Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.


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Brian Micklethwait's Education Blog

CNE Competition
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Saturday July 30 2005

I said in the posting below that I haven’t done much writing here this week.  I didn’t say why.  It’s because I have one last major item of housekeeping to get done before I fling myself out of the room, fling myself onto my blog and link madly off in all directions.  I have to answer the question: What the hell happened to my Education and Culture Blogs?  And I have to organise how to guide people around the ruins, which do exist, and still give you a pretty good idea of what the original structures consisted of.

This has proved to be an immensely complicated question for me to answer and process for me to contrive.  Basically, anyone with whom I am acquainted and whom I could cajole into being interested, who is clever enough to answer this question properly and sort out the mess, already has a job as Senior Computer Guru for the Department of Circumlocution, Number Two in Spectre, or some such equally prominent role in life.  He will, any month now, promise, get around to taking a look at my blog ruins and seeing what he can do about them.  But just now he has a rather important deadline to meet or he is shark feed.  And so it dragged on, for month after month, with a succession of undeniably expert, well-disposed, but pre-occupied, experts.  Eventually, I said: enough!  I will sort out the problem with only my own knowledge and my own procedures and skills.

I will be using things like a biro and several sheets of paper, a team of oxen.  That kind of thing.  But these procedures are fraught with peril.  Basically we are talking about a bloke picked off the street doing his best to re-assemble some fragments of a Renaissance painting, using only biro, paper, oxen, UHU (does that still exist? – apparently so) and a needle and cotton.  The resulting edifice will be visible, but there will be flaws visible also.  Eccentricities will abound.  Never mind.  I shall do my best.

But, just for now, I need the rest of you not to disturb what I am doing.  The last thing I need is people trampling on top of saveable bits.

By the way, in case you are tempted to comment with yet more helpful advice (always the most annoying kind, I find), I have just one comment to add to all comments that attach themselves to this posting.  Fuck off and leave me to get on with it.

There has been virtually no writing here this week, but plenty of action with the sidebar, with many new blogs and sites being added.  I am years behind with having a blogroll, and what a pleasure it is finally to have one.  Its purpose is not to recommend blogs or websites to you.  It is simply there to remind me of all the places I like to visit from time to time, so that I don’t forget.  As always here, my most important reader is me.

Included in the list are all the blogs and websites I have so far been able to recall being run or written by people I am acquainted with whom I do not hate.  A non-www, non-blog connection makes a big difference I find.  Increases the density of the network connections, or some such thing.  But there are plenty of other things.  I have never met Instapundit, for instance.  The Guardian does not regularly share pints with me.  But I often visit these places.

And believe it or not, for the last I don’t know how many years I have used the drop-down Windows Explorer list of places I recently visited to find everything, which is ludicrously primitive, I know, but there you go.  When a creepy-crawly like me has found a track through one of the many dunghills that together form the mountain range that is personal computing, it sticks with it, no matter how roundabout and inefficient the track.

My favourite most recent blog discoverers and/or rediscoveries are Rob Knight, who I don’t think I’ve clocked before, and David Tebbutt.

I stuck Rob Knight‘s blog on the bloglist as soon as I had finished reading this posting about the Scott Burgess/Guardian affair, and I then also read this equally good posting about the related matter of how Islam is (in Monkey Dust) and should remain a fit subject for comedy.

David Tebbutt is not yet known to me personally, but the yet is there because he is a good friend of a good friend.  His blog has many good things and I regret not having read it more regularly in recent months, since I first clocked him as a blogger.  I have some catching up to do there, as elsewhere.

I especially enjoyed finding out via DT about this photo.  Out of date and naughty, but nice.  What’s the French for Schadenfreude?

Monday July 25 2005

Last Friday was a good blogging pay day for me. So, three Natalies, to a bit about the Chinese internet at the GlobaliZation Institute Blog, to a bit about railway stations (as already referred to here) at the ASI Blog, and a bit about Pirated DVDs and the rise of semi-pro dramatics.  For that last one to make sense I guess you had to write it.  Multiply pocket money by three and it starts to become money.

I also just put up an unpaid posting at Samizdata about why the French hate us.  Most of the commenters so far just think it was really a posting about country folk versus city folk, but one commenter also linked to it from another blog, quoted from it there, and recommended a book.  Result.  One of the best things about the internet is that you don’t any longer have to read books, unless you really want to.  You can whistle up five reviews and almost certainly extract all the juice you will need, or: discover that you would actually like to read it.  Neither procedure used to be easily accomplished BI (Before the Internet).

Talking of BI, what was the actual date when the internet was born?  Just to the nearest year.  It doesn’t have to be true or accurate or anything like that, just agreed, so that we can redo all the calendars, history dates, etc.

Now I have to do a posting for this blog.

There are people who actually read those CNE blogs, by the way.  Alex Singleton told me only the other day that he reads them.  My stuff for them is funny, he said, and he also likes the stuff Antoine Clarke writes for them.

Saturday July 23 2005

imageMore housekeeping, this time to sort out how to have a picture on the right, and text next to it on the left.

First I will just have a picture which isn’t clickable, but if I can, I’ll make it so you can click and get the original and wider version.

For those not familiar with London, and I have to face the fact that I do share a planet with millions of such people, the towers in the distance are the towers of Docklands, and the chair in the foreground is a chair in the foreground.

That part of London is one of my favourite places in the world.  The magic of it for me is in the constant contrasts you get between the mundane foreground – industrial estates, chain link fencing, weeds, parked cars, security guard signs, joggers, families on bicycles, pubs, giant rusting machinery like in the last scene of Get Carter (by the sea), and new apartment blocks beyond counting – and the vastness of the distant towers or the distant Dome, which is a wonderful structure even if they have yet to think of anything meaningful to put in it.  Because both the towers and the Dome were put there by politicians, rather than being straight commercial bets, there is this constant mismatch between the relatively low key foreground, and the high tech background.  These are not objects that thrust up from the seething surface of a city – a city with nowhere else to go except up.  They are more like parked spacecraft.

Is that going to be enough chitchat, I wonder?  I don’t like it when the picture goes further down than the text.

Well, that is enough text but the problem remains of the gap between the text and the photo.  I hoped it would be 10 pixels minimum, but that doesn’t seem to be registering.  Until that is sorted, forget about clicking for a bigger picture.  A call has gone to my technical staff to get them to put their heads together and sort this out.

Plus, re my liking for that bit of London, I realise I ought to prefer the atmostphere of libertarian type edifices to that of mixed economy edifices like these ones.  What next?  Preferring Brazilia to Rio de Janeiro?  But there you go, that’s how I feel it.  At least these towers are a capitalist muddle rather than an identical national socialist matching set, like in Brazilia.

More on the margin thing.  In case anyone suggests this as an alternative, I don’t want to stick a margin all around the picture, first because I just don’t, but second, because I also want to be able to put a photo on the left and have text next to it on the right, with the left hand edge of the photo aligning vertically with the main text.  I knew you’d be excited.

DONE!  It turned out that the answer was to replace “10” with “10px”.  As simple as that.  As I always say, everything involving computers is easy when you know, and f***ing impossible and f***ing infuriating when you don’t.

By the way, my team of web developers and software engineers have said that they would like to be thanked in person, as well as being paid all the fees I am paying them.  They are: Patrick Crozier.

Friday July 22 2005

Okay now I’m going to try some pictures where you click on them and get them bigger.  Like these (also clickable to bigger versions), they were taken at the Globalization Institute Launch in Soho last Tuesday.

Here we go.

This is proving complicated, so there will now be much coming and going to let me see how it looks.


Okay that’s good.  Now I know how we can all click from just some words to a photo, which I never got around to doing at my previous blogs although it would surely have been very easy.

image  image  image

Now I want the same thing, but clicking from a little picture.

Bingo!  Now we need a couple more and it’s all overe bar the scribbling.

The lady on the left is Jackie D.  The bloke in the middle is the man who runs this (it’s his baby daughter in the Samizdata pictures linked to above).  And on the right is a really quite presentable photo of me, with the always presentable Draculette (top right in the Samizdata babe photos), who alas and for the time being is too busy doing Real Life to be able to keep up with the blogging.  The secret with me and photos is for me to remember to stick my chin out, which for this I did.  Minimises the bag of fat hanging off the bottom of my face.  Someone else took this with my camera.  Who I can’t recall.

Thursday July 21 2005

More picture sizing, and a picture of railway station graffiti which I have just been writing about for elsewhere.  If a trackback materialises, that will be it.


Is there a special word for a link in a piece by X to another piece elsewhere also by X?  There should be.  An “ego-link” perhaps?

UPDATE CLARIFICATION: What is the difference between an “ego-link” (if that’s what it is called) and a Natalie, a usage which I first kite-flew here.  The answer is that although a Natalie is definitely an ego-link, an ego-link need not be a Natalie.  A Natalie is that particular sort of link which goes from a piece by X saying “I have a piece up here about dinosaur hunting when on holiday”, on X’s small personal blog to another piece by X on a big impersonal blog, or for that matter at a steam-driven website or mainstream media outlet.

I almost forgot.

About a month ago, I spent a few days in France, with Goddaughter 2 and her family, way down in the south just beyond Perpignan.  I sat on the left hand side of the airplane on the way down, and just when I had abandoned hope of seeing anything interesting, look what I saw!


That’s right, the magnifique Millau Viaduct.

My 10x optical zoom lens and anti-shake software, on my new camera, together worked a wonder.  If anything, the zoom actually worked too well.  This shot shows four towers, but there are seven in all.

This posting may come and go and come again.  This is because I will be fiddling about with the size of the picture until the width is exactly right.

I’m still housekeeping, in other words. 

Tuesday July 19 2005

I did tell a lot of people without realising I was doing it, when I started compiling my blogroll.  Apparently some or all the blogs thus rolled thereby learned of this blog’s existence.  But I haven’t been sending out messages to mere readers yet, e.g. by linking to this blog from Samizdata.  This is not because I despise readers.  I like readers, mostly.  It is because there is still tweaking and tuning to be done, and I am still at the navel gazing stage.  I am still mostly blogging about “This blog” rather than doing much in the way of real blogging about culture, education, the Billion Monkeys (concerning whom more anon), etc..

Some people have the trick of getting everything perfect before they start something, but when it comes to blogging I’m a load-fire-take-aim kind of character.  I start it up, in a visible but totally unadvertised way that I can’t be blamed for.  Some people then pick it up on their radar systems and have a look, and tell other people anyway, and so it starts.  And only then does it become clear to me what else needs to be done.

For instance, the bit where it says .COM after BRIAN MICKLETHWAIT in the picture at the top has got to go.  As stated here, Brian Micklethwait is title enough.  A new picture has been concocted, but the means of getting the blog itself to pay attention to this new picture had not yet been put in place.

The sidebar stuff to the left is okay at the main page and for the archives, but is still the same mess it was to start with when you start commenting or investigating who has tracked back.

And so on.  More necessary changes will doubtless become obvious to me as the days and weeks pass.

And of course, by the time I am ready to start telling people about this blog on purpose, everyone who cares will know about it already.

I have just posted a bit on Samizdata about the failure of “Khubilai” Khan to conquer Japan.  His entire invasion fleet sank in a typhoon, in what was apparently the greatest naval disaster ever.

This posting was originally submitted for publication at the Globalization Institute Blog, but it was rejected for being off message.  It would, said GI boss Alex Singleton, stick out like a sore thumb.  So what’s not global about a Mongolian battle fleet sinking, on the other side of the world, and being on the telly in one of those documentaries with actors who don’t say anything so the voice over can be in any language?  As we used to say in a Restoration comedy I once acted in at Essex University: Pshaw.

This posting is not me trying to start a campaign, or anything foolish like that.  Alex is paying me for GI Blog postings and as far as I am concerned he is entitled to reject what I send, no matter how irrational and wrong-headed his explanation or with no explanation at all.  I believe in blogger sovereignty.  So instead, I quickly did another piece about child labour.

I am now being paid to contribute, once a week, to four blogs.  There’s the GI blog, and the ASI blog, and two of the CNE blogs.  (See also the list on your left.) Last Sunday some people said to me: What do you do? By which I took them to mean: What do you get paid to do?  And for the first time in my life I said: I’m a writer.

Saturday July 16 2005

So.  Let me see whether I can contrive to upload a photo.


It seems to have worked.

And I surely cannot be accused of misusing this lady’s likeness, stealing her soul, or suchlike.

However, more work is needed making it smaller, so the box doesn’t get bigger than it should.

Which has now been done.  If anything the picture is now too narrow.  But too narrow is better than too wide.

Slumps back in chair exhausted.

Friday July 15 2005

Yes, alert the media, I have a blogroll.

The reason this is the kind of news that ought to stop the world’s newspapers and television news teams from obsessing only about those silly bomb explosions on the London Underground is that throughout all the time when I was ranting away on Brian’s Culture Blog and Brian’s Education Blog (concerning which more anon) I never had a proper blogroll on either.  Well, there was something vaguely like a blogroll on the Education blog, but it included many blogs I hardly ever read, and omitted many others, on account of me never updating it properly.

But there was a more fundamental problem, closely related to why I decided not to try to revive these two separate blogs, which is that I never knew exactly where to put my blogroll.  My real one, I mean, the one with the blogs I constantly read.  Take 2 Blowhards, for example.  A culture blog, right?  Well, yes, mostly, but they often had good stuff about education.  So where did I put them?  Did I put them in both blogrolls.  Did I have a separate blogroll to which each blog would link, and if so how the hell does that work?  Who do I ring to sort that out?  Too much, as the great Chuck Berry sang, monkey business.

So, of course, in the end I just did nothing and let the whole situation fester.  Nobody seemed to mind very much, except me.  Me, because I was the one who had to whistle up google every time I wanted to read some blog I had forgotten that I liked, on account of not having a blogroll.

But, now that I only have one blog, the question of where to shove my blogroll answers itself.

What does not answer itself is how to pick them, and what order to put them in.  At present, to avoid any more meaningful classification, I have simply gone with alphabetical order.

But even that method has problems.  At the moment, The Big Blog Company comes just before The Hole, because the Thes, I have decided, count.  If The is in the title of the blog linkee, then it begins not with B or H (as in the case of The Big Blog Company and The Hole) but T.  All the blogs starting with The come just after Terrible Rubbish and just before TortureBlog.  (I made those up.)

I used to be rather scornful of pop combos who called themselves Pox, instead of something like The Pox Brothers, or whatever.  I mean, if the definite article was good enough for The Beatles and for The Rolling Stones, then it ought to be good enough for Oasis, but apparently it isn’t.  But I probably only thought this because, being a classical fan, I never really bothered about arranging my pop music in order by name of artist.  My pop just sat in a random heap, or now in a random clutch of CDs, arranged chronologically, if at all.  If I had ever wanted to arrange pop musicians in alphabetical order, I would have thanked heaven for Oasis, Pox, Misery, Abba, Mud, Mouthwash, Young People These Days, Queen, Carbon Monoxide, Eurotrash, Our Daughter’s Wedding (which I did not make up by the way - that one is real) etc., and cursed The Compost Removers, The Pasadena Roof Orchestra, The Gay Communist Twats, The Exterminators, and yes, even The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  And don’t get me started on The The.  As it is, I am facing this The problem for the first time, and it is a knotty problem I can tell you.

There is lots more I could say about my blogroll.  But there is lots I could say about Concorde which I have never said and never will, so I see no particular problem about stopping this posting here.

Wednesday July 13 2005

Yes, I’m fiddling about with links.  The point being that I like the thing I link to to open in a new window, rather than occupy the existing window.  That way, switching off this is not something you would do by mistake.

So, a gratuitous redirection link (which I hereby christen a "Natalie"), to my latest effort at Samizdata.

Will this work?

It seems to.  This is good news.  It means that I can do text here exactly as I do it for Samizdata, and as I did it for my old ruined blogs.  Concerning which more anon.

The Natalie reference is because of this.

Thursday July 07 2005

Still mucking about with the blog, the blogroll, etc.  But I need another post here, to enable me and my team of designers and software engineers to see how postings look next to each other.

I am now using Expression Engine, and the text entry system is very different to the MT one that I am used to.

Thursday June 30 2005

Yes, the first post on my new personal blog.  I was thinking of calling the blog something clever and silly like iBrian (there already is a Brian’s Blog), but eventually realised that Brian Micklethwait is title enough.  (This is what I also plan to say when offered a knighthood.)

Anyway, I am now still at the stage of fiddling about with the new arrangements, and deciding what to put as the slogan at the top.  The first draft of this bit went as follows:

Ingenium nulla olim nisl tincidunt appellatio minim nisl interdico luptatum proprius molior sino sit antehabeo. Haero duis luptatum fatua ille virtus minim rusticus augue.

Where did this habit come from, of chucking great chunks of Latin at typographical activity?  Presumably the idea is to have text that shows what text looks like, in a general way, without confusing you with text that has a meaning.  When, I wonder, did that start?

So, not a dramatic first post.  But I read somewhere once that when Hitler was making one of his big soccer stadium speeches, he didn’t pitch straight in with Germany! Germany! stuff, but instead mumbled and hemmed and hawed, and gradually felt his way into it.