Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Saturday August 31 2013

Indeed:

image

This afternoon.  Can’t remember exactly where, but I think somewhere at the far end of the Kings Road.

Thursday August 29 2013

By which I mean interesting software news from New Zealand.

A computer programme is not an invention:

A major new patent bill, passed in a 117-4 vote by New Zealand’s Parliament after five years of debate, has banned software patents.

I need Rob Fisher to explain this to me.  Which he will surely be able to do.

Quotulatiousness (to whom thanks for the NewZ) says hurrah.

LATER: I emailed Rob Fisher about this, and he replied thus:

That is interesting, thanks.

Told you.

I have another last Friday of the Month meeting tomorrow.  Patrick Crozier will speak about life in Britain in 1913.

In an email to Patrick, I asked him:

Were they libertarians?

And in the email to all those on my list for these evenings, I included that and other questions, together with Patrick’s responses about what else he’ll be talking aboutt.  (If you want to be on that, click where it says “Contact”, top left.)

In response to this email, Antoine Clarke emailed back thus:

I definitely intend to be there. …

Good.  And yes Antoine, bring some crisps.

And he continued:

For what it’s worth, my short guess would be: They weren’t libertarians, though they lived in a society that was largely libertarian (perhaps the problem was not getting the importance of [or caring about] the things that kept it libertarian).  Assumptions about what the state could and should do were more libertarian.

But racism, at least between Europeans and non-Europeans, was there. It might not be translated into “… therefore they must be destroyed ...” but only weird people would marry blacks.

I think that only started seriously changing half a century later.

Perhaps the most significant impression people had was that life was a lot better than it had been 50 or 100 years ago, in terms of money, quality of life and freedom. And they thought it would probably continue.

I’ll shortly be sending out a reminder email about tomorrow night, containing links to this posting here, and to this Samizdata posting.

I like how, when a topic of discussion is announced, the discussion can now get underway beforehand, and continue afterwards.  You do not have to show up at a meeting in order to be influenced by it, one way or another.  And nowadays that applies to many more people than to those who do show up.

Wednesday August 28 2013

I disapprove of redesigned chess sets.  Chess pieces need very much to look exactly like regular chess pieces, or you make mistakes.  You just don’t need the distraction.

But I am willing to make an exception for this redesign:

image

There is, after all, no need to actually use these redesigned pieces to play chess.  You can just put them on your mantlepiece.

The white pieces are great.  But the black ones are a bit creepy, I think.

See also: this.

This morning, in connection with a Samizdata posting about Europe, I found myself googling for info about London’s new container port, which I had heard about, but which I heard about some more last night.

It looks rather impressive:

image

I found that picture here, that being how things were looking in May of this year.

The Unions are not happy.

I have a vague recollection of posting something here about some big new cranes arriving in London, for, presumably, this.  Yes, here.  These cranes are “taller than the London Eye”, according to the quote I found then.  So, these cranes ought to be visible and photo-able from quite a distance.  Stanford-Le-Hope here I come.

Tuesday August 27 2013

There was a comment this morning from Rob Fisher (and I do love it that we finally have Samizdata author archives), on a piece I threw up on (?) Samizdata yesterday comparing 3D printing to blogging.  This comment has the feel of something that ought to be a bit more than a comment.  So here it is, here:

Google the Ubuntu Edge smartphone. This is a device that many people wanted, but not quite enough to raise 35 million that the company behind it say was needed to make 40,000 phones.

A large part of what made the device desirable was its physical construction. I imagine a time when people can choose from a wide library of smartphone physical designs and customise them with a choice of materials, colours and shape modifications. Those with the skills will contribute new designs to the library.

Similarly, smartphone innards are increasingly boiling down to two or three interchangeable chips. Why not select the system-on-chip you prefer; add some RAM and flash storage; and pick the screen you want? Placement of these parts is then just physical design.

So we build a one–off smartphone. The chassis may be 3D printed or cut from a metal block with some sort of robotic machinist. The circuit boards and final assembly will be robotic.

Look at how Foxconn is replacing its “slave” human labourers with robots.

So what, really, is the difference between today, when a new design for a run of 40,000 gadgets costs $35m, and my world, where a single unique device can be assembled for $800?

It’s partly logistics, which 3D printing is part of the answer to. Some entrepreneurial soul will surely eventually build the factory to solve the rest of the logistical problems.

The rest of the answer is the dispersal of the required knowledge. In the same way that making new software is largely a matter of combining libraries written previously by domain experts with a smidgen of new ideas, so the physical design of gadgets will eventually become a matter of combining standard parts with a touch of customisation.

It’s largely a software problem, too. If you imagine a Web site that lets you design your own phone in the way I have described, a lot of the problem is systematising smartphone design and putting a usable user interface on that system.

So, to make my own analogy, if the world I have just imagined of making your own gadgets is blogging, 3D printing is the web. Small, automated factories that can cheaply produce one-off items using 3D printing and robots are the Internet. And some clever software to make it easier to enter one’s designs is WordPress.

Regular Samizdata commenter Alisa called that “brilliant”, which was what made me think it ought to be immortalised.

Sunday August 25 2013

Today Goddaughter One and I had a wander around London’s Olympicland, or as much of it as we could get at, eventually ending up at the bit of the park that is already open, at the northern end of things.  We started at Hackney Wick overground station, and finished there.

I took over seven hundred snaps, but am far too knackered to do a long posting now.  The shot below is typical of the kind of shots I was taking.  I did lots of the big, spikey topped Olympic Stadium.  I did lots of shots of the Big Red Twisty Thing.  And there was lots of clutter, vegetable and mineral, in the foreground.

image

I also did distant shots of other Big Things, also with much foreground clutter.

And so to bed.

Friday August 23 2013

Yes, time for one of those thin, flat pictures that suit blogging so well.  This one is a slice of this picture:

image

London, from way out east anyway, is starting to look a bit like this.

This picture at the same site (Twisted Sifter is a current favourite of mine), taken in Paris, is also great.  Even better, actually, I think.  Just not horizontally sliceable.

These pictures, on the other hand, this time of the New York skyline (1876, 1932, 1988, 2013), are horizontal perfection.

It took me a while to work out what the big lump in the middle of the 1876 picture is.  It’s the beginnings of the Brooklyn Bridge, which, it would appear, was the biggest thing in New York when it was first built.

Thursday August 22 2013

Or maybe alligators.  Who is to say?  (You perhaps?)

image

Shop windows are full of strange and photographable things, I find.  Sadly, the window aspect of window displays often causes an eruption of reflections that get in the way.  Happily not this time, though.

Quota photo because I am now trying to put stuff up here at least every two days.

Tuesday August 20 2013

There are lots of pieces now doing the rounds, pieces like this one, about how Australia are now behaving like England used to, by picking too many players and not sticking to one side and backing this side.  The implication is that inconsistent selection is what is now causing Australia to keep on losing, just as similar inconsistency used to cause England to lose.  There is some truth in this sort of talk, but not nearly as much as those who say these things seem to imply or believe.

Saying that selection inconsistency makes a team lose is mostly to get the causal connection the wrong way round.  England used to pick lots of different players because they were losing, and were constantly searching for a different and better side.  England now select consistently because they are now, on the whole, winning.  Australia now keep picking new or different players because they keep losing.

It is perfectly logical that a losing side would chop and change, in the search for a better team than the losing team they now have.  Pick your best team and stick with it, say the critics who demand consistent selection.  But does it make sense to stick, and to keep on sticking, with a team that keeps on losing?  Selection consistency may be a virtue.  But consider also that saying about how doing the same thing again and again but expecting a different result is daft.

A similar mistake is made about “body language”.  Bad body language is said to cause you to lose.  Again, there is some truth in this.  Keeping your pecker up and not letting the other fellows see that you think you’re beaten can sometimes make a difference.  But mostly, it is your game going badly which causes your body language to be bad.  As soon as your game starts to pick up, so does your body language.

A losing team which behaves like a losing team is denounced by its fans for behaving like a losing team.  Pull yourselves together guys!  Show a bit of spirit!  But a losing team which behaves like there is no problem is denounced for not caring about losing.  If Australia now strutted about like they were 3-0 up instead of 3-0 down, everyone would call them pillocks.  If they carried on picking the exact same team, game after game, just as they would if they were winning, everyone would moan about that too.  A losing team just can’t win!  Until it does win, at which point its body language automatically gets better and its selection automatically becomes more consistent.

LATER: Here’s Broad making the exact same point about selection as I have been criticising:

“We are lucky we play in a time when selectors back players. It would have been different if we had this group of players in the 1990s. If they had two bad Tests they would be gone.

“But now, because the selectors have backed a group of players, we have a collective experience and belief in each other.”

But what if their “collective experience” had simply been a long string of losses?  Would these same selectors have continued to back the same losing side?

And what happens when this current winning England side starts to seriously fall apart, as it soon will, when players like Anderson and Swann (Swann in particular) have stopped playing?  How consistent will selection then be?  Something tells me I may be doing one of those I told you so link backs that we bloggers are so fond of.  When we actually did tell you so, I mean.

Sunday August 18 2013

Looking for photos of the Chinese roof dwelling that I wrote about in the previous posting here, I found myself having a general wander around at something called Twisted Sifter, which I enjoyed and have not finished enjoying.

In particular, I looked for bridges.  It is becoming harder to surprise or delight me with news of new bridges, because I seem to have seen pictures of most of the interesting recent ones.  But this posting, about animal bridges around the world, gathered together bridges that I had not seen before.

This is typical of the kind of bridge they mean:

image

That one is in the Netherlands.

Interestingly, one of the photos in the collection is of a bridge whose location they do not know, and they ask for help.

Friday August 16 2013

I have, very belatedly, made Roof clutter a new category, and now face lots of backtracking to do justice to that innovation.  So far you only get a few entries if you click on that.  But it’s a start.

And, as a devotee of roof clutter, I can’t ignore this:

A Chinese man who built a rock-covered roof-top villa on top of a high-rise building has told the BBC he will comply with an order to demolish it.

The villa, surrounded by fake rocks but real trees and bushes, sits on top of a 26-storey building in Beijing.

State-run China Daily says it was built without the proper permissions.

Ooh dear.  Can’t do anything without the proper permissions.

Here’s what it looks like.  Let us celebrate it while it lasts, and never allow it to be forgotten:

image

I am actually a tiny bit angry with this Chinese man, because I fear that by drawing attention to the top of his particular building, he may have provoked control freak bureaucrats everywhere to take an interest in the tops of buildings, with a view to putting a stop to All That Sort of Thing, which until now they have largely neglected to do.  The Golden Age of Roof Clutter is not about to end immediately.  But might this perhaps be the beginning of its end?

A good video view of this Chinese man’s castle in the air can be seen at Shanghaist, here.  Also at Shanghaist, a picture of another posh house on a tower roof, rather more discreetly done.

And as an addition (one of the joys of blogging is that you google your subject and find more great stuff) feast your eyes on this:

image

Presumably, for that, they did get the necessary permissions.  It has that look about it, doesn’t it?

I now learn that the Daily Mail got there first.  They also supplied the top picture above, which they featured in this report.

Wednesday August 14 2013

That’s one of things it says here.  But don’t go there.  You’d be wasting your time.  All that the bit of it that concerns the above says is: “You can achieve everything you want if you’re unambitious enough.”

I get really pissed off with links that say something, and you go there, and all it is is someone saying what you’ve just read already, with no elaboration or justification or illustration or explication or any other sort of ation, of the sort that all links used to take you to.  I am sure Twitter has its uses, but I wish people wouldn’t link to it in this annoyingly disappointing way.

Tuesday August 13 2013

Indeed:

image

That was taken from Vauxhall Bridge, looking over all those nebulous office buildings on the other side of the river from me, rumoured to be occupied by spooks.  Occupied in a less obvious way than the MI6 Building, I mean.  The MI6 Building being right next to all the nebulous office blocks.

Monday August 12 2013

I’m watching and listening to the England v Australia test match at Chester-le-Street, and the first hour of the fourth day has been a cracker.  Stumps flying, a bouncer fended into the gully, and a flurry of boundaries from England as they try to set Australia a decent target.  As of now, England are 277 ahead.

There has been much discussion from the TMS commentators about how lots of wickets have fallen in the morning, this morning being no exception.  But, that being the case, tomorrow morning could be very important, which they have not been discussing.  If England can just stick around for another few overs, Australia won’t be able to chase down all these runs today, and will have to bat tomorrow morning.  That could be decisive.  The prospect of them having to bat tomorrow morning may cause them to hurry today, or at least be in two minds about whether they should hurry.

All that said, this series has an air of insignificance about it.  This is because there is an imbalance built into these two series, in England and then this winter in Australia.  Whoever wins in England has to do it again in Australia to keep the bragging rights for a decent length of time.  Whoever wins in Australia gets those bragging rights.  If England win in England but Australia then win in Australia, Australia end up the winners.

The only big deal about this series, following that Lord’s slaughter, was: could England make it 5-0 and avenge that earlier 5-0 thrashing that Flintoff’s team got handed in Australia a few years back?  Bragging rights from a 5-0 thrashing last for ever.  That’s the rule.  But England couldn’t win at Old Trafford, in fact only the weather stopped England losing.  So, no permanent bragging rights.

Bresnan out for a crucial 45, England 285 ahead with just one wicket left.  But hello.  A dropped catch in the deep.  Steve Smith.  He doesn’t usually drop anything.

Anderson now prodding away defensively.  It’s like England have worked out what I said about tomorrow morning even if the commentators haven’t twigged that.  That flurry of fours was great.  But dot balls are now very good too.  But, another four from Swann!  He now has 22.  And another!  A real one day four, where he stepped back to square leg and bashed it through the covers.  It’s the kind of game where every ball feels like a tiny change of balance in the match.  “That dropped chance has already cost nine runs.” Make that thirteen because there goes another four.  England 298 ahead.  Anderson caught behind!  Spin!  Good for Swann!  Australia need 299.  “A morning of fluctuating fortunes.” I’ll say.

Finally, they’re talking about the tomorrow morning effect, and the fact that Australia will be pushed to get all these runs without England having a second new ball.  Mornings have brought wickets in this game.  So have new balls.  What we need now is a couple of Aussie wickets in the twenty minutes between now and lunch.  There’s every chance of that.

No.  Australia 11-0 at lunch.

LATER: According to Simon Hughes, Keith Miller slept with Princess Margaret.

Saturday August 10 2013

One of my favourite recent pictures, taken in London, last month:

image

Once more with the aesthetic randomness, in the form of the heights of the sticking up bits.  But rising above a highly regular surface.

But, what is it?

Thursday August 08 2013

One of the things I like to do with this blog from time to time is to single out particularly eloquent Samizdata comments, comments that deserve to echo in eternity, as Russell Crowe put it in that gladiator movie.  Putting a comment here probably doesn’t do much to assist such an outcome, but it can’t hurt, can it?

Here, from Perry Metzger, joining in the comment thread on one of his quite numerous recent Samizdata postings is a particularly choice comment, I think:

For myself, I decided long ago that it was best to take my ideological enemies at their word when they claim to have a particular concern.

Although they might be lying, perhaps even to themselves, it rarely seems fruitful to explore that. For one thing, it has no impact on whether their public claims are true or false — we may (indeed, must) analyze those without any resort to ad hominem analysis of the speaker. For another, I myself resent it when my enemies claim that I actually truly want the poor to starve in the streets (or something similar) and am only professing concern — I see no reason not to grant them what I ask them to grant me, which is to say, the benefit of the doubt as to the sincerity of my motivations.

Once one goes down the path of debating “true intentions” instead of arguing the substantive points, one gets into endless cycles of meta-analysis, distraction, and attempts at impossible feats of remote psychoanalysis.

I prefer to simply stipulate, even if I cannot possibly conceive of how my opponent could not have evil motives, that if he says his motive is to help people that for purposes of the conversation we will assume that this is his motivation.

So, for myself, I just act as though they’re telling the truth about what they want and show that their proposals will do something entirely different, if not something entirely in opposition to their stated desires. That is enough to demonstrate their program is bad. If their actual concerns are elsewhere, I happily wait for them to tell me and begin anew — the results are rarely different anyway.

I recall having an argument in a magazine, way back when, with Peter Tatchell, in which he attributed base motives to me, in my desire to see the USSR toppled.  I responded not by denying, or not at any length, his accusation of bad faith.  I merely asked him what he thought of my argument, however insincere he believed me to be about it.  Supposing someone said that and meant it.  Then what, Mr T?  Tatchell subsequently became an arms length ally of libertarianism, once he got that we meant all that also.  I think this exchange helped to cause that, not least because, by declining to discuss evil motives, in this case my own supposedly evil motives, I remained civil and respectful.  It helped that I did then, as now, greatly respect Tatchell.

Wednesday August 07 2013

Photoed by me last night, on my way from West Hampstead overground to West Hampstead tube:

image

Time was when that would that.  Hey, look at that.  Billy Fury Way.  And a painting of Billy Fury.  Was Billy Fury a local, or an American, or what?  Oh well, on with life.

But now, there is the www, and there are many links, such as this one about Billy Fury Way, or this one about Billy Fury.

Is Trivial Pursuit still a going concern, what with pursuing trivia now being so easy?  I could look that up too, but choose not to.

Monday August 05 2013

Dezeen, now one of my favourite internet sites, has news of another cool new footbridge, in … Hull!

It’s shaped like an apostrophe, so that it can twiddle around the big bit, to let ships go by:

image

Its official name is “Scale Lane Bridge”.  And it would appear to be yet another example of what Dan Cruikshank says in the preface (page 7) of his book Bridges, published in 2010:

Now, in many ways, the outpouring of ingenuity and creativity that distinguish the best bridges of the past is found not in huge creations but in smaller bridges where the challenge is not so much to achieve a crossing on an heroic scale but to do so in a manner that is consciously intended to delight and to give a place identity.  In parallel to the rise of the mega-bridge is the evolution of the gem-like, small-scale bridge - often only a pedestrian bridge such as the Gateshead Millennium Bridge in England - that functions not just as a route but also as a work of art - as a creation that provides a promenade, that grants character, distinction and sense of place.

This book has many pictures and was originally priced at £25.  But I got it in my local remainder shop for a fiver and it also now costs around that or less on Amazon, if you push the right buttons.

My friend Alex Singleton dropped by the other day.  He often does, after or between appointments that bring him near to my home.  He has a blog, which I recommend, and Alex himself recommends blogging as a good way to spread ideas or sell products.  I sort of knew Alex had a blog for a quite a while, but did not really register this fact.  I am now digging backwards, and finding things like this, from someone called Harold Burson:

The term communications has become synonymous with PR but this does a disservice to our profession by making it tactical … The best term for what we do is public relations.

I recently read a book where “PR” meant photo reconnaissance throughout.  It described a different world entirely from ours, in which misdirected photographic efforts could easily cost your your life.  But yes, good to encounter someone who is not ashamed of what he does.

Too few practitioners have even heard of the legendary figures of PR, such as Ivy Lee and Sir Basil Clarke, let alone read about them. But it does mean that those who put the time in to study how PR works – practically, not academically – quickly shine.

That’s Alex himself.  There are, throughout his blog, regular references to and quotes from old dead guys, another who is frequently mentioned being David Ogilvy.  Why reinvent the wheel?  A particular theme of Alex’s thinking is that the new social media don’t render all the wisdoms of the PR and advertising past obsolete.

I like how Alex writes.  He prefers short and clear sentences to longer and wafflier ones, clear words to the vaguer words so loved by PR-ists.  Everything he writes exudes confidence in his ability to help enterprise do their PR better.  Which would explain why he is not afraid to have as his latest posting an admiring piece about Rudolf Flesch.  Quote:

Flesch writes: “while we don’t need so many words any more to express our thoughts, the words we do use carry a much heavier load of ideas… as far as ideas are concerned, our sentences are usually much longer and fuller than those people wrote two or three centuries ago”.

The danger, he says, is that “our more heavy-handed writers don’t care much for the modern short sentence either; and so we get prose that consists of overlong sentences packed to the brim with long, overloaded words”.

And that, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with so much material that comes out of big organisations today.

You don’t put stuff like that up if you fear that your earlier postings will then be scoured by envious rivals, successfully, for great gobs of longwinded nonsense.

Alex, just like all these old dead guys, dresses smartly, as he explains in this posting, i.e. more smartly than he did in this photo of him (by me with me also in it) here.  I particularly like that one.

Talking with Alex also helped me to think through an enterprise of my own that I am now contemplating.  He supplied some very helpful ideas about how I could do this more easily and effectively.

Sunday August 04 2013

England are now facing the distinct possibility of having to follow on in the third test, having won the first two.  Because there was a pause after the second, which England won by a huge margin of 347 runs, there was a small torrent of commentary to the effect that Australian cricket is doomed, doomed, and will take years to recover, if it indeed ever recovers.  Titles to savour include: A tale of two depths - While England plan, Australia dream - Australia: hubris, despair, panic - What can Australia learn from English cricket? - Ashes 2013: Sheffield Shield decline lies behind Australia’s demise - There is no easy way back for these Aussies - Australia’s darkest hour shows no sign of dawn.

My favourite Australian Cricket is Doomed piece has been, I think, A schoolboy curse, which is about why posh Australian schools don’t produce top cricketers, apart from Warne.  The problem is that promising posh boys don’t play against men, only against other less good posh boys.  Boys from scuzzy government schools, on the other hand, play for local clubs on Saturdays, against tough bastard older blokes, and thereby get better and better.

Yes, I know.  Warne is posh?

In England the problem is that only posh boys ever seem to get good at cricket.  You’d think this would make England worse.

Saturday August 03 2013

For reasons that I may or may not explain some other time (it involved this), I found myself, exactly one week ago today, at the toppish layer of Kings College, London.

There was some hanging about waiting for events to start and for lifts to arrive, and at such times I took (grabbed) photos, mostly through windows, out at London in its various manifestations, near and far:

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Just as there is much aesthetically anarchic clutter at the tops of buildings, so too is there similar clutter around the backs of buildings, the bits where you are looking at the stage scenery, so to speak, from the other side.

As for the more orthodox view, of various Big London Things (bottom right), you may think, not much of a photo, technically speaking, and you would be right, but I like it nevertheless, in the sense that it is a technically rather average realisation of a very good shot, like so many of my photos.  Also, I had only a few seconds to take/grab it, and only one go at it, because a lift was even then opening up and demanding my presence.  I was with someone else, which always complicates the taking of photos, I find.

Note in particular the exact alignment of The Wheel with the New Tower (most recently featured here in one of these snaps (3.2)) that they are now finishing off, at Vauxhall, the one where there was all that crane drama.  See also Big Ben and that other Parliament Tower (St Stephen’s), Battersea Power Station, Westminster Abbey, and even the tower with the crazy hairdo in the previous posting.  What the green dome with the Union Jack flying on it is, I do not know.

Plus, who knew that there was a Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at Kings U?  Well, probably Menzies, and the people who study Australia in it.  But who else?

Shame it’s not Austrian, and economics.

Thursday August 01 2013

This is a shot I regularly take, because it never fails to impress me.  Here is the version of it that I took yesterday:

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That’s the top of Millbank Tower, viewed from the point where Horseferry Road does its sharp right turn towards Victoria Street, or its sharp left turn towards the river, depending on which way you are going.  (Me, I tend to go home, straight on along Regency Street.)

I tried cropping this picture even more, so that all there was was roof clutter, but this, I think, somewhat spoiled the effect.  What I so much like about the top of Millbank Tower is the contrast between all that intricate techno-anarchy, and the architect-imposed blandness – the faceless face, so to speak - of the main building.  Show only the techno-clutter, and you miss that contrast.  Show it, and it makes the building look like the architectural equivalent of a blank-faced young man, with a crazy punk hairdo.

There is a similar contrast to be enjoyed in the last of these pictures, again of a big lump with a crazy roof garden of gadgetry.  Roof garden is right, because all this stuff combines high-techness with the picturesque appeal of nature.

This is the picture I mean.