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
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Michael Jennings on Happiness is Gold Blend at only £3 instead of £4.50
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- Long Title (with italics)
- Confirmation that map use has seriously declined
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- Daniel Hannan’s latest book(s?)
- The Kelpies of Falkirk
- A quota thought that (luckily for me) went nowhere
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Category archive: Bloggers and blogging
This evening I hope to be attending an Event. And now, having performed all my obligatory duties for the day, I am turning my attention to this blog. I am very pleased that for the last however many days it is, I have managed at least one blog posting here every day, and I want today to be no different.
It is now, as I write this, just after 1pm, and the Event is not until the evening. Yet, I find blogging even under such relaxed circumstances as these extraordinarily difficult. I do not mean truly difficult. I merely mean extraordinarily more difficult than it surely ought to be. Even a window of several hours, yet a window which has a definite end when I have to stop the blogging and start to do whatever it is, seems, maybe, too small. What if my writing catches fire? What if what began merely as a small quota thought ignites into a long essay? What if I suddenly decide that I want to add photographs, know the photographs I want to add, but do not know where they are on my hard disc?
Luckily for me, nothing clever is now occurring to me of the sort that will make ending this blog posting difficult. No added photo seems needed. So, I will just end it.
There. Easy. I reckon that took about ten minutes.
I will even have time to take some shirts to the laundrette, and have a clean one ready to wear, at the Event.
It was Hemingway, I think, who said that thing about how your writing is only as good as the stuff you remove from it, or words to that effect. (Exact quote anyone?)
And I think one of the reasons why some writers especially like blogging is that a personal, I-write-what-I-please blog like this one (but done by a Real Writer who also does Real Writing) is where such offcuts can go, and still have a half life. The offcuts are no longer completely wasted. But neither do they get in the way.
This is a posting of a type that is likely to become more common here, as the years roll by, because it is about bodily discomfort.
The discomfort today, which lasted all day, came whenever I tried to walk, and was all around my midriff. This was either caused by eating too much junk food, or by the manner in which I slept last night. Perhaps both. Maybe it was not junk food, but rather: too much cheese. The pain is in what I think is called the lumbar region, lumbar being a word I googled with the spelling wrong, making it sound like wood, which tells you that this kind of thing is rather new to me. Google corrected me, like a rude doctor. I hope that tomorrow morning all will be well, but just now that does not feel likely.
The blogging advantage of this particular discomfort is that it is not too undignified or disgusting. I am also beginning to experience discomforts that are very undignified and very disgusting, but these I prefer not to tell you about.
This latter reluctance explains, I think, why the discomforts of old age come as such a surprise to many people. The previous lot of old people only supplied to me a very censored version of what was happening to them, so I now have to find most of this out for myself.
Although, it could be that the previous lot of old people did tell me these things, but I wasn’t paying attention.
The worst thing about it is that you just know it’s going to keep on getting worse, and worse, and worse.
Last night I attended the Simon Gibbs talk about how to herd cats. For me the problem was right there in the title. It was like he knew he was attempting something impossible.
My immediate reaction is that what I do to cats is stroke them, if they will let me. If I “owned” a cat, that would mean that it would also be my duty to feed it. But herding cats? There’s a reason this phrase is used to describe social schemes that can’t work.
Simon’s scheme seems to depend on some kind of website. Websites are not my strong point, even understanding the point of them let alone actually making them work. The less new software I have in my life, the happier I am. So maybe I am missing not something here, but everything. Simon made several mentions of a “button”. When I find out where this is (somewhere at Libertarian Home?), I’ll give it a go. If others do and do whatever Simon wants them to do, then I guess the cats will start being herded and my present scepticism will be proved wrong. I hope that happens. (As I said to Simon after his talk, see this.)
Slightly more seriously, Simon’s talk made me think of a distinction that I associate with the great American theorist of management, Peter Drucker. As I recall it, Drucker describes various different ways to do organisation.
One is to imagine the perfect organisation. You ask: Suppose we had no organisation already, with all its obligations and habits and rituals, what would the ideal organisation for what we are trying to accomplish look like? And then let’s turn what we have into that. An example Drucker was fond of was Sloane’s General Motors, probably because Drucker worked for Sloane, although exactly when he did that work, I’m not sure.
Another is not to dream dreams of future perfection. It is to ask: What little steps can we take, now, immediately, in the right general direction, given the strengths and resources that we already now possess?
In my opinion the second attitude is better suited to the life of a London libertarian with a bit of influence but not much (i.e. libertarians like me and like Simon Gibbs), than is the first.
The late Chris Tame, whose Number Two I was for about a decade, was one hell of a libertarian organiser. Over the years he organised some superb and superbly ambitious events, because he asked what the perfect event would look like (as I did not) and then went ahead and organised it. But my ongoing disagreement (it never boiled over but it was always there) with Chris was that too many of his ideal schemes did not achieve anything other than some rather demoralising costs.
My own approach was to concentrate on much smaller completions – a small meeting, a pamphlet, a radio performance – and just try to get each potential completion completed as quickly and satisfactorily as possible, at which point it was on to the next one, and so on until victory is achieved. (You can see why I like blogging so much. And perhaps also why Chris never liked it, although he had other reasons besides the mere smallness of individual blog postings.)
The reason I mention Chris Tame, apart from the fact that I think it may illuminate, is that what I may very well be doing here is being reminded by Simon’s current scheme, as expounded last night, of a past argument in my life, and then slotting him into that argument on the other side from me. I may, that is to say, be completely misunderstanding what he is now proposing. I might, as the saying goes, be fighting the last war rather than this one. Since I do not now really get what he is proposing, this is not, to put it mildly, unlikely. Happily, Simon’s talk was being videoed, so you’ll soon be able to watch it for yourself and decide for yourself what you think about it.
I may very well, at some future date (maybe after watching the talk again), be explaining why this posting is completely wrong.
I enjoyed reading this review of McBride’s book, by Guido, not least because it is a reminder of how capably Guido can do posh. His blog is deliberately tabloid, and he greatly admires the tabloid style. But, as I learned when he was still at the stage of occasionally contributing stuff to the Libertarian Alliance, way back when, this is not the only style he can do.
I just did a bit of searching for LA stuff he had written, and found my way to this (scroll down to page 8), from the turn of the century. It’s about how he wants to switch to a kinder, gentler libertarianism.
Yes indeed, the ultimate quota photo:
The thing is, when I do a quota photo posting, I don’t want to waste something important on it. I don’t want to put up a photo of something that actually matters, that actually signifies, something that on a better blogging day, a day when blogging is not a tedious duty but is instead a pleasure, would cause of flood of really quite impressive verbiage to assemble itself in my brain, then tumble down onto the keyboard and into the wires and tubes of the www and thence to seep into your house and into your brain. I want to stick up a photo which normally would stay put on my hard disc and would never show its face in public.
So, a chain link fence reflected in a puddle is what you are getting today, and a chain link fence reflected in a puddle is all you are getting today.
There being there.
I think the fact that she likes finding quotes elsewhere is closely related to the fact that there are quotes to be found aplenty in her own stuff. I’m not saying I agree with all these, although I do quite a lot. It’s more the fact that something is said that lots of people, maybe including me and maybe not, are have surely thought, often without having ever having put it into words. Then when it is put into words, you go: yes.
Personally, I have this fantasy that the Internet becomes conscious and she turns out to be a lot like me and starts putting people in time out.
And, yes, lately mostly what I have been doing is “sharing” stuff but I refuse to share anything that contains the words “share if” even if I agree with it.
Generally people who have blogs are people who have something to say. Now I’m not bragging on myself here but on the many excellent blogs out there, some very popular, some unknown and ignored. They say blogs are out. Blogs are so last decade. But we’re still here cranking out words for our half-dozen loyal readers and we’ll still be here when Facebook is out and the next social media sensation is in because we have something to say. We may desperately wish someone was listening but the fact that they’re not will not stop us.
I have a wonderful husband. Ladies, I swear I am not making this up. My husband actually told me to buy new shoes.
So lyrics don’t really mean all that much to me anyway. I prefer music without any words at all. Or with words in a language I don’t understand. Especially Latin. It’s all about the music.
One’s opinions are not always consistent with one’s values. We all think they are and if someone points out the inconsistencies we will perform the most incredible logical and ideological gymnastics in order to avoid seeing these inconsistencies.
I hate when I have to sign something. My signature never looks the same twice so I’m always a little worried that someone is going to have a problem with it.
I feel sorry for people who are so afraid of being un-cool or unsophisticated that they can’t just enjoy beautiful things.
So today I have plenty of time for some good blogging. Um … well … I’m drawing a blank. Other than this nonsense that you just read I don’t have anything right now that I want to say. There might be a cat picture later.
I find I am very loyal to the earliest blogs I just happened to tune into, and this was one of the first.
I like this, from The Pointman, one of my favourite commentators on the Great Climate Debate just now (very anti-CAGW):
That’s what I’ve come to think blogging is. Yes, you can muck around showing how slick or amusing you are but unless you’re genuinely trying to talk to one or two other human beings out there, who perhaps may only exist in your mind’s eye, you’re just adding a bit more volume to the background noise of the internet. You have to take the view that apart from them, nobody out there is listening, so you can talk freely and at your own pace.
To take that thought one step further, once you accept the very real possibility that you might well be talking into an empty void, you don’t really have to care from then on about how the viewpoint you’re expressing will be received and of course, how you choose to express it is your own business. It flows. You’re a free man.
I was tempted to put this on Samizdata, but I think it fits better here, don’t you? Hello … Hello … Anyone there? … Oh well, just me then. No worries.
The purpose of this post is to get me blogging, and functioning generally, at a slightly earlier time in the morning than has been my habit of late. The establishment of new and better habits is all about starting by going through the proper motions, even if nothing else is achieved. Mission accomplished.
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.
My friend Alex Singleton dropped by the other day. He often does, after or between appointments that bring him near to my home. He has a blog, which I recommend, and Alex himself recommends blogging as a good way to spread ideas or sell products. I sort of knew Alex had a blog for a quite a while, but did not really register this fact. I am now digging backwards, and finding things like this, from someone called Harold Burson:
The term communications has become synonymous with PR but this does a disservice to our profession by making it tactical … The best term for what we do is public relations.
I recently read a book where “PR” meant photo reconnaissance throughout. It described a different world entirely from ours, in which misdirected photographic efforts could easily cost your your life. But yes, good to encounter someone who is not ashamed of what he does.
Too few practitioners have even heard of the legendary figures of PR, such as Ivy Lee and Sir Basil Clarke, let alone read about them. But it does mean that those who put the time in to study how PR works – practically, not academically – quickly shine.
That’s Alex himself. There are, throughout his blog, regular references to and quotes from old dead guys, another who is frequently mentioned being David Ogilvy. Why reinvent the wheel? A particular theme of Alex’s thinking is that the new social media don’t render all the wisdoms of the PR and advertising past obsolete.
I like how Alex writes. He prefers short and clear sentences to longer and wafflier ones, clear words to the vaguer words so loved by PR-ists. Everything he writes exudes confidence in his ability to help enterprise do their PR better. Which would explain why he is not afraid to have as his latest posting an admiring piece about Rudolf Flesch. Quote:
Flesch writes: “while we don’t need so many words any more to express our thoughts, the words we do use carry a much heavier load of ideas… as far as ideas are concerned, our sentences are usually much longer and fuller than those people wrote two or three centuries ago”.
The danger, he says, is that “our more heavy-handed writers don’t care much for the modern short sentence either; and so we get prose that consists of overlong sentences packed to the brim with long, overloaded words”.
And that, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with so much material that comes out of big organisations today.
You don’t put stuff like that up if you fear that your earlier postings will then be scoured by envious rivals, successfully, for great gobs of longwinded nonsense.
Alex, just like all these old dead guys, dresses smartly, as he explains in this posting, i.e. more smartly than he did in this photo of him (by me with me also in it) here. I particularly like that one.
Talking with Alex also helped me to think through an enterprise of my own that I am now contemplating. He supplied some very helpful ideas about how I could do this more easily and effectively.
Is that a picture of the world’s smallest cat? Apparently a lot of people on the wwwaffler think that it is. But sadly, not.
On a more serious feline matter, I note that the blog Counting Cats in Zanzibar seems to be suffering very badly just now, although I would love to be corrected with the news that it is merely me that doesn’t know how to get to it and all is well. As I recall, they lost all the comments - as in: their software refused any longer to display them. Presumably some kind of rebuilding process is now under way. Hope so. I wish them a speedy recovery.
LATER: Sorted - I think. Again: hope so.
Perry de Havilland doesn’t like it when we discuss Blog Admin in comment threads. Fair enough, his gaff his rules. But here in the privacy of BrianMicklethwaitDotCom, I can say whatever I like about such things. And today, a couple of Samizdata screen captures:
That’s the bottom of the latest Samizdata posting from Johnathan Pearce.
Note the big gap, between the last of the actual text of the posting, and the bit where it says the date and the number of comments.
JP always seems to get this wrong, by piling in with about half a dozen carriage returns at the bottom of what he has written, which WordPress faithfully reproduces.
Until WordPress is told otherwise, by an editorial elf:
I see I sliced off the thingy at the very bottom of each posting in that second screen capture there. This was, I think, because I do like vertically narrow pictures, as was a regular theme here a year or two back. But either way, you get the picture.
The other thing JP always seems to get wrong is the indentation on Samizdata quotes of the day. The text of these is supposed to be not indented, but JP always seems to indent it. And I really do mean always. It’s the exception when he doesn’t do this.
For a bloke who has been a steady contributor to Samizdata for over a decade this is very odd. I guess it is because he is so highly valued – and quite rightly so – that PdeH doesn’t make a fuss, but instead just laughs about it.
My latest Samizdata offering is this, about some Greenpeace people climbing up the Shard.
Now I am going to add lots of carriage returns here, to see if ExpressionEngine does this. No sign of a problem from within the posting process, but some things only show up in the final, on-line version. So, let’s post this and see.
No, no problem. No big space in the final version.
Now let me try putting a big gap between this paragraph ...
... and the next one. How does that look?
Again, no big space there. Which is actually a bit of a problem. Sometimes you want a space.
England sports fans, cricket fans especially, are noted for their pessimism. There is no situation from which an England team cannot snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and you can rely on an England fan to point this out, before during, and even right at the very end, just before (if they do) England win. I believe the Welsh are the same. But pessimism of this sort has its uses.
Yesterday, for instance, I did this posting on Samizdata about how all the proper commentators are saying that England will walk it against Australia in the two forthcoming Ashes series, home and away. Not so fast, I said. England could lose. With sport, you never know.
The result of this posting was that I was happy all of yesterday, no matter what happened. If England got off to a flyer, hurrah. If they did not, hurrah, because: I told you so. England lost early wickets, and later failed to recover. Hurrah, I told you so. Then, England knocked over four top order Aussies. Hurrah. Now, Australia are building a threatening stand. They are over a hundred for four, having earlier been 22-3, with Clarke bowled by an Anderson beauty. Heads I win, tails I win. Hurrah hurrah.
Australia 108-5. Smith snicks at Anderson. Hurrah again.
Now that everyone is able, thanks to all the New Media, to publicise their pessimistic sporting prophecies, this pleasurable effect is now greatly intensified.
Does this sort of thing explain real life pessimism, even real life pessimism on a cosmic scale, of the We Are All Doomed sort? When the world does end, will it end to joyous cries of: I told you so! ?
Australia 113-6! 114-7!! Hurrah!!!
114-8. Fiver for Jimmy A. Okay all this is very good for England, but this is so good it also illustrates that ... with sport you never know! Hurrah hurrah hurrah!!!
LUNCH: Australia 229-9. Last wicket stand of 112 and counting. First innings lead of 14 and counting. Hughes 63 not out. Agar, highest scoring ever test match number 11 debutant: 69 not out.
With sport, you just never know.
LATER: Agar is nearing a century. Already biggest ever score by any test number eleven, never mind a debutant. Amazing.
World record tenth wicket partnership in tests.
Doh! Agar out for 98. Shame.
Really, with sport, you never, never know.
With me, time spent polishing my blog postings (mostly for here) is usually time well spent. When I look through my bloggings over the years, as I do from time to time, I believe my best bits are pretty good, but my average ones are often lacking that last bit of effort. In particular, my bloggings suffer from the problem identified in the title above.
But another sin I commit is combining sentences, and paragraphs, by self-interrupting. (I am a terrible interrupter, as the friends I still have who have not pissed off because fed up with my interrupting will all agree.) Here, the answer is either to divide up the one interrupted sentence into two separate sentences, or in the case of this paragraph, to extract the interruption, to stop it spoiling the main thread. Brackets are the lazy way of doing this. Sometimes they work, but sometimes not.
Often, however, having done that (by “that” I mean what I was talking about before I interrupted myself (by talking about how I am prone to interrupting myself (and by talking about brackets)), namely separating a combination-by-interruption sentence into separate sentences), I end up with good sentences, but in the wrong order. What I then need to do, but often neglect to do, is rearrange the sentences into the proper order.
While doing this, I often discover that the same thought is expressed twice or more. This is where that Hemingway thing about a good piece being as good as the stuff that is cut out of it applies. Saying everything you have to say in the correct order, and say it just the once, or only as often as you need to.
I seem to have two good sorts of postings. There are the big ones that I worked hard on to get right in the manner described above, and there are the small ones, that are too small to have got in a muddle. But then there are the in-between ones which should have been worked on some more.
At first, when Blogging Began, this didn’t matter so much. Any blog was a bonus, and any blog posting attracted lots of readers. Now, blogging has settled down into something that only a few people do, and it is either good, or mostly ignored. The rest of the world has moved on.
This posting is just going to be shoved up, in its first draft form. This will probably be a mistake.
My title, for those who don’t know, is an echo of a famous line in this famous TV sketch.