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: Business

Saturday December 15 2018

Well, it’s official.  I care more about cricket, as played by anyone, than I care about football, as played by Spurs, the football team that I tell myself I support.

If I truly support Spurs, how come I only bothered to wonder the next day.how badly they had lost to Barcelona recently, in their clearly doomed attempt to qualify for the last sixteen of the European Champions League, or whatever they call it?  Answer me that.  On the night, I was so concerned about when the next test match between Australia and India would start, and whether I could here any commentary on it, that I completely ignored Spurs.  When you consider that this Barca/Spurs game was on Tuesday night, and that the Australia/India game didn’t start until the small hours of Friday morning, you can see what a crap Spurs fan I am.

It was only some time on Wednesday that I internetted the news that Spurs had got a draw against Barca (thanks to a late equaliser), and that because Inter Milan had also only got a draw in their game, Spurs had squeaked through, but only after an agonising wait for the Inter result caused by that game going on for a couple of minutes longer.

While all this drama was going on, I was oblivious to it, and was instead scratching about on the internet chasing that cricket game.

Which is still going on.  Day 3 will be getting underway in a few hours, on Radio 5 live sports extra.  My sleep is already deranged, in a way that usually only happens when England are playing in Australia.

Today, I did keep track of the Spurs Burnley game, which Spurs won (thanks to a very late winner).  So: more drama.  But although I was aware of this while it was happening, I was again scandalously relaxed about it all, despite this game being billed as a Spurs Must Win If They Are To Stay In With A Chance To Win The League sort of a game.  Oh well, I was thinking, as it remained 0-0 right up until extra time.  Oh well, that’s how it goes.  Maybe next year, when they have their own stadium to play in.

Maybe the reason I am not shouting at Spurs in my kitchen, urging them on to glory, is that they are indeed engaged in building themselves a brand new custom built headquarters, in the form of that new White Hart Lane stadium.  So according to my way of thinking, they shouldn’t now be doing this well.

However, it would seem that all the money that the new stadium will bring into the club has caused Spurs to do something now that they haven’t been doing for several decades, which is keep their best players.  I’m talking about the likes of Kane, Deli Alli, Moura (who scored the late equaliser against Barca) and Eriksen (who got today’s very late winner).  Such stars might still make more money if they went to Real Madrid or some such even richer club.  But, at Real, they might not do as well on the pitch as they are now doing for Spurs.  They might then fall off the football pyramid of greatness, never to climb back on it again.  Footballers are interested in money and glory, not just in money, not least because glory turns into more money later, when they later try to get football jobs without being players any more.  Spurs look like they could be about to do both money and glory rather well.

The same goes for the current rather-hard-to-spell Spurs manager who is masterminding all this.  Many now assume that he will shortly move to Madrid.  I’m not so sure.

I mean, if this is how well these Spurs guys can do while the new Spurs HQ is still being finished, think how well they might do when they get really settled in in the new place and are able to concentrate entirely on football.

Or maybe it’s that a new stadium is not really a new headquarters building, more like a huge new factory, for something like a brand new airplane.  Boeing bets the company every time they launch a totally new aircraft.  A football club bets itself whenever it moves into a new stadium. But this stadium is actually for doing football, rather than just a place to do lots of headquartering.

Thursday December 13 2018

For reasons too complicated and undignified to elaborate upon, I have been sitting at home, waiting for one sofa to be taken away and for another sofa to be delivered, preferably in that order.  This has caused me to be stuck indoors throughout most of the daylight hours of the last week or so, which is why I have posted only photos from the archives, rather than any photos taken more recently.

But, I have been able to get out after sofa-moving hours, which I take to end by about 6pm at the latest.  And during the hours of darkness I have reminded myself that whereas most things do not photo well in the dark, taxis with adverts on them look quite good.  Not as good as they do in bright sunshine, but still quite good.

Here is a clutch of taxis with adverts in the dark, taken during the last twelve months, but mostly more like during the last two or three months:

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The seventh (3.1) of these twelve advertises Huawei, who have been in the news lately, for being a front for Chinese state skulduggery.  Other than that one, these are just regular adverts, on taxis.  I particularly like the one for The Phantom of the Opera.

But they keep changing, and I’m thinking that my next taxi advert posting might come from me going back to when I first started noticing taxi adverts, and photoing them.

Wednesday December 12 2018

I continue to be skeptical about 3D-printing ever “going domestic”.  Just because the world can have a 3D-printer in every home, this does not mean that it makes the slightest bit of sense for the world actually to do this.  No, all the significant advances in 3D printing are now being made by old-school manufacturers, who now have another tool in their toolbox to make whatever stuff they already know how to design, make and sell.  3D-printing is additive in the literal sense, that being how it works.  It is also additive from the business point of view.  It is a technique that has been added to conventional manufacturing.  3D-printing is not “disruptive”.  It is the opposite of that.

Nevertheless, and despite all that, a friend of mine has recently purchased a domestic type 3D-printer, for him to play around with.  And despite everything I have learned about how the 3D-printing market is and is not developing just now, and despite the fact that I wouldn’t dream of acquiring such a contraption myself, I can’t stop myself being interested in what my friend does with his new toy.  3D-printing is just so miraculous, so Dr Whoozy, so Star Trecky, so downright amazing, as and when it starts to work as well as it clearly will work, once the Geekocracy have truly got it working properly.

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The above is a very early “product”, as advertised by my friend on Facebook, those being his fingernails.  Just conceivably, what my friend will do is develop a repertoire, so to speak, of such “products”.

I put “products” in inverted commas because we’re not talking big business here.  More like small acts of friendship.  Him being that most potent combination, a Geek who nevertheless knows how to make and keep non-Geek friends, he might soon be 3D-printing useful bespoke items for the rest of us.  So we don’t have to.

Trouble is, it’s hard to think what these things might be.  But I am sure that over the decades to come, ideas will materialise.

What I am foreseeing is a world in which 3D-printers appear not in all homes, but in just enough homes for all those who want any of these “products” to be able to ask their designated Geek friend to get to work.  And I suppose some actual business might even emerge from this, in the form of designs for popular items.

Jewellery and kid’s toys are two obvious things, although you need to watch out the kid’s toys are not the sort they might be tempted to swallow.

What made me think that the above speculations might not be absurd was not only my friend’s Facebook posting, but also this piece, about a retired engineer who makes trinkets for his little network of friends.

Ninety-four-year-old John Downes is not your average pensioner.

A retired engineer, Mr Downes’s room at his Cambridgeshire care home contains not one, but three state-of-the-art 3D printers – technology he uses for the benefit of his fellow residents.

Having lived in Toft for almost 50 years, Mr Downes decided to remain in the village when he moved to the nearby Home Meadow care home in May last year.

Note that.  He remains where has always lived, and keeps all his local friends.  I bet he makes the occasional stuff for people beyond his care home.

There, he was keen to continue his tech-based hobbies, so staff arranged for his 3D printers to be set up in his room.

A retired engineer, Mr Downes’s room at his Cambridgeshire care home contains not one, but three state-of-the-art 3D printers – technology he uses for the benefit of his fellow residents.

But like I say, the problem here is not the technology.  It is worthwhile ideas about what to do with it, other than sensible things like making bits for airplanes or spare parts for cars, nearer than China, which won’t be done in anyone’s home.

As soon as I think of something that I want my friend to make for me I will let him know, and probably all of you too.

Here’s a thought.  A mutual friend of 3D-printer man and me is building a railway layout for his kids.  (And, you suspect, also for himself.) Maybe 3D-printing can add something to that project.

Saturday December 08 2018

Stow-Away is a recent arrival in Lower Marsh:

Stow-Away is a new sustainable and eco friendly apart hotel concept. Stow-Away Waterloo is our first London base made from 26 re-purposed shipping containers, stylishly designed to provide a snug comfortable Stow-Away sleeping experience.

Lots of people have tried to do architecture with old shipping containers, but personally I doubt if it makes much sense.  But, if your task is to sell hotel rooms, then shipping containers are perhaps a good gimmick, for attracting attention and for giving guests something to talk about.  “I slept in a shipping container.” Etc.  I’ve never done this.

It got my attention:

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I enjoy in particular the various reflections there.

All but the last of these photos were photoed in one burst, last September.  The final photo was photoed more recently, in the evening.

I think this hotel is quite good fun, especially those strange looking shades, red on the inside, that are a feature of the front.  But, I regret the trend of which this “apart hotel” is a part, which is the transformation of Lower Marsh from a fascinating and quite cheap thoroughfare, full of diverting shops and eateries, into a dreary and expensive thoroughfare, stripped of all those diverting shops and eateries.

This happens all the time.  A street contains lots of lively and amusing stuff.  Word of that liveliness spreads, and the rents then go through the roof.  The liveliness is priced off to another part of town.  Such is urban life.

What I am really saying is: RIP Gramex.  Follow that link and you find “an important message to our much-valued customers”.  That would be me.  But this “important message” is dated 4th August 2017.  I gave up hope at least a year ago.

Thursday December 06 2018

On the same day, September 24th 2013, that I took all those artistic photos not of cranes, I also photoed something else that wasn’t a crane either.  In addition to liking cranes I also like bridges, but this other something wasn’t a bridge either, despite looking a lot like one.  I refer to this contrivance:

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So far as I can work it out, this is a structure to protect a road against some power lines which are crossing that road.  The road in question being the A1014, aka “The Manorway”, just before it runs out of puff at a roundabout.

I know.  Why this one structure, there?  What’s so special about these power lines?  Were people about to start working on them, and were they scared that they might fall on the road and set light to a lorry laden with some highly inflammable liquid, of the sort they concern themselves with in Coryton?  Could be.  According to this, there used to be a refinery there (hence yesterday’s ruins).  Now, there either already is or there is about to be a diesel import terminal.  Yes, apparently this got going last year.

Maybe the structure I photoed is somehow a consequence of this change.

Thursday November 29 2018

Again from designboom, this posting about a Ukrainian rug-maker who is souping up his designs with modern references.  I particularly like this one:

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This works for many reasons, one of them being that there is something very medieval and nostalgic about the whole Star Wars franchise, and lots of cinematic and other scifi in general.  Faster than light travel, for instance, isn’t modern.  It is a bogus technology trick for turning the future back into the Middle Ages, into a world full of faraway wonders and monsters, but not so far away that you can’t reach them soon enough to still be alive when you get there and make your visit count.

By the way, I think “designboom” postings are very badly designed.  The basic problem, although not the only one, is their juvenile refusal to understand capital letters, and their determination instead only to use capital letters for acronymic organisations (like, in this case: “OLK"), but never to signal the beginning of a sentence, or the beginning of a heading.  Or for something like Star Wars.  This is stupid when you are simply writing a chunk of prose.  But it is seriously stupid at a website, because websites are tricky to make clear at the best of time.  Boom?  No.  Fail.  Pity, because they seem to have a lot of good stuff.

This blog, the one you are reading now, is much better designed.  To look at I mean.  Not how it works, which is very badly.

Further to that chat that Patrick Crozier and I recently had about transport (in which we talked about robot cars), here is a little clutch of interesting guesses by Audi, about how robot cars and robot airplanes – i.e. flying cars – might, one day quite soon, work.  “Guesses” is not an insult.  It’s all guesses at this stage in the story.

The Audi “airplane” is a big drone, like a giant photo-drone, although actually the prototype they recently showed off was the idea in miniature.  It carries a people pod, like a regular photo-drone carries its camera.  The drone extracts or drops the people pod from or into a “car, which is a car with a big hole where the people bit is in a regular car.

This makes sense to me.  Cars and big drones presumably need very different sorts of engines, and it does not make sense for the drone to be lugging a big old car engine around with it wherever it flies.  Any more than it makes sense for a “flying car” to be lugging a even bigger old set of airplane engines around with it, wherever it drives.  (I’m guessing (me too) that the Harrier Jumpjet technique would be too expensive and complicated.)

But, “makes sense” is not the same as “will happen this way”.  Nobody knows.  After all, maybe the future will just be people ... you know … climbing out of their cars into their airplanes, much as they do now.

In other robot car news, I was intrigued by an email I recently got from this enterprise about how robot car engines will be lighter and more efficient, on account of not having any longer to be so “driver friendly”.  Robots will prioritise safety and comfort.  They won’t be concerned, when driving, about having the Lewis Hamilton experience.  Again: makes sense.

Monday November 26 2018

As I earlier said, about this taxi, and various photoshopped variants of it:

I hope I chance upon the original, and get a go at photoing it myself.

Well, yesterday, in Warwick Way, I did chance upon it:

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I speculated recently that photoing sculpture might be easier to do well in cloudy light.  I also recently speculated that something similar might well apply with brightly coloured vehicles.  The above bright yellow taxi would seem to confirm this.

Next advert-taxi target, this very cute Swarovski taxi.  I have already spotted one of these taxis twice, but my first sighting was in the dark with me burdened with laundrette stuff, and my second sighting was yesterday morning, but after I had been shopping and was thus similarly burdened.  I tried to photo it, but it had moved on before I could.

Photoing taxis is a lot easier when they are parked.  It is also easier if the driver is not present.  If he is, I say I am interested in his advert, and ask permission to photo first.  Once they know you aren’t snooping on their parking habits, they’re usually very agreeable.

Saturday November 24 2018

On April Fools Day 2009 (the same day and just before I took these photos (that being how I came across this photo (which I took just north of Charing Cross station))), a man decides that he doesn’t want either a massive jacket or a crazy “T/shirt”:

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Perhaps he feared that, what with it being April Fools Day, he might discover that the T/shirts were all pretty sensible, and the jackets only of moderate size, albeit both quite persuasively priced.

I tried googling “Tommy Coopers clothing”, but could find nothing that looked like this enterprise.  Only references to a certain comedy hat.

Moments earlier, on that same photo-walk, next to St-Martin-in-the-Fields off Trafalgar Square, I took this photo, of a van:

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I love how certain very bright paint colours look all the brighter on dull days.  Hartley would surely like this one.

Monday November 19 2018

Another for the Department of I’ll-Believe-It-When-I-See-It:

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Yes, a Tulip, for the City of London, right next to (and dwarfing) the Gherkin, a Big Thing from which to gaze at and photo all the other nearby Big Things:  And to be photoed from the other Big Things, and from everywhere else in the vicinity.

No comments on that Dezeen report (with lots more photos (i.e. fake photos)) as of me now writing this, but I expect a lot of derision from people who dismiss it as a mere Foster publicity stunt.  Which I dare say it is.

I’m for it of course, even if it will surely cost a fortune to actually go up it.  So I won’t be doing that very much, I don’t suppose.  But I will photo it constantly, from near and from far.

What’s the betting it does get built, but not in London?

During our recent chat about transport (already mentioned her), Patrick and I talked about robot cars.  I expressed particular skepticism about their supposedly forthcoming arrival en masse on the roads of our cities.  We mentioned, in contrast to the idea of robot cars immediately conquering our cities, the fact that robot vehicles are already in successful operation in certain niche situations.  We were able to think of two such.  They already use giant robot lorries in the mining industry.  And, Amazon already has robots wizzing about in its warehouses.  Both environments have in common that they are wholly owned by the operator of the robots, so if the humans in the place need to learn the habits of these robots and to give them whatever assistance and whatever slack the robots need, then such humans can simply be commanded to do this.  Unlike in big cities.

More recently, I met up again (as in: more recently than that meeting), with Bruce the Real Photographer, and mentioned that Patrick and I had been doing recorded chats, mentioning in particular our robotic ruminations.  And Bruce then told me about another niche use that robot vehicles have apparently been occupying for quite some time time now.  It seems that in Spain, a country that Bruce knows very well, the tyre company Michelin has a big testing track, and on this track, robot vehicles drive around and around, testing Michelin tyres.

You can see how this would make sense.  The robots can travel at exactly the desired speed, along a precisely preordained route, and thereby, say, subject two only slightly different sets of tyres to the exact same “driving experience”, if you get my drift.  Getting humans to perform such perfect comparisons would be very difficult, but this is exactly the kind of task, and in general the kind of operation, where robot vehicles would be ideal.  And, reports Bruce The Real Photographer, they are ideal.

Me having just written all that, I wonder if Google has anything to say about this Michelin testing operation.  Not a lot, it would seem.  They are far keener to sell their tyres than to tell us the details of how they test them, which makes sense.  But, this bit of video seems like it could be relevant.  And this …:

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... would appear to be the particular place that Bruce mentioned, because he recently tried - I don’t recall him saying why – but failed to get in there and see it.  To take Real Photographs perhaps?

And here is another bit of video about how Bridgestone is using robot vehicles to check out tyre noise.

So, testing vehicle components.  An ideal job for robot vehicles.  Robots are very precise.  They don’t get tired.  And you can use a special track where all the humans involved are on their best behaviour.

Wednesday November 14 2018

Nothing says Christmas to me quite like Special Christmas Edition packs of Walkers Potato Crisps.  And actually, I came across these in Sainsbury’s … it must have been nearly a fortnight ago now:

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Photoing a shiny package, with information directly under the shininess, is somewhat above my photoing pay grade, what with my photoing pay grade being: zero without expenses.  On the left there, we have Turkey & Stuffing, Brussels Sprout, and Pigs in Blankets.  On the right, Glazed Ham, Turkey & Stuffing (again), and … well that’s not so clear.

So here’s another photo which explains that it is Cheese & Cranberry:

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However, my favourite bit is this little disclaimer, concerning the Brussels Sprout crisps:

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I love it.  Guaranteed entirely made with artificial flavouring.  No natural flavouring at all.  Real turkey.  Real stuffing.  Real pigs.  Real blankets.  Real ham with real glaze, real cheese, ceal cranberry.  But: fake sprouts.

I don’t always hate the twenty first century.  Today, I love it.

One way to photo such packages as these more clearly is to empty them, and flatten them out, like they’ve done here, because that brings the light under control.  At lest, I think that’s what they did.  Those photos certainly look flat.  But a package that is flat rather than curved stops looking like a package.  Such photos literally take the crisps out of the picture.  And who wants that?

Tuesday November 13 2018

With blogging, excellence is the enemy of adequacy, and often what you think will be excellence turns out not to be.

Eight days ago now, Patrick Crozier and I had one of our occasional recorded chats, about transport this time.  Train privatisation, high speed trains and maglevs, robot cars, that kind of thing.  I think it was one of our better ones.  We both had things we wanted to say that were worth saying, and both said them well, I think.  Patrick then did the editing and posting on the www of this chat in double quick time, and I could have given it a plug here a week ago.  If I have more to say about transport, I can easily do other postings.  But, I had some stupid idea about including a picture, and some other stuff, which would all take far too long, and the simple thing of supplying the link to this chat here was postponed, and kept on being postponed.

Usually, this kind of thing doesn’t matter.  So, I postpone telling you what I think about something.  Boo hoo.  But this time I really should have done better.

There.  All that took about one minute to write.  I could have done this far sooner.  Apologies.

Monday November 12 2018

Just over a year ago, I wrote here about a dead person on some British stamps (the late David Bowie), which is the usual thing, and also about some non-royal still alive people on British stamps (England’s 2005 Ashes winners), which is most unusual.

Now, admittedly under assumed names, here come some more still alive people on British stamps:

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Details here.

This sort of thing is probably the only reason most people ever buy stamps these days.

Saturday November 03 2018

Seen recently on Facebook:

image

I like all the reflections in the background.  And what happens to the guy’s head.  Real Photographers tend to avoid all that stuff. I seek it out.

Is this a reference to Brexit, Trump etc., or am I reading too much into this?