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

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Sunday March 01 2015

The other day (to be more exact: on this day) I described England as a “dead team walking”, in the currently unfolding Cricket World Cup.  So, if England now turn around and start winning and winning well, well, that’s good because hurrah England.  But if England carry on losing, and losing badly, then hurrah me for being right.

How to snatch happiness out of thin air: be a prophet of doom proved right.  There are other ways to place a bet besides spending money.

This explains a lot about the world, I think.  Basically, as Steven Pinker has pointed out in the first half of that excellent (because of its first half) book of his, everything (approximately speaking) is getting better, slowly and with many back-trackings, but surely.  Yet to listen to publicly expressed opinion, both public and posh, you’d think that everything was getting worse, all the time.  And it’s been like that throughout most of recorded history.  But people are not really that pessimistic.  All that is really happening is that people are predicting the worst in order to be happy if the worst happens, and also happy if the worst does not happen.

Saturday February 28 2015

I just googled “3D printing” and clicked on “images”.  One of the more interesting images I encountered was this one ...:

image

… which I found here.  The point being that this is one of those technologies which lots of people are getting excited about, perhaps as something they might be able to do themselves, for fun but also for profit.  But most of the significant early applications of 3D printing seem now to be by businesses which were already making stuff, and now have another way to make it.  Regular thing makers (for those not inclined to follow links that’s a link to pieces about the use of 3D printing by the aerospace industry) have a huge advantage over “home” 3D printers, which is that they already know what would be worth making.

And making in quite large quantities, which means that they can acquire or construct highly specialised 3D printers for those particular items, which use their own very particular material inputs.  3D printers, if they are to pay their way, must surely specialise.  Which means they’ll be applied first by businessmen, rather than by mere people in their homes.

I have yet to hear about any 3D printing killer app which will kick off the much talked-of but yet-to-occur home printing revolution.  It will come, I’m sure.  But it hasn’t come yet.

Friday February 27 2015

Indeed:

image

If you know your cricket, you can learn an amazing amount about what just happened from a screen like that.

For me, the most remarkable bit is where it says: “80 runs, 3.2 overs ...” What we see, basically, is the moment when the game went from difficult for the Windies to win, to impossible.

Match report here.

I had the radio on all night to listen to this game, woke up at about 7am when SA were about 320 off nearly fifty overs, listened until they were 378 with one over to go, went for a piss, and came back to find them having finished on 408.  30 off the last over, including four sixes.  I then switched off, in order to get back to sleep quickly enough for it to be worth it, confident the game was over as a contest.  So it proved.  Gayle made 215 in the previous Windies game, but I was not surprised to see him get out for a small score against SA.

I also had the radio on for the previous night, when Afghanistan beat Scotland, in a see-sawing thriller.

I am now suffering from World Cup lag.  I think as reason why I am enjoying this tournament so much is that England are a dead team walking.  They were a long shot going into the tournament, and it would now take a total miracle for them to win it, by which I mean about three miracles laid end to end.  That means I can relax and enjoy all the other teams knocking seven bells out of each other.  And if those miracles do start happening, I can enjoy them too, as a bonus.

Thursday February 26 2015

This is cool, says Instapundit, and he’s not wrong:

For all his joie de vivre, Jardine is a master drone builder and pilot whose skills have produced remarkable footage for shows like Australian Top Gear, the BBC’s Into the Volcano, and a range of music videos. His company Aerobot sells camera-outfitted drones, including custom jobs that require unique specifications like, say, the capacity to lift an IMAX camera. From a sprawling patch of coastline real estate in Queensland, Australia, Jardine builds, tests, and tweaks his creations; the rural tranquility is conducive to a process that may occasionally lead to unidentified falling objects.

Simply put, if you’ve got a drone flying challenge, Jardine is your first call.

So, Mr Jardine is now flying his flying robots over volcanoes.  There are going to be lots of calls to have these things entirely banned, but they are just too useful for that to happen.

When I was a kid and making airplanes out of balsa wood and paper, powered with rubber band propellers, I remember thinking that such toys were potentially a lot more than mere toys.  I’m actually surprised at how long it has taken for this to be proved right.

What were the recent developments that made useful drones like Jardine’s possible?  It is down to the power-to-weight ratio of the latest mini-engines?  I tried googling “why drones work”, but all I got was arguments saying that it’s good to use drones to kill America’s enemies, not why they are now usable for such missions.

Wednesday February 25 2015

It often happens with me that, while rootling around in the archives for one picture, I stumble across another which strikes me as worth showing to the massed ranks of BrianMicklethwaitDotCom’s readers.

Pictures like this, for instance, which I took at the top of the Monument, in November 2012:

image

Small, blurry, totally recognisable.  Definitely a Big Thing.

As for all that wire netting (which I believe dramatically lowers the cheese content of the above shot), well, here is another shot, of how matters at the top of the Monument used to be not so long ago:

image

I took that in July 2007.  (Note the pleasingly dated camera.) The change from prison bars to wire netting, which happened soon after that, was presumably because of different versions of health and safety.  Originally there was neither, just some waste high railings.  See this hand-done photo “by Canalleto (after)”, whatever that means.  (His production line, but not him, maybe?) And see also this picture.

Tuesday February 24 2015

This blog is where, among other worthier things, I boast about what a clever fellow I am, given that not many other people are in the habit of saying this.  A recent incoming email from Michael Jennings, entitled “You told me about this 12 years before the New York Times did”, gives me another opportunity thus to indulge.

The New York Times piece is this, which is a about how rich people have less stuff than poor people, because stuff is now so cheap.

And I said this in this, just over twelve years ago, as Michael says.

I’m guessing it’s the BJT Bosanquet reference that he particularly remembered.

Monday February 23 2015

This coming Friday I have another of my Last Friday of the Month meetings at my home in London SW1.  This coming Friday is, after all, the last Friday of the month, so the logic is inexorable.  Every Friday (even if the last Friday of, say, December 2014, happened to be Boxing Day, as it was) there is a Last Friday of the Month meeting at my home.

I have been having email problems, in the form of people using gmail suddenly not receiving my emails, so even if you thought you were on my list but hear nothing via email, be assured that this meeting will happen.  Try emailing me (which should work) and then telling your spam filter not to reject my reply, which you will have to do despite it being a particular individual reply.  I know, crazy.  I hope to write more about this problem in a posting at Samizdata, Real Soon Now.

Or, if you intend coming to this particular meeting, you could leave a comment below, and I will respond saying message received and look forward to greeting you.

Anyway, this coming Friday (Feb 27), Pete Comley will be talking about inflation.  He has recently published a book on the subject, which you can learn about in this posting at Comley’s website.  And you can hear what Comley sounds like and a little of how he thinks by listening to this short interview with Simon Rose of Share Radio.

image

The thing about Comley is that he takes a long-term - very long-term - view of inflation.  He began a recent talk I attended by discussing inflation at the time of the Roman Empire.

And in the long-term, there are not one but two major influences on inflation.  There is, of course, the supply of money, by the powers that be who have always insisted upon supplying money.  And when they make too many coins, too many bank notes or create too much bank credit, the price of regular stuff in shops goes creeping, or rocketing, up.  But there is also the demand for that regular stuff.  In particular, human population fluctuates.  At some moments in history, population shoots up.  At other times it falls, or at the very least the rate at which it increases falls.  Just now, in country after country, the birthrate is falling, and that has consequences for inflation.

Before you say it, I’ll say if for you.  Many simply define inflation as the first of these two processes but not the second.  Inflation is what money issuers do to the money supply.  A price rise caused by rising demand is simply not inflation.  It is a mere price rise.  Fair enough.  It certainly makes sense to distinguish these two processes from each other, however hard it may be for consumers to do this when both are happening to them.  And if you do that by restricting the definition of inflation in this way, then be aware that Pete Comley’s talk will be about inflation thus defined and about price rises sparked by rising demand, and for that matter about price stability caused by static demand.  (He says, by the way, that we might be about to enjoy just such a period of price stability.  And although you can never be sure about such things, better handling of the recent financial crisis, and we might have got there already.)

There is also the question of what causes money issuers to inflate, in the second and more restricted sense of inflation.  They seem to do this more at certain historical junctures than at others.  Inflation, restrictively defined, does not just cause bad economic experiences; it is itself caused, more at some times than at others.

All very interesting, or so I think.  Libertarians like me tend to be quite well informed about recent monetary history and about the evils of fiat currencies, the Fed, the Bank of England, and so on and so forth.  We tend to know a lot less about similar episodes in the more distant past to what he have recently experienced.  In general, we are more interested in the fluctuating supply of money than in the way that population fluctuations influence prices.

Pete Comley has a small but particular soft spot for me, on account of me having been the one who drew his attention to this book about the long-term history of prices (The Great Wave by David Hackett Fischer), which seems to have had quite a big influence on his latest book, which is called Inflation Matters.  It certainly does.

Sunday February 22 2015

Somewhere between posting a photo of totally recognisable strangers that you took without their permission in 1930 and posting a photo of totally recognisable strangers that you took without their permission yesterday afternoon, there is a line.  I took this photo ...

image

… in 2007.  Did I cross that line?  Perhaps.  But they just look so great, and so happy.  When it comes to totally recognisable strangers who look bad in the photo I took of them without their permission, I think I’d give it another decade or two.

I love all the white space behind and around them.  It makes them look, in combination with the signpost, like a piece of sculpture.  That spot often does that.  Which is why it is one of my favourite photographic spots in London, up the steps that are attached to Westminster Bridge on the north side, looking up over the road towards the Houses of Parliament.

Saturday February 21 2015

Today I decided that I would like to do one of those “A Year In …” postings, at the end of this year, featuring newspaper front pages, one for each month.  Everything hinged on whether I’d happened already to have taken any pictures of front pages during January.

And, I had.  These front pages:

image

And I expanded the picture, and scrolled across.  Tax demands.  Some NHS politics ruckus.  Snow warning.  Something to do with racing, which anyway is not properly visible.  Yawn yawn yawn yawn.  And then there’s that “Big D”.  I still don’t know what “Big D” stands for.  It’s incomprehensible.  But look at this subheading:

image

That’ll do.  The rest will have to be rather better, helping readers to remember big stories of the year, but this little story will do for starters.  The project survives.

A rather more serious newspaper page which I also photoed in January, not a front page but it got my attention, was this, from the Evening Standard of January 21st:

image

Latest news about that:

Badawi is serving 10 years in prison, and has also been sentenced to 1,000 lashes for blog posts criticizing Saudi Arabia’s clerics.

The first 50 lashes were delivered on Jan. 9 and Amnesty said he’s had none since then.

His detention and sentence have stirred up worldwide condemnation.

Amnesty being one of the chief stirrers.  Good for Amnesty.

“Insulting Islam” is what Badawi has been convicted of.  Carry on handing out punishments like that for “crimes” like that, and the “insults” hurled at the evil monstrosity that is Islam can only grow in volume.

Islam.  The bad stuff in it is bad.  And the supposedly good stuff in it only helps the bad stuff to go on doing bad, which means that the “good” stuff is bad also.

Friday February 20 2015

Yes, just back from a talk at Christian Michel’s.  Didn’t drink “too much” wine, but did drink a lot, far too much to still be sober.

Cat news?  You want cat news?  Okay, the cat news is that lots of people have got into trouble of various sorts because they have too many cats, or killed too many cats, or something along those lines.  Google “cats” news, and you can find the details for yourselves.

Meanwhile, here is news of a new Big Thing, in London:

image

This is the replacement for the Pinnacle.

Everyone commenting on this is angry about it.  But then, everyone commenting on new Big Things is always angry.  It’s ugly!  It’s a joke!  It’s random!  It’s …

Excuse me while I eat a Sainsbury’s Basics egg bite.  Several, actually.

… something else terrible!

But give it a few years, and we’ll all be complaining about how the next London Big Thing is spoiling the view of this Big Thing.

Thursday February 19 2015

Whereas yesterday was the first first day of spring, today is right back to being just another day of winter, cold, damp, cloudy, miserable.  So I am back rootling in the archives for sunnier memories.

Here’s a good one, of me (in the middle), Goddaughter 2 (on the right), and (on the left) a suitably anonymised photographer photoing a suitably anonymised group of people:

image

Taken last August, on one of the Hungerford Bridge footbridges.

When posting this, I was informed of a previous posting here entitled shadow photography.  Also fun.  Less anonymised strangers though.

Wednesday February 18 2015

Today was the first first day of spring, so to speak.  By this I mean that it was the first day of 2015 which made in clear that winter would eventually end and that summer would eventually arrive.  Cool, but blue sky and sunshine.  Meanwhile, winter may soon resume but spring at least is now officially on its way, and will happen.

As a technically rather incompetent photographer, heavily dependent on good light, I rejoice.  The season of rootling through the archives is nearly over.  The season of adding to the archives is getting started.

And, also today, I went to a funeral, in Salisbury, which is about an hour and half out of London by train, in a south westerly direction.  The last time I ventured out of London into that part of England that is not-London for a ceremony, the weather was similarly excellent

As soon as we stepped out of Salisbury station, strange and exotic sights presented themselves, such as this Stonehenge Tour Bus:

image

But there was something odd about it.  It appeared to be leaning over somewhat, away from us.  When I got round to the front of it, I saw that appearances had not deceived.  It was leaning over:

image

How can a bus do that?  Was the suspension malfunctioning?  Was the Stonehenge Bus leaning over on purpose, in order to help a wheelchair bound passenger to embark?  Was it partly parked on the pavement, and was a suspension computer overcompensating?  Was there a kink in the road, downwards, next to the pavement?

I couldn’t hang about to investigate or to ask.  We had a funeral to get to.  But, odd.

Tuesday February 17 2015

I just posted a Samizdata piece about Peter Thiel, a most admirable man, if the video performance that got me interested in him is anything to go by, and of course it is.

I kept the Samizdata posting short, and there follow a couple of paragraphs I decided not to include, because … well, I just decided not to.  The posting, which was basically just saying how about this for a clever guy go and watch him was becoming too unwieldy and too full of ponderousness.  So, the rest of this is me recycling my cuts here.  I can’t really put what follows as a quote, but it sort of feels like maybe I should.  Anyway, here we go.

There are around a dozen or more fascinating notions expounded in Thiel’s talk.  One thing in particular interested me, because it is an argument that has always interested me.  Extreme pessimism, says Thiel, often causes people to think that there is nothing to be done, because whatever they do is bound to fail.  Very true.  But extreme optimism (optimism being my preferred stance when trying to do anything) is also dangerous, because it is liable to tell you that you don’t need to do anything.  Good things will happen automatically.  Says Thiel: avoid both extremes.  Steer a middle path.  Do of a bit of both.  All of which may seem very obvious to you, but I have never heard it put quite like that, and certainly not so succinctly.

Another nice and counter-consensual thing Thiel says is that failure is over-rated, because you generally only learn one of the reasons why you failed, when in fact there were probably about half a dozen.

See the early comments at Samizdata by Rob Fisher, for other bits of cleverness from this extremely clever man.

More Thiel spiel here.

Monday February 16 2015

Incoming from 6k, with apologies for taking so long to post it:

Re your Bayeux Tapestry post, please find attached a 500x18px copy of that very wide/long (9917px) version on the site you linked to.

image

Would a photo thinned to 18px in height be a record for BrianMicklethwaitDotCom?

Probably.

For some idiot reason, when I first came across the big image, sideways scrollable, at that site liked to above, I couldn’t seem to manage to download the image, and gave up, hence my request.  All I got was the entire page.  Just now I tried it again, and succeeded at once.  That kind of thing often happens with me.  6K mentioned a resizing site.  But of course, resizing images is something I do all the time, with my regular photoshop-clone.  My problem was not having the image file in the first place. (I now realise that I did download the image, several times.  I just didn’t realise where it had gone.  That also happens to me a lot.)

6k also mentions another Bayeux Tapestry sighting he recently made, of bits of it redone with Lego.

Sunday February 15 2015

While half-watching the rugby yesterday I was also half-rootling-around in my photo archives, and I came across a photo of a carpet.  I had put it in a special separate directory, on its own, but then forgotten about it.  It had a rather interesting message to impart.

Click on this …:

image

… to get the bigger carpet.

But whose carpet was this?  This is where the internet comes in.  I googled “true hearts and warm hands” and immediately learned that this is the motto of the Worshipful Company of Glovers.  Turning to images, I found no other pictures of the actual carpet, but scroll down to the “Glover’s window” here.  The same graphics as on the carpet.

As for my picture, I took it on November 6th 2006, at an event organised by the Globalisation Institute, now long gone.  The event was attended by, among others, the Prime Minister.  Most of the pictures I took, including those I took of the Prime Minister, were very bad, because my camera was no good in poor indoor light, such as prevailed that evening, somewhere in the City of London.

Did you know that Shakespeare’s father was a glover?  If you didn’t you do now.