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: Friends

Sunday March 26 2017

I just sent out the mass email flagging up Chris Cooper’s talk on the Rise of Our Robot Overlords, chez moi, next Friday.  I have asked his permission to reproduce his entire spiel.  Meanwhile, here is how it begins, which I really like:

I’ve only recently realized the staggering implications of the project of AGI, or artificial general intelligence – the Holy Grail of present-day AI research. (I prefer to talk about AGIs, or AGI systems, rather than “robots”; “robot” has tin-man connotations that are part of the problem – they suggest the possibility of fraternization.) …

Which is why the talk is now officially entitled: “The Threat to Life and to Liberty of Artificial General Intelligence”.

These robots, whose pronouncements I have been following in recent days and weeks, don’t seem very fraternal:

image

They sound more like they’re artificial general intelligence.

Wednesday March 22 2017

Incoming from Michael Jennings, who encountered this sign at (a?) (the?) Jodhpur Fort in Rajasthan:

image

Hm, what to do?

Easy.  Use a drone instead.

LATER: See first comment.  It’s this:

image

There can only be one fort like that.

Categories updated to include Architecture, History, Sport, and War.

Blog and learn.

Sunday March 05 2017

Via this posting at the Scott Adams blog, I first learned, just now, about Robots Read News.

All the pictures in this cartoon series are identical.  Only the words change.  Yet, the words on their own would probably not be so effective.

I especially enjoyed the first two comments on the above posting:

AtlantaDude:

If the Robot knows he is superior, I would expect him to be more condescending, and less angry - insulting humans in more subtle and clever ways than simply calling us stupid meat sacks, etc.

Scott Adams:

I am going for insensitive not angry. Part of the joke is that objectivity is indistinguishable from hate.

My next Brian’s Last Friday speaker (March 31) will be my Libertarian Friend from way back, Chris Cooper, talking about the rise of the robots.  They will rule us, he says, if I understand him correctly.  But maybe I don’t because he and I are both meat sacks.  Maybe he is expressing himself badly.  Or maybe I am misunderstanding him.  Or maybe both.  That I am understanding him correctly suddenly seems like a one in four chance.

Sunday February 26 2017

It has taken me quite a while to learn how to photo my meetings.  The problem is that the room is so small that whichever way you point the camera, you are going to miss two thirds of what is going on.

The best place to photo from is above, standing on a stool:

image

That shot was taken at last Friday’s meeting, the one addressed by Marc Sidwell, Marc being the one sitting, in a white shirt, on the brown sofa with the big arms, next to Real Photographer Rob with his real camera.  The formalities have ended and informality has begun.  It was an excellent talk and an excellent evening, and I hope to be saying more about it, maybe here, but more probably there.

In a perfect world, I could attach my camera to a stick, and take the shot from the middle of the ceiling, rather than from its edge.  Even in this picture, there are people missing who were present.

This would be a good use for a selfie stick, of the sort that those who moan about selfie sticks don’t pause to think about.

Monday February 20 2017

Last night I sent out the email concerning the Brian’s Last Friday meeting this coming Friday, at the end of which email I found myself blurting out this:

Whenever I concoct these promotional emails I end up feeling very excited about the forthcoming talk.  This time, this effect was especially pronounced.

This was what got me “very excited”:

Marc Sidwell will give a talk entitled: Promoting Freedom in a Post-Expert World.

He will be speaking about “the ongoing erosion of power and technocratic authority (most recently visible in the Brexit vote and the rise of Trump) and proposing some ways libertarians can respond to this shift.”

Other talk titles that were considered: “Twilight of the Wonks” and “The Revenge of Common Sense”.

Marc Sidwell is an journalist, editor, publisher, and writer, most recently of a How To Win Like Trump, now riding high in the Kindle best-seller List.  More about Marc, his career and his publications, here.

For further information about the kinds of ideas Marc will be presenting, I strongly recommend a visit to: marcsidwell.com/.

It was there that I gleaned this quote, from Brexit campaigner Dominic Cummings:

“All those amazed at why so little attention was paid to ‘the experts’ did not, and still do not, appreciate that these ‘experts’ are seen by most people of all political views as having botched financial regulation, made a load of rubbish predictions, then forced everybody else outside London to pay for the mess while they got richer and dodged responsibility. They are right. This is exactly what happened.”

It wouldn’t surprise me if that quote gets a mention at some stage during Marc’s talk.

I would add that there are some kinds of expertise that continue to be held in very high esteem.  Nobody doubts the expertise of the people who make all the machines and devices, mechanical and electrical, that keep our world ticking over efficiently and entertainingly.  Not all expertise is now held in low regard, only the kinds of expertise that Cummings itemises.

The room is already starting to fill up.

Email me (see top left of this blog) if you want to know more about these monthly speaker meetings at my home.

Friday February 17 2017

You don’t have to believe that animals either have or should have rights to realise that people who are gratuitously cruel to animals are likely to be more cruel than usual to their fellow humans.  But what of fake cruelty to fake animals leading to real cruelty to real creatures, animal or human?  I imagine there is some kind of correlation there too, although my googling skills fell short of finding an appropriate link to piece demonstrating that.

Being cruel to a fake animal that another human loves is clearly very cruel, to the human.

As was, I think, this demonstration of fake cruelty that recently hit the internet.  That link is not for those who are squeamish about beheaded teddy bears.

And what of people who are nice to fake animals?

Here is a picture I took in my favourite London shop, Gramex in Lower Marsh, in which there currently resides a teddy bear who was recently rescued from sleeping rough, by Gramex proprietor Roger Hewland:

image

If you consequently suspect that Roger Hewland is a kind man, your suspicion would be entirely correct.  I agree with you that kindness to fake animals and kindness to real people are probably also correlated.

I sometimes drop into Gramex just to use the toilet.  Never has the expression “spend a penny” been less appropriate.

Tuesday February 07 2017

Photoed by me late last month (just before I attended this (already mentioned here in passing (she is a friend (and it went brilliantly)))):

image

Yet more evidence of how digital photography has encouraged temporary art, by making it digitally preservable.  What we see is videoing, I think.  But we can be sure that a straight up still photo of the final result will be included in the photography process.

Note the silver paint, on top of what was there before.  If the previous occupant of this spot (in the Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel) didn’t have what he had done photoed, he has only himself to blame.

Don’t ask me what the graffiti means.

Tuesday January 31 2017

Recently, word reached me, via his daughter, that one of the regular readers of this blog (such people apparently exist) – I’ll call him “Tony” (on account of his name being Tony) – was greatly entertained when he followed one of the links on the left, in one of my interminable lists of mostly obsolete internet destinations to Chase me, ladies, I’m in the cavalry.

I say greatly entertained.  The report was that Tony’s head exploded with fluids and splutters of all sort.  Basically, his face and mouth and throat all stopped functioning in their usual fashion and instead suffered a sort of biological combination of an earthquake and a meltdown and a volcanic eruption.

Following this report, I took another look at CMLIITC myself, and for a while, as I meandered through his archives, I was merely quite entertained.  But then I read this posting ...:

VIBRATING AB BELT CHANGED MY LIFE
I recently bought an All-Star Deluxe Ab Belt.  Three months ago I was a fat cunt. Now I’m a fat cunt with a vibrating belt.

… and the exact same thing started happening to me.  Until that moment I had not realised that I wasn’t fully well, but I found myself trying to laugh and cough at the same time, and the same disgusting fluids and substances started bursting out of my face as had burst from Tony’s face.

imageI think that, aside from its wit, it was the brevity of the posting that wrongfooted this.  Because of this brevity, the punch line sucker punched me in the face earlier than I had become used to and before I had in any way been able to surmise what it was going to be, as I surely would have been able to do if I had had longer to prepare my defence against it.  This is a regular comedic method, I think.

What Harry Hutton looks like now makes very good sense.

Thursday January 26 2017

Just heard an announcer on London Live TV pronounce Persephone as “Percy Phone”.  It should be Per Seffany, in case you also are not sure.  Y(oung) P(eople) T(hese) D(ays).  They just don’t have the Classics.

This was in connection with a show at the Vault Festival, at which a friend of mine is also performing, tonight.

Sunday January 08 2017

Part of learning things is stuffing information into your brain.  But another equally important part is arranging and connecting and understanding all the information once it is inside your head.  And also: trying to understand why you stuffed all this particular information into your head in the first place.  What were you thinking?  What were you feeling?  Why the attraction to this particular information?

In those two latter respects, I found that the talk I gave last Friday at Christian Michel’s was particularly useful.  See here for a pre-report in what I talked about.  I didn’t read out everything in that posting last Friday, but I did read out all the questions in the email that I sent Christian before the meeting, in other words I read out the indented bit of that earlier posting.

As I went on to ramble about in that earlier posting, and as I also rambled about last Friday, I have been pondering the Modern Movement in Architecture ever since I was a teenager.  But last Friday evening I made some big steps forward in rearranging and organising how I think about it – and just as important how I have felt about it, what the attraction is, why I love it and love observing it and love photographing it, as much as I do.

In the word-processed file where this posting began life, there already follows the beginnings of a stream-of consciousness piece itemising a few of these steps forward.  But I don’t want to rush that out before it has been written properly.  In the meantime, I just want to assert my simple pleasure at what happened for me last Friday evening, without going into any detail.

Of particular value to me last Friday were some of the remarks from the floor, one in particular.  This told me nothing that I did not already know, by which I mean already agree with.  But what it did was place this particular observation into a different context.  Into a different part of my head, so to speak.  I found that particular moment especially helpful.

One obvious implication of my experience that I am willing to write about here immediately is that my happy experience last Friday made me very glad and proud that I also organise meetings at which others speak.  Like Christian Michel, I give my speakers a lot of latitude in what they will speak about, this being because I have long known that a major part of the point of getting people to speak about something is that it will cause them to make discoveries rather like the ones I made last Friday.  I often invite my speakers to speak about subjects they feel only partly on top of, which they are still getting to grips with, getting their heads round, getting their thinking straight about and their feelings clearer about.  I have long known that this is a valuable thing to do, for the speakers.  If the audience is a bit confused, so be it.

Well, I say that I have long known it.  Now, I really know it, with a great deal more certainty, derived from a great big gob of recent and enormously encouraging experience.

Monday January 02 2017

The party I hosted on New Year’s Eve was rather exclusive.  Nobody was actually forbidden entry.  But I was very late with the invites, and because I feared that so few would be attending, I actually told people that if they wanted a proper, noisy, standing room only do, rather than what actually happened, they ought to steer clear, and that meant that even fewer people came.  But it also took the pressure right off me, because whoever did come had been duly warned.  The fireworks that those still present at midnight looked at and photoed from my roof (see below) were a bit out of the ordinary, but I had not seen that coming and so did not make that a selling point.  Next time round, if there is a next time round.

But, I did have some fun conversations.  And in particular one that has just resulted in this posting at Samizdata, about Shipping Containers.  And about other Things.  Once again, I at first wrote all of this for here, but then transferred two thirds of it to there.

Saturday December 31 2016

My entertaining today is going very well, but is leaving me about zero time to do any blogging.  I was too busy preparing for my guests, and am now too busy happily consorting with them.

By the time you read this, the new year will be with us.  I hope that it will be a happy year for you.  And, come to that, for me.

Saturday December 24 2016

How to say that I am at home alone over Christmas without you feeling sorry for me?  I can’t do it, but please: don’t.  In exchange, I won’t feel sorry for you that you are reading this instead of having “fun”.

Each to his or her own, but I love it that holidays, for me, really are holidays, rather than just burdens of a different sort to the more usual ones.  Don’t get me wrong, burdens are often well worth bearing, as when I visit GodDaughter 2’s family in Brittany, and must bear the burdens of living in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar facilities and unfamiliar routines and with the fear of inflicting various sorts of offence and inconvenience upon everyone, with them being too polite to say.  But, these are still burdens.  This Christmas, as is my usual habit, I have been ensconced in my little snuggery, with no burdens at all.

I haven’t been fobbing you people off with nothing but silly old photos because I’ve been gadding about around town, catching up with friends and family and attending swanky functions.  No gadding about.  I’ve been fobbing you off with photos because I have been relaxing, even more than usual.

Here’s another silly photo, to wish you all a Merry Christmas.  I haven’t found any Merry Christmas messages out in the streets lately, so here is a Christmassy photo that I think I took in Oxford Street, definitely in December 2008:

image

Which tells me that I was fascinated by Bald Blokes Taking Photos for quite a while before I had worked this out in the fully conscious part of my head.  I love how green he is.

On Christmas Day itself I will not be alone, for I am to have a Christmas lunch with friends.  This will bring with it the burden of having to travel across London on Christmas Day, which basically means two very long walks.  (I don’t know how to Uber, since you ask.  I’d rather walk.) If I come across any Merry Christmas messages while walking, and manage to photo them, I’ll pass them on.

Tuesday December 13 2016

Last Thursday I managed to insert myself into a gathering of GodDaughter 1 and her close family, in honour of her birthday.  So it was GD1’s Mum and Dad and Elder Sister, and me.  We met up on the South Bank, and wandered along it, to see an art exhibition, and also a jewellery show, hosted by this enterprise, at the bottom of the Oxo Tower, which GD1’s Sister had helped to set up.  GD1’s Sister has herself become a jewellery maker, and apparently a rather promising one.

None of GD1’s Sister’s products were on show, alas.  But I was as interested to see what the general atmosphere and attitude was, of this quite large number of jewellery makers, each with a small clutch of Little Things for us to examine.  I know nothing of this world.  What sort of world is it?

The main thing to say is that the value of what all these makers are making is not based on the price of the materials they are using.  This is not precious metal jewellery, the real purpose of which is to navigate through financial crises.  The value of these Little Things lies in the inventive way that often quite modest materials are put together.

I was curious to see if there’d be any 3D printing involved.  Sure enough, one of these jewellers (Lynne Maclachlan (I love how my photos remembered her name for me, with no need for any other sort of note-taking)) is doing this:

imageimageimage

On the left, the little collection of Lynne Maclachlan’s wares that was on show.  On the right, GD1 handles one of Ms Maclachlan’s products.

Does my picture, and the way GD1’s fingers look, make that bracelet look very light?  I hope so, because it is very light.  Which is an important consideration with jewellery, if you want to make it other than tiny.  You don’t want your ears, fingers, wrists, or neck, weighed down with things that feel more like you’ve been enslaved rather than decorated.  And 3D printing can accomplish this, by making a structure that is still structurally solid, but both less bulky and more fun to look at than a solid lump.

I have long wondered about 3D printed jewellery, but there is only so much you can learn from googling.  Seeing these Little Things in their proper habitat, in their appropriate commercial context, tells you a lot more.  That Lynne Maclachlan has been welcomed into the sisterhood (it is mostly sisters) of jewellery makers rather than seen as any sort of threat, is, I think, very telling.

Wednesday December 07 2016

It always surprises me when people don’t take pictures of events that they themselves organise.  Me included by the way.  I have a friend who kindly takes photos at my events whenever he attends them, because I mostly forget to, and I’m guessing others do too.  This being the kind of obvious but small error that people make when they are stressed.

Which is maybe why this IEA guy, who saw me taking photos at this IEA centenary event in honour of Arthur Seldon, last night, asked me if I could send him a few of my photos.

Here are the seven photos I will be sending him.

The first one sets the scene, but also highlights a problem, which is that these days, at speaker meetings, there is usually a bright screen, while the speaker is - or (as in this case) the speakers are - in something more like darkness:

image

On the left there, Martin Anderson.  On the right, Patrick Minford.  Take my word for it.

But I did get a few half decent shots of speakers speaking, or listening to other speakers speaking:

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

Top left: Peter Seldon, Arthur’s on.  Top right: Richard Wellings.  Bottom left: Linda Whetstone, speaking from the floor.  Bottom right: Patrick Minford, again.

Finally, my two favourite photos of the night, both of Martin Anderson.  And of his magnificent giant shirt:

imageimageimage

I did attempt some crowd shots, but they didn’t come out at all well.  Shame, because there was quite a crowd.

I also tried photoing the video camera and its operator.  That also failed to come out right, but at least there was a video camera present, so presumably those who did not attend will be able eventually to listen in on what was actually quite an upbeat event.

You know you are getting old when instead of just attending funerals of people whom you knew, you attend celebrations of people who were born one hundred years ago, whom you also knew.

More about Seldon and his colossal impact here.  There is also a photo of him there.  Shame there wasn’t a photo of him on that big screen.