Friday, September 15, 2017

Choose your own (activist) adventure

(Skirmish thoughts, an attack on my own thinking.)

For some reason there are many chaoses these days. It is hard to know where to start, even when just waking up. The news feeds drag in contempt and despair from the media archipelagos, fresh and raw and bloody like limestone spikes.

I have spent a few years elsewhere. Childbirth and the silence of the tao. These are powerful tutors, they have entwined and entered me, and will be a part of me as much as I am of them from now on. But meanwhile, among the red first, the world is showing the cracks in the plaster and it feels like it's time to address something.

Where to start? Layers on layers - single issues, politics, democratic systems, global power. Technology stacks meet legal infrastructures meet opinion platforms. Everything moves so fast, the world has become a ghost that shimmers around any punches you can throw. One person can't fight an army of spirits.

I spend my time supporting others. But I figure I need to see through the smoke of the shadows somehow. Make a difference. But what difference to make? How does anyone decide?

The pocket watch, resurrected



One of the antipodean effects of growing up with computers is a love of the analogue. Vinyl. Paper. Pens. 35mm film. 


Last week was pretty stressful, or at least tiring. I decided I wanted a way to reflect and flag up my tiredness levels. I thought about mood rings - then I looked them up (never having had one before) and found they didn't work. Something else then. 


Search for "mood jewellery". Same thing. "adjustable jewellery". Nah. I wanted something like a pendant, but I'm too shy to wear things externally. Something I can secrete in a pocket world much better. A personal sigil, hidden like jade. 


The jewellery search threw up a few things though - cheap fitbit watches, and some other watches. Ambient feedback, right kind of area at least. I wasn't sure about an automated monitoring device though. Feedback is so... Personal. Plus, I've come to realise that half of the Art of Feedback is in the doing, not in the feedback itself. A manual process forces us to pay attention. So not a fitbit. 


The search overlapped, chronologically, with the image of a pocket watch which had come up when thinking about steampunk style after the Eastbourne Steampunk Festival a few days earlier. Yeah, a pocket watch. A portable clock, but... not used for time. Stress lives like the threat of an explosion. North Korea and the Doomsday Clock made the silver link, invaded the arena. A stopped clock tells the time twice a day, especially if you set it. Yeah, a pocket watch I could set, to indicate to myself how close to implosion I am. On to something. 


It happened that I actually had a stopped pocket watch. My wife bought me one years ago, before kids. At some point in its era, the tick-tock got jammed, and the pulsing heart stood still, pregnant and primed, yet blocked. I could still set the time though. I dug through my cupboard and pulled it out. Still stuck, excellent. 


I tried it out on Monday - stuffed it in my left trouser pocket, replacing the jagged hills of my keys with the pocket watch's smooth circles and ruby pink gems. I ran through the week's tasks, and fiddled with the watch's hands. Mentally calibrating 12 o'clock as death, I started at 6 purely for its cultish symmetry. Up to 7, 8, 9 o'clock as the morning came flooding in. 


At lunch, I pulled the watch out again. The morning had gone well, I moved the hands back down to 7.30. The silver finish captured and contained the tiny smile I let out, emerging from the emotions derived from a new tool, a successful morning, and the silver finish itself. The circular smoothness entertained and comforted me. 


At the end of the day, I brought the watch back down to 6.30. I had two days off coming up. 


The next day I had to take son 1 to the doctor. We had wrangled a cancelled appointment, but had to divert from school, march up the hill and arrive in under 10 minutes. 


It was on the way out of the surgery that I looked down and noticed the miracle - the watch was beating again. Its spring had unstuck, the tiny wheel bouncing back and forth like a genie fresh from the bottle. I was amazed, relieved and disappointed all at once. Real, analogue time. Jarring with my new sense of purpose. Now with each oscillation, I was apparently getting incrementally more stressed! I set the time and carried on. 


Now I'm counting the days, the hours, until the energy in the spring dissipates, the jewel-studded mechanism winds down, time becomes static. And then, once again, I can find out how stressed I am. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Into Steller: A brief history of social photo hosting



I'm posting this on Blogger, which is probably the "Web 2.0" site (ha, such a retro term) I've been (ab)using the longest, paying shareholders with my own content (or "data soul" as it's called now). According to my archive page, I started blogging here in July 2003, so there you are.

More recently, apparently some time in 2005, I started using Flickr, which was the multimedia ("photos") poster child back then, before Google bought YouTube and way before I'd crashed out of academia. It was a good time, full of experiments and the excitement of digital and the early nostalgia - pre-Instagram - of analogue re-discovery.

The last few years Flickr has gone the way of MySpace, in my eyes. The community is gone, and large corporates stand guard over the domain like the Collosi of Memnon. I know Internet history, the signs don't bode well. I've been trying to work out where to go next, what the next pin in the map is for data travelling through the cyber realms.

I should probably bring it home, self-host something, but ... photographer "community" is a weird one. Everyone takes photos, but not everyone takes photos. The Brighton Flickr community ran off enthusiasm, liberalism, and cafes. Flickr was a central part of that. The social scene doesn't quite click when it comes to self-hosting. In other words, I'd miss the hearts.

My own photography journey has also crossed a certain ocean. I'm no longer a "catch something intriguing", shoot from the hip, post-ech-frame-as-it-comes sort of guy. I'm hooked on the art of curation, the gentle sculpting of a narrative from images, like instruments in an orchestra. The narrative that speak from between the gaps in frames. The sound of a set of shots echoing around your brain, just behind the eye.

I've been playing with Steller a bit. It's ticking a good few boxes, although I still need to dig into the data usage terms a bit (yes, I'm that much of an adult). But it brings together the ability to weave a thread, jump between a scene and a sentence, feel the hearts again.

Here are my first three photo stories (via Javascript - load this blog post in a browser if you can't see them). What do you reckon?



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

Weeknoting



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 https://6work.exmosis.net/ - 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.

Friday, May 12, 2017

New mini zine: To The End Of Time



Oh yeah, my new mini zine To The End Of Time, an A7 photography minifesto, is out now.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

A tale of two and a half Brexits

Phil picks up on the UK economic delusion covered in the Guardian recently. I'm sure I had a draft post somewhere called "A tale of two brexits" but it seems to be lost for a while. Anyway, Frances Coppola on Britain's trade negotiation position from a few months ago is a must read.

The "two brexits" piece went some way to thinking about this though. It sketched out the two sides of the disjointed discourse plaguing the issue - impassioned, emotional narrative about our country on the one hand, and cold, difficult reality on the other. The real future, like all politics, lies somewhere between the two, with a fair sprinkle of hidden agendas. In reality, we're all deluded about our own reality anyway. Why should Brexit be any different?

Anyone trying to bridge the gap between sides, or indeed trying to work out what's going to happen next, needs to pay attention to both sides - the reality of how economics works, and the narrative spin up in its place for those who don't understand it. In a world where votes are directly tied to Like and Retweet buttons, both sides of the power struggle are equally important. Frictionless, liquid opinion. Pure light speed democracy.

So yes, this country is delusional. Yes, there are deliberate reasons for that. And yes, the harder fight that we're still all missing is not right vs wrong, but how to even decide what our democratic process should look like in 20 years time, when it's running on privatised networks sucking all the wealth upwards and outward.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bluebell woods in black and white


I'm sure this barn wasn't derelict last time I was here.


We met a horse here.


The woods are full of branches.


Real bluebells.


Tree trunks echo.


We walked along this fallen tree and it felt like we were surfing.


The final forks in the road, ho ho.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

RSS shenanigans

Fixed the insecure Javascript element over at https://exmosis.net/ after moving to HTTPS and noticed that certain RSS feeds aren't currently coming through. If you're reading this through the feed, then note that you may be missing Disposable Evidence posts, at the least. Don't worry, it's low traffic.
Given feeddigest.com seems to have stopped letting me access anything at all (?), maybe it's finally time to spend an evening doing my own custom aggregation service...

Update: So feeddigest.com doesn't mean feeddigest.com, I always forget that. Disposable Evidence was disabled in feedinformer because something-something-something. Looks like it's back now - RSS / Atom.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Kew and Kandor, and the mirror of the Empire

Kew Gardens, founded in 1840. Today it houses over 30,000 kinds of plant and 750,000 books. The forecast is rain, but we've been lucky perhaps - more sun than precipitation, jumpers more off than on. 



Kew is a living museum. Somewhere in between the dullness of my feet, the wonder of the architecture's scale, and the raw pink of Kew Palace, I realise I'm in a curation. It's hard to see at first, because I grew up in a curation, and the history and existence of Kew matches my own history and existence that unpicking the two is near impossible. But here it is, a mirror within a mirror. 

There is everything at Kew. South American cacti, a Japanese gatehouse and assorted bonsai, a Chinese pagoda and dog statues, Alpine flowerlets, a high-ceilinged Orangery, rainforest fish, palm trees. Within the huge walled garden, the world. 



It is a curation of the world beyond these walls and beyond these seas, a gathering of flora derived from our civilization's ability to travel and to explore. It is like and unlike Brighton's Booth Museum, which has a stronger sense of focus on the British Isles, and yet still on collection and curation of The Wild. In Kew, a micro cosmos, a botanical Kandor. 



And all the while that we're there, planes fly overhead, one every 60 to 90 seconds, spat out from Heathrow Airport like laser tracer bullets, undercarriage still lucidly displayed. A constant reminder of how the world has got smaller in only a few hundred years. I never adjust to the sound for the whole day. 



Exploration is in the British blood. We think of ourselves as traders, but really we have always been importers - of ideas and cultures as much as plants and people. We crave styles other than our own. We look elsewhere for a sense of adventure, especially so from the age of the Victorians right up to our own cruise- or Lonely-Planet-besotted generations. We thrive on novelty and otherness and escape, and the things we bring back are our badges of freedom, power and superiority. 

So what are we escaping from? 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Things what have affected my blogging

I liked James' post on blogging so much I decided to comment on it. For irony and anarchy, I'm putting my comment here as a separate post too. I like it and want to share it.

Things what have affected my blogging.

1. Phones and tablets. I hate virtual keyboards with a passion – especially because the “convenience” of reading on a device seems to be totally out of whack with the “inconvenience” of virtual keyboards. Reading blogs is ok. Writing them and commenting on them is a pain. Maybe I should get a bluetooth keyboard or something.

2. Microblogging and long form. Twitter and gnu social have really cut it into my short short posts. On the other hand, I don’t have the time or patience for longer articles any more. So the nature of my blogging is somewhere in the middle, which is probably less content overall. Maybe I should get back into microblogging via my blog instead of other places. I use to post links to my blog, instead of to Twitter.

3. Ubiquitous content. I’m slowly rekindling my love of manually duplicating posts and my own content – I run/ran some automatic piping from one source to another, partly to save time and partly to fulfill my bastard database normalisation mindset. I still feel bad if I know someone follows me on multiple channels and there’s the risk they’ll see them same thing twice. BE CANONICAL dammit. no, etc.

4. Kids, obviously.

Oddly, lack of comments or engagement is not a particular influence on my blogging activity. I just like to write.

Dealing with the future under article 50

A long, long, long time ago I got interested in politics. Back when the 'Blunkett is an Arse' blog was winning awards (ok, an award), I was angry with the world, and the country in particular - the people that ran it, the people that controlled it, and the people that pretended to vote it in.

That anger shaped me a lot. It ended up stripping back any pretense of surprise at the machinations of a modern democracy. It pushed me into arguments that caught me off guard. It helped me improve my fact-checking. Ultimately, it remained, but its own yang tempered itself, and made way for something else. Eventually I stopped blogging to complain, and moved on. The stress wasn't worth it.

Cypherpunks write code. It's not a great motto for me to live by because I don't really write a lot of code, when it comes to hardcore maths. But I write code, and more importantly, I write code to be productive (I hope). The underlying attitude is of creation, of progress. If you want to make something better, then stop whinging, and get on and do something.

I'm also not a hard and fast punk either. Instead I straddle the boundary between anarchist and the state, a kind of anarcho-communist paradox. It's complicated. Anyway, there's something about politically angry that encourages that conflict, I think. A sort of fight-or-flight split brain: either put up and improve what's out there, or shut up and go and do your own thing.

(Actually it's not just me, that's just inherent to the internet, maybe.)

So, anger, coding, progress. Historically, nothing has changed here. I'm still angry. I still hate tabloids. And I still wonder why people don't fact-check or go through any deliberation/exploration before coming to an opinion. That feeling has been with me for 15 years or so.

So Brexit today isn't a surprise, or a shock. It's a little unexpected, but only when compared against the hope of a better world. I'm old enough to know that things don't run on Hope. (Dreams and Love are different affairs though.)

The choice is still the same - get stuck in, or get out. Or both. Both have risks, both have opportunities. Same as always. The world is changing faster than you can keep up with.

Those "Leavers" who want a return to the old days - corporal punishment, caning, giant creme eggs, no internet, etc - will be left behind, same as always - the world just doesn't move in that direction. All we have is a new and different direction of change, and the inequalities and schisms that led to Brexit (urban progress, worldwide development, rapid innovation) will still be here, just in a different form. We don't know what that form is, but then we never had any idea where we are now. That's how quick things change these days.

Keep your eyes open. Hedge your bets. Strengthen your reserves. Know when to make sacrifices. Rest well. Make friends easily. Laugh and cry. Write code. And create.



Monday, January 02, 2017

2016 in 2,000 pages

The Internet allows us some incredible opportunities for reflection these days. Resisting the move to Facebook's curation algorithms, I'm posting a round-up of some of last year's more (personally) significant photos over at the Disposable Evidence feed (e-mail and RSS available) along with some thoughts and memories.

Meanwhile, GoodReads has a simple filter to show you what I read in 2016. I can't remember if that was absolutely everything, but I'd say it was an eclectic mix, helped somewhat by being unable to move for a few weeks in June after my appendix blew up.

[Open disclamation: all following links are Amazon affiliate links, which I thought I'd try out for no reason other than a subtle urge for the future consumption of more knowledge.]

The stand-out book that blew me away was Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan, which is impossible to describe succinctly, but wowed me most with its ability to describe a world and its characters so vividly and viscerally.

I finally got to read Calvino's Invisible Cities and Stoker's Dracula which were both as fantastic as I'd hoped. Ma Jian's Red Dust were also highly influential though, and I find myself being drawn to the meandering, wandering narrative much more now as a result.

I also have various books on the go that put me in a good mindset of discovery and the not-quite-real. These aren't on the list, but tend to fill spare moments - I picked up Eco's Book of Legendary Lands in the wake of his passing, grabbed The Classic of Mountains and Seas which is an old Chinese book that reads like an insane RPG manual, and have been drip-reading Laura Oldfield Ford's collection of down-and-out London dérives, Savage Messiah in between everything else. This year I'm very much looking forward to reading The Book of Yokai.

With various series on the go (including Gormenghast, and also both The Unwritten, and Lucifer from Mike Carey), I'm looking forward to escaping from the world that the winds of 2017 will bring in...