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

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Category archive: Software

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:

image

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:

image

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.

Tuesday December 30 2014

I have swapped one kind of computing confusion, too complicated even to describe, for another, and am now using a French keyboard, but telling the computer I am using that this keyboard is really British.  This means various letters on the keyboard being in the wrong place, such as the Q and the A, which are where the A and the Q ought to be.  There are other confusions, of a more serious sort.

This is a very peculiar experience for a touch typist like me, because it means that I can now only touch type.  I cannot pause and go find the correct letters, because I do not know them, or not the ones that cause all the trouble.  Only my fingers do.

So it is touch typing, or no typing at all.

Which is better than French typing, but still very imperfect, because some of the regular British things are things which my fingers are not that good at, most notably inverted commas, both single and double.  This is why I said it is in the previous paragraph rather than abbreviating it, and why I am saying it is in this sentence, twice, without any inverted commas to indicate that I am quoting myself.

I seem to recall that faced with this dilemma on a previous French expedition, I had to make do with the computer recognising the French keyboard I was using as French, which meant switching As and Qs, etc.  The alternative arrangement is somewhat better, but only somewhat.

Luckily my fingers know how to do two important things, neither of which are in the same place on these keyboards, namely commas, and full stops.

Another oddity is that the spellchecking in my blog input process demands that all words be recognisably French, and so underlines most words, because of them not being French, thus rendering itself inutile, and yes that is how you spell inutile.  But, sorry about all the other spelling errors in this.

Monday December 29 2014

I am able to keep on posting each day, but it is proving tricky.  So best to expect interruptions during the next few days.  I have taken tons of photos, over the course of two cloudless days, but posting any of them is really complicated, and even telling which are the good ones is hard because the screen I am trying to use is too vague for me to tell properly.

To add to those woes, the text posting process has a bizarre quirk on this computer, or maybe it is with this mouse.  Which is that the cursor is liable, without warning, to jump back several words, which makes touch typing as hard as it is usually easy.  As soon as I get up any speed, I find that I am typing stuff in the wrong place, as I just did in the middle of the word “stuff” back there.  Then it did it again.  (Inverted commas are a struggle too.)

I guess it’s called home advantage.  I have not now got it.  So I am, as of now, more than usually definite about promising nothing, because nothing is what you may very well get until I am back home, and back enjoying home advantage.

Friday December 26 2014

The gap between my eyesight and the eyesight of my camera grows and grows with the passing of the years, as my eyes inexorably dim and as my cameras inexorably improve.  Even I can regularly manage quite decent shots with my latest camera.  As a result, I become ever more immobilised by having to choose good ones from the enormous piles of decent shots I often come back with, after a day out.

Yesterday was a bit different.  I went to the home of Michael Jennings for a Christmas Day lunch, picture 1.1 being the most striking thing I saw from out of his front window.  The day was lovely, but the light, though wonderful, was fast fading, so Michael and our mutual lady friend and I went out for a short (by my photographic standards) walk to take advantage of it.  Which meant that I took, by my standards, only a few pictures.  Which made it easier to choose and stick up a few half decent ones.

image imageimage imageimage image

Picture 1.2 is my favourite of these.  Thank God for London’s religious diversity.  Much as I loath what Islam says in its holy scriptures, and much as I am critical of people who go through the motions of worshipping these writings, either because they truly believe what those writings say (very wicked), or because they don’t but think that they it doesn’t matter or that they must (also wicked – yes, I mean you, Moderate Muslims – stop saying that you believe stuff that you also say that you don’t believe), I do like that having Muslims in London keeps shops open and taxis running on days like Christmas Day.  Michael fixed a couple of Uber taxi rides for me, and both the drivers had Muslim sounding names.

I don’t know what the church is in 2.1 but it looks pretty behind that leafless tree.  And Tower Bridge always looks pretty to me.

Re those two Tower Bridge shots, I’ve always liked how digital cameras do the opposite of the human eye, and turn urban skies bluer and brighter as they actually get darker.  It’s all those orange-coloured artificial lights, burning relatively brighter as the sun sinks, together with the actual darkness on the ground, impinging upon the Automatic setting.

Tuesday December 09 2014

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.

Thursday November 27 2014

For a few hours, from some time last night until around midday today, instead of getting BrianMicklethwaitDotCom, all you got, if your experience was the same as mine, was this:

Database Error: Unable to connect to your database. Your database appears to be turned off or the database connection settings in your config file are not correct. Please contact your hosting provider if the problem persists.

I couldn’t be telling you this if the above melancholy circumstance had not been corrected.  Deepest thanks to The Guru, for his prompt attention to the matter.

Since I was attempting to post something last night, that means you got nothing yesterday.  Trust me, your suffered far less than I did.  I hope to be making it up today.

("Making it up”.  What a strange expression.  It means: doing a corrective favour.  And it means: inventing it, even perhaps lying about it.  And then there is also what women (and now some men) do to their faces, minus the “it”.  Odd.  Although I do see a connection between meaning two and meaning three, rude though it might be to point such a thing out.  (And why make “up”?  (See also “screw up” and “clean up”.  (So this digressionary paragraph turned out relevant after all.  (This is my record for the most consecutive close-bracket signs.)))))

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
Ubernomics
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
RNSQotD
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 openoffice.org 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)
OpenOffice.org 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?
Twitterings
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 OpenOffice.org 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
Baffled
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
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The permanent italics disease