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

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Tuesday March 31 2015

It’s looks like this week is going to be quota photos all the way, while I try to recover from my lurgy.

Here’s the latest, another in my series of Great Photos Taken Adequately.  If you are a Real Photographer who wants to go and take this shot properly, I’m pretty sure that the place to go is Low Hall Sports Ground, which I got to from Blackhorse Road railway station:

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This was deliberate.  I didn’t just happen upon this shot.  I drew a line from the Shard to the Gherkin and onwards, until I came to some wide open space where it might be possible to see what I actually did see.

Date: July 28th 2012.

Monday March 30 2015

imageOn your right, you see a picture of a building, with some vaguely cloudy weather above it.  Right?  Well, click for the big, and true, picture.  And discover why the first view I gave you was so small.

I took this picture at lunchtime, near London Bridge Station, last Saturday.  I was trying to find my way to LLFF15, and getting lost, basically because I departed from London Bridge Station in completely the opposite direction to the one I should have departed in.  But I did get some good snaps as a result.

Because I was in a hurry to get to LLFF15, I did not pause to identify any of the buildings in this photo.  Another time.  Which I will definitely contrive because there is a lot of building activity going on around there.  It isn’t just the Shard, it’s the whole area. In particular there is Guy’s Hospital, now receiving a facelift.

You’re right.  Rather feeble stuff, and for the second day in succession.  But I am still feeling distinctly unwell.  Judging by the state of the weather, had I ventured out today I would have felt very much under it, and would probably have made things worse.  Lurgies these days seem to go on for a lot longer than they used to.

I see two White Vans there.  One decorated (by the look of it) and one plain.  Those things are everywhere.

Sunday March 29 2015

A Last Friday last Friday, then a performance at a fringe meeting at LLFF15.  But, the problem was I wasn’t completely clear of the lurgy.  A performance always holds illness at arms length for the duration, but only for the duration.  So today the lurgy was back with a vengeance.

Tomorrow may be similarly laconic.

Saturday March 28 2015

It started in Quimper, where I particularly wanted to photo the cathedral without all those summer tree leaves in the way.  And I did.

But I am now realising, about a decade and a half later than I should have but better late than never, that the exact same principle applies to London.  London is full of trees, which you either can see through or can’t see through, depending on the season:

image

That photo was taken by me yesterday afternoon, looking across Vincent Square towards … well, you can see what it was towards, because there were no leaves in the way.

See also this example of the same genre.

Friday March 27 2015

It started with this picture, which I took at the home of some friends a while back.  I know exactly how you probably feel about this cushion, but on the other hand, I don’t care:

image

I love how the TV remote is there next to it.  I had no idea at the time, or I would have made a point of including all of it.

But now the www-journey begins.  At the bottom right hand corner of the cusion are the words “Susan Herbert”.

I google susan herbert cushion, and enter a world of cushion kitsch.  Mostly it’s more cats on more cushions, as you can see, but one of the pictures is this:

image

Obviously, I click where it says “visit page”, and arrive here.  I scroll down, looking for the picture of Bill Murray and the artistic nude girl.  I don’t ever find the picture of Bill Murray and the artistic nude girl, but I do encounter this, which is a posting about a big blue horse at Denver Airport.  Clicking on “Denver Public Art Program” merely gets me to useless crap about Denver, but googling “luis jimenez mustang” gets me to pictures like this ...:

image

… and to an article in the Wall Street Journal from February 2009, which says things like this about the Blue Denver Horse:

Anatomically correct - eye-poppingly so - the 32-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture makes quite a statement at the gateway to Denver International Airport.

But that begs the question: What kind of statement, exactly?

“It looks like it’s possessed,” says Denver resident Samantha Horoschak. “I have a huge fear of flying anyway, and to be greeted at the airport by a demon horse - it’s not a soothing experience.”

Many people here agree, calling the muscular steed a terrifying welcome to the Mile High City.

Samantha Horoschak was not wrong.  Because, it gets better:

Mr. Jimenez was killed working on the sculpture. In 2006, while he was hoisting pieces of the mustang for final assembly in his New Mexico studio, the horse’s massive torso swung out of control and crushed the 65-year-old artist.

Ah, that magic moment in the creative process when a work of art escapes from the control of its creator and carves out a life of its own, independent of its creator.  And kills him.

Is it still there?  How many more victims has it claimed?  Has it caused any crashes?

I love the internet.  And not just because I am quickly able to look up the proper spelling of such words as “posthumous” (which was in the original version of the title of this) and “kitsch”.  It’s the mad journeys it takes you on.  Who needs stupid holidays when you can go on a crazy trip like this without getting out of your kitchen chair?

Thursday March 26 2015

Is it a bird?

Yes:

image

Is it a plane?

Yes:

image

And it’s also a partial eclipse of the sun.

We had this in London, earlier in the week.  All I remember is that I, one of the seemingly small minority of people who realise that Britain’s next day weather forecasts are accurate, ignored it, knowing that it would be clouded out of view.

Which it was.

A routinely good way to photo something which is only quite interesting is to line it up with something else that is similarly quite interesting.  The result can be very interesting.

Wednesday March 25 2015

As usual, there’s lots of fun stuff at Colossal, of which a piece about the Chicago Bean attacking a tourist by dumping a lump of snow on them, is my recent favourite.

image

Go here to see the whole wonderful thing.

I like how people in Chicago call The Bean The Bean, rather than “Cloud Gate”.  I feel the same way about how The Wheel in London is The Wheel, rather than the “London Eye”.

Tuesday March 24 2015

I’ve been reading Paul Kennedy’s Engineers of Victory, which is about how WW2 was won, by us good guys.  Kennedy, like many others, identifies the Battle of the Atlantic as the allied victory which made all the other victories over Germany by the Anglo-American alliance possible.  I agree with the Amazon reviewers who say things like “good overview, not much engineering”.  But this actually suited me quite well.  At least I now know what I want to know more about the engineering of.  And thanks to Kennedy, I certainly want to know more about how centimetric radar was engineered.

Centimetric radar was even more of a breakthrough, arguably the greatest. HF-DF might have identified a U-boat’s radio emissions 20 miles from the convoy, but the corvette or plane dispatched in that direction still needed to locate a small target such as a conning tower, perhaps in the dark or in fog.  The giant radar towers erected along the coast of southeast England to alert Fighter Command of Luftwaffe attacks during the Battle of Britain could never be replicated in the mid-Atlantic, simply because the structures were far too large.  What was needed was a miniaturized version, but creating one had defied all British and American efforts for basic physical and technical reasons: there seemed to be no device that could hold the power necessary to generate the microwave pulses needed to locate objects much smaller than, say, a squadron of Junkers bombers coming across the English Channel, yet still made small enough to be put on a small escort vessel or in the nose of a long-range aircraft.  There had been early air-to-surface vessel (ASV) sets in Allied aircraft, but by 1942 the German Metox detectors provided the U-boats with early warning of them.  Another breakthrough was needed, and by late spring of 1943 that problem had been solved with the steady introduction of 10-centimeter (later 9.1-centimeter) radar into Allied reconnaissance aircraft and even humble Flower-class corvettes; equipped with this facility, they could spot a U-boat’s conning tower miles away, day or night.  In calm waters, the radar set could even pick up a periscope. From the Allies’ viewpoint, the additional beauty of it was that none of the German systems could detect centimetric radar working against them.

Where did this centimetric radar come from?  In many accounts of the war, it simply “pops up”; Liddell Hart is no worse than many others in noting, “But radar, on the new 10cm wavelength that the U-boats could not intercept, was certainly a very important factor.” Hitherto, all scientists’ efforts to create miniaturized radar with sufficient power had failed, and Doenitz’s advisors believed it was impossible, which is why German warships were limited to a primitive gunnery-direction radar, not a proper detection system.  The breakthrough came in spring 1940 at Birmingham University, in the labs of Mark Oliphant (himself a student of the great physicist Ernest Rutherford), when the junior scientists John Randall and Harry Boot, working in a modest wooden building, finally put together the cavity magnetron.

This saucer-sized object possessed an amazing capacity to detect small metal objects, such as a U-boat’s conning tower, and it needed a much smaller antenna for such detection.  Most important of all, the device’s case did not crack or melt because of the extreme energy exuded.  Later in the year important tests took place at the Telecommunications Research Establishment on the Dorset coast.  In midsummer the radar picked up an echo from a man cycling in the distance along the cliff, and in November it tracked the conning tower of a Royal Navy submarine steaming along the shore. Ironically, Oliphant’s team had found their first clue in papers published sixty years earlier by the great German physicist and engineer Adolf Herz, who had set out the original theory for a metal casement sturdy enough to hold a machine sending out very large energy pulses.  Randall had studied radio physics in Germany during the 1930s and had read Herz’s articles during that time.  Back in Birmingham, he and another young scholar simply picked up the raw parts from a scrap metal dealer and assembled the device.

Almost inevitably, development of this novel gadget ran into a few problems: low budgets, inadequate research facilities, and an understandable concentration of most of Britain’s scientific efforts at finding better ways of detecting German air attacks on the home islands. But in September 1940 (at the height of the Battle of Britain, and well before the United States formally entered the war) the Tizard Mission arrived in the United States to discuss scientific cooperation.  This mission brought with it a prototype cavity magnetron, among many other devices, and handed it to the astonished Americans, who quickly recognized that this far surpassed all their own approaches to the miniature-radar problem.  Production and test improvements went into full gear, both at Bell Labs and at the newly created Radiation Laboratory (Rad Lab) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Even so, there were all sorts of delays - where could they fit the equipment and operator in a Liberator?  Where could they install the antennae? - so it was not until the crisis months of March and April 1943 that squadrons of fully equipped aircraft began to join the Allied forces in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Soon everyone was clamoring for centimetric radar - for the escorts, for the carrier aircraft, for gunnery control on the battleships.  The destruction of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst off the North Cape on Boxing Day 1943, when the vessel was first shadowed by the centimetric radar of British cruisers and then crushed by the radar-controlled gunnery of the battleship HMS Duke of York, was an apt demonstration of the value of a machine that initially had been put together in a Birmingham shed.  By the close of the war, American industry had produced more than a million cavity magnetrons, and in his Scientists Against Time (1946) James Baxter called them “the most valuable cargo ever brought to our shores” and “the single most important item in reverse lease-lend.” As a small though nice bonus, the ships using it could pick out life rafts and lifeboats in the darkest night and foggiest day.  Many Allied and Axis sailors were to be rescued this way.

Monday March 23 2015

First, an outstanding White Van photo snapped from what looks like the inside of a cafe, by Simon Gibbs, to whom profuse thanks:

image

I’ve been photoing White Vans for a month and more, but have never got three of them in one go like that.  That arrived chez moi first thing this morning.

And then, to my amazement, this was this at Guido, also today:

image

That’s right.  Labour have launched there very own White Van!  You wouldn’t dare make that up.  I knew I was onto something with all this White Vannery.

The problem for the Labour Party here is that Essex White Van Man, the original beast, doesn’t work as an employee driver for Wellocks, or for Office Revival or for Yate Supplies (these being the enterprises who own and whose glory is proclaimed by Simon’s three White Vans above), and certainly not for the Labour Party.  He has his own White Van, which is entirely white, as you can see when you peruse that original tweet that got all this fuss started:

image

That snap being a recent one of mine.  And, as Guido points out, a proper Essex White Van is not a Merc, as the Labour White Van is.  He doesn’t go on to say that it should be a Ford Transit, as above, but it should.  The White Van in the original tweet is a Transit.

This new Labour White Van is supposed to separate Labour from the la-di-da world of London and to assert its connection to the common (i.e. non-rich-London) man.  But it fails to do this, because, as these recent White Van postings of mine have been explaining, White Vans covered in poncey graphics are now quintessentially London.  I assume that they have also become quintessentially Wigan and quintessentially Rotherham and for that matter quintessential Dagenham.  But I further assume that when true-blue Wiganians and Rotherhamians and Dagenhamians look at them, they see, not their local culture, but cultural imperialism by bloody London.

(Damn.  I did everything to this posting put actually post it “today”, so I’m leaving the date I originally attached to it.  Cheating I know but it talks about Monday as today, so Monday it is.)

Sunday March 22 2015

Indeed.  Note to self: get well soon.

This really is a case of oh dear I’ve put nothing on the blog today, and I have a rule:

image

That’s looking along Lower Marsh, last September.  The scaffolding is just scaffolding.  But the roof clutter is special, being on the top of Millbank Tower.  I like that I could just see the only truly interesting bit of that building from where I was.  I particularly like that burst of roof clutter, because I can see it from my front door.

I also like the colour of the sky.  You only get that kind of colour with a camera.  The sky is never that colour for real.

Saturday March 21 2015

Yes, they aren’t playing any squash today.  It’s been rugby rugby rugby all the way.

First Wales knocked up a cricket score against Italy in Rome, and took the lead in the three-way race for the Six Nations.  Then Ireland thrashed Scotland and took pole position.  Now England and France are playing a mad game at Twickenham.  At the moment it’s England 48 France 35.  How mad is that?  It probably won’t be enough, but England are giving it a right old go.  England need about two more tries, I think, and since France are also scoring tries every so often, even that might not be enough.  But.  Five minutes to go, and England have just scored another try.  53-35.  Bloody hell.  This conversion has to go over.  Then they have to score another try and convert that.  Conversion over.  55-35.  It’s on.  It all has the air of been too frantic and unreal to work.  But, maybe.

Trouble is, I’ve got a terrible headache and bunged-up face, and am in almost no state at all to enjoy it all.  Maybe too much Parma ham at Christian Michel’s last night?  That or the cheap white wine.  But, I have most of it on video.

Game nearly over.  England need one more try off, basically, the last play of the match.

No.  England attacking but France hold out.  Whistle.  55-35.  Epic fail.  But epic in a good way.

Wales were favourites after their big win in Rome, but they now have to make do with the bronze.  Ireland win it.  England second.  A great day.

Friday March 20 2015

Yesterday I visited a shop called Tiger in Tottenham Court Road.  Here is the sign about it that sticks out into the road, even though what I thought I was photoing at the time was the Wheel:

image

That’s actually one of my favourite views of the Wheel, because it is so weird and unexpected.  We’re looking south along Tottenham Court Road, with Centre Point on the left as we look.  You hear people seeing this, and saying: Oh look, the Wheel.  Wow.

Tiger has lots of stuff in it, which I haven’t time to tell you about now but will hope to do Real Soon Now.  But what I will say (today) is that, after a bit of searching, I found cats, in the shapes of: a cat mat, some cat suitcases, and some tigers:

image image image

Too knackered to say more now.  Suffice it to say that Tiger is a veritable cornucopia of cheap and cheerful stuff.

Thursday March 19 2015

Following on from yesterday’s White Van, here is another White Van, which marks the moment when I first started really noticing these things.  It was parked outside an office just round the corner from my front door:

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Let’s take a closer look at the driver’s door of this White Van.  Because the exact moment when the whole White Van thing clicked inside my head was when I saw, and photoed, this:

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There you go.  They’re having a laugh about White Van Man.  I told you it was a thing.

This happened on December 17th of last year, which was about a month after the Shadow Ministress did her tweet that cost her her shadow job.  But they’ve been driving around in that joke since well before all that, as this blog posting from April of last year proves.

And I know this got me thinking about White Vans, because the very next photos I took were of this:

image

I had been noticing this other White Van hanging around near my home, but until that moment I had not considered it something worth photoing.  Then, I did.  And, off an on, I’ve been photoing such vans ever since, although few of them as lavishly decorated as that one.

Wednesday March 18 2015

Ever since that ruckus when a Labour Shadow Cabinet Ministress got into hot water with a tweet which involved a White Van, I’ve been photoing White Vans.  And, in fact, I think I have been doing this since before that little drama.  This White Van, photoed by me today in the Covent Garden area, is one of my favourites so far:

image

The point is, White Vans have rather gone up in the world.  Lots of them now come with much carefully designed décor and info.  London now abounds with fleets of White Vans thus decorated, white being the preferred colour by far.  It’s like an automotive uniform.

It’s as if White Vans have a sort of macho-stroke-ironic appeal to those who drive them, and to the rest of us.  The drivers, when asked what they do for a living, can say: I drive a White Van.  Oh, ha ha ha!  But no, not one of those White Vans, the sort they have in Essex.  Oh no.

Or alternatively, if the driver is a genuine White Van Man, with no irony involved, of the sort that lady politician was having a go at, he’s happy too, even if he would probably prefer plain white, rather than all that poncey verbiage.  And he’d rather have sacks of cement or tubs of plaster in the back there, rather than nerdy SF stuff.

Well, not sure about that.  But White Vans are definitely, as they say nowadays, a thing.

Tuesday March 17 2015

I was in Tottenham Court Road this afternoon, searching out a toner cartridge for what I discovered is now an antique laser printer.  I had no idea until now how much less toner cartridges cost if you get them on line.  Stupid me. 

Anyway, it was a chance to photo the BT Tower, the first and still one of the greatest of London’s new Big Things (Big Thing being what BT stands for).  Most things in London look better in bright sunshine, or at least I can photo them better.  But for some reason, this rule does not apply to the BT Tower.  Today’s decidedly muggy weather suited it very well.  Because it is quite a way behind those empty trees, it looks dim and grey, instead of bright, and this seems to suit it.  Maybe this is because muggy weather makes it look further away, and consequently bigger.  Here is my favourite shot that I took of it:

image

Summer is very nice and well lit and warm and everything, but all those damn leaves get in the way horribly, and ruin all manner of what could be great shots.

Monday March 16 2015

Do you get bored with my obsession with photographing photographers?  Well, such photos are easily skipped.  It’s not like you have to read a whole chunk of stuff before you realised that the posting was of no interest to you.

Meanwhile, here is a cropped-out chunk of a photo I took on August 18th 2007, which tells me that, quite aside from photoing photoers being enormous fun at the time, photoing photoers will continue to be enormous fun far into the future, for as long as I have a future:

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That’s right.  The lady is taking a picture with a small, cheap digital camera.  And she is, it would appear, on the phone, with her phone (one of the old-school folding sort) jammed between her raised-up shoulder and her ear.  You would never see such a thing now, because the two gadgets would now be one and the same gadget.

You get a similar thing when you see people simultaneously photoing with and wired up to and listening to the same phone, a “phone” that would have been two separate pieces of kit a while back.

Things that will change, like cameras and phones and music machines, are more interesting to photo than things that will not change any time soon, like Big Ben.

Sunday March 15 2015

Last Friday was another of those first days of Spring, which are coming thick and fast now.  Spring has very nearly sprung, in other words.  So, I was out on Westminster Bridge photoing the tourists and their cameras like it was 2006.  Here are my favourites:

image imageimage image

I’ve always been fond of the baglady look, and we see two more examples of the genre there.

For some reason, I feel that a photo of someone holding up a Cool Britannia bag is a lot cooler than a Cool Britannia bag.  And the other baglady, dressed as David Hockney, looks really good in front of all that appetising verbiage, on the food kiosk next to Westminster Bridge at the Parliament end, right near where this photo was also taken.  A favourite spot.

As for the lady in black, I’m not sure whether was actually photoing.  Maybe she was just checking text messages.  I hope she is having a good life.  Here is a recent reminder that burqas can be bad news for those who wear them.

As for the group self-photoing themselves with a selfie stick, it really is time that I gathered up all the selfie-stick photos I’ve taken lately, and posted a group of them here.  (But, I promise nothing.)

The selfie-stick is the latest photoing device to incur the wrath of all of those people who divert themselves by getting wrathful about the newly acquired habits of others, especially when those habits involve photography, and especially when they involve self-photography.  The last such fuss involved using tablets to take photos.

Although, it seems that selfie sticks have been around for a bit longer than you might think.

Saturday March 14 2015

Squash?  And what the hell is squash?  Exactly.  It’s a potentially great game, in which a couple of guys with slimmed down tennis rackets bash a black rubber ball around in a small courtyard.  The trouble is that the courtyard is too small.  As a result, the better the players, the harder it is to hit a winning shot.  Watch a top squash game, and you are watching two of the people least likely ever to make a mistake, waiting for one of them to make a mistake.  Watching paint dry is Shakespearian drama by comparison.

Well, rugby union is becoming like this.  Two teams now consisting entirely of men-mountains knock seven bells out of each other for an hour.  (Backs now look like forwards used to look, and forwards now look like laboratory accidents. The teams who are most depressing to watch are France and Wales, because they used to have diminutive attackers who did things like smoke, and dodge tackles instead of driving into them like human tanks the way everyone does now.) If either team gets tired, the other team might then score some tries, but if neither does, the contest is settled by the referee making incomprehensible penalty decisions, and by the two opposing penalty kickers.

Watching Ireland and Wales, two of the best teams in the Six Nations, is what is making me say this.  It’s deep into the second half already, and for the first time in the entire game so far, one of the teams (Ireland) looks like it might score a try. But no.  The ref has just blown his whistle, again, and Ireland fail to score.  So Wales stay in the lead by four penalties and a drop goal, to three penalties.

Now Wales have just failed to score a try.  The commentators are saying that this has been “a fantastic ten minutes of rugby”.  No.  Fantastic would have been if someone had actually scored.

The trouble is, the pitch is just not wide enough.  I remember Bruce the Real Photographer saying this to me about a decade ago.  He may have been right then, and I reckon he’s definitely right now.

And the Welsh have now scored, a really good try.  Typical.

And now Ireland have scored, a penalty try, which is rather unsatisfactory but at least it’s a try.  A penalty try is the one where the two scrums go at each other, and the defending scrum does something mysteriously illegal to stop the other scrum tanking themselves over the line.  Wales 20 Ireland 16.  It’s livening up.

Commentator:  “It’s a thrilling encounter.  It’s a shame there’s only about eleven minutes left.”

So.  Squash for an hour.  (One of the commentators called it “muscular chess”.) Then a quarter of an hour of rugby.  This is what counts as “a fantastic game of rugby”.

Later: Wales 23 Ireland 16.

Friday March 13 2015

Indeed. What on earth was I thinking, posting - on a Thursday, rather than today, Friday, the traditional BMdotcom day for cat-related items - a piece that starts with how computers are rather bad at recognising cats? I only even realised that the cat category should be attached to the posting just now.  Oh well.

imageAnyway, more cat news, which I did deliberately hold back until today, is that the mega-behemothic-super-industry that is Hello Kitty is making a deliberate play for more male customers, with T-shirts decorated with such things as the picture you see to your right.  But, will such images repel human females?  You can imagine the high level debates that the Hello Kitty high ups (I somehow imagine them to be mostly men) must have been having about this issue, of such fundamental importance to their brand.

More cat news?  I need a bit more to be sure that the picture there doesn’t bash its way into the posting below (even though that would be rather appropriate).  Well, I am sad to report that for some people, the most interesting thing about the death of Terry Pratchett (good quote that – that’s the sort of thing he will be really missed for) was that he had a cat sleeping on his bed at the time.

Thursday March 12 2015

I have been reading Peter Thiel‘s book Zero to One.  It abounds with pithily and strongly expressed wisdoms.

Here (pp. 143-5) is how Thiel explains the difference between humans and computers, and how they complement one another in doing business together:

To understand the scale of this variance, consider another of Google’s computer-for-human substitution projects.  In 2012, one of their supercomputers made headlines when, after scanning 10 million thumbnails of YouTube videos, it learned to identify a cat with 75% accuracy.  That seems impressive - until you remember that an average four-year-old can do it flawlessly.  When a cheap laptop beats the smartest mathematicians at some tasks but even a supercomputer with 16,000 CPUs can’t beat a child at others, you can tell that humans and computers are not just more or less powerful than each other - they’re categorically different.

The stark differences between man and machine mean that gains from working with computers are much higher than gains from trade with other people. We don’t trade with computers any more than we trade with livestock or lamps.  And that’s the point: computers are tools, not rivals.

Thiel then writes about how he learned about the above truths when he and his pals at Paypal solved one of their biggest problems:

In mid-2000 we had survived the dot-com crash and we were growing fast, but we faced one huge problem: we were losing upwards of $10 million to credit card fraud every month.  Since we were processing hundreds or even thousands of transactions per minute, we couldn’t possibly review each one - no human quality control team could work that fast.

So we did what any group of engineers would do: we tried to automate a solution.  First, Max Levchin assembled an elite team of mathematicians to study the fraudulent transfers in detail.  Then we took what we learned and wrote software to automatically identify and cancel bogus transactions in real time. But it quickly became clear that this approach wouldn’t work either: after an hour or two, the thieves would catch on and change their tactics. We were dealing with an adaptive enemy, and our software couldn’t adapt in response.

The fraudsters’ adaptive evasions fooled our automatic detection algorithms, but we found that they didn’t fool our human analysts as easily.  So Max and his engineers rewrote the software to take a hybrid approach: the computer would flag the most suspicious transactions on a well-designed user interface, and human operators would make the final judgment as to their legitimacy.  Thanks to this hybrid system - we named it “Igor,” after the Russian fraudster who bragged that we’d never be able to stop him - we turned our first quarterly profit in the first quarter of 2002 (as opposed to a quarterly loss of $29.3 million one year before).

There then follow these sentences.

The FBI asked us if we’d let them use Igor to help detect financial crime. And Max was able to boast, grandiosely but truthfully, that he was “the Sherlock Holmes of the Internet Underground.”

The answer was yes.

Thus did the self-declared libertarian Peter Thiel, who had founded Paypal in order to replace the dollar with a free market currency, switch to another career, as a servant of the state, using government-collected data to chase criminals.  But that’s another story.

Wednesday March 11 2015

Nothing from me here today, other than this.  But, I posted a review earlier today at Amazon, here, of the book Inflation Matters, by Pete Comley.  Five stars.

Tuesday March 10 2015

Late this afternoon I went walkabout near to where I live, and in particular to photo my local ballerina, at the top end of Victoria Street.  There’s lots of building going on around her, so the nearby and behind scenery keeps changing.  My favourite shot of her today was this:

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At the time, that bus driving by seemed like it was an interruption, but now I think it definitely adds something, to a part of the shot which wouldn’t have been half so interesting without it.

Monday March 09 2015

Just before Christmas, Goddaughter 2 arranged for the two of us to see and hear a dress rehearsal of a Royal Opera House Covent Garden production of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera.  This was, for all practical purposes, a performance.  I didn’t much care for Verdi before I went to this event, and I still don’t, but the show was at least notable for the outstanding singing of the lead tenor, Joseph Calleja, a new name to me.  I was extremely happy whenever he was singing.  (He has a blog.) The rest of the show I found somewhat forgettable, mainly because Verdi seems to have been opposed to doing nice tunes that you can remember, unlike my operatic composer favourites, Mozart, Puccini, and Richard Strauss.

But very memorable indeed, almost as good as Calleja’s singing, was the bar we visited afterwards, which is right next to the main performing space.

From the outside the opera house and the bar look like this:

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The bar being the thing on the left as we look there.

And on the inside, the bar looks like this:

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The ROH refers to this place as the Paul Hamlyn Hall.  What regular people call it for real I have no idea, but I like it.

I especially like that disembodied clutch of drinkers, suspended up there as if in mid air, but actually in mid mirror.

Here is a closer look at that same feature:

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I know exactly what is going on here, and how this weird effect is achieved, but still I’m impressed.

A bit of hasty googling has failed to tell me what this place used to be and when it was first built.  I’m guessing it was at first something to do with selling fruit and/or veg, but that’s only a guess.  Anyone?

Sunday March 08 2015

Suicide Bridge being this one:

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And here is a closer up view of those Big Things in the far distance there:

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Photos taken last Monday.

The more I photo the Walkie Talkie, the more I like it.

Saturday March 07 2015

I am probably going to start doing Twitter, quite soon, years after everyone else.  Does anyone have any advice about that?  About whether, and if so about how?

Frank J has advice to offer about why you should do it:

What is the purpose of writing? Did you say to share your thoughts? To influence? To educate? To entertain? To conjure made-up worlds and share them with others?

Well, that’s all nonsense. The purpose of writing is to demonstrate to everyone how clever you are.

Here is a frightful warning about how a tweet can ruin your life.  I now think I probably don’t have that much of a life to ruin, but perhaps Twitter will make me soon look back on my life now with desperate longing for a lost golden age.

My regular readers probably have a pretty good idea of what I might or might not use Twitter to do.  Any thoughts?  Or warnings?  Dos?  Don’ts?  What I did rights?  What I did wrongs?  Etc.

Friday March 06 2015

Indeed.  But not an advert for a cat, an advert by a cat.  The story of the century so far:

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Photoed by me this evening near to Shoreditch Overground station, underneath the railway.

The website is here.  What’s going to happen there, in Upminster, I am really not sure.  Are they playing music live, or just playing recordings they’ve done, or playing recordings others have done?  Or what?  And why the big pussy cat?  To get the attention of irrelevant people like me?

Once upon a time, it was thought that the internet might abolish regular advertising.  Now regular advertising advertises the internet.

Libertarian Home have been having their meetings in several different venues of late.  Last night’s event was in the Prince of Wales, Covent Garden, which is on the corner of Long Acre and Drury Lane.  I got there a bit early, and filled the time by strolling along Long Acre towards where the old Alternative Bookshop once was, hoping for photoable diversion, and I was not disappointed.  Through a window, just across the road from Covent Garden tube, I spied, and photoed, this:

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I’m pretty sure I don’t like it, but it’s definitely a Thing worth photoing.  This time I remembered to photo enough information about the place to be able later to identify it.  The outside didn’t actually say what the place is, merely the address.  But that was enough for googling purposes.  It turns out this is a Fred Perry place, where Fred Perry and Co ... does things.  And this wooden Thing is a combination of reception desk, seating and window logo.  The Fred Perry enterprise makes, I assume sporty stuff and in particular sporty clothing, although that’s only a guess.  That Fred Perry website is all design but bizarrely little information.

It would be a lot more logical to have a reception desk, some seating, and a company logo in the window, each separate, each doing their own job, each replaceable as and when, or if decreed to be imperfect in some way.  Why do all these things need to be connected?  They don’t.  They need not to be connected.  And the reception desk bit must be very inconvenient actually to do receptioning on.

Thinking about this some more, this Thing makes me think that the Fred Perry enterprise is all about “design”, way beyond the bounds of intelligence or sanity or usefulness.  The website exudes the same atmosphere.  It tells you almost nothing, very prettily.  The whole company seems like one of those arrogantly stylish twats whose attitude is: I don’t have to explain myself.  I have your attention.  I am not going to deign to use it by actually talking to you.  I am wonderful and wonderfully stylish me.  That is enough for mere you.  Consider yourself lucky to be even seeing me.

But then, I guess that I am not their target demographic.  I am neither sporty (as in actually doing sport), nor stylish (as in myself wanting to look stylish).

While trying to find some kind of link to this enterprise, I learned that Fred Perry, the man himself, Wimbledon tennis champion in the year whenever it was, was also the 1929 world champion at ping pong.  Blog and learn.

Thursday March 05 2015

Here is another bit from a book which I found particularly interesting, having just purchased and started to read the book in question.

In the Preface of A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain, Marc Morris writes that the first question everyone asks is: Was that Edward the Confessor?  No.  He came much earlier, before the Norman Conquest.  Question number two was more interesting, because it has a more interesting answer.  It concerns evidence:

The second question that has usually been put to me concerns the nature of the evidence for writing the biography of a medieval king, and specifically its quantity.  In general, people tend to presume that there can’t be very much, and imagine that I must spend my days poking around in castle muniment rooms, looking for previously undiscovered scraps of parchment.  Sadly, they are mistaken.  The answer I always give to the question of how much evidence is: more than one person could look at in a lifetime.  From the early twelfth century, the kings of England began to keep written accounts of their annual expenditure, and by the end of the century they were keeping a written record of almost every aspect of royal government.  Each time a royal document was issued, be it a grand charter or a routine writ, a copy was dutifully entered on to a large parchment roll.  Meanwhile, in the provinces, the king’s justices kept similar rolls to record the proceedings of the cases that came before his courts.  Miraculously, the great majority of these documents have survived, and are now preserved in the National Archives at Kew near London.  Some of them, when unrolled, extend to twenty or thirty feet.  And their number is legion: for the thirteenth century alone, it runs to tens of thousands.  Mercifully for the medieval historian, the most important have been transcribed and published, but even this printed matter would be enough to line the walls of an average-sized front room with books.  Moreover, the quantity is increased by the inclusion of non-royal material.  Others besides the king were keeping records during Edward I’s day.  Noblemen also drew up financial accounts, issued charters and wrote letters; monks did the same, only in their case the chances of such material surviving was much improved by their membership of an institution.  Monks, in addition, continued to do as they had always done, and kept chronicles, and these too provide plenty to keep the historian busy.  To take just the most obvious example from the thirteenth century, the monk of St Albans called Matthew Paris composed a chronicle, the original parts of which cover the quarter century from 1234 to 1259.  In its modern edition it runs to seven volumes.

I say all this merely to demonstrate how much there is to know about our medieval ancestors, and not to pretend that I have in some way managed to scale this mountain all by myself.  For the most part I have not even had to approach the mountain at all, for this book is grounded on the scholarly work of others.  Nevertheless, even the secondary material for a study of Edward I presents a daunting prospect.  At a conservative estimate, well over a thousand books and articles have been published in the last hundred years that deal with one aspect or another of the king’s reign.  For scholarly works on the thirteenth century as a whole, that figure would have to be multiplied many times over.

Wednesday March 04 2015

Dezeen reports, here.

Like I say: when drones do annoying things, they can be very annoying, but they are far too useful to ban.

Hey, maybe a drone could have a 3D printer attached to it, to 3D print in the sky!

As Andy said in his comment on this:

I think the answer is micro-controllers ...

Yes, once you have clever computers piloting these things, rather than clumsy old humans, they can do almost anything.

Yes, incoming from Michael Jennings:

As I see it, we have five teams in this World Cup who are any good and have some chance of winning it: Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lankan in Group A, and India and South Africa in Group B.

New Zealand will win Group A, the winner of the game between Australia and Sri Lanka on Sunday will come second, and the loser of that game will come third. (England will probably limp into fourth.) Barring major upsets, India will win Group B and South Africa will come second. Pakistan and the West Indies (or possibly even Ireland) will take the third and fourth places, but it is very hard to say in what order at this point.

This means in the quarter finals, New Zealand, India, and the winners of Australia v Sri Lanka get relatively easy quarter finals, and South Africa and the losers of Australia v Sri Lanka get a tough one. Given South Africa’s history of choking in World Cup knockout matches, I can’t imagine this thrills them. The possibility of playing Australia at home in the quarter final really doesn’t thrill them, I suspect.

Australia will want to beat Sri Lanka, though. Not only do they avoid South Africa in the quarter final, but that way they also avoid the possibility of having to play New Zealand in New Zealand in the semi-final. If they beat Sri Lanka and come second in the group, the only way they can play New Zealand again would be at the MCG in the final. The New Zealand crowd was apparently rather abusive towards the Australian players last week, and Australian crowds remember such things and have a tendency to want to get their own back. (The New Zealand players were apparently paragons of sportsmanship, though.)

Makes sense.

I’m following it from here.

Alas, the team I’ve been supporting (aside from Dead Team Walking England), Afghanistan, have just been crushed by Australia, by what I am guessing is a record (of some sort) margin.  These record margins have become a World Cup Thing, presumably because net run rate now looms large in qualification calculations.  So, when you get on top, you make sure you stay on top and cash in.  It will be interesting to see if anyone does qualify, or fail to qualify, because of run rate calculations.

Tuesday March 03 2015

Yesterday evening’s rather blatant quota photo was because yesterday, I (a) failed to do my blogging duties here in the morning, and then (b) went on a photo-walk, from which I returned in a state of exhaustion.  It was all I could then do to pick out just the one nice photo and shove it up, accompanied by just enough words for me not seem rude.

Single photos are good when I have nothing much to say, nor much time or energy to say it with, because they take very little time to do or to look at.  They don’t exhaust me.  Nor do they take up much of your time unless you decide that you would like them to.  It’s up to you.  You can be done with a photo in a second, literally, while still quite liking it.  Or, you can contemplate it for as long as you like, even for as long as it might take you to read a quite long essay.  What you do not want from a blogger who is posting only for the sake of it is a long essay, which turns out to be saying nothing.  That you can not get a nice little second of fun from and be off, certain that you probably missed very little.  Hence quota photos.  Hence also quota quotes, provided they are short, and to a point.

Monday March 02 2015

Indeed:

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That’s the new Blackfriars Bridge railway station, with its ziggy zaggy solar panels roof.  Taken just under a year ago.

What you get when you click on the above horizontal slice is actually a whole lot better, despite the fact that this horizontal slice is what makes the picture as a whole such a nice picture.

Sunday March 01 2015

The other day (to be more exact: on this day) I described England as a “dead team walking”, in the currently unfolding Cricket World Cup.  So, if England now turn around and start winning and winning well, well, that’s good because hurrah England.  But if England carry on losing, and losing badly, then hurrah me for being right.

How to snatch happiness out of thin air: be a prophet of doom proved right.  There are other ways to place a bet besides spending money.

This explains a lot about the world, I think.  Basically, as Steven Pinker has pointed out in the first half of that excellent (because of its first half) book of his, everything (approximately speaking) is getting better, slowly and with many back-trackings, but surely.  Yet to listen to publicly expressed opinion, both public and posh, you’d think that everything was getting worse, all the time.  And it’s been like that throughout most of recorded history.  But people are not really that pessimistic.  All that is really happening is that people are predicting the worst in order to be happy if the worst happens, and also happy if the worst does not happen.