Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Michael Jennings on Confirmation that map use has seriously declined
Brian Micklethwait on Ashes to ashes
itrat batool on Ashes to ashes
itrat batool on Ashes black out
Michael Jennings on Ashes to ashes
Natalie Solent on Victor!
Natalie Solent on Victor!
Peter Briffa on Ashes black out
Michael Jennings on Happiness is Gold Blend at only £3 instead of £4.50
Michael Jennings on Happiness is Gold Blend at only £3 instead of £4.50
Most recent entries
- Long Title (with italics)
- Confirmation that map use has seriously declined
- Comrade Blimp
- Ashes to ashes
- La Porte des Indes
- Friend on telly
- Sculpture at St James’s Tube
- Digital photographers holding maps
- More photos of things past
- Father Christmas Aerodrome
- How big should these squares be?
- Daniel Hannan’s latest book(s?)
- The Kelpies of Falkirk
- A quota thought that (luckily for me) went nowhere
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Category archive: Business
One of the jobs of random blogs like this one is recommend such things as restaurants. This is one of those postings. If you read no further, just know that I recently dined at La Porte des Indes, and I liked it. It’s just a short walk away from Selfridges in Oxford Street, where a friend had been working. Address: 32 Bryanston Street.
So, to the details of why I liked it. One: the food was very tasty. Always a good start. And while we were waiting, they gave us little plastic cups of soup, also very tasty.
However, although I like the way tasty food tastes, I now unable to consume very much food all at once. Perhaps I am lucky, because being unable to eat too much, I am not becoming as fat as I might otherwise become, what with so much of the food I do eat being junk.
But there is a way in which I am often unlucky, which is when I am dining out. Often, I just can’t manage to eat all that I am paying for.
So it is that a service I especially value is when I am allowed to take my leftovers away with me. A restaurant willing to package up all my delicious but indigestible leftovers will now have a special place in my heart, and stomach.
La Portes Des Indes was not cheap, when I and a friend dined there about a fortnight ago. But I still remember the delicious taste of the chicken, the pain of realising that my stomach would not be able to do it justice, and the small translucent plastic carton they used to put my spare chicken in, so that I could eat it later. I’ve had bags made available in such circumstances before, but never a plastic carton.
I paid about twice what I usually want to pay when dining out, but I also dined twice over, once in the restaurant, and then again back home, the next day.
The place looks great as well. The outside is unprepossessing, like a fast food joint at the bottom of an office block. But when you step inside, it’s like you’ve entered the restaurant equivalent of the Tardis. It’s really big. It used to be a dance hall, so they said. And the décor has been preserved from that era and added to, rather than stripped out and replaced with modernistic dreariness. Plus, the ambient noise was not too loud and we could hear each other talk without any shouting. Crucial, for me. I often leave things early for this one reason.
Photoed by me, just under a week ago, in one of the windows of Selfridges.
It is interesting how the prices of basic supermarket products now seems to fluctuate rather more than they used to. My last stash of Gold Blend also cost £3 a go, for two. Today, I bought three of these packets. For the last few weeks it went up to £4.50, and I held off, waiting in hope of a price drop again. Today, I was nearly out and would have to buy some, no matter what the price. But, glory be, it was down to £3 again.
Could these fluctuations be a consequence of containers? Is it that containers have made supplies of things like branded coffee less continuous, more prone to famine or feast? And are we now enjoying a capitalist version of what happened under communism, in which suddenly a rumour would fly around Moscow saying that a consignment of meat had arrived, and immediately the queues would form. With us, the news that Gold Blend is on offer at Sainsburys flies around on our mobile phones, or in this case is featured on my blog, at which point it’s first come first served.
Or is it merely that logistics geniuses, armed with super-computer-networks, are now able to do sums about the precise prices they need to charge at any particular moment for any particular thing, in order to make maximum use of scarce warehouse and store space? If you get my meaning.
Or maybe it’s a bit of both?
Michael Jennings presumably knows the answer to these questions, because Michael Jennings (see the first two of these comments) knows everything .
I just left a comment at Samizdata, on this posting by Natalie Solent (who has been very productive there of late) about the lack of security of the ObamaCare website, and this Guardian story on the subject:
The insecurity of the site, probably incurable in less than several months (from what I’m reading), has always struck me (ever since I first read about it a week or two back) as the absolute worst thing about ObamaCare, though I admit it’s a crowded field. The Bad News letters from insurance companies at least put a number to how much money is now going to be screwed out of you, that Obama said (about forty times) you would not be screwed out of. But all that data lying around for any tech-savvy passer-by to grab means there’s no upper limit to what you just might lose, if you have anything whatsoever to do with this horrible horrible thing.
It took me years to trust Amazon with my bank details. Only when about half the world seemed to be signing up for that deal did I take the plunge, and I still fear that in some mysterious way I might one day regret this. I mean, what if Amazon gets taken over by greedy incompetents, skilled only at crookedness, of the sort now already running ObamaCare (and also “advising” people about it)? I know, there are safeguards in place, but my fear is, although small, real. My fear with Obamacare would now be big, and real. My attitude to ObamaCare would be (a) I want nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with it, and (b) If the President and his gang say I have to have something to do with it, then I hope the President and his gang rot in hell.
Obama, it seems to me, has been treated like a great many other bad black Americans. He has been cut a million miles of slack, never criticised, never taught any morals, and now suddenly, patience has run out and he faces a lynch mob of enraged citizens. He is going to get the political version of a life-time prison sentence, namely a place in the Presidential Hall of Infamy. (I know what you’re thinking: wishful thinking on my part. Maybe. But his friends are all abandoning him now. He surely now realises that he has screwed up big, and that there is no way back.)
Heinlein had things to say about this. If you are going to punish big later, then it is kinder to give your punishee some warning, with small punishments earlier, when he does small things wrong when younger. I’m not talking physical abuse here, just the odd harsh word when the kid does a bad thing. That way he learns, instead of being hit with the kitchen sink, out of the blue, when he turns 18 or 50 or whatever.
Yes, incoming from Rob Fisher:
I am fascinated about why old things look old. Certainly print quality is part of it. Change, too: the Heinz beans logo (which has never changed as far as I can tell) does not look old in the way that some of these logos do.
I’m guessing this is follow-up to what I said here about how photography used to make people from the past look overly solemn, and what Rob said there, in jest, about the past being all in black and white.
Mark Twain must surely have been a bit more merry, in general, than he looks in the photo of him there, now colorised but still very grim looking.
What a lot of the colorised photos look like is stills from “historical” Hollywood movies. You expect Brad Pitt, dressed in olden times clothes, to step forward at any moment.
As for the logos, it is noticeable (although this doesn’t apply to all of them) that in quite a few of them, there was a flurry of (often quite radical) changes in and/or up until the 1950s and 1960s, but somewhat less in the way of change since. Often the later changes (see for instance: VW) are mere polishing. It’s like they were trying to get it right, and then they do get it right and stuck with it. At first they didn’t know quite what a logo was for and what logos are. They they did know. That is reinforced by the Firefox logo, which started in 2002 and then did the one early change in 2003, and that’s it.
How has the internet affected logo design?
Photos mature with age. The most commonplace snaps can turn into something a bit more interesting, with the passing of time.
Consider this one, one of the very first that I took with my Panasonic Lumix FZ150:
I know. It’s a shop.
But the thing is, it’s now boarded up. That photo was taken in January 2012. In January 2013, this happened:
The administrators to Jessops face a battle to rescue any of the company’s 192 shops after leading camera makers tightened the terms on which they sell products to the company following a downturn in the market.
Rob Hunt, joint administrator for PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: “Without the support of certain people, we are looking at complete closure.”
Jessops has since made a partial return to life, but so far, that Jessops, which is in Strutton Ground, near where I live, has remained shut.
In the years just before it closed it had an unbearably “helpful” shop assistant, who behaved like he’d been on some mad American training course in how to relate to customers. He wouldn’t leave you alone, and instead would engulf you in loud, totally fake bonhomie. I used to browse around in there from time to time, occasionally buying things like batteries and SD cards, and pondering my next camera. But because of this person, I stopped going there. Was I the only one, I wonder?
Talking of Strutton Ground, did you know that the Goon Show first saw the light of day in Strutton Ground? Yes, on the top floor of the pub at the far end of it from me. I saw this in a TV show about Spike Milligan.
I guess that’s probably more interesting than a Jessops closing. I’ll see if I can dig out more photos of things that have changed, that are rather better than that one, taken longer ago.
Alex Singleton has sent me an advance print-out of a book he has written about how to do PR. I have reached page 59, and am so far very impressed.
When I read a book of this sort, I like to read about relevant personal experiences, as well as Big Lessons and Grand Principles. That way, you are more likely to be convinced that the Big Lessons and Grand Principles really are as good and grand as they may merely seem.
So I particularly enjoyed this bit (from page 59):
When I got my first column in 1994, in a newsstand computer magazine, I had no idea what I was doing. But it seemed like I needed to get some stories, so I wrote to all the relevant companies and invited them to send me information about what they were doing. Not all of them replied - those that failed to respond were PR idiots. Some of them wrote to me saying that they would add me to their press release distribution lists - they were amateurs.
Then some guy called Quentin got in touch. His company, Accountz, sold products by mail order and it was miniscule - just him and his wife. But he wrote me a personal two-page letter (this was before email was commonplace) explaining how he had a Big Idea to defeat the major players in his sector. Unlike some of the other companies, he had no PR agency - but he had a story. And during the 15 issues I wrote that column, I could always rely on him
to take my calls and give me a good quote. When I upgraded to bigger-selling PC titles, including the market-leading ComputerActive, I kept on writing about his company. Today, his products are sold in PC World, Currys, AppleStores and Staples, and as I type this he has just made a successful exit from the company, passing it onto an investor.
What worked about that PR-journalist relationship is that Quentin - perhaps unwittingly - had good personal brand. He never tried to force a bad story on me and never wasted my time.
Alex has told me he is in the market for typos, and I think I see another blemish, to add to the two I’ve already told him about. Shouldn’t “onto” (final line of para 2 there) be “on to”? Not sure, but I think I’m right about that.
More about this book when I have finished it.
This time last year I was speculating that Halloween seems to be supplanting Guy Fawkes Night, here in Britain, as indeed it does seemto be. Many reasons for this were suggested by me, and by various commenters. Undoubtedly one of these reasons in that Halloween offers shops more chances to sell stuff, stuff that, thanks to China etc., is now unprecedentedly cheap, compared, e.g., to food.
So it was that the imminence of Halloween announced itself to me a few days ago, in what is basically a food shop, Tescos:
That stuff all looks rather jolly, rather than scary or “spooky” (the claim made on the jars of sweeties), doesn’t it?
Part of the joy of digital photography is that you can photo mad crap like this for free, rather than waste any money, and more to the point space, actually buying it and taking it home.
Later, in the Kings Road, I encountered a much spookier clutch of Halloween stuff, in the window of a shop that specialises in selling “gifts”, unlike Tescos. The Tesco stuff was for kids.
This is more like it:
It was the headless woman having her breasts cradled by the hands of a skeleton that got my attention. But, they surely missed a chance with the blood round her neck. It ought to be dripping down from the bloody stump.
Time for me to ask, yet again: Why are decapitated women in shop windows not creepy?
Can someone explain why some items for sale on Amazon have hugely inflated prices attached to them?
Here, for example, is a CD of the Brahms Violin Concerto, played by Pinchas Zukerman. Someone is asking £339 pounds for it, new. I have this CD, and Zukerman plays the piece very well, I think. But he does not play it £339 well. So, what’s happening here? This kind of thing seems to happen quite a lot.
Surely, nobody is ever going to pay £339. Are they? Maybe they are, in some stupid way, and that explains it.
Or is there some automatic increase going on here, and has someone forgotten about it, and just let the price climb and climb?
Comments explaining, or even just guessing the way I have, would be most welcome.
Today I did something I very rarely do these days. I bought a newspaper:
It was The Times of May 24th 1940. Originally it cost 2d, which means two old pennies, from the days of pounds, shillings and pence, which I remember very well, because they lasted into the sixties. Today, I bought it in the local gay charity shop in Churton Street, for £1. There were quite a few more copies of The Times from that time still on sale there, most of them from late in 1939. £1 each. How long they will last, who can say?
Patrick Crozier, do you want me to get more copies for you, if they are still there?
Patrick Crozier’s talk at my place last month, based on The Times in 1913, was superb. He turned the talk into six Samizdata postings, which you can find by going to the last one, and following the links back. Highly recommended if you’ve not read them yet.
LATER: Twenty more copies.
Yesterday was a grey and drizzly day, as was today come to that.
This didn’t look as good as it would have on a sunny day.:
That’s Barclays Bank, Kings Cross. I can’t help thinking that all that razzamatazz reflects rather badly on Barclays Bank, Kings Cross, even though Barclays Bank, Kings Cross, is not itself razzamatazzed.
This, on the other hand, is just what you want on a grey and drizzly day:
However, although you may want it, so (I fear) will tramps, and tramps always win such contests, don’t they? Whoever smells worse and looks scarier wins. So, unless you are yourself a tramp, this will be a no go area for you, as for me.
Just for now, however, no tramps, and here is how it looks when I point my camera upwards:
Very seventies. Very trashy. But, it keeps the drizzle off. I guess what’s happening here is that middle-aged architects, who were tiny tots in super-trendy seventies households with all the trappings of the time, are now powerful enough to be doing it again, in a vain attempt to recapture their lost youths.
This roof is between Westminster City Hall and that new office block with the crazy angled walls, in Victoria Street.
I am still looking for a suitable sofa.
This is the very unsatisfactory arrangement that I want to improve upon, a lot:
That’s just a mattress on a plank on some boxes. The mattress keeps sliding forwards, and it requires continuous effort to remain seated on this mess.
I wrote at Samizdata, back in June, about wanting something better, not long after spotting, in a Pret a Manger, this:
That would be excellent.
So would this, which I spotted in my local dentist’s waiting room yesterday:
What both the above sofas have in common, aside from the detail of not collapsing when you sit on them, is that both are quite narrow, from front to back. Most sofas these days, certainly of the domestic sort, seem to be monstrous in size (especially from front to back), partly because they just are, and partly because they often seem to insist on being beds as well. I already have a sofa that turns itself into a bed, and the last damn thing I want is another of these contraptions.
I asked at the dentist where they got that sofa, but they just said what everyone always says, which is to google “office furniture”. Easy. The lady receptionist, like lots of other people I have asked about this, thought that it would be the work of a moment, by the above method, to locate such a sofa.
This has not been my experience.
So, if you think it is easy, or would be easy, to locate a narrow-front-to-back sofa, in London, which I can look at and measure with a tape measure and sit in before having them deliver it at an agreed time to my home, you go ahead and tell me where the hell I can find such a sofa. If, thanks to you (and the photograph of the sofa that you email to me (see “Contact” above left) together with the address I need to go to to buy the thing), I find the sort of sofa I am looking for, I buy it, and it arrives without fuss in my home, I will pay you £50, in addition to what I paid for the sofa.
This morning, in connection with a Samizdata posting about Europe, I found myself googling for info about London’s new container port, which I had heard about, but which I heard about some more last night.
It looks rather impressive:
I found that picture here, that being how things were looking in May of this year.
The Unions are not happy.
I have a vague recollection of posting something here about some big new cranes arriving in London, for, presumably, this. Yes, here. These cranes are “taller than the London Eye”, according to the quote I found then. So, these cranes ought to be visible and photo-able from quite a distance. Stanford-Le-Hope here I come.
There was a comment this morning from Rob Fisher (and I do love it that we finally have Samizdata author archives), on a piece I threw up on (?) Samizdata yesterday comparing 3D printing to blogging. This comment has the feel of something that ought to be a bit more than a comment. So here it is, here:
Google the Ubuntu Edge smartphone. This is a device that many people wanted, but not quite enough to raise 35 million that the company behind it say was needed to make 40,000 phones.
A large part of what made the device desirable was its physical construction. I imagine a time when people can choose from a wide library of smartphone physical designs and customise them with a choice of materials, colours and shape modifications. Those with the skills will contribute new designs to the library.
Similarly, smartphone innards are increasingly boiling down to two or three interchangeable chips. Why not select the system-on-chip you prefer; add some RAM and flash storage; and pick the screen you want? Placement of these parts is then just physical design.
So we build a one–off smartphone. The chassis may be 3D printed or cut from a metal block with some sort of robotic machinist. The circuit boards and final assembly will be robotic.
Look at how Foxconn is replacing its “slave” human labourers with robots.
So what, really, is the difference between today, when a new design for a run of 40,000 gadgets costs $35m, and my world, where a single unique device can be assembled for $800?
It’s partly logistics, which 3D printing is part of the answer to. Some entrepreneurial soul will surely eventually build the factory to solve the rest of the logistical problems.
The rest of the answer is the dispersal of the required knowledge. In the same way that making new software is largely a matter of combining libraries written previously by domain experts with a smidgen of new ideas, so the physical design of gadgets will eventually become a matter of combining standard parts with a touch of customisation.
It’s largely a software problem, too. If you imagine a Web site that lets you design your own phone in the way I have described, a lot of the problem is systematising smartphone design and putting a usable user interface on that system.
So, to make my own analogy, if the world I have just imagined of making your own gadgets is blogging, 3D printing is the web. Small, automated factories that can cheaply produce one-off items using 3D printing and robots are the Internet. And some clever software to make it easier to enter one’s designs is WordPress.
Regular Samizdata commenter Alisa called that “brilliant”, which was what made me think it ought to be immortalised.
Or maybe alligators. Who is to say? (You perhaps?)
Shop windows are full of strange and photographable things, I find. Sadly, the window aspect of window displays often causes an eruption of reflections that get in the way. Happily not this time, though.
Quota photo because I am now trying to put stuff up here at least every two days.