Sunday, March 29, 2015

What I'm supporting this month


Low-level support for a basket of network causes.

  • James Smith is trying to be Horsham's MP with a (fresh?) open, honest approach to politics, including an open, deliberative manifesto and open accounting. I'm constantly caught between dismissing mainstream politics, and watching its subtle, clever car-crash approach to maintaining status quos. I love to see people trying something different.
  • Towner Gallery want to bring a tiny boat, that's traveled all round Europe, on a final voyage to Eastbourne. The art of the simple voyage - in a week where I'm tracing the outline of the sea and moving further along the coast towards Eastbourne - is important and appropriate.
  • Christina "@rvaya" Smith is looking for patrons for her artwork, more of which you can see in her portfolio. As well as being amazed at the quality and diversity of what she produces, it's great to support friends and friends-of-friends so easily. The idea that "everyone will be famous for fifteen people" is starting to get really interesting. And fun.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How I write (right now) and how I might

Bookmore challenged the Internet to share how we write stuff, following his own post on the subject. I’m inclined to do so, but mostly as a challenge to write something meaningful and yet quick. Here goes.

I’m in a similar boat to him - I don’t have much time at all, and what I do have is either fragmented (hello, 5-month-old baby) or is “on the go” time, such as getting to work or catching lunch. “Writing” time (or the whole process of putting something together) is often crushed like too much supermarket shopping into daily activities such as:

* 10 minutes in the shower
* 20 minutes walking to work (I’ll take the bus if it’s raining, but it’s too quick to do much)
* 30 minutes maybe having lunch 
* 30 minutes walking back home (it’s uphill, and no toddler to drop at nursery)
* 1 hour in the evening

The nature of the day means my mind is empty at the start and more keen to fill itself with ideas and observations - maybe the shattered leftovers of broken sleep and fleeting dreams. Showering and walking to work are dangerous sports; I am constantly being stalked by topics and finger-pointing arguments I feel the world should know of.

What happens next depends on the rest of the day, but I can break down the process into a few overlapping strands:

1. Ideas

Ideas will float out of my ears (I assume) in the form of either an “aha” point to be made, or sometimes (in conjunction) a string of text that has apparently come from inside me without deliberation. 

I find that these ideas get forgotten very quickly - replaced by another, or by some more pressing urgency. Although sadly, I don’t tend to forget that I had the idea in the first place, and spend many minutes trying to chase it back again.

I’ll often put an idea down somewhere to join the others in some nebulous info-ether. A text message to myself, a notepad, an Evernote memo. Whatever’s closest. Long ago, during Uni, I decided it was more important to write something down that it was to re-read my own notes. The act of writing is therapy in itself.

Sometimes, infrequently, I come back to these raw ideas. Generally, I don’t have the time to flesh out things with such enthusiasm, and it’s only when I actually have time to put some text together that anything publishable happens. Somewhere there’s a graveyard of all the ideas I once had.

2. Tools

I mentioned Evernote above, which I’ve used on and off for years. I got a Premium account with a Livescribe digital pen, and then another one recently, accidentally, when I switched mobile phone company.

I like Evernote for its app-ness, it does a good job of letting you add a range of different stuff quickly. I don’t depend on it, but it’s very useful when putting notes together. This post is being written up in Evernote.

Sometimes I’ll just start writing into a Draft blogpost, as it makes me one step closer to that “Publish” button. 

Sometimes I’ll whack the note into Dropbox, but these definitely tend to get ignored. I do love Dropbox, but actually use it for other, more wiki-like things. And photo sharing.

Really, the tool I use right now most is my phone. That reflects the sheer production of ideas though, not the writing process. I’ll often switch to a tablet at lunch, to jot some more thoughts down. But I still can’t beat a laptop for writing speed. A proper, physical keyboard is the only thing that comes close to keeping up with my speed of thought. Switching writing context is key to getting stuff out, in my world.

Keyboards are amazing.

3. Finalising and publishing

This is the bit I hate. Ideas are easy. If you’re in the right mood, chunks of text are easy. Proof-reading and putting links in? Tedious and fiddly.

I’ve gone through phases where I’ve tried to ignore links altogether, and just assume that anyone reading can use Google, or get in touch if they really want to know. The main reason for putting links in seems to be more for Googlejuice these days, except for the very few links which have instigated a particular thought. I’m actually tending to think of blog posts this way anyway. My gut instinct says it makes for a better reading experience.

But getting to the “Publish” point is hard. Lots of things need to come together for me: A holistic whole to the piece, a flow and rhythm that makes it readable, and a point worth hooking people’s attention for. A lot of posts never get finished.

Wat Better?

I’d really like to spit more out, but more structured, meaningful stuff. James produced a [nice series of short, exploratory posts] back in January, and I have some drafts which try to navigate particular theme. I’m hoping to turn them into a blog/tinyletter some time soon, once various dusts have settled.

I feel like I should spend more time playing with formats though as well. The limits of both not-enough-time and not-enough-screen-space should become challenges to creativity rather than blockers. I had an idea to form haiku-like paragraphs: one short, one long, one short. It could work.

I’m also probably going to have a big upheaval to things in that I’ll probably be swapping my legs for a train sometime soon. Having a lightweight laptop would be useful for getting stuff done in the morning and evening, and I’d love for writing to be a significant part of that time. 

Anyway. Writing is fun. But it takes more than a stream of consciousness to publish stuff. Social media services like Facebook and Twitter have figured out how to allow chit-chat in our fragmented and surveilled lives, so I’m sure something similar can happen for more long-form creations...

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Public Image

@RachelHaywire nails home some fantastic rhetoric about the overvaluation of reputation these days. For me, it's the same trend that makes real-name policies so dangerous-slash-absurd, and that makes me want to troll review sites. It is the obvious culmination of the worship of the self - the transmogrification of the actor and the individual into an untouchable, yet utterly abstract concept of what is "Right". It is why Bitcoin was released pseudonymously - because our engineering is so absolutely hidden behind a manipulable smokescreen of personality that real, sustained, fundamental change can only happen when it is detached from all known facets of authorship.

If there is a single thread that unites #tao and #punk into #taopunk, perhaps it is this? In order to truly change ourselves, and to change the ambience we inhabit, we must lose sight of name and reputation and not-wanting-to-offend and revert to simply what happens,

Sunday, March 01, 2015

The deep hills of the net

I know that one day I will head into the far, deep hills of the net where the old connections are. The time will come, and there will be little I can do about it - or want to. It is as sure as TCP is TCP. It will not be a case of being forced out, but simply an issue of perspective, like choosing between miles of traffic jam and a journey of a hundred tiny hotels.


I will pack light, not like the old Pharaohs who insisted on taking everything with them, but like Laurie Lee and his violin. In the hills, where the attention economy is still girded in seeds and signatures, it is enough to fall back on one’s own self again. Two things are essential - wisdom, and conviviality. Everything else can be found or invented along the way.

Sometimes I will be the simulated-me that is as close to myself as the hills can muster, a ragged reflection bouncing between nodes. Sometimes I will be a troll. Other times I will be nothing but a script, perhaps - an algorithmic ghost in the shell designed to extract only what is necessary. A bare minimum, stripped even of simple irrational decision-making. A route within a route. A switch controlled by the endless grid of switches it encounters. I will be free to choose my own form, even if it means a semi-permanent death. No two hills are alike.

The curse of the nomad is to be forced into either staying or going. Sometimes I will linger, and other times I will leave as soon as I check in. Unlike the solitary nomad, the online traveler can shatter and be in many places at once, or even in the same place multiple times. Identity is not a single registration, but the combination of presences all brought together in a single transient mind. Each avatar comes and goes, but none by itself is more than a single arm, a toe, a blade of digital hair. There is no "I" to be found online, only subsets of a single, holographic, re-assembly. "I" am merely exploding closer to become "we", the amalgamation we always knew we were.

We will travel and fade and shift and ossify. Some of us will leave trails, and some of us will be more obvious than others. But we will never be the same.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Future agency

Matt Webb has some interesting links on the agency of non-humans, which reminded me a lot similar questions around the “authorship” of Butterflies and Sand. But isn't there a fundamental difference between "deliberate randomness" and "automated smartness" (ie. AI)? Which does a monkey with your camera come under?

Will agency and notions of “ownership” need to translate into a more complex system of “partial causality” as we hand responsibilities over to other decision-making entities? What does that mean for the idea of “acts of God”? (If I take a lot of flights, should I pay more for insurance against extreme weather?)

Or will we see the refinement of the group as an entity in itself perhaps, a collective responsibility that somehow filters the notion of togetherness combined within such a group - a fragmented version of juridical persons that translates from company level down to a more local { hyperlocal? lower? } set of links.

What would the API look like for that? How would I interact with the rest of my group? How would that group interact with others?