Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
6000 on And in Other creatures news ...
Chris Cooper on Longer life would make most of us (certainly me) more energetic and ambitious
Brian Micklethwait on Indian sign cautions against selfie sticks
Michael Jennings on Indian sign cautions against selfie sticks
Brian Micklethwait on Photoing last Friday's Last Friday meeting
Michael Jennings on Photoing last Friday's Last Friday meeting
Brian Micklethwait on Tim Marshall on 'Sykes-Picot'
Patrick Crozier on Tim Marshall on 'Sykes-Picot'
kenforthewin on The most newsworthy thing so far done by a drone
6000 on UPS drones and drone vans
Most recent entries
- Misty (or polluted) at Canning Town
- “Robot” suggests the possibility of fraternization
- Slam City Skates in Covent Garden
- And in Other creatures news …
- Cat proximity awareness
- Looking up in the City
- Indian sign cautions against selfie sticks
- Leake Street photo session
- Longer life would make most of us (certainly me) more energetic and ambitious
- Azure Window broken
- Beltane & Pop van parked on the South Bank yesterday afternoon
- New River Walk
- Die Meistersinger was very good
- Spring in Islington
- ROH Covent Garden here I come
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Category archive: Language
I just sent out the mass email flagging up Chris Cooper’s talk on the Rise of Our Robot Overlords, chez moi, next Friday. I have asked his permission to reproduce his entire spiel. Meanwhile, here is how it begins, which I really like:
I’ve only recently realized the staggering implications of the project of AGI, or artificial general intelligence – the Holy Grail of present-day AI research. (I prefer to talk about AGIs, or AGI systems, rather than “robots”; “robot” has tin-man connotations that are part of the problem – they suggest the possibility of fraternization.) …
Which is why the talk is now officially entitled: “The Threat to Life and to Liberty of Artificial General Intelligence”.
These robots, whose pronouncements I have been following in recent days and weeks, don’t seem very fraternal:
They sound more like they’re artificial general intelligence.
Before we entered the Royal Opera House to endure and eventually to enjoy Die Meistersinger my friend and I wandered around Covent Garden, and chanced upon a shop selling artfully decorated skateboards, in other words looking like this:
As soon as I was inside this shop I asked if I could take some photos, and they said: snap away. So I did. I took the above photo first, which gives an idea of what it was that got my attention. And then I took a lot more, of which the following were the least worst:
I know. Lots of reflections in the shiny surfaces of the skateboards. But, you get the pictures.
A cat is involved (1.3 in the above clutch). A rather rude cat, but a cat. At first, I thought I ought to hurry the posting up and have this ready for last Friday. Then I thought, no, wait until next Friday. And then I thought to hell with that, I’ve nearly done it, I will post it when it’s done.
These artistically enhanced boards have all the relaxed and unpretentious exuberance of graffiti, of the sort I most regularly observe in Leake Street under Waterloo Station. You don’t have to read some idiot art-speak essay to find out what the hell this or that skateboard is “about”, even though it is sometimes obscure. “SHAKEJUNT”. “HAND IN GLOVE”. “FIVE BORE”. “FLIP”. You probably have to be a skateboarder to get what words like those mean. Which probably explains why I like the giant TV remote the best. That I definitely understand.
However, a magic ingredient that separates these skateboards from graffiti is that the skateboards come with added property rights. Once you’ve painted your own particular skateboard, that’s how it stays painted. Which means you can really go to town on it, make it really great, confident that some other artist won’t paint over what you’ve just done.
There is also the fact that a skateboard, unlike graffiti, can be moved hither and thither, which means it can be bought and sold. This means that politically sane people will gravitate towards decorating skateboards and political ignorami will prefer graffiti, property rights and civilisation being things that go hand in hand, as do attacking property rights and barbarism. Sadly, this does not necessarily mean that the skateboard art will be better, because mad artists are often better than sane artists. Plus, you can now add the magic of digital photography to graffiti, thereby preserving it. But as art objects, these skateboards will, unlike graffiti, be profitable and permanent.
Here’s the final photo I took, complete with the guy who said I could take all the other photos, despite knowing I wasn’t in the market for a decorated skateboard, but was merely interested in an art gallery-ish way:
I asked this guy for a card or something, so I could put a link to the place here, as I have done, see above. He didn’t have anything on paper. But then he thought: have a bag:
And that’s how I knew what the shop was called and where to find its website.
I hope this posting doesn’t do any harm to this enterprise, for example by diminishing its street credibility. Do things still have street credibility? Or, to put it in more recent parlance, is street credibility still a thing?
A few days back, probably because it has long been aware of my fascination with cat fascination, the Great Machine in the Sky presented me with this advertisement:
Click on it to get to what was being advertised.
What it is, of course, is a system for a machine to become aware of other machines in its vicinity and thereby to communicate with these other machines, and this system is the work of CAT. But the idea that a machine might somehow learn to realise if there is a cat in its vicinity, and would then, if there is, feel compelled to alert other machines to this menace, is rather clearly suggested.
If you do click on the above piece of horizontality, you will be greeted by the following claim:
WHEN MACHINES TALK, EVERYONE’S SAFER.
In a week’s time, there will be a Brian’s Last Friday meeting at which the speaker, Chris Cooper, will be contesting this claim.
Incoming from Michael Jennings, who encountered this sign at (a?) (the?) Jodhpur Fort in Rajasthan:
Hm, what to do?
Easy. Use a drone instead.
LATER: See first comment. It’s this:
There can only be one fort like that.
Categories updated to include Architecture, History, Sport, and War.
Blog and learn.
I am hopeless at drawing, as you can see.
But having been watching the Six Nations rugby tournament for the last few weeks, and having in particular been listening to the various television commentators, I feel the need to offer you all this attempt at a cartoon.
Anyone who wants to copy this, or indeed copy it and improve the graphics, is most welcome. I am surely not the first to have thought of this particular observation.
(There was a bit of fiddling about with the presentation of this, on account of my software not actually showing me exactly how a posting like this will look. Sorry about that.)
Another drone application hovers into view:
Yes, it’s UPS:
“This is really a vision for the future for us,” UPS senior vice president for engineering and sustainability, Mark Wallace, said in an interview with Business Insider.
The drone will work as a mechanized helper for the driver, reducing the number of miles a driver will need to drive. According to Wallace, UPS can save $50 million a year if everyone of its drivers reduces the length of their delivery routes by one mile.
UPS sees several potential usage cases for its autonomous drones. This ranges from inventory control at warehouses to the delivery of urgent packages such as medical supplies. However, this latest test is geared towards the company’s operations in rural areas where drivers have to cover vast distances between delivery points.
But all this is still some way off:
Currently, the technology [is] still in the testing phase and UPS doesn’t have an exact timeline for its introduction into service, Wallace said.
Timeline being the twenty first century way of saying: time. See also learning curve (learning); learning experience (fuck-up); etc.
I once had a job delivering number plates, in a white van, all over Britain. Much of it was lots of unassembled number plate components in big heavy boxes, to big suppliers, which we delivered direct. And the rest of the job was one-off finished number plates to motorbike shops, which the other drivers often used to deliver by posting them. I always went there direct, because I enjoyed the drive, but either way the economics of those one-off number plates was ridiculous. A drone to do the final thirty miles or so would have been most handy, if it could have been organised. (A digital camera would have been very nice also. But alas, I had to wait a quarter of a century for that.)
The serious point: drones are useful tools for running big and visible and trustable (because so easily embarrassable and controlable) businesses, for example the big and very visible enterprise that provided this. Drones are, basically, tools for workers rather that toys for funsters. They may supply fun, but they will mostly be operated by workers.
In London anyway. Things may be different out in the wilds of the countryside. But even taking photos out in the wilds of Yorkshire involves – I bet – getting some kind of permit. If not, it soon will. Because there will be complaints, and drones are highly visible.
Also audible, yes? Anyone know how noisy drones tend to be? 6K? How noisy is your drone?
Africa is big, and Africa’s rivers don’t help in cutting these huge distances down to size.
More from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography (p. 119):
Most of the continent’s rivers also pose a problem, as they begin in high land and descend in abrupt drops which thwart navigation. For example, the mighty Zambezi may be Africa’s fourth-longest river, running for 1,600 miles, and may be a stunning tourist attraction with its white-water rapids and the Victoria Falls, but as a trade route it is of little use. It flows through six countries, dropping from 4,900 feet to sea level when it reaches the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Parts of it are navigable by shallow boats, but these parts do not interconnect, thus limiting the transportation of cargo.
Unlike in Europe, which has the Danube and the Rhine, this drawback has hindered contact and trade between regions - which in turn affected economic development, and hindered the formation of large trading regions. The continent’s great rivers, the Niger, the Congo, the Zambezi, the Nile and others, don’t connect and this disconnection has a human factor. Whereas huge areas of Russia, China and the USA speak a unifying language which helps trade, in Africa thousands of languages exist and no one culture emerged to dominate areas of similar size. Europe, on the other hand, was small enough to have a ‘lingua franca’ through which to communicate, and a landscape that encouraged interaction.
I’m guessing that Africa’s famed natural resources (although not of the mineral sort – those natural resources just suck in thieving foreigners) also helped to split the population up into lots of little enclaves, by making it possible for quite small communities to be economically self-sufficient. Not very self-sufficient, as in rich, but sufficiently self-sufficient not to die out but instead to keep ticking over.
Friday is my day for cats and other creatures, but it is also David Thompson’s day for more substsantial collections of all this weird and wonderful on the internet, and one ephemeron (ephemeros? ephemerum?) in his collection today is this:
Brutalist colouring book. Because concrete needs colour.
I followed that link.
Brutalism lovers, sharpen your cold grey and warm grey pencils and add some colour to some great concrete constructions. First edition of 500 hundred copies. Each copy is numbered.
Ooh. First edition. Numbered copies. Very arty. Sign of the times? I want it to be.
I have long thought that the brutalities of brutalism could use a bit of softening, and actually, a lot of softening. With colour. Bring it on.
Someone who agreed with me, from way back was, actually, would you believe?: Le Corbusier. He was into bright colours to soften the brutalities of his brutalism, from the getgo.
(See also: these colourful kittens. No softening needed there, but it was done anyway.)
Just heard an announcer on London Live TV pronounce Persephone as “Percy Phone”. It should be Per Seffany, in case you also are not sure. Y(oung) P(eople) T(hese) D(ays). They just don’t have the Classics.
From the BBC updates on the Scotland v Georgia rugby game at Murrayfield this afternoon:
Scotland have really struggled against the Georgian scum in the second-half.
Hastily corrected to “scrum”. Should have done a screen capture. As it is, you just have to take my word for it.
Actually Georgia is a great place. It recently came sixth in the world in one of those economic freedom charts, as I mentioned in passing in this posting
LATER: Oh dear. Not Murrayfield. Kilmarnock. Whenever you moan about someone else’s error, you make an error. It’s inevitable.
I’ve already given you Rod Green’s Dangereuse. Here’s another, longer bit from his book about Magna Carta, a bit which he entitled “Boys and Men” (pp. 61-66) I was especially struck by the part near the end, about people who could pronounce Latin words but who didn’t know what they meant. Sounds horribly familiar:
Not so long ago, it was widely assumed that the concept of “childhood” simply didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. The view was that the kind of life led by a modern child - where good health, play and education experienced as part of a loving family environment is seen as the norm - was in stark contrast to the lives of children 800 years ago, who were treated as a burden to be tolerated until they were old enough to be of some use.
Recent research, however, shows that this may not have been entirely the case. Studies of toys from the period have shown that children were encouraged to play. The toys may have been homemade in many cases, but models of mounted knights made out of metal would have been bought or specially commissioned, showing that some parents cared enough about their children’s play time to lavish gifts on them.
Children do not feature prominently in illustrated manuscripts, paintings or tapestries doing anything more than emulating their parents, but in some cases they can be seen playing games like tag or “king of the castle” and riding on hobby-horses. They were, it seems, encouraged to play and enjoy an active childhood, although their lives were set on a predetermined course at an early age.
In the early thirteenth century, a child surviving the first year of life had a reasonable chance of fighting off disease long enough to acquire the strength needed to survive in the harsh and unhygienic medieval world. In fact, 25 per cent of those born to wealthy parents and up to 50 per cent of those born to the poor did not. A whole host of infectious
diseases for which we now have myriad names would then simply have been classed as “fever” or “food poisoning”. Life expectancy was only around 30 years, although anyone from the ruling classes who made it, strong and healthy, to the age of 21, might well have had another 40 years to look forward to. In the fourteenth century, the Black Death was to reduce life expectancy dramatically.
In the days of King John, however, a fit young boy born into a noble family could expect to live in his parents’ grand house or castle until he was about seven years old. He would then be sent off to live in another castle, most likely in the house of a nobleman a rung or two up the feudal ladder from his own parents, perhaps even in one of the king’s
Here he would serve first as a page, running errands and generally waiting on the lords and ladies of the household. However, he would also learn how a large house functioned and how people interacted with one another, as well as learning about customs and proper manners. He might also be taught how to read and understand Latin and, if it were not already his native tongue, the version of French spoken by the Norman nobility.
A young boy would also learn how to ride and, if he showed promise, he might, when he was around 14 years old, become apprenticed to a knight as a squire. They had to train hard to learn the art of combat, which included lifting heavy stones to build muscle, throwing the javelin, fighting with a quarterstaff, archery, wrestling, acrobatics and sword fighting. Swordsmanship was taught using a blunted sword and a buckler, a small shield the size of a pot lid. This trained the would-be knight how to parry sword thrusts and how to use his shield as an offensive weapon without the novice having to start off with a full-sized, cumbersome shield. Similarly, the blunted sword was used against heavily padded protective layers, although the dull blade could still inflict painful wounds.
The squire would learn how to clean and prepare the knight’s armour and weapons, although major repairs had to be undertaken by a blacksmith or armourer. He would also need to help his knight put on his armour, which meant more than simply helping him to dress - the various elements of the heavy steel all had to be strapped into place in the correct sequence to make sure that they overlapped and allowed for movement in the right way.
This, of course, meant that the squire went with his knight to compete in tournaments. He would eventually get the chance to compete in his own right, even before he became a knight, as there were special contests organized solely for squires.
Whether a squire lived in his knight’s house, or whether he lived in a baron’s castle where landless knights also lived as part of the baron’s permanent military force, he would have regular chores to perform, which would include acting as a servant when his masters sat down to eat. Squires were expected, for example, to learn the correct way to carve meat at the table.
The squire’s apprenticeship would last until he was around 21 years of age, at which point he might expect to be knighted himself. However, he might want to avoid that happening - a squire could be made a knight either by his local lord or by the king, but it wasn’t an honour that everyone could afford. The squire’s family, whom he may have visited only a couple of times a year since he was sent away as a seven-year-old, would have to pay for the costly armour, weapons and warhorse that a knight required, as well as funding any forays he might make to tournaments far and wide. Being a knight could be prohibitively expensive, especially if a second, third or fourth son, who might not inherit any part of his father’s estate when he died (the bulk of property often being bequeathed to the first-born).
Around the beginning of the thirteenth century, there was a growing “middle class” of merchants, tradesmen and professionals, particularly in the new cities and busy ports. Trade with continental Europe had expanded enormously since the Norman Conquest, although Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurs are known to have traded extensively with partners as far away as Russia. Clauses 41 and 42 of Magna Carta make special mention of such merchants.
The son of a merchant would live an entirely different life from that of a boy born into the nobility. From a very young age, he would learn about the family business, in order to play a full part as soon as he was old enough. A boy might also become apprenticed to another merchant or tradesman, a privilege for which his family would have to pay, and be sent away from home to live with his new master.
Merchants, especially those dealing in foreign trade, had to be able to speak and read Latin, which was the international language of commerce, the legal profession and the Church. The sons of the middle classes learned Latin either through private tuition or at one of the new schools that were beginning to appear.
Merchants donated money to set up schools in the most important trading towns and boys would be sent to school to learn arithmetic and Latin grammar, the institutions becoming known as grammar schools. The schools were allied to a particular trade, making them private schools, although fee-paying schools would later be established that were open to anyone who could pay, such establishments being termed “public” schools.
There would have been few if any books in schools. These were hugely expensive, hand-written items - the first printed books didn’t begin appearing until the mid-fifteenth century. Boys learned their lessons verbally, repeating their Latin phrases time and time again, and earning themselves a beating if they got anything wrong.
Some might learn mathematics or become proficient in the use of an abacus, but few would continue their formal education beyond a basic level or contemplate attending one of the new universities.
As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford University had been growing in stature since the latter part of the eleventh century and the colleges of Cambridge University can trace their history back to around the same time.
Peasants, still by far and away the largest portion of the population, could not afford to send their sons to school. A peasant boy was expected to do chores as soon as he was old enough to learn how to feed chickens or help to herd livestock. When he was strong enough, he would help with the back-breaking work in the fields and perhaps spend some time working in the local landowner’s house or castle, if such was required by the terms of his family’s tenure.
The Church played a major role in everyone’s lives and even the most lowly peasants attended church on a regular basis. However, all services were conducted in Latin, so most people couldn’t understand what was being said - sometimes not even the priest. Despite being the most educated man in the village, while the priest might be able to pronounce written Latin, the chances are he did not understand it. For a lucky few, a well-educated priest might teach boys how to read, but even as late as the fourteenth century it has been estimated that 8 out of 10 adults in England were unable even to spell their own names.
Yesterday I was reminding myself that we live in an age when pub quiz questions have instant answers. So when, soon after posting that posting, I came across this photo I took a while back, of a boat, …:
… with the words “THAMES RIB EXPERIENCE” written on it, I set to work to find out what the “RIB” bit means. I had vaguely supposed that this was some sort of steakhouse sponsorship deal. The world is now full of ridiculous arrangements of that sort, sponsored by commercial enterprises whose only way to sell more of their stuff is to cause even more people to have heard of it. The mere merits of the product being irrelevant, for their purposes. “Yes it’s bad for you but it tastes really nice” not being a message they want to be too publicly and explicitly associated with, because then they’d have the health fascists all over them.
So “Thames Rib Experience” as an exercise is boosting meat consumption? But which ribs should we be consuming. Just ribs generally? The British Rib Council, a combined consortium of ribbers, combining to boost ribs in general? It didn’t seem very plausible. So, what does RIB really mean?
It turns out that RIB means rigid inflatable boat.
This is a triviality, of course, unless you are in life-threateningly urgent need of a rigid inflatable boat trip on the Thames. But the change in the world towards a state where it is much easier to find things out is not trivial. The story that lots of people mention in this connection, and lots of people are not wrong, is the ease with which a formerly dirt poor farmer now can, in the depths of the African countryside, keep himself informed about the prices he can expect to get for his products, when he takes them to market.
Quicker and better answers to questions is all part of why all this stuff has been happening lately.
I love all the paraphernalia, big and small, of London tourism. And with my digital camera, and more to the point with my habit of having my digital camera with me and keeping a lookout for things to photo with it, I don’t have to buy any of it. I can just photo it.
Today, for instance, from inside the laundrette that I have been frequenting lately, for my end of summer clothes washes, I spied this bus (I think there is only one such) going past. This is one of London’s more diverting sights. And I managed to get a zoom-snap of it before it got too far away:
Not bad, considering how gloomy the light was today.
That back window is actually quite a good detail to focus on. If you look a bit carefully (enlarge with a click), you can see that it is also the EMERGENCY EXIT.
I’m talking about those terrible Buy To Let Creeps:
From last Friday’s City A.M., bottom of page 4. I picked up a rather bedraggled copy of this outside Pimlico Tube Station late this afternoon.
I continue to hoover up White Van pictures whenever an interesting one presents itself. And this one, that I encountered yesterday evening in Victoria Street, is surely a classic of the genre:
What I enjoy so much about this van is how this enterprise clearly started out in a state of in-your-face honesty. Yeah, we do lavs. Our boss is Dave. Workplaces need lavs. You got a problem with that? Everyone needs to piss and/or shit every now and again.
But then, as business expanded, the euphemisms crept in. Changing the website was too complicated, but the surrounding verbiage got more polite and decorous. That’s my take, anyway. Have you ever seen the word “welfare” used like that? I haven’t. “Welfare Vans” sounds a bit like something laid on by the Japanese Army during the war, providing you-know-what to the soldiery, and for which they still refuse to apologise to the women thus made use of.
Go to www.davlav.com and it’s all explained:
These self-contained welfare vans offer independent diesel heating, washing, toilet and kitchen/eating facilities. Also included are auxiliary power microwave, hand wash and water boiler. Our welfare vehicles offer superior standards and are completely mobile, providing staff with all the facilities required by current employment law. All parts comply with the new legislation for Whole Vehicle Type Approval.
I might have guessed there’d be government regulations involved.