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Category archive: Software

Thursday October 29 2015

From the Washington Post, yesterday:

What if your self-driving car decides one death is better than two - and that one is you?

The piece also asks if it is only a matter of time before regular driving is banned.  I think this will happen in lots of places, and driving a car will become like riding a horse. It will be something you do only for fun.  I probably won’t live to see this, but I probably will live to see it quite widely discussed.

Thursday October 22 2015

Vanity Fair piece about Frank Gehry.  Key paragraph:

Things progressed slowly from there, as the architect continued to work more audacious swooping and compound curves into his designs. Eventually he found himself hitting the outer limits of what was buildable. This frustration led Gehry on a search for a way to fulfill his most far-reaching creative desires. “I asked the guys in the office if there was any way they knew of to get where I wanted to go through computers, which I am still illiterate in the use of,” he explains. Gehry’s partner, Jim Glymph - “the office hippie,” in Gehry’s words - led the way, adapting for architecture a program used to design fighter planes. As Gehry began to harness technology, his work started to take on riotous, almost gravity-defying boldness. He dared to take the liberties with form he had always dreamed of, fashioning models out of sensuously pleated cardboard and crushed paper-towel tubes. He always works with models, using scraps of “whatever is lying around” - on one occasion a Perrier bottle. “I move a piece of paper and agonize over it for a week, but in the end it was a matter of getting the stuff built,” he tells me. “The computer is a tool that lets the architect parent the project to the end, because it allows you to make accurate, descriptive, and detailed drawings of complicated forms.”

“Frank still doesn’t know how to use a computer except to throw it at somebody,” ...

I smell a classic two-man team there.  Gehry dreams it.  And this guy called “Glymph” (ever heard of him? - me neither - I got very little about him by googling) works out how to actually get the damn thing built.  To quote myself:

Even when a single creative genius seems to stand in isolated splendour, more often than not it turns out that there was or is a backroom toiler seeing to the money, minding the shop, cleaning up the mess, lining up the required resources, publishing and/or editing what the Great Man has merely written, quietly eliminating the blunders of, or, not infrequently, actually doing the work only fantasised and announced by, the Great Man.

Glymph now seems to be on his own, although you can’t tell from the merely institutional appearances.

In general, the role of the Other Sort of Architect, the one who turns whatever some Genius Gehry figure wants into something buildable, and which will not be a mechanical disaster, seems to be growing and growing.


I found that picture of Gehry’s epoch-making Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao here.  The VF piece identifies this as the most “important” building of our time.  Architects love it.  The public does not hate it.

Friday October 16 2015
Wednesday July 08 2015

You can lose a test match on the first morning and England are well on the way to losing the first Ashes test in Cardiff, having already lost three wickets before lunch.  England’s trouble is that their top four have none of them been in proper form of late, and the Australian bowlers are all just that bit too good for them to be able to solve this problem by batting themselves into some form against them.  It will only get worse.  If it gets better I will be delighted, but also surprised.  As of now, I expect the result to be much as it was two years ago, when England shaded it three nil, except that it will be three nil to Australia, or something like that.  This time, Australia are better, and England have less good batting (Bell has got worse basically) and two top bowlers who are two years more knackered, plus no Swann.  So, England will lose.  Anything better than that will be a bonus.  We shall see.

And before anyone says I was plunged into doom by these three wickets, I was already pessimistic when it kicked off.  I just wish I had put this an hour and a half sooner.

My mood is not helped by me still having to rely on my stupid laptop and it is like wading through sewage.

Also, I began the day with a Rameau harpsichord CD that had been on pause, and since it is one of those annoying CDs (a triple CD actually) without the tracks and timings on the cover, just in the inside booklet, it is hard to note where I am it in, so a CD started needs to be finished.  And Rameau on the harpsichord, at any rate this particular Rameau on the harpsichord, was very minor key and lugubrious.

Every damn morning the laptop seems to insist on doing a “scheduled scan” (which always discovers nothing but takes for ever)..  This is the sewage aspect.  At least things on that front are now a bit better.  (I was reminded about that by a little box bottom left saying Scan Completed 0/0 0/0 0/0 0/0 blah blah blah.)

Last night I watched a very depressing documentary about the holocaust, The Allies knew.  But they didn’t believe it, or didn’t want to.  My newly purchased milk is already going sour.  There is a tube strike that has caused the entire tube to shut for the day.  The weather for the ASI boat party this evening looks like being very grim and grey.

At least England haven’t lost another wicket before lunch.  88-3.  Not good, but not catastrophic.  Or not yet.

Wednesday July 01 2015

Yesterday I wrote here about the twenty-first century social obligation to use a mobile phone when meeting up with someone, because of the problems this solves and despite the problems this creates.  Hence the need for me to take my mobile phone with me when going photowalkabout with G(od)D(aughter) 1.

But, on Saturday evening, the evening before GD1 and I went on our walk, I was very nearly deprived of my mobile phone, by which I mean deprived of the ability to make use of it.

What happened was that, while I was also out and about on Saturday evening, a baritone-singing student friend of mezzo-soprano-singing student G(od)D(aughter) 2, sought the help of GD2.  His mobile had run out of puff and needed a recharge.  GD2 uses an iPhone, but Baritone has an Android mobile, so Baritone could not use GD2’s recharger.  What to do?

Between them they decided that I and my Android recharger might be the answer.  I guess that GD2 then rang me on my immobile home number and discovered that I was out.  Then, knowing my aversion and incompetence as a mobile phoner, and especially as a reliable receiver of incoming mobile messages, she did not not attempt to ring me on my mobile.  Or, she did try my mobile and I did not answer.

For various reasons that I still don’t understand and which in any case do not now matter, Baritone ended up coming to my home, armed with GD2’s key to my home, and having made his entrance, he “borrowed” my mobile phone recharger.

I want to emphasise that the above quote marks are not sneer quotes.  They are confusion quotes.

For, what exactly does it mean to “borrow” a mobile phone charger?  What GD2 meant, when she assured Baritone that it would okay for him to “borrow” my phone charger, was that it would be okay for him to charge up his mobile phone, using my charger at my home.  As indeed it would have been.

However, Baritone misunderstood this assurance to mean that it would be okay for him to “borrow” my charger, as in: take it away and make use it throughout Saturday evening, in other places besides mine.  I don’t believe that Baritone would have done this without that assurance from GD2, as he understood it.  After all, whereas charging up your mobile in situ is socially very okay, taking a charger away without permission is surely a twenty-first century social gaff of the first order.  But, Baritone thought that he had permission to do this otherwise unacceptable thing.  GD2 is adamant that she gave no such permission, but I believe that Baritone genuinely thought that this unusual procedure was, in the light of GD2’s assurance, okay.  He made this clear in a written thankyou note he left on my desk.

And it normally would have been okay.  Had I not been going on an expedition the following day with GD1, then the charger could have made its way back to my home some time on or around Sunday, and all would have been fine.  But, for all the reasons that were explained in the previous posting, I needed that charger by quite early on Sunday morning at the latest.

So, despite GD2s protestations, I acquit Baritone of wrongdoing.

But then again, Baritone is a baritone.  And baritones often behave very badly, quite often at the expense of notably virtuous mezzo-sopranos.  So maybe I’m being too kind.

All was speedily corrected by GD2, who was rather insulted by the profuseness of my thanks when she brought my charger back at 8am on Sunday morning.  Of course I got your charger back.  (See what I mean about virtuous mezzo-sopranos.)

It was just as well that I did get it back.  In addition to using my mobile for all that meeting up at the start of the day, I also used it for its map app, and to tell me how Surrey were doing against Gloucester.  Very well, as it happened.  Nothing like your sports team winning to keep you going when you are knackered.

However, I now understand better why people have cameras with mobile phones built into them.  What with my bag and all, I was having constantly to choose between knowing where I was, and photoing it.

Surrey are on a bit of a roll just now.  This evening they beat Gloucester again, in a T20 slog at the Oval.  Surrey needed a mere six runs from the last four balls.  So, how did they get them?  The last four balls went: wicket, dot, dot, six.  In English that’s: probable Surrey victory, possible Surrey victory, almost impossible Surrey victory, Surrey victory.  I got that off my laptop, but I could have got it from my mobile, if I had been out and about.  Provided it hadn’t run out of puff.

Wednesday May 20 2015

A few months back my computer got a going over from The Guru, and I immediately started receiving more internet advertising than hitherto.  At first this continued because I merely didn’t know how to stop it.  But now, I find myself interested by this advertising.

I like old-school advertising, the sort that has no idea who you are or what you like, not even a bad idea.  I learn from old-school advertising how the world in general is feeling about things, which is interesting and amusing information.  (This is, for me, one of the pleasures of walking about in London.  (Soon this pleasure may also vanish, because of embedded spy cameras.  Soon, I may find myself looking at adverts for classical CDs and history books (and drones – see the rest of this), whenever I walk past a billboard).)

But I am now starting to enjoy new-school, internet advertising, where your most trifling internetted thought results in adverts appearing a little while later, for related (or so the internet thinks) products.  Sometimes, it’s just crass, like a salesman barging into a conversation at a party and changing it.  Fuck off jerk.  But I am starting to enjoy this sort of advertising, sometimes.

So, for instance, all my droning on here about drones - arf arf - has resulted in adverts for this miniature contraption appearing on my computer screen:


As you can see from this picture, this drone is very small.  It is also very cheap.  But does it have a camera on it?  Could you even attach a camera to it, or would that make it too heavy and crash it?

The last drone posting here was about a drone noticed by 6k that costs $529 dollars.  But the above drone costs a mere £13.78.  It is as cheap as that partly because you get it in the form of a kit rather than completed.  But there must surely be a factory in China where people are paid 10p a go to assemble such things.  I could surely buy a completed Eachine Q200 40g Carbon Fiber FPV Quadcopter Multicopter if I wanted to, rather than have to make do with an Eachine Q200 40g Carbon Fiber FPV Quadcopter Multicopter Frame Kit.

Kit or completely, I have no intention whatsoever of buying such a thing any time soon.

I can’t help thinking what gadgets like this, so small, so cheap, will do to photography, in a place like London.

A lot of what this blog is about is the texture of everyday life, and how that is changing.  (I mean things like down-market computer stuff and smartphones and CDs.  And advertising, see above.) Well, these drones are not yet a Big Thing about which old-school moany newspaper articles are being written about how the twentieth century was better, blah blah.  But, they soon will be.

If I ever do get a drone to take photos, you may be sure that I will make a point of photoing the other drones.  Although that’s assuming I’d be able to make something like a drone actually work, and I now assume the opposite.  Maybe I will compromise, and photo all the drones I see from the ground.  So far, I have only seen drones for real in shop windows.  But give it a couple of years …

And oh look, the mere fact of me working on this posting, embedding links into it, caused another advert to present itself to me (for this only slightly more expensive drone (and this one you don’t have to assemble yourself (it’s like it read my mind!))), when I switched to reading something Instapundit had linked to.  The advert has vanished now and been replaced by something for Walt Disney (?), but I screen-captured it before it went:


Adverts at blogs are a rich source of horizontality, I find.

Thursday March 12 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There then follow these sentences.

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

The answer was yes.

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

Wednesday March 04 2015

Dezeen reports, here.

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

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

As Andy said in his comment on this:

I think the answer is micro-controllers ...

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

A drone weaving a structure in space
Touch typing or no typing at all
Playing away
Christmas Day photos
Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science
Database blues
Dominic Frisby on the Hype Cycle
Blog down
It turns out that lightning speed is immensely useful
God was overheating and now needs radical transplant surgery (and Dawkins now has to do my email)
PID at the Times
OpenOffice Writer default resetting nightmares
Cashing a cheque by photoing it
Robyn Vinter is wrong about Google Glass
TfL electronic signs (etc.)
Capturing moments
The joyful excitement of the Festival lyrique international de Belle-Île-en-Mer
My blogging software is behaving badly
Classical Amazon
Green screen blue screen
Art has its uses – but where did it have its uses this time – and what is it?
Another photographer photo from the archives
Confirmation that map use has seriously declined
Digital photographers holding maps
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
Simon Gibbs last night at the Rose and Crown
Alex on Quentin
Twisted picture from Burgess Park (untwisted with Photoshop Elements)
Finding Rover app tracks lost dogs using facial recognition
Richard Stallman on software patents
Interesting software NewZ
Rob Fisher on the 3D printing future
The Johnathan Pearce Samizdata gap
Testing again
Reflections on a strange coincidence involving an Android app and a malfunctioning bus stop sign
Panoramic view of London from the top of the BT Tower
Alastair James on Blythe Hill Fields and smartphones
Doing libertarian business at the Libertarian Home social
Looking along Victoria Street to The Wheel (and on how to be liked (or disliked) by Google)
Close-up of the ruined Vauxhall crane
Is Samizdata in danger of becoming a photo-blog?
Nice blog you have here … shame if something happens to it
All change at Samizdata and another outage here
Michael Jennings on why iPad photoing is not ridiculous
More photographers photographed
Outage here last night - and the possible Wordpress future of this blog
PID at Samizdata
Turning back the spam comment tide and allowing proper comments from way back still to be read
Celebrity photoshoot?
Untrue colours from Windows Photo Viewer
Google Earth and Mr and Mrs Goose
The Jobs difference
Notes to self but not to you
How can I change the double inverted commas in writer from curved to straight-up?
Empty tables and empty chairs
Infrequent flyer
Someone doesn’t understand what I mean by roof clutter
Out to lunch with Alex Singleton
Jobs departs from Apple (again) 3.2.1 Writer font default setting help wanted
Problems here (now sorted)
I can do squares!!!
Is this blog somewhat broken?
Help with Audacity please
Brianmicklethwait Dot Com headline of the day
Google rolls out computer controlled cars
Links to this and that
Bay Bridge plus a new bridge next to it
Big box computers versus laptops
Alex Singleton on Photoshop CS5
How my camera and the internet explained an old bus
Apple keyboard remains excellent – iPhone software not so excellent
Green cat email mystery solved
Brian Sickle-feather?
Does Google now rule the world of computing?
What’s up with this?
Antoine Clarke talks about Facebook and Twitter – Guido and … Ian Geldard?
Me and Michael Jennings talk tech trends
Chrome now seems better than IE or Firefox
MP3 Haydn symphonies
Is the original version of this with all the spelling mistaks what goes on all teh uther blogs?
A photo of the Samsung NC10 and the original Asus Eee-PC next to each other
Daniel Hannan and the shape of the media to come
A question about double inverted commas in Writer
Embedded video
Milk containers ancient and modern
Has the Linux moment passed?
Billion Monkey with red mittens on
Jesus gets a big new keyboard
Another resizing test
Resized picture done with Jesus but quickly
JD gets PTD
Imperfect day
Pink bunny successfully resized and posted only with Jesus!
Now I’m going to try to stick up a picture with Jesus
Cats are (as of) now being counted in permanent italics
Permanent Bold Disease strikes Brassneck
PID hits DK
Coffee House struggles with Permanent Italics Disease
Instapundit succumbs to PID
Permanent italics disease at the Coffee House
A cheaper competitor for the Eee PC
The Eee PC just got better
Eee PC and Brahms CDs
Typed man walking
The petty cash effect cuts in for Linux
Linux versus Windows - the bigger tiny laptop breakout
Vista won’t work on the new small and cheap computers
Blu-Ray - HD DVD – IBM – Microsoft - Google
I love competition
A job well done
Eee PC not eeesy to get in Asia either
Facebook – not so social
Engadget suffers from intermittent giant text disease
I listened to both of them at the same time!
Smelling the smoke in the Microsoft machine
YouTube - Internet Explorer - Firefox
The permanent italics disease