Saturday, December 19, 2009

The twin-structure of our downfall

As "leaders" fail to agree to do anything at all, and the banking system struggles to cut its own throat for the good of the nation, it's been interesting to start getting back into some Baudrillard and, in particular, his book The Transparency of Evil.

Baudrillard starts out by noting that modern systems of "value" have actually detached themselves from any real ideas of "value", implying a transformation of the rules into, well, just that - a series of rules designed to keep themselves alive. And looking around it's getting harder to see where "value" actually comes from other than a form belief in the idea that "value" has to exist for the sake of its own existence.

Politicians are no longer interested in politics. Business is no longer about business. Both are more concerned with keeping a system of value as belief generation in place than anything else. The important thing is no longer to generate true value, but to keep the props upon which these systems are built - those in debt, those with votes - believing that the system works. So long as this belief is stronger than in competing regions and countries, we will be safe. If you realise you've lost, then you will lose. Hard.

But in this case, we're left with a quandary about how to correct a system when that belief starts to turn into doubt - as is happening now, as has been happening for 3 years, and as will continue to happen for those with sense for a long time to come.

The question that we have to face up to is this: How can a political system based on belief rather than true value fix an economic system based on belief rather than true value?

To narrate this on a more interesting level, we can similarly ask how one dream can make another dream better, or how two ghosts of the dead might battle each other. We have had virtual politics and virtual economics for longer than we have had virtual worlds. Belief is no longer a viable option.

Unfortunately belief is the hardest thing to let go off, by its very nature. If we are to come to terms with it, we must accept that fixing the cretinous state of affairs we find ourselves in demands real re-assessment of the self. Alas, the yins and yangs of our set-up, wherein politics looks to use and abuse business, and vice versa, ensure that this re-assessment is always of the other party rather than an internal reflection. MPs will point fingers at bankers, and bankers will point fingers at MPs, and all the while belief is dripping out of the system, oozing away like wet sand.

Just like the "leaders" in Copenhagen all waiting for someone else to break the deadlock, it is too easy for the general economic system of this country to lock up in a swirling whirlwind of blame. How petty. How inefficient. How dull.

If there's a way out of this mess, it cannot be effectively introduced through this twin-structure as they stand, side-by-side. For like Robin and the Friar, they are both under the same spell and the same controller, and tackling one without tackling the other simultaneously will only let the other in.

The only answer I can think of any more is to give up belief, remove the props which support the structure. Spend wisely instead of irresponsibly. Learn to create rather than to consume. Take responsibility for enjoying yourself. Care about others. Laugh and cry, but do so genuinely.

Passion is real. Emotions are real. Hunger is real. Belief that certain people will attend to these for you is not.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Little Things what has been done Recently

Has been a rather busy time recently and had quite a few draft blog posts up my sleeve without actually reaching my fingers. Here's a quick catch-up of some recent stuff I have been doing and making...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Plastic fantastic

In England, you kind of get used to food that tastes like plastic. Usually I try to avoid it, but it turned out to be one of the more charming oddities in Japan this year - every restaurant you pass, from sushi to chinese, to ice cream to pancakes, has a display of their dishes in a window at the front - all made of plastic. If you can't speak the language (or even if you can), this is better than having a guidebook or a translator.

The BBC has a little video that goes behind the scenes of Japanese "visual menus". It's a nice little insight into a bite of the world that seems kind of kooky at first, distinctly Japanese, but makes some kind of sense after a short while.

Will we see them here though?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Linked Data vs Owned Data - RDF thoughts

the shadow never lies

Finally attempting to get my head round RDF and Linked Data ("Semantic Web" is another of those terms - like Web 2.0 - I'm going to try to avoid using but end up using far too often) in the footsteps of Tim Berners-Lee coming on board with the UK government, giving TED talks and pushing the idea forwards.

I've been fairly sceptical about it all so far, but mostly from a layman's (LAME-man's) point of view - nobody in my networks is really doing anything with RDF seriously - at least not as far as it's been visible to me. Maybe there's some great stuff being done right under my nose, but the RDF is hidden. But a lot of the "hacker" hubbub has been around JSON, Google, Yahoo, even CSV files the current way data is usually handed out (e.g., PDF or Excel files). In other words, there's been no reason to clear out some time to start looking at all this so far.

But potential it has, questions it raises, and thoughts it doth provoke. Of all of these, it is the most basic I guess I have first: Can it fly in the real world?

HTML and HTTP grew up in very different circumstances to the world we have now. The Internet was not established. Communicating digitally was not established. The people interested in doing these things were in a very particular place.

Of course, there are also some similarities to now. In his TED talk (link above), TBL notes that the idea for the WWW came about because software vendors all had their own systems, their own structures and their own formats for accessing documents. Even in those days, competition was abound, and I think the same thing can be said of data these days - where data gets stored is very proprietary - whether the system is paid for, or free like Google spreadsheets, say.

But in innovation, shifting the incumbent is tricky at the best of times. We have digital conversation, and now the encoding of relationships, which people like - and the push now is to get past that, towards something almost less personal, something more akin to a public good. Or at least that's how it feels - the separation of data from the reputation of the source, perhaps. The paradigm of data for data's sake, rather than a data that is owned by someone. That is the cultural - not technological - shift that I think Linked Data is relying on.

Half Hidden Gate. by pdeee454, on Flickr
There are some really interesting hat-tips in this direction: the Open Knowledge Foundation, for example, or the way in which ManyEyes forces you to keep submitted data open to anyone else. But are these just experimental outcrops, or can they somehow be turned into a more ubiquitous paradigm that people are proud to take on board?

Sadly, I think the prevailing force of data ownership is far too large for these attempts to dislodge it - in their current form, at least. Much more useful data is probably being created through other efforts such as Creative Commons licensing on Flickr and OpenStreetMap - data with a purpose, but that people are happy to relinquish "ownership" over - most likely because they don't stand to gain from it anyway.

Forcing governments to open up linked data is a precarious, knife-edged scheme. It could work. I really want it to work, but there are some basic psychological attitudes that are needed first - to detach data as something that is owned. Under a climate of competition and economy this is, IMHO, a long way off.

So what will happen instead? What should happen? The latter is a dangerous question. But if we take the crowd-sourced, low-investment approach of Flickr and OpenStreetMap, then chances are we'll see the creation of some very big, and possibly very personal libraries of data. The real winners will be the ones who, like Facebook and Yahoo, can spin not just the interfaces to these libraries right, but also come out publicly with some very string models of permissions.

What do I mean by this? Take, for example, the approach that Yahoo take to authentication with Flickr and Fire Eagle - security is broken down into a number of tasks and specificities (such as "add images" or "see my location down to GPS/postcode/area level") and assigned to application which must ask permission for each. The data producer (not owner...) has control over this from the beginning, setting a strong precedent for applications to stick to these rules if it wants to survive. As seen with some Facebook widgets, when this trust is abused, people know about it. If there's anything you want as a provider of anything, it's generally not the ire of your customers. (Unless you're the music industry...)

The successful Linked Data service will therefore be:

a) the one that hooks into existing services as and where possible - e.g. using OAuth to get your number of Twitter followers, your geo-tagged images, data from Google spreadsheets, etc. It will also encourage other forms of entry, such as by SMS, Twitter direct message, e-mail, widgets, and direct plug-ins to other services like home energy monitoring kits. Getting data into the system is important.

b) the one that also makes it possible to get data out, but in a trusted way. There are some very good ways of doing this - stripping out personal data is one, but not a very good one (as data can be matched against an individual fairly easily). Aggregating data, randomising it, and other techniques to hide identity is where the true value in a system lies. That, and (to a lesser extent?) keeping the raw data away from prying eyes.

These two things make a data system valuable on the 2 important levels - the individual/user, and the systemic/analyst. And maybe matching up these two levels is the real challenge, whatever technology gets used.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


"Those were the Golden Days, the days of lore. We'd spend all day tearing round the pillfields, stuffing ourselves on the God-given supply of spirits - plentiful and free. We wished for nothing more. We were happy.

"But time wears on, and pacbones don't get any younger. I remember that day the Doctor told me I had an intolerance to pills. I'd been feeling tired, down on energy for a while - but sometimes you just gotta push through the barrier for Good Times' sake, y'know? I guess we never wanted to stop and even ask if we were overdoing it.

"She assured me there were plenty of pill-free alternatives out there... that I didn't have to eat less, just differently. But I knew the truth. I knew there was no alternative for Akorah: the Ghost-Hunter substance, that once-in-a-lifetime freak occurrence where Mother Nature let slip and permitted us to open our stomachmind to forces outside of normality. That route is closed to me now.

"Sure, I'm alive. I live. I verb. I am adjectives. But there's alive, and there's alive. And in between there's so much difference that sometimes you can't even believe it's the same word you're looking at."

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Uses for the Ubiquitous Internet

Back in May, my old mobile phone went a bit funny in the head, so I kind of forced myself to upgrade. I had something of a nice, comfortable relationship with my old one, I have to admit. We made calls together; we hung out with my laptop, swapping calendars and to-do lists; we fooled around with SMS and came up with ways to actually use Twitter without the web. Simple, summery days, dressed up in breezes of nonchalance and simplicity.

So I guess I was in a fairly specific frame of mind when I got my new one. I did not want something that would bog me down. Slow interfaces, buggy hardware of software, unnecessary expenses. I've seen phones before that couldn't take calls, or that had buttons too small to use. I wanted to avoid all that. I have enough pain and middle-class emo suffering in my life already, I don't need more, even if it was geeky and artificial.

So in the end I went for a Nokia 6210 Navigator. I list the phone, because, I think, it's fairly unique. It has built-in GPS, and a built-in compass. And yes yes yes this was before all that hype about the iPhone thingyjig hit the streets too. I liked the phone, the price, and figured I didn't have to use these swishy features if I didn't use them.

Vodafone also threw in a month's free data usage and, still inherently being some weird type of geek, I figured I could have a play with that too, see what it was about, and again dump it if I didn't use it. Nobody's every managed to really persuade me it's a necessity, or even a great idea. 3G? Video on your mobile? Meh. Real life is the highest-res video you can get, man...

So how is it, a couple of months later? Well, I'd like to maybe do a more ... "philosophical" blog post about the nature of having the Ubiquitous Internet, - available whenever, wherever - at some point, but right now I'm starting to find some interesting little things that might make the whole thing actually "valuable", rather than just "gimmicky" or "time-passing". Here's what I got so far:

  • I couldn't use Internet in Japan without actually, literally, winning the lottery. But I am glad I installed a Semacode reader before I went. These little 2D barcodes are everywhere in Japan, and even if I couldn't read the content of the pages they pointed to, I love the idea and really want to use these more over here.

  • This week I played a little with RSS feeds. The most useful one is the recipe of the day feed from the BBC Good Food site. The beauty of having it on your mobile is that you've got access to a little backlog of ideas and inspiration when you're wandering around a supermarket/local food shop, too tired to think, or too hungry to filter. Also, it's easier than having a laptop in the kitchen.

  • Most intriguingly, I've installed Nokia's Mobile Web Server to turn the device into a source rather than just a gadget for consumption. So far, I'm fairly impressed - for something that's fairly "geeky", everything has gone really smoothly and been pretty intuitive. When my phone is on, you can access it at the address, with appropriate offline redirection, and status badge displayed somewhere in the right-hand menu of this blog...

    Not only can you instantly post small blog stuff (with photos) on the fly, but you can also use it to track your phone if you lose it (you can remotely start the server via SMS, and log-in to get location details from GPS, use the phone camera, or get access to call logs). I think there's a lot of potential here, but haven't managed to figure out what it actually is just yet. Would love to know if anyone else has had bright ideas, although some of the charm is just that it's a web site that is tied to my own activities - it sleeps when I do.

I've been playing with some other apps that overlap with the above, such as Qik streaming video and GPS tracking. I think these are more useful in very specific situations, or for very specific purposes, although it'll be fun to find out what these are exactly. You can also, it turns out, watch video and listen to music and even - eh? - talk to people, if you really want. But I've been doing that for some time now, anyway.

So if you've made it this far, thanks. What things have you been doing with your data package that excite you? What Really Useful Apps could we come up with to start getting away from our desk-based screens, and out into the real world?

C'mon, punk. Make my data.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Unexpected history

While I was out of the country, Henry Allingham died. I vaguely heard about it on the radio when I got back to England, of course. I didn't realise he lived in Brighton, though, so it was kind of surreal to stumble across preparations for his funeral walking to work on a Thursday morning. Flags and newsreaders. Police and medals. An air of silent pensiveness.

Death is strange, like a whole living, breathing chunk of the present vanishes, taking with it the ripples stretching back in time. Everything the person touched, saw, smelled, made love to. All these links seem severed, as if great wings have unfolded, flap mightily, and unhook all the elastic bands knotted through whatever it was we call a 'soul'.

But when someone with a unique link to the past passes away, these elastic bands take on new definition. These elastic bands were hooked to memories that nobody else had, memories that everyone else just had to read about in history books. We live vicariously, and it feels like a door to an antique reality has been closed somewhere behind us.

I guess we have an in-built romanticism for memories. Or for stories, really. We cannot see them directly, we can't just pluck them out of someone's head, back them up to a hard drive, and show them on a large-screen projector. We like to trust them - we have to trust them - but the only way we can experience someone else's memories is through the stories that they tell. When memories are unhooked, a story unravels. A storyteller is set free.

How does this compare to our experiences in a ubiquitously digital world? What form do our electronic memories take? We document everything - we snap photos, we shovel up videos, we archive everything for prosperity, for accuracy. Our memories are direct. Our storytellers are our sensors. When we die, will people remember us for our experiences, or re-live us through the simulations that we leave behind?

I thought about taking a photo of all the medals and newsreaders, but something about the occasion made me think twice. And besides, I'd run out of film. I turned around and carried on walking to work.

A related haiku.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Brighton Diversity map

Think I'm going to need smaller icons...

View Clone Brighton in a larger map

Any I've missed? It's been a while since I've updated it, but had to add the new Starbucks on St James' Street.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Turning Pictures into Words in Other Places

Recently, I've fallen into the dangerous trap of writing words that don't actually control any kind of machinery. Instead, they're like I've entrapped thoughts about photography and forced them to perform in a traveling circus.

My first article for HolgaBlog, your premiere source for everything plastic-camera, is now up and readable. It was originally called "The Holga 120 WPC and me", but now reflects the idea of a review more. I enjoyed writing it, re-writing it, and writing it again, and can't wait to write more.

...including, at some point, an introduction to my world of photography. In the meantime, however, I wrote a version for a competition over at Four Corners Dark. For those who missed it, here's my why-lomo story.

But I've been here all along...

Link: The Ubiquitous Matrix of Lies at Reality Sandwich

By: Charles Eisenstein

Quote: "We have all the technology and all the knowledge we need to live in beautiful harmony with each other and the planet. What we need is different collective choices. Choices arise from perceptions, perceptions arise from interpretations or stories, and stories are built of words, of symbols. Today, words have lost their power and our society's stories have seemingly taken on a life of their own..."

Thoughts: The link between language and action is a very good one - we live in a time when politics is ruled by soundbites and headlines, but nobody feels that any real decision are being made, or at least not in any meaningful way. A single vote is, perhaps, the ultimate expression of a collective-choice symbol - one vote to symbolise all that you believe. One vote to symbolise your hopes, fears and dreams about the future.

We have more information at our fingertips than ever before. But is this just more symbols, more noise? If so, are these symbols detached from "reality" because this noise replaces "reality" as the landscape against which things are judged? If the landscape is noise, then the evolution must be towards attention, towards difference, towards novelty. And then, where is "real"?

I have been thinking recently that while some power comes from being Loud, ultimately more power comes from Silence. Loudness, attention, novelty - these all work, so long as nobody else is louder than you. But silence... Silence re-connects us with the "real" maybe. Without words, there is no persuasion, only observation. There is truth, and beauty, and strangeness.

Perhaps that's why this blog has been so quiet recently.

Friday, May 01, 2009

"And they all lived happily for the rest of the weekend..."

Are you sitting comfortably? Ryan Gilbery raises the issue of frightening children in the Guardian today - that is, frightening as something to do, not being frightened of the little kinder. He refers to new film Coraline (which I'm very much looking forward to seeing), as well as older - and still much-loved, I hope - haunts such as the Brothers Grimm and Roald Dahl.

I think there are actually two issues going on here, although it's easy to confuse them.

First, there's the issue of scaring kids - or, at least, introducing gore to our kids. Let's get one thing straight - I was/am a fanatical Dahl fan, as well as of any work that uses the macabre and disturbing to make us flinch as we read or watch. There is something comforting in such creations, the thought of something challenging us to run away and be sick with the thought of it, but our bravado in coming face to face with our beating heart, and sticking with it.

These dark tales are not, as some would have, inspiration to repeat the violence/terror/splurge guns, but a warning, cold-hearted and shrill, against the evil that lurks out there in the world and, more sinisterly, within all of us. They are healthy fear. They are therapy. They are looking glasses clearer than any newspaper article.

Second though, is what "lessons" we are left with at the end of the day. Gilbey delves into this in several paragraphs - the idea of changing the ending, whether it is away from a pair of aunts being squashed by a giant peach, from a boy stuck in a mouse's body, or from a wolf being beheaded and gutted by a testosterone-crazed woodcutter.

The Happy Ending, it must be said, is a curse on a modern society full of those who think the world can be improved by simply changing the stories we tell. Do Happy Endings give us hope? Do they put us at ease? Or do they make us happy to indulge in more brainless sequels?

No. I claim dramatically that the Happy Ending is nothing but a false lure, a mirror world in which we come to expect good things to be the End of All. Yes, I was freaked out a little by the ending of the Witches (the book, not the film) - but only because I was expecting everything to return - to normal.

But the Witches, along with another favourite, 1984, deals the death blow to utopia. And in doing so, both of these force us to confront the thing we truly fear - Consequences. A Happy Ending so often simply ignores all the action that has made the tale so exciting. A dream, a game, a loophole in time. "Happily ever after" is sneaky code for "and they never learned".

Stories contain a series of events. Events change us. We are not who we were at the beginning of story, and nor we can never go back to the beginning. Things happen. People die. Anger rages.

People survive. People get married. Animals get chopped up.

We deal with it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rushkoff on Decentralised Money

Over at Reality Sandwich, Douglas Rushkoff has a piece on new/alt money in the networked age. I'm still waiting for that RFC'd, open-source, cypherpunk-fueled cryptocash to come along to make electro-money trustable and usable, but in the meantime it's great to see the idea of alt econony, such as the Southampton Pound idea floating around.

Here's a small selection of quotes from Rushkoff's article that really intrigue me:

...a waning monarchy was looking for ways to preserve its power in the face of a rising merchant class. ...

They began to write laws that favored their chartered companies, such as those preventing inhabitants of colonies from creating any value for themselves; colonists had to ship raw resources back to the mother country, where they were processed into clothes or other finished goods. ...

Local currencies were earned -- not borrowed -- into existence. They reflected the abundance of the season's grain, and did not depend on artificial scarcity for their value.

Two things intrigue me about the future of alt-ec, which I have probably mentioned before:

1. The idea that I can actually remotely hold local currency, i.e. in the same way that people hold baskets of Sterling, Euros, Dollars, etc, could I take payment in Lewes Pounds and then (assuming the LP was de-pegged from the GB pound), convert that into Euros bypassing Sterling, at a later date? Could I be paid in Tesco vouchers? How about completed or semi-completed loyalty cards for coffee shops?

2. The idea of money backed by personal reputation, just as we have buyer and seller ratings and reputations on ebay, et al. Is money worth more if the two parties involved in a transaction trust each other more?

Alas, I'm not sure the social and educational mechanisms are in place for this to happen on a wider scale just yet. My hope is that more networking will lead to a re-skilling of the populace, a re-discovery of local value and hence local economies, and then we might see efforts to combine and amalgamate these micro-economies. But I guess I have every reason to be optimistic about it...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Video on how the Internet Began

Very nice animation and explanation of how the Internet got started [via ESP]:

History of the Internet from PICOL on Vimeo.

Also a good reminder of the importance that open standards play in getting everyone talking on the same network.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Planktons outfox Scientists (or "Why Labs are Rubbish")

I'm a bit worried that we're increasingly using the wrong tools - no, wait, the wrong paradigm for dealing with most of the "crises" we're facing. Is the divide between "systemic" thinking and "logical" (or "organic" vs "mechnical"?) getting larger? Or are we just increasing our dependence on simplistic thinking?

Now, for instance, scientists are re-discovering there's a food chain going on the Ocean - if you increase plankton population, how can you forget that more stuff will eat the plankton? This is the kind of shortsighted thinking that comes with - dare I say - the arrogance of a simplified, specialised view of the world.

The notion that everything is loosely connected and can be studied in lab, away from the system, should die. Quickly and painfully. It is no longer of any use to only analyse the nodes of the system, ripped from their context, because context is everything - we are context, not objects.

Trying to decipher the mysteries of bees, or the dark labyrinths of cancer, will require a far more organic approach, more akin to cooking than to calculating. Isolationism can never work, because it ignores symbiosis and interaction. Breaking things down into components is like putting a river into buckets to find out how the current flows.

Maybe it's time to dig out my old Philosophy-of-Science notes. I'm sure there are better approaches...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

These chemicals won't be used in a bomb.

I made this. It's a very rough mash-up of Jared's RSS feed of Flickr interestingness and the message from this Police campaign urging you to be afraid of everyone and everything. This Register article is good reading.

Why did I create it? Where did it come from?

Desperation, perhaps. The thought that rational debate in the political sphere is long dead, and has been replaced by an impostor wearing a crown of surrealist thorns.

Amusement, maybe. The fact that mockery and ridicule is the best way to attract attention to a point, because the only thing politicians listen to is their reputation.

Technology, alternatively. We do, because we can. We do, because we want to. "Have your say" is dead. "Take your action" is alive.

Because overt surrealism is key to unraveling this whole bizarre mess we keep getting dragged into. Juxtaposition shines lights when all the lights have gone out. Contrast is a tool to remember what we've chucked into the bin of assumption.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Lovepunk Manifesto?

Met Police keep database of protesters. In stellar conjunction with recent secret corporate databases, we can only assume one thing:

The Powers that Be are Afraid

What do those questioning the status quo have to gain? A change in the status quo. A silent revolution. A world in which certain jobs are no longer needed, and so those jobs set out to protect the status quo.

Change itself becomes dangerous

Recently I've become aware there are two ways this can be dealt with.

Firstly, there is change through force - revolution, in other words. Those who want change must force it in spite of those that don't want it. But this goes against a lot of principles I'm currently learning about. So.

The second option. This is, perhaps, "evolution" instead. But it is more than that. It is collaboration. Instead of "taking" change, it assumes we must realise that we are dealing with a bunch of people with power and who are actually very nervous about what will happen to them if that power is taken away.

The first option is always an option. But I don't believe it to be a particularly... enlightening one. Why? Because what's missing is growth, progress. It simply assumes that one system can be replaced with another like replacing one battery with another. But nothing fundamentally changes - it is blunt, a dumb transition that in turn will just be replaced in a similar manner.

On the other hand, we have an opportunity here to bridge the gap between those who want change and those who don't. There is a possibility to turn change into learning, and to achieve true "progress" through this learning.

What does this mean? It means seeing those who don't want change not as enemies but as nervous friends. It means we need to take re-assurance, collaboration, and comfort as our watch words. We have to start befriending the nanny police state. We have to start showing that there is a place for those in power, and that while we can no longer run on the same rules, there is still space under the new ruleset for those with the right experience and the right attitude. We have to become parental.

Currently we are preparing ourselves for war. But it is a civil war - the "enemy" are people we brush shoulders with, that we are friends with in very nearby social circles. If we prepare for war, then sides form, and the war will only get harsher.

We need a mode of engagement that is neither protest nor "democratic" engagement, as neither of these is balanced or encourages mutual understanding. Maybe this is "lovepunk" or something. I need to think more.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The correlation of time: surrealism = stats

Wait a minute. Are statistics and surrealism separated at birth? Is there a golden thread that inherently threatens to join the two if we're willing to accept it?

Surrealism is not surreal. Or rather, it is surreal but no more surreal than statistics. As both deal with symbols, representations of the world around us, or the world inside us. or the world that is us. We seek to understand. We symbolise. We paint pictures with the symbols, and the pictures turn out to be stuck on a canvas, or stuck on a spreadsheet. We form the links between the symbols and we call those links "SENSE". Or "NONSENSE", depending on whether we're looking in the right direction or not.

Is that it? Sense is just the direction in which you're looking?

And what of the surreality of statistics?

1 + 1 = 2. How perverse.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Copycat behaviour: Missed Opportunities?

Monkey see, monkey do. Apparently. The pseudo-science equivalent today is mirror neurons, of course. But what of it?

Recent research shows that people are more likely to drink if they see people on TV drinking. (Actually, "people" should be more specific: the research was carried out on 80 "young people" - most likely students - so generalisations are difficult to make, as you would know if you've ever observed yourself as a student around other students, in comparison to yourself not as a student, around other non-students.)

The "spin" on this is alcohol-focused:

"He said the findings suggested there may be an argument for restricting advertising and introducing warnings on films.

"But he added there needed to be more research to establish the long-term implications on drinking habits."

But I'd like to turn this around, for as it stands, the argument is couched in the now-traditional British perspective of "STOP DOING BAD THINGS, you fool."

How about, instead of getting people not to do bad stuff, realising for a change that we could get people to do good stuff by, well, doing it ourselves?

In other (person's) words, "We must become the change we want to see in the world." Rather than focusing on the censorship of alcohol adverts, why not show more examples of people we respect doing things we wouldn't otherwise do?

Take musicians, for instance. Everyone wants to be a rock superstar - but all we see is the final gig, so all we end up doing is pretending to play shit through Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Samba de Amigo. The ideas of practice and learning to actually play have been relegated to an underground, smoky den where only the truly passionate and deranged actually bother to go through with the pain. Or so we would like to believe.

There are myriad other possibilities, but we've become blind to them, choosing instead to see our world in terms of what we shouldn't do. How dull.

We have a whole Internet here, and even greater than that, we have a whole World outside it. How can we start using them to think about things in the long term again? How can we get away from the notion of instant feedback, and doing things for the input, rather than the output?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wakey Wakey: Creativity is Power

Britain's (possibly the World's) greatest band, 65daysofstatic, announce that they're pulling out of a festival due to BAE Systems (general purveyors of Things That Kill) last-minute sponsorship of the festival. The release linked to above is well worth reading (it's not very long), but here's a quote...
As a band, like anyone else, we have to make compromises and face possible charges of hypocrisy at every turn. But you have to draw the line somewhere. And if we’re not willing or able to draw it with BAE Systems the other side then, basically, we shouldn’t be trusted.

As tweeted recently, something has changed. I feel better, more... optimistic. Caught up between collective events and some motivational music, it's starting to feel like something can be done amidst all the crap we put up with*.

There's been more talk recently (to fill the withering headlines) of giving local people "more say". But I'm starting to realise that "more do" has value. And if you have value, you start to have power, which (as 65daysofstatic show) can be associated with, or - more importantly? - distanced from certain parties, certain philosophies. Maybe this is where change comes from.

Or to sum up: Be creative, be good at it, and choose your contacts wisely.

* OK, there are worse things than late trains. But not many.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Can we predict UK house prices based on the price of Gold?

Can we predict UK house prices based on the price of Gold?

(If you have Java installed, run the chart, then use control-click to only select the last two variables on the left.)

Link to original chart

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Save the bees

Irregular readers (I fail to believe that I have any "regular" ones. In the head.) will know that I love bees. I was introduced to an infant hive in the middle of Devon in the middle of last year, and for some reason (probably that sugary food substance they give them) they made quite the Impact on me. Maybe I love the notion of the swarm community, the altruism of the suicidal sting, or the side effect of helping flowers to grow, just from moving around.

So it's great to see the Co-op are banning pesticides linked to colony collapse and so many other countries taking this seriously. Too often, we only see Inputs and Outputs - bee hives, and honey. But bees exemplify the idea of a system, the myriad other inputs and outputs that blur into a single, circular process. Side effects. Accidents. Opportunity. Feedback.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Post-everything Post

Phil points to an article by Robert Paterson on the post-job community world. This echoes a lot of the thoughts and feelings I've been having over the last few months as well, but could never set them out so analogously and clearly. See, just like that last sentence.

The notion of having skills is hugely important, although I would say 2 more things will be essential over the coming years:

One, dedication to reality - the balls to know what will work and what won't, to dismiss hype, optimism, pessimism and, dare I say, even hope if it turns out to just be more optimism in a mask. (Experiments pending.) Knowing what's really going on will let you respond to events before those events have happened. Preparation is sorely lacking in a lot of modern decision making.

Two, flexibility - it will be better to become a Jack of all Trades than to specialise in a single thing. Progress is here, dammit. I hate the progress treadmill as much as you, but we have the infrastructure to communicate widely and instantly, and we have a lot of very, very clever and creative people talking to each other over it. Change will come - what matters is how you filter that change. Flexibility mainly means being ready to give up what you know, cutting yourself loose from the idea of "identity" formed around function and knowledge.

'the zen gardener' by stanrandom

If I think about this with my Harmonious Technology hat on, what does this mean?

I think it means this: we have to build the world we want to live in ourselves, because we can't rely on markets to let us just buy what we want any more. We have to become post-civilised. And if we want everything to make sense, we have to start building sense into our infrastructures.

We need Zenpunk.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Harmonious Tech - Draft RFC

After introducing the idea of Harmonious Technology last week, I sat down with a pen and paper and started getting some "proper" thoughts together.

I've collected these thoughts into a Google Doc, with the intent of opening up the discussion through it. It can be found here:

In summary, I've sketched out just my initial thoughts - the concept, some background, some possible examples, etc. It still needs more thought, if you have some ideas, get in touch and I'll open up the document for editing. The ideas in the document are still very rough, so I figure discussion is the best way to clarify and smooth them out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

MP nicks golden shiny thing in protest

Labour MP protests against Heathrow expansion by picking up the Mace in the House of Commons.

Does anyone know if this falls under the SOCPA anti-protest law?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Quietness and Effortlessness: A Manifesto for Harmonious Technology


This year I want to think about the idea of Harmonious Technology, stemming primarily from a taoist principle of alignment and naturalness. All technologies, like humans, are not created equal. Tools cut across a wide landscape of use, and complexity - some are easy to use, some take experience and "artifice".

What I'm interested with the idea of "Harmony" here is technology which, perhaps for want of a better phrase (but perhaps not), is not even noticed. Technology that gets out of the way. Technology that we use like we hear - without thought, without judgement, without a look of confusion.

Good travellers leave no tracks.
Good words leave no trace.
Good counting needs no markers.
-- Tao te ching, 27

I feel like there should be some principles to sketch this idea out further, if it's to become something worthwhile, something tangible. As an initial brainstorm, not even something in a bulleted list yet, I think the following need to be factored in: Harmonious Tech should be instantly understandable, should integrate with the environment rather than detach a "user", should not break, and should deflect attention away from itself. This is just a messy start, though. It needs to be refined, simplified, mapped out. It needs to make sense. It needs to be whole.

At one level, I see Harmonious Tech as an HCI thing - that is, how technology integrates with individuals. But I think the concept could equally be applied to technology at a societal level. We spend so much time talking about, for example, the way in which we communicate and "the next big thing", to the point where we no longer talk about whatever it was we invented the technology to help us do. In the same way that we've come to depend on money to make money, we've also come to depend on technology to provide a reason for technology. Maybe this is a singularity forming, a reflexive, recursive ball of discursive nothingness wrapped around on itself.

Or maybe it's a society with its head up its arse. Instead of working out to live, we spend our energy showing how much about the future modern world we know. Harmony is turned into Catch-up. The cogs spin ever faster and get ever smaller.

Harmonious Technology seeks to go in the other direction for a change. Instead of seeing the cogs as technology, it sees technology as the grease to keep the cogs, that we already have, run as smoothly as possible, so that ultimately what we get out is not more grease, but whatever-it-is that the cogs have been set up to do.

Live. Love. Laugh. Lots.

ZOOG - facing the right way

What, 2009? Already? Crap. I haven't managed to post half the blogposts I'd like to, or eaten half the things I was hoping to. Probably just as well, otherwise I'd quickly run out of things to do.


Looking back to the last egospective abut a year ago, it's interesting to see what's changed and what hasn't. The year's gone quickly. I got a job that I'm still in. I got engaged. I have some cool new t-shirts. I discovered Dinosaur Comics. All in all, 2008 was a plus, I'd say.

On the resolutions front.. hmm, let's see now. I made 3 (same link as above, how quaint), so here's a brief rundown of how successful they were:

1) Spend more time on blog posts Hmm, well that didn't work. I achieved part of the goal - cut back on the drivel and the shorts, but failed to find the time to fill the gap with substantial happiness. I blame work, but in a good way.

2) Get rid of books: Again, partially successful - I don't think I bought as many books as I have in previous years. And I have a small stack of books lying around which I now just need to, you know, get rid of. (Hey, if you're interested in a book, let me know and I'll tell you what I have/send you a random one. Maybe.)

3) Make fire: While the original idea was to make fire from scratch, I'm going to count this as half a win (oh! how predictable!) seeing as we actually got our fireplace up and running and I've been learning how to SET FIRE TO CRAP. On a scale of Fun to Ten (heh, you like that?), it gets my vote.

So all in all, I score myself 1.5 out of 3, or 50%. Considering that's the chance of winning a coin toss, I figure I'm doing OK.

The moral of the story is not to make resolutions. You always think you have the rest of the year to do them.


2009 is looking very promising so far, and very exciting. Everyone I know (including me) is getting hitched, which leaves precious little time to actually get anything done though. So far, here's what's struck me as possible:

1) Government is finally getting its head around the web, partly by force and partly through some kind of understanding seeping finally into the bones of British society and culture. I will, however, be forcing myself (again) to avoid the use of any term that ends in "2.0", on the grounds that it's generally v2.1 that actually works as you want it too. Hopefully this means I'll get to post more to Sphereless the blog though.

2) Being the proud owner of both one of these and one of these, I'm thinking some music making is in the pipeline. Already I have discovered Eluvium the band, which leads me neatly into...

3) ...simplicity. I seem to have entered 2009 with a lust for a quieter approach to life. I have been reading Presentation Zen the book but also perhaps getting to a point in life where ideas such as taoism start to really piece together. Soon I will be 30 which if you tip it on its side is also the symbol for Taurus which is also my starsign, so I figure the energy must be strong on this side of the moon. Nevertheless, I may actually post some thoughts on tao and tai chi shortly, for they are currently actually the most fascinating thing around in a non-fascinating kind of way.

These are already three hugely exciting areas: Politics, Sounds, and the Soul. Currently they are fragmented, but perhaps, just maybe, I can bring them together, along with everything else I haven't mentioned like photography and food and jigsaws.

So all in all, I am looking forward, not backward, to 2009. May yours be equally exciting and invigorating.