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

Thursday April 14 2016

Pyjama bottoms have a way of disintegrating.  And just lately I have been having other problems (I will say no more than that) with pyjama bottoms.  The night before last I had to wear short pants in bed, like an American sitcom actor just after having had sex, and last night I cranked up the hot water bottle.  It’s amazing what a difference just swapping proper length pyjama bottoms for the same thing but with no legs.

So the question was: laundrette, or Primark.  Wash the two remaining pyjama bottoms, one of which had gone missing, or: buy some more pyjamas at Primark.  I couldn’t face laundretting, so Primark it was.  Earlier this evening, I staggered forth to Oxford Street.

In the tube on the way, I grumbled to myself about how I would be obliged to purchase yet more pyjama tops, to add to the already absurd number of such garments that I already possess.

Instead I encountered this:

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A pair of pyjama bottoms, as in two pyjama bottoms, and no pyjama tops.  I bought two large (L) and two extra large (XL).  The XL ones fit fine and I am wearing one of them now.  Extra large my arse!  Well, apparently so.

I feared that the merely large ones would be far too tight, but they’re okay.  I’m now wearing one of them.  A bit tight but okay, and the good news is that elastic expands when you wash it.

And all this for just twenty quid.  And no, I don’t feel bad about the terrible wages paid to the people who make such garments.  I remember winning this stupid argument way back in the seventies, when I was accused of keeping Hong Kongians poor by buying their cheap stuff.  What I was actually doing, as I knew at the time, was making them rich (which they now are), by bidding up the price of their labour.  And now I’m doing it again.

I tried to find these garments on the internet, but failed.  So I just did a photo.

Modern life is good in so many ways, but I really did not see this particular item of goodness coming.

I’ll add that the new Primark at the Centre Point end of Oxford Street, which I was sampling for the first time, was agreeably uncrowded, and generally less of a mad down-market scrimmage than the one near Marble Arch, at least whenever I’ve been there.

The above link gets you to a place that says it isn’t open yet, but it was open enough when I visited.  Maybe the fact that it was open but not yet Open explains why it was so quiet.  Maybe when these places officially Open, pandemonium rules from then on.

Sunday April 10 2016

Here (via Instapundit):

The tricky thing, Adam says, is how many of his clients insist on secrecy. If you’re hiring a crowd to fill a campaign event or a film premiere, the last thing you want to do is let anyone know. Adam must balance his goal of spreading awareness of his company, so he can attract more clients, with the benefits of keeping the public in the dark. If people start to doubt the veracity of crowds, his business might suffer. “Right now, we’re still kind of this secret weapon,” Adam says. “We have the element of surprise. Yeah, you might’ve heard about political candidates paying to bring some extra bodies into their campaign events, but it’s beyond the realm of most people’s imagination that crowds are being deployed in other ways. Nobody is skeptical of crowds. Of course, in five years that could change.”

Indeed it could.  And something tells me that this story is going to get very well known, very quickly.  “How much are they paying you for this?” is going to be asked, a lot.

A longer term effect is also going to be that genuine protests are liable to look like they’re fake too.

People have been paid, in cash or kind, one way or another, to do this kind of thing for quite a while.  All that this guy has done is turn it into a pure, if that’s the word, business.

Wednesday April 06 2016

I am continuing to read, with huge pleasure, Steven Johnson’s book about Joseph Priestley, The Invention of Air.  Here’s another good bit (pp. 58-61):

With the university system languishing amid archaic traditions, and corporate R&D labs still on the distant horizon, the public space of the coffeehouse served as the central hub of innovation in British society How much of the Enlightenment do we owe to coffee? Most of the epic developments in England between 1650 and 1800 that still warrant a mention in the history textbooks have a coffeehouse lurking at some crucial juncture in their story.  The restoration of Charles II, Newton’s theory of gravity, the South Sea Bubble – they all came about, in part, because England had developed a taste for coffee, and a fondness for the kind of informal networking and shoptalk that the coffeehouse enabled.  Lloyd’s of London was once just Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse, until the shipowners and merchants started clustering there, and collectively invented the modem insurance company.  You can’t underestimate the impact that the Club of Honest Whigs had on Priestley’s subsequent streak, precisely because he was able to plug in to an existing network of relationships and collaborations that the coffeehouse environment facilitated.  Not just because there were learned men of science sitting around the table – more formal institutions like the Royal Society supplied comparable gatherings – but also because the coffeehouse culture was cross-disciplinary by nature, the conversations freely roaming from electricity, to the abuses of Parliament, to the fate of dissenting churches.

The rise of coffeehouse culture influenced more than just the information networks of the Enlightenment; it also transformed the neurochemical networks in the brains of all those newfound coffee-drinkers.  Coffee is a stimulant that has been clinically proven to improve cognitive function - particularly for memory-related tasks - during the first cup or two. Increase the amount of “smart” drugs flowing through individual brains, and the collective intelligence of the culture will become smarter, if enough people get hooked.  Create enough caffeine-abusers in your society and you’ll be statistically more likely to launch an Age of Reason. That may itself sound like the self-justifying fantasy of a longtime coffee-drinker, but to connect coffee plausibly to the Age of Enlightenment you have to consider the context of recreational drug abuse in seventeenth-century Europe.  Coffee-drinkers are not necessarily smarter; in the long run, than those who abstain from caffeine. (Even if they are smarter for that first cup.) But when coffee originally arrived as a mass phenomenon in the mid-1600s, it was not seducing a culture of perfect sobriety.  It was replacing alcohol as the daytime drug of choice. The historian Tom Standage writes in his ingenious A History of the World in Six Glasses:

The impact of the introduction of coffee into Europe during the seventeenth century was particularly noticeable since the most common beverages of the time, even at breakfast, were weak “small beer” and wine .... Those who drank coffee instead of alcohol began the day alert and stimulated, rather than relaxed and mildly inebriated, and the quality and quantity of their work improved .... Western Europe began to emerge from an alcoholic haze that had lasted for centuries.

Emerging from that centuries-long bender, armed with a belief in the scientific method and the conviction, inherited from Newtonian physics, that simple laws could be unearthed beneath complex behavior, the networked, caffeinated minds of the eighteenth century found themselves in a universe that was ripe for discovery. The everyday world was teeming with mysterious phenomena – animals, plants, rocks, weather – that had never before been probed with the conceptual tools of the scientific method.  This sense of terra incognita also helps explain why Priestley could be so innovative in so many different disciplines, and why Enlightenment culture in general spawned so many distinct paradigm shifts.  Amateur dabblers could make transformative scientific discoveries because the history of each field was an embarrassing lineage of conjecture and superstition.  Every discipline was suddenly new again.

Thursday March 24 2016

There is, as I write, deep joy, a crane in operation, right outside my kitchen window.  I can see it now, lifting steel girders onto the roof of a building that is being revamped, from an office into flats, across the yard from me.

Yesterday, I did something I haven’t done for a while, which is I attempted to get onto the roof of my block of flats.  I succeeded.  More deep joy.  The door was unlocked.

Here is a picture I took of the crane, yesterday afternoon, just as it was folding itself up after its day’s work.  The men in yellow had finished their work also, and the crane was about to descend back into the street whence it came:

image

I have not seen this process before, which is so central to how these things operate.  It is not enough that they must be able to do their job, of lifting up things like girders and depositing them accurately into the midst of a building.  At least some of them have to be able to hoist themselves up, and unhoist themselves down again afterwards.  I mean, if you could only ever erect a crane with the help of another crane, where would it end?

A crane like the one in the last of these pictures that I showed here last Sunday, is another crane of the sort that can raise itself up off a lorry and immediately start work, and it is pretty clear just from looking at it approximately how it does this, even if its internal workings are slightly mysterious.  But the manner in which the above crane operates isn’t quite so obvious.  You need to see it to really appreciate it.  And now I have.

I’m not exactly sure which it was of the cranes here that I saw in action, but that is definitely the website of the crane hire enterprise concerned.

Tuesday March 22 2016

Do you want your clothes theatrically drycleaned?  Here is the enterprise you’ve been looking for:

image

Throughout our 50 years’ experience within the dry cleaning industry we have gained a wealth of knowledge and understanding of the effects that various solvents on different types of fabrics, paints, stage bloods, beading, sequins and trimmings allowing us the achieve the very best results for our wardrobe departments.

Van photoed by me in Tottenham Court Road last September, just minutes before I photoed this old American car.  I am becoming increasingly interested in photoing vehicles.  It’s not just taxis, and the vans don’t even have to be white.

As you can perhaps tell, today, it is nearly tomorrow.  I have been doing a lot less of that lately, but today I did.

Friday March 11 2016

Well, the New Year (even though the New Year is actually getting quite old now) Resolution here, to blog early, and sometimes even to blog often, is working well.  I haven’t delayed going to bed because of this blog for about a week, and I sense that this may even continue.

Friday is my day for cats, and now also for other creatures, and already this Friday, even though it not yet even the middle of the day, there has already been a posting here about dogs.  Republican dogs.  That posting is right below this one, but there’s the link anyway.

And here now is another creature posting, about a truly unique other creature - half cat, yes, but also half dog, half bee, half zebra, and wholly suitcase - of the sort that kids can ride, at airports, to stop them getting bored:

image

Apparently Trunki made the first of these, and then some Hong Kong guys did a cheaper knock-off, and Trunki complained.  Trunki lost.

These cases - the physical (suit)case and the legal case - illustrate the fine line that divides a design from an idea:

But five Supreme Court justices unanimously disagreed, and ruled in favour of PMS on Wednesday – stating that while it had “sympathy for Magmatic”, the “Design Right is intended to protect designs not ideas”.

It looks a lot like a design being copied to me.  Not that I mind.  And actually, I think the Hong Kong version is better, because the original can’t make up its mind whether its eyes are eyes or horns.  HK case resolves this by having eyes and horns.

PMS website: here.

Monday March 07 2016

Yes, I’ve been continuing to photo taxis with adverts.  Here are half a dozen of the most recent such snaps.

First up, further proof, if you need it, that the internet has not abolished television.  People still like to be passively entertained, surprise surprise.  But the internet is in the process of swallowing television, so that they end up being the same thing:

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Next, become an accountant!  Note how they include the word “taxi” in the advertised website, presumably to see whether advertising on taxis is worth it.  Note to LSBF: I have no plans to become an accountant.

Note also the Big Things picture of London, something I always like to show pictures of here, and note also how out of date this picture is.  No Cheesegrater, for a start:

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Next up, a taxi advertising a book. I do not remember seeing this before, although I’m sure it has happened before:

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Next, Discover America.  I thought it already had been:

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Visit a beach.  I didn’t crop this photo at all, because I like how I tracked the taxi and its advert, and got the background all blurry, and I want you to see all that blurriness.  Nice contrast between that and the bright colours of the advert.  A little bit of summer in the grey old February of London:

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Finally, a snap I took last night, in the Earls Court area.  And now we’re back in the exciting world of accountancy, this time in the form of its Beautiful accounting software:

image

As you can see, it was pitch dark by the time I took this.  But give my Lumix FZ200 even a sliver of artificial light and something solid to focus on, and it does okay, I think.  A decade ago, that photo would have been an unusable mess.

I am finding that taxi advertising changes very fast these days.  All of the above photos, apart from the one with the beaches, was of an advert I had not noticed before.

Which means that in future years, these taxi photos will have period value, because the adverts will have changed over and over again with the passing of only a handful of years.

Thursday March 03 2016

Blog buddy 6k recently did a posting about a Finnish word, “kalsarikännit”, which apparently means: “getting drunk alone at home, while wearing your underwear”.

I came across the big word in the title of this posting as a result of photoing a van, as it entered Victoria Street, on Tuesday:

image

What got me photoing this van was not any long word on it, for there are none.  No, what got my attention was how amazingly posh this van looked.  Amazingly posh like one of those amazingly posh magazines about Design, two-thirds full of posh car, posh frock, posh watch and posh property adverts.  Goddaughter 1, if she sees this, will surely be delighted.  The market for aesthetically sophisticated architectural photography (which is what she mostly does for a living) has now spread to the sides of vans.

But what is BRS?  BRS.NL was a big clue.  Dutch, yes?  Yes.  Here’s the website.  I had a rootle around in it, and that was when I came across “Toegangsbeveiligingsproducten”.

Here is the original Dutch:

Het accent van de werkzaamheden van BRS Traffic Systems BV ligt op het ontwikkelen, produceren, installeren en onderhouden van toegangsbeveiligingsproducten zoals Xentry® Speedgates, Pevac® Traffic Blockers®, Pevac® Road Blockers, Pevac® Spike Barriers®, Pevac® Bollards, Xentry® Speeddoors en Pevac®Traps.

By the way, “van” is not the Dutch for a van.

The only translation of “toegangsbeveiligingsproducten” that I could coax out of the internet was the English translation of the above verbiage:

The emphasis of the work of BRS Traffic Systems BV is the development, production, installation and maintenance of access security as Xentry® Speedgates, Pevac® Traffic Blockers®, Pevac® Road Blockers, Pevac® Spike Barriers®, Pevac® Bollards, Xentry® Speed Doors, and Pevac®Traps.

So, “access security products”?  Fancy metal gates, in other words.  That’s not as good as “getting drunk alone at home, while wearing your underwear”, but I reckon “kalsarikännit” is not as impressive as “toegangsbeveiligingsproducten”.

Thank heavens for copy-and-paste.

German, I know, and Dutch, which I presume to be very similar, would seem to have this ability to construct infinitely long words, like good trains.  So perhaps this particular word is not that surprising.  But I like it.  I wonder if there is a single German, or Dutch, word for “a word that is in principle infinitely long, to which you can keep adding stuff for ever, like a goods train”.  Probably.  It could, that is to say, be devised.

Thursday February 25 2016

I am greatly enjoying the progress of Soon-To-Be President Trump.  File under: guilty pleasures.  My libertarian friends mostly express horror at Trump’s irresistible rise, and his terrible opinions, and his terrible hair, but surely you never really know what you’ll get with a new President.  During the Thatcher years some of the people who most agreed with me did very little that I liked, while others, impeccably governmental sorts, who were just doing what seemed sensible to them, did quite a lot of good things.  See: privatisation.  Maybe Trump will turn out like that.  Maybe he will even decide to have dignified hair.

Trump seems to me like he’s going to be the USA’s first Television President, by which I mean someone who got to be President via television.  Didn’t they have one of them in Brazil not so long ago?  Some guy who had got well known by being some kind of TV talent show host, or some such thing, and then, to the horror of the Horrified Classes parlayed that into being President.  It was probably a disaster, but Brazil usually is.  And now, Brazil has one of the strongest libertarian movements in the world, does it not?  Maybe that’s how libertarianism wins.  First you have a crazy TV guy, and then libertarianism.  I can hope.

Anyway, Trump.  This piece about Trump by Scott Adams is a good laugh, as are comments on it like this:

I liked the one in Arkansas when the manager of the facility announced that Trump broke the all time attendance record set by ZZ Top in 1978. lol

He is certainly a canny operator, as Adams explains very cannily, cataloguing Trump’s many previous successes, such as a best selling book on how to negotiate.

Part of the skill of getting the Republican nomination is to behave like a guy the Mainstream Media are confident they can easily destroy, in due course.  Which means that instead of destroying you straight away, they destroy all the other fellows, who they thought were stronger than you, which by definition they can’t have been, can they?  You have to be like Russia, and look either much weaker than you are, so the media don’t bother with you, and then much stronger than you are, so the media then grovel, as they do when they face a force of nature, in other words a force bigger than them.

I could of course be quite wrong, but I reckon Trump is going to walk it, when he gets around to dealing with whichever car crash of a candidate the Dems stick in front of him.  And it will either be Clinton or that old socialist guy, the ones already in the race.  Nobody else will want to join, because the prize for winning the Dem nomination will be getting Trumped all over, and who needs that?  Those two old crocks both joined the race while Trump was still in his ridiculous phase.

No wonder the Chinese are nervous.  They surely know a true son of Sun Tzu when they see one. 

Saturday February 20 2016

Another oldie from the I Just Like It directory:

image

Taken last July, in the City of London, during a quiet weekend as I recall it.

It’s this one.

Friday February 12 2016

I like white vans.  And since this is Friday, I at least want recently to have encountered, virtually or for real, something feline, but with a bit of a difference from the usual internet felinities.

So, I was pleased to notice this vehicle, outside the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, across the road from Westminster Abbey, yesterday afternoon:

image

More about the enterprise in question here.

It is surprising, to me, given how much attention cats now get in the popular culture, how few enterprises use cattery to advertise themselves in this kind of way.

Wednesday February 10 2016

I still fondly remember a posting I did on Samizdata, over a decade ago now, about a banged-up police car that was claiming to be Working for a safer London.  Well, the white van below, photoed back on December 29th of last year, isn’t as big a PR clanger as that was, but it is a bit bad:

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I know, I know.  You can’t really make data insecure by damaging the van on which it says “secure data management”.  This is the enterprise in question.  Look at where the green lines cross the phone numbers, and you will see that, in the picture there, it is not the same van.  So, they have more than one van.  And by the look of it, what these vans do is transport documents.  Nevertheless, this blemish suggests a certain sloppiness, or maybe I mean a certain willingness to seem sloppy, that does not sit well with handling data securely.  If I was them, I’d want it sorted soonest.

On the same day, on the same photo-expedition, I also photoed this van:

image

Not nearly as white as the secure data van, but more to the point: not a scratch and squeaky clean.  Which is appropriate, because this is also a business which needs to look like it is taking care when it is doing its business:

With paramount importance placed on quality and support, all equipment is thoroughly cleaned, tested and checked by our experienced engineers ...

Here’s another van, also snapped on that same expedition, that is both white and clean:

image

White vans often get rather dirty, but not this one:

Calabash are the No.1 commercial cleaning and washroom services company in London. Since 1992 we’ve been ensuring our clients maintain their premises to the highest standards ...

This, in other words, is a van that also needs to be maintained to the highest standards, and by the look of it, it is.

Tuesday January 05 2016

3D printing is not the replacement of factories by homes.  It is manufacturing in factories only more so.  Making stuff is not, as of now, getting less skilled.  It is getting more skilled ...:

Most ceramic 3D printing uses complex techniques to deposit layers of the material on top of each other, and as a result have to use materials with relatively low melting points. The techniques can also only be used to create fairly simple shapes.

But a team from HRL Laboratories in Malibu, California, has developed what they call a pre-ceramic resin, which they can 3D print much like regular polymers into complex shapes. The process, known as stereolithography, fuses a powder of silicon carbide ceramics using UV light. Once the basic shape is printed, it can be heat-treated at 1,800°F to turn the pre-ceramic resin into a regular ceramic object. In fact, this is the first time silicon carbide ceramics have ever been 3D printed.

… which is very good news for the rich world economies.

Says a commenter:

So 2016 opens with YAAI3DP (Yet Another Advance In 3D Printing.) and some point all these breakthroughs are going to add up and utterly transform manufacturing.

The way he then goes on to say that it will transform manufacturing is that we may eventually get stuff made whenever and wherever we want it made.  In homes and shopping malls, in other words.  Maybe eventually.  In the meantime, cleverer stuff is getting made in the same old places, and then transported to where it is needed.

When I transport blogged, one of the constant themes I found myself noticing was how people regularly thought that transport would be done away with, but it never was.  The main notion was that people would communicate so well that they’d never want to meet face-to-face.  Now, it is being speculated that stuff will be made so cleverly that it will be makable anywhere.  Maybe so, but that isn’t now the smart way to do it, and it probably never will be.

Friday January 01 2016

Here is what the vans of Wicked Campers (which presumably started up in Australia) look like, photoed by me over the last few months, in Lower Marsh, where they often congregate.

I claim no artistic expression points for these pictures.  They merely show what these entertaining vehicles look like.  All the artistic expression points go to whoever decorated the vans:

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So far so excellent.  More Wicked Campers van décor to be found here, many of them equally excellent if not more excellent, and equally tasteless and un-PC if not more tasteless and more un-PC.

The Guardian is not amused

So then, I decided to search out the British HQ of Wicked Campers, which wasn’t hard because it is not far from Lower Marsh at all, in very nearby Carlisle Street.

And it looks as if the Guardian’s complaints, and the complaints the Guardian reports and seeks to amplify, may be having an effect.  Wicked Campers HQ was a severe disappointment, at any rate the day I visited, last week.  I found only two more vans, and both were appallingly tasteful, compared to the Wicked Campers norm.  The big clutch of vans above look like there were decorated by expat Aussies who don’t give a shit.  These two vans look like they were done by a British art student who probably reads the damn Guardian, every day.

Picture one here is just a pattern, with no in-your-face verbiage at all.  Pictures two and three are of the same van, opposite sides:

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Ugh!

I really hope I’m wrong, and that Wicked Campers continue to prosper in their classic, tasteless, un-PC form.

Friday December 25 2015

Happy Christmas, as and when you get around to reading this.

The weather this Christmas has been terrible.  Warm, yes, but relentlessly cloudy and rainy.  It seems like it’s been raining in London ever since I said here early last month that in London rain is quite rare.  Wednesday was a brief respite, which the weather forecasters duly noted beforehand, but yesterday and today it’s back to mostly cloudy and rainy.  So here is some Christmas photo-cheer from just before Christmas last year, when the weather was mostly what it should be around this time, suitably cold and frequently bright and sunny.

I mentioned earlier my intention to focus of a Friday on non-deline as well as feline members of the animal kingdom.  This fine beast was to be seen last Christmas outside the old Covent Garden Market, where they used to sell fruit and veg - all that having moved to this place - and where they now sell stuff.

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And here are two more photos, of the beast’s head, with a dose of that proper Christmas weather behind it, and of the sign at the beast’s feet, about how you mustn’t molest it in any way:

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BrianMicklethwaitDotCom would not be BrianMicklethwaitDotCom if I hadn’t photoed photoers and stuck some of the resulting photos up here, so here are some of the many other photoers who photoed this reindeer.  The first two have the reindeer on their screens:

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And my favourite one didn’t have anything on her screen that I could see, but did have reindeers on her excellent woolly top.

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Relevant website.  Like I said, stuff.