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: Transport

Monday March 27 2017

Today, in the cloudless weather ordained by our omniscient short-term weather forecasters, I took a quite long walk beside the River Lea, out east.  The clocks having just gone forward, there was suddenly a decent amount of daylight, so I took my time and just carried on walking, and now I am knackered.  So, it’s quota photo time:

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That was taken at Canning Town, where I was switching from the Underground to the Overground.  It’s one of those I Just Like It photos, as in: I hope you like it too, but I realise it isn’t that remarkable.

There were no clouds in the sky, but there was something in the air.  Mist?  Pollution?  Whatever it was, it had the effect of turning all distant objects from their usual appearance to a flatly uniform grey, like I’d pushed some kind of Photoshop button.  Those are the Docklands Towers in the distance, looking flatly and uniformly grey.  That one pointy tower makes the whole cluster recognisable.  Increasingly, and as I think I am starting to say quite often here, I find myself valuing recognisability over mere beauty.

I don’t usually like it when street lamps get in the way.  (Street lamps in London always get in the way, of every picture I ever try to take, or so it sometimes seems.) But I rather like the way these ones have come out.  The nearer one frames the view rather nicely, and the more distant one poses in a dignified way, in a way that fits in well with the rectangular shapes in the gas-holder.

I totally trust the weather forecasters.  I left my umbrella behind, and wore fewer clothes than ever before this year.  And it worked.  No rain, no cold.  And not quite so knackered from carrying unnecessary garments.  But still knackered.  So that is all, and I wish you all a very good night.

Sunday March 26 2017

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:

image

They sound more like they’re artificial general intelligence.

Tuesday March 21 2017

Indeed:

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Leake Street is that tunnel under the Waterloo approach tracks, filled with an ever-changing display of grafitti.  And of photoers photoing it.

Saturday March 18 2017

Indeed:

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Presumably they were selling stuff like this.

I like it when my pictures include clocks, and that clock is a particular favourite of mine.

Friday March 10 2017

Whenever I encounter interesting vehicles, of which London possesses a great many, I try to photo them.  Taxis with fun adverts.  Diverting white vans.  Crane lorries.  That kind of thing.

In particular I like to photo ancient cars.  And, I also like to photo modern cars which are styled to look like ancient cars, like this one:

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This is the Mitsubishi Pajero Jr. Flying Pug.  How do I know that?  Because I also went round the back and took this photo:

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Is a pug a non-feline creature?  Sounds like a non-feline creature to me.

More about this eccentric vehicle here:

On sale for just three years between 1995 and 1998, it sold reasonably well and has been popular as a grey import. None of which explains what on Earth Mitsubishi was thinking when it devised this horror show, the special edition Flying Pug.

The Japanese have always loved old, British cars. Through the Nineties it was one of the biggest markets for the original Mini, but retro pastiches had become popular as well, led by the Nissan Micra-based Mitsuoka Viewt, which looked a bit like a miniature Jaguar Mark II.

Mitsubishi thought it would jump on the bandwagon. Out of all the cars it made, Mitsubishi decided the Pajero Jr would be the best platform. Ambitiously, the brochure said it had “the classic looks a London taxi.” In fact, it looked more like the absolutely gopping Triumph Mayflower.

The press thought it was ugly and the buying public agreed. Mitsubishi planned to build 1,000 Flying Pugs, but just 139 found homes. The deeply weird name can’t have helped, but Japanese-market cars are notorious for it; another special edition Pajero Jr was christened McTwist.

I agree that “Flying Pug” is a strange name.  And I agree that the Flying Pug doesn’t look much like a London taxi.  But it resembles the Triumph Mayflower even less.

I also do not agree that either the Flying Pug or the Triumph Mayflower are ugly.  And they are definitely not, to my eye, “absolutely gopping”, or a “horrow show”.  Each to his own.

But I do like the fact that I photoed a car of which there are only one hundred and thirty nine copies in existence.

Wednesday March 08 2017

Yesterday I did a Dezeen based posting here, and now I just did another.  But when two thirds through doing it, I realised it would do just as well for Samizdata.  All that needed adding was a bit of cringeing at the end to the effect that it could all be bollocks.  (Everything here could be bollocks.  That’s assumed.) So, Samizdata is where it went.

Title: A flying car that makes sense.  Dezeen posting I was reacting to, very favourably: here.

Are you one of my London libertarian friends.  Don’t forget the talk I will be hosting at the end of this month (March 31) given by Chris Cooper, about our new robot overlords.

Monday March 06 2017

But I do.  (Clue in the categories list.)

image

Click if you want slightly more context.

Photoed by me, earlier this evening, at Victoria Tube Station.

Thursday February 23 2017

Another drone application hovers into view:

image

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?

Wednesday February 22 2017

The chapter of Tim Marshall’s book Prisoners of Geography (see also these earlier excerpts: Africa is (still) big. And Africa’s rivers don’t help, Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East) that I found the most informative was the one on The Arctic, because this is the part of the world that he writes about concerning which I know the least.  How catastrophic - if catastrophic at all - global warming will eventually become, and whose fault it will be if it ever does become catastrophic and what to do about it , are all matters of fierce dispute.  But the fact of global warming is not in doubt, as Marshall explains (pp. 267-271):

That the ice is receding is not in question - satellite imaging over the past decade clearly shows that the ice has shrunk - only the cause is in doubt. Most scientists are convinced that man is responsible, not merely natural climate cycles, and that the coming exploitation of what is unveiled will quicken the pace.

Already villages along the Bering and Chukchi coasts have been relocated as coastlines are eroded and hunting grounds lost. A biological reshuffle is under way. Polar bears and Arctic foxes are on the move, walruses find themselves competing for space, and fish, unaware of territorial boundaries, are moving northward, depleting stocks for some countries but populating others. Mackerel and Atlantic cod are now being found in Arctic trawler nets.

The effects of the melting ice won’t just be felt in the Arctic: countries as far away as the Maldives, Bangladesh and the Netherlands are at risk of increased flooding as the ice melts and sea levels rise. These knock-on effects are why the Arctic is a global, not just a regional, issue.

As the ice melts and the tundra is exposed, two things are likely to happen to accelerate the process of the greying of the ice cap. Residue from the industrial work destined to take place will land on the snow and ice, further reducing the amount of heat-reflecting territory. The darker-coloured land and open water will then absorb more heat than the ice and snow they replace, thus increasing the size of the darker territory. This is known as the Albedo effect, and although there are negative aspects to it there are also positive ones: the warming tundra will allow significantly more natural plant growth and agricultural crops to flourish, helping local populations as they seek new food sources.

There is, though, no getting away from the prospect that one of the world’s last great unspoiled regions is about to change. Some climate-prediction models say the Arctic will be ice-free in summer by the end of the century; there are a few which predict it could happen much sooner. What is certain is that, however quickly it happens and dramatic the reduction will be, it has begun.

The melting of the ice cap already allows cargo ships to make the journey through the Northwest Passage in the Canadian archipelago for several summer weeks a year, thus cutting at least a week from the transit time from Europe to China. The first cargo ship not to be escorted by an icebreaker went through in 2014. The Nunavik carried 23,000 tons of nickel ore from Canada to China. The polar route was 40 per cent shorter and used deeper waters than if it had gone through the Panama Canal. This allowed the ship to carry more cargo, saved tens of thousands of dollars in fuel costs and reduced the ship’s greenhouse emissions by 1,300 metric tons. By 2040 the route is expected to be open for up to two months each year, transforming trade links across the ‘High North’ and causing knock -on effects as far away as Egypt and Panama in terms of the revenues they enjoy from the Suez and Panama canals.

The north-east route, or Northern Sea Route as the Russians call it, which hugs the Siberian coastline, is also now open for several months a year and is becoming an increasingly popular sea highway.

The melting ice reveals other potential riches. It is thought that vast quantities of undiscovered natural gas and oil reserves may lie in the Arctic region in areas which can now be accessed. In 2008 the United States Geological Survey estimated that 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids and 90 billion barrels of oil are in the Arctic, with the vast majority of it offshore. As more territory becomes accessible, extra reserves of the gold, zinc, nickel and iron already found in part of the Arctic may be discovered.

ExxonMobil, Shell and Rosneft are among the energy giants that are applying for licences and beginning exploratory drilling. Countries and companies prepared to make the effort to get at the riches will have to brave a climate where for much of the year the days are endless night, where for the majority of the year the sea freezes to a depth of more than six feet and where, in open water, the waves can reach forty feet high.

It is going to be dirty, hard and dangerous work, especially for anyone hoping to run an all-year-round operation. It will also require massive investment. Running gas pipelines will not be possible in many places, and building a complex liquefaction infrastructure at sea, especially in tough conditions, is very expensive. However, the financial and strategic gains to be made mean that the big players will try to stake a claim to the territories and begin drilling, and that the potential environmental consequences are unlikely to stop them.

Saturday February 18 2017

I often travel to Euston by tube, changing there from or to the Victoria Line to or from the Northern Line, but I very rarely emerge into the street at Euston.  But yesterday, I did this.  I arrived by tube and I exited via the main concourse of the main railway station, on account of these new concourses being, I think, interesting places.  And then when I exited from the main station, I noticed, for the first time, the rather handsome statue of Robert Stephenson that is to be seen out there, if you do that.

This statue is very fine, I think:

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

Perhaps because of its modern surroundings, I suspected this statue of being a recent piece of pseudo-antiquity, perhaps motivated by guilt for all the architectural antiquity at Euston that got demolished.  But no, the statue dates from a mere decade after Stephenson’s death, which was in 1859.

I only discovered just now that Robert Stephenson designed the Rocket, the first ever steam locomotive.  I thought his dad George did that, but George merely did the railway.  Blog and learn.

I also learn, here, that this Stephenson statue was the work of Carlo Marochetti.

Wednesday February 15 2017

On January 20th I attended one of Christian Michel’s 6/20 meetings.  The subject was: The Meaning of Life.  To be rather more exact, it was: What kind of question is the question “What is the meaning of life?”

So, when I was making my way home, via Earls Court Underground Station, I guess I was in a Meaning of Life kind of mood.  Which might explain why I took this photo:

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This particular message is a bit too sentimental for my liking.  Those little hearts put me right off.  But actually, I don’t really object to these little sermons that the Underground has taken to erecting at the entrance to its stations.  This is because something that is merely written, no matter how big the lettering, is easily ignored.  I think this is one of the things I like about signs and adverts and posters and notices.  You can pay them all the attention you want to pay them, from a great deal, right the way down to absolutely nothing.

This is in sharp contrast to those appalling underground train guards who insist on preaching sermons over the intercom, instead of just telling you about how you have stopped in between stations because of a train still stuck at the next station.  Those sermons are impossible to avoid.

See also those buskers who actually climb onto trains and play.  Both these buskers and the tube train intercom sermonisers are on my personal Room 101 list.

The above also explains why Modern Art is so successful, but why, on the other hand, Modern Classical Music is so profoundly unsuccessful.  It’s not that Modern Art is mostly good while Modern Classical Music is mostly crap.  Modern Art is also mostly crap.  But, crucially, when a piece of Modern Classical Music traps you (when played live, in between two bits of proper Classical Music), you are stuck with it until it finishes.  Modern Art, in total contrast, is, when it’s crap, crap that is easily ignored.  Even when it ambushes you in an Art gallery, you can still just walk right past it.  Or, you can photo it, and then walk right past it.

Wednesday February 08 2017

Yesterday I was at Clapham Junction.  Here is what I photoed when I went to the far northern end of platform 12 (I think it was), further from the river than I usually find myself, and looked back towards London in a northerly direction:

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I say London.  That’s mostly Battersea, in the form of all the new buildings springing up around the new US Embassy, which you can see at the bottom of the Spraycan.  The Spraycan is the big tower on the left (although if you google “spraycan”, I’m guessing that all you will get is lots of spraycans).  The Embassy is the box with the crinkly diamond pattern on it.

The only serious evidence of life beyond Battersea is the Shard, on the right of the Spraycan.

But, ... cranes!  I make it sixteen of them.  Lovely.

Tuesday January 31 2017

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.

Monday January 30 2017

When I make my way, as I do from time to time, to Gramex (which is near to Waterloo) to get another fix of classical CDs, I tend to use the 507 single decker bus.

Many bus stops have become a lot more customer friendly in recent years by having electronic notice boards which say what buses are arriving, where they will go, and when they can be expected to arrive.  Very soothing, especially if you are not in the habit of tracking buses with your mobile, as many are, but not me.

My 507 bus stop sports no such signs, probably because the 507 is the only bus that stops there, and there will be another one soon because they are very frequent.

But inside these 507s, I am starting to see signs looking like this:

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Again, very soothing.  You get to see progress.  You get to learn when you need to be making a move towards the door, if you are seated far away from the door, so you wont be barging past people in a hurry.  It all adds to the sense you have that buses are nicer to be on than they used to be.

Tragically, this afternoon, what one of these signs was saying was merely this:

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Not even the one item of information it did still offer was right.  It was not 6.28pm, nowhere near.

But, I am anything but scornful about this little setback.  New kit needs the bugs worked out of it.  Things get tried out, and they go wrong.  The significant thing here is that these kinds of notices are being deployed, not that they don’t yet work as well as they should.

Here is an earlier posting I did about the bus stop signs, also with photos.  And that bus stop sign was malfunctioning also, hence that posting also, and that didn’t stop them pressing ahead with installing those signs either.  Quite right too.

Sunday January 29 2017

I am reading Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall, a new name to me.  (He has also written what looks like a rather interesting book about flags.) Today I read this (pp. 116-117), about the size of Africa:

The world’s idea of African geography is flawed. Few people realise just how big it is. This is because most of us use the standard Mercator world map. This, as do other maps, depicts a sphere on a flat surface and thus distorts shapes.  Africa is far, far longer than usually portrayed, which explains what an achievement it was to round the Cape of Good Hope, and is a reminder of the importance of the Suez Canal to world trade. Making it around the Cape was a momentous achievement, but once it became unnecessary to do so, the sea journey from Western Europe to India was reduced by 6,000 miles.

If you look at a world map and mentally glue Alaska onto California, then turn the USA on its head, it appears as if it would roughly fit into Africa with a few gaps here and there.  In fact Africa is three times bigger than the USA.  Look again at the standard Mercator map and you see that Greenland appears to be the same size as Africa, and yet Africa is actually fourteen times the size of Greenland!  You could fit the USA, Greenland, India, China, Spain, France, Germany and the UK into Africa and still have room for most of Eastern Europe.  We know Africa is a massive land mass, but the maps rarely tell us how massive.

I guess that part of the reason why Africa has tended to be regarded as smaller than it is, in recent decades, is that Africa has not counted for all that much, globally, in recent decades.  We can expect to hear many repetitions of the above observation, as Africa develops economically, towards being the economic giant that it already is physically.

LATER: I see that I have written about this before, in a posting that proves what Marshall says about all the countries that will fit inside Africa.