Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Few Links

Hello. This blog hasn't seen much action. It's not because I've been learning Chinese, sadly. Although I have re-kindled my love for tai chi.

In case you're not subscribed to the full RSS feed, I've mostly been posting over at 6suns about solar power, for example this recent post about a solar-powered RSS feed reader client - I'll post more about the idea here soon. And I'm also over at Disposable Evidence, for random e-postcards with a monochrome feel.

I've been enjoying both quite a lot, and it's kind of fun that each outlet taps into a different audience. The solarpunk side has kicked off a few nice conversations from my eco/tao-related Mastodon account:, for instance. It feels more rewarding to engage in deeper conversations with smaller groups. It also means I forget who I'm talking to, and where I've posted. I'm loving that chaos, TBH.

In an act of synchronicity, James linked to this Vice article about airpods, disposable tech and status, and then Paul linked immediately after (in my feeds) to this post about the myth of convenience. This stuff has been on my mind a lot recently, alongside the solarpunk stuff. Years ago, I even tried tracking the duration of use of my devices, but I got afraid it just turned into something a bit 'look at my kit'. It's an interesting exercise though. I like extending the life of tech for as long as possible, like a challenge, and I've started to form some tenets around this. Something like:
  • Re-use: Avoid buying new as much as possible
  • Rejuvenate: Aim for upgradeable, fixable tech
  • Review: Am I getting focused stuff out of my tech? Do I know what I want it for, on a personal level, or is it just a distraction? A convenience?
Lastly, 65daysofstatic are playing with a new subscription model. If you're a fan of mathpunk glitch synth, then subscribe here.

Catch you on the flipside of 40...

A Passport to the Unseen Winds

Hmm, I think I might know what my next long-term photo project might be...

Windmills always remind me of Miyazaki's Nausicaa, and I still feel kind of proud whenever I see the wind farm off the shore of our beach.

The wind itself is something weirdly magical. So ever-present, yet always invisible. I have to remind myself I only ever feel its effects, and never get to experience it as a Pure Thing, not like a bicycle or a coin. Wind exists, it seems, on a higher level. A noun that is there, yet isn't.

Is the wind we hear in our ears the same as the wind we feel on our faces?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Automation as Shinto imitation and integration

Wendy M Grossman looks at modern robotics, and picks up on something I've been vaguely thinking about recently - the difference between automation replacing people, and augmenting people.

Replacing people feel like a naturally capitalist thing to do, because people are expensive, because they need to buy things but do this inefficiently. They're at the fat edge of the consumer cycle, and so capitalism needs to decouple the "wealthy" consumer from the "cheap" mode of production as much as possible - to integrate them is to just fatten up your own production line and (literally) eat into profits.

Integration, on the other hand, is about being human - humans as tool-users, and tool-users but not just to make for profit but also to make for creativity, for experimentation, and for reflection. Tools as a means of investigation of the self.

It's this deliberate confusion between humans, tools, and the world around "us" that I love about shinto - that spirits are everywhere, because perhaps we ourselves are just meat inhabited by spirits too. We never chose to be this way, so what stops us from being merely a ghost in a machine? Why only apply the software/hardware terms to things we have created?

As Wendy notes (emphasis added):

"Later, three Japanese academics... tried to explain why Japanese people like robots so much - more, it seems, than "we" do (whoever "we" are). They suggested three theories: the influence of TV and manga; the influence of the mainstream Shinto religion, which sees a spirit in everything; and the Japanese government strategy to make the country a robotics powerhouse.


"Japanese people don't like to draw distinctions and place clear lines"

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Hello Janus: A 2018 / 2019 round-up

From the year-long 'Blatchington Pond' project

[Written in] These dying days of 2018. Another year of memories, stacked up like scrolls. Not a particular time for reflection, among the scrapings of wrapping paper, other than I have a few days – hours even – to stop doing anything, and the self-assessment comes naturally.

Looking back

The year has been busy – time of life maybe, but also unsustainable and unsatisfying in dappled patches. Parts have been productive and eye-opening, but more to set the stage for the show ahead, rather than anything in their own right.

In a slightly random order, I…

  • Pushed through on some big deadlines at work, to different levels of celebration
  • Iterated through another year of setting strategy and supporting my team, enjoying both aspects – see my ongoing weeknotes
  • Ran a session at UKGovCamp in January on distribution of data skills, then failed miserably to do anything concrete about it :(
  • Gave out a fair number of small Dalai Lama books under the new Taopunk Paper Goat umbrella (and in fact a whole new website), and discovered a lovely stream of reciprocity
  • Had some great meetups with too many people to mention, but all appreciated
  • Gave a talk at Sussex University’s Humanities Lab’s event on Democratising Big Data, on “Trust and Ethics in the Data Supply Chain” (slides here)
  • Gave a talk at #son1’s primary school [on census and geographic data], which was hilarious, and probably scarier than giving a talk to academics… (slides here)
  • Ran my phone and digital watch off solar power only for 7 months, and started a blog about it
  • Took a lot of photos of Blatchington Pond as part of a year-long series, which now need some follow-up action (along with a few other longer-term photo projects)
  • Started running Linux on my new personal laptop again, which still carries a strange sense of pride after all these years

Looking Forward

I have some vague plans for the year ahead, although because I’m turning 40, they’re probably less vague than most of my plans. I’m expecting things to evolve a bit, but I’m still thinking and talking this through a bit. I feel very ‘involved’ in what happens around me, and also hate to leave people in difficult positions, so I tend to approach change with a fair amount of “diplomacy”. Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few months on how to give up less-valued responsibilities, to do things I care about more. Hopefully this will bear fruit in the next six months.

Going into January, I’m also highly aware of that annual festive build-up of books, magazines, and general good-reads in my RSS feeds from the year. There’s a lot of material that I’d like to re-focus some attention on right now, and I’m at a point where that depth of engagement seems very timely.

(Broadly speaking – tao, tech, democracy and climate change are of high interest right now.)

In general, I think the solar power exercise mentioned above has been of huge impact. I’m much more aware of ‘casual’ and ‘disposable’ use of energy (both mine and my battery’s) on smartphones. I’ve come round even more to the idea that the convenience of smartphones is really just a way to cram more stuff badly, into less time and space. The whole setup – that we should do everything through a bad interface – just feels so unsustainable now.

So alongside getting into content into more depth again (like my Uni days), I want to get back into my interfaces in more ‘depth’ again. I love keyboards – there I’ve said it. There’s a mechanical feedback there which makes me feel part of the machine, and I miss that in touch-screens. I feel so separated.

So here are my personal goals at the moment. The first 3 are behavioural ones – changes I’d like to see in myself. The last 3 are more project-based.

  • Relax and not worry about keeping people pleased all the time
  • Be more open about things I need to do, so I can make more time for them
  • Spend more time reading books than social media
  • Learn Chinese finally, using my own approach to it
  • Make solar power a habit, and find that difficult second album for next stages
  • Put together 2 decent sized but achievable photo projects, and 3 smaller zines

And here are my professional goals this year:

  • Find a way to be ruthless about email
  • Spend personal time at work to relax and read
  • Spend more time thinking and observing – strategy and support
  • Clear up cruft in processes
  • Be more open internally about my own work and the team’s work
  • Be calmer about asking for things and negotiating change
  • Bring together the people that should talk more

Let’s see how it goes. Come on 2019, I’m feeling good about this one!

A curious species

I am staring up at the stars with a glass of whisky, because I can.

Seems strange how the universe is so big, and yet we get so preoccupied with such bagatelles in life.

Yet, what is it to appreciate the universe? And how afraid are we when that privilege of appreciation is threatened to be taken away from us?

We get so wrapped up in this fear - to the extent that it overwhelms us. Everything we do becomes about protecting our ability to appreciate. It’s so very human, so lovable.

Out stories become dramas. Our fights become meta. We sacrifice our own appreciation so that others may have theirs.

Seen in this light, so much human action becomes understandable, perhaps even forgivable. That so much of our virtues and our sins come from this love for reflection, for awareness, for our desire not to be happy, but to recognise that we can be happy.

Such a curious species.