Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Michael on Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science
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- Hirst’s Hymn outside the Tate Gallery
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- Christmas tree with scaffolding
- Santa’s tired helpers
- To Covent Garden (1): The twisty footbridge
- Trousers keyboard
- Cameras photoing the Wheel (in 2007)
- Was Guy’s Tower a key building in the architectural history of London?
- Photo-drone wars to come
- A link and a photo of a photographer
- Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science
- Sign blocked by surveillance camera
- My digital photos on his TV
- ASI Christmas Party photos
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Category archive: Business
Another Bit from a Book, and once again I accompany it with a warning that this Bit could vanish at any moment, for the reasons described in this earlier posting.
This particular Bit is from The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley (pp. 255-258):
Much as I love science for its own sake, I find it hard to argue that discovery necessarily precedes invention and that most new practical applications flow from the minting of esoteric insights by natural philosophers. Francis Bacon was the first to make the case that inventors are applying the work of discoverers, and that science is the father of invention. As the scientist Terence Kealey has observed, modern politicians are in thrall to Bacon. They believe that the recipe for making new ideas is easy: pour public money into science, which is a public good, because nobody will pay for the generation of ideas if the taxpayer does not, and watch new technologies emerge from the downstream end of the pipe. Trouble is, there are two false premises here: first, science is much more like the daughter than the mother of technology; and second, it does not follow that only the taxpayer will pay for ideas in science.
It used to be popular to argue that the European scientific revolution of the seventeenth century unleashed the rational curiosity of the educated classes, whose theories were then applied in the form of new technologies, which in turn allowed standards of living to rise. China, on this theory, somehow lacked this leap to scientific curiosity and philosophical discipline, so it failed to build on its technological lead. But history shows that this is back-to-front. Few of the inventions that made the industrial revolution owed anything to scientific theory.
It is, of course, true that England had a scientific revolution in the late 1600s, personified in people like Harvey, Hooke and Halley, not to mention Boyle, Petty and Newton, but their influence on what happened in England’s manufacturing industry in the following century was negligible. Newton had more influence on Voltaire than he did on James Hargreaves. The industry that was transformed first and most, cotton spinning and weaving, was of little interest to scientists and vice versa. The jennies, gins, frames, mules and looms that revolutionised the working of cotton were invented by tinkering businessmen, not thinking boffins: by ‘hard heads and clever fingers’. It has been said that nothing in their designs would have puzzled Archimedes.
Likewise, of the four men who made the biggest advances in the steam engine - Thomas Newcomen, James Watt, Richard Trevithick and George Stephenson - three were utterly ignorant of scientific theories, and historians disagree about whether the fourth, Watt, derived any influence from theory at all. It was they who made possible the theories of the vacuum and the laws of thermodynamics, not vice versa. Denis Papin, their French-born forerunner, was a scientist, but he got his insights from building an engine rather than the other way round. Heroic efforts by eighteenth-century scientists to prove that Newcomen got his chief insights from Papin’s theories proved wholly unsuccessful.
Throughout the industrial revolution, scientists were the beneficiaries of new technology, much more than they were the benefactors. Even at the famous Lunar Society, where the industrial entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood liked to rub shoulders with natural philosophers like Erasmus Darwin and Joseph Priestley, he got his best idea - the ‘rose-turning’ lathe - from a fellow factory owner, Matthew Boulton. And although Benjamin Franklin’s fertile mind generated many inventions based on principles, from lightning rods to bifocal spectacles, none led to the founding of industries.
So top-down science played little part in the early years of the industrial revolution. In any case, English scientific virtuosity dries up at the key moment. Can you name a single great English scientific discovery of the first half of the eighteenth century? It was an especially barren time for natural philosophers, even in Britain. No, the industrial revolution was not sparked by some deus ex machina of scientific inspiration. Later science did contribute to the gathering pace of invention and the line between discovery and invention became increasingly blurred as the nineteenth century wore on. Thus only when the principles of electrical transmission were understood could the telegraph be perfected; once coal miners understood the succession of geological strata, they knew better where to sink new mines; once benzene’s ring structure was known, manufacturers could design dyes rather than serendipitously stumble on them. And so on. But even most of this was, in Joel Mokyr’s words, ‘a semi-directed, groping, bumbling process of trial and error by clever, dexterous professionals with a vague but gradually clearer notion of the processes at work’. It is a stretch to call most of this science, however. It is what happens today in the garages and cafes of Silicon Valley, but not in the labs of Stanford University.
The twentieth century, too, is replete with technologies that owe just as little to philosophy and to universities as the cotton industry did: flight, solid-state electronics, software. To which scientist would you give credit for the mobile telephone or the search engine or the blog? In a lecture on serendipity in 2007, the Cambridge physicist Sir Richard Friend, citing the example of high-temperature superconductivity - which was stumbled upon in the 1980s and explained afterwards - admitted that even today scientists’ job is really to come along and explain the empirical findings of technological tinkerers after they have discovered something.
The inescapable fact is that most technological change comes from attempts to improve existing technology. It happens on the shop floor among apprentices and mechanicals, or in the workplace among the users of computer programs, and only rarely as a result of the application and transfer of knowledge from the ivory towers of the intelligentsia. This is not to condemn science as useless. The seventeenth-century discoveries of gravity and the circulation of the blood were splendid additions to the sum of human knowledge. But they did less to raise standards of living than the cotton gin and the steam engine. And even the later stages of the industrial revolution are replete with examples of technologies that were developed in remarkable ignorance of why they worked. This was especially true in the biological world. Aspirin was curing headaches for more than a century before anybody had the faintest idea of how. Penicillin’s ability to kill bacteria was finally understood around the time bacteria learnt to defeat it. Lime juice was preventing scurvy centuries before the discovery of vitamin C. Food was being preserved by canning long before anybody had any germ theory to explain why it helped.
As discussed in this earlier posting, here is a chunk of Frisby, from his book Bitcoin: The Future of Money? (pp. 197-201 – the chunk entitled “Beware the hype cycle"). And for the reasons stated in that earlier posting, this posting might rather suddenly disappear, so if you feel inclined to read it, do so now. And then when you have, buy the book and tell me that you have done this in the comments, because this might cheer up any passing authors or publishers:
There is a cycle that a new technology passes through as it goes from conception to widespread adoption. The research company Gartner has dubbed it the ‘hype cycle’. It has five phases: the technology trigger, the peak of inflated expectations, the trough of disappointment, the slope of enlightenment and the plateau of productivity.
In the first phase the new technology is invented. There is research and development and some early investment is found. The first products are brought to market. They are expensive and will need a lot of improvement, but they find some early users. The technology clearly has something special about it and people start getting excited. This is the ‘technology trigger’. The internet in the early 1990s is a good example.
As this excitement grows, we move into the second phase. The media start talking about this amazing new technology. Speculative money piles in. All sorts of new companies spring up to operate in this new sector. Many of them are just chasing hot money and have no real product to offer. They are sometimes fraudulent. This new technology is going to change the world. The possibilities are endless. We’re going to cure diseases. We’re going to solve energy problems. We’re going to build houses on the moon. This is the ‘peak of inflated expectations’. This was the internet in 2000.
But at some point, the needle of reality punctures the bubble of expectation, and we move into the third phase. Actually, this technology might not be quite as good as we thought it was; it’s going to take a lot of work to get it right and to make it succeed on a commercial scale. A great deal of not particularly rewarding hard work, time and investment lies ahead. Forget the ideas men – now we need the water-carriers. Suddenly, the excitement has gone.
Negative press starts to creep in. Now there are more sellers than buyers. Investment is harder to come by. Many companies start going bust. People are losing money. The hype cycle has reversed and we have descended into the ‘trough of disappointment.’ This was the internet between 2000 and 2003.
But now that the hot money has left, we can move into phase four. The incompetent or fraudulent companies have died. The sector has been purged. Most of those that remain are serious players. Investors now demand better practice and the survivors deliver it. They release the second and third generation products, and they work quite well. More and more people start to use the technology and it is finally finding mainstream adoption. This was the internet in 2004. It climbed the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’, the fourth phase of the hype cycle, and entered the ‘Plateau of Productivity’ - phase five - which is where the likes of Google, Amazon and eBay are today.
Of course, cycles like this are arbitrary. Reality is never quite so simple. But it’s easy to make the case that crypto-currencies in late 2013 reached a ‘peak of inflated expectations’.
Perhaps it was not the. It wasn’t Bitcoin’s dotcom 2000 moment – just a peak on a larger journey up. Many Bitcoin companies, for example, are not even listed on the stock market. Greater manias could lie ahead.
But it’s also easy to make the case that it ws the peak of inflated expectations. In the space of three or four years, Bitcoin went from an understated mention on an obscure mailing list to declarations that it was not only going to become the preferred money system of the world, but also the usurper of the existing world order. At $1,000 a coin, some early adopters had made a million times their original investment. Speculators marvelled at the colossal amount of money they were making. The media were crazy for it. Bitcoin was discussed all over television.
It caught the imagination of the left, the right and the in-between. Computer boffins marvelled at the impossibly resilient code. Economists and libertarians marvelled at the politics of a money without government or border. There were early adopters, from the tech savvy to the black markets (black markets are usually quick to embrace new technology - pornography was the first business sector to actually make money on the internet, for example).
Every Tom, Dick and Harry you met under the age of 30 with an interest in IT was involved in some Bircoin start-up or other. Either that or he was designing some new alt currency - some altcoins were rising at over a thousand per cent per day. ‘Banks, governments, they’re irrelevant now,’ these upstarts declared.
I suggest that in late 2013 we hit the peak of the hype cycle - the peak of inflated expectations. Now Bitcoin is somewhere in the ‘trough of disillusionment,’ just like the internet in 2001. The price has fallen. There have been thefts. Some of the companies involved have gone bankrupt.
The challenge now is for all those start-ups to make their product or service work. They have to take Bitcoin from a great idea and a technology that works to something with much wider ‘real world’ use. They have to find investment and get more and more people to start using the coins. This is a long process.
There are many who will disagree with this interpretation. And, with investment, it is dangerous to have rigid opinions – I reserve the right to change my mind as events unfold.
It’s one thing to see a photo-drone reviewed in DPReview, and costing the best part of a thousand quid. It’s quite another to see one in the flesh, in a London shop window, on sale for less than four hundred:
Photoed by me through the window of Maplin’s in the Strand, late this afternoon.
Here are the details of this gizmo, at the Maplin’s website.
Okay, that must be a very cheap camera, but even so, this feels to me like a breakthrough moment for this technology, if not exactly now, then Real Soon Now. Note that you can store the output in real time, on your mobile phone. Something tells me that this gadget is going to generate some contentious news stories about nightmare neighbours, privacy violations, and who knows what other fights and furores.
What might the paps do with such toys? And how soon before two of these things crash into each other?
A few days ago, my beloved Panasonic Lumix FZ150 started misbehaving. An immobile black blob, the same blob every time, started inserting itself into all the pictures. Disaster. I shook the camera to see if it might be a superficial problem like a bit of gunk which further shaking might move to a harmless spot, but the black blob never moved, not by one pixel. I am sure this could be mended, but I didn’t have time for that, because last night I was about to attend that Libertarian Home cost of living debate, for free, on the clear understanding that I would take lots of photos.
Besides which, I hate not having a camera on me at all times. Who knows what unimortalisable dramas I might have to endure while being bereft of the ability to photograph them?
So, I immediately went out and bought another camera, from a shop. I chose the FZ150’s smarter younger brother, the Panasonic Lumix FZ200. This camera was a bit costly, yes, but, having been around for a while, not as costly as it might have been. And, it works better than the FZ150 in low light, or so everyone who cares has been saying. At indoor meetings, for instance.
I had hoped that the FZ200, being so very similar to and merely a bit better than the FZ150, would use an identical battery, which would mean that I would then have two spare batteries for the FZ200, in addition to the one it came with, on account of me having bought a spare for the FZ150 when I bought that. Alas, not. The FZ200 has its own somewhat different battery, and that meant I needed yet another spare battery. Now that SD card space is infinite, it is batteries that are now liable to run out, what with all the snaps you can now put on your infinite SD card. One battery, for a big event or expedition, is not now enough.
So, I ordered an FZ200 battery via Amazon, and paid extra for it to arrive yesterday, instead of just whenever.
And it did arrive yesterday. Once again, just as happened with that book that reached me the day before yesterday, the fundamentally important thing got done. I wanted the book and I got it. I wanted a new back-up battery, pronto, and I got it. Good.
An email arrived first thing yesterday morning, saying that the battery would arrive between 11.54 and 12.54, and that I should be in at that time, to sign for the package when I received it. Excellent. This email was identical in format to the ones telling me about how Macmillan Distribution (MDL) would be delivering the book that they had been promising, but I recognised the email about the battery as genuine, because it had lots of Amazon verbiage at the top of a sort that always signifies genuine Amazon business. Again, good. I was all set to write an admiring blog posting about this latest delivery service, the one that delivered the battery, an enterprise called DPD.
Saying when a delivery will be made, to the nearest hour, is a huge step forward, when the receiver is householder in a household rather than an office worker in an office. An office can have someone present throughout any given day, to receive incoming items and generally communicate with the outside world on behalf of all workers based there, present or absent. But the idea that a householder should be expected to wait around all day just to sign for one incoming delivery is, frankly, contemptible. As soon as a delivery person knows approximately when he’ll be arriving, and the chances are he will know this first thing in the morning, that information should be communicated to the householder. This used not to happen, but with these two delivery enterprises, it did. As I say, this is a big step in the right direction.
In both of these cases I did get this message. The book was promised between 8.30 and 9.30, and it arrived then, by which time I just about believed that the book emails were genuine. This battery was promised between 11.54 and 12.54, and it arrived then, just as I expected it to.
But all this fuss and palaver about timing becomes rather superfluous if all that the delivery person actually does when he arrives is leave the thing, unsigned for, in whatever place near to the householder he considers sufficiently near. The whole point, as insisted upon in both emails about this, of stating a specified time of arrival, is to make sure that I, the householder, was present in person, to sign for the thing. But in neither of these two cases was my presence, as it turned out, actually required. My buzzer, the one outside the front door of all the flats where my flat is, is working fine. I checked, using a visiting friend to hear it when I myself went downstairs and buzzed. Yet neither of these two delivery persons deigned to use this buzzer. They knew the number. The book deliverer even found his way right to my own personal door. But, no buzzing.
Let me spell it out. Both delivery companies told me I had to be there during the hours they each specified. Failure by me to sign would mean no delivery and further palaver while re-delivery was negotiated. These proclamations may have been offered in good faith, but they were false. I did not have to be there.
I got what I wanted. But if the original supplier wanted proof that I had received the items in the form of my signature, then DPD and MDL, in the form of the two delivery persons, would be unable to supply this proof without faking it. Were my signatures forged on little electronic devices, I wonder?
In the case of the DPD person, the person who did not even try to get my signature had, according to the DPD email, a name: “Mark”. I had been anticipating something better from “Mark”. Sadly, not.
The basic problem here, I think, is that the service supply chain is too long and is out of control. Suppliers of products promise in all sincerity that products will be delivered in exactly the manner they promise. But the person they are depending on to keep that promise doesn’t care about that promise, or not about all of it. He knows that, so long as the punter gets his hands on his precious thing, then whether any signing happens is, as far as the punter is concerned, a secondary matter. Being commanded to be somewhere you didn’t actually need to be is annoying, yes, and this is what happened to me, twice. But not getting the thing is something else again. Had one of these items (especially the battery) not arrived when stated, then you can be sure that I would have been complaining. But complaining as in trying to get my hands on the damn battery, not complaining as in just marking the whole scenario out of ten, after my basic problem (getting the battery) had been entirely solved.
By the way, when I enabled the graphic decoration of one of the Macmillan Deliveries (MDL) emails, the email then proceeded show me a picture of a DPD van. Either Macmillan are all mixed up with DPD, or else Macmillan stole the DPD email and neglected to expunge DPD from it. Or something. I really do not care.
But that’s typical. Who the hell was I dealing with here? Who, in the event that either of these items had not turned up at all, would I have had to direct my seriously angry complaints? As opposed to these mere grumbles about a basically satisfactory state of affairs, underneath all the crap.
When you have a major complaint to aim at one of these complicated supply chains, then you could well be screwed. It may take you many hours or even days to find out even who to complain to, let alone how to gouge satisfaction out of them. (Although, to be fair to Amazon, they take responsibility for everything that they do or that anyone unleashed via them does, for and to you, which is all part of why I bought that battery through Amazon rather than by some other cheaper but less dependable means. (The previous sentence is a short explanation of why Amazon now rules the world.))
But (and to get back to my point before all the brackets), when it comes to lesser complaints, complaints about blemishes on a system that basically works pretty well, well, this is why blogs were invented. With a blog posting, you can slag off the entire universe. You don’t have to be bothered with which exact bit of the universe it was that did you wrong. You can just tell your story. Then, instead of you begging the universe to correct things, the universe, if any of it cares, has to convince you that there was no problem and to convince you to stop saying it.
In case you are wondering why I have gone on at such length about a basically rather minor problem, the answer is that I am optimistic about problems like this actually being solved. A business often does a basically good thing, but rather crappily, while they struggle to get it totally organised and running totally smoothly. People buy whatever it is, but sneer at the crap, because it is crappy and because they can. The businesses then hears all the sneering and gets it sorted and gets even better. Compare and contrast: the government.
This is a point I have made here before. Follow that link, as you now don’t need to, and you will read me deriding a plan to refer to a Big London Thing as the “Safesforce Tower”. Salesforce is a perfectly decent business, which does whatever it does. But it had a silly plan to change the name of a Big London Thing from something sensible to something very stupid. And guess what, what with all the complaints about this plan from me and from multitudes of others, that ridiculous circumstance has now been corrected. Not in the way I would have liked. Salesforce has still not been shamed into civility. But nearby politicians have forced civility down Salesforce’s throat. And the Heron Tower will not now be officially called the “Salesforce Tower”.
Although, London being London, this tower might now actually be called the Salesforce Tower, unofficially, in perpetuity, as a joke, given that no other joke name now obviously suggests itself for this rather ungainly erection.
By the way, it turned out that one battery sufficed for last night’s meeting. But, I did not know that this would be the case beforehand, and had I only had one battery I would not have felt free to take as many photographs as I did feel free to take. With public meetings, it’s a numbers game. The light is bad and people are constantly moving about, so half your pictures will be rubbish right off, if only because someone was blinking at the time. The trick is for the other half of your pictures still to be a large enough collection for you to be able to pick out a few truly good ones. So, the spare battery was useful, even if I didn’t make any actual physical use of it.
I realise that very few readers indeed will have read right to the end of this ridiculously long-winded and repetitious posting. But, having written it and having posted it, I feel better.
It’s that time of the year when I go into one of my local supermarkets and immediately start taking photos, like that, or like this:
Yes it’s Halloween. And the shops, in this case Sainsbury’s, are full of Halloween crap. And I photo it. I wouldn’t buy any of it. Oh no. I am far above that sort of thing. But, I photo it.
Except, how about these rather cute buckets? Just the thing for my Last Friday of the Month meetings, to put crappy food in:
Only 50p per bucket! I got two. And I just might go back for more.
Not that. I wouldn’t want one of them. That’s my picture of Sainsbury’s, having the last laugh.
Yes, there I was, relaxing in one of the big old armchairs that Mr Gramex reckons have made him so much money over the years, and this guy shows up at the door wanting to photo the CDs.
Mr Gramex has no objection, so, he does. And I photo him. This is what this looked like:
I thought I was the only one who did things like photo CDs in CD shops. Why was he doing this? He was evasive. My guess is some kind of project photoing lots of different stuff in lots of different London shops. Or, maybe wherever he goes, in life, he photos stuff in shops, the way I photo photographers. He said he was from Turkey.
Mr Gramex was very keen that Mr Turkey should also go outside and photo the window display, which he did. Even if he actually cared nothing for this window display the marginal cost of digital photography is zero and if that was how to keep in with Mr Gramex, fine, he’d do it. Which is when I took the photo on the right. Click on that photo, and, in the event that you care at all, you can see me photoing, reflected in the shop window, bottom right.
The bike in the middle picture belongs to Mr Gramex. As you can see from the reviews here, Gramex does not suit everyone. But it suits the people it suits very well.
Yes, dezeen (Dezeen?) continues to be a favourite wwwspot for me. Here are some recent dezeen postings that got my attention, for this or that reason.
First, news that there will be a viewing platform on top of the Walkie Talkie:
The Walkie Talkie Skygarden has yet to open and will, I’m sure, come with a catchier name. But already it is in obvious competition with the Shard – pricey versus free, ascetic steel and glass versus sylvan repose, supreme height versus not being able to see the Walkie Talkie. ...
Very droll. The original was about how you couldn’t see the National Theatre from the National Theatre. But me, I am warming to the Walkie Talkie, and I don’t just mean I’m standing under it and being fried. I especially like how it looks from a distance. The point being: it looks like the Walkie Talkie. Not just some anonymous rectangular London lump, no, that particular Big Thing. Yes it is not properly beautiful. But neither is London. Besides which, anything that just might compete down the price of going to the top of the Shard has my vote. I’ll definitely make my way up there, as soon as they’ll let me
Next up, isn’t fun when someone hitherto impeccably cool suddenly turns into Grumpy Old Man:
Speaking to Dezeen, the 85-year-old English designer said tech products like the iPhone and Apple Watch were turning people into zombies, adding: “I’ve got a certain cynicism of Apple and their motives. It’s a bit of a monster.”
“It’s a game they’re playing and it’s an absolutely straightforward, commercial, ruthless game, and it’s dressed up nicely because they’ve got some talented people in their employ,” he said.
Grange, who was knighted in 2013 for services to design, believes that the tech giant has successfully turned Modernism into “good commerce”, using aesthetics to dress up a self-perpetuating product cycle.
“There are probably few companies around now that absolutely answer the prospect that Modernism is good commerce,” he said. ...
Modernism is good commerce? Can’t have that.
… “They’ve been so bloody ruthless that you almost get no choice in the matter.”
“Almost” there means “not”. (See also: essentially, basically, fundamentally, etc. etc. etc.) Because actually, you get plenty of choice about whether to buy Apple stuff or not. Apart from one rather nice keyboard, I never have.
People always talk about the behemoths of capitalism like this, just as they are starting their long slide down into moderate size and moderate success, into business as usual. How do I know Apple is now at the top of that slide? Easy, they are building a custom-designed headquarters. It absolutely yells: from now on, all Apple-persons will talk to each other and keep everyone else out. And what they will be talking about, to an appalling degree, will be their own living arrangements inside this huge circular corporate burial chamber. They’re doomed, I tell you, doomed. Someone tell Sir Grumpy (above) that he can relax.
Next: what a driverless car might look like. Not. But, it looks very pretty. The basic point, that driverless cars will in the longer run utterly transform the look of the outdoors is, I think, a very good one. Maybe that is how some of them will look.
I really do not like the way this floating bikeway along the River Thames looks, in the pictures there. At the very least, I say, find a way to avoid having those obtrusive shapes above the level of the track, which makes it look like an infinitely extended item of tasteless garden furniture. I get it, that crap is there to enable it to float up and down on the tide. Well, find another way to do that.
Next, some excellent photos of the High Line, in New York. I especially like the distant aerial view of it curving its way over the Rail Yards, with the spontaneous architectural order of Manhattan’s towers in the background.
I do like this rectangular block of a house, but with one end lifted up. Usually the rectangular block houses featured at dezeen are impeccably, terminally tedious. But this one, I like. Apart from the fact that whenever the damn architect called round, you’d have to tidy up all your domestic crap all over everywhere, and turn the place back into the dreary corporate office it resembles in the photos. What is it with architects not wanting homes to look, inside, like homes, but instead like some kind of dystopian hell with nothing in it besides a wooden floor?
Here are some impeccably, terminally tedious rectangular type houses, in Japan. To me, by far, by several hundred miles, the most interesting thing about these photos of them is the amazing amount of electrical crap in the sky over the street outside. If I was photoing in Japan, I would be all over that. More Japanese sky clutter here, in photos of another impeccably, terminally tedious block house with an interior that also looked like a corporate office reception area when the photos were taken.
Google drones. Spooky.
Parisian blocks become wavey.
Finally what with this being Friday, some black cats with bronze bollocks. I kid you not.
Indeed. Photoed by me this afternoon:
I don’t know what went wrong with this one.
Googling reminds me that there were a lot of complaints, the summer before last, about Boris buses getting too hot. Has that been sorted?
In general, I am suspicious of these new buses, on two grounds. First, as its nickname makes clear, this is a very political sort of bus, being the Boris Johnson answer to Ken Livingstone’s Bendy Bus. When politicians push technology, expect trouble. I’m not saying they always get things wrong, because they don’t want to look like prunes, and when they push things that go wrong, they do. But, they are still tempted to push, because, in defiance of what you often hear, politicians are typically very short-termist, being unable to look beyond their next election. Businessmen, at any rate businessmen of the sort who preside over the design of buses, tend to look further ahead, and not unleash their buses until their are truly ready.
Second, it was designed by a “designer”. By Thomas Heatherwick, who designed that cute roly-poly bridge in Paddington and also the bridge Joanna Lumley wants to have built across the Thames. If you want a bus not to malfunction too much, the kind of designer you want designing it is a bus designer, who is thoroughly familiar with the particular problems that buses can get engulfed by and knows all the tried-and-tested recipes for avoiding such problems. This Heatherwick bus smells to me of change for the sake of it. This is okay if you are designing something small enough to fail without too much expense, like a chair or a spoon or an iPhone case, or a rather pointless roly-poly bridge. But buses are serious. When they go wrong it can cost millions.
And when a “designer” is involved, mistakes do tend to happen, because designers are brought in precisely to design everything. And when you try to do everything anew, you make mistakes.
And if that happens to a politicised design, such as this bus, other political things cut in. Politicians and their supporters don’t suffer financially when their pet projects go wrong. They can start fighting the wrongness by just chucking money at it, and just pass the bill on to the rest of us. If unlimited money doesn’t sort out the mess and instead becomes part of the mess, then their next impulse is to try to cover things up. If that fails, Plan C (we’ve reached about C, I’m guessing) is to find someone or something else to blame. Does that also fail? Plan D: just walk away from the mess, refuse to talk about it, and insist on talking about something else, anything else, everything else. Change the subject. In politics, in the end, all there is is “the subject”. If politicians keep winning, then they “succeed”, no matter how much havoc in the form of things like crappy buses they leave in their wake.
I’m not saying that these Boris Buses are guaranteed to fail. New designs, of the sort driven by politicians, can be a triumph. Sometimes, they even triumph economically. Look at the Volkswagen Beetle. And nor am I saying that one bus attached to a tow-truck is evidence of complete failure. I’m just saying that this particular bus has a lot of bear traps to get past.
LATER: By pure coincidence, favorite blogger of mine 6k right now also has things to say about Boris.
He’s a law unto himself, but if you believe that there’s nothing behind the apparent buffoonery of his outward image, I think you’re mistaken. You don’t get where Boris is by being a buffoon. Acting one, perhaps – being one, no.
Spot on. The British toff classes are full of people like this. I had an uncle who behaved exactly this way.
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