Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Category archive: USA

Thursday November 16 2017

Although “pipeline” is wrong, because these are solid-state batteries, to replace liquid batteries.

Instapundit says it’s “YUGE IF TRUE”, that Fisker has filed patents for solid-state batteries:

The reason all these companies are working on developing solid-state batteries is because they present a whole host of advantages over what you’ll find in today’s phones, computers and cars. The two big ones are greater energy density and rapid charging times. Fisker claims the batteries it’s developing have an energy density 2.5 times that of current batteries, and they should be capable of providing a 500-mile driving range. The company also says the batteries could be recharged in as little as a minute.

Companies don’t usually straight-out lie about things like this, but they do often get carried away.  In particular, they gloss over what may prove to be big obstacles.  But the obstacles get overcome, eventually.  They say they’re going to have this tech rolling in the early twenties.  Make that the thirties.  But, my guess: it will soon, historically speaking, happen.  They’re going to be very expensive, at first.  But that always happens.  Got to pay for all that inventing.

A key item of evidence for my optimism is that the report states that other companies are working on the same stuff, besides the one in the headline.  This suggests one of those inventions that is ready to be made, that Matt Ridley goes on about.  For decades this or that gizmo is promised, but: nothing.  Then suddenly: four companies all arrive at it, “independently”.  In other words, all the necessary inventions, that needed to be made before this one could be made, had finally been made.  At which point the gizmo goes from impossible, to inevitable.

Can these batteries be made really small, small enough for all those phones and computers?  If so, it really will be a new era.

As I keep saying, the one big aspect of our civilisation that is still working really well is … stuff like this.

Thursday October 26 2017

Will computer power displace humans, or empower them?  Will computers unleash mass-unemployment or create a world of new jobs for everyone?  Is humanity about to be divided into the indolent masses on the dole, and the lucky few who control the now human-workerless means of production?

Here‘s a guy who is quite optimistic. 

When most people think of robots, they picture an R2-D2-like droid, providing critical information to assist humans and courageously rescuing them from dangerous situations. While we are, in my view, decades away from having robots that can function like a “Star Wars” character due to the limitations of artificial intelligence, a new class of robots that are mobile, dexterous, and capable across multiple operational regimes will soon be available to augment human performance.

This will happen through a combination of human intelligence with machine strength and precision. In this symbiotic relationship, the multi-tasking robots rely on humans for direction while simultaneously safeguarding them from dangerous environments and tasks. These robotic “guardians” are the future of work on Earth and, yes, in space, too.

Peter Thiel also believes that computers and humans will complement one another.

Think power steering, but a hundred times more versatile:

We are at a point in history where decades of research and development coupled with ever-improving technological performance and lower component costs are combining to make yesterday’s science fiction a reality. Imagine a machine that is your personal proxy, controlled by you, leveraging your intelligence, knowledge, instincts, intuition, and judgment while able to physically perform in the same manner as your own body, but safely, and with super-human strength, endurance, and precision.

I’m optimistic about The Robots because every time they make a leap forward, they will do it by doing one particular thing a lot better.  That means that all sorts of new projects make sense that didn’t before, but each new project demands the services of a hoard of humans, to tidy up after, install, mend, and generally look after the robots, in their latest manifestation.

But, humans will have to be adaptable.  Abandon jobs that the robots have learned to do, and get new jobs doing things that the robots will need doing for them. Robots now make much of the world’s stuff, but there are still lots of shelves the stuff gets put on that it makes sense to have humans do, and because of the robots, there are more shelves with more stuff than there used to be.

I look at the world and I do see “technological unemployment”, but I also see people busily doing jobs that didn’t previously exist.

Rob Waller is doing a talk at my place, on the last Friday of November about the robots and all that.  He gave a talk about this earlier, which I was unable to attend.  But the title of that talk, together with the hints he’s already given me, all make me expect him to be optimistic also.

Tomorrow evening, which is the last Friday of this month, Rob Fisher will be speaking chez moi about Fatherhood.  I believe that Rob’s young son will have plenty of choices about how to make a living, especially if he is as smart as his Dad is, but even if he isn’t.

Wednesday October 25 2017

imageI am starting to suffer from New York envy.

I have already speculated that the photoability of views might be a part of the reason for New York’s spate of new supertall super-skinny edifices.  The designers of the latest such, 262 Fifth Avenue, are also speaking about views:

“We didn’t want it to be too high, but at the same time be visible and provide better views for the flats,” Meganom co-founder Yury Grigoryan told Dezeen in an exclusive interview. …”

But as I also speculated in that earlier posting, a big reason for these Big But Thin Things is that now build them because they can:

Grigoryan said that the building’s structure is unique. Its lift and mechanical systems will occupy a core volume on the western side, which a stack of column-free living spaces will be anchored to like shelves.

But then Grigorian goes back to talking about those views, which are presumably a big selling point:

“It is a completely flexible frame, like shelves in the air with good views,” the architect said. “We think that this structure can be the future.”

What I hope is that London will get a few of these sorts of super-skinny towers.

Remember Renzo Piano’s Paddington tower, that never happened.  Piano had to redesign it shorter and fatter.

The nearest things we have in London to these Big But Thin Things are the BT Tower and the Shard, which both seem to be pretty popular.  It’s the short fat stuff that gets on everyone’s nerves.

Friday October 20 2017

Today, I was thinking, what with it being Friday: What can I put here about cats or other creatures that would be of interest?  But instead of looking for something along those lines, I was listening to a video conversation between Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia, about the sorry state of the humanities departments of American universities.  I can’t remember why or how, but I was.  And twenty four and a half minutes into this, I listened in astonishment as Peterson suddenly started talking, fascinatingly, about zebras.

Why do zebras look the way they do, so very black and and so very white, and so very stripey?

This has long puzzled me.  The arch enemy of the zebra is the lion, and the lions are impeccably camouflaged.  Their coats are the same colour as the veldt, or whatever it is that the zebras roam about on and that the lions hunt the zebras on, and so the zebras don’t see the lions coming.  But the zebras, with their garish black and white plumage, are nothing at all like the colour of the land they live on.  What gives?  Why the lurid and fantastically visible stripes?

Today I learned the answer to this question.

The answer is: When lions hunt zebras, they do this by deciding on just the one zebra that they are going to hunt, and they concentrate entirely on that one zebra.  Eventually, the chosen zebra is exhausted, and the lions catch it and kill it.

And how do zebras respond, evolutionarily speaking?  Answer: By becoming extremely hard to distinguish from each other.  Their very stripey stripes do exactly this.  The result of that is that although the lions try to hunt just the one zebra, thereby exhausting it and killing it, they instead keep getting confused about exactly which zebra is the one they are trying to hunt.  And the result of that is that instead of hunting one zebra to its death, they hunt half a dozen zebras, not to any of their deaths, and go home without their dinner.

Some scientists who were studying zebra plumage did what turned out to be a rather cruel experiment which proved this.  They squirted some colour onto one of the zebras in a zebra herd.  The lions, confident now that they would not be confused about which zebra they were hunting, proceeded to hunt that one marked zebra to its inevitable death.  Without such marking out, they couldn’t tell which zebra was which.  With such marking, hunting success followed, every time.  Every time, they chose the marked and hence easily distinguishable zebra.

I did not know this.

Peterson’s point was that American humanities professors are like this.  They all have totally crazy, yet totally similar, opinions.  That way, their enemies can’t fixate on one of them and destroy him.  Or something.  In this version of the zebra stripes story, Peterson is saying that people in general are like zebras.  But I really didn’t care about that.  It was the zebras and their stripes that interested me.

I love the internet.

Sunday October 15 2017

For me, it’s the most expensive penny I ever spend.  I’m referring to the toilet in Gramex, the services of which I often avail myself, in between hunting for keenly priced second-hand or ex-review-copy classical CDs.

This shop has kept moving over the years and is now seeking yet another new location, because its current location is about to be turned into a hotel.  But for now, until the 17th of this month, when you pee there, you beyold, in a very bedraggled state, a reproduction of a famous photograph, of New York’s Grand Central Terminal:

image

There seem to be several versions of this photo, because more than one photoer noticed this remarkable phenomenon.  The phenomenon being how the presence of smoke or steam in the atmosphere turns any light that journeys through the smoke or the steam into a solid block of light.

This being well known to showbiz of course.  Here is a recent 6k photo, of a pop combo in action, being lit with smoke and searchlights.

The nearest I have ever got to anything like this myself is a set of photos I took one rather misty day in September 2015, when I was officially checking out the first of London Gateway’s cranes.  I have already shown this photo here, but here it is again because I like it so much:

image

Here is another photo that I took moments earlier, which I have not shown here before:

image

What I especially like about that one is that is shows how solidified light of this sort blocks out what is behind it.  You can’t see past such light.  But when there is no light crashing through and lighting up the mist, you can see through the mist.  Look how, when there isn’t lit up mist, you can see, past all the closer-up drama, another world of clouds, in the darker distance.

The above photo reminds me of another favourite photo of mine, this time where my reflection in a shop window, dark because back lit, makes it possible to see through the shop window into the shop, which otherwise you can’t because of brightly lit reflections from behind me.  In this case it is those bright reflections that are the solid light:

image

That was photoed in the south of France, in Ceret, a town famous for its light and much loved by artists, in particular by Picasso.

I love that what we actually see through the shop window is someone else taking a photo.

Photography is light.

Wednesday September 13 2017

Yesterday was a complicated day for me, and when I went out to dinner it got more complicated, because I got swept up in this:

image

I was jammed in a no-standing-room-either tube carriage, on my way to dinner at my friends, and at West Brompton someone who’d been sitting got out and a seat became available.  Me being Old, I was invited to have it.  At first I was reluctant.  “I’m getting off at the next stop”, I explained.  I’d be stuck further inside the carriage with more shoving when I got out than if I stayed where I was.  “Oh that’s okay,” said the guy.  “Everyone’s getting off at the next stop.” Eh?  How did he know?  Was he psychic?

He was not psychic.  He was a Chelsea supporter.  And so, as he well knew, were most of the other people causing the train to be so strangely packed.  Above is my photo of us all waiting to get out from the rather unfortunately named Fulham Broadway tube station, which is right near the Chelsea ground, but not nearly so near to the Fulham ground.

And here is a photo I took of Chelsea stuff that was being offered to the throngs:

image

They had a special scarf to commemorate this one game, which I’m guessing they do for lots of games.  Good thinking.  The game was against something called Qarabag.  Chelsea won comfortably.

Earlier, sport also forced itself upon my attention, in the form of these flags in Regent Street:

image

The Americans are coming.

Wednesday September 06 2017

Professor Amy Wax, quoted in this:

Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

These are the kind of virtues that, in Charles Murray’s words, the upper classes of the USA have been practising, but have been neglecting to preach to those below them in the social pecking order.  Result says Professor Wax: disaster.

That phrase about preaching what they practise is a good one and I am glad it is getting around.  (I mentioned it in this Samizdata piece.) I don’t always practise these virtues myself, particularly the ones concerning working hard and avoiding idleness.  (I would also want to distinguish between serving my country and serving its mere state apparatus.) But I preach these virtues nevertheless.  Do what she says, not what I do.

A little hypocrisy is far preferable to a lot of silence in these matters.

Tuesday September 05 2017

In January of 2016, a year and a half ago now, a friend and I checked out the top of the Walkie Talkie, and we liked it a lot.

I, of course, photoed photoers, of whom there were, equally of course, an abundance.  And although at the time I collected the best photoer photos together into their own little subdirectory, I never got around to putting the selected photos up here.  But I chanced upon them last night, and I think they deserve the oxygen of publicity.  So, here they are:

imageimageimageimageimage
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As the years have gone by, I have come to like photoing photoers as much for the places they photo in and the things they photo as for the photoers themselves.  From the above photos you get quite a good idea of what the top of the Walkie Talkie is like and what you can see from it.  The weather that day was rather dull, so the actual views I took were rather humdrum.  These photoer photos were better, I think.

The Walkie Talkie Sky Garden advertises itself as a sky garden, but it is more like an airport lounge with plants, that has itself taken to the air.  Getting access to it is like boarding an airplane, with luggage inspection and a magnetic doorway you have to walk through.  In this respect, as well as the splendour of the views, the Walkie Talkie resembles the Shard, which imposes very similar arrangements on all who wish to sample its views.  But sky garden or not, I liked it.

One of the many things I like about the Walkie Talkie is that its very shape reflects the importance attached by its designer(s?) to making a nice big space at the top for mere people to visit and gaze out of.  As well as, of course, creating lots of office space, just below the top but still way up in the sky, for office drones to enjoy the views from.  Their work may often be drudgery, but at least they get an abundance of visual diversion.

In its own way, the Walkie Talkie is as much an expression of the economic significance of views as those thin New York apartment skyscrapers are. The difference being that in a big office you don’t have to be based right next to a window to be able, from time to time, to stroll over to a window.  So, as the building gets taller and the views get more dramatic, it makes sense to fit more people in.  Hence the shape of the Walkie Talkie.

If one of the jobs of a Walkie Talkie drone happens to be to try to entice clients to come to the Walkie Talkie, to have stuff sold to them, well, those views might make all the difference.

Note that Rafael Vinoly designed the Walkie Talkie, and designed the first of those tall and thin New York apartments.  These two apparently very different buildings have in common that both of them look as they do partly because of the views they both offer.

I also like the Walkie Talkie because so many prim-and-proper architect type people dislike it.

Photoer photos at the top of the Walkie Talkie
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This cat faces a difficult next four years
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The Spraycan bounced off the new US Embassy
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Feeling the need to meet
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Drivel
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The fixed quantity of laughter non-fallacy
A busy day and a collection of Big Things
A Big Thing and a Much Bigger Thing – on a not-black cab
David Pierce on what it’s like using an electric scooter
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Modernist sand castles at Amusing Planet (and at Mick Hartley’s)
Skyscraper covered in Gothic sculpture proposed for Manhattan
Peter Foster on Robert Owen
Quite a line-up in New York
Anton Howes on the idea of (and the unstoppability of) technological innovation
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Jim Glymph gets Frank Gehry past the limits of what is buildable
Machine versus icon in Modern Architecture
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Miniature architecture
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Steven Johnson on The Myth of the Ant Queen
An old American car in Tottenham Court Road
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Smart face on smartphone
Ed Smith on sporting maturity – Burns and Henriques collide – Secretariat and his jockey
BMdotcom quotes of the day from Edward Snowden (and a picture of him)
Bloody Enrique Iglesias drone drama
Seaside muralist
“The temptation to pre-order one of these is almost unbearable …”
Along the river towards Battersea
A Shiny Thing by Frank Stella Hon RA
BMdotcom abusive comment of the day
Another use for a drone
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Bean drops snow on tourist
Paul Kennedy on centimetric radar
Peter Thiel on how humans and computers complement each other
Aerobots
Peter Thiel on striking a balance between optimism and pessimism and on how failure is overrated
Photo-drones fighting in the Ukraine and a photo-drone above the new Apple headquarters building
Cheap long-haul flights coming soon
Miniature photographic fakery
Anthrozoology
Fun
Drone on the White House lawn
BMdotcom What if? of the day
Drugs drones
The wrong kind of cranes
BMdotcom comment of the day
Santa’s tired helpers
Russia unleashes tiger on China
Pictures of Guy Herbert
Recently on dezeen
Bright buildings in front of dark sky
Happy Friday (eventually)
Postrel goes for Gray
Man 3D-prints Thing in his back garden
Cat news
Brian Micklethwait dot com quote of the day
Why aren’t people happier about amazing new stuff?
Capturing moments
Tricycles
A Real Photographer does a shadow selfie
Stones created from layers of old paint from car factories
Bennett and Lotus on how Emmanuel Todd’s family provoked his Grand Theory of Everything
I see cats
Organised water
Noah – Cosi at the Imax – Big Blue Cock
A selfie taken in 1955 - another taken in 2014 - another being taken in 2014
Amusing cats versus important people
The good done by the Apple Newton
Don’t judge a new technology by its first stumbling steps
Omaha dead
Bits of music at non-musical blogs
Big Thing news from New York and London - and a picture of climate alarmism losing
How hydrogen bombs work
David Byrne on the constraints of artistic form
Daniel Hannan’s latest book(s?)
Mark Steyn on Obama’s Hoover Dam and me on paywalls
On the insecurity of ObamaCare - and on the unwisdom of only punishing big and later
RNSQotD
Rob Fisher on old things not looking old
Richard Stallman on software patents
I’ve just been quotulated
Baltimore: cranes - a bridge - scaffolding
Chicago sunset
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
Emmanuel Todd links
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Rothko Toast
Domestic cats are destroying the planet
Little Lady Liberty - still in France
American election talk
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“No one has to know!”
Ryan wins
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom internet headline of the day
Are Christian social conservatives using the Tea Party to impose social conservatism?
Some more presidential debate prophecy
Don’t vote Democrat!
Pat Caddell on mainstream media bias
Reasons to think Romney is going to win big
How llamas told us so – in November 2008
And on my other personal blog …
Meow
What’s up with that?
Literally the light switch of leadership
Jobs
University of California chickens coming home to roost?
There’s a Communist in the White House
Google Earth and Mr and Mrs Goose
Space launch monster
Rainbow Bridge
America 3.0
NFL fans and their name-and-number shirts in Trafalgar Square on Saturday
Go Gary Johnson!
The Jobs difference
Freedom Tower and Gary Johnson at Samizdata
The final Steve Jobs Thing will be a brand new custom-built Apple headquarters
Thrashing India
Another reason to like Colorado
One World Trade Center
Three videos from the USA that I recently watched
A potential challenger for Gary Not-Obama
Go Not Obama!
The politics of humour in the USA and in Britain
Someone doesn’t understand what I mean by roof clutter
Gormley’s South Bank Men
The Big Dig and some smaller digging
Raptor not being very stealthy
Wisconsin question
A Spanish geography lesson
Jobs departs from Apple (again)
Emmanuel Todd quoted and Instalanched
The Humpty Dumpty Learning Channel
A down and up weekend
Cat defeats alligators
BrianMicklethwait Dot Com QotD
Paulina Porizkova gets older
Another link enema
Google rolls out computer controlled cars
Another strangely punctuated headline and a depressing television play
K Street - metonym - synecdoche
More bridge magic
What if the British Empire had stayed together?
To Serve Man
Soros and his money
The long and short of conversation - Hitchens on YouTube
Links to this and that
Why not just sell them?
Super Galaxy
Reading various bits of Roger Kimball
Bay Bridge plus a new bridge next to it
Perfectly clear politics
Obama raises the price of tanning
Farnborough redirect
Snappy quote from Victor Davis Hanson that may or may not actually be true
Nuking the Oil Spill is probably a rather bad idea
Frank J random thought for the day
A demonstration I could join
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom twitter of the day before the day before yesterday
Paul Marks on why the ex Prime Minister of Japan is not like Obama
Apple passed Microsoft in market capitalisation today
One man’s intellectual theft is another man’s marketing
Car in in front of sloping houses
The US Navy photos itself
Apple keyboard remains excellent – iPhone software not so excellent
A horizon(tal) sunset slice
Separating the men from the toys - the future of warfare and of sport?
Man photographed by women!
Antoine Clarke on the Massachusetts election and the online effect
SAY NO TO GOVERNMENT MOTORS
Those angry Americans
Two New York stadiums temporarily next to each other
Abstract satellite expressionism
Three airplane photos
Osprey pictures
Giant Bean covered in mirror
Short posting (with short photo) about SpaceShipTwo
Old-school media versus (or becoming) new-school media (again)
Antoine Clarke on the recent US elections: still a conservative nation
Going global
American video
Paul Marks on the financial crisis and on the badness of Obama
Barney Stinson on how gay marriage will encourage regular marriage
Green cats - feral cats - cats murdered in Wales - more than 113 cats in Livingston NJ
Prize idiots
Quotes dump
Making the IOC feel important with a personal lubricant
At least libertarianism is understood over there
What next for Guido Fawkes?
Bloke in posh suit holding Real Photographer camera like it’s a Billion Monkey camera!
Anti-politics versus (or just and) the heroic delusion
Billion Monkeys in New York and London!
Someone called Rick wants me to puke on President Obama
MBA - necessary but insufficient
Nothing from me here today but something on Samizdata about cannabis
Meme for the New Depression
The exact same photos I would have taken
First picture posted to this blog from the wild
It’s over
Ruminating about politics and ideology
Media bias as asset stripping
Another pendulum theory
Reasons to be a bit more cheerful
Antoine and Michael on what to do now
Antoine Clarke on the financial turmoil and the US election
Tom Burroughes on the banking crisis
Not the book I want to read right now - maybe later
Wonderwoman picked by Unsuperman
Chinese Friday?
Profundity and silliness
Big Pictures
Obama still won’t do nasty
Chivalry and the mad feminists
Mini-lit
How patent lawyers destroyed a mathematician
Africa is big
Another great viaduct
“She put the governor’s jet up on e-Bay …”
Will Wilkinson
Big head and big something else
North Carolina Billion Monkeys mad for Obama!
More at Jonathan Gewirtz
What a lot of circles
Switching from dumb bombing to smart bombing
“I’ll build it with explosive bolts connecting the wings to the fuselage …”
Modern above ancient
Crackers
Terence Kealey on the Wright brothers and their patent battles
Flickring and Googling for the AMGEN bridge
Man regrows finger
San Francisco from Sausalito
Self-guided photo-tour of the streets of San Francisco
Classic car thinness
A deeper voice
The return of Friday cat-blogging
Twickenham shop attacked by the Dark Side of The Force
A better than average press release
Brian Hitler!
Instapundit succumbs to PID
Big, Bigger, Biggest - starring Heathrow Terminal 5
Talking with Antoine about the US election and about libertarian politics in the US and in the UK
Ed Smith on how baseball defeated cricket in America
The moving bridges of Chicago
The Puerto Rican candidate
I love the internet
He is white and he is poking fun at himself
Ursa major
Making the Mississippi Delta make more land
Obama a loser?
Antoine Clarke on the US Primaries – either Obama will beat McCain or McCain will beat Clinton
Moore versus Stossel on Cuban medical care
Go to America and get a Dell Laptop
Antoine Clarke talking about the US Primaries
Billion Monkey Maria Sharapova lookalikes!!!
Michael Jennings photos Disney Hall
Tatiana the normal tiger
A job well done
A bog standard (but rippling and therefore ultra-cool) tower soon to be built in Chicago
Cat stuff on Tuesday?
Michael Jennings on private law in Hollywood
Someone is displaying mutilated cats in San Antonio
Filthy rich
Short posting with short photograph
There ain’t no such thing as a free NHS
A surprising outburst of truth
Thomas Edison - from cheat to creator
Stupid Billion Monkeys!
Tall chess men and tall buildings in the evening
What are the world’s biggest problems?
Very very low cost kitten in space
Telly on computers
Other people’s photos (3): Ice storm
The Pirates opens in New York
Antoine says why he got the midterms wrong
Antoine Clarke and I don’t talk about elections
Latest Brian and Antoine mp3 - Middle East, Mexico, USA
Something to bore everyone
Brian and Antoine democracy mp3 number twelve
Latest Brian and Antoine elections around the world mp3
Brian and Antoine mp3s now into double figures
Brian and Antoine number 9
Election Watch podcast number three
American partisans and American voters
The Superbowl is live on the telly!
He loved my book
Still ill
I am an atheist but I often prefer the Christians