Why we have narcissistic rich guys

I like this:

The job of billionaires is to live a better life, and while doing that pay for it to go from being an expensive luxury to a cheap and universal commonplace.

People moan about “trickle down” economics, often claiming that it doesn’t even happen. I only have to look at my flat screen TV, upon which I am now happily watching cricket, to know that this is wrong.

Monkey plays pong just by thinking about it

Earlier today I talked with my friend Bruno, who told me about an unusual monkey. Unusual to me, anyway.

This monkey had electrodes inserted into his brain, and then they got him to play a favourite game of his: pong. As he played pong, he was rewarded with banana juice, which made him enjoy it even more.

He played pong with a lever. While he was doing this, they analysed his brainwaves and learned to decypher these brainwaves in real time, and used the result to control the movement of the pong thingy on the screen.

Then, they unplugged the lever. The monkey carried on using the lever because he still assumed that this was how he was controlling the pong thingy, but actually he was controlling what happened on the screen only with his brain. The same signals he was sending to his hand were being interpreted by the computer, with the result that what the monkey saw on the screen was unchanged.

The final step was to remove the lever, and get the monkey to carry on playing pong, which he was now able to do merely by thinking of how he would have controlled the lever. That worked. And there you have it, technology controlled by pure brain activity.

Video here. The application they talk about is to help people get around being paraplegic. But think about it, and you’ll soon realise that there are many, many more amazing ways that this sort of brain-only techno-control could be made to work and to change the world.

If you’ve heard about this before, fine. I too have heard about such stuff before. The difference, for me, was how clearly Bruno explained the successive stages of how they made all this work.

The man writing out the cheques for all this – or whatever you do these days to pay for things – is Elon Musk. Who, I understand, is also becoming quite successful with his rockets. So, it’s only a bit of a stretch to say that Musk is now big both in brain surgery and rocket science.

A gallery of Michael Jennings photos

For the last few weeks, a strange glitch has been afflicting this blog, involving spacing. If I stick up just the one photo, stretching all the way across the width of the blog’s column of text, all is well. But if I stick up a gallery of photos, which is something I very much like doing, there has been a problem. Too much space was suddenly, ever since a recent software update or some such thing, created below the gallery. Any attempt I made to remove this space only resulted in further spatial havoc below, in the form of too much space between subsequent paragraphs of text.

But now, either because the guardians of this software have sorted this out, or because the technical curator of this blog, Michael Jennings, has sorted this out, things are back to how they were. Good. Very good. I attach great importance to how this blog looks. If it looks wrong, I hate that. It demoralises me and makes me want to ignore the damn thing rather than keep on updating it the way I actually do. This was especially so given that galleries look so very good when they are working properly.

Well, as I say, things have now reverted to their previous state of visual just-so-ness. And I will now celebrate, with yet another gallery:

The above gallery, however, is not a gallery of my photos, but rather a gallery of photos photoed by Michael Jennings, all, I believe, with his mobile phone. Not having got out much lately, I have found the photos Michael has photoed while taking exercise, and then stuck up on Facebook, reminding me of how my beloved London has been looking, to be a great source of comfort during the last few months. And I actually like photoing in his part of London more than I do in my own part. This may just be familiarity breeding something like contempt, but is still a definite thing with me.

I started out having in mind to pick just four photos, which makes a convenient gallery. Then I thought, make it nine. I ended up with twenty four. It would have been twenty five (also a convenient number), except that one of the ones I chose was a different shape, which might have complicated things, so I scrubbed that one from the gallery.

But you can still look at that one. Because none of this means that you need be confined only to my particular favourites. Go here and keep on right clicking to see all of them.

I have displayed my picks here in chronological order, the first of the above photos having been photoed in October of last year. The final photo (which is what you get to if you follow the second link in the previous paragraph), of the church, which I learned of today, and which is the only one done outside London, is something of a celebration, of the fact that Michael is now able to travel outside London without breaking any rules, or such is my understanding. (Plus, I like those unnatural trees (see also photo number 9)).

Patrick Crozier, the man I do recorded conversations with (see the previous post), is a particular fan of Viscount Alanbrooke, Churchill’s long suffering chief military adviser during WW2. So he’ll like that this church is where Alanbrooke is buried.

Four of BrianMicklethwaitsNewBlog dot com’s greatest hits

Every so often, this blog attracts a flurry of attention from some mysterious other place that I am typically not clever enough to identify, and today this is happening again. The posting that is today attracting a stampede, by my very modest standards, of hits is one I did way back last October, about Jonathan the 188-year-old tortoise, whom I just happened to learn about from this Tweet, by “Anna Berserk”, which included the photo that I stuck up here. All I can tell you about this sudden interest in this old tortoise is that it appears to have happened because of something someone said on Facebook. Beyond that, I cannot even guess.

An earlier flurry of interest was provoked by a November 2019 posting here which featured a picture of what a Ripped piece of paper under the microscope (100x magnification) looks like. I came across this where I come across a lot of stuff I like, which is the Twitter feed of Steve Stewart-Williams.

Another little stampede was provoked by this photo of the damage a tiny speck of space debris can do at 15,000 mph. I came across that photo here.

My favourite of these little stampede-inducing postings was one that featured a lady, Lady Florence Norman, who was photoed riding an electric mechanical scooter in 1916. I first encountered her ladyship here.

All of these Greatest Hits of mine featured photos, none of which were photoed by me, and all of which were first seen by me on Twitter. The timing of these mini-stampedes was random, and they often happened, as today, long after I had thought my posting would have been completely forgotten. Make of all that what you will.

This is the damage a tiny speck of space debris can do at 15,000 mph


I did a piece a while back for Samizdata about that foolish equation people sometimes still make between “the age of exploration” that happened about five hundred years ago, when Europe, until then a backwater, globally speaking, started to connect itself with the rest of the world out there, and space exploration now. Like I said, rather foolish.

The above is one of the many ways in which space travel, unlike those early sea voyages, is profoundly different from anything before attempted by humans. Not saying we shouldn’t do it. Am saying: watch out for very big surprises, often very nasty ones.

I have had that tweet open for over a month, and it refused to let itself be closed. Too interesting. Too dramatic. Too destructive.

Quota photo of a sign about Croydon Spaceport

Whatever that is.

Busy day ahead. That to-do list (see previous posting) is already demanding that I go off and do various things, which leaves little time for blogging now.

So, quota photo time, and it’s very strange:

I already like the building, but I tried internet searching about this Croydon Spaceport stuff, and am not much the wiser. Basically, I can’t tell how serious they’re being. Are they promoting Croydon, which is a place I’ve always loved? Or space exploration, which I also strongly favour? Either way I’m for it, but am still a bit baffled.

No time to do much linking now, but may add some links later.

LATER: I am none the wiser.


CNBC: SpaceX is manufacturing 120 Starlink internet satellites per month.

Says Instapundit’s Stephen Green: Wow.

And it does sound pretty exciting. High speed internet connections in hitherto uninternetted places. Will politicians be able to spare us all that stressing and straining to narrow the “digital gap” between the cities and the countryside, by threatening to dig up the latter at vast expense to everyone? Will everyone just be connected from now on, wherever they live? Sounds like it, doesn’t it? Working at home, wherever your home happens to be, is just about to get that little bit easier.

Of course, if you are a regular BMNB reader, you already know about Starlink.

Splashdown for SpaceX

John Stossel:

2 Americans just landed safely after spending 2 months in space.

11 years ago, an Obama committee concluded that would take 12 years and cost $26 billion. Elon Musk did it in 6 years– for less than $1 billion.

Private competition is always better.

On the other hand, says the LA Times:

Elon Musk’s growing empire is fueled by $4.9 billion in government subsidies

Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space.

And he’s built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies.

Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups.

“He definitely goes where there is government money,” said Dan Dolev, an analyst at Jefferies Equity Research. “That’s a great strategy, but the government will cut you off one day.”

Like the government is liable to cut Boeing off. Because now, it can.

I’m guessing Musk reckons he could find other customers, if the government stopped paying. But I’m guessing further that a chunk of all that money goes to schmoozing the government to keep on paying. In a decade or two, Musk could be no better than Boeing.

This is “privatisation”, and privatisation isn’t the same as a real market, hence the sneer quotes. Private competition is always better. So are lots of customers spending their own money, instead of just the one, getting its money at gunpoint. Let’s hope that in this case it will turn out to be a step in the right direction. As big as it now feels.

Elon Musk’s rockets are cheap because he wants them to be cheap

I have had this article open (see this) for quite a while, and I now see that it dates back to January 2012. What a difference it makes when you can dig up old articles like this. I learned a lot from reading this, which is perhaps because I am now playing catch-up concerning Elon Musk and his many activities, and this piece feels like it was written when a lot of people were first learning about this guy.

In addition to being about Elon Musk, this piece focuses in on why Musk’s rockets cost so much less than the regular rockets that the US government has been buying up until now for its space endeavours. It turns out it’s not been rocket science. Basically, they are cheap because Musk is the first person who has tried to make them cheap:

United Launch Alliance, the consortium of Boeing and Lockheed Martin that produces both the Delta and the Atlas, does not make its prices public. But budget documents show that in 2010 the EELV program received $1.14 billion for three rockets—an average of $380 million per launch. And prices are expected to rise significantly in the next few years, according to defense department officials. Why? Musk says a lot of the answer is in the government’s traditional “cost-plus” contracting system, which ensures that manufacturers make a profit even if they exceed their advertised prices. “If you were sitting at a n executive meeting at Boeing and Lockheed and you came up with some brilliant idea to reduce the cost of Atlas or Delta, you’d be fired,” he says. “Because you’ve got to go report to your shareholders why you made less money. So their incentive is to maximize the cost of a vehicle, right up to the threshold of cancellation.”

I recall once upon a time GodDaughter1’s Dad, who is a structural engineer, telling me how depressed he was that his firm got paid not according to how much extra effort and cleverness they put into designing good structures, but according to how much concrete and steel they wasted, by not putting in that extra effort and cleverness. The good news was that, like Elon Musk, he and his mates were trying to change that.

See also this earlier posting here and in particular Michael J’s comment on it. Musk is now covering himself in glory. Boeing and Lockheed are covering themselves in something else.

“A revival of ultrafast supersonic passenger jet travel is inching closer to reality …”


Will the fake photos of the Boom Supersonic XB-1 ever get real? Will I live long enough to photo Concorde 2.0 over London? It’s starting to look like they and I might.

How noisy will it be? I absolutely do not care how loud it is, but others will, so actually: I suppose I do.

The USA aerospace industry is having a magnificent renaissance now, and of course I have libertarian friends who have been chattering to each other about little else for years. I agree with them, even as I have taken more of an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it line. But now that we’re starting to see it, this could be the big take on 2020 when the historians look back at it. Plagues and riots? What’s new about that? They’ll surely get a mention, if only for the panic-stricken reactions. But, meanwhile: Supersonic travel is back! Space travel is back! Last time around, as I now enjoy saying, it was money no object Cold War dick-waving. Now it’s getting real.