Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Simon Gibbs on More White Vans
Beakon blog on Tweet?
6000 on A weird view of the Wheel - and cats in Tiger
Michael Jennings on White Van
Brian Micklethwait on White Van
Rob Fisher on White Van
Rob Fisher on Is rugby the new squash?
Alan Little on Is rugby the new squash?
Michael Jennings on Michael Jennings on the likely progress of the Cricket World Cup
Michael Jennings on Is rugby the new squash?
Most recent entries
- Big cat scan
- From a cat cushion to Bill Murray and a nude to a demon horse sculpture that killed its creator
- My favourie partial eclipse photos
- Bean drops snow on tourist
- Paul Kennedy on centimetric radar
- More White Vans
- Quota scaffolding and quota roof clutter
- Not squash
- A weird view of the Wheel - and cats in Tiger
- White Vin Van
- White Van
- BT Tower behind trees
- You don’t see this any more
- Photoing the photoers on Westminster Bridge
- Is rugby the new squash?
Other Blogs I write for
6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
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Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
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Communities Dominate Brands
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we make money not art
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Category archive: Business
First, an outstanding White Van photo snapped from what looks like the inside of a cafe, by Simon Gibbs, to whom profuse thanks:
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:
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:
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.)
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:
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:
Too knackered to say more now. Suffice it to say that Tiger is a veritable cornucopia of cheap and cheerful stuff.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
I just googled “3D printing” and clicked on “images”. One of the more interesting images I encountered was this one ...:
… which I found here. The point being that this is one of those technologies which lots of people are getting excited about, perhaps as something they might be able to do themselves, for fun but also for profit. But most of the significant early applications of 3D printing seem now to be by businesses which were already making stuff, and now have another way to make it. Regular thing makers (for those not inclined to follow links that’s a link to pieces about the use of 3D printing by the aerospace industry) have a huge advantage over “home” 3D printers, which is that they already know what would be worth making.
And making in quite large quantities, which means that they can acquire or construct highly specialised 3D printers for those particular items, which use their own very particular material inputs. 3D printers, if they are to pay their way, must surely specialise. Which means they’ll be applied first by businessmen, rather than by mere people in their homes.
I have yet to hear about any 3D printing killer app which will kick off the much talked-of but yet-to-occur home 3D printing revolution. It will come, I’m sure. But it hasn’t come yet.
I kept the Samizdata posting short, and there follow a couple of paragraphs I decided not to include, because … well, I just decided not to. The posting, which was basically just saying how about this for a clever guy go and watch him was becoming too unwieldy and too full of ponderousness. So, the rest of this is me recycling my cuts here. I can’t really put what follows as a quote, but it sort of feels like maybe I should. Anyway, here we go.
There are around a dozen or more fascinating notions expounded in Thiel’s talk. One thing in particular interested me, because it is an argument that has always interested me. Extreme pessimism, says Thiel, often causes people to think that there is nothing to be done, because whatever they do is bound to fail. Very true. But extreme optimism (optimism being my preferred stance when trying to do anything) is also dangerous, because it is liable to tell you that you don’t need to do anything. Good things will happen automatically. Says Thiel: avoid both extremes. Steer a middle path. Do of a bit of both. All of which may seem very obvious to you, but I have never heard it put quite like that, and certainly not so succinctly.
Another nice and counter-consensual thing Thiel says is that failure is over-rated, because you generally only learn one of the reasons why you failed, when in fact there were probably about half a dozen.
See the early comments at Samizdata by Rob Fisher, for other bits of cleverness from this extremely clever man.
More Thiel spiel here.
True hearts and warm hands
Cats in Quimper shops
A French film poster advertising a British film
Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science
Dominic Frisby on the Hype Cycle
And now a photo-drone in a London shop window
MDL and DPD delivered what they promised but were wrong about me having to be there to sign for it
The man who photoed the CDs in Gramex this afternoon
Recently on dezeen
Boris bus malfunction
Helter Skelter scrapped
Rob took photos
Flying cars will have to be flown by robots
Chippendale without Rannie
Bill Bryson on the miracle of crop rotation
Out and about in the sunshine
Xxxx-ie outside Xxxx-ridges
PID at the Times
ASI Boat Trip 9: The man driving the boat
You need to have abseiled …
Cashing a cheque by photoing it
What to call the sneerquote Salesforce /sneerquote tower? (plus a quite profound tangent)
Compact Cats buried under London’s poshest homes
I see cats
Me and the first cranes at London Gateway last September
A selfie taken in 1955 - another taken in 2014 - another being taken in 2014
The good done by the Apple Newton
A new Morrisons is opening in Strutton Ground next Monday
A Bitcoin vending machine and a Lego photographer (and a Lego Hawking)
I think I may at last have found myself a sofa
A quota post (with a quota link to a post about a post about a quota photo) and another quota photo
Big Things happening in the City
Selfies of me – 2001, 2007 and yesterday
Photoing the A380 from above – from the ground
I now have a new computer screen
Slightly wider tube trains
Guangbiao Chen’s incredible business card
3D printer sighted!
Tough going in Australia
Big Things and small things
La Porte des Indes
Father Christmas Aerodrome
Happiness is Gold Blend at only £3 instead of £4.50
On the insecurity of ObamaCare - and on the unwisdom of only punishing big and later
Rob Fisher on old things not looking old
A Strutton Ground shop and a Strutton Ground pub
Alex on Quentin
Halloween is near!
Amazon pricing puzzle
The Times of May 24th 1940
Bad and good in bad weather
Earn yourself fifty quid by finding me a suitable sofa
London Gateway from above
Rob Fisher on the 3D printing future
Quota photo of a bucket of plastic crocodiles in an otherwise deserted shop window in Oxford Street
The Alex Singleton blog
Spot the Samsung connection
Views from the Hackney Wick station footbridge
BMdotCOM mixed metaphor of the day
Wedding photography (5): Photography!
Wedding photography (4): Preparations
Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Google Nexus 4 photos
Michael Jennings - pictures of globalisation
What Michael Jennings has been learning about and will be saying about globalisation
Waterloo Station’s new upper deck
Classical CDs from Gramex
At the bottom of the Shard
Looking along Victoria Street to The Wheel (and on how to be liked (or disliked) by Google)
Skull made of skulls in gift shop street
An afternoon in Croydon
Cleaning lady for hire
Michael Jennings on how the taxis at Skopje airport are an evil racket and what he did about it
Turning back the spam comment tide and allowing proper comments from way back still to be read
The Bezier Building and a hideous advertising erection at the Old Street Roundabout
“I just came across this fascinating photo …”
Talk by Frank Braun about Bitcoin at my home on Aug 3rd
62 Buckingham Gate
Space launch monster
Today I’m in a “How very odd!” mood
Street social services management integrated command sub-centres
The England rugby aftermath
Jarrod Kimber on biased cricket commentators
Go Gary Johnson!
The Jobs difference
David Friedman on the similarity between fractional reserve banking and insurance
Empty tables and empty chairs
Misspelt (correction: Italian) signs of the times
Signs from the Frenchosphere
Someone doesn’t understand what I mean by roof clutter
If you can’t beat them hire them
The bike behind the theatre
Absolutely not a private navy (except that it probably is)
Noticing signs of the times
Jobs departs from Apple (again)
Mozart might have become a criminal
And then give up and stay fat
From pop to purrfume
Ashes highlights on ITV4
Those cameras are getting cheaper
Rockets are a great improvement on balloons
Beyond the Dome with Goddaughter One
I don’t usually approve of swear blogging but …
Andy Flower urges England fans not to punish cricket for being corrupt
Toby Baxendale on what went wrong and what to do about it
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom least obnoxious spam comment so far
At the launch of Alchemists of Loss
If they don’t want to be British Petroleum anymore they should stop calling themselves BP
Nuking the Oil Spill is probably a rather bad idea
Lucky we didn’t go to Lords
Apple passed Microsoft in market capitalisation today
Rubbish bridge in Shangai
How my camera and the internet explained an old bus
Why my libertarianism has the look and feel of socialism
You know where you are with a book - usually
Apple keyboard remains excellent – iPhone software not so excellent
Six lions on a white Mercedes bonnet
Quota cat rubber
Sounds like a brothel with film star lookalikes
Beyond iPad (and a picture that goes beyond this posting)
Does Google now rule the world of computing?
My local Blockbuster Video just closed
Cricket talk tonight
Hasselblad hit by custom-built headquarters disease!
Three airplane photos
Short posting (with short photo) about SpaceShipTwo
The Shard is definitely being built!
Talking with Toby Baxendale
Apple mobile phones are very profitable but Nokia mobile phones are not very profitable
Under a hundred copies
Today I bought an Apple Mac keyboard …
God is killing cinemas!
Computer coffee table
Magic bottle that makes dirty water drinkable
Me and Michael Jennings talk tech trends
Model T parts flatvert
Laptop for emails
The latest Canon DSLR comes without a twiddly screen
Handel in London – and an angelic tenor aria
The Vita-Mix 5000 at the Veggie Show
Two Samizdata comments on the sinking of Brown and on the sinking of the Daily Telegraph
Register for your free pack and five £1-off-coupons
A photo of the Samsung NC10 and the original Asus Eee-PC next to each other
The Fixed Quantity of Advertising fallacy and the menace of targetted advertising
James Tyler’s speech at Policy Exchange
Lawrence H. White on the Scottish experience of free banking
My confusion about free banking
Toys and big toys
Kevid Dowd video now up and watchable
Work begins on the Shard of Glass
Clay Shirky on newspaper doom
MBA - necessary but insufficient
The Shard may actually be being built
Google and dongle
On being sold a telly
Vote for crazy flavoured crisps!
You don’t wait for it – you go looking for it
Roll out the Lino
OLED TV - very thin and detailed but not very big and not ready yet unless you’re stupidly rich
Picture charging advice please
Is the contemporary art bubble bursting?
Colonial Governor’s Mansion dwarfed by modernity
Linkin Park - one leg short of libertarian
Snapped in Egham
Why Willem Buiter blogs and why I do
Lang Lang crushes Yundi Li!
Another pendulum theory
Guido Fawkes conflates the Monetarists and the Austrians – needs to chat with Antoine Clarke
Antoine and Michael on what to do now
Tama the feline stationmaster saves the Wakayama Electric Railway Co.
Antoine Clarke on the financial turmoil and the US election
Tom Burroughes on the banking crisis
An abstract view of Kings Place
Profundity and silliness
On classical music voice addiction
A poetic Hornby
Voice of God journalism
Today I have been blogging elsewhere and also doing other things
Cisco – fuck off and die
“Better value on goods and services across a wide range of categories …”
Big Bens - Wheels - Big Ben teapots - telephone box teapots
Classic car thinness
News Media Coalition versus Indian Premier League
Travis Perkins of Pimlico Road are not good at delivering timber
Twickenham shop attacked by the Dark Side of The Force
Flat pictures for flat screens
Ed Smith on how baseball defeated cricket in America
Bookcase staircase many books electric book manybooks.net
Reflections in a Belgravia shop window
Michael Jennings on telecoms at Samizdata
Moore versus Stossel on Cuban medical care
The great DVD packaging clearout
Blogging – the end of the beginning
The petty cash effect cuts in for Linux
Linux versus Windows - the bigger tiny laptop breakout
Jones the department store
The new South Bank
Democracy for sale – starting with football and beer
I love competition
A job well done
Eee PC not eeesy to get in Asia either
When the penny drops
Probably not right - but definitely written
The qualitative difference made by quantity
The A380 bulge
It’s the decline of old-school advertising that’s really hurting old-school journalism
The business of gadget blogging
“How much better …?”
Not actually all that dramatically
Michael Jennings on private law in Hollywood
Will China fail?
Smelling the smoke in the Microsoft machine
End the medical monopoly!
The cranes are migrating to China and Michael Jennings will be talking about China
Lots of links
The publicness of private life
The double thank-you moment
Pictures with words
“Information makes markets work …”
“That’s not Minnie Mouse - that’s a cat with large ears”
Old gits at the Oval – and Shane Warne
How to handle the complaints of your fiercest critics
Very small screen – high resolution
Plastic that conducts heat better
Comparing classical music with modern architecture
Susie Bubble turns shopping into a job with her blog
Bollocks to the fashists
iPods as the new CDs
The future of music
New York Times links - owned genes
Very very low cost kitten in space
And further talk at Christian Michel’s about water and power
Back to the future with the virtuoso violinists
Billion Monkeys and people waving blue things!
Screwed by Google – and Google screwed by the kitten-bloggers?
Happy Christmas Day
The Pirates opens in New York
Alice in Fortnum and Mason
Adriana Media Influencer: What do you do? (the mp3s of the book)
Spreading the word for free
Geek girl I like your thinkings - are nice - I want have sex with it
Top tips from Viz
Antoine Clarke and I don’t talk about elections
Grassy car with blog
How I became a One Minute Crap Manager
Getting things read
Remembering the Alternative Bookshop experience
Blogging is filing for those who can’t
Patrick Crozier talks with me about Japan
Being real on digital
Debussy denounces Massenet but Puccini follows him
Run Germany with thirty megs
On trust and obviousness
Presumably the noise is not a problem
On style and politics
They really were excellent
On the spread of voluntariness
Holocaust museum repeated as fashion?
Blogging fun and blogging profit
Read-Write versus Read-Only