Do you love robots now that they can dance?

I watched this video, and resolved to repost it here, only then to realise that I had encountered it because my favourite Twitterer, Steve Stewart-Williams was the reason I was seeing it in the first place:

Remarkable. And, I agree with SS-W, a bit scary too.

A choice that we all face these days

Yes, a favourite photo of mine, at the opposite end of the spectrum mentioned in this posting from the photo in that posting, is this one:

I originally posted this photo, photoed in WH Smith Liverpool Street Station, at the old blog in January 2008. For me it remains as delicious and fresh as it was on the day I first photoed it.

I also copied the old posting across to this blog. I think the photo deserves the double immortality that BMNB may yet confer upon it.

“Students stopped caring about literature because the professors stopped believing in its promises of revelation and delight.”

Arts & Letters Daily sent me to this piece, by Mark Bauerlein, about the study of literature in American universities. It made particular sense of way that the descent into wokeness was not one single process, but a series of processes.

Quote, from near the end:

Fifty years ago, a university couldn’t call itself “Tier One” unless it had a renowned English department. No more: Abysmal enrollment numbers in the humanities at such universities prove the irrelevance of literary study. My colleagues around the country bemoan the decline, but they blame the wrong things. English did not fall because a bunch of conservatives trashed the humanities as a den of political correctness. It didn’t fall because it lost funding or because business leaders promoted STEM fields. It fell because the dominant schools of thought stopped speaking about the truth of literature. Once the professors could no longer insist, “You absolutely must read Dryden, Pope, and Swift — they are the essence of wit and discernment”; when they lost the confidence to say that nothing reveals the social complexity of the colonial situation better than Nostromo; if they couldn’t assure anyone that Hawthorne’s sentences showed the American language in its most exquisite form, they lost the competition for majors. Students stopped caring about literature because the professors stopped believing in its promises of revelation and delight.

Meanwhile, outside of universities, the internet has made it massively easier to study literature, and also have a life beyond and beside that, not least because it’s now so much easier to get hold of whatever books you want.

I’m sure, if it’s taught inspiringly, that it’s much more fun to study literature in the face-to-face company of like-minded enthusiasts. But it’s not essential, the way it is if you want to become something like a structural engineer. And if you do want to meet up with fellow enthusiasts, the internet is good at arranging that also. I have organised monthly meetings for nearly half of my life and the admin for this got a lot easier when email, and then the internet, kicked in.

My spell checker says “enrollment” in the above quote ought to be “enrolment”, but I’ve left it as was.

Why electric cars will soon displace petrol cars (and some general thoughts on the significance of non-disruptive technology)

I have been keeping half an eye out for a piece of writing that summarises how, and why, electric cars have been on the up-and-up, and today such a piece presented itself to me, by Justin Rowlatt, the BBC’s Chief environment correspondent:

The first crude electric car was developed by the Scottish inventor Robert Anderson in the 1830s.

But it is only in the last few years that the technology has been available at the kind of prices that make it competitive.

The former Top Gear presenter and used car dealer Quentin Willson should know. He’s been driving electric vehicles for well over a decade.

He test-drove General Motors’ now infamous EV1 20 years ago. It cost a billion dollars to develop but was considered a dud by GM, which crushed all but a handful of the 1,000 or so vehicles it produced.

The EV1’s range was dreadful – about 50 miles for a normal driver – but Mr Willson was won over. “I remember thinking this is the future,” he told me.

He says he will never forget the disdain that radiated from fellow Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson when he showed him his first electric car, a Citroen C-Zero, a decade later.

“It was just completely: ‘You have done the most unspeakable thing and you have disgraced us all. Leave!’,” he says. Though he now concedes that you couldn’t have the heater on in the car because it decimated the range.

How things have changed. Mr Willson says he has no range anxiety with his latest electric car, a Tesla Model 3.

He says it will do almost 300 miles on a single charge and accelerates from 0-60 in 3.1 seconds.

“It is supremely comfortable, it’s airy, it’s bright. It’s just a complete joy. And I would unequivocally say to you now that I would never ever go back.”

We’ve seen massive improvements in the motors that drive electric vehicles, the computers that control them, charging systems and car design.

But the sea-change in performance Mr Willson has experienced is largely possible because of the improvements in the non-beating heart of the vehicles, the battery.

The most striking change is in prices.

Just a decade ago, it cost $1,000 per kilowatt hour of battery power, says Madeline Tyson, of the US-based clean energy research group, RMI. Now it is nudging $100 (£71).

That is reckoned to be the point at which they start to become cheaper to buy than equivalent internal combustion vehicles.

But, says Ms Tyson, when you factor in the cost of fuel and servicing – EVs need much less of that – many EVs are already cheaper than the petrol or diesel alternative.

At the same time energy density – how much power you can pack into each battery – continues to rise.

They are lasting longer too.

Last year the world’s first battery capable of powering a car for a million miles was unveiled by the Chinese battery maker, CATL.

Companies that run big fleets of cars like Uber and Lyft are leading the switchover, because the savings are greatest for cars with high mileage.

But, says Ms Tyson, as prices continue to tumble, retail customers will follow soon.

How fast will it happen?

The answer is very fast.

It’s not just a question of price, although too high a price for a new technology is of course a deal breaker. Equally important is that because of all these recent discoveries and improvements, electric cars will no longer be a disruptive technology. They will fit right into the road system we now have, without too much in the way of expensive infrastructure (think petrol stations), which means, crucially, that as each individual judges that now would be a good time to make the jump, that jump can be made without fuss.

See also, robot cars. These will require infrastructural upheaval on a grand scale, hence the endless delays, with robot cars having been just about to arrive in a big way for about as long as any of us can remember. Hell, even electric scooters are a disruptive technology, because even they require a whole new network of disruptive infrastructure for them to work without constant fatalities and injuries. But these electric cars will be no harder to fit on the roads than regular cars already are.

If you’ve been paying any attention to this change, you will know that electric vehicles are, of course, already with us. If, like me, you have recently taken a taxi ride or a bus ride, and realised that stopping and starting have recently become unnaturally quiet and smooth, then you’ve already travelled in an at least partly electric vehicle, on a regular road.

When a technology arrives without half the people looking at it realising that that’s what it even is, that’s non-disruptive. Because of personal computers, a whole generation has been spouting drivel about the joys of disruptive technology, but the non-disruptive kind is far more transformative. Because, to take the example of electric cars, who knows what they will end up doing, once everyone but a few freakish petrol-headed hobbyists have bought into the basic idea. Eventually, once electric cars have entirely replaced regular cars, there will then be all sorts of disruptive consequences of that having happened, on all manner of other processes and experiences. In the longer run, historians may perhaps decide that the long term significance of electric cars was that they made it possible for cars to be properly robotised, in a non-disruptive way as far as the mere roads are concerned, step by small step, bit by bit. But all of that is still to come.

Another totally non-disruptive technology is 3D printing. Despite all the crap you may have read about 3D printing transforming everything, 3D printing is not now nor is it ever going to be transforming home or work life, the way personal computers have. 3D printing is, quite simply, a new way to make stuff, to add to all the other tricks and turns that stuff-makers have been using down the centuries. Unless you are intimately involved in manufacturing, you could have ignored this new technology completely, just as you may have been ignoring electric cars. Yet 3D printing is already huge.

Michael Jennings tells me more about mobile phone photography

Today Michael Jennings, the creator and still technical curator of this blog, who was in my area for the first time in quite a while, called round and we went out and had drinks. In a Pimlico pub. Indoors. Unmuzzled. With quite a few other people also present. This being the first time that either of us had done this with anyone for … quite a while:

I photoed him and his Lockdown hair, and he told me more about how photography on mobiles is developing. He has an iPhone, which you can just see bottom right of that picture. My mobile only has one camera two cameras (see comments 1 and 3), but Michael’s iPhone has three, thus making variable and quite impressive zoom possible.

Michael speculated that it may not be long before the whole of the back of his next iPhone but three with be covered in cameras, like: well over a dozen.

The limiting factor on this sort of multi-camera is not the cameras themselves. The problem is processing power. Making sense of the output of such a large camera array will take a lot of that, and also lots of ultra-clever software as yet still being contrived.

And there we have the ongoing story of digital photography, better explained than I have ever heard it before. All that processing power attached to an old-school camera would presumably triple its price. But mobiles already have all that processing power, or soon will, so it makes sense for your camera to be part of your personal pocket Kray computer, that you use for all your other mobile computerising.

Several years ago, the big Japanese enterprises who decide these things decided that they would spend no more money making regular dedicated cameras better, which is why these things haven’t changed in the last half decade. They decided to throw all their photography money at mobile phone cameras.

What I had not realised was how very, very good the mobile phone “camera” (quotes because it will really be cameras plural) is going to be, and how inexorably it will go on improving. 3D images? Oh yes, said Michael. The processing power applied to these camera arrays will make imagery possible of a sort that no single dedicated camera, no matter how complicated and costly, could possibly now contrive.

Which means: that old school cameras, even of the most sophisticated sort, will ever so slowly but ever so surely fade into the history books. And actually, do so really rather soon. In historical time, in the blink of … a camera.

Which further means that the best of all those photoer photos that I’ve been photoing for the last two decades will just keep getting better and better, like old wine. Plenty of other people have photoed such photos, but I know of nobody else apart from me who has made a point of doing this on such an industrial scale.

Here are thirty such photos I photoed in July 2006 and which I displayed here last January. There are plenty more where they came from.

This entertaining photoer habit, on the other hand, looks like it will be with us for a while.

An exercise lesson on Zoom

I can remember when e-mail became a necessity for me. I got a phone call from someone who asked: “What’s your email?” and I said “I don’t do email”. It was the way she then said “Oh” that made me realise that something had happened.

There hasn’t been a single moment like this for me with Zoom, but it has become made clear to me that making easy and regular use of Zoom has now become part of everyday life for all civilised people. Stage 4 lung cancer means you get cut some slack on these sorts of things, or you do by the people who are treating you. Nevertheless, I got, and get, the message.

And today I got an exercise lesson on Zoom from an exercise coach at the Royal Marsden. For some reason or other, the audio aspect wasn’t perfect, there being a slight delay, like the Royal Marsden was in India. But the job got done very satisfactorily nevertheless, and it’s hard to see how this could have been done by any other means than me being at the Marsden in person. Like all good teachers, he wasn’t content with showing me what he wanted me to do. He wanted also to see me doing it. Not only did Zoom enable him to show me what exercises he wanted me to do, he was also able to see that I was doing them the way I should be doing them.

All of which will be very old news to almost everyone reading this. I am well aware that when it comes to Zoom I am the ultimate late adopter, just as I was with email. Nevertheless, this posting is definite Zoom information for you, even if you’ve been using Zoom for the last two years minimum. And the information is that everyone is now using Zoom, the proof of this being that I am now using it.

Two black cabs that are not black and sixteen black cabs that are black

On my walkabout yesterday morning, I did encounter a couple of taxis with adverts, or black cabs as they are somewhat confusingly known. The point being, they are frequently not black at all:

Adverts advertising a way to speed up your tax process still make a lot of sense.

As do adverts about what to do with your savings:

But that still leaves a lot of taxi adverts that do not now make – or have not recently been making – much sense at all, on account of so many forms of spending having been put on hold, and on account of there being far fewer people wandering around and inclined to look at such adverts and act on their instructions.

With the following result. Here is a photo I photoed moments before that taxi with the savings advert, of a line of taxis outside Victoria Station, …:

… with no adverts on any of them.

Sixteen taxis, I make it. About that number. What are the chances of that happening in normal times? Here is yet another business that has been suffering during Lockdown. When last I looked, cabbies got about a tenner a day for their adverts. So, just when a lot of them could really have used that little wage top-up, they’ve had to go without it.

These were black cabs that really were that. Apart from the dark grey one nearest to us.

This is not the first time that I have noticed the phenomenon of the truly black Lockdown black cab, but this has been my most striking such observation.

I have believed, for some time now, that Lockdown will in due course be retro-damned as a cure worse than the disease, that at the very least went on for far too long. A generation of “experts”, all gripped by the fallacy of the risk free alternative, are going to be proved as having been very inexpert indeed. What is ending Covid is herd immunity. And what does Lockdown do? Lockdown slows down the arrival of herd immunity and prolongs the agony, in a feedback loop of yet more Lockdown. Will it ever end? I’ll believe the end of Lockdown when I see it and when the idea of re-imposing Lockdown is no longer talked about. Such are my prejudices just now.

Also, too many people now like it.

I wonder if I’ll want to saying I Told You So in a year’s time. We shall see.

The Airbus A390 “Clickbait” – etc.

Indeed:

I encountered this glorious airplane on Twitter, but just now Twitter is refusing to load onto my computer, for some idiot reason to do with me refusing to update or generally do as commanded, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. The posting in question is, in any case, unworthy of a link because if was one of those “15 airplanes that should never have been built”, adorned by an annoyingly small version of the above photo. Like a fool I took the bate bait (see first comment), and there were more like a hundred airplanes, many of them rather sensible, but none of them were the above goose airbus. Liars. I really should know by now not to disappear into these multi-click lists of foolishness. But then I googled “goose airbus” and found the bigger version of the photo that you see above.

Speaking of clickbate clickbait, yesterday I emailed David Thompson, with news of this crane inserts London bus into London pub garden posting here, in the hope that he might include it in his Friday ephemera clutch today, and he did (“Crane use of note”). So traffic here has jumped upwards. Check it out if you’ve not seen this. It’s a great photo. (This posting is now going to be another of these.)

David Thompson’s ephemera postings are a good source of weird animal stuff, and today, there’s a link to a story about a sea slug that keeps its head but grows another body.

I wish I could do that.

I also liked, although this is vegetable rather than animal news, this photo of unsupervised potatoes. Says DT’s first commenter (“Lady Cutekitten of Lolcat”): I once saw The Unsupervised Potatoes open for Rod Stewart.

So what does this Real AI do to the network?

Here’s the latest Taxi-with-advert photo I photoed, not far from a favourite taxi spot even during Lockdown, Victoria Station:

Whereas yesterday, the posting was about a big gadget that merely happened to have words on it, this is an advert that consists only of words. “Juniper. real networks. Real AI. Real results.” Even I know that the Internet will tell me more, if I only ask it. “.

So I went to the Juniper website, and watched and listened to two minutes and more of Juniper Supremo Rami Rahim, talking about an AI driven network, or something. But I am afraid I am not much the wiser. To summarise my question simply: What is he talking about? I know that AI stands for artificial intelligence, but how does this artificial intelligence apply itself to the network? Does it run the network? Thereby saving humans the bother? Does it run the network in a way that is more efficient than it could ever be in humans ran it? Or is the AI doing something entirely different? Or, is Rami Rahim just talking about a somewhat fancy computer programme, that runs the network, which isn’t really AI at all? I’m genuinely eager to learn more.

All of which illustrates a more general point about Lockdown, which is that during it, anyone in the computerised communications business is liable to be doing rather well, and to be eager to advertise, unlike, say, restaurants.

Why my next camera may still be a camera rather than a mobile phone

In a recent posting here, I speculated that my next “camera” might also be my next mobile. Setting aside the question of whether I live long enough to be making any such decision, I think I probably blogged too soon. I did mention zoom, as something a mobile phone might not do well enough, and zoom might indeed be, for me, a deal breaker. Below are three images which illustrate what I mean.

Here is a photo I photoed, in the summer of 2016, from favourite-London-location-of-mine, now shut of course, the top of the Tate Modern Extension:

That photo being favourite genre of mine: Big Things (in this case Ancient Big Things) in alignment with each other. In descending order of recognisability, and going from nearest to furthest, those are Big Ben, the twin towers of Westminster Abbey, and the single but splendid tower of Westminster Cathedral. The little green tower in the foreground is on the top of County Hall.

But here is my camera pointing in the exact same direction, minus any zoom:

I know. You can’t really tell where that clock and those cathedrals even are. Well, the scene in the top photo is to be observed just to the right of the right hand lift shaft of those two lift shafts, and just to the left of the angular glass top of 240 Blackfriars.

If I tried getting the same view with my current mobile, that view would probably look – and here I’m quoting and expanding, so to speak, from the relevant bit of the photo above – more like this:

I love these sorts of alignments and juxtapositions. Often, as above, they can only be photoed with lots of zoom. Just getting closer to the Big Things in question would not be an option, because the alignment only happens if you are in the right high-up spot where you can see it from, and this may be a long way from the aligned Big Things. So, I have to have lots of zoom.

Mobiles achieve megazoom by actually having separate cameras for different amounts of zooming. Will this ever get as good as my present camera type camera? Maybe, but in the sort of time-frame I am looking at now I rather doubt it.