Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Sunday April 30 2006

More wandering about yesterday, during which I snapped this.

image

Click to see what it is.  I hope it lasts.

The state of civilisation in a place can be determined by whether, or failing that for how long, such cementing survives without it being wrecked.  If it sets unmolested, completely smooth, you are in a completely civilised place.  Discuss.

Makes me think of the Ruined Cementing scene in one of my all-time favourite movies, What’s Up Doc? It’s set (or rather it fails to set ha ha) in San Francisco, and the cementing in question has the misfortune to become involved in a car chase.  Because the cars are flying through the air a lot of the time, because of those stair-case-like roads that they have there - the cementing being on a flat bit over which the vehicles are flying rather than driving, mostly - you think at first that the cementing may escape damage.  No such luck.  It is ruined.  The cementer stares at the ruins, still and silent.  Then he starts jumping about on them.  He is very angry, and understandably so.

With luck, this cementing will be better protected.  But, what about dogs or cats?  And if a cat inflicts a neat set of dainty cat steps, is that really so very uncivilised?

Saturday April 29 2006

A good friend just rang me on my mobile to ask if I was okay.  Was I lying bleeding on my floor?  (Those were not her actual words, but it sounded like that is what she feared.) The problem is that my regular home phone is apparently not working, although the internet connection associated with the same bit of plastic in my wall seems to be doing fine.

It may be something to do with the fact that the last incoming calls I remember getting were aimed at the local medical clinic, with which I am often telephonically confused.  They have the same final four numbers, but not the same area code, and I often get calls from wheezing and desperate people wanting the doctor, sometimes at (e.g.) five in the morning.  Not what you want.  The last call of this sort came twice, which suggests that he rang the right number, failed to get through, and then complained to the Phone System.  He, unlike many such callers, sounded healthy enough to do such a thing.  The Phone System then, I fear, started doing something to the two lines which resulted in mine being switched off.  Perhaps they consider it less important than the clinic, and if so I cannot quarrel with them.  Just a guess.

As of now, I have time enough to fling up this posting, but not the time to work out which aspect of the Phone System to ring to get this sorted, if the Phone System is indeed the problem.  Besides which, maybe it will sort itself out in the next few hours.  Don’t jump your fences until you get to them, and when you do get to them, why not wait a while?  Maybe the fences will fall over of their own accord and then you won’t have to jump them at all.  That’s my motto.  One of them.  Well, actually not, but that will be the procedure today, with my phone.

Anyway, if you are wondering, I am still alive.  If you want to get in touch, why not put a comment on this.

What this episode illustrates, among other things, is that some of my closest friends only sometimes consult this blog, even when they are wondering if I am alive.  Fair enough.  To me, one of the great delights of what this same friend and her techno-pals call the “social media” is that you can take them or leave them, at will, without causing offence.

This is especially a boon when it comes to elaborate photographic displays such as I often indulge in here, which used to place severe strains on friendships, but which can now be taken or left without social stress of any kind, at a time and at a pace chosen by the formerly helpless displayees rather than the displayer, and also enjoyed by any strangers who fancy a look.

To think of these “social media” only as a challenge to and threatened replacement for regular politics, or regular big media, is to miss at least half the point of them.

Ever since I got this new computer (during the Great WWW Outage) I have been unable to access the comments over at Blognor Regis.  I vaguely remember some reference to “java” when I first tried doing this (again), and I fear I must have told “java” to get lost, and ever since then: nothing.  I click on where it says “comments”, but: nothing.  I especially fancy reading what is being said about this posting.

Suggestions anyone?  Is there some kind of “java” magic that I have to upload or download or sidewaysload, or whatever it is?

Interested as I now am in all things podcast, I think this is now where to find my favourite one.  Click where it says, top right: “WATCH AND LISTEN Highlight: Boro commentator screams delight”.

I was out and about in London today, snapping Billion Monkeys.  When hunting, I am far too busy pondering the next snap to be bothering with the question: Which one will be best?  Frankly, I forget them.  And this is great, because it makes it all the more fun when I get home and click through them on the computer.

Today, no doubt about it, this guy lying down outside Westminster Abbey was the star turn.  I chose this picture of him, which also features another Billion Monkey, kneeling, which is only appropriate in the immediate vicinity of one of God’s statelier homes.

image

Click to get a close-up.  If you want the prone Billion Monkey alone, here he is:

image

Click to get him even bigger.  What’s he doing with his lens cap?  I’m guessing, keeping the sun off of his lens.  But correction is welcome.

Billion Monkeys stay still when they’re Billion Monkeying, and it never enters their heads that another Billion Monkey might be photoing them.  This guy stayed in that pose for about two minutes.

And I know what you’re thinking.  Has any other Billion Monkey photoed me?  Probably quite often.  Whenever they wanted to.  I have no idea.  I was busy.

Thursday April 27 2006

Modem glitches.  Not anything profound, I don’t think, but I just wanted to get something up however inadequate in case the glitches return, because something however inadequate is adequate is the rule here.

So, picture of something.  I know.  My mum’s tame blackbird:

image  image

On the left is the least bad photo I took of it.  On the right, a less good photo, but the proof that it is indeed tame.  That’s my mum’s hand on the right.  My mum dislikes being photoed, although she endures it for the sake of the family archives.  But a photo of her here would be crossing her personal fame line, her personal fame rule being simply: no, and in particular, no photos.  This despite having done plenty to deserve it, far more than me.  (She was, most notably, one of the founders of the National Childbirth Trust.) But she surely won’t mind this.  Not that she’ll ever know, being nearly a century old and not able to access or really even to comprehend the internet.

The bad news is that the blackbird may now be no more.  There was an attack on my mum’s kitchen a few weeks ago by local hoodla, and since then the blackbird has not been seen.  (Happily, neither have the hoodla.) But this could just be coincidence.  Blackbirds don’t live that long, apparently.  If only the same could be said of hoodla.

Wednesday April 26 2006

The fish eyes have it.  Featured yesterday at the flickr blog.  More photos by Deborah Lattimore here.  Usually I would copy one but this time I couldn’t make that work.

The latest Election Watch podcast is up here.

And this is Antoine’s Election Watch blog, to the latest posting on which we briefly refer.

Two more technical problems this time.  First, this time, the volume seems to be, if anything, too loud.  I do not know why, which is worrying.  Eventually I will sort this stuff out, but please bear with me.  I think I must have changed the volume setting on the Sony Gizmo XYZ123ABC whatsit machine, but can only guess at how.

Second, we started later than we planned, and got interrupted, in a way that is obvious in the final result.  But my attitude is: so?  We were interrupted.  We resumed, and later I removed most of the interruption.  So we’re amateurs.  You knew that.

People have been asking me: why elections?  The answer is simple: it’s what Antoine knows about.  I’m starting with friends, who will tolerate a bit of technical faffing about, and of all my friends Antoine seemed like the most promising podcaster.  I still think that.  Later, I will ask others, including complete strangers, to join in.  But I will only do that after I have a decent number of podcasts up that they can sample, to be reassured that it is happening for real, and that I know approximately what I am doing. 

Recently I read - or heard on a podcast, I forget which – that internet advertisers do not even bother to listen to a podcaster who has done fewer than ten shows.  And I assume that a similar attitude prevails among listeners.  There is so much stuff on the internet now that you don’t want to be bothering with anything which hasn’t demonstrated its staying power.  Everything takes a bit of tuning in to and getting used to, and you don’t want to waste time tuning in and getting used to something that may soon tune itself out.  Or to put it another way: expect plenty more of these.

All my spare blogging time today went into this.

To reiterate: the rule here (which I am now back in line with after my www outage) is that there will be something here every day, but not necessarily very much.  Some days, hardly anything, today being such a day.

Monday April 24 2006

Tom Peters makes a really interesting point about In Search of Excellence and about a routine, join-the-queue criticism of it.  First he quotes John Kay in the FT:

Hindsight is a harsh taskmaster. Some of the companies singled out in the business book of the 1980s, In Search of Excellence, such as Wang and Atari, subsequently performed badly. Still, a 2002 Fortune study reviewing the companies Tom Peters and Robert Waterman had picked two decades earlier showed that they had generated shareholder returns in excess of the Standard & Poor’s index. This is not true of the Prahalad and Hamel 12, which yielded 6.2 percent per year against 9 percent for the market as a whole. The four companies [Prahalad and Hamel] praised for ‘regenerating their strategy’ were all subsequently acquired by larger companies in the same industry. AT&T, Compaq, JPMorgan and Banker’s Trust . . .

(Prahalad and Hamel are the authors of this.)

And Peters comments:

I guess my perverse pleasure comes because almost every “big” management book seems to need to devote a paragraph to trashing the companies Bob and I picked. None cites even a dollop of data to support their point . . . which doesn’t slow them down in the least. We did indeed make our share of mistakes - but the bunch-as-a-whole have been remarkably resilient.

I like the way that a blog enables a Big Cheese like Tom Peters to air a legitimate grumble about some lazily and unthinkingly repeated slur - think Julia Roberts in Notting Hill - but without making too big a deal of it, by calling a press conference or writing a stupidly long article about it, or worse, by going on about it obsessively in a later book.

And, I’m also back in business here.  (A Natalie is a gratuitous, un-expanded-upon link to something else you wrote elsewhere, so called because she disapproves.)

And my fear is: you will get what you pay for.  I have suffered hardly any pain listening to myself waffling away on podcasts with Alex, and then (three times so far) with Antoine.

But as soon as I downloaded the beginnings of the internet production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (in which I am both Theseus and Oberon) which was recorded before Christmas by this enterprise, I switched off, appalled at my own voice booming forth embarrassingly with the first words of the play, spoken by Theseus.  I mean, for starters, there should surely be music.  The few seconds I endured sounded like a well bugged read-through.  I will have to hear it through eventually, if only to face the facts about how piss-poor I probably was, and learn.  But when?  Don’t know.  I had pretty much given up on this ever emerging.  But it turns out that the guy who did the post-production on it was summoned to do some filming in China and only just got back a few weeks ago Anyway there it is.  I hope to God it’s better than I fear it is.  Helena (Sarah Lowes) is good.  She’s a real actress, from whom I have already learned things.  As for the rest . . . judge for yourself, or not as the case will probably be.  What I of course want is for a few gluttons for punishment to listen to it, and to tell everyone else that it is (and I am) simply wonderful.  Darling.  Warning: I hate criticism, especially if it is constructive.

I have a further thing to say about this play, and about the way that it is (I think) routinely misdirected, sparked by something said yesterday over lunch at Michael Jennings’s, but that is separate, and will accordingly be a separate posting.  (But, I promise nothing.)

Sunday April 23 2006

I’ve been saying, mostly to myself, that WWWTV is an idea whose time has not (quite) yet come.  This says I’m wrong.

While seeking information about the London Marathon, which happened earlier today, I encountered – I know not why – this page, about newly hatched birds.  Apparently, the bloke makes boxes of a sort that birds like to nest in, and photos them, which results like this:

image

Any noise, and they do that, apparently.

Quote:

It seems that these birds are like the Royal Family; the state (us) provides them with a secure place to live and some protection from predators, and in return they are expected to pose for the paparazzi, forgoing a little privacy in the process, and their images then appearing in publications.

All this happened just under a year ago.  But I’m guessing most of you missed it.

Just took my first look at the Lessig Blog since my Great WWW Outage, and I found out about an interesting new book.  It’s about Open Source etc., and it is itself Open Source.  In English: you can read it for nothing on your computer screen, by clicking where it says “downloaded”.

Says Lessig:

Yochai Benkler’s book, The Wealth of Networks, is out.  This is - by far - the most important and powerful book written in the fields that matter most to me in the last ten years. If there is one book you read this year, it should be this. The book has a wiki; it can be downloaded as a pdf for free under a Creative Commons license; or it can be bought at places like Amazon.

Read it. Understand it. You are not serious about these issues - on either side of these debates - unless you have read this book.

Which was good enough to get me started.  So far I’ve encountered nothing to make me want to stop.

Lessig actually says “Weath” of Networks, but since he has a picture of the original cover and provides copious links to the original. no great confusion is caused by that fluff.  Which just goes to make the point about links, that they enable you to correct errors of all kinds, great, or, as in this case, very small.

I have finally got back into the swing of writing for the ASI Blog.  Here is my latest effort there.  In it I talk about a block of flats they are building near my home.  This is it:

image

I like that green gauzy stuff on the top, with the sunlight shining through it.  This is probably as pretty as it will ever get.

But I’d love to proved wrong, and right or wrong, I’ll maybe put a picture up of how this looks when finished.  (But, I promise nothing.)

Saturday April 22 2006

I was going to do a posting involving photos, but it turns out that, what with having a new computer and not using a pirated version of Photoshop any more, but another photoprocessing program which works a bit differently, I ran out of time.

So, Dave Barry time, and a link to a piece about teledildonics.

“People who use it are just blown away,” said Steve Rhodes, president of Sinulate Entertainment, which has sold thousands of Internet-connected sex devices over the past three years. “This is not something that just the lunatic fringe does.”

“The Iraq war . . . was kind of a boom for our company.”

Gina Lynn, who writes the “Sex Drive” column for Wired magazine, says she has used and enjoyed the Sinulator and says there is no reason to fear the technology.

“People are still really afraid of...any sort of combination of sex and technology and of the Internet,” she said. “What people are missing here is the point, which is the human connection that we are facilitating through the technology.”

“No one who is even inventing this stuff wants or even thinks that technology could ever replace human connection or sex.”

I have my doubts about that last bit.

Anyway, this technology should be combined with Skype.  Then, what with the long-distance sex scene between Michael Caine and Britt Ekland, an updated version of Get Carter might have made some sense.

Thursday April 20 2006

Amit Varma links to these photos, of Mumbai/Bombay, of which these two, of apartment blocks, are among my favorites:

imageimage

Okay, not earth shattering architecture.  But at least a bit of effort has been made to get beyond a mere rectanguloid block.  London has recently exploded with this kind of stuff, a lot of it next to the river.  I guess it’s the same in Mumbai/Bombay.

Also entertaining are: the sign about obscene postures, kite flying, etc.; the big-arse bridge (time I had some more big-arse bridges); and the oral-entendre ice cream advert.

Wednesday April 19 2006

Hosting Matters is where this blog is hosted (for $11 a month), and for blogging that is sufficient, touch wood.  But now that I podcast, I fear that I may get too good at it, and be linked to by the entire wwworld all at once.  The podcast in question will either get jammed up and unavailable, or worse, available, but at a huge extra cost to me, in “bandwidth"(?).

The whole point of podcasting, like blogging, is that you can do it in an I-send-it-up-who-cares-where-it-comes-down? sort of way.  It’s near enough free to do, and near enough free to consumer.  Blog it.  Forget it.  And I want to be able to pod it and forget it too.  But podcasting files are big, and if everyone wants one all at once, will one or other of my nightmares come true?

Next question: if there is substance to my fears, might bluehost.com be the answer to them?  (Alex Singleton told me about them this afternoon.) Any informed comment would be most welcome.

Perhaps it’s time I did a Samizdata posting on the subject.  If I do that, I’ll be deluged with advice, some of it even relevant, and not from Verity (see the comments).

Incoming from Mark Holland.

Brian,

You’ve got to see this, from here.

Mark

Indeed.  Brush up your art history, or then again, deep fry it.

image

And here’s another art related posting from Mick Hartley, about an artist claiming that a window dresser had stolen his idea, when in fact the window dresser had been doing the thing in question for far longer than the artist.  (I do like the phrase “Post Skill Movement”.)

Yes, it’s up, on the very same evening that it was recorded, here.  We talked about California and Italy, again.  And we talked about the Iroquoi of Canada, and about France.  And – surprise, surprise – we talked about the political influence, such as it has so far been, of blogging.  Good for political fundraising, was our final point.

Once again, Antoine (Antoine Clarke’s Election Watch blog is here) was excellent.  I made an effort to tighten up my introduction, following criticism of the rather waffly way last week’s effort began.  My meandering introduction then was based on confusing podcasting with regular public speaking.  But with podcasting, I now reckon, you already have the attention of your audience from the moment they push the ON button, and you shouldn’t presume upon their patience by waffling at the beginning, or ever for that matter.

One other technical point.  I am a little confused about the proper volume level.  On the previous podcasts, or maybe just on the previous one, I fear the level may have been too low.  This time, I made it rather higher.  But is it right?  I’d welcome comments.

Tuesday April 18 2006

Addition to the blogroll: China Law Blog, which I found out about from a comment on this posting at the Michael Jennings blog.  I’ll probably do my next piece for CNE IP by linking to this posting.

What I like about the China Law Blog is that the guys who write it . . . well, basically, agree with me, that China contains both lots of good stuff and lots of bad stuff.

One of the basic ways of thinking, I think, is (a) to acquire a prejudice, and then (b) to reinforce it with sympathetic facts.  Provided you are open to the idea that (c) you might later find your prejudice challenged by counter-facts, by unsympathetic facts, then I think this is a perfectly fine way of doing things.  If you are well informed about the kind of arguments that bolster your prejudices, then you are better placed to interrogate the unsympathetic facts.  “It has been argued that . . .  Do you disagree?  You do?  Why would that be?”, and so on.  But my basic point is, there is no earthly reason to be ashamed of informing and reinforcing your prejudices, just so long as you realise that this is what you are doing.

Of course, it helps a lot that doing this is so enjoyable.

So, welcome China Law Blog.

By the way, when concocting the above, I could not persuade my word processor (a free Windows clone called OpenOffice.org Writer) to desist from changing (c) into ©.  Any suggestions?  (There, maybe, goes another future posting for CNE IP, about how even a give-away program is obsessionally concerned to remind me about copyright law.)

Monday April 17 2006

Last night I and some pals went to a comedy show.  There was a web page about it, but that was only to sell it.  Apparently what anyone on the www actually thought about it, and might therefore want a continuing link for, doesn’t register with this particular system.  Anyway, it was the 99 Club (again), in a venue just off the top of Leicester Square (also again).

What matters with comedy is not jokes, but confidence.  Well, the jokes have to be okay, but without confidence, they are just jokes.  What matters is: Does the comedian need you to laugh for his career to progress?  Or is he doing fine anyway, whether you laugh or not?  (This is why being on current television makes such a difference for a comedian.)

Last night it went: lady comedian, interval, two guy comedians, interval, guy comedian.  The last guy comedian, Andy Zaltzman, was the best, because he just reeled off his stuff with a hint of weary been-everywhere told-these-jokes-a-hundred-times confidence that meant we could all relax and enjoy it.  The lady comedian was also pretty good.  But the two guys in the middle, although clearly very talented and with lots of fun and off-beat material to spout, exuded slight whiffs of desperation.  The first guy had built desperation into his act because he played the part of a desperate guy.  But he wasn’t fooling us.  The desperation was genuine.

An early highspot of the evening for me was when I took a photo of the lady comedian Sarah Kendall, and she decided to make something of it.  (We were at the front.) Did you just take a photo of me?  Yes.  Why?  As a souvenir.  (Best to tell the truth and play it straight when you are being counter-heckled.) You like to take photos?  Yes.  What do you take photos of?  Well, I like to photo other photographers.  Can’t they photo themselves?  Yes, they do, and I photo them doing it.  (I remember my own dialogue better, you understand.) In among all this and other chitchat, she posed dramatically for another photo, and although the first picture, the one that got it all started, was pretty terrible, the second one came out really well.  How about that?  (With the zoom thingy, you can tell straight away if Billion Monkey snaps have come out non-blurry.) A few years back she was nominated for one of those Edinburgh Festival fizzy water awards.

I thought there might be some complaint about this from the management.  My guess is if I make a habit of it , they will complain, so I won’t.  But no worries this time.

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I love the internet.  Via 2 Blowhards and this.

And here is another way to waste time doing nothing while Western Civilisation either collapses, or perhaps collapses more slowly, or even improves, because of you not joining in.

Sunday April 16 2006

David Friedman on the experience of arguing politics with political partisans:

The only sense I could make out of it was that I was encountering a tribalistic view of the world. There are two sides, everyone who isn’t on my side is on the other side, hence anyone who says something negative about the Democrats must be a partisan of the Republicans and any evidence to the contrary is to be ignored as experimental error.

This being in sharp contrast to what Antoine and I were saying in this podcast, about American voters, who have a refreshing tendency not (always) to vote tribally, i.e. to do things like vote for people from different parties, for different jobs, on the same day.

This is what I have been missing.  I found it via comments on this Samizdata posting, Samizdata comments being the kind of thing I didn’t dare spend time reading, in case they got interesting.

What a woman!  And it was in Arabic, on Al Jazeera.  Full transcript here.

This is one of the most brilliant pieces of propaganda I have recently had the pleasure of observing, a perfect example of a surprise guerrilla attack, but with the spoken word.  She was in there, saying it, and out, and the message is all over the internet, before the opposition had time to rub the sleep out of their eyes.

It has been said that since this woman is not religious, it will cut little ice in the Muslim world.  Maybe that’s right and maybe it isn’t.  But a lot of ice will be cut in the non-Muslim world, and that is just as important.

Saturday April 15 2006

Comment two here makes a lot of sense to me.

One hears a lot about how blogs (and now vlogs) have weakened the MSM. Rarely, though, do they cite what I think has been the driving force behind breaking the MSM’s monopoly: LINKS. Ten years ago we had to rely on the media to characterize a speech or give us a politician’s past positions. Now we just go to Google or click on a blogger’s link and check out the truth for ourselves. (Do you think we would ever had heard about Kerry’s “First I voted for it...” flip-flop in the old days??).

The ability to link directly to source documents is not only what’s killing the MSM monopoly, it’s largely responsible for the rise of blogs themselves.

jeanneb | 04.14.06 10:14 AM

Via - who else? - Instapundit.  It’s so good to be back.

These pictures, taken about ten days ago, began life as a simple Billion Monkeys shot, of a guy using his mobile phone to take pictures of the wheel.  But what he never saw, and what I didn’t see at first, was that the real story was behind him.

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Usually I hate the Shell Building, which has now barged its way into undeserved picture postcard prominence through its proximity to the wondrous Wheel.  But the evening sun does cast a lovely shadow on it, does it not?

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I couldn’t decide which of these snaps showed the effect better, so here are both of them.

At first, these little pictures were going to be clickable on, to get them bigger.  But I now think that the effect is clearer in a small picture than in a big one (rather in the way that blurry photos can look quite sharp on the small screens of Billion Monkey cameras), so small is all I show.  And I now think, because the shadow is smaller, than the one on the left shows the effect better, but mucking about with this now would be further effort, and I want to go to bed.

Friday April 14 2006

I really missed the internet, but now it’s back.  It’s as if I was forced to give it up for Lent.

However, I find that blogging is not some repressed wall of water waiting to burst through the dam.  Rather is it a habit that must be reacquired.  And how to do it?  How to make my come-back?  (This is why I like to blog every day.  No Big Come-Back problem.)

So, to make the point about part of what I’ve been missing, a silly posting about transparent computer screens, via David Tebbutt.

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For some reason the ones that actually look to me the most transparent were done by Mac people.  Which would seem to suggest, to me anyway, that Mac persons are more visually attuned.  It’s something to do with the lighting, and the kind of view that they choose to reproduce.  And in the case of the picture I’ve chosen, it helps a lot that this particular Mac screen looks like a sheet of perspex.  It’s the transparent bit around the edge that really does it.

Don’t try this at home unless you have the day to spare is the comment consensus.

This one must have been particularly difficult.

Wednesday April 12 2006

I finally have a proper internet connection back again, and I now celebrate by uploading another podcast, only half a day after it was podded, or whatever it is you do to make a podcast.  We recorded it last night, and I had hoped to get it up within half an hour, but it turned out that uploading a big file, such as podcasts are, required additional loading skills.  Deepest thanks to Alex for coming round this morning to supply these skills, and (fingers crossed) passing them on.

Once again, it is me and Antoine Clarke, talking about elections around the world, this time in California, Hungary, Peru, Italy and the Solomon Islands, with references also being made to France and Venezuela, if memory serves aright.  I said “yes” and “yup” rather too often, but Antoine was his usual informative self.  (I found the stuff about Hungary’s borders particularly interesting.)

I am getting very gung-ho about podcasting, partly because the feedback has been fairly positive (some positive feedback is all that you really need for something like this), and partly because I just am.  As I said to Antoine after we were done last night, it is amazing how much less strenuous it is for an expert to tell us things by talking about them than it is by him or her writing it all down.  Humans are innately able to talk, provided only that we have people to practice it on when we are young.  Writing doesn’t come so naturally to most of us.  And when an expert writes stuff down he naturally wants to get it right, organise it well, etc., and by the time he has covered the kind of ground that Antoine raced over in half an hour of talk, there goes most of the day.  There’s no way that Antoine could write this much stuff down once a week.  But dropping by at my place for an hour, after work, or me dropping in on him, once a week, is perfectly plausible.  And of course with Skype, we could do it all at a distance, but that’s for later.

So, even if you find listening to a couple of blokes waffling somewhat irksome, bear in mind that the choice is not so much between this or the same thing in writing, as this or (nearly) nothing.

By the way, although we talked about Italy, we neglected the weighty issues at stake and talked mostly about exit polls.  For contrasting views of what Italy was voting about, try this (which Instapundit has just linked to) and this.

Saturday April 08 2006

Last Tuesday evening, I recorded another podcast, this time in the form of a conversation between me and Antoine Clarke.  We talked about democracy, elections and their workings, misworkings and peculiarities, from a more-or-less libertarian standpoint, but basically because this is what Antoine knows about and can talk about interestingly.

Antoine blogged this afterwards:

The recording went well. We covered Israel and Thailand but didn’t touch on California’s election. We’re working on keeping the format tight so that podcasts don’t last longer than 15-20 minutes. Though the more I think about it probably 5-10 minutes is better.

Alas, we talked for almost forty minutes.  When I am better at editing, that would be cut down, but for now I will just shove it up as was.  I want everyone involved in this production process, including me, to work on the assumption, while we’re doing it, that This Is It, and This Will Be Used.  Otherwise it all gets too complicated.  Fifteen to twenty minutes is what I am now going to be aiming at!  We plan to do another next Tuesday, and I hope to get it up more quickly than I did this one.  (Still cursed with bad www connection, blah blah.)

I am making a point of trying to learn one Big Lesson every time I do one of these things.  What I learned from the first one was: remember to switch the phone back on afterwards.  What I learned from this one with Antoine was: I need to sit at a desk.  This is because I need bits of paper, a clock, etc., to keep me fluent and on top of everything, and to keep the timing within reasonable bounds.  And you can’t have all that on your lap.  Antoine was everything I wanted him to be in this conversation.  I was not nearly on the ball enough.  At the beginning I hummed and hah-ed too much.  Then I got too engrossed in it and let it go on too long.  Still, if the length doesn’t irk too greatly we discussed some quite interesting stuff.

I also participated in the creation of another podcast, yesterday.  My machine, with its two clever lapel mikes, was the hardware for this.  I learned two more things from this exercise, apart from such things as how badly Sweden is now doing, compared, e.g., to Ireland.  I learned that podcasting does indeed cause me to get out more, which is good.  And second, I learned that it is possible to remove background hum quite successfully from a podcast.  There was a computer fan fannying away in the background, but Alex was able to find an Audacity procedure whereby you highlight a bit of that background din, when nobody is talking, and tell it to get rid of all that, from the whole thing.  Clever.

By the way, in case anyone comments about it, I realise already that I have a lot to learn about how to cut mp3 files down in size without doing too much damage to the content.  I hope that I will be able to slim down the two files that have already been downloaded, without anyone else being inconvenienced, and so that subsequent listeners are, on the contrary, convenienced.

The comments on this exercise so far have all been very encouraging and helpful.  Thanks for them all, and for any more that materialise.

Saturday April 01 2006

Waiting, as I am afraid I still am, for proper www service to resume has been intensely irritating, but thanks to Alex Singleton, I have been able to make progress on the podcasting front.

It’s very early days yet, and today’s effort is hardly more than an exercise in throat clearing.  My objective was merely to get something (anything) recorded, and sounding not too terrible.  In the event, Alex and I had a recorded conversation, about podcasting itself.  Alex then kindly installed two programmes on my computer - the first being the one which came with my Sony ICD-MX20, and the second being the zero cost programme called Audacity, which lots of podcasters apparently use and swear by – with which the necessary editing was done.  I have some learning to do about that bit, but it didn’t seem too hard.

One mistake I did make which caught me by surprise.  Before recording, I unplugged my phone.  Then we went out and had lunch, and I forgot to plug my phone back in again.  That one I did not see coming.

The next Brian Micklethwait podcasts, will, I promise, be about something else besides podcasting.

One further excuse for this effort.  When I used to edit pamphlets, I always made a point of publishing almost anything by a first-time writer.  My thinking was that if he had published nothing, getting him to submit something would be hard, because it had to live up to his probably very exalted idea of his talents.  Whatever he actually submitted was therefore bound to make him look bad.  But once I had got that first thing out of him, the incentive then changed.  Then, in order to make himself look less bad, he had to submit something further, that was better.  I have now put myself in the position of having to do more podcasting, and better.  Which I will try to do.