Conjecture and refutation

One of my favourite public sculptures in London goes by the official name of Assembly. This, or perhaps it should be “these”, stand outside of the Woolwich Arsenal, on the south side of the river, downstream of the centre of London.

I photoed these militaristic characters a while back. Here is how they look, in their local context:

I did a posting (LINK TO THE OLD BLOG) here about them.

Here is one of the photos I showed in that posting:

That’s actually the inside of the head of one of these men, but your eye is telling you that this is a regular head, rather than any sort of concaveness. Yet concaveness is what it is. Your brain insists on telling you it’s a regular head, and you can’t successfully tell it any different.

Here’s another of these head-shaped holes, and this time it is a lot easier to see what is really going on, because there is a bit of context. Also present is a spider’s web, visibly flat, which couldn’t be if the head was sticking out like a regular head.

And now here is another photo which makes everything clear, by turning the head entirely black:

No chance, therefore, for the brain to misinterpret what’s going on.

The reason I was reminded of these sorts of optically illusional images is that I am currently reading this book, which is about how the brain in particular sees things, and in general makes sense of things. This was recommended by Alastair James, commenting on this earlier posting.

The point being that it isn’t just the brain that “makes” all this sense. The process of “making” sense takes place at all levels within the brain/nervous system. Your retina, for instance, is already prejudiced, so to speak, in how it looks at things.

Put it this way. The phrase that has kept on rattling around in my head while I’ve been reading this book is the title of another book, by Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations. We don’t just passively soak up information, and then only a bit later “make” sense of it. Our sense organs are all the time imposing intelligent guesses upon what we are experiencing.

That summary probably isn’t that good. But I’ve only on page 40 and I’ve been finding it pretty hard going.

The last photo above reminds me of the picture in this Samizdata posting that I did a year ago.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Hello Kitty Bullet Train

I kid you not:

West Japan Railway Co. said Friday it will begin operating a Hello Kitty-themed shinkansen on June 30.

The interior and seats of the 500-series shinkansen, to be used for daily round trips between Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka Prefecture and Hakata in Fukuoka Prefecture, will feature Sanrio Co.’s Hello Kitty character, the railway operator said.

The special train, to be decorated with pink ribbons like the character, will be used to promote local attractions and specialty goods, and passengers will have the chance to pose for photos with a big Hello Kitty doll.

I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve been had by Japan’s answer to the Daily Mash, or that all this was first announced on April 1st. Nevertheless, it does seem to be a real thing.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The new Spurs stadium is nearly ready (and the views will be great)


I found that at the Spurs website. That’s how things are looking now, or at any rate pretty recently. From the sky.

Of greater interest to me is this:

Which I found here.

The black bit is a staircase, and a viewing platform:

… the views from the Tottenham Skywalk will be spectacular. The trek has five core stages which offer different vantage points and experiences for its visitors. The walk starts on the southern end of the western side of the stadium where the Skywalk ascent begins. Traveling up to Level 5, one continues on the external open walkway up towards the roof. This is a pretty wild concept. Supporters and visitors alike will be trudging up the outer facade, carabiners and all, where they will catch glimpses of the frenetic indoor pace of the stadium, while also viewing the vastness of greater London.

Carabiners? That means everyone roped together like mountain climbers. So, not just strolling up there, then. Even so, I just might give that a go. And I’ll be doing a lot more than “catch glimpses”, I can tell you. Here’s hoping cameras are allowed.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

How public is Facebook?

Says my friend (also my Facebook “friend”) Antoine Clarke:

“Elites” in the USA, the UK and the EU claim that the masses who favour President Trump, Brexit, or oppose EU control of Italy’s government are “illiterates” , “uneducated” etc. So who’s been in charge of education?

Good point.

But, it’s on Facebook, and I don’t understand Facebook. I don’t believe I am betraying anything especially private here, but maybe I am. I am taking that chance.

With blogging, it’s very simple. What you see is public. You can copy anything on a blog, and paste it into your blog, for all the world to read in the unlikely event that it wants to. All that etiquette demands is that you mention the source of what you copied. But when I read something on Facebook, what can I use? I don’t know.

A friend (also FB “friend”) of mine is just now at the cinema, with his wife, according to a posting by him on Facebook. There was a picture of the two of them, with a movie star in another poster behind them. And there, you see, I may already be spilling beans. What if they told their last-minute – please please can you help us out, this once?!?! – babysitter that they had an “urgent appointment”, medical or some such thing? But really, they were just going to the cinema? If the babysitter also reads this blog, and reads this, it could take them weeks to unscramble the mess. That’s all pretty unlikely, of course. But something like that could happen, or so I fear.

Twitter, like blogging, is fairly straightforward. Anybody can read someone Twittering away, on Twitter, and everything there is accordingly public. If I can see it on Twitter, I can quote it here. Right? I could be wrong, but that’s what I now assume. But with Facebook, I don’t know where I am.

I have a friend (also FB “friend”) who sometimes tells me things in the strictest confidence, in a way which suggests to me that, really, what he wants is for me to say this to everyone I subsequently meet, but keeping his name out of it. Or something. I never really know.

I will be a blogger until I die, because with blogging, all this is straightforward and out in the open. Which means I have to get myself a new blog which goes at a proper speed, unlike this one. People do still read this blog. But the time it takes to load up introduces another version of not-very-publicness. That needs to be done away with, asap. Another friend (also “friend”) is, or so I hope, helping out with that.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The new Tottenham Court Road tube exit – with cranes

The photos here were taken in nicer weather, by a much better photoer than me.

But my photo is better, because my photo has … cranes:

I have visited this place several times in the last few days, each time in the evening, each time attempting to buy a certain CD at nearby Foyles. Twice I was frustrated. First, because I misidentified the closing time of Foyles, on some obsolete website I think it must have been. Then, I forgot that yesterday was a bank holiday. Finally, today, I got my CD, and several other cheaper ones from their second-hand collection.

And, this evening, I finally got the photo I wanted of this tube exit, and its cranes. The key to it was: I had my camera ready to go when I stepped onto the escalator. And then when I wasn’t sure I had what I wanted, I went back down again, and up again. The trick was, taking the photo from near the bottom of the escalator, so that both cranes were included.

In addition to being willing sometimes to look like a perve, a photoer must also be willing sometimes to look like a prat.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Light on dark

A few hours ago, the Waterloo crane cluster was lit up by the evening sun, in front of dark clouds, an effect I love:

That was taken from the downstream Hungerford footbridge, just outside Embankment tube. Minutes after that it was chucking it down. And there was more thunder.

A fine night for the BBC to be showing King Lear.

I had already set the TV recorder.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Internet not working

Using phone. Impossible. That is all.

LATER: Well, not quite. It seems that it was Google not working. Or something. Everything went black. Why? So after all the usual switch-it-off-switch-in-on-again bollocks, I closed all windows, black as they were and were determined to remain, and then opened just one. And that, this, worked. I found out google wasn’t working by trying another internet searcher thingy. That worked. Except that it couldn’t remember how to get here, if it ever knew. So, I closed google and opened it again, a little.

Very peculiar.

As for that using phone thing, well, again, not impossible. Just ridiculously difficult.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Maybe not such a smart idea

I was attracted to Nick Bryant’s Twitter Feed by this Tweet, which someone on my Twitter Feed had flagged up. And that got me looking at other Nick Bryant Tweets.

In one of these, Bryant alludes admiringly to this quote:

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

Which Bryant calls “smart”. And it does sound quite smart.

But think about this a bit more. What this says is that in every room with several people in it, one of them shouldn’t be there.

If everyone followed this advice, social life would collapse. The smartest person in each room would keep leaving, and then the second-smartest, and so on. And the leavers would be frantically searching for rooms with smarter people in them. But the smartest people in those rooms would also have to leave, and eventually they’d be the smartest. And so on. Madness.

Here’s my plan. If you like the company you are in, stick around. If you really are the smartest person there, there’s still plenty you can learn if you have a mind to. And if you are actually teaching everyone else, well, what’s so wrong with that?

The truth is that most people are smart about some things and stupid about a lot of other things. Which means that actually, the “smartest person” notion is inherently flawed.

The idea of the above quote is that we should always be learning things from others. But you can usually learn something from anyone, no matter how much smarter you may be compared to them, or think that you are.

Further thought: If you are in a room where you think you are the smartest person, and that everyone else is stupider than you, well, maybe you should get out of there and spare these people your company.

I have in mind the meeting I hosted last night, where everyone was smart, or so it seemed to me. About whatever each of us was smart about.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog