Saturday, December 19, 2015

Mmm, humbugs

Buying into that dirty feeling before Christmas - half the things done that I need to do, half still to do, but nobody really knows which is which. Lists of lists. King of kings. Parcels of parcels.

Years ago I would wander through town on Christmas eve, wondering what to get for people, darting through crowds and imaginations. For Christmas, why not buy somebody a something? "Latest Thing" as A Thing. These days I run metaphorically frantically around online for weeks, and spend my days chasing deliveries. I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to be like this, not what the three kings intended. Forced gifts from afar, shipped in from the East. Adverts are the new Herod.

We live in an age where traditions are frequently felled. Christmas will die; It Will Eat Itself. the process will begin once a mass Facebook campaign calls to boycott the tide of mass produced presents, and the anxiety of socially-induced benevolence. (Here a Venn diagram of gift buyers and facebook  users.) (Persuading the children will be hardest. There will be casualties.)

Slowly, year by year, Christmas will become a meta-celebration, a melting pot of trying to feel good in these times of hibernation. The twin spirits of birth (Jesus) and the middle of darkness (winter) will be forgotten, surrendered to a feeling of humanity, a collective unconscious wanting to reflect, but caught up in the dismal inclarity of setting suns and self-doubt. Boycott the void to embrace the void we're not ready for. Emptiness as potential - but is it lacking, or pure pregnant potential?

Happy Christmas, every one.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Sketches from Brighton Museum

Moved away but Brighton Museum still holds me. There are strange shadows there, laughing faces, cloth ghosts. Today I drew some of them down. They pretend to have names.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It's not just Twitter - the whole net is boring

Recent comms, the future of twitter, capitalist social forms - are we all interesting enough to each other for shareholders to make some cash?

The cloud holds rain, we can feel it in the air. The thing we love - this global short form, this truncated and ephemeral Zeitgeist - is brought back to earth and we realise, so nervously, that it is outside of our control. We do not own the forum we thrive in, the decision on whether to pull the plug or not lies in the hands of a bold, distant few. The wrong sale, and this could all be over. So there's a lot of soul-searching going on - some optimistic, some pessimistic. Ready to take action vs ready to jump ship.

But among the Twitter lines there are other fissures starting to steam too. Facebook is basically running a pay-per-view attention economy. Google+ is waiting for the post-mortem. Even Evernote is showing signs of flagging. We've been lulled into thinking that we're consumers and curators rather than a community - and the lifecycle for this sharing economy as a 'social' model didn't get very far. Thinking bigger thinks, it's not hard to realistically suspect that the next great Internet wave is approaching us, fast. The Internet has become boring.

Shop this. Watch that. Link those. Meh. As users, and as individuals, now is the time to start thinking ahead - to get in our own preparations for when the time comes. What do we want from our online presence? If our avatar was a simulation*, what existence would we want it to have? And further, how can we really make our network lives feed in, enhance, and contribute to our lives as a whole?

Argue With Me: @6loss #dullnet

* which it is.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Elsewhere - the five rules of #punkblog

I want more considered micro content - paragraphs, not retweets. Thoughts, not shares.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Small devices

This month I've been forced into a backup (phone) body. The innocent knock against the old incarnation took on terrorist undertones as the old battery inflated beyond safe limits. November threatened.  Retreat to 50m.
The new shell is smaller but more polished. I like it, but there are some interesting things to note when downgrading your working memory. I wonder if this is a form of enlightenment.
The phone-as-platform, software-as-supply-chain anti-pattern really hits home. I don't need Google Music/News/Bookstand/Dildonics but they do take up half my device. Forced obesity. Disabling them brings obscure warnings about unknown adverse effects. Re-definition of OS as shop window. Consumer grade.
Priorities. This evening I had to choose between Skype and Evernote. I put Skype out of its misery despite MS's free 20 minutes. Why did I do that? Apps can/should be installed and removed on demand - borrow the functionality you need. Permanence is a materialistic hangover.
Cloudlife is a step-change, like moving all your music to mp3, or getting a fridge for the first time. Suddenly the device is no longer your "wallet", in the sense that losing it won't lose everything in one go. You're no longer really sure where anything is - maybe you can work it out on a case-by-case basis, but 6 cloud accounts and it all blurs. Like paint at the end of art class. Brown-purple data, squished together in front of your eyes. It's useful if you're not a backup-sort-of-person, but how do you know if anything ever gets deleted? I wonder what a git history of personal data would look like.

2FA tokens are anti-cloud, of course. Once mobile numbers are virtualized as well, 2FA will be the only real representation of physicality and individuality left. Can they even survive long as the idea of one canonical device gets ever looser? Bitcoin has dedicated wallets - should serious tech nomads be switching to dedicated devices for auth?

The experiment continues. We've come a long way since Palm Pilots.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Tales from the Shore Line: The Palimpsestuous City

Dear ---,

The nights are getting closer in Seaford. There are tales of lantern flames on the cliffs of the Head after midnight, and children are rushed home through grey light without a word. I saw a bat chasing unseen insects above the pond the other day, but mostly I only notice spiders.

If anything though, the threat of ghosts comes as relief. The wild, inanimate neon pulse of Brighton is a machine possessed, its dreams are now in the hands of hinted masters and subtle forces. The gears have been replaced with mirrors. The handles, with bones.
Recently I found time and spirit to lurk by the Kemptown shore. I spent my minutes walking the pier, scratching away at surfaces, keen to reveal truths laid out beneath others. Flickers of paint. Faded letters from half-dated posters. Pipes going nowhere.

I thought back over my time along this shore, those nights spent between these streets. Had Brighton changed more than I had? Or was I subjectively delusional? Certain spots triggered memories, but I couldn't always be sure what memories they were. Mine? Someone else's? Nothing but stories? Too much had changed for it to matter much, but it would be nice to know if I had been sent mad by it all.

Mostly the transformation had been complete. Shapes of buildings remained, but all trace of previous owners had been nuked. Naked paint pinkwashed hidden stains. Shiny signposts deflected any remaining attention. In a city built for attention, the layers were covered and ignored in equal measure.

Brighton seems unafraid to make its own history. It has its needs, and a sinister will of its own that somehow forces the population to meet those needs. On some days, in the winter, when the tourists and the students and even Jack and Linda have all headed home, it feels like the city is plotting its next move. The semi-gentle waves bring it ideas, and the yin-yang of the tides are all the technique it requires.

The Council is fooled into thinking it runs Brighton. In reality, far above the columns of the town hall, the Council is nothing but a medium for expressing the dreams of a restless city, a means to an endless journey. Another layer, a mirage of power. (And it knows that I know.)

Political games rage like circles of leaves being whisked into the air - all distractions from the vining schemes that the streets themselves are threading. Can't stop the rock, the rocks, the stones, the pebbles. Brighton needs more, needs to be fed.

It's not me, I'm not mad. The layers have told me that. The city itself is hiding its own pasts in a palimpsestuous continual reinvention, an ever-shifting attempt to wriggle free of an identity it wants to lose. Never happy, never resting. Each layer becomes a set of symbols on which the next reincarnation is built.

But Brighton is not progressive, not innovative - yet another urban myth (ha!) that the city has introduced as smoke. The layers do not lie, and the oldest layers lie the least. Their truths come out as mumbled ramblings, garbled, intoxicated, and confused. Best not to attract too much attention. The young layers might notice.

I say it again. The city knows that I know. I had no choice but to move.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Share Our Symbols

Jill Walker rettberg on refugees, images, symbols and reality bubbles is a very good read:

One day we will see photos taken by starving children as well. When we see those images, we’ll see photos that show how they see the world. We’ll see them as individuals and not simply as symbols of Hunger, Need and Despair.

As the net becomes ever more natural, I wonder if we become less or more sensitive to the symbols around us. I suspect we see them for what they are more, but care less.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

How retro-wire symbolics set us up the bomb?

I'm fascinated by the picture of Ahmed Mohamed's homemade clock which school thought was a bomb:

I'm fascinated because:

a) it does look like a bomb
b) it doesn't look like a bomb

Or, to be more precise, it looks like a homemade circuit, which basically looks like a bomb now that images of homemade circuits are only equated with homemade bombs in modern culture.

In other words, the homemade circuit has become, it seems, the symbol of bomb-making.
Through so many Hollywood films, tabloid descriptions, daft kids' programmes and feared imaginations, the only possible use left of basic electricity is for nefarious purposes. Displaced by high-powered, subatomic electrical circuits on the one hand, and simulated electronics such as Minecraft (and other forms of coding?) on the other, wires and the visible circuit are now an antiquity, a foreign concept.

It is not that a kid made something that resembles a simple weapon. It is that a kid would bother to do something that used the same basic principles as a simple weapon. Why would you make your own circuit, for God's sake?

The "rational consumer", devoid of physics, can only imagine 3 rationales:

1. Child has made a bomb.
2. Child is practising skills to make a bomb.
3. Child is messing randomly with electricity, which is dangerous anyway, and more importantly a bit weird.

In any case, there is something here worth investigating. And if anything needs investigating, it must be done in an ironically controlled fashion. The inspection of both the child (under detention and handcuffs) and the device (through seizure) has the same roots as debugging the electric circuit in question - keep elements in isolation, connect only what must be connected, preserve a sense of experimental caution.

For anyone of a hacker mindset, this reaction is neither new nor surprising. It is still deeply depressing - the notion that the world can be wonderful and beautiful, and yet others are so unable to see it.

There is still no mainstream option 4 - the child is capable of discovery and creation. This is left to hackers and presidents.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

A collection of long photos

As a photographer, it's hard to be disinterested in the world around you. While a photo may involve a single shutter firing, a single moment when instinct kicks off a snapped finger twitch, everything in photography is about observing and monitoring the world leading up to that moment. It's meditation, but with a goal, an output, a memory to take home.

Recently I've noticed more photo-like videos cropping up - longer, balanced takes that seem to reflect this pre-final, penultimate moment. I wonder if it's a backlash against the oversaturation of traditionally static images, or the frenetic nature of the MTV-age, attention-economy video edit style, or even against the bombardment of activity and stimulation we face every time we wake up. Whichever, or whatever combination, where do slow videos/long photos fit in with our lives and our loves?

Some examples of this movement that have stuck in my head over time and more recently:
  • Flickr adding short video support
  • Bookmore's recent series of 10-minute postcards
  • 'After' by Victoria Lucas of Castle Market shopping centre in Sheffield (previously blogged in ‘Living/Dead spaces and the distracted death’)
  • Lynn Weddle’s “Living Portrait” work currently on display at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne:

  • Even, I would include tentatively, the Chemical Brothers' video for Star Guitar, although somewhat occidentally rather than by design. (The video betrays the 'long photo' idea by cleverly and deliberately syncing video to the track, but I’m linking to it because I only just found this out and am amazed.)
  • … and many more, I’m sure. Please do link me up if you know of any good ones.

Note the gulf and contrast between Flickr's "long photo" approach and Vine's "rapid fire" style.

For anyone even vaguely caught up in the mechanics of modern, networked life, choosing to spend time sitting still and watching something with little "obvious" interest is a hard-placed decision. Which makes it more interesting, of course.

I'm aware video online is massively popular. People choose to watch videos, but without descending into another post here, I'd argue there is a big distinction between "entertainment" videos that provide a reason to watch, and the long photos, which perhaps simply capture a single view/element/concept, and explore it using some notion of time, beyond the single-frame limit of still photography.

I'm playing with putting Bookmore's postcards on as background accompaniment at work, like playing back cafe hubbub or car noise to soothe a baby. Full-screen on a second monitor turns it into an interesting window into another world. There’s something going on, but it’s not “interesting" enough to distract me. Sometimes people put a favourite film on for casual accompaniment, rather than to watch it, and it feels a little like that.

In terms of content and profit, it sucks for modern day attention industries. But in terms of life, maybe this is something I could get into.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

End austerity now? On protest, change, and how to infiltrate the "left".

Watching the livestream for the #EndAusterityNow protest in London today. It throws up some interesting questions, although the most obvious one is "So what now?"
  1. Protest online is really hard to turn into change. A tendency to follow the rules of the attention economy means the symbols of popularity - hashtags, slogans, soundbites, opportunistic images - can easily take over from other measurements of success. Numbers are no longer (were they ever?) a guarantee of power.
  2. "Austerity" is a really hard meme to fight against, as it's the end result of so many other power factors. The cash in your hand is so many steps away from massive, global financial powerplays. Sitting behind the day-to-day stuff is often, for instance, the balance between local and central government, or consumer technology, the tech consumer industry, and national states.
  3. The difficulty of fighting "Austerity", like fighting "poverty" or "terror", is that everyone has their own idea of what it is and how to fight it. 1,000,000 marching is A Good Thing in terms of awareness and networking, but until terms, solutions and fundamental philosophical notions about what happens next are brought together (and that shit is hard), it can often be like attacking a beach with water.
  4. The rhetoric remains on the "left" around "left vs right". The livestream has Billy Bragg's "Which side are you on?" playing (live?) right now, but IMHO, setting up more barriers smply reinforces class divides which have already been won. The left is in trouble because the right - with its global networks - took to the rest of the world, to more advanced economics, to routing around things. The right routed around and under the left, leaving it adrift. Production has been moved to poorer countries. Management has been sold off to richer countries. Education and infrastructure have been outsourced. GAME OVER.
  5. Or is it? Depends on your point of view. If the protests carry on in their "traditional" way - gather numbers, organise pamphlets, get people angry, create a war, and try to win by force of emotion x people - then yes, it's over. These tactics are old, it's like Russian army forces trying to take on a nuclear blast. It doesn't make sense. The rules have changed, and traditional forms of protest are ineffective.

    But there are lots of symbols to take forward this century that indicate alternatives. The networks created by Western elites are slowly leveling out. (I've just finished reading A Crowd Of One, which has some good points to make on this.) Any form of change needs to work out opportunities to use these new networks (mass decentralised autonomy, anonymity, frictionless power, etc), while simultaneously being aware of the dangers the networks can bring (increased surveillance, dependency on industries, etc).

    In short, the "left" has to rethink its approach to the "struggle" if it wants anything to change. In many ways, the left has to give up its own identity.
  6. If you care about change, there are some simple things you can do:
    • Forget numbers, in terms of popularity and audience. Control over mass audiences was done in, like, 1950.
    • Learn new skills, new technology, all the time. Change comes from other change, and the struggle now is a struggle of adaptability. Be prepared to forget what you know at the drop of a hat. Don't be afraid to experiment. Fail fast.
    • If you think something has merit, do what you can to support it. Effort, funding, even spreading the word. Put your being where your heart is. Nothing will happen if it's left up to a few.
    • Read up about decentralised organisations, ecosystems, and love (in a "for the human race" kind of way). Organising any more than about 10 people is really really hard, so if you're desperate to get something done, then get serious about the people you'll be working with. Empower them. Empassion them. Get off your stick, lose your own sense of identity and pride, and think about things from the network perspective.
    • Get away from the negative - stop fighting stuff that you think is shit. Instead work out what you want, what would be useful, and then get on with creating it. "No alternative" is not an alternative. And that alternative had better work.
    • Stop getting distracted.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Postcard 1: Hello from Seaford + nerd culture

Greetings from Seaford. We have a pond outside and are wondering what to do with the garden, but really enjoying it here. You should come over some time once all the boxes are out the way.

Did you see Simon Pegg's post on the marketisation of nerd culture? I think you'd enjoy it - goes into some of the stuff we talked about before.

Oh, and I finished that book you lent me years ago. Will return it next time we see you.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Sending the tao via tinyletter

Sign up here

I've been thinking about playing with Tinyletter for a while, and finally found time to have a look following moving house (more on that soon?) and generally having no idea.

Here is Grey and White Pebbles then - short, infrequent emails capturing a slice of something I can only call taoism for convenience, but (hopefully) without too much of the dubious western fetishism that seems to go along with it. Partly long-form haiku, partly verbose photo montage, but mostly reflecting my own observations on the coincidences and forces of stuff, taking things like Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and the I Ching as a guide, yadda yadda yadda.

I'm enjoying the form for now - there's a simple, achievable mileage in aiming for a triptych-style approach. There's enough text to get my teeth into, but not so much that I can't complete it on my new commute. It'd be great to collate every 10 posts into a book or print-out or something. (Partly inspired by James' new postal experiments.)

Here are the email posts so far, and a link to subscribe when you want to read more.