Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Most recent entries
- Reading Anton Howes again
- Along the river towards Battersea
- Lovely light
- Animals not understanding cameras
- The Wires get mentioned! (But it makes no difference!)
- More Big Olympic Thing photos
- Snohetta does zig zag roofs for competitive cities
- Going from knowing a piece of music to also knowing what it is
- Don’t mention The Wires!!!
- White Van Brians
- A Shiny Thing by Frank Stella Hon RA
- Richard J. Evans on how evidence can become more significant over time
- Another from the archives
- Big 4
- Another quota sign
Other Blogs I write for
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
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Art Of The State Blog
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Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
China Law Blog
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Coffee & Complexity
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Deleted by tomorrow
Don't Hold Your Breath
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Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
Ferraris for all
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Here Comes Everybody
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we make money not art
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Category archive: USA
In the early, at first brightly sunlit evening I went walking by the river, over Vauxhall Bridge and then turning right on the other side, towards Battersea.
I noted progress on the new flats. The sky was a beautiful colour. The flats are not a beautiful colour:
The river was adorned by bright reflections off the buildings on the far side.
The evening sun also lit up the bright green wall that keeps the river in its correct place:
There is a new US Embassy taking shape, …:
… although it will not be a very interesting shape:
Battersea Power Station is missing one of its chimneys:
This is probably something to do with the fact that it is having dwellings built in it:
And, when I looked inland, towards the south, over the railway, I saw some world class roof clutter:
So I was in a good mood. Until, on my way back home, I saw this:
Yes, there is an election coming, and we will all vote in such a way as to try to deny office to the political party we most hate, which in my case is the Labour Party. Which means I will probably vote for the bastards advertising themselves with the signs above.
As you can see, by then it had become rather gloomy. As had I.
I’d been meaning to check out that big Shiny Thing outside in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, ever since Mick Hartley gave it a mention at his blog, with a photo, way back on April 8th. Earlier this week I finally got around to doing this, and I took lots of the usual photographs that you would expect me to have taken, of which these are two:
Click on the left, and that shows what this Shiny Thing is like, in its present context. I loved the Shiny Thing itself, as my picture on the right illustrates. In there I see things like Darth Vader. And, rather smaller, I think I also see a naked woman there. Also, there is something vaguely feline about this shape, with its pointing ear-like attachments. Endless photographic fun, especially with the evening light warming up the colours of the surrounding courtyard buildings.
But, I found the rest of this agglomeration rather less interesting. If the idea was to create some interesting reflections, then blander shapes next to the Shiny Thing would have worked better. As it is, the wooden pointy thing, in itself nice enough, is by comparison rather mundane and the black frame that the wooden pointy thing and the Shiny Thing are held up by is ungainly, obtrusive and, to me, when I actually saw it, downright ugly. I mean, did the creator of the equally shiny Chicago Bean feel the need to stick a lot of other crap right next to it to be reflected in it, given that there was already a city there? No he did not.
But I guess if you are Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, you feel the need to do something arbitrary. Mere Platonic symmetry doesn’t do it. A merely beautiful Shiny Thing won’t serve your purpose. It would dilute your brand. Anyone could have done that. There had to be something there which would get people saying: Why did he do that? Come to that, who the hell is he? So that they can be told that it was done by Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, and so that Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, can supply an answer about what he thought he was doing when he, Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, did what he did, like this:
The contrasting materials employed in the sculpture, the natural wood against the highly finished metal, the differing treatments of space in the line-drawn star and the round curves of the solid star, create a tension and sense of the works being both repelled and attracted to each other at a fixed distance by an invisible force field.
Maybe if I go back and take some more snaps of this Shiny Thing, I will decide that I find the other crap next to it not so crappy after all. The other crap certainly looks better in the shots at the other end of the link above than it did to me, on the spot. And, if it was necessary for Frank Stella Hon RA to ponder the contrasts between a wooden thing and a shiny thing and black metal stuff to get Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, to have made a very entertaining Shiny Thing, then fine. Whatever it took.
Abusive internet comments are usually very tedious. But, having never heard this gag before, I liked this one.
Following the alleged threat by US politician John McCain to kick the s*** out of another US politician, Harry Reid, a commenter commented (April 16 12:43am):
(Harry Reid) – s*** = 0
So, I googled aircraft coming in to land over closed civilian roads, and to my surprise I came across another use for a drone:
This one looks like it might be spraying stuff on the crop below. Obvious, I know, but I am collecting these things. The drone is yet another gadget that the banning classes would love to ban, but it’s just too useful.
But you can see how this will mean a whole new sort of newsworthy accident. Or, even better, of newsworthy malevolence.
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:
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”.
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 ...:
… 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?
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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
Drone on the White House lawn
BMdotcom What if? of the day
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
Brian Micklethwait dot com quote of the day
Why aren’t people happier about amazing new stuff?
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
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
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
Rob Fisher on old things not looking old
Richard Stallman on software patents
I’ve just been quotulated
Baltimore: cranes - a bridge - scaffolding
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
Emmanuel Todd links
Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
Domestic cats are destroying the planet
Little Lady Liberty - still in France
American election talk
Pollsters can’t say where things are but they can say which way they’re going
“No one has to know!”
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 …
What’s up with that?
Literally the light switch of leadership
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
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
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
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?
Reading various bits of Roger Kimball
Bay Bridge plus a new bridge next to it
Perfectly clear politics
Obama raises the price of tanning
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
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
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
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
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
Profundity and silliness
Obama still won’t do nasty
Chivalry and the mad feminists
How patent lawyers destroyed a mathematician
Africa is big
Another great viaduct
“She put the governor’s jet up on e-Bay …”
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
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
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
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
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
I am an atheist but I often prefer the Christians