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Category archive: Science fiction

Friday September 07 2018

Driverless cars will happen, eventually.  But when they do, who knows what they will be like, or look like, what they will do or not do, what other changes they will precipitate?  When this finally happens, it will surely be the railways, or the internet, in the sense that it will be big, and that nobody now knows how big or what the details will consist of.

Two driverless vehicle articles came to my attention today, both of which illustrate how very different driverless vehicles could end up being to the vehicles we are now familiar with.

This Dezeen report reports on a scheme by Land Rover to put eyes on the front of driverless vehicles, to communicate with pedestrians, the way pedestrians now look at the faces of drivers to negotiate who goes where, when.  Makes sense.  With no driver, and the vehicle driving itself, it could use a face, or else how will the vehicle be able to participate in after-you-no-after-you-no-afteryou-no-I-insist-so-do-I sessions?


So, does a robot with a working face (in due course robot faces will be a lot better than that one) count as: “Other creatures”?  I say: yes (see below).

Will the Thomas the Tank Engine books prove to be a prophetic glimpse into the future of transport?  Eat your hearts out, SF movies.  Didn’t see that coming, did you?

And here is a posting about how people might choose to sleep in driverless vehicles on long journeys, instead of going by air.  The problem with going by air being that you have to go by airport, and that sleeping in the typical airplane is for many impossibly uncomfortable.  But, if we do sleep on long distance driverless vehicles, what will we do about going to the toilet?  Stop at a toilet sounds like an answer.  But what will the toilet be like?  Might it also be a vehicle?

The point is: nobody knows how driverless vehicles will play out.  Except to say that if they look like cars and vans and lorries look now, that would be an insanely improbable coincidence.

LATER: More about those eyes here.

Thursday December 28 2017

For years now, I’ve wanted nail down a particularly choice Terry Pratchett quote, concerning the limits of the idea of equality, which is that for there to be equality, someone has or some people have to insist upon it, and if that insistence is to count for anything, then there goes your equality.  My problem was that I didn’t have the name of the character that the quote was about.

But today, I described the quote as best I could to my friend Adriana, and she told me at once that the name of the lady in question was Granny Weatherwax.  And once I had the name, the rest was easy.

The quote I was looking for is the second from the bottom of these Quotes About Granny Weatherwax:

“Mistress Weatherwax is the head witch, then, is she?’

‘Oh no!’ said Miss Level, looking shocked. ‘Witches are all equal. We don’t have things like head witches. That’s quite against the spirit of witchcraft.’

‘Oh, I see,’ said Tiffany.

‘Besides,’ Miss Level added, ‘Mistress Weatherwax would never allow that sort of thing.”

That is to be found in A Hat Full of Sky.

Thursday August 24 2017

For quite a while now, I have had links open to two short stories that I wrote in the nineties.  These were my attempts at “Libertarian Fictions”.  I was prodded into reading them again by the experience of writing a summary of a Marc Sidwell talk, in favour of us creating more libertarian fictions.

I called my two stories Those Who Can Do, and The Lion’s Share.

These were, I now realise, very bad titles, especially in the age of the internet, then still in the future of course.  Google either of those titles, without my name, and those stories will be totally buried under a ton of other irrelevance, including, I dare say, quite a few other short stories with identical titles, chosen by other equally inexperienced short story writers.

In contrast, last night I went to a show written and acted by a friend of mine.  This was called Madam Bovary’s Communist After-Party.  Never mind if this was a good show.  It was and is, very, but that’s not my point here.  Nor is it relevant to the point of this posting that if you follow that link, you will get to an amazingly good photo of my friend, done by a young Real Photographer lady who is on the up-and-uo, which I may have sold quite a few extra tickets.  No, my point here is: that’s a very good title.  Google “Madam Bovary’s Communist After-Party”, with those exact words in that exact order, and all hits will be relevant.

So, my stories needed – and now need – to be called things more like The Public Goodness of a Struggling Writer, and How Starshine McKane Tried to Kill Everyone.

Tuesday October 25 2016

Incoming from Michael Jennings: One for you.

It certainly is.  Apparently, in Mexico, Uber is using drones to advertise itself, by having them hover, with signs, over traffic jams:


Drones to carry adverts, or signs.  But of course.  The possibilities are endless, and the probability is: lots of complaining, drone destruction, car crashes blamed on drones carrying adverts or signs, etc.

Imagine it.  You are going at a speed considered too fast by the Big Computer in the Sky, so it sends a drone out to fly out in front of you, telling you to slow down or be fined.  Or more probably, just telling you that you have already have been fined.  Ah, modern life.  Science fiction just never sees it coming.

By the way, what is that sign saying?

Wednesday March 18 2015

Ever since that ruckus when a Labour Shadow Cabinet Ministress got into hot water with a tweet which involved a White Van, I’ve been photoing White Vans.  And, in fact, I think I have been doing this since before that little drama.  This White Van, photoed by me today in the Covent Garden area, is one of my favourites so far:


The point is, White Vans have rather gone up in the world.  Lots of them now come with much carefully designed décor and info.  London now abounds with fleets of White Vans thus decorated, white being the preferred colour by far.  It’s like an automotive uniform.

It’s as if White Vans have a sort of macho-stroke-ironic appeal to those who drive them, and to the rest of us.  The drivers, when asked what they do for a living, can say: I drive a White Van.  Oh, ha ha ha!  But no, not one of those White Vans, the sort they have in Essex.  Oh no.

Or alternatively, if the driver is a genuine White Van Man, with no irony involved, of the sort that lady politician was having a go at, he’s happy too, even if he would probably prefer plain white, rather than all that poncey verbiage.  And he’d rather have sacks of cement or tubs of plaster in the back there, rather than nerdy SF stuff.

Well, not sure about that.  But White Vans are definitely, as they say nowadays, a thing.

Wednesday October 01 2014

Taking the first question first: is it practise or practice?

This is the kind of question that, in the days before the www, used to rattle about inside several million heads for decades on end.  As it so happens, it did so rattle in mine.  But for a decade and more now, such questions could and can be answered, and today I answered this question for myself, by finding my way, very quickly, pretty much as soon as I started trying, to this site.  I’d been meaning to do this for a long time.  Today, I did.  What it says at the other end of that link, assuming I read it right, is that practice is the noun and practise is the verb, as with advice and advise.  I know, you knew that.  I must be an uneducated pillock not to know it.  But, although in many ways not an uneducated pillock, I was for many decades just that, in this particular way.  Besides which, the essence of educatedness is not mere knowledge, it is knowing that one needs to acquire this or that further item of further knowledge, and if far later than is dignified, well so be it.

I’m not saying that this answer is correct.  I’m just saying that from now on, this is the answer I will try to apply whenever the practice/practise dilemma presents itself to me.

Moving on to the question in the brackets above.  Answer: no.  The site where I found this answer (right or wrong) is called “Future Perfect”, and its subtitle is “Improving Written Communications”.  Like, that’s all it would take to make the future perfect.  I do not believe this.  I get it.  Future perfect is also a piece of grammar, and grammar is (along with spelling) one of the things this place is about.  Ho ho.  But, future perfect?

Perfect communication could just mean perfectly expressed abuse.  Remember that fish in Hitchhiker’s Guide, which enabled everyone to communicate perfectly with everyone else, and which started terrible wars, because now everyone could understood everyone else’s insults.  Perfect communication is indeed, maybe, part of the perfect future, but saying perfectly nice things is also an important part of perfection, I would say.  And that’s quite aside from the fact that actual perfection would also be terrible, for other reasons.

Thursday March 20 2014

Yes, here is another strange science-fictional artificial landscape, photographed by me a few days ago, to set beside this strange artificial landscape, photoed by me last August:


Both these images were contrived in the same way with the same raw material.  But what is the raw material and what did I do with it?

Monday November 25 2013

Yes.  I spent my blogging time today fretting about the finishing of this.  So, no time to do much here.

But there’s an internet out there.

Here’s a very quick vid, of Kenneth Williams opining (which would be a good word for him to say) about specialisation.

And here’s a slightly longer bit of video, which is a snippet from one of my favourite science fiction movies.  An astronaut argues philosophy with a bomb.  I found it here.  And I do mean here.


Monday September 16 2013

Does this photo tell us the direction the Great Climate Debate is going?  I took it in Foyles, underneath the Royal Festival Hall, London, on September 2nd:


I put this up to entertain you, and also so that I can send a short email to Bishop Hill about it, rather than a long and annoying one. Because I’m guessing it might interest him.

The Bishop’s (as of now) latest posting concerns an article written by some academic CAGWers (CAGW = Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming), about how they can defeat their ever more annoying and persuasive “denier” enemies?

Bishop Hill:

The answer to this conundrum is - you will never believe it - to be found in the realms of communication. Although Garud and his colleagues note that some observers think that communication is not enough, and point to such initiatives as the Climate Science Rapid Response Team (seriously!) that are already in place, they suggest that something called a ‘narrative approach’ might also be a part of the solution.

But that, as the Bishop well knows but Garud et al do not, is no solution to the problem the CAGWers have.  The “narrative approach” is their problem.  What the CAGWers have been doing is spinning a narrative and calling it science for the last quarter of a century and more, and now this narrative is unravelling, thanks to the efforts of people like Bishop Hill.  This latest plan is for them to stop pretending that they aren’t doing this.  That can’t work.

If the anti-CAGWers had relied on books like Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, which is one of the books in the above photo, to carry the main weight of their arguments, they’d have been utterly crushed.

LATER: Bishop Hill has linked to this, and there are comments there too.

Tuesday March 19 2013

Last night I attended a book launch, of two books, one by Madsen Pirie, and the other by J. P. Floru.

I took lots of photos, but literally just the one came out half decently.  All the rest were too blurry.

So, what was special about this one?  Seriously, see if you can work it out:


That’s J. P Floru, looking up for the cameras while signing a copy of his book.  There’s a clue there.

I hope to be saying more about Floru’s book at Samizdata, Real Soon Now, but I promise nothing.

Friday December 24 2010

Someone asked what the new mainframe looks like.  It looks like this:


On the front, big black rectangular nothingness, like the Monolith in 2001.  The Monolith, unlike Dawkins, is sort of a God, because it taught that monkey how to make a space ship by throwing a bone into the air.

But the nothingness at the front of my new mainframe is more prosaic than that.  It is a big plastic door, which you open when you want to play a CD or a DVD or something.  Besides which, I conjecture that many geeks have computers which they refer to as The Monolith.  Dawkins, not so many.  Dawkins it remains.

Wednesday September 29 2010

It turns out it was a cookbook.

This is the kind of topic where I do trust Wikipedia (see the Soros posting below, comments on).

Friday July 16 2010

imageThe blog posting (linked to from here) is entitled Exploitation Movie Posters 1939 - 1960.  But why exactly are these movies referred to as “Exploitation” movies?  Who is being exploited?  And in what way is Apocalypse Now any less exploitative than the movies advertised in these particular posters?

I suppose the notion being got at is that it is our desire for pure and utterly undiluted entertainment, with no morally lofty excuse attached, to do with being educated, uplifted, improved, that is being “exploited”.  Our baser instincts are being played to.  Our ids are being massaged, while our egos look down, aghast.

Being a libertarian, I am particularly wary of the word “exploitation”, blurring as it does, often deliberately, the boundary between being used in a way that you consent to (often enthusiastically) and being used (often outrageously) in a way that you do not consent to.  Dare to favour the first and you get accused of favouring the second.  Which is a difficult trick to combat if you don’t realise what the trick is.

Putting the point about ids and egos in the language of consent, to talk of “exploitation” movies is to suggest that while our base appetites “consent” to watch movies like these, we ourselves do not.  We are at the mercy of our appetites, who are co-opted by our “exploiters”.  Our appetites betray us, enslave us even.  But controlling our base appetites, if that’s what we decide they are, is for us to do for ourselves.

Personally I don’t think that there is anything wrong about enjoying Cat-Women of the Moon.

Wednesday June 23 2010

Photoed by me last night in Victoria Street, just outside Rymans:


It helped a lot that he was asleep and with his back to me, oblivious.  But it was the book that had me taking out my camera.  I zoomed in a bit:


It’s this.  Quote from a very satisfied Amazon reviewer:

This is the greatest science fiction novel ever written, and in my humble opinion one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century. Strangely, it has long been known to me as “Tiger Tiger” and I have never got used to this, its original title.

Underneath the superb and imaginative futuristic setting is the story of a man transformed from a Dave Lister-style space bum into a raging, semi-literate savage intent on killing the spaceship Vorga that left him stranded. Through his weird and often violent trials and tribulations he is transformed into a powerful, intelligent and finally great man on whom the future of civilization rests. The story he uncovers and the “driven” people at the centre of the immense power struggle in which he finds himself, are remarkable and yet terrifying.

Sounds rather good.  He seems to have just started it.  Hope he enjoys himself.

Monday May 31 2010

Michael J and I were thinking of going to Lords today, to watch the cricket. As it turned out, he had other business (good luck with that mate - he knows what I mean), and we scrapped the idea.

Just as well we did. Had we gone, at the sort of time we probably would have gone, then according to the radio commentators I was listening to this morning we would have been stuck in a huge queue outside the ground, while everything interesting that was going to happen all day happened, in the morning.  Lords beat the drum, sold tickets for the last day for a mere tenner, but then didn’t open enough gates when lots of people showed up.  Very bad.

They said the blockage was something to do with “security”.  The terrorists have won!

By the time many of those unfortunates who did accept this offer got into the ground, it was effectively all over. Bangladesh had five wickets left, but lost them too quickly to make a proper fight of it.  The only excitement concerned whether one of the England bowlers would five wickets in the innings (which he did), and then ten wickets in the match (which he didn’t).. This is a new chap called Finn, who is very tall, who is, they say, quite fast, and who keeps falling over after bowling, which is not what you want, is it?

Surrey, my county team, are meanwhile showing signs of life. (I realise that now, absolutely nobody is reading this. Did you know that all rabbits born on a Thursday have poisonous bites? It’s true. If nobody dares to disagree in the comments, I will draw the inevitable conclusion, although it is true about the rabbits, if not widely known. I looked for this at Snopes. There is nothing there about this not being true, so it must be.) They won both of their limited overs games the weekend before last, the first with an improbably good late batting performance when all looked lost, and the second by taking two early wickets and never letting up, winning crushingly with vast numbers of overs and wickets to spare. (I wonder if those links will last.) Both are great ways to win, from the morale point of view. Then, in the next unlimited overs game, they looked on a hiding to nothing, until a big last wicket stand by Surrey’s two South African fast bowlers got them to first innings near equality, when a huge first innings deficit followed by defeat on the last day looked inevitable.  Instead, following that big stand Surrey managed to bowl the other fellows out cheaply and then win, with the South Africans also getting lots more wickets. First unlimited overs win for Surrey since the last time they had an unlimited overs w, a long, long time ago.

Although, one of those South African fast bowlers, Nel, was fined and banned for two games for misbehaving, in the very game he did so well in. Nel is a schizophrenic sort of a person (persons?), with an alter ego called “Gunter”, and it was presumably Gunter who did the misbehaving. It usually is, according to what I’ve read. So why was Nel expected to carry the can?  As commenter Yorvik says:

All well and good banning Andre for two matches but wouldn’t it be better to ban this Gunter chap for life? He seems to be the one causing the problems.

Indeed.  I mean, in Gotterdammerung, we don’t blame Siegfried for what he did when magically disguised as someone else, even though his behaviour was far worse. Did Nel/Gunter refuse to recognise the love of his life and cause her, with his various miscalculations, culminating in his death, to give up on everything and jump into a bonfire? On a horse? I think not. (Incidentally, I rather think that Siegfried’s alter ego may also have been called Gunther, in the sense that he was disguised as another character in the thing called Gunther. (I have many recordings and DVD’s of the Ring Cycle, but have never really got stuck into them all for a solid fortnight, ignoring everything else. I just like the way it all sounds.) So anyway, how about that? Does Nel like Wagner, I wonder? Please add Wagner comments to prove that you have read this far.)

So anyway, Surrey are now playing Glamorgan. The first day was lost to bad weather, and during the second Glamorgan made nearly 400. But Surrey are now batting, and at tea have reached two hundred plus for three.  Two of their newly acquired players, an unproven but presumably promising young chap fresh out of college and a very expensive new wicket-keeper that they have recently bought from a Poor County somewhere to the west, who is both a very good wicketkeeper and a dashingly free hitting batsman, flailed away to put on nearly a hundred for the first wicket. The wicket-keeper in particular really put his pedal, as they say in other places to the ones I generally frequent, to the metal. He got a dashing eighty something, at about a run a ball.  He generally gets out for a dashing 25 at a run a ball, so this could yet get interesting.  On the other hand, Surrey have also bought in a prestigious new batsman, Younis Khan, who recently retired in a huff from being a Pakistan test cricketer.  He got out for a duck.  On the other other hand, Ramprakash is now on 70.

England have now duly won their game against Bangladesh.  It was all over by tea.  And oh dear, the Surrey game just got interesting but not in a good way, with Surrey losing two sudden wickets, Ramps and new dashing young captain Rory Rory Hamilton-Hamilton-Hyphen-Brown-Hyphen-Stroke-Undeserved-Good-Looks for a golden duck.  What’s a golden duck?  It’s a duck made of gold.  What did you think it was?  Plus, did you know that they have recently discovered that there are certain very small physics type particles that have the ability to travel faster than the speed of light?  Yes.  But the bad news is: they don’t go much faster. About ten percent faster, which is nothing. Apart from setting the scientists at each other’s throats, because for them this is a big drama, it will hardly make any difference.  Science fiction, for example, where the entire Galaxy is shrunk by warp speed travel back to the size of medieval Europe with everybody just a day or two away and all fighting each other like in Star Wars, will continue to be science fiction rather than any sort of guide to the actual real future.  Mobile phones may get ten percent faster when you are talking to Australia or the Moon or something.  Other than that, nothing very significant, unless you are a theoretical scientist.  It’s amazing what a persevering reader can learn from the blogs, don’t you think?