A ball point pen for eight pence!

Here are two more photos photoed with my Samsung Galaxy Something mobile phone:

I came upon these pens while seeking something else, as you do. I then took these photos because what I was seeing reminded me of a conversation I recently had with Michael Jennings about why the cameras in things like my Samsung Galaxy Something mobile phone are so good. He said that when you are ordering up the cameras for a production run of mobile phones like mine, or for an iPhone or some such thing (Michael J has the latest iPhone (with which he now takes photos like these)) you’re talking about ordering a billion of the things, literally. When you are working on that sort of scale, then the economies of scale really start to kick in. A camera which would have cost five times what the mere phone costs now, if you sold it only to photographers, now costs only a dozen or two quid for my phone, or a couple of hundred for the latest iPhone. He’s not wrong.

Research and development for dedicated cameras has pretty much stopped about five years ago. All the effort now goes into making mobile phone cameras into miracle machines, and that’s really starting to be visible in the results.

I remember thinking, when digital cameras first arrived, that in the long run, cameras would have no reason to look like old school cameras, of the sort that had film in them. But at first they all did, because that was what people felt comfortable with. But now, that long run is starting to arrive. Cameras now consist only of a screen, and what is more a screen that can do a hundred other things besides photo photos.

And the above photos illustrate this same economies-of-scale which can fund mega-research-into-making-them-even-cheaper principle in action down at the bottom of the market, where they thrash out ball point pens by the billion. One pound for a dozen of them! Like I say in the title of this, that’s hardly more than eight pence a pen. And that’s after all the transport costs and retail mark-ups and goodness knows what else have also been paid. Amazing.

Shame they can’t make food and heating and rent that cheap. The one thing that never seems to get any cheaper nowadays is energy, aka the essentials of life. Are we due another human transformation, to go beside this one, when energy gets miraculously cheaper? Nuclear? Fusion? Bring it on.

That previous kink, I recently read in one of Anton Howes‘s pieces, was maybe made to seem more abrupt than it really was by the fact that there came a moment when they finally worked out how to extract and distribute energy on a serious scale, but energy remained quite expensive, hence the sudden kink upwards in the numbers. Actually, life had been getting better for some time, and didn’t suddenly get a hundred times better, merely about three or four times times every few decades.

Meanwhile, things like absurdly good cameras and absurdly cheap ball point pens don’t show up in graphs of how much mere money everyone is chucking around. Which causes people in a country like mine to underestimate the improvements of recent decades. These have not taken the form of us all having tons more money. No. What has been changing is the stuff we can now buy with the same money. Like my latest (mobile phone) camera, and like ball point pens. Provided you have some cash left over after you have fed and housed yourself and kept yourself warm (not everyone does), then life has got lots more fun, given how many and how much better are the toys and times you can now buy for the same money.

Life has not improved much for those who have fun only when the fun they get is too expensive for most others to be able to indulge in. But that’s a thought for a different posting.

Steve Davies: Four new technologies to be optimistic about

I seem to recall a lecture, given by Steve Davies at the IEA just before Covid and the political reaction to Covid started spoiling all our lives, in which he warned that modernity might be stopped in its tracks or worse by some unforeseeable disaster, and that we should watch out. And I’m pretty sure that, during the Q&A, he even mentioned the possibility of a pandemic.

Now however, Steve Davies says, not unreasonably or inconsistently, that the future is brighter than many now, as the Covid crisis persists, assume or at least fear:

People everywhere need to recover their sense of confidence and optimism and to realise not only that this is, undoubtedly, the best time ever to be alive, but also that the future will be even better.

Davies then writes about four technologies which he says will transform life for the better: autonomous vehicles, synthetic food, artificial intelligence, and anti-aging medical treatments. So, life will not only be better; it will also last for far longer.

Regular readers of this blog will know that recently I have particularly noticed technology number two in the Davies list, synthetic food. And number one, autonomous vehicles, has long been to be an interest of mine also. I agree that both will be “epoch making”, eventually.

But I probably won’t live to see either epoch unfold. As far as I’m concerned, that last one, extended life-span, through the conquest of such things as cancer, can’t come too quickly. Which is why it almost certainly won’t come, for me, quickly enough.

However, I recently I heard some wisdom based on recent personal experience spill out of my mouth, to the effect that, now, being told that I have a potentially quite-soon-fatal disease, at my already quite advanced age, is a big deal, but not that big a deal. This just means that I will die a bit sooner. But what if such a medical mishap meant that I died a lot sooner, like about a two hundred years or more sooner? That would be a very big deal. In an age of multi-century lifespans, if that is what is about to arrive, people will surely become far more risk averse even than they are now, because they will have so much more to lose by dying.

But then again, adolescent boys have long had a lot to lose and they are notoriously prone to risk-taking, just for the hell of it. So, what do I know?

In general, will people actually be any happier? I doubt this, because happiness seems to depend more on one’s internal mood than on one’s mere circumstances. I don’t feel any more miserable now than I was a couple of years ago, when I was unaware of my medical condition and before it started or at any rate before it started hurting.

More cruelty-free meat news from Israel

From the Daily Mail:

A juicy ribeye steak is a treat for many, but meat eating is increasingly falling out of fashion due to ethical and environmental concerns.

Now, an Israeli company has revealed the world’s first ever 3D bioprinted ribeye made with real cow cells, and it is completely cruelty and slaughter-free.

Scientists took swabs from two cows, cultivated them in a lab, and pieced them all together to form a replica steak.

What is it about artificial meat and Israel? Maybe it’s just that Israel happens to be a very inventive place just now, and whatever innovation you happen to be a spotter of, you’ll find yourself being directed towards Israel.

I wonder if the pariah status of the state of Israel is some kind of cause of this super-inventiveness, if that’s what it is. If so, it reminds me of how religious non-conformists in Britain, similarly cut off from polite society, were so heavily involved in the Industrial Revolution.

Disorientated and consequently doomed penguin

Never seen this before:

I came across this in the twitter-comments on this tweet about Matt Ridley’s dog making a question mark in the snow. Which was good, but not so good as the disorientated penguin.

“With five thousand kilometres ahead of him, he’s heading towards certain death.”

Death. Can’t seem to avoid it.

More from the Steve Stewart-Williams Twitter feed

Yes I haven’t recently resorted to the SS-W TwF for a Friday Cats and Other Creatures posting. But in the small hours of last night I did two short postings, neither of which had anything to do with any Creatures and that needs putting right. So, here we go.

We’ll start with what sort of creature we humans are. It turns out we’re a type of fish.

Next up, well played that gazelle

Diver convinces a baby octopus to trade its plastic cup for a seashell.

An insufficiently anxious chicken.

Puppy cuddles duck.

The amazing diversity of big cats.

Some dogs making friends with the biggest cat there is.

Kangaroo fights look a lot like boxing matches except that, unlike human boxers, the kangaroos periodically rear back on their tails and kick their opponents with both feet.

Rat uses pencil to activate trap and get food.

The babe magnet that is also a giant billboard for predators.

Cats negotiating obstacle courses. It’s how the hind legs don’t hit anything either that impresses SS-W.

Finally, with me remembering this earlier posting here, a spider that is definitely confused by a mirror.

Buggering on

According to GodDaughter2’s Dad in one of his recent emails, Churchill once said something about how we just have to keep buggering on. Either that or GD2D made this up. Anyway, that’s what I am now doing, as best I can.

Today started going to hell last night when the Royal Marsden rang to say that the telephone-appointment they had been saying for about a fortnight would be at 3.30pm might actually be at more like 11am! Which meant that cricket lag (which it turns out I am suffering from) came into play. Instead of sleeping during the small and then not-so-small hours of this morning, I instead had a succession of coughing fits, all made worse by the thought that, come the telephone-appointment, I would be struggling to stay awake. The only way to stop the coughing during the night was to get fully up, sandals, sweater, the lot, and sit for an hour or two in front of my computer like it was the day. Being vertical being the only way to stop the coughing. Maybe it’s just because I now have words for what is wrong with me, but my lungs, while I was coughing, seemed truly about to give up on me, if not now, then some time rather soon.

But at least, having got me up at the crack of 10.30am, the appointment was indeed at just after 11am, so there was that. So, back to bed for the afternoon, including a bit of sleep, and then an early evening during which various further details were sorted, to do with who would live my life for me in the event that I became incapable of living it myself. Once again my Senior Designated Friend was driving all that along. Without her, I’d not yet be dead but I’d probably be wishing I was.

Now, I am trying to avoid eating or drinking anything that might keep me awake for yet another night. Quite easy because today I consumed a massive fish pie at lunchtime. But will I sleep tonight? Weird how I can sleep through great chunks of one of the great fourth innings run chases of all time, but could not, last night, just sleep. So maybe it’ll be the same this coming night, with, again, no cricket to relax me.

Tomorrow, at a genuinely early time in the morning, I am off again to the Marsden, for a Covid jab and for research tests associated with that (they want to know how lung cancer sufferers react to the Covid jab), and I’ll also hope to be picking up an inhaler, to stop me coughing being the idea of that. We shall see. At least I’m finally getting the jab.

Just taken another daily magic anti-cancer pill. Will it ever have any effect on the cough? Like: end it. That would really be something.

The trouble with cultured meat progress is that too much of it is happening in Israel

Maybe media people would make more fuss about the progress of “cultured” meat, the sort of meat that doesn’t involve killing animals, if so much of that progress was not now being made in Israel.

My attitude towards Israel is one of unconditional positive regard. If Israelis do something good, which they frequently do, well done them, as in this cultured meat matter. But if Israelis do something that seems bad, well, I am sure they have their reasons, probably to do with the kind of neighbourhood they inhabit.

However, the typical journo/commentator these days has an attitude towards Israel of unconditional negative disregard. Only when they can explain how Israeli progress in cultured meat is really all about oppressing Israel’s Muslim neighbours will these sorts of reporters report on this, I think, epoch-defining story.

Osimertinib

Yes, Osimertinib. It’s an anti-cancer drug. It derives its power to fight my particular cancer from a test having been done to determine the genetic nature of the cancer that I now have.

Journalists often like to describe those of us suffering from it as “battling” cancer. Well, with me, there is definitely battling going on, thank goodness, but I am only a very minor warrior in the battle. My major involvement is that my body is one of the many battlefields in which this sort of battle is happening. (I seem to recall that Christopher Hitchens said something like this in this.)

My “strategy”, if you can call it that, has been to proceed on the assumption that the judgement of the Royal Marsden’s cancer experts, about what will give me the best chance of a bit more life, is my best bet. I’m not second guessing these people. I have done very little reading to determine if their treatment makes sense. I am simply of the belief that their best guess is better than anything else available. Friends who have dug deeper, including my sister the former NHS GP, have given me no reason to doubt my bet. On the contrary, they agree about how very lucky I am to be living near to the Marsden.

I am taking my Osimertinib in the form of tablets, one each day, because this is what my seniors in the battle judge to be the best treatment. This evening, I just swallowed the sixth of a course of thirty such tablets that I have been proscribed. I have been told that right around now, I might start feeling rather better.

So, am I feeling any better? I think so, but I’m not sure. I have recently been rather ill. Headaches, shivery skin, weakness in the limbs, increased coughing, a runny nose, that sort of stuff. This felt like it was the cancer getting worse. But what if I was just, you know, ill, as a distinct thing? And is all of that illness getting less bad now? Rather hard to say, but I would say, probably, yes. It all feels complicated.

I have retreated into my comfort zone. By doing daily postings for here. By keeping more than half a nocturnal ear on the cricket, both in Australia and in Sri Lanka. By listening to music and reading stuff. And, in addition to more nutritional stuff, I’ve been having occasional servings of salt and caramel ice cream. Basically I am taking the pills, and waiting for them to work.

Wish me luck.

Steven Johnson’s history of what we do for fun

Tell ’em what you’re going to say, tell ’em, tell ’em what you said. I believe that’s the formula that many preachers follow when they give their sermons. The bit from a book below is from the “tell ’em what you’re going to say” bit, in other words the Introduction (pp. 8-11), of Steven Johnson’s Wonderland, which I ordered from Amazon back in October, and am now starting to dip into:

Delight is a word that is rarely invoked as a driver of historical change. History is usually imagined as a battle for survival, for power, for freedom, for wealth. At best, the world of play and amusement belongs to the side bars of the main narrative: the spoils of progress, the surplus that civilizations enjoy once the campaigns for freedom and affluence have been won. But imagine you are an observer of social and technological trends in the second half of the eighteenth century, and you are trying to predict the truly seismic developments that would define the next three centuries. The programmable pen of Jaquet-Droz’s Writer – or Merlin’s dancer and her “irresistible eyes” – would be as telling a clue about that future as anything happening in Parliament or on the battlefield, foreshadowing the rise of mechanized labor, the digital revolution, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

This book is an extended argument for that kind of clue: a folly, dismissed by many as a mindless amusement, that turns out to be a kind of artifact from the future. This is a history of play, a history of the pastimes that human beings have concocted to amuse themselves as an escape from the daily grind of subsistence. This is a history of what we do for fun. One measure of human progress is how much recreational time many of us now have, and the immensely varied ways we have of enjoying it. A time-traveler from five centuries ago would be staggered to see just how much real estate in the modern world is devoted to the wonderlands of parks, coffee shops, sports arenas, shopping malls, IMAX theaters: environments specifically designed to entertain and delight us. Experiences that were once almost exclusively relegated to society’s elites have become commonplace to all but the very poorest members of society. An average middle-class family in Brazil or Indonesia takes it for granted that their free time can be spent listening to music, marveling at elaborate special effects in Hollywood movies, shopping for new fashions in vast palaces of consumption, and savoring the flavors of cuisines from all over the world. Yet we rarely pause to consider how these many luxuries came to be a feature of everyday life.

History is mostly told as a long fight for the necessities, not the luxuries: the fight for freedom, equality, safety, self-governance. Yet the history of delight matters, too, because so many of these seemingly trivial discoveries ended up triggering changes in the realm of Serious History. I have called this phenomenon “the hummingbird effect”: the process by which an innovation in one field sets in motion transformations in seemingly unrelated fields. The taste for coffee helped create the modern institutions of journalism; a handful of elegantly decorated fabric shops helped trigger the industrial revolution. When human beings create and share experiences designed to delight or amaze, they often end up transforming society in more dramatic ways than people focused on more utilitarian concerns. We owe a great deal of the modern world to people doggedly trying to solve a high-minded problem: how to construct an internal combustion engine or manufacture vaccines in large quantities. But a surprising amount of modernity has its roots in another kind of activity: people mucking around with magic, toys, games, and other seemingly idle pastimes. Everyone knows the old saying “Necessity is the mother of invention,” but if you do a paternity test on many of the modern world’s most important ideas or institutions, you will find, invariably, that leisure and play were involved in the conception as well.

Although this account contains its fair share of figures like Charles Babbage – well-to-do Europeans tinkering with new ideas in their parlors – it is not just a story about the affluent West. One of the most intriguing plot twists in the story of leisure and delight is how many of the devices or materials originated outside of Europe: those mesmerizing automata from the House of Wisdom, the intriguing fashions of calico and chintz imported from India, the gravity-defying rubber balls invented by Mesoamericans, the clove and nutmeg first tasted by remote Indonesian islanders. In many ways, the story of play is the story of the emergence of a truly cosmopolitan worldview, a world bound together by the shared experiences of kicking a ball around on a field or sipping a cup of coffee. The pursuit of pleasure turns out to be one of the very first experiences to stitch together a global fabric of shared culture, with many of the most prominent threads originating outside Western Europe.

I should say at the outset that this history deliberately excludes some of life’s most intense pleasures-including sex and romantic love. Sex has been a central force in human history; without sex, there is no human history. But the pleasure of sex is bound up in deep-seated biological drives. The desire for emotional and physical connections with other humans is written into our DNA, however complex and variable our expression of that drive may be. For the human species, sex is a staple, not a luxury. This history is an account of less utilitarian pleasures; habits and customs and environments that came into being for no apparent reason other than the fact that they seemed amusing or surprising. (In a sense, it is a history that follows Brian Eno’s definition of culture as “all the things we don’t have to do.”) Looking at history through this lens demands a different emphasis on the past: exploring the history of shopping as a recreational pursuit instead of the history of commerce writ large; following the global path of the spice trade instead of the broader history of agriculture and food production. There are a thousand books written about the history of innovations that came out of our survival instincts. This is a book about a different kind of innovation: the new ideas and technologies and social spaces that emerged once some of us escaped from the compulsory labor of subsistence.

The centrality of play and delight does not mean that these stories are free of tragedy and human suffering. Some of the most appalling epochs of slavery and colonization began with a new taste or fabric developing a market, and unleashed a chain of brutal exploitation to satisfy that market’s demands. The quest for delight transformed the world, but it did not always transform it for the better.

But not such a merry Christmas for her

Most dogs whom we encounter in nice, polite, safe little England are dogs who have bonded with humans, whom the dogs love, unconditionally. But what happens when dogs don’t bond with humans, but only with one another? Then, they are liable to love humans in another way, as in: I love duck, or I love rabbit. To eat. Ooh look guys, fancy some tasty human?

DOCTORS are today fighting to save the life of a woman whose face was completely skinned by a pack of stray dogs.

Where did this horror happen?

Relax. In Russia:

The predators ripped off all Tatyana Loskutnikova’s clothes and gnawed her flesh down to the bone during the sickening attack in Russia.

In Russia they have hungry packs of dogs. Like these, who were only doing what surely made perfect sense to them. Hellishly bad luck on the woman of course, but maybe she might have known better? Yes, you shoot the dogs, as they did. But you can’t really blame them, the way the Sun seems to.