Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Sunday October 31 2010

I didn’t take many photos at the Conference, so this is not one of those huge jobs that takes me a week (after which I decide it’s too late) to get ready.  Click on all these to get them bigger.

First, we see Steve Baker MP, yesterday, proving that the secret of political success is: have hair.

image

For me (and I did not hear by any means all the speakers so no offence need be taken by any of the others) Baker was the star of the entire weekend.  What he said was excellent.  Who it was saying it was truly extraordinary.  I never, never thought I would hear a British Member of Parliament saying such things about economics and economic policy.  Baker is totally uncompromising on principles, yet totally nice to everyone, unless I am grievously mistaken.  He is, in other words, the living embodiment of a piece I wrote many years ago entitled How To Win The Libertarian Argument, even though I don’t expect him actually to win any time soon, because that’s not possible.

Next, a couple of snaps of Terence Kealey:

imageimage

These two snaps illustrate a strange fact about this conference, the lighting.  Between these two pictures, as you can see, the lighting was completely changed, so that he could only be seen from the front in silhouette.  Very strange.  Something to do with the video-ing?  But what?

Also odd was the lighting (as in: there wasn’t any to speak of) for the Big Nobs at the High Table who performed at the dinner on Saturday night:

imageimage

My photoshop clone makes those look like they were taken in about 1920, I think.  On the right, Sean Gabb, in fine form.  On the left, from left to right at the back: Gabb, Tim Evans and Liberty in Theory Award Winner David McDonagh.  Seated: Mr and Mrs Stephen Davies.  Davies is now doing outreach to schools and universities for the IEA.

Next, two more snaps of Peter Tatchell, who is, after all, a genuine celeb:

imageimage

Impressive hands there.

This next speaker, Mark Pennington, on the other hand, see below left, has no hands.  Yes he does.  On the right we see him making sure:

imageimage

And that’s all my speaker pictures.

All that took a lot longer than I expected, but it’s done now.

An odd feature of this conference has been that talks have ended without a Q&A session, but that a catch-all Q&A happens later, involving the previous three speakers.  Odd.  I don’t see the point of this.  I want the questions to follow immediately on from what got people wanting to ask.

There is also the distinct danger that questioners will all concentrate on one speaker, which is, I think, a discourtesy to the other speakers.  Tatchell is now getting most of the questions:

I draw the line at incitement to violence.  That’s the line that shouldn’t be crossed.

Now they’re ruminating on what exactly is meant by “incitement”.

But had Hutty had his own Q&A, he would have been able to tell us more about the internet than it looks as if he will get the chance to.

Peter Tatchell is one of the great mentches (is that spelt right?) of the libertarian movement in its broadest and most inclusive sense.  He and the LA have long had a cordial if doctrinally a bit arms length relationship.  The overlap on civil liberties, freedom of speech, etc., is considerable and that’s what he’s talking about now, very eloquently.

This was originally called “Tatchell photo”, and I have tried to add a picture, but that looks like it will have to wait.  Maybe later.

image

Success.

Some very trenchant stuff at the end there about the superiority of superior cultures over inferior ones.

I’m trying (and all kinds of error messages have been delaying me for the last twenty minutes or so) to live blog the Libertarian Alliance Conference.  Fingers crossed.

Hutty is talking, and the big point he’s making is that businesses as well as governments are a threat.  The government is there, and companies relentlessly cosy up to government.  Crony capitalism in other words.

The biggest threat (to my ear) he has mentioned concerned the way lots of internet users get around local (i.e. e.g. British) government control by using servers and providers abroad.  Apparently that could be under threat.

Okay, rather than going on about Hutty’s talkings, let me try to post that.

Well, so far so good.  So let me just add that Antoine did a whole clutch of postings yesterday.  Scroll down here to get all that.

More error messages.  The internet is now not working.  It cannot be saved.  I will try to post the above, and then forget about this.

I fear the problem is that I recently dropped my little laptop.  Bugger.

Friday October 29 2010

At least as important as the eloquence of Jesus Huerta de Soto last night was the size of the audience that he addressed.  Here are a couple of snaps I took.  Click to get them bigger:

imageimage

The point about these people is that these were not the usual movement suspects, such as will be attending the Libertarian Alliance Conference this weekend.  These were mostly civilians (i.e. mostly regular LSE students), wanting to know the answer to the question that all civilians want the answer to just now: What the hell just happened?  And there are a lot of civilians out there.  This was preaching to the unconverted, big time, as the Q&A afterwards demonstrated.  They weren’t hostile.  It was just that half of them had never heard such stuff before.

Said somewhat grumpy Samizdata commenter “Snag” (on this):

It was good, it was also over-full, I was banished to a separate room to watch a live video link.

Like I said, they wanted a good-to-bursting type turn-out, and they got it.

As for the sound recording I made (see immediately below), in the end I just uploaded it to my blog-host.  But didn’t post it here; I just sent the link to Cobden Centre Radio. Duh.  If it is reckoned usable (which it may not be - it does sound a bit “bumpy”, as the background noise cuts in and out), they’ll have it up in the next few days.  Whether that happens or not, there will be a video.

LATER: Cobden Centre Radio did use my recording.

Last night I recorded the de Soto lecture.  Just switched on my little machine and stuck it on the table in front of him, and now it’s all in there.  So far so good.

But, I now have it as a huge .wav file, and have successfully converted that into another huge .mp3 file, in “stereo”, but with what appear to be two identical tracks.  Don’t know.  These files are, as I say, very huge, what with it lasting over an hour and a half.  The mp3 says: “Bitrate”: 96kbps, size: 65.7mb.  Emailing that to Cobden Centre Radio (who would like to have it) failed.

I am using Audacity to edit.  Does anyone know how to turn this huge file (either the .wav or the .mp3) into a smaller mono file, and generally make it smaller, by “compressing” it?  This is a generic problem that I keep facing with these things.  Can find nothing in Audacity suggesting any such processes.

Any help that anyone can supply would be much appreciated.

LATER: I succeeded in turning it all into a mono file, by following instructions here.  But, the damn thing is exactly the same size as before!  Why?  Still need help with compressing.

EVEN LATER: Did some compressing with something called “Lame”, which I already had on my computer, for converting mp2s into mp3s.  Why would anyone call a programme lame?  Anyway, panic over, I think.

Read the text of the lecture here.

Tuesday October 26 2010

Just listened to an interview on Radio 3 with the author of The Last Lingua Franca.  Publisher spiel:

In this provocative and persuasive new book, Nicholas Ostler challenges our assumption that English will continue to dominate as the global lingua franca. Drawing on his encyclopaedic knowledge of world languages and their history, Ostler reveals that just as past great languages like Latin and Sanskrit have died out, so English will follow.

Sounds interesting.  Not because he is necessarily completely right, but because he sounds like he knows a lot about the rise and fall of languages generally.

This posting is just me reminding myself about this book, so that I buy it in paperback.  Which it definitely will be because it’s a Penguin.

After a blog hiatus of nearly four days (explained in comment number 2 here), Antoine’s Norlonto Review is back and swinging.

I of course liked this:

SKYSCRAPERS.

Good start.

I get a real sense of globalisation when I check out the lists of skyscrapers around the world that are under construction.

It seems that not everybody has been told about the Credit Crunch.

Here’s a link showing proposed buildings and those under construction. A quick run through struck me with how few are in Europe (apart from Russia). I’m sure Brian Micklethwait has linked to this site before.

Yes, I must have, because I regularly go there.  But never to this particular bit of it, I don’t think.  I tried to turn the big picture into a graphic that I could shrink and put here, but failed.

If not, he will now!

Indeed.

Another striking thought is how many are in cities that most sophisticated multiculturally-correct do-gooders of the sort that support green campaigns but drop trash in parks couldn’t place on a map, such as Hyderabad, Incheon, Pusan, Tianjin, and Wuhan, to only name some of the first 25 listed. It reminds me of this list, of Chinese and European cities with over 2.5 million inhabitants.

imageThe East is on the up and up.

If you want further proof of that, in Mumbai, there’s this guy who lives in his own billion dollar tower.  And yes the b at the start of “billion” is not a bisprint, like that was.  Bigger and closer-up picture here.  Picture showing surroundings, and article, here.

Monday October 25 2010

imageIncoming from Michael J:

This tower in quite a prime location in Bangkok was abandoned half built in the real estate crash of 1997, and has been sitting there and allowed to slowly crumble ever since.

I think that the Shard would make a particularly nice piece of public sculpture if abandoned right now, but that isn’t going to happen, no.

I’d settle for that, provided I was allowed to climb it and take photos.

One of Micklethwait’s Laws states that the finer a piece of modern architecture is, the more deluded, misguided or downright evil will be the activities that go on inside it.  If that’s right, then the finest new buildings should indeed be abandoned, just before completion.  This would, though, make them harder to finance.

More Michael J photos of public sculpture of an architectural sort here.

Sunday October 24 2010

I’m not in the mood for personal blogging just now, so this will be it for today.  Last week, I ate some past-its-eat-by-date pineapple, and I fear it may have triggered another dose of shingles.  The signs of that, once they materialise, are unmistakable, but so far: no signs.  Wish me luck.  But, I’m going to have an early bed tonight to try to sleep it off.

If you think I’ve been a little remiss here of late, how about here?  After a flying start by the Norlonto Review, nothing for nearly 72 hours.  Antoine has definitely not died, because he left a very Antoine comment here yesterday.  Here’s hoping NR is back on song very soon.

Friday October 22 2010

Indeed.image

John Hemming MP blogs about it here.

A comment by James Waterton on this, deserves to be a blog posting in its own right:

A former colleague of mine was one of those exceedingly cerebral Russian science/maths boffins. He would teach maths in English for four months of the year to rich Chinese high school grads destined to study in the West. Then for the remaining 8 months of the year, he’d burn through the money he earned working on whatever mad scientist projects he could dream up. An extremely intelligent but also mild-mannered and courteous gentleman.

I had a number of chats with this man, and once sounded him out regarding his political views. He told me that his ideal political system was one where the more educated and intelligent you could prove yourself to be, the more votes you would receive in an election. Furthermore, access to public office would be made easier based on the same criteria. I remember finding this amusing. It seems obvious to me that out of all the countries that have been ill-served by extremely intelligent people (and there are many), Russia would have to have suffered the most under the yoke of the super smart who thought they were so intelligent that they had the right to tell those who they saw as less intelligent how to live.

The irony that this borderline genius still wasn’t smart enough to heed the abundantly clear lesson from his country’s past, and would, in his ‘perfect world’, introduce something similar, was not lost on me. Clearly people like this should be kept as far away from the levers of power as possible.

And now it is.

Wednesday October 20 2010

Cricinfo a few minutes ago:

Anand: “Did anyone notice, today’s 20-10-2010?” Did you?

Not me, until Anand said.  India now need 77 runs at exactly 7 per over, with 7 wickets left, to beat Australia.

Tuesday October 19 2010

imageToday was not the kind of day when I would normally have gone out, for anything except milk or bread to the nearest open-all-hours Asian shop.  But other business took me towards The City (which is only a tiny bit of the actual city that is London), and before the lens had become completely sodden, I was able to snap some snaps of the Shard, of which this was my favourite.

That’s right.  It’s getting bigger.  And I’m starting to think it really is going to be genuinely big, when those converging glass surfaces finally meet up at the top.

I got that because I was mercifully early for my appointment, and could afford to go south from Monument tube before going back north again. When I did, I came upon another architectural erection that I’d never seen before, because I swear they only just stuck it up. The weather being what it was, and my appointment being then only minutes away, I didn’t stop to find out enough about this thing to google it later.  I merely snapped it, hiding from the rain under under a sticking out bit of the Lloyds Building, which is the piped Thing on the left.  The Gherkin shaped thing, in the gap between the new Thing and Lloyds is the Gherkin.  When the weather is nicer, I will return.

image

My appointment was in the dreary stone-faced building in the foreground on the right.

Pity my best snap of this new Thing was horizontal (as in needs to be shown horizontal - I quite realise that the thing itself is artistically wonky), rather than vertical like the Shard snap.  Then I could have spared you most of the above waffle while I got to below the Shard snap and was able to put this up without mucking everything up.

I like how the automatic setting (my favourite by far) on my camera (the cheap old one) turns everything brown on a rainy day like this one.

Monday October 18 2010

After an annoying few days trying to use my foolishly acquired Panasonic Lumix G1, which is the nicest little camera I could find that uses interchangeable lenses (my idea being that interchangeable lenses might somehow improve things), I switched back to my trusty Canon, with its one lens that does everything from close-up to mega-magnified.  And boy was it a relief.  My new question is: what is the best camera I can get that doesn’t involve farting around with different lenses?  With tons of zoom, and tons of everything, so I can photo the Shard of Glass from a mile away, or the Shard of Glass tiny in the far distance plus the entire nearby gasometer frame that it is visible through, with one push of the button in between shots, instead of spending about three damn minutes faffing about with different elephant penises and elephant penis caps and risking hundreds of pounds worth of damage to every piece of kit involved.  I just want to be able to point, twiddle a bit, and shoot.  No flak jacket pockets full of obscenely expensive alternatives, thank you.

So it is that comparative reviews like this one (thank you Alex Singleton for sending the link), of the latest Canon superzoom one lens (maybe lots of lenses under there – don’t know, don’t care – call it one lens thing if you want to) camera and the latest Panasonic superzoom one lens (ditto) camera (which looks a lot like my new Panasonic with its stupid add-on lenses) are of such extreme interest to me.  Both the cameras reviewed have those twiddly screens that I love, and which my Canon has.  But whereas my current Canon has only 12x optical zoom, the new Canon has 30x.  Wow.  Great for distant Shards.  The Panasonic has a mere 24x, which is still pretty amazing.  Both look pretty good and I might be tempted yet again.  But the Canon looks too bulky, and maybe they both are.  I really should hold off until an even better answer materialises.

Meanwhile and nevertheless, I hope that both these cameras sell really well, because this is a niche I want to get really big and important.  Like the reviewer says, in his concluding “Memo to Canon and Panasonic”:

When you make a camera targeted at the more serious photographer, why be timid? Cost is a factor for almost everyone, but I believe that if you delivered a higher spec product in this category photographers would willingly pay for it.

Take the focal length range of the SX30, the high frame rates and raw mode of the FZ100, put in a solid manual controlled video mode with decent bit rate, add a terrific EVF like the one in the GH1 or GH2, and you’d have a category killer. Sure cost would be higher, but the market would understand and accept a price hundreds of dollars higher that where they are now. And profit margins would be very high because of the perceived additional value.

Alas, I fear that neither company has the cojones to tackle this challenge. Market segmentation through feature castration appears to be the name of the game throughout the industry.

Maybe next year.

Now I don’t know what any of that means, but it sounds spot on to me.  It sure sounds like he’s saying: answer Brian Micklethwait’s exact question!  Give these people the best damn camera they can hold in one hand while still having a life!  Don’t give them a choice of add-on penises to faff about with!  Give them one super good penis and attach it permanently to the rest of the camera!  Give them just the one thing to worry about buying and about not dropping.

These two superzoomers are pointing in the right direction, but they aren’t yet there.  But, if they can demonstrate that the target sketched out above as one worth shooting for, well, then the shooting will soon happen.  And once a few of those “category killers” are out there, making their very high profit margins, the next thing you know, a few months later, there’ll be the same thing, costing no more than what they are asking now for these two pretty good but still really only compromise, castrated cameras.

imageimage

The funny thing is that a couple of recent camera adverts on the telly have been selling the exact kind of camera that Brian Micklethwait wants.  In these adverts, actor Kevin Spacey, and now actress Sarah Alexander, are to be seen happily prancing about, taking snaps while not being in any way inconvenienced, while simultaneously leading their rich and full lives in glamorous foreign places.  But, Kevin and Sarah are doing this with cameras that are actually very inconvenient, for they have both been starring in lens-swap camera adverts.  And they do their lens-swapping, if they ever do it, with a downright fraudulent ease that probably took hours of rehearsing, many takes, and much broken kit.  The advertisers know what these cameras ought to be.  Too bad the cameras they are actually advertising aren’t it.

On October 10th (i.e. 10/10/10), not only did this ...

image

... start, but this ...

image

... restarted.  And it seems that it was something I said.

I said something similar here:

Time was when I might have put that picture ...

There was a picture of a bloke walking along in a bookshelf-wheel.

… up at Transport Blog.  Which is still there, I see, but no longer motoring.  Shame.  Maybe we should stoke up its boiler and get it flying again.

So, do we now have lift-off?  Will it now be all hands on deck and will we now all start peddling again? 

I promise nothing.  That is to say, I don’t promise to post anything more at Transport Blog, and I don’t promise not to.

Sunday October 17 2010

First it was the captain of the England cricket team (Botham).  Then it was the Prime Minister (Blair).  Now the dead people are starting to be younger than me.

Indeed:

image

Taken late this afternoon.

Expensive London street lights, cranes, sunset, even a bit of scaffolding on the right there.  Best of all, bits of wire that are the beginnings of Oxford Street’s annual and ever more tasteless with each year that passes Christmas decorations.  Because yes, this is the middle of October, and Christmas is only a fifth of a year away.

Friday October 15 2010

I’m watching a BBC Panorama documentary about the Scientology, which I recorded a fortnight ago.  Scientology is an enterprise I do not admire.  They are the living embodiment of the proposition that it is not only governments which destroy freedom and wellbeing.  They imprison their members.  The BBC is now heavily biased against them.  Good for the BBC.

An MP called Charles Hendry has been mentioned, as one of their defenders (see this Private Eye report).  They “do a lot of good” blah blah.  He thinks Tom Cruise was “absolutely amazing” in Collateral.  (Actually Tom Cruise was pretty good in Collateral, I think.  He played a deeply creepy assassin, very convincingly.)

Charles Hendry is now the Coalition Government’s Minister for Climate Change.  Is this a subtle ploy to discredit the whole climate change agenda?  Sadly, I doubt it.

David Thompson links today to a particularly choice piece today, about How to Degauss a Cat.

So how do you know when this is necessary?

Note when a cat is lying in a certain orientation. Pick it up and then put it back down. If it chooses the same orientation (to magnetic fields), then it is in need of degaussing.

Instructions for how to accomplish this follow.  I’ve never known a cat which would submit to the procedure described without the fight of all time, that being the joke of course.

Thursday October 14 2010

Here:

Handheld porn market growing fast

Porn, one of the great driving forces of technological civilisation, as is increasingly acknowledged by all informed observers.  Not so long ago, it was said that war caused technological progress.  I call that a definite improvement.

Give porn a chance.

Tuesday October 12 2010

So I went looking for flat photos of the latest Branson spaceship escapade, reported on, among many other spots, here.  This will do:

image

As will this:

image

I found those here.

Do you remember when Branson was pratting about in balloons?  Trying to break one of those fatuous, made up just to get into the Guinness Book of Records, records, for pratting round the world in a balloon faster than the previous prat in another balloon?  When he was doing all that, I was ready to believe the worst that lefty book writers were writing about him.  It was all stolen, he rips everybody off, he’s actually poor, his empire is balanced on nothing and will crash, blah blah.  But now, all that could still be entirely true but I do not care, because whereas balloons were stupid, rockets are cool.  More the point, rockets are great.

It’s the difference between pseudo-adventure and the real thing, between doing something pointlessly dangerous, and getting seriously and helpfully involved in something that is just as dangerous but which is truly going somewhere and truly achieving something.

I can’t believe I’m the only one who thinks like this about this extreme contrast.  To put it another way, I think that Branson’s ballooning did nothing for the Virgin brand and maybe a minus quantity, but that these rockets are already paying for themselves many times over.

I can remember having libertarian conversations about space travel, back in the eighties and seventies.  We used to fantasise about how space travel ought to be paid for, as opposed to how it was paid for (and still is mostly).  And what we fantasised was: this.

Monday October 11 2010

Yes, I’m having another attack of link constipation, and another posting along these lines is called for.

Soros Whores.  A blog flagged up by its author on the LA email list.  Not saying I agree.  Just saying: interesting.  I don’t care for libertarian class analysis, because it seems to say that, come the libertarian revolution, it will be my duty to murder my sister, who spent her working life being an NHS doctor, and her husband, who spent his working life being first a social worker and then a social work bureaucrat.  I like these two people a hell of a lot more than quite a few libertarians I can think of.  Or to put it another way, if such a revolution ever does erupt, don’t count on me.  I might decide to be on the other side.

Infallible Systems Limited.  The website of a charmingly named enterprise which I encountered and photoed the sign of, on a recent photo-ing expedition.  It turns out they do roofing.  Infallible because, presumably, it never leaks or caves in.  I thought it was some kind of electronic security firm until I found the website.

Étang de Montady.  Good picture here. The point being, I photoed this mysterious thing from an airplane, in 2005, but without having any clue as to what it was.  And then, on September 30th 2010, a commenter called Steve told me.  How he found this posting, I have no idea.  I asked.  He didn’t say.

A speech by somebody called S. Paul Forest about ObamaCare, which I first heard about here, and which I strongly suspect might be quite a lot of the answer to my Samizdata question here, about just what it is that everybody I don’t hate in America hates.  I have no idea who S. Paul Forest is.

Also Obama-related, a Daily Telegraph blog posting about that interview he did with Rolling Stone, during which he apparently said this:

There are some strong and sincere libertarians who are in the Tea Party who generally don’t believe in government intervention in the market or socially.

I can remember thinking: it’s only a matter of time before lefty politicians start talking up libertarianism in order to split their Conservative-stroke-libertarian opposition.  But that was more than a decade ago.  And after I’d given up hoping, now it’s happening.  Obama is trying to screw with the Tea Party, by talking up some of it and trashing the rest.  Plus, there may even be some genuine Marxist-type respect, deep calling to deep, etc.  I haven’t seen much comment from other libertarians about this little plug for our movement from The Most Powerful Man in the World.  Has anyone else seen any responses to that?

Come to think of it, I can remember when the Daily Telegraph had a policy of never mentioning the L word either, presumably in case it made difficulties for Conservatives.

That’s enough for one enema posting.

Sunday October 10 2010

A fortnight ago, I met up with Goddaughter One to go photo-ing, as I do from time to time.  She is a professional photographer, and in the morning had been photo-ing at the finish of one of those charity runs that now happen every so often in cities on a Sunday morning.  This particular finish happened next to the Dome, so that’s where we met.

As luck would have it, one of my favourite most-people-don’t-known-about-it walks in London goes from the Dome and onwards, eastwards.  Not westwards, towards the more familiar sights of London, past those big Docklands Towers, and on to Tower Bridge and the rest of it.  No, beyond the Dome, towards the only remaining Big Thing on the river in an easterly direction, the Thames Barrier.

I had done this walk before, it having been one of my most happy discoveries when I first started photo-ing London.  I knew that Goddaughter One would like it too, with its weird off-the-beaten-trackness and its air of delabitated industrialism, its big and mysterious devices (for such things as taking gravel from a Big Heep to barges out in the river), and its small and often neglected yards and spaces, most of which have known better days.  Industry is in retreat, but gentility struggles to take up the slack.

When I photo, I like to combine weirdness with Things.  Goddaughter One likes weirdness.  Maybe because she photos Things, of various kinds, for a living.  So, we both enjoyed ourselves a lot.  I took photos I was very happy with, and she declared that she would be returning to this strange locality when the light was better.

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

The light was poor and fading.  It was an afternoon for taking pictures of nearby things, not far away grandeurs, natural or man-made, the sky being boring and distant Things nearly invisible.

As you can see, I found myself noticing, in particular, notices.  What these notices tell me is, mainly, that litigation or prosecution - basically any involvement whatever with the legal system - is now an ever present threat to every business, and very, very expensive, even if you win your legal fight in the first two seconds with a knock-out blow.  So: do not rob!  Do not plunder!  If you do, don’t try suing us because our roof was slippery or you got scratched by barbed wire.  You were warned.  There wasn’t just barbed wire.  There was a sign saying: barbed wire.  These premises are protected by The Scary Brothers Security And Freelance Justice Firm, so it won’t just be the regular law you will have to contend with if you ignore these signs.

Goddaughter One was dressed in a bright red waterproof top.  She consequently figures in this set of snaps rather like a benign and harmless version of that the mysterious child/dwarf in a red coat in the movie Don’t Look Now, an effect only heightened by the pervasive surrounding greyness.  It would have been a great deal more Don’t-Look-Now-ish if the red coat had had a hood and the hood had been up all afternoon, but instead of that, Goddaughter One wore one of her interesting woolly hats.  (See also the final snap here.)

Lovely.  Weird, but lovely.  Weird and lovely, actually.  This happened on my sixty third birthday, and I can’t think of a better way to have spent that day.

Fascinating:

Google has built a fleet of cars that drive themselves, and over the past several months, these robotic vehicles have driven over 140,000 miles on public roads, from the Pacific Coast Highway to the famous twists and turns of San Francisco’s Lombard Street.

As the company revealed on Saturday morning with a blog post, each car is equipped with video cameras, radar sensors, and a laser range finder that alerts the vehicle to other traffic, and they navigate using maps previously collected by cars that were driven by good old fashioned human beings.

The self-driving cars, Google says, are never unmanned. A human sits in the driver seat and can take control of the car at anytime, and according to a New York Times story that coincided with Google’s blog post, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has deemed the cars legal because a human can override the automated controls.

But once these robo-cars have racked up a few million untroubled miles, there’ll be less need for a human to second guess them, won’t there?  Although, once such systems really start to rock and roll, the new kinds of accidents made possible will be a great inspiration to SF writers.

Applying computers to word processing, picture processing etc. is easy, and has been done.  Applying computers to transport is hard and is taking longer, especially when so much of the infrastructure is publicly owned, which makes risky experimentation either too hard or two easy, both being very bad.  So, the benefits of applying computers to trains and cars and airplanes, etc., will take longer to materialise.  I’ve always felt that computer controlled vehicles are the future of transport, like the Docklands Light Railway trains (which are centrally controlled and unmanned), or like these Google cars (which are controlled by the car’s computer but by a computer which can communicate much more effectively with the network as a whole).

One obvious pay-off of cars that communicate more intimately with each other is that entire traffic jams might be able to move along in a big clump, like trains, coupled together only by computer intelligence.  Also, computer control can include into its regular calculations piles of info about the state of traffic elsewhere in the system, and do far more accurate sums about what is, right now, the best or the cheapest way to get from here to there.

Best way to speed up all this?  Road use pricing, preferably on privately owned roads.  That way experimentation with neither be too hard nor too easy, see above.

Another shame about Transport Blog moment.

Incoming from Antoine Clarke:

Hi Brian,

I’ve linked to your blog here.

Flat screensave opp:

image

Hope you like it.

Looks good, in fact looks very good.  And today’s is a great day to be launching a new blog.  Seven postings in the first two hours.  Good luck keeping that up.

Still a bit puzzled by the division of labour between that and this, which is obviously still a going concern because it’s top of the blogroll at the new blog, just above me.  Time will tell.

A friend starts a new blog.  He links to me, and emails me.  I link back.  Just like the good old days, circa 2003.

LATER: Just realised, it started at 10:10.  Cool.

Friday October 08 2010

Is it just me, or does this proposed skyscraper cluster, suggested by Norman Foster for a suburb of Shanghai, ...

image

... look like a bunch of sex toys playing chess?  No it’s not and yes it does.

Blame the Gherkin, but this is the way architecture is heading.  Or was until the financial system of the world went pop.  I will eat the big, nonmobile super-fast big box computer I just ordered if they really build anything like this, any time soon.

But, question: Where are the white pieces?

To add to the one mentioned in this, here is this:

Driver swerves to miss cat, hits vet clinic

Seriously, what are the punctuation rules for headlines? And if I find I don’t like those rules, what do I think that they should be? I suspect my answer is: dashes. Only dashes may be used. And quote marks provided there are dots before the closing quotes.

When I wrote the above paragraph, I was also watching a dreary television play based on a poem, the kind of thing where they get charismatic actors in (Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson on this occasion) to rescue it, and to provide an audience. And it definitely affected my mood.

It was about a drunken self-pitying failed writer (now slaving away as an editor for a small publishing company) and the woman who had wisely abandoned him but had unwisely come back to see him again.  It was presumably autobiographical.  At one point Rickman was up on the roof, and I hoped he might either jump off or fall off, and die, dramatically, interestingly.  But all he did was stagger back downstairs to find that Emma Thompson had, wisely, gone. (They had been having lunch.)

If only Bruce Willis had been on the roof as well ...

Indeed:

Fernando Motolese, a creator of viral videos, recently approached French food giant Danone (known as Dannon in the United States) with an unusual proposition. He had filmed a gross-out humor video about the gastrointestinal effects of Danone’s Activia yogurt, and he intended to release it on the Internet. Would Danone pay him a few pennies each time the video got viewed? If not, Motolese said, he might upload an even more offensive spoof.

“It felt sort of like blackmail,” says Renato Fischer, Danone account executive with the advertising firm Young & Rubicam, who fielded the offer.

Yes, I imagine it did feel like blackmail.  Although I suppose “obtaining money with menaces” might be more exact.

I would not be amazed if Fernando Motolese were to have a mysterious accident at some time in the future.  It seems to me that he crossed the line when he started swapping silence for money.

But, me being a proper libertarian and all, I ask myself: What’s the proper libertarian line on this?  Presumably Walter Block would not see any problem with it.

I’m dining at Chateau Perry tomorrow evening, and I must remember to ask her about this.  Guess: she’ll say the big brands had it coming.  The era when they did control their brand messages and brand images was the anomaly, not the era now, when they don’t.

Wednesday October 06 2010

I like the sound of this David Stockman chap, who used to be a Reagan apparatchik until he left or got fired or something for opposing tax cuts in the absence of sufficient spending cuts.  And I particularly like it when he says things like this:

Obama’s presidency is a profound disappointment. So far, he’s proven that when Republican’s [sic] start elective wars, Democrats can’t end them; when Republicans empty the Treasury, Democrats can’t replenish it; when Republicans put a middle-class destroying money printer at the head of the Fed, Democrats reappoint him; and when the Republicans unleash an orgy of dangerous speculation on Wall Street, Democrats pass a contentless, 2,300 page, enabling act which will do nothing to protect Main Street from another financial meltdown, even as it keeps K Street fully employed.

That sounds all too true, but ... what does “K Street” mean?

It turns out it means lobbyists:

“K Street” is a common metonym for Washington’s lobbying industry. Many of the major Washington lobbying firms are located on the section which passes from Georgetown through a portion of downtown D.C.

Or I believe it does.  I am assuming that, in this matter, Wikipedia is telling the truth.

Next, what does “metonym” mean?

This is helpful:

… a metonym takes an attribute or adjunct of the thing instead of the thing itself. So, one can say ‘The Crown’ when referring to the Queen, or ‘The turf’ when meaning horse-racing.

But the closely related concept of “synecdoche” still has me confused ...

That means naming the part for the whole, like just saying “keels” for “ships”.

Google, google.  (Is “google” a synecdoche” if you are actually using another search engine?  No, that would be a metonym, wouldn’t it?  Or would it?)

Meanwhile, “Synecdoche” is also a movie.  And mean-meanwhile, as it were, my spellchecker refuses to accept any spelling of “synecdoche”.  So, is it really a word at all?

I give up.

Just to say where I come from, in case strangers are passing by (welcome, by the way): I’m an atheist, for most of the usual atheist reasons, and an atheist who prefers Christianity to Islam, for most of the usual human reasons.

Were a time traveller/historian from the future to reveal to me that Islam had indeed been defeated (setting aside for the time being just what “defeated” might mean), I would expect him/her to add, at some point in our (I hope) quite prolonged discussions, that Christianity had played a big part in this excellent outcome.

Religion seems to me to be a part of human nature, which is not to say that all humans seem to need it like we all need air, food or drink.  It’s just that a lot of us seem to.  As an atheist I am resigned to this.  All the arguments that convince me of the non-existence of God are not so much wrong, to a religionist, as beside the point.  The point being that they really need their religion, and that’s the truth that matters to them, not people like me explaining the factual implausibility of spaghetti monsters or orbiting teapots (two favourite atheist inventions).

So the question for many is simply: which religion shall it be?  And just now, it seems, although I don’t know the numbers, that when it comes to people converting from one religion to another, the big story in the world in recent decades is of people converting from Islam to Christianity, particularly (so I am told) in Africa, but even more particularly in the rich societies of Europe and the USA.  See, for instance, this posting, which I dug up on the www, and in particular the comments, where “Kepha” says:

My guess is that the time is not far off when the number of conversions from Islam in the West will be so large that it will be noticed; and the most that the jihadis will be able to do is splutter with helpless rage ...

But, say other commenters in the same thread, Muslims are more than replacing themselves, by having a higher birthrate.

Many things could be said about this.  I will confine myself to one (or maybe it’s two followed by a deduction), which is that whereas the flow of Muslims out of Islam and into Christianity can be expected to continue pretty much indefinitely, very possibly becoming a stampede once converts to Christianity are able to be more public about the process, the current high birthrates of many Muslim countries can be expected, in due course, to moderate.  All modernising countries experience a big bulge in their birthrates, but this never lasts, or such is my understanding.

If the above is right, that’s very good news for Christianity and very bad news for Islam.  And people like me, who would merely like to see Islam defeated, can just relax and be patient and let history take its course.

Okay, pessimistic cup-half-empty commenters, off you go.  Tell me this is all wishful thinking.

If you feel like it.  These Islam postings here are really just me thinking aloud.  If others join in fine, but if not, fine too.

Tuesday October 05 2010

Yes, yesterday’s posting got me thinking (again): bridges, and here’s another classic:

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This photo was taken in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1905, which is when this bridge was built.  Or maybe that should be “made” This thing seems too elegant to have been merely “built”.  “Built” makes it sound more like Tower Bridge or some such more earthbound construction.

In 1929 they got rid of the moving platform and replaced it with an entire road that went up and down.

This is one of the places that the modern movement in architecture came from.  The architects looked at things like this and said: why can’t our forms follow function as beautifully as that?  Why can’t we shake off the past, like those lucky engineers are doing?

Only those spikes look to be a bit on the merely decorative side, but maybe even they have a function too.  Yes.  Take a closer look and it definitely looks like they’re there for a reason.  Lightning conductors perhaps?

More antique Duluth engineering strangeness from the great Shorpy here.

Monday October 04 2010

Indeed.  That is indeed, on the left, a bus.  We’re looking through two of its windows, from outside St Paul’s Cathedral (bits of which you can see reflected), across the river to where the Strata tower, aka “The Razor”, is to be seen, above and beyond Tate Modern:

imageimage

This is what I was trying to photo, and on the right it is what I did photo moments later:

That’s the Millenium Footbridge, the one that famously wobbled when it opened, but which I think is very fine, from any angle, definitely including this one.

Nevertheless, I think I prefer the version with the bus.

In the original version of this posting, the two photos were twice as wide and on top of each other.  But that looked like I was taking this whole thing more seriously than I actually do.  Ironically, the revised arrangement took more arranging.  My women friends tell me that the casual look always takes longer.

Saturday October 02 2010

Re this now deservedly viral video, I’ve just commented at Samizdata, on this, thus:

I have just watched this amazing video, and frankly, it looked to me like a rather over-the-top (but very funny) attack on the green movement, done by people who really, really hate it, far more even than I do. Seriously. The fact that the teacher was such a genuinely nice lefty, and she was being very sweet about everything, right up to the bit where she murdered the dissenters, just made it all the funnier.

Greenies. Don’t be fooled by the niceness. They’re psycho-murderers, or they would be if they could be. Good grief. If I was making an attack on the greenies, I wouldn’t have dared to go this far. This was genius.

I thought it was a nice twist that David Ginola got squelched, rather than just one of those Joe Soap footballers. That was also very funny.

Talk about an own goal. These people are making propaganda against themselves.

And they expect everyone to accept their screeching opinions about the environment, after a giant cock-up like this.

It is the amazing stupidity that I am, well, amazed by.

I very rarely get such good value for my tax contributions. As PJ O’Rourke famously said, about something else that was also over-the-top splendid (a warship I think): ”This is how to waste public money!”

This made my weekend.

I am still absolutely dazed with amazement at the total, one hundred and eighty degree oppositeness of the message this video sends out to the message they were trying to send out.

All the anti-greenies seem to be angry.  I’m not angry.  I guffawed.  But all the other greenies must now be spitting blood and biting the wallpaper.

Natalie Solent responded to my comment by taking the analysis a bit further:

… And the actress who plays Scully gets murdered because her submission to the cause, though present, is not deep enough. It’s almost as if the film is saying, “these Greens - don’t trust them, even if you are one of them!”

Spot on.  Spot on.

Natalie continues:

Speculation on the unconscious motives of the makers could fill a landfill. Many have said that it shows what Greens fantasize about doing to non-Greens. Could it instead - or also - reveal the unconscious hatred and understanding of Greens for their own movement?

Actually, I think it was just inside-their-little-bubble groupthink that lead them into this car crash of a video.  They literally did not see what they were saying, until it was too late.

I assume that what they thought they were doing was dramatising how really really serious the environment thing is.  They sense that they’re losing this argument, so they decided to shout.  But what they ended up shouting was: “We’re a bunch of vile greenie-nazis!”

LATER: And it begins.

One of my many writing ambitions is to answer, at some point before I die, this challenge, from Ian B, commenter extraordinaire at Samizdata, on this occasion commenting on this:

There’s a lot of talk of this eternal war twixt Christendom and Islam. I’m interested to know what those commenters who insist that we are in this state of eternal war would do if they had command of Christendom and its armies. If you were the American government, or NATO, or King Of The Western World or such, what exactly would you do?

It’s all very well making a speech about how they will reap the whirlwind. What IS the whirlwind, specifically?

Provisional title of my grand essay: How to Defeat Islam.  And, of course, it starts by defining “defeat”.

This posting has been written in the spirit of this posting (of which I am very proud), which was about how, if you are somewhat or even severely stumped by the self-imposed obligation to say everything about something, you could at least start by saying something about that something.  Like, for instance: just what it is that you are hoping to nail down in all its magnificent and unanswerable detail.

To say that I want to “defeat Islam” (more exactly: that I would like posterity to see it defeated) is already to say a very great deal.

LATER: Two more links I’d like to keep track of, about Pakistan, and about why Islam is different.

Friday October 01 2010

I only recently realised how very much I like the big photo at the bottom of this posting.  I wonder what kind of camera it was taken with?  (I must ask in a comment.) It’s a bit too narrow for me to steal and put here, and I tried reducing it so I could write around it.  But it needs to be big.  Smaller and it loses something.  Very small and it loses everything.  So you’ll just have go to there.  For me, this shot is a classic in the London Things seen in an unusual way genre, Westminster Cathedral (the catholic one, Victoria Street, red brick) being a favourite.  It’s very near my home and I photo it often.

There are five comments on Kristine’s posting.  No-one comments on the beauty of the photo.  Most talk about how a horrible, cheap London bed hurt Kristine’s back.  I apologise on behalf of London.  A friend offers a better alternative, next time Kristine comes to London.  But, there are cats.  Is Kristine allergic to cats?  No.  She looked after a cat just recently.

I was going to offer a Kit-Kat chocky bar to whoever can spot the “feline connection” in Kristine’s posting.  But those cats in the comments rather spoilt that.  Oh well, a Kit-Kat (must be claimed in person) to whoever can spot the other feline connection.  (Clue.)

A characteristic blog posting, this being such, is when the blogger links to something which, in passing, agrees with Something I’ve Always Said.  And Something I’ve Always Said is that the question What If? - as in what if something different had happened in the past to what did happen? - can often illuminate what did happen.

So, good to see James C. Bennett (who was in London last week) saying this, on page 3 of this:

Had Truman or Lyndon Johnson been able to push through a similar British- or Canadian-style agenda in their times, the new institutions and arrangements would have immediately appealed to a substantial bloc of the electorate, particularly unionized employees of large corporations, who would have constituted a substantial lobby for the entrenchment, protection, and expansion of those institutions and benefits. By 2009, this bloc was substantially smaller and weaker, and it has had to expend substantial amounts of its political capital merely to stay alive. The entrepreneurial companies, the self-employed, and small businesses that do not benefit from, but rather are penalized by, this agenda are conversely stronger.

One way to think about the U-turn is to look at an alternative history that was proposed and advocated, but never came to pass. ...

The What If? in question being a ...:

… globe-spanning Imperial Federation under the Crown, uniting Britain and all of its colonies of settlement into a global federal state, governed by a single Imperial Parliament, and able to operate on the same scale as the U.S., Germany, and Russia.

Which comes on page 4 of the piece.

A descendant version, so to speak, of this might yet happen, of course, although surely not dominated by any purely British institution.  Something like it may simply ... happen.  As in happen without “politics”, without having to be argued for by public arguers.  History never ends.