Thursday, August 17, 2017

Love the Block. Brutalism, Modernism. [acquisitions]

Long time @brutalhouse follower. Casual modernist lurker. A sense of respect for all things daring enough to be ugly, a rebellious taunt against the destructive lust for curves and beauty and organicness that we shroud the 21st century in like the Emperor's clothes. A certain truth in those stark lines. A glorious coming together in the emotions and debate they stir up.

Picked up the Gigantic edition of the Modernist magazine yesterday. Never seen it before, but it might be my new favourite magazine (also for being a fiver).

In it, the lyrical entanglement of physicality, design, and big ideas. Each building the outline of a dream of a different society and new world. The necessity of Corbusier struck me:
"But then again, his critics were quite wrong. What cities and humans require, and simultaneously fear, is change. cities are stories of change. ... Change is inevitable, and the Ville Radieuse was one of the bravest attempts to turn that endless process in an ennobling direction..."
Compare with the dimwitted attempts of Brexit to revert to a previous nation, among a world which has changed so much. "At least we're trying something new," the lines scream.

In all places, the architecture of the collossal always seems to be inseparable from symbolism. The magazine also looks at the Konstantynow radio tower, which I shared a birthday with until it collapsed in 1991. A few months later, the USSR also collapsed. It is not entirely clear if the Emley Moor UHF transmitter is a practical device, the symbol of a scientific revolution, or a beacon to guide souls in the right direction as they try to escape this water-bound island. Unlike Brighton's i360, the Emley Moor confuses us with its abilities to remain static, emanate invisible waves, and fail to be a money-spinning tourist attraction. Strange artifacts indeed.

I may have to pick up some back issues.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Loving the weeknotes

Been pretty quiet here again recently. A lot of my writing focus over the last couple of months has gone into my new WEEKNOTES venture, which is a bit of an endurance test, but I'm finding it a very worthwhile exercise. "Episode" 7 of "Series" 2 has just been published - I skipped a week back at week 7 to rest up, but have carried on since, and I'm now using the old 6-episode UK series length as a bit of a rhythm. I think it's good to stop and rest regularly. 

The #weeknotes twitter crowd is also starting to gather legs, and the RSS feed for the Product for the People stream is acquiring new first episodes with every week. I'm really enjoying the glimpse into people's lives (OK, mostly like-minded government data people) like a slow-paced, text-based snapchat or periscope. There's something relaxed yet insightful about the reflective-diary format, which feels like it approaches the "accidental" social absorption that the term "exmosis" always meant to capture. Also, animated gifs.

I never quite know how many read this blog (which is fine - TinyLetter has better stats for people actually opening content, but it's always depressing to be so tethered to harsh reality). And the same with my weeknotes - but I've chatted to a few people who have mentioned they read it sometimes, and it can lead to some good private discussions elsewhere. 

I'm still intending to carry on my other missives of course, namely this blog, Disposable Evidence postcards, and the Grey Pebbles newsletter. But I'm going to have to juggle some attention carefully. Things are pretty busy in the background right now. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tide Mills, a brief photo essay

I needed to clear some brainspace after a long election night, and headed out west, to the devillaged skeleton structures of Tide Mill. I had never made it quite that far myself, despite seeing it from the train every day.

After a brisk walk along the Seaford sea front, I followed an iron line onto the crumbled wood of concrete leftovers. I wondered where the windmill stood as a strong wind blew the spray from a high, jade-coloured tide at me. It must have been quite crazy to have lived on top of, and in between, the rush of the waves and their insistent daily yin-yang.

(Random bonus links...)

I hate the Internet, a lovely review from James
It's always about the money, a reminder of why unions.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Alternate Universes

I picked up the other FT last week - the Fortean Times - partly because it had a short introductory article on Hookland in it. I used to get the FT irregularly during a teenage period, around the time when it was accompanied by a Reverend-driven TV show and the early X-Files. It always felt - still does - like a childish indulgence to perpetuate the ghost tales and mystery of a world still unknown, still capable of anything. Childish, but not in a bad way. In a necessary way.

The Hookland article spoke of its narrative 'bible', and I was reminded of the dark, conspiratorial wor(l)ds of Tlon, Uqbar, OrbiTertius from Borges. From there, my mind wandered back to an earlier project I helped work on, a sci-fi MUD called simply AU, short for Alternate Universe

Together, a small cadre of us created our characters, and partly through code but primarily through imagination, persistence, and momentum, on outwards to create a culture, mini histories, new maps, extinct civilisations, all the way up to grim morals disguised as puzzles. The world lived through us, and vice versa.

Reading about Hookland made me nostalgic, not for AU itself, but for the process of creation, the genesis of a mirror land that, even if no one else ever visits, can let us explore our own thoughts, and reflect back at us through weird, barely understood prisms.

It's been at least a decade since I worked on AU. I want to build a new world again, one that addresses what I know and have learnt and somehow helps me bring it all into focus, and bring it to bear on this chaos we wake up to every day. 

Now I just need to figure out where to begin.

Monday, May 15, 2017


One of the RSS feeds I've been enjoying a lot recently is the work diary of Dan Barrett, or his "weeknotes" (as put by the monoword branding aspired to by all good net-based memetics these days). I also ended up reading @jukesie's, among others, and particularly enjoyed his talk at OpenTech last weekend on the importance of being open.

I've tried out live diaries for the day at work before, and found it fun and interesting - and hard work, of course. Remembering what you've done, or to write it down as it happens, curating the content to be both sensitive and good for a reader. All fairly time consuming, and I don't have much time these days.

But with a lot of "documentation" and curation processes, the end result can be quite enlightening - and the one big challenge here is to enlighten yourself, at speed. Forget readers, blog for yourself. Find yourself interesting first, because it's your world you're writing about.

So I've made a start a few weeks ago, over at - the first three weeks are up, and the fourth is under way. It'll be fun to see if it works out.

So far I've been thinking about different ways to keep it "fresh" - I've been adding in photos and links, but might do a full-on photo essay approach every now and then. Maybe a version in tweetstorm form? Time to get meta-creative...

To keep it valuable to me, I like to draw out some interesting reflections, and I want to spin some of these out into further blogposts. But just forcing myself to write and publish something feels like useful exercise. Write til your fingers bleed, delete til there's nothing left. Publish and forget. Practice writing like a flautist practises scales. It's an approach I'm hoping converts to writing fuller pieces as well - lower your own standard, but up your focus. Concentrate on key messages.

(Technically it's also the first time I'm running WordPress on my Pi, and first time using Let's Encrypt to run https. After  three days of hacking about, that 's' in the URL is probably the character I'm most proud of in my professional years.)

Jukesie made the point in his talk that openness can often be quite a subversive way of bringing about change. Given I don't, relatively, have to justify myself too much at work, I think in this case my weeknotes perhaps represent me subvert in myself. An underhand, subconscious stab at my own assumptions and routines.

Write like nobody's reading. Not even yourself.