging
Books
Brian Micklethwait podcasts
Brians
Bridges
Business
Career counselling
Cartoons
Cats and kittens
China
Civil liberties
Classical music
Comedy
Comments
Computer graphics
Cranes
Crime
Current events
Democracy
Design
Digital photographers
Economics
Education
Emmanuel Todd
Environment
Europe
Expression Engine
Family
Food and drink
France
Friends
Globalisation
Healthcare
History
How the mind works
India
Intellectual property
Japan
Kevin Dowd
Language
Latin America
Law
Libertarianism
Links
Literature
London
Media and journalism
Middle East and Islam
Movies
Music
My blog ruins
My photographs
Open Source
Opera
Painting
Photography
Podcasting
Poetry
Politics
Pop music
Propaganda
Quote unquote
Radio
Religion
Roof clutter
Russia
Science
Science fiction
Sculpture
Signs and notices
Social Media
Society
Software
South America
Space
Sport
Technology
Television
The internet
The Micklethwait Clock
Theatre
This and that
This blog
Transport
Travel
USA
Video
War


Category archive: How the mind works

Tuesday January 27 2015

Lexington Green, here:

What if … ?

What would a history of the British Empire look like if it did not use the “rise and fall” metaphor?

What would that history look like if it examined not just the political framework or just the superficial gilt and glitter, or just the cruelty and crimes, but the deeper and more enduring substance?

What if someone wrote a history of the impact of the English speaking people and their institutions (political, financial, professional, commercial, military, technical, scientific, cultural), and the infinitely complex web of interconnections between them, as a continuous and unbroken story, with a past a present … and a future?

In other words, what if we were to read a history that did not see a rising British Empire followed by a falling Empire, then a rising American Empire which displaced it, but an organism which has taken on many forms over many centuries, and on many continents, but is nonetheless a single life?

What if we assume that the British Empire was not something that ended, but that the Anglosphere, of which the Empire was one expression, is something that has never stopped growing and evolving, and taking on new institutional forms?

What if it looked at the unremitting advance, the pitiless onslaught, universal insinuation, of the English speakers on the rest of the world, seizing big chunks of it (North America, Australia), sloshing up into many parts of it and receding again (India, Nigeria, Malaya), carving permanent marks in the cultural landscape they left behind, all the while getting wealthier and more powerful and pushing the frontiers of science and technology and all the other forms of material progress?

What if jet travel and the Internet have at last conquered the tyranny of distance which the Empire Federationists of a century ago dreamed that steam and telegraph cables would conquer? What if they were just a century too early?

What if linguistic and cultural commonalities are more important than mere geographical location in creating political unity in this newly shrunken world?

I recall musing along the same kind of lines myself, a while back.

The important thing is, this mustn’t be advertised first as a plan.  If that happens, then all the people who are against the Anglosphere, and who prefer places like Spain and Venezuela and Cuba and Hell, will use their ownership of the Mainstream Media to Put A Stop to the plan.  What needs to happen is for us to just do it, and then after about two decades of us having just done it, they’ll realise that it is a fate (as the Hellists will describe it) accompli.

Because, guess what, we probably are already doing it.

Wednesday January 21 2015

At this blog, I am finding my one-a-day habit quite easy to stick with.  Part of this, I think, is that the penalty (in my mind) of failing to do something today is (in my mind) very large, by which I mean very large when set beside the effort of doing something (which can be something very easy to do).

Most people talk about habits and how you get into them as if they are all about, well, habit.  The brain is automatically triggered to do whatever it is, whenever, each day, or whenever you have just done something else.  You lock your door when you leave your home when nobody else is there.  After dinner, you immediately wash up.  Whatever.  It becomes painful to neglect such habits.  And there is, I’m sure, plenty of truth to such notions.

But the relationship between cost and benefit is also significant, regardless of mere mental triggers.  The longer you have been able to stick with a good habit, the worse it feels to break it, because of all that past investment.  On the other hand, the penalty for sticking with a bad habit (like me failing, yet again, to do a Samizdata posting after a longish dry spell there) is not great.  Percentage-wise it is tiny.  Instead of your dry spell lasting twenty days, it lasts twenty one days.  Big deal.

This is surely part of why getting out of a bad habit is very hard, at first, and getting into a good habit is hard, at first.  The prices of each particular failure are small, at first.  But as the good habit persists, the price of a failure to maintain it rises, while the cost of maintaining it stays the same, or (because of the mental trigger effect) actually falls.  (You get, as the saying goes, into the swing of it.)

Talking about “past investment” in a habit sounds like the “sunk investment fallacy”.  This is where you persist in investing in something not because the future investing you do will be profitable, but because of all the investing you have already done, even though future investment will be lost also.  But the reason why there is a special name for this error is that the sunk investment “fallacy” feels like it is true even when it isn’t.  The label exists because the error is so tempting, and consequently so common.  If you do not persist, all that past investment will feel wasted.  And of course, if continuing to “invest” in the habit will actually be beneficial (if the habit would be worth starting now even if you hadn’t already started it), then you really would be wasting all that past investment, if you let the habit slip.

I am not sure about this, and am not confident that I have expressed this very well, perhaps because I have it a bit wrong.  But that is the sort of thing that this blog is for.  I post half-baked thoughts and thereby get to bake them a bit more.

One obvious complaint about this kind of thinking is that blogging is supposed to be fun.  Well, for me, it is fun, when I can make myself do it.  Above all, it is fun when I have done it.  So, although not all aspects of doing it are fun, it is still fun, mostly.

Tuesday January 20 2015

Here, at the end:

You don’t always have to understand exactly what’s going on to enjoy what you’re seeing.

Words to live by, in all manner of situations.

That was said about this fun and games stuff, but I was saying much the same to myself as I watched the fabulously entertaining highlights of the semi-finals of the F(ootball) A(merica) Cup, or whatever they call it over there.  A great come-back and extra time win by Seattle.  A crushing victory by New England, and accusations that they cheated by softening their balls.  What more could you ask for?

Well, what you could ask for is a duet of monodirectional brackets in the heading.  But, no need, because there it is.

Monday January 19 2015

This posting is a bit of an experiment, because the two pictures embedded in it may not be small enough, to start with, and may have to be made smaller, after all those of you who hang on my every posting, and see it immediately, have seen it immediately.  Also, I want to put them on both sides of the posting, and that may not work either.  So, patience everyone, and be ready to endure graphic juggling, because these are the kind of things that my posting software is bad at showing me.  I have to see evertything in situ, to be sure.

imageimageSo, to get to the point, what this is about is the way that very small pictures sometimes look quite different to the exact same pictures, but larger, a theme also explored in this posting. And the idea is that the two pictures will go, on the left and on the right, at the top of this paragraph.  De-dum de-dum de-dum, computer crap computer crap.  Well, touch wood, this is working.  There was a bit of fiddling with the instructions about putting pictures on the right or on the left, but I finally cracked that and made it happen.

The point of all this is that the pictures, when small, look quite similar.  The only very obvious difference is that on the left there are rather more verticals in the railings to be seen.  But click on the pictures and get them ten times larger, and you will see that the focussing is quite different.  In the one on the left, the railings are the front are in focus and the Shard is barely discernible behind them.  On the right, the big picture shows the Shard quite clearly while the railings are very blurry.  Okay, the small pictures are not identical, and alert viewers may have detected the very difference that I say is so unclear in the small pictures, but the small pictures are much more similar to each other than the large ones are.

One of the many morals to be drawn from this is that the bigger the screen on your camera is the better, because the bigger the picture, the easier it is to tell exactly what that picture looks like.  This is yet another reason why people who take pictures with tablets, the cameras with the biggest screens of all, are being very sensible.  They are the ones who know exactly what they are getting, exactly when they are getting it.

In the end, the only cock-up that early readers were subjected to was that in the heading, I at first put that the Shard was in front of the railings rather than behind them.

Saturday January 17 2015

When it comes to Micklethwait’s Laws, the best one undoubtedly is and will always be Micklethwait’s Law of Negotiated Misery.

But there is also a Micklethwait’s Law of Shelves.  On the face of it, Micklethwait’s Law of Shelves is not that fundamental, but, writing about it now, I do think it explains quite a lot about the world, and about why there is so much stuff in the world, clogging it up.  It is a law that, unlike with (so far as I am aware) Micklethwait’s Law of Negotiated Misery, many others have discovered the truth of, even if I’ve not been able to find it spelt out in so many words on the www.  Micklethwait’s (or Whoever’s) Law of Shelves states that …:

image

… there is always room for more shelves.

That’s my bedroom.  Imagine what the rest of my place is like.

Thursday January 15 2015

Here’s a nice coincidence.  There I was writing about how I went from being, in my teens, a bad pen-and-ink picture-maker to, from around 2000 onwards, a far happier digital-photographic picture maker.  And here is a picture that captures that kind of metamorphosis perfectly:

image

It’s one of these pictures by Christoph Niemann.  Niemann’s pictures bring to mind that phrase used by one of the alter egos of Barry Humphries, Barry McKenzie, who described paintings as “hand done photos”.  These pictures really do only work as photos.  Until they are photoed, the job is not done.  But the hand-done bit is essential to what they are.

One thing about these pictures that I particularly like, apart from the basic fact that I like them, is their very favourable effort-to-impact ratio.  For my taste, too much of the picture-making displayed at Colossal consists of stuff that is quite nice to look at, but which took an absurdly huge amount of time and effort to contrive.  Also, there is often no logical or even meaningful connection between how the pictures are contrived and how they end up looking.  So, you’ve made a table cloth out of seeds.  Clever you.  But, why?  Niemann’s pictures answer this question perfectly.

But then again, the internet being the internet, if your elaborately pointless pictures catch people’s fancy and thousands glance at them, then I guess that, if you put in a lot of time and effort, you may well reckon than all the time and effort was worth it, especially if you had fun spending it and doing it.  And of course it is digital photography that transforms a laboriously produced one-off item of visual art that took far too much time and effort to do, into a mass experience that it made sense to spend a lot of time and effort doing.  But, most of these intricate sculptures and pictures at Colossal are just sculptures and pictures that were then photographed.  Niemann’s pictures are real Hand Done Photos.

As for me, between being a bad pen-and-ink picture maker and an okay-to-good digital photographer, I endured a big interval during which I made hardly any pictures of any kind.  My pictorial enthusiasm expressed itself in the design of pamphlets, and graphic design generally.  Basically I became a desktop publisher.  (I even earned money doing this.) First I just did publishing, on a desktop, paper-scissors-glue-photocopier.  Then computers arrived, and I was an early adopter of “desktop publishing”.  Then the internet arrived, and drew a big line under all that stuff.  I shovelled all my pamphlets onto the internet, and became a blogger.  And, I bought my first digital camera.  At first, blogging and digital photography did not mix very well.  Now, they mix very well indeed.

Thursday January 08 2015

At the end of November 2014 (on the day that I also took these photos) I made a small pilgrimage to Tower Bridge, the excuse being that I might be able to photo up someone’s skirt through the observation floor that they had recently installed at the top of that bridge, and the reason being that I simply like to go on random pilgrimages in central London, for the sake of what I might see on the way there, there, and on the way back.

As often happens with these small pilgrimages of mine, I got there not at midday, but towards the end of the day.  By which I mean just before and during the ending of daylight.  And the ending of daylight is a very good time for taking photos, especially with a digital camera that is good in low light conditions, and especially if you are someone who likes taking pictures of other photographers in ways that don’t show their faces but do show the screens of their cameras.  At dusk, those screens tend to show up particularly well, as a number of these photographer photos illustrate:

image image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image image

The more I photo, the more I find myself liking to take categories of photos, photos in sets.  At first, my photos of photographers were just photos of photographers.  But soon I was subdividing that huge category, into photographers taking selfies, photographers looking at the photos they’d taken.  Recently I have found myself making further subdivisions, often of photos I have been taking for some while but which I had not been putting into a separate category in my head, if you get my meaning.  So, above, in addition to all the photos of photographer’s camera screens, we see contributions to the photographers taking selfies category (subdivision: couples taking selfies), to the photographers looking at the photos they have just taken category, but also a good addition to the bald blokes taking photos category, and two for the photographers with interesting hats category.

And of course, there is that vast category that has hove into view in the last few years, of people taking photos with their mobile phones.  No less than seven of the above twelve snaps are of people doing this.  This was not a decision on my part, merely a consequence of me picking out nice photos of people taking photos.

My favourite photo of these is the last one of all, bottom right.  The light is nearly gone, but that means that the view of the shot he is taking (with his mobile phone) shines forth splendidly, as strongly as what he is photoing.  And I love that I got what he was photoing as well as his screen picture of what he was photoing.

It was the essentialness of posting that one photo, very late but not never, that made me, while I was about it, also stick up the others, all twelve having already been subdivided into a separate little directory.

Tuesday December 30 2014

I have swapped one kind of computing confusion, too complicated even to describe, for another, and am now using a French keyboard, but telling the computer I am using that this keyboard is really British.  This means various letters on the keyboard being in the wrong place, such as the Q and the A, which are where the A and the Q ought to be.  There are other confusions, of a more serious sort.

This is a very peculiar experience for a touch typist like me, because it means that I can now only touch type.  I cannot pause and go find the correct letters, because I do not know them, or not the ones that cause all the trouble.  Only my fingers do.

So it is touch typing, or no typing at all.

Which is better than French typing, but still very imperfect, because some of the regular British things are things which my fingers are not that good at, most notably inverted commas, both single and double.  This is why I said it is in the previous paragraph rather than abbreviating it, and why I am saying it is in this sentence, twice, without any inverted commas to indicate that I am quoting myself.

I seem to recall that faced with this dilemma on a previous French expedition, I had to make do with the computer recognising the French keyboard I was using as French, which meant switching As and Qs, etc.  The alternative arrangement is somewhat better, but only somewhat.

Luckily my fingers know how to do two important things, neither of which are in the same place on these keyboards, namely commas, and full stops.

Another oddity is that the spellchecking in my blog input process demands that all words be recognisably French, and so underlines most words, because of them not being French, thus rendering itself inutile, and yes that is how you spell inutile.  But, sorry about all the other spelling errors in this.

Wednesday December 24 2014

Yes it’s another Immaculately Modernistical Japanese House Posting at Dezeen, where the pictures are full of The Wires …:

image

… but where the text never mentions The Wires.

They don’t see the anarchy.  They see only the Order.

Sunday December 14 2014

A moment ago I had a twenty first century moment.  I thought: Wouldn’t it be great to have a keyboard on the top of your thighs, embedded in the front of the top of the legs of your trousers.  You could then type wherever, perhaps combined with a pair of those google glasses that you also wear perpetually.  And it could all add up to a mega-computer if combined with a big cycle helmet full of electro-magic.

The point being that typing is never going to go away.  The QWERTY keyboard is permanently with us, I think.

So, what about that top-of-your-trousers keyboard?  Time was when a thought is all that such a thought could ever be.  But now, no sooner is the thought thought than it is googled:

image

Brilliant.  It’s not market-ready yet, but they’re working on it.

Gotta love that Golden Age.

Although, great though the basic idea is, I can’t help feeling that (a) washing and/or cleaning might be an issue, and (b) the keyboard needs to be separable from the trousers by some means.  Maybe just strapped on, or something.  What if the keyboard malfunctions?  Do you then have to chuck away the jeans?  What if the jeans catch on fire?  Is the mere keyboard then any use?  Problems problems.  This, after all, is why keyboards originally separated themselves from personal computers.

But like I say, the basic idea is a very good start.

Maybe in the longer run, the future of the mobile keyboard is that your Goggle Spex will project a keyboard onto a nearby surface (and then keep that keyboard still even when you move your head around), which it will then observe your fingers typing on.

But basically we are talking about the next iteration of the personal computer.  First, big old box in the office.  Second, big old luggable/portable “laptop”.  Third, little toy in your pocket that you can peck at.  And now fourth, this.  A real computer than you can wear all the time and type into whenever, wherever, within less than a second of whatever you want to type occurring to you.  Had I been on a train when I had this notion, I could not then have done this blog posting.  That is what needs to change, much more conveniently than it has so far changed.

Friday December 12 2014

I just chanced upon this list of London’s twenty tallest buildings.  What I particularly like about this list is that it includes date of construction.

No less that sixteen of these tall buildings were built during this century.  The other four are: One Canada Square (the pointy Docklands one), “Tower 42” (aka the Natwest Building), the “South Bank Tower”, and the Guy’s Tower (aka the ugly little monster now dwarfed by and right next to the Shard).  Those are all twentieth century.  All the rest are twenty first century.

That last one, the Guy’s Tower was, when first perpetrated, the tallest building in London.  I did not know this.  Now it holds the number eighteen spot.

image

That’s a picture I took of the middle of the Shard and of the top of Guy’s Tower from Blackfriars Station (the one on the bridge) when both that station and the Shard were still being constructed, in 2012.  I chose that picture because in it, the Guy’s Tower looks particularly ugly and bedraggled and stained and horrible.

I recently speculated that the Guy’s Tower might have made the Shard possible, by destroying all concerns about aesthetic suitability in its area.  Now I am starting to suspect that it may have had an even more profound effect, on the whole of London.  I mean, if that horrid Thing is the tallest Thing London has, then the sooner we build lots of other taller Things the better.  That’s what I would have been thinking in the seventies, if I had been thinking about London Things at all at that time.

What I am saying, to spell it out, is that if that Guy’s Tower had not been built at all, then the subsequent architectural history of London might have been very different, and far less interesting.

Friday December 05 2014

When I got to that ASI Christmas Party the other night, I was already in a grumpy mood, on account of not being allowed to bring three Opera Babes to the party.  That’s right.  The Adam Smith Institute didn’t have room for three glamorous young women, two of them at the Royal College of Music (Goddaughter 2 and her friend) and one of them (another friend of Goddaughter 2) who was auditioning for the Royal College of Music (having already been accepted last year by the Guildhall).  I had already arranged to bring Goddaughter 2, but the ASI having spurned her two glamorous Opera Babe friends, GD2 not unreasonably preferred to be with them.  I don’t mean that the ASI said: Opera Babes? - No thanks.  I mean that they didn’t even allow me to say that they were Opera Babes, so oversubscribed were they.  Or so she said.  The ASI lady put their names on the subs bench list in case of cancellations, but your guests only get on the pitch if the ASI tells you so beforehand, and I heard nothing.

So instead I went to the ASI Christmas Party with Goddaughter 2’s glamorous elder sister.  When I got there, it was clear that although there were many persons present, there was most definitely room for three more Opera Babes.  But, too many mostly very non-operatic males of the species had already signed up to be there, and they needed room to stand around in all-male groups and shout their opinions at each other.

So there I was at the ASI Christmas Party feeling grumpy, looking around the room and recognising hardly anyone, and feeling bad about having dragged GD2’s sister to this ghastly do and being so grumpy about it, and for about the first half hour of being there, I continued to be grumpy.  Three things, however, cheered me up.

First, I bumped into someone I did know, Anton Howes.  And it turns out that he has a new blog.  How very last decade, I said, but really, I was truly delighted to hear this, and started to feel that the evening was not going to be a total write-off after all.  I had actually learned something of genuine use and interest to me.  Cheer-me-up Thing Number One.

Cheer-me-up Thing Number Two, I got my camera out.  I think I saw some other person taking photos and I thought: time for me to do some soul stealing.  Was this uncouth?  Probably.  Would I look like an old prick?  Presumably.  But I was feeling like an uncouth old prick anyway, so out came the camera anyway.  And immediately I cheered up.  Suddenly, people cheered up when I approached them, and ceased from only talking about what they were talking about and instead started presenting themselves to my camera in a way that would make them look approximately as good as they were capable of looking.  And, if they ignored me, well, that’s fine, because when people ignore you and just carry on enjoying themselves, that, if you are a photographer rather than a human being, is good.

Cheer-me-up Thing Number Three: Eamonn Butler saw me taking photos, and approached.  Oh dear.  “Brian, could you please stop being such an uncouth old prick?  And if you do insist on photoing, could you please make a point of not photoing him, or him, or her.” Paranoid rubbish like that flashed up in my brain in between Eamonn being clearly about to say something and Eamonn actually starting to say it.  And what did he say?  He said: “Could you please send us a few of your best photos?” or words to that effect.  Hah!  I was now an officially designated photographer.  I was someone.  Instead of me fretting about not knowing anyone (and about not being allowed to be The Bloke Who Brought The Opera Babes), everyone else had to feel bad that they didn’t know me.  Hurrah!

And actually, when I bustled my way through the throng some more, snap snap snapping, it turned out that actually I did know quite a few of those present.

Here we have, I think, another impact of digital photography.  Digital photography cheers up people like me when we go to parties.  But, shame I couldn’t photo the Opera Babes.

All of which began life as a mere intro to me showing you lots of the photos I actually took at this do.  But, people who might google their way to - or maybe even be steered with a link towards - such photos won’t be wanting a long ramble attached to them about how I felt before and during the taking of them.  So, I’ll stick them up in a separate posting.  This I promise.

Wednesday December 03 2014

I have had a Samizdata postings slump recently.  I haven’t done many such postings lately, and very lately none at all.  This is something that I have kept meaning to correct, for something like the last fortnight, but each day I think, well, another day won’t hurt, not that much.  Each passing day adds the same small amount of silence to the silence total, but a diminishing percentage of silence to the silence total.  Thus, each day of silence feels that tiny bit less culpable than the one before.

But today I snapped out of it, with a posting about photography.  Not fun photography, of the sort I mostly do.  Photography in and around Israel, photography that tells important lies about Israel.

Here is the picture at the top of the article I linked to:

image

And see also: this Samizdata posting of mine from way back, which includes a recollection about an anti-Enoch-Powell demo organised by a Daily Telegraph photographer.

Monday November 24 2014

A common complaint about modern architecture is that it is “faceless”.  Tending not to feature single separate windows, but rather showing a bland expanse of featureless outsideness to the world, modernistical buildings do not allow the viewing human to see what the viewing human always wants to see, faces, turning the windows into eyes, doors into mouths, and so forth.

But there is no problem with seeing faces in this building, in Rome, because someone has painted twenty seven faces on it, with the windows being – what else? - eyes:

The pieces utilizes nearly 50 windows to create the mouths and eyes of some 27 bizarre faces all vying for attention.

image

Although, I see that two of the windows there are mouths.

It all looks a bit graffitiish to me, although as this lady says, this is “artful, thoughtful graffiti”. (In other words the kind of thing that favourite-blogger-of-mine Mick Hartley likes to photo.) And I think it’s a bit of a shame to do this to an old building, rather than to a new one.  But if the alternative is for this old building to just continue crumbling, then this is surely better.  I’m sure it is already a tourist attraction.  It would definitely attract me.

But, I look forward to the day when buildings like this one get decked out with lots of different colours (that being another Mick Hartley photo).

Wednesday November 19 2014

From time to time I like to stick bits from books up here, usually quite short, but sometimes quite long.

With the short bits, there is no legal or moral problem.  Fair use, etc.  But with the longer bits, there might be a problem.  Here’s how I operate.  I put up whatever bit it is that I think deserves to be made much of, on the clear understanding that it might disappear at any moment.  Because, if anyone associated with the book I have got my chosen bit from complains and says please remove it, I will do so, immediately.

Many might think that such persons would be being rather silly.  I mean, what better way could there be to reach potential readers of the entire book in question than for readers of a blog, and a blog written by someone who already likes the book, to get to read a relatively small chunk of it?  Win-win, surely.  Because of course, I only put up big chunks of writing if I approve of what the chunks say.

But what if a publisher is trying to insist on the principle, that copyright damn well means what it says?  Such a publisher might want to proclaim, and to be seen to proclaim, a no-tolerance attitude to the copying of bigger than small bits of any its books.  Even if that particular book might be assisted by this particular recycled chunk being here, the larger principle might feel far more significant to the publisher.  That principle being: If we allow this, where will it then stop?

And I get that.  As I say, if any publisher or author did complain, for these kinds of reasons or for any other, then I would get it, and the bit from the book in question would at once vanish from this blog.  So far, I’ve had no such complaints.  Which could just be because they reckon this blog to be too insignificant to be worth risking a fight with.  They wouldn’t have a fight, but they might have a rule about letting sleeping puppies, like this one, lie.

Whatever.  All I am saying here is that if I put up a big bit of a book, and anyone connected to that big bit cries foul, then the big bit will immediately vanish from here, with no grumbling, or worse, self-righteous campaigning, attempts to mobilise other bloggers, etc. etc.

Think of all this as an example of Rule Utilitarianism.  And I am myself a Rule Utilitarian.  My libertarian beliefs are not the absurd claim that libertarianism is inscribed into the very physical fabric of the universe, an inherent fact of life itself, which we humans either recognise or fail to recognise, but which are there anyway.  Tell that to the spider I just squashed into the pavement on my way home to write this.  No, I like libertarianism because it works.  Libertarianism is a set of basically fairly simply rules which all we humans either choose to live by or choose not to live by.  If we choose to live by these rules, life is good, happy, comfortable and it gets better and better.  If we don’t live by such rules, life goes to shit and stays there.

And here comes the Rule Utilitarian bit.  Even if this particular bit of thieving, by the government or just by some bod like you or me, is very insignificant, and even if what the government or the bod like you or me wants to spend its or his or her ill-gotten gains on is wonderful, absolutely wonderful, my rule says: No.  Not allowed.  Don’t get into complicated discussions about just how little thieving is too little to be bothering about, or just how noble a noble project has to be for it to be noble enough to be financed by a spot of thieving, because that way lies the slippery slope we are now on, where the government gobbles up at least half of everything, to very little benefit for anyone other than itself.  Stick to the rule.  No thieving, no matter how petty its scale or how noble its supposed object.

So, I get Rule Utilitarianism.  And if any publisher decides to inflict his Rule Utilitarianism, in the manner described above, upon me, I would get that, and act accordingly.

What got me wanting to spell all this out is that I have recently been reading Dominic Frisby’s excellent Bitcoin book, and I find myself wanting to put bits of it up here, quite longish bits.  And in general, having just followed the link at the top of this and read some of them, I feel that postings of this sort are among the better things that I do here, and I want to do more of them.  But, to all of the bits from books that will follow, I want to attach the above mentioned caveat about how the verbiage that follows may vanish without warning, and a link to this posting is the way to summarise what is going on in my head without me banging on for however many paragraphs there are here.