Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Most recent entries
- A Shiny Thing by Frank Stella Hon RA
- Richard J. Evans on how evidence can become more significant over time
- Another from the archives
- Big 4
- Another quota sign
- Magic clarified
- Viewing the clutter at Centre Point
- Giant cat head worn by a human
- BMdotcom abusive comment of the day
- Made-up London detectives in real London places
- Marc Morris on how the Bayeux Tapestry ought not to exist
- Fantastic day
- Another use for a drone
- London is getting more colourful
- Don’t mention The Wires!!
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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we make money not art
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Category archive: Business
It is more important to me that I get to bed at a sensible hour than it is that I do some sensible blogging before getting to bed. So, another sign:
But this time, instead of them doing something a bit strange, it’s me doing something very silly.
Photographed by me in Walthamstow, yesterday.
Good night, and I’ll try to do better tomorrow.
So, I googled aircraft coming in to land over closed civilian roads, and to my surprise I came across another use for a drone:
This one looks like it might be spraying stuff on the crop below. Obvious, I know, but I am collecting these things. The drone is yet another gadget that the banning classes would love to ban, but it’s just too useful.
But you can see how this will mean a whole new sort of newsworthy accident. Or, even better, of newsworthy malevolence.
First, an outstanding White Van photo snapped from what looks like the inside of a cafe, by Simon Gibbs, to whom profuse thanks:
I’ve been photoing White Vans for a month and more, but have never got three of them in one go like that. That arrived chez moi first thing this morning.
And then, to my amazement, this was this at Guido, also today:
That’s right. Labour have launched there very own White Van! You wouldn’t dare make that up. I knew I was onto something with all this White Vannery.
The problem for the Labour Party here is that Essex White Van Man, the original beast, doesn’t work as an employee driver for Wellocks, or for Office Revival or for Yate Supplies (these being the enterprises who own and whose glory is proclaimed by Simon’s three White Vans above), and certainly not for the Labour Party. He has his own White Van, which is entirely white, as you can see when you peruse that original tweet that got all this fuss started:
That snap being a recent one of mine. And, as Guido points out, a proper Essex White Van is not a Merc, as the Labour White Van is. He doesn’t go on to say that it should be a Ford Transit, as above, but it should. The White Van in the original tweet is a Transit.
This new Labour White Van is supposed to separate Labour from the la-di-da world of London and to assert its connection to the common (i.e. non-rich-London) man. But it fails to do this, because, as these recent White Van postings of mine have been explaining, White Vans covered in poncey graphics are now quintessentially London. I assume that they have also become quintessentially Wigan and quintessentially Rotherham and for that matter quintessential Dagenham. But I further assume that when true-blue Wiganians and Rotherhamians and Dagenhamians look at them, they see, not their local culture, but cultural imperialism by bloody London.
(Damn. I did everything to this posting put actually post it “today”, so I’m leaving the date I originally attached to it. Cheating I know but it talks about Monday as today, so Monday it is.)
Yesterday I visited a shop called Tiger in Tottenham Court Road. Here is the sign about it that sticks out into the road, even though what I thought I was photoing at the time was the Wheel:
That’s actually one of my favourite views of the Wheel, because it is so weird and unexpected. We’re looking south along Tottenham Court Road, with Centre Point on the left as we look. You hear people seeing this, and saying: Oh look, the Wheel. Wow.
Tiger has lots of stuff in it, which I haven’t time to tell you about now but will hope to do Real Soon Now. But what I will say (today) is that, after a bit of searching, I found cats, in the shapes of: a cat mat, some cat suitcases, and some tigers:
Too knackered to say more now. Suffice it to say that Tiger is a veritable cornucopia of cheap and cheerful stuff.
Following on from yesterday’s White Van, here is another White Van, which marks the moment when I first started really noticing these things. It was parked outside an office just round the corner from my front door:
Let’s take a closer look at the driver’s door of this White Van. Because the exact moment when the whole White Van thing clicked inside my head was when I saw, and photoed, this:
There you go. They’re having a laugh about White Van Man. I told you it was a thing.
This happened on December 17th of last year, which was about a month after the Shadow Ministress did her tweet that cost her her shadow job. But they’ve been driving around in that joke since well before all that, as this blog posting from April of last year proves.
And I know this got me thinking about White Vans, because the very next photos I took were of this:
I had been noticing this other White Van hanging around near my home, but until that moment I had not considered it something worth photoing. Then, I did. And, off an on, I’ve been photoing such vans ever since, although few of them as lavishly decorated as that one.
Ever since that ruckus when a Labour Shadow Cabinet Ministress got into hot water with a tweet which involved a White Van, I’ve been photoing White Vans. And, in fact, I think I have been doing this since before that little drama. This White Van, photoed by me today in the Covent Garden area, is one of my favourites so far:
The point is, White Vans have rather gone up in the world. Lots of them now come with much carefully designed décor and info. London now abounds with fleets of White Vans thus decorated, white being the preferred colour by far. It’s like an automotive uniform.
It’s as if White Vans have a sort of macho-stroke-ironic appeal to those who drive them, and to the rest of us. The drivers, when asked what they do for a living, can say: I drive a White Van. Oh, ha ha ha! But no, not one of those White Vans, the sort they have in Essex. Oh no.
Or alternatively, if the driver is a genuine White Van Man, with no irony involved, of the sort that lady politician was having a go at, he’s happy too, even if he would probably prefer plain white, rather than all that poncey verbiage. And he’d rather have sacks of cement or tubs of plaster in the back there, rather than nerdy SF stuff.
Well, not sure about that. But White Vans are definitely, as they say nowadays, a thing.
Here (pp. 143-5) is how Thiel explains the difference between humans and computers, and how they complement one another in doing business together:
To understand the scale of this variance, consider another of Google’s computer-for-human substitution projects. In 2012, one of their supercomputers made headlines when, after scanning 10 million thumbnails of YouTube videos, it learned to identify a cat with 75% accuracy. That seems impressive-until you remember that an average four-year-old can do it flawlessly. When a cheap laptop beats the smartest mathematicians at some tasks but even a supercomputer with 16,000 CPUs can’t beat a child at others, you can tell that humans and computers are not just more or less powerful than each other - they’re categorically different.
The stark differences between man and machine mean that gains from working with computers are much higher than gains from trade with other people. We don’t trade with computers any more than we trade with livestock or lamps. And that’s the point: computers are tools, not rivals.
Thiel then writes about how he learned about the above truths when he and his pals at Paypal solved one of their biggest problems:
In mid-2000 we had survived the dot-com crash and we were growing fast, but we faced one huge problem: we were losing upwards of $10 million to credit card fraud every month. Since we were processing hundreds or even thousands of transactions per minute, we couldn’t possibly review each one - no human quality control team could work that fast.
So we did what any group of engineers would do: we tried to automate a solution. First, Max Levchin assembled an elite team of mathematicians to study the fraudulent transfers in detail. Then we took what we learned and wrote software to automatically identify and cancel bogus transactions in real time. But it quickly became clear that this approach wouldn’t work either: after an hour or two, the thieves would catch on and change their tactics. We were dealing with an adaptive enemy, and our software couldn’t adapt in response.
The fraudsters’ adaptive evasions fooled our automatic detection algorithms, but we found that they didn’t fool our human analysts as easily. So Max and his engineers rewrote the software to take a hybrid approach: the computer would flag the most suspicious transactions on a well-designed user interface, and human operators would make the final judgment as to their legitimacy. Thanks to this hybrid system - we named it “Igor,” after the Russian fraudster who bragged that we’d never be able to stop him - we turned our first quarterly profit in the first quarter of 2002 (as opposed to a quarterly loss of $29.3 million one year before).
There then follow these sentences.
The FBI asked us if we’d let them use Igor to help detect financial crime. And Max was able to boast, grandiosely but truthfully, that he was “the Sherlock Holmes of the Internet Underground.”
The answer was yes.
Thus did the self-declared libertarian Peter Thiel, who had founded Paypal in order to replace the dollar with a free market currency, switch to another career, as a servant of the state, using government-collected data to chase criminals. But that’s another story.
Libertarian Home have been having their meetings in several different venues of late. Last night’s event was in the Prince of Wales, Covent Garden, which is on the corner of Long Acre and Drury Lane. I got there a bit early, and filled the time by strolling along Long Acre towards where the old Alternative Bookshop once was, hoping for photoable diversion, and I was not disappointed. Through a window, just across the road from Covent Garden tube, I spied, and photoed, this:
I’m pretty sure I don’t like it, but it’s definitely a Thing worth photoing. This time I remembered to photo enough information about the place to be able later to identify it. The outside didn’t actually say what the place is, merely the address. But that was enough for googling purposes. It turns out this is a Fred Perry place, where Fred Perry and Co ... does things. And this wooden Thing is a combination of reception desk, seating and window logo. The Fred Perry enterprise makes, I assume sporty stuff and in particular sporty clothing, although that’s only a guess. That Fred Perry website is all design but bizarrely little information.
It would be a lot more logical to have a reception desk, some seating, and a company logo in the window, each separate, each doing their own job, each replaceable as and when, or if decreed to be imperfect in some way. Why do all these things need to be connected? They don’t. They need not to be connected. And the reception desk bit must be very inconvenient actually to do receptioning on.
Thinking about this some more, this Thing makes me think that the Fred Perry enterprise is all about “design”, way beyond the bounds of intelligence or sanity or usefulness. The website exudes the same atmosphere. It tells you almost nothing, very prettily. The whole company seems like one of those arrogantly stylish twats whose attitude is: I don’t have to explain myself. I have your attention. I am not going to deign to use it by actually talking to you. I am wonderful and wonderfully stylish me. That is enough for mere you. Consider yourself lucky to be even seeing me.
But then, I guess that I am not their target demographic. I am neither sporty (as in actually doing sport), nor stylish (as in myself wanting to look stylish).
While trying to find some kind of link to this enterprise, I learned that Fred Perry, the man himself, Wimbledon tennis champion in the year whenever it was, was also the 1929 world champion at ping pong. Blog and learn.
I just googled “3D printing” and clicked on “images”. One of the more interesting images I encountered was this one ...:
… which I found here. The point being that this is one of those technologies which lots of people are getting excited about, perhaps as something they might be able to do themselves, for fun but also for profit. But most of the significant early applications of 3D printing seem now to be by businesses which were already making stuff, and now have another way to make it. Regular thing makers (for those not inclined to follow links that’s a link to pieces about the use of 3D printing by the aerospace industry) have a huge advantage over “home” 3D printers, which is that they already know what would be worth making.
And making in quite large quantities, which means that they can acquire or construct highly specialised 3D printers for those particular items, which use their own very particular material inputs. 3D printers, if they are to pay their way, must surely specialise. Which means they’ll be applied first by businessmen, rather than by mere people in their homes.
I have yet to hear about any 3D printing killer app which will kick off the much talked-of but yet-to-occur home 3D printing revolution. It will come, I’m sure. But it hasn’t come yet.
I kept the Samizdata posting short, and there follow a couple of paragraphs I decided not to include, because … well, I just decided not to. The posting, which was basically just saying how about this for a clever guy go and watch him was becoming too unwieldy and too full of ponderousness. So, the rest of this is me recycling my cuts here. I can’t really put what follows as a quote, but it sort of feels like maybe I should. Anyway, here we go.
There are around a dozen or more fascinating notions expounded in Thiel’s talk. One thing in particular interested me, because it is an argument that has always interested me. Extreme pessimism, says Thiel, often causes people to think that there is nothing to be done, because whatever they do is bound to fail. Very true. But extreme optimism (optimism being my preferred stance when trying to do anything) is also dangerous, because it is liable to tell you that you don’t need to do anything. Good things will happen automatically. Says Thiel: avoid both extremes. Steer a middle path. Do of a bit of both. All of which may seem very obvious to you, but I have never heard it put quite like that, and certainly not so succinctly.
Another nice and counter-consensual thing Thiel says is that failure is over-rated, because you generally only learn one of the reasons why you failed, when in fact there were probably about half a dozen.
See the early comments at Samizdata by Rob Fisher, for other bits of cleverness from this extremely clever man.
More Thiel spiel here.
While half-watching the rugby yesterday I was also half-rootling-around in my photo archives, and I came across a photo of a carpet. I had put it in a special separate directory, on its own, but then forgotten about it. It had a rather interesting message to impart.
Click on this …:
… to get the bigger carpet.
But whose carpet was this? This is where the internet comes in. I googled “true hearts and warm hands” and immediately learned that this is the motto of the Worshipful Company of Glovers. Turning to images, I found no other pictures of the actual carpet, but scroll down to the “Glover’s window” here. The same graphics as on the carpet.
As for my picture, I took it on November 6th 2006, at an event organised by the Globalisation Institute, now long gone. The event was attended by, among others, the Prime Minister. Most of the pictures I took, including those I took of the Prime Minister, were very bad, because my camera was no good in poor indoor light, such as prevailed that evening, somewhere in the City of London.
Did you know that Shakespeare’s father was a glover? If you didn’t you do now.
I’ve already noted drones being used to take photos, and to save lives (although that is only being worked on). Now, here is a story about drones being used to smuggle drugs. One of these drones crashed, which is how they know. The drugs were too heavy. Man.
Is there anything, as Instapundit would ask, that drones can’t do? During the next few years, we’re probably going to find out.
I love to photo things in shops, because that way you can enjoy them indefinitely, yet never buy them.
Cats, for instance:
Uploading all of those took an age. I keep getting messages saying things like this:
PHP has encountered an Access Violation at 01BEA37F
Very informative. But if I just keep trying, eventually it works.
If it isn’t one stupid thing, it’s another stupid thing. It will bear repeating again and again that no two computers in the entire world are exactly alike. Get used to one, and you ideally want to keep using that one, always. Switch to another, and life just becomes relentlessly more difficult and annoying.
The message of all the cat stuff I do here is that blogging is fun and that if you are a blogger you should never forget it. Sadly, this evening, blogging has not been fun.
When in France, I have no particular desire to do as the French do. I have my own agendas. So, for instance, French people do not make a point of photoing French posters advertising British or American films in the Paris Metro. But, I like to do this:
I am using an alien computer. Contriving the above photo-display took some doing. Were I using my own computer I might have cropped that photo. As it is, it is as it was when it came out of my camera.
Mostly, I just like the thought that we are making movies that they consider good enough to show in Paris. But I think I am also interested in what sort of picture of my country they are seeing. I’m guessing it is one that they want to see. In this case, for example, they are see us Anglos being, although quite good looking, also boring, disgusting, uncultured and gross, and generally behaving like people upon whom wealth is wasted. Not wanting to see Anglos in this light myself, I have not seen this movie, so I may be entirely wrong about what it is like.
But if it is not like that, they shouldn’t have called it that. As a general rule, it is surely good business to take your movie look in the posters (and sound in its title) the way it actually is, because that way the people who will be attracted to it by the poster will then enjoy it, and the word of mouth will be good. Many a movie is not what they first advertised it as, and hence was denounced by its early audiences, but was good in some other way, and ended up appealing to quite other people. Had they advertised it more accurately to start with, they’d have done better business.