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: Social Media

Wednesday October 22 2014

Did the junk mail phenomenon always exist?  Or is it relatively new?  What I have in mind is the way that an entire category of communication becomes broken because it is overused by semi or total crooks shouting rubbish at you, thus overwhelming the actual human persons sending you individually useful messages.  Even real messages just sound like arseholes yelling at you.  The signal-to-noise ratio becomes so stupid that eventually, no genuine signals get through.

A few days ago, I received an email from something called Macmillan Distribution (MDL).  A package was due.  There were various buttons for me to press so that I could track the package, or tell them where else to deliver it, or some such thing.  I immediately assumed that this was an industrialised garbage message, the purpose of which was for me to tell crooks about myself by pressing one of the buttons.  Having received many junk messages just like this in the recent past, I assumed that this one was similarly fraudulent.

I noted that they had my name and address, and this might have supplied me with the clue that this was actually a genuine message about a genuine delivery, from a genuine enterprise, with buttons for me to press which actually did what they said they would do.  But instead, I merely thought: oh dear, now the international conglomeration of bastard junk emailer fraudsters knows my name and address.  Oh well, more crap to delete.

But this morning, the package actually arrived, at a time that the emails had been referring to.  The emails from Macmillan Distribution (MDL) (there were three emails in total) had all been genuine.  It was a book that I had already paid for and wanted to read.  So, good.

The actual delivery was a mess.  Some arsehole just smacked the door of my flat (sounding like when the cleaners vacuum the landings and bang their machines into our doors), and then just stuffed the package through my mail flap (which very luckily was big enough).  No electronic buzzing from outside and downstairs, to get my attention while I slumbered, like a proper delivery.  And how the hell did this arsehole contrive to get through the downstairs front door in the first place?  (We’ve had robberies from people claiming to be delivering things, but actually hoovering up the deliveries of others from our (unlocked and wide open) cubby holes.) So, very unsatisfactory, as home deliveries so often are.  But, the thing itself did arrive, which means the delivery scored one out of one on the one measure that really counts.

And, as I say, those emails were all for real.

No doubt there are various twenty first century, social media like methods that I could have used to track this parcel and its delivery, methods which screen out junk and preserve a benign signal-to-noise ratio.  Maybe, any decade now, I will have to get with the twenty first century and dump email completely.

I vividly recall when having email first became a necessity, when you suddenly started getting dirty looks at parties if you didn’t have it.  And when fax numbers ceased mattering.  (Remember those?)

As of now, regular twenty first century people half my age still seem to do email, or so it says on those little cards they give me.  But how long will this last?

More about package delivering from 6k, here.  “Wumdrop” sounds sort of like Uber, only for things.

Saturday October 18 2014

This funny letter posting got me googling for Viz, which has the best letters page bar none.  I found a clutch of Viz epistolatory masterpieces here, of which this is my favourite:

What is it with vegetarians and their veggie sausages and burgers?  I’m a meat eater, but I don’t go around making carrots and sprouts out of beef.

This is also a good one:

I work in a call centre in Norwich and we’ve just been told our jobs are moving to India.  I’m so excited!  I’ve always wanted to visit India and with the salary they pay me I’ll be able to live like a Maharaja over there.  Well done Aviva, keep up the good work.

Interesting piece about the rise and fall and rise of Viz, here.

Tuesday July 22 2014

I haven’t yet finished showing you photos from that Adam Smith Institute Boat Trip, that I got in on and took lots of photos of, at the beginning of this month, and which I have been showing here, now and again, ever since then.  I’m hardly even close.

For instance, it’s taken me three quarters of a month to get around to it, but, of course, there were other photographers present besides me:

image image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image image

I chose these pictures simply because they fitted the bill subject matter wise, and because they look nice.  I did not choose them to illustrate any particular point about digital photography.

The result being that they do illustrate a particular point about digital photography.  Consider the stats.

There are two regular old school digital cameras to be seen snapping (1.1 and 1.3), three if you count mine.  There is also just the one big tablet being used (3.3). 

All the other photographers are using mobile phones.

Usually, when I photograph photographers, there are more regular old school dedicated digital cameras to be seen.  But this is because I am photographing lots of “photographers”, i.e. people like me, who see themselves as more photography-minded than regular people.

What this boat trip illustrates is how much regular people now use their mobiles to take photos, in among all that networking and connecting and chatting and socialising.  It isn’t so much that mobiles have replaced those tiny, cheap digital cameras, although yes it is that, a bit.  But it is more that mobiles can now take photos, so now they do.  A lot of photos are now being taken that would not have been taken at all, before mobile phones learned how to take photos, by people for whom mobile phones are essential, and photography with mobile phones began only as an extra.

And you can bet that many of the photos that the above people were taking were already flying off into the big www beyond, to work their propaganda magic, promoting the ASI, its Boat Trip, and the people who went on it, before the trip was even over.

Young people these days are quicker off the mark than I am.  That’s their job.  And being slower off the mark is mine.

Monday June 30 2014

Incoming from 6k, about a dramatic Big Things photo that he came across, via a Facebook friend.  There is also a blog posting at his place about it, and about how I might like it, which indeed I do.

I’ve done what he suggested and have thinned it for here:

image

He has the whole thing, and here it is even bigger.  Very dramatic, I think you will agree.

6k entitles his posting “Waterloo sunset”.  This is a fine Kinks song, but sunsets are defined by where you are when you see them, and this photo was taken from the other side from Waterloo of the Big Things of the City of London, which is what these Big Things are.  He has most of them identified, but his big omission (no criticism intended - he is, after all, now 6k miles away) is the tallest one, in the middle.  This is the Cheesegrater.

My first thought was that this view might have been taken from the spot I visited last January, when I took these Big Thing photos.

But that isn’t right.  However, some other photos I took that day that do point at the approximate spot where the above sunset photo was, I think, taken from.

Photos like this one, also thinned:

image

6k’s sunset photo was taken from somewhere in among those houses on the other side of the river, with the Shard sticking up behind, on the left of my photo.

Here is a slice of Google Map which shows were everyone is:

image

I was where it says “ME”.  The Big Things of the City are where it says “BIG THINGS”, and 6k’s anonymous photographer was standing somewhere very approximately where I have put “?”.  The spot I chose for “?” is something called Stave Hill Ecological Park, which sounds very promising, what with it maybe being a hill.  I have never been there and I must check it out.  But, that’s only my guess.  The photographer could have been quite a bit further south and/or west.  Don’t know.

But there is more.  While going through the photos I took last January, comparing them with 6k’s sunset photo, I came across this one, which I have again thinned:

image

Again, click to get the bigger version.

Now, in the middle there, unmistakably (with three unmistakable holes in its top), is the Strata.

But, and I only spotted this today, almost directly behind it is the equally unmistakable Spraycan, unmistakable because in the dark, that is how the Spraycan is always lit up.

Here is a close up of the two of them:

image

The Strata is at the Elephant and Castle, and the Spraycan is way over in Vauxhall.  Beyond Waterloo, in other words.  Once again, I hit google maps, to check on the alignment of these two favourite Big Things, and it all fits.  By and by, I shall return to that same spot, to take more and better versions of this photo.

Like I always say, my camera has better eyesight than I have.  On days like that one, it almost invariably sees far more than I see.

Friday June 27 2014

I am fond of saying that a consequence of how Big Thing architecture tends to be done these is that there is now a big call for highly specialised window cleaners.  (See, for instance, this piece, about One New Change.) Just hanging a shelf down from the top no longer does it, because now the walls are liable to slope every which way.

Now, you need mountaineers:

A social enterprise is looking for people with a head for heights who want to be The Shard’s window cleaners.

The unique opportunity was posted on jobs site Good People Connect, and pays up to £20,000 a year, depending on experience.

You need to have abseiled before for the role, working 6am to 2pm six days a week, and need to be unemployed and living in Southwark.

That’s from a short report by Robyn Vinter, of whom I was critical the other day.  Good to be able to be nicer this time around.

Thursday May 29 2014

If you’ve not been there before, I recommend visiting Handpicked London.  I’ve just been browsing through it, and found my way from it to Photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed are found in a skip, from December 2011, which I do not remember noticing at the time.  (The first two of those are Facebook links, and maybe they don’t last.  You have to register, is what the second one just said.)

These photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed have been unveiled after a stash of hundred-year-old photos were found in a skip. The 50 sepia pictures, the most recent of which date back to 1892, reveal in incredible detail the ingenuity behind one of the capital’s most popular tourist destinations.

One of the photos:

image

Hybrid modernism.  Modern in its manner of creation.  Ancient in appearance.  An architectural style with a lot of mileage in it.

LATER: More stuff from me about towers here.

Tuesday March 04 2014

Incoming, entitled “Request Link Removal”:

Dear Brian,

I am contacting you on behalf of Eurostar, we work with their Online Marketing team and are currently reviewing the number of links pointing to the Eurostar website. In order to comply with Google’s regulations, there are a number of links which we are required to remove or nofollow. We have identified such links from your website and would like to request that you either remove the link or add a nofollow tag to it.

The link(s) we wish to be removed can be found here:
[original link written out but it doesn’t fit properly here]

Please can you let me know once you have altered the link or if you have any questions,

Kind Regards,
Marleen Vonk
SEO Account Executive
360i | 62-70 Shorts Gardens | Covent Garden| London, WC2H 9AH

The link in the above email is to an entire month of postings here, so it took me a while to find the offending link in question.  I was half hoping I wouldn’t find it, so I could send a sarky email back saying: Be more specific.  Which posting?  No such luck.  It’s in this posting, where is says “November”.  Worth following that link because it is to one of my very best ever (I think) photos.

I don’t understand what a “nofollow tag” is or how to make such a thing work, so I just removed the link.

My link originally went “http(semicolon)//stpancras.eurostar.com/en-gb/why-we-moving” (I’ve changed “:” to “(semicolon)” there to stop this version causing more grief).  Trying StPancrasDotEurostarDotCom now gets Google saying:

Oops! Google Chrome could not find stpancras.eurostar.com.  Did you mean: www.­eurostar.­com/­stpancras

Interesting that Google omits the question mark there, I think.

So, presumably this is a case of an old Eurostar website that they no longer want anyone reading.

Or is it?  I don’t know.  Can anyone tell me more about what just happened?

To me, it all has a slightly objectionable taste to it.  The link to our site no longer works, so you must remove your link to it.  Why?  Why can’t the link just not work any more?  Does it clog up the internet, or something, with repeated attempts to make the link work?  Is that what this is about?

Monday February 10 2014

Mick Hartley links to some pictures of people forming human sculptures.  He chooses his favourite.  I choose this one:

image

One of the speculations I offered in my recent talk about the impact of digital photography was that digital photography has greatly encouraged this kind of temporary art.

Recently I heard tell of some kind of performance art event where cameras were forbidden.  My googling skills did not enable me to track down any report of such an event, but I am guessing that one of their motives was to avoid the creation of an object, which someone might later buy, and then (perhaps for a great deal more money) sell.  And I further guess that the “artists” in question were being deliberately contrary, as artists typically like to be these days, and chose to do the daft, counter-intuitive thing.  The obvious response to temporary art is to take pictures of it, to make it permanent.  So, said the artists, let’s forbid that, and be different.

But most people who do something “creative” want some kind of record or product of their efforts, something to show for it.  Literally, some thing, to show.  And the fact that it is now so totally easy to create such things, such records, and communicate them far and wide to friends and family, real and virtual, must surely increase the attraction of doing such temporary art.  Art, that is to say, that in the past would have been temporary, but which can now be made permanent.  See also: painting, sand castles, ice sculptures.

As to what these particular people are communicating with their body assemblages, what it speaks to me of is the futility of life in the world now, for young people, educated, unemployable, unneeded, probably in debt.

Tuesday January 21 2014

As I said in the previous post, my talk about digital photography at Christian Michel’s last night went well, in the sense of me feeling it went well, and it seeming to be well received.  I occasionally put my sheets of paper down and extemporised upon some point I was making, but mostly, this was it.  No links, no photos, no extras.  (They may come later, I hope, but I promise nothing.) Just the bare text that I read out, complete with all the errors of grammar and spelling, of fact and interpretation, that may or may not be present:

I have given several talks in this 6/20 series, but until now this has been because I have had both questions and answers to offer to the assembled throng.  I have had theses to present, clutches of facts to pass on.

This time I don’t know the answers.  I merely want to know the answers.  What is the impact of digital photography? What is it doing to us?  Since fixing this subject matter with Christian I have made, I think, some progress in arriving at answers, but only some.  Tonight I expect to make further progress.

Luckily, for my purposes, we have all been alive throughout the period of digital photography’s mass use, and have observed it in action, even if we may not always have wanted to.  Has anyone here not taken a digital photo?  Just as I thought.  (It actually says that here.  And this.)

*****

I will start my remarks by quoting a remark made by an American whom I overheard about fifty years ago, on the Acropolis in Athens, the place where what is left of the Parthenon stands.  I was there trying to do some sketching, a skill I never got any good at but spent a few years attempting.  He was doing pictures with his seriously pre-digital camera.  As soon as he had finished photoing, he wanted to leave, presumably to get to his next photoing place.  But his family were enjoying the Acropolis in the morning sunshine.  Said he to his family: “Come on, come on!  We’ll look at it when we get home!”

This outburst captures a great deal about what people object to about digital photography, but it also reminds us that photography, by Everyman as opposed to by professionals, is nothing new.  Digital photography is partly just the intensification of a process that has been in place in our culture for well over a century.  But it is more than that.

Friday December 27 2013

6000:

Post pictures of cats, they said. Seriously, if you’re not going to be able to write much, and a picture is worth a thousand words, then a picture of a cat is worth, well, Six Thousand. Do it.

So, with that in mind, here’s a picture of a cat, ...

I also found myself referring recently to the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I think that one of the consequences of digital photography is that this is probably no longer true.  Not unless it’s a very good picture.  And to be fair to 6000, it is a pretty good cat picture.  Also, he was not saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, merely referring to the notion, by saying “if” it is, as an excuse for a quota cat.

One of the things that used to make pictures count for so much was that everyone knew what a bother it was to contrive them.  Now, everyone knows that contriving pictures has become very easy.

The reason I can never make myself care about just shoving hundreds of snaps up on the internet using something like Flickr, and why I prefer to put them here (or here), in much smaller numbers, is that I prefer my pictures to be accompanied by words, words that explain what I am trying to say with the pictures, or what I think is interesting about them.

The same principle applied to the old newspaper photographs, where this phrase presumably originated.  A picture may then have been worth a thousand words, but there were usually also plenty of actual words attached.

Often, the pictures here are pictures of words.  If following a link does not appeal, consider only the previous two postings.

Thursday August 29 2013

I have another last Friday of the Month meeting tomorrow.  Patrick Crozier will speak about life in Britain in 1913.

In an email to Patrick, I asked him:

Were they libertarians?

And in the email to all those on my list for these evenings, I included that and other questions, together with Patrick’s responses about what else he’ll be talking aboutt.  (If you want to be on that, click where it says “Contact”, top left.)

In response to this email, Antoine Clarke emailed back thus:

I definitely intend to be there. …

Good.  And yes Antoine, bring some crisps.

And he continued:

For what it’s worth, my short guess would be: They weren’t libertarians, though they lived in a society that was largely libertarian (perhaps the problem was not getting the importance of [or caring about] the things that kept it libertarian).  Assumptions about what the state could and should do were more libertarian.

But racism, at least between Europeans and non-Europeans, was there. It might not be translated into “… therefore they must be destroyed ...” but only weird people would marry blacks.

I think that only started seriously changing half a century later.

Perhaps the most significant impression people had was that life was a lot better than it had been 50 or 100 years ago, in terms of money, quality of life and freedom. And they thought it would probably continue.

I’ll shortly be sending out a reminder email about tomorrow night, containing links to this posting here, and to this Samizdata posting.

I like how, when a topic of discussion is announced, the discussion can now get underway beforehand, and continue afterwards.  You do not have to show up at a meeting in order to be influenced by it, one way or another.  And nowadays that applies to many more people than to those who do show up.

Wednesday August 14 2013

That’s one of things it says here.  But don’t go there.  You’d be wasting your time.  All that the bit of it that concerns the above says is: “You can achieve everything you want if you’re unambitious enough.”

I get really pissed off with links that say something, and you go there, and all it is is someone saying what you’ve just read already, with no elaboration or justification or illustration or explication or any other sort of ation, of the sort that all links used to take you to.  I am sure Twitter has its uses, but I wish people wouldn’t link to it in this annoyingly disappointing way.

Monday August 05 2013

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.

Thursday July 11 2013

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!!!

117-9.

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.

Hurrah.

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.

Thursday July 04 2013

I like scaffolding:

image imageimage image

That was all photoed last week, where they are rebuilding Victoria tube station.  There is always lots of scaffolding on the go in London.  Lovely for a photographer like me, who is obsessed with Mondrianic rectangles, and who likes to notice (as do many other photographers) aesthetic effects created by things not done for any aesthetic purpose.

But I don’t like scaffolding so much when it is right outside my kitchen window, as it now is, for some ludicrously expensive tarting up of the block of flats where I live.

image

Luckily they do not have a loud radio.  I am now playing them a Beethoven piano concerto.

I have been listening out for amusing things said by the scaffolders, in their loud cockney voices.  So far the nearest thing to that has been this not very choice piece of dialogue, clearly audible, unlike most of their cockney shoutings:

“I like Jeremy Clarkson.”

“Are you on ‘is Twitter?”

“Yeah.”

I like Clarkson too, despite not being on his Twitter, until now, if that mere link counts.  But I agree, this is not really much.  Maybe they’ll improve on this in the days to come.