Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Softness of Trees

Sitting here watching footage of Typhoon Mangkhut hit Hong Kong. The water gets everywhere, swept into the sky and through lobbies and down alleys. The street floor becomes a swamp. Walls become perilous sandcastles, ready to wash away in the tide. Bins and cars scatter the space we hold sacred - human space with its ordained purposes, holding fast to a belief in functional order.

The shots of trees and grass, willowing in the storm, get into me. A few trees fall, of course, but there is beauty in this softness - the branches twist and turn, almost like they're playing. The water refreshes their roots. The earth will become muddy and comfortable. The forest sways as one, and is a thousand miles away from bushfires and drought.

There are ways of dealing with climate change that are more to do with attitude than technology. The softness of trees is not the sole preserve of plants, and the way of nature is not separate to the way of people. That softness is a part of us. We build it into buildings to survive earthquakes. Can we build it into human processes? Human structures?

----

Engineering as an artform, drawing from inspirations found all over the world, in front of our eyes, under our noses. We observe before we design. We learn to work with physics, with chemistry. Engineering is alchemical, still a natural science.

What if we started thinking of democracy as an engineering process, only applying this inspired art to the way that we interact and resolve conflicts? If capitalism supposedly came out of an evolutionist 'survival of the fittest', then what would it take to re-imagine an approach/system/structure that drew from trees? To build resilience into our communities - local through to global - can we make comparisons to greater, older ecosystems?

Perhaps the structures of Twitter, Facebook, Google et al are the social engineering equivalents of giant, monolithic skyscrapers. The aim for a single building, incorporating everything and everyone. The view from one point to everywhere else. The uniform, laser-like geometry of "pure" lines and metal and glass, promoting strength and control. Everything is ready to be shattered. Survival of the most strident, the most surveilling.

To distribute, to churn through, to allow decay. Perhaps the fediverses of the net are seeking the forest nature of society again. The ability to create and destroy identities reflects the constant lifecycle of the mayfly. Fleeting and temporary, constant life and death - but more than this: a reactive swarm, brought in as needed, in the same way that cloud computing allows. Seasonal, opportunistic, and interdependent - never the end of the food chain.

----

Our politics has become solid and immovable like brittle warehouses, and the network is not helping but solidifying this. What was once a public sphere populated by newspapers -  but limited to this scope - has now become intertwined with 'verified' (or rigid) identities, a single global forum, and the ability to spread words quite separately from context, like expecting a polar bear to live in a desert.

We have a melting pot, but one with no direction or coherence. Through single identities and linked histories, people are forced to 'delete their account', because there are no other places or ways in which to engage, or to evolve. There is no public sphere any more, or perhaps it has got smaller while the public itself has got bigger. There is nothing forest-like here.

Seeds of inspiration do not thrive in a cooking pot - the heat kills them instantly, and they become what they are - shells, without potential,used only for their immediate physical attributes. Words make democracy palatable, like spices in cooking, but ultimately, there will be no seeds left if the trees and bushes cannot grow elsewhere.

The seeds must travel - on the wind, in the air, through animals. The forest of democracy needs re-planting, in places it has long been forgotten.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Some symbols are embedded in the land


A discarded shoe beside a line in the road

2011. Resident tourist. Homeless, with family and car. That feeling of travelling, of being somewhere new and strange, even within a few miles of where you’ve lived for a decade. The neighbourhood presents unknown corners at every turn. That feeling of being alone - or rather, of everything you’ve ever known suddenly becoming minuscule - just by moving place. Space is time, but also culture, also identity.

Travel, that viral economic disease and past-time spreading out from the 19th century, technology merrily transplanting us from one context to another, making everything familiar seem out of kilter. From majority to minority. From routine and mundane, to novel, bizarre - we become either intriguing or bizarre, only these, never anything in between.

We are torn in two by this! This backdrop of norms, shredded into an individual of unnaturalness, carried purely by displacement. We carry our homeland and our family line with us, safely wrapped up in the swaddling of DNA, a ticking seed that has the power to sooth difference, to disrupt communities, to bring rare life spices down biological trade routes, into the arms of waiting future generations. Nothing will ever be the same again.

A photo looking down at my feet, with squiggly chalk lines coming out from them

Some symbols are embedded in the land, so obvious that we have no choice but to ignore them until the time comes. 

The Long Man stands with his - maybe her - arms holding on to two lines. Poles perhaps. Up until now, I've deliberately chosen to see them as a door frame, a gateway with the figure on the threshold. I see the outline as a sign of entering, of moving from one state to another. 

The poles are on either side, sinister dexter. What if they are simply opposites, two extremes that the figure is caught between, or trying to hold on to? Two different directions, both equal in size and stature, but separated in space, with our figure caught - our catching them - in the middle. A figure formed by opposites. 

The opposites become the doorway. The difference becomes the gateway and the agent of change. 

A black woman buried in white cliffs. Black inside white, yin inside yang. The female hidden within the male. The soft within the strong. A shadow inside the light, like an echo within a sound. 

The earth records the difference and breeds flowers and stories alike. 

Sunday, September 02, 2018

'Here lies Tatters - not that it much Matters'

A lovely bit of history detective work looking into Tatters, the least-known (or loved?) dog at Preston Manor's pet cemetary

I love this use of archive material to draw out a new story - perhaps there is a secret qualitative researcher in me after all.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Why I'm getting less political on the net

Reading through the Tao of Democracy by Tom Atlee in 2003, and struck by just the sheer shallowness of political engagement the net has brought about. (My own engagement included.)

Consuming content every waking hour has left us with no time to explore an issue, let alone think about it properly, and/or deliberate about it in order to come to an in-depth, considered decision. The whole political process has been industrialised into a series of clicks, and the metrics we store in social media databases, such as number of re-amplifications, has somehow turned into votes. We bypassed political thought in an age of symbols, just as action is most needed. Consider why Trump sticks to Twitter - it instantly allows for 'broadcast' publicity, with absolutely zero deeper engagement as a follow-on. It's nothing close to a conversation, even though, on the surface, he appears to be 'accessible' by gasp actually posting his own tweets.

Once you get your head round just how shallow politics is at the 'net' level (ie Internet-first politics), you want to scream first, and then just get out and not look back. It's a dead-end direction - so long as convenient symbols are allowed to dictate powers and influence, at a societal level, then richer conversation will always get pushed out. We're so used to it now - a rapid adaptation based on tech companies doing huge work to understand our addictions - that even small shifts back in the other direction feel momentous. Moving to Mastodon, for example, and escaping a restrictive character limit, is still just a sticking plaster on a intractable problem. Identity-led services that encourage rapid context-switching, a network-effect approach that capitalist tech thrives on, are fundamentally 'shallow'. Everything you do is temporary to the point of instant forgetfulness. That's not 'wisdom', that's just... instant disposability.

Every time someone sets up a new Facebook group to address some political aim, I scream a little bit more. I don't want too discuss things that I care about in a privately-owned forum designed to addict you to as much content as possible. On the flip side, I know I now have to make an effort to escape the new default model of engagement. Once you have a smartphone, or a social media account, that's it - you're locked into a way of participating with the world. The network effect makes not doing that so much harder. But we have to try.

On the plus side, it's useful to remember that power is not totally captured by the networked symbols paradigm. As David Boyle points out, the correlation between use of symbols and network technologies is a fairly liberal thing - the outcasts can employ symbols powerfully, but they are still only one side of a battle for power, and the system as a whole has plenty of oh her methods of wielding power. Cypherpunks write code. Activists get on with effecting change.

So I'm tempted to ignore the political side of social media even more than I do. I use Twitter to ask questions and stay in touch with people. I read news to get a sense of events, not to form opinions. I try not to be swayed emotionally or politically by either, because it's too easy and too shallow.

This leaves me free to return to an alternative set of questions. What do I care about enough to engage with, what methods are effectively at doing so, and who else is working in the same overlaps of content and process?

Monday, August 13, 2018

Support me with your money!

Oh god, I hate writing post titles like that. And I haven't quite got the energy to write something here that's hugely inspirational and oh-so-gushy, like you're supposed to do these days. But I'm also massively intrigued about the opportunities that the net opens up for micro-crowd-funded efforts and rapid, small-scale finance iterations. Or in other words, it's now possible to tap the world to see if it thinks your idea if any good.

My two main ideas I'd like to get focused funding around are 1) my solarpunk efforts, as now seen in the 6suns blog, and which I'm starting to invest more funds in, and 2) my new Taopunk effort, which is aiming to bring more Eastern thought to the West. To save it, or something. Running a newsletter is free, but distributing free books isn't. I've also already had a couple of donations from friends, so it felt like a natural thing to open up a bit.

Anyway, I've been looking at Patreon for a while, and support a few people at a low level. If you'd like to support either or both of the projects above, and maybe even get a postcard/zine/book out of it, then head over to my new Patreon page. There are rewards, but really, any small vote of support is an overwhelming token to keep me going...

Otherwise, if you would just loooooove to send a one-off thing, or prefer other methods, either get in touch, or have a look at some alternative methods I'm also looking at. I'm intending to set up with LIberaPay if I can (it seems very Euro-focused), just to try it out.

Thanks!

Solar offshoots

Just a quick note to say that I've started a separate blog - https://6suns.exmosis.net/ - to keep track of my efforts/adventures to run my phone off solar power only. Posts for the blog will also now appear for anyone subscribed via the all-inclusive Scribe RSS feed that aggregates a bunch of sources together.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

10 weeks on solar power



Last weekend, mid-July, marked the 10-week point of running my phone and my watch off solar power alone. I figure if we're going to turn the British summer into a molten hellpot through global warming, I might as well benefit from it. Here are some notes on how I've done it (not complicated) and thoughts on what I've picked up along the way (not profound).

I did also run for about 3 months on solar a few years ago, with a different setup, but the gist was the same. It's good to know not too much has changed compared to back then.

Broadly speaking, there are three main things that I think are useful when moving to solar power at this level: hardware, including solar cells (natch), an understanding of battery use, and the right mindset.

Bear in mind that this is a fairly amateur approach to solar power, intended to run USB devices only. More nomadic people, such as those with camper vans or house boats, have bigger setups, which I haven't looked into yet. My main aim is to be portable with just a rucksack, if I want to be, and to power a bare minimum.

So here we go...

[ Note: Forgot to add in my routine here, will update this post later to include thoughts, but generally I just charge up when there's good Sun ;-) ]

1. Hardware

 

I fairly rigidly stick to charging my devices from USB batteries, and charging the USB batteries from solar panels. I've read that the draw from phones is more 'controlled', which makes it harder to charge fully - and it certainly seems hard to reach 100% battery on the phone when plugged straight into the solar panels. But sometimes the direct charge is useful.

Anyway, here's my current setup:
  • Phone: I'm running a Fairphone 2 at the moment, just because I like what they're doing. So long as you can charge your phone by USB, it shouldn't matter too much. Support for later Android versions is helpful, as they seem to improve the battery life I think?
  • Watch: I'm wearing a Pebble Time smartwatch, because the phone is slightly too big to keep in a pocket and I like having (sparse) notifications for messages, etc. The Pebble Time has an OK battery life, and I use GadgetBridge to keep it linked to my phone.
  • Solar Panels: I'm currently using a 20W KingSolar array, which has 4 panels, charges 2 devices via USB, and folds up nice. Looks like Amazon don't have the 20W version at the moment, but you can browse for similar things easily. When browsing, it's the Wattage you want to pay attention to - higher Wattage gives you more charging power, i.e. you can charge faster and more when it's sunny, so you can support more and bigger batteries.

    I paid £30 for the 20W version, which seems to be a good level for the devices above and batteries below. My previous effort used a 10W Opteka array, which was about £50 at the time - this shows you how much solar panel pricing has dropped in 5 years. I still have the 10W as backup, but rarely use it.
  • Batteries: I don't know a huge amount about battery performance, I'm sorry to say. I have 2 USB batteries that I run off, one more portable than the other, but have no idea how to test their efficiency, etc. They seem to do the job though. The portable one is a 10,000mAh EasyAcc power pack, and the heavier one is a 22,,400mAh EC Tech power pack similar to this one.

    Choose your battery based on mAh and reviews. For my phone, I get 2-3 charges off the 10,000mAh battery, and 4-5 charges off the 22,400mAh pack, so enough to last me about a week, depending on use.

    I've also just added a 20,000mAh Besiter power pack to the collection, because it's sunnier than I can use up batteries at the moment. I'm in the process of giving it a full charge via the mains, then a full discharge on other devices, before solar-charging it. I'd like to add a second portable battery, so that I can charge a portable one up while I'm carrying one around - I tend to use the heavier ones when I'm at home (eg overnight charging), unless it's an emergency.

    Whatever you choose, read the reviews a bit. I've found it's useful to have a larger battery for charging up on really sunny days, but I don't want to carry such a heavy thing with me all the time. I don't think it's a good idea to charge one battery from another...

Previously I've also charged up headphones from solar power, which I might start doing again. My Kindle didn't seem to like being charged from a battery, which was annoying, but I don't use it too much.

A future plan is to also revive one of my Pirateboxes, and run this off solar power as a portable wifi hotspot - for p2p networks such as Scuttlebutt?

Oh here's a picture of the two batteries being charged up.



It's helpful to find a standard place to lay the solar cells out, that faces the Sun, and isn't obstructed by shade. I've had spurious results starting out charging in shadier conditions - I'm not sure the charge increases when the Sun comes out more, but need to do better testing here.


2. Battery usage


Once you have the ability to charge batteries from the Sun, and devices from a battery, you're basically good to go. The second useful thing is to then control how your battery is being used - this will sort of come naturally once your phone is being filled with precious, inconvenient energy, but here's what I get up to.

  • OS: I'm running Android 6, but will probably switch to 7 when Fairphone release their upgrade. There are apparently improvements to battery life. YMMV with Apple.
  • Monitoring: The Battery Usage screen in Android is a good starting point for keeping track of battery train and apps using battery. I also use the  BatteryBot app to show me a 1-100% battery indicator on screen, so I can see exactly what's going on.
  • Optimisation: There are all sorts of good articles on how to save battery under Android which are worth looking at (I need to revise my own settings all the time too). Currently I'm using Greenify to turn background apps off, but your efficiency may vary.

    There are probably similar efforts for Apple, but I'm afraid I have no experience here. Generally, turn off as much auto-sync stuff as you can, including emails, etc.
  • For my Pebble watch, I keep all extraneous animations off, and limit vibrations to a minimum. I currently get about 4-5 days of use before having to recharge.
  • Software: This is where it starts getting harder, and you have to start considering what you really need to get from your devices. Personally, I have a decent set of apps on my phone, and so long as they're configured right, I can only use them when I need to. There's no straight answer to this except to install stuff, try it, uninstall it, and see if it makes a difference. This is all about battery life vs your own life, so see below for mindsets.

    My one guilty pleasure is Pokemon Go, which I play with son 1. This is a right battery hog, especially when there's a lot of screen and network activity (eg during battles). I also find that the live screen when using the phone's camera eats battery up.

Otherwise, battery usage is one of those ongoing battles. After a time though, it can become almost ... fun? A challenge, if you will. Which brings me on to....

3. Mindset

 

This, for me, is the most interesting aspect of the whole exercise. Why do we take electric power so much for granted? How do we know where our power comes from? Why are our devices so geared up for continuous usage, and an addiction to perennial consumption? Why must there be an app for everything, instead of just letting things happen offline?

There are two main aims of running off solar power: first, be resilient by decoupling from megalithic power networks. Dependency on something which you can be cut off from isn't something that the taopunk aims for, so independence is to be valued. Yes, we're still dependent on people making the devices and the solar power and the software, but that's a different conversation :)

The second aim is to rely less on constant power, and to value the potential energy that we do have. It's an interesting exercise to realise that your phone will shut down - and with it, your connection to the whole world - if you fritter away your battery on novelty games. If we want to preserve what we have for later, we need to take our time, relax, find other things to do. Convenience is a luxury, but one we've grown used to. Which isn't great.

So I've found myself much more closely tied to the weather through this. I check the forecast daily, and how I use my phone is dictated by what the weather looks like over the next week. I will hold off heavy usage for a day if it's cloudy and my battery reserves are low. There's a certain hard limit on my tech usage, which I like, and the hard limit comes from nature itself.

That restriction forces some good practices. A focus on Efficiency for one. A push to Do Other Things, to look around and sketch instead of stare at a game, for another. Basic, so simple, yet so forgotten.

Given the current heatwave in the UK, I think I could expand to using all 30W of my solar panels and run off 4 batteries eventually. This, in theory, would keep me going for a couple of weeks. At some point, the weather will switch though, and the solar route will fail me. I'm trying to work out how to get to a point where I can keep going through the winter - should I charge up more batteries? How many would I need to get through, say, October to April? Or should I go full 12V solar panels like a proper nomad?


Anyway, hope that helps. Please do leave feedback here, or via Twitter (@6loss) or via GnuSocial/Mastodon (6gain@loadaverage.org) - I'd love to hear about others' experiences, and any tips for improving what I have. It still feels like there's a lot of potential here...

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A response to Article 13

Managed to write to my MEPs about the awful proposed EU's Copyright Directive Article 13 - you can submit a response via ORG here, but for my own reference, this is my hastily-written missive:


Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to express my extreme concern about the proposed changes under Article 13 of the Copyright Directive, due to be voted on very shortly.

Having been involved in the internet and online innovation for over 20 years, and acting currently as Technical Director for a small UK company, I believe in several points:

1. That it is imperative to our economic and social resilience that  innovation and communication remain free from burdens of overhead except where proved absolutely necessary

2. That the proposed legislation will increase the cost and risk of any new innovation, with broad, damaging effects to the development of society and discourse as a whole, at a time where we require appropriate innovation and resilience

3. That the legislation will increasingly push innovation and communication into unmonitored and unmonitorable networks, with the result that appropriate support and/or integration of such services will become harder, again to the detriment of an already-fragmented society

4. That the proposed legislation relies on technology that has distinct, specific drawbacks - namely that it encourages a more centralised digital ecosystem with increased risk of lower resilience as a result, and that there are insufficient safeguards to ensuring the technical solution can be monitored, audited, and maintained effectively.

5. That the legislation would introduce a lop-sided split between responsibilities, ie. it does not make sense to rely on a more centralised structure to provide the algorithms to implement the law, but push overall responsibilities on those parties not in charge of the algorithms, but would merely need to outsource this functionality, given the excessive cost of building such a filtering service from scratch.

In short, the Article threatens the business case of any small-to-medium business incorporating user input, threatens to upset innovation and conversation to the detriment of the economy and society generally, and risks a confused legal structure to discourage further innovation.

I urge you to vigourously vote against this legislation, and to address the underlying issues in a way that is more sustainable, technically feasible, and legally clear.

Kind regards

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The joy and violence of street photography



Street photography is scary. Sometimes for the confrontational, uninvited surveillance aspect of it. But mostly for the change in rhythm, the shift in attention that's so different from how we usually inhabit our concrete landscape.

Stand still, focus on something that's always there, something right in front of you, but linger with it, hold on to it. Wait for the right passer-by. Lurk like a teenager. Shoot like a voyeur. Street photography is best when it's scary - but what is this fear, where does it come from?

Most essentially, the urban environment doesn't like us to stop and look, or to consider anything in more depth than is intended. Our gaze is constantly diverted and channeled, like passengers wandering through Ikea or a theme park. There are things we're allowed to look at - adverts, street art, signs. But the crowd of distraction blocks out everything else. And the signs we're permitted to take in do not lend themselves to reflection or critique. "Take us at face value" they say. "Accept our message, and move on."

We spend our time flicking from one sign to the next, lost in a labyrinth of relevance. The street photographer breaks all this up, rebelling against the flow of this-not-that. The street photographer has two jobs, both of which can be described as dangerous purely because they do a violence against the accepted mode of navigation - and against our own position as a result.

First, the street photographer brings attention to that which is usually ignored. The signs which grew naturally, rather than being manually designed and manufactured into place. Empty facades, modern cracks filled with weeds, social mishaps, legacy movements, machines malfunctioning... There is a wabi-sabi kick here, a celebration of the chaos and decay that comes inherently with aging and existence. There is a beautiful humility in what our processes have allowed and encouraged to happen, even though it occurs against the urban designer's original will. A fragility of control, seeping into our consciousness from all angles, stark against all those ambitions and dreams of politicians, planners, architects and artists.



Second, the street photographer brings an extreme attention to the signs which like to think they're so smart and ephemeral. The instant impact of these signs is intended to communicate to us so efficiently - longer consideration is unjustifiable in a busy context; delay is dangerous, due simply to the scale at which everything - people, traffic, information - must flow as fast as possible, like cows in an abattoir. The urban watchword is "dispatch". Street photography's second dangerous act is to look beyond this continuous dismissal - to bring a sort of hyper-attention to these symbols and scratch beneath their surface. All signs have side effects, and it is only by observing their effects for a longer duration that we can know that these are. The photographer lingers, watching. The photograph itself, formed and framed, is an item of reflection - a single moment or view lingers in and of itself. Through this slowing down of time, we can more fully question what we would otherwise ignore.

Through the eyes of the street photographer, there is no chaos in urban normality. The city is controlled, the streets are prescribed. But it is not through deliberate destruction of the environment that photography changes our minds. Instead, the camera becomes a tool to disrupt our own behaviour - the act and at of seeing the world differently is enough to disrupt the rituals and the contract that we unconsciously find ourselves caught in.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

How Oakland Occupy got things changed

Useful look back at how a local US group took on the local police surveillance happening against Occupy without much oversight. Great blend of crowd engagement, legal understanding, and careful negotiation for a long view solution.

TR: Activists always want a 100% victory. But instead what they gave us was 1) We’ll roll the project back to the port and 2) You’re right, we need a privacy policy. We were sensitive to the fact that you can’t just say “no” all the time. You have to say “yes” to something. We didn’t want this project, but we also wanted the city to have privacy policies and privacy guidelines.

LR: So they were throwing you a bone!

TR: Yes. And we took the bone, and said “we will write a privacy policy for this thing at the port, and we will restrict its activities to keep people safe. And, moreover, you’re giving us this temporary Privacy Commission; but we want a permanent Privacy Commission. Forever. And we got it.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Random travels and micro-blogging and mystery hyperlinks

Really enjoying Steph Gray's family holiday updates of the randomised travel trip generated by Steph's home-grown app. The idea is half psychogeography, half healthy family adventure, and the updates are somewhere between a simple, enjoyable blog, and modern postcards of their daily fun.

It's great to see more exploratory, low-pressure, simple mixed media, micro-blogging around. It's something I've noticed Adrian Hon doing too, just dragging in snippets and updates from the net as needed, and covering a mix of content as well as format.

Technologists always want to tell you that One Thing is going to be the Next Big Thing. The 'blogosphere' is as guilty as Facebook and the Gopher resurgents in trying to persuade us that we need to choose a single platform as The Go-To Place. But as input devices become move from chunky keyboards to pen tablets to screen-based guesses to digital cameras to always-on personal data, how much sense does it make to have a single platform for your own publication? Why can't - or rather, why wouldn't - I spit out content in as many different ways as I have t-shirts? Who's to say that anyone must be able to see every piece of content that comes out of my brain?

Perhaps the future of personal identity is not in curating what content we publish alongside our avatar and bio, but in creating a sense of mystery around ourselves, in alluding to what isn't obvious to our own readers, a la Poppy. This idea has certain overlap with an Empty Technology idea, one infused by wu wei and taoism. As Lao Tzu put it:


"The Sage must dress in coarse robes while hiding precious jewels within his breast"


Perhaps content should open doors that you cannot walk through, questions your cannot answer, hyperlinks you cannot click.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Sci-fi vs Real world parodies

Paul Raven on Bezos and Iain M Banks, and Musk and Douglas Adams seems to dovetail into the counter-zeitgeist-literature thread nicely.


Musk appears to me less inspired by Hitchhiker’s, and more a character discarded from early drafts of it

Code vs Countries

Wendy Grossman picks up on the struggle that nation states are having over laws when the Internet has global reach. It's one of those debates that you can see coming from a mile off, I thought many years ago (back when Lawrence Lessing's Code book was still on version 1). But then I thought Facebook-scraping-data-for-power was also pretty obvious. What's wrong with me?

Anyway, good thoughts/questions on whether a global network forces states to go global too. Although shouldn't that have come a lot with the rise of Multinationals? Why the difference now? Because Code Is Borderless. For now.


I didn't realize how much I longed for a change of battleground until last week's Internet Law Works-in-Progress paper workshop, when for the first time I heard an approach that sounded like it might move the conversation beyond the crypto wars, the censorship battles, and the what-did-Facebook-do-to-our-democracy anguish. The paper was presented by Asaf Lubin, a Yale JSD candidate whose background includes a fellowship at Privacy International. In it, he suggested that while each of the many cases of international legal clash has been considered separately by the courts, the reality is that together they all form a pattern.

Scene as a memento of algorithms

Thinking a lot about culture networks recently. "Synth Britannia" on BBC mentions the crossover between early synth/punk bands, a bleak 70s urban backdrop, and JG Ballard's literature among others. This Mondo 2000 article looks back at the people and predictions hanging around the turn of the millennium, where virtual reality and drugs briefly overlapped.



I wondering what the zeitgeist is now, what the overarching human emotion is, cos in among the headlines about data and privacy and political control, it's hard to think for yourself. Everyone just seems to go along with the mainstream social media app these days, and the counter culture is often just another app, destined to be either bought up or imitated by the same elites you're running from.

The battle for our connection media goes hand-in-hand with the trends of our art and literature - because our art and literature are simply a way for us to work out just what the hell is going on. Our culture reflects our confusion as the world changes around us. Except now our modes of production are all defined by the culture we're trying to figure out. Instagram filters, Snapchat filters, iPhone camera modes, emoji - all of these are artifacts we inherit, and - more importantly - that are constrained by the apps we use. You can't hack an emoji, or a filter. Or can you?

I asked on Twitter what literature might represent the current zeitgeist. James suggested a few:

> Early le carre? Gibson's modern day trilogy. Warren Ellis's novels. The Europe in winter trilogy

So going have to check a few of those out. Thinking about it myself, I'm leaning towards certain chaoticism - maybe Thomas Pynchon. Or maybe something more naively magical - Murakami, or Gabriel García Márquez. Or something darker and more fatalistic, along the lines of Margaret Attwood.

Reminder to myself: I need to read more novels.

As our culture becomes more and more co-created (as in, the memetic process of rapid online comms combines with faster and faster, more automated filtering and feedback loops), is there even "a zeitgeist" anymore? Or are we subjected to a thousand zeitgeists a day - or, more likely, two opposing zeitgeists that are purely emotionally defined by each other?

Or, to jot out a third way, will our tools - and thus our mediums, and our culture - allow us to see outside of that process, to something else?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

2018-03-29



Start of spring but feels like Christmas. Taking some time off after Easter, which means wrapping up life in a few short days. Must be weird when you have to put your whole life in order. If a week's break forces a few priorities, I wonder what matters when you're heading into the final vacation.

It's been a long week, cognitively and emotionally, and I've only just noticed how shattered and drained I am as the dust settles. A good one, but a long one. I'm thinking about killing Twitter on my phone while I'm off, silence the noise. I wish there was a way to just have mentions and DMs, and not the chatter. Maybe I'll just reconfigure my client (I use Plume on Android) and remove all the timeline columns. Back pedal, to direct comms. For everything else, there's email and RSS. I don't get the same unprecedented fear of FOMO and babble from these. A saner network, somehow. Radiodroid for a background soundtrack.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Because blogging

Linking to what I can only describe as Paul Raven's Ode to Blogging because

1. I am in so much of the same space in terms of audience and effort vs micro-attention

2. Blogging needs to reclaim its stake as a form of discourse and that this form has value, societally.

As such, 3. Sometimes, mere use of the medium - i.e. A blogpost instead of a tweet - is enough to keep the form of discourse alive, despite not necessarily having anything to add to the argument itself. The art of creating a blogpost is fundamentally different to that of shoving a tweet out into the world.

Meanwhile here is a picture.


Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Build the next punk layer


"I hadn't wholly mapped out my talk, leaving a section open for improvisation and the whims of fate."
- Patti Smith, M Train


It's Wednesday night and we're recovering from the shock of a pale layer of snow this morning. There are times when being a parent has this background emotion, a kind of cross between nostalgia and hilarity, like your entire life so far has been a brilliant, joyous waste of time.

Anyway, I'm currently digging through M Train by Patti Smith, which called out to me in a tiny bookshop in Hastings, tucked away off the old town, lined with home made journals and notebooks. M Train lured me in with its insistent monochrome cover, dammit. I paid in cash because it felt right.

On page 64, Smith mentions her connection to William Burroughs and the Beat generation. Coincidentally (?), Burroughs also came up this morning (or was it yesterday? I don't do time anymore) in this conversation between Tim Leary and William Gibson, on the overlap with Neuromancer. I'm going to have to go back and read that, it's been far too long.

Among all this, I'm struck by a certain situatedness, a resonance with a particular point in history. Maybe that I'm an 80s child, that odd era filled with indulgence and never really questioned or relinquished.

It's weird talking to people 10 years younger than me now. I lent the film Hackers to someone at work (a fellow politically-minded developer) and he remarked that he couldn't really tell what technology in the film was "real" and what wasn't. The 90s were incredible, looking back, but my own field of vision, I realise, was guided by trying to make sense of the sheer surrealismof Thatcherism, of the indulgence of the 80s. And as the "cyber" (so big right now, but so life-cha(lle)nging back then!) kicked in, its edge-based, alternative populace brought with it all the counter culture of the previous generation.

There are layers of punk here. Punk isn't really the Sex Pistols and safety pins and hair and what the mainstream have come to perceive it as. It's always been about challenging, about presenting something different.

And so much of it has been captured and exploited and packaged and sold on, yeah. But a lot hasn't - a lot of those layers, from blues down to maker culture, have become embedded in our infrastructure, to the point we forget they're there.

As an 80s kid, it's my duty to resurrect that, to carry the message on and set out the next layer of punk maturing. Drugs and Cyber have been done, and Nostalgia is ready to get in the way and disrupt that regenerative process.

Fuck nostalgia. Build the Punk.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Blogging aka Strut Your Stuff on the Catwalk

It's five past 10 on a Friday night, so it feels like the right time to link to Warren Ellis' post, 'Reblog, or: Little Radio Stations in the Night', a quick missive on the joy of blogging and RSS feeds. Ironically, fittingly, I first read it via my RSS feed. it summons up perverse thoughts of shouting into the dark, speaking to the hidden. Sometimes, simple blogging feels like the antithesis of modern communication with so much tracking and clapping and liking and shit.

This uncontrolled, federated blogging scene (can I call it a scene? I like to think so, and sounds better than 'blogosphere') captures a lot of an ongoing trend to re-engage. But not necessarily re-engage with people - although people are part of it, really this is how we engage with content. Not just the content itself, but the whole shebang - the rationale and effort behind it, the short, sharp paragraphs, and the style that we muster as we hit the publish button.

(I see a similar trend with people moving to fucking gopher (and am, in fact, tempted to try it out) - there's a purity in text, and a pride in simplicity.)

Content has been through the wash - it's so lazy now, so convenient, and anyone that cares about what they read has had enough. Facebook and Twitter were never about the joy of content, just the quick fire weak connections - which is fine, so long as you you don't confuse connectionism with style. Mainstream 'content' is homogenous, like cheap chocolate. People are craving differentiation again. Personalisation.

Blogging has everything in common with fashion - both are brought together through a desire to fully express what one knows and feels. From punctuation styles, to awkwardly-hung CSS. We're all trying to find our voice out here in the wild.

Start a blog, or a newsletter, or a photocopied snail-mailout. Form sentences. Discover paragraphs. Write because you can.

(And send me a link when you do. My RSS feed reader hasn't crashed my Raspberry Pi yet.)

Disco.very Tech.nology

OK, I admit it, 'Night Flight to Venus' by Boney M is one of my favourite albums. I inherited the LP from my dad and, having not heard it before, got lured into its cheesy disco cover, and then trapped by its driving opening drums. I was 30 years late to the party, but it was an amazing listen. It was hard to put it on and not dance around, not feel happy.

This week, there's news of a disco ball in space. Called the 'Humanity Star', this spinning shape is intended to encourage us all to "feel a connection to our place in it and think a little differently about their lives."

This isn't a new thing - NASA reported on at least one other cosmic disco ball, back in 2001. In a world where airspace has been mastered, and the individualist consumer drives the global economy, the idea of personal satellites seems inevitable, even if the effects of such won't be felt for another hundred years or more. (Update: IFTF played with this idea nine years ago too.)

At first I wondered if we urgently need more art projects like this, as the Doomsday Clock carries humanity closer to a long, dark night. Then I realised it's not art that is important here. Art is just a mirror. If we don't stop to look at it, then we won't see anything. No, maybe the saviour here is Disco all along.

Similarly, it was Disco that was chosen by the English Disco Lovers to fight back against the EDL. But even there, it wasn't deliberate. As the Wikipedia page quotes:

"I don't think any of us could say we were disco fans before, but as we've heard more and grown to understand the message, we've found ourselves identifying with it."

Did the (new) EDL just happen to choose Disco, or more ominously, did Disco choose them?

Disco. Discs, spinning through space, like our own little planet. Discovery, the revolutionary aspect of re-finding our own species. Disco-theque, Discovery Technology. What goes around comes around, and you might as well glam up.

We stared at the Moon from the centre of the Sun

Quick post from the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne after visiting 'We stared at the Moon from the centre of the Sun', curated by Haroon Mirza. I have a day off, and I'm not going to spend it on boring things like fixing fences.

WSATMFTCOTS (my own acronym) splits the Towner gallery's bottom floor into two - a dark side, and a light side. Despite the title, there's no interaction between the two spaces, and each acts according to its own devices.

Mirza intends to "trigger reflection and individual interpretation", which is good because that's how I tend to approach any gallery. He also draws heavily on circles, electricity, and a mix of near-natural structures and signs, and more modern manifestations.

I'm not going to offer any particular interpretation or judgement - firstly it's a personal thing, and secondly, it's an experiential thing. But hopefully the photos below offer some sort of personal reflection/curation of another's personal reflection/curation. I did enjoy it though.











Monday, January 01, 2018

2017 in own technology and fragmentary digital existences

The last post was about work and family. Together these added up to about 100% of my time. But I had some leisure time on top of that. A lot of that was taken up with infrastructure, and other technical movements. 2017 has been a year of quite a lot of behind-the-scenes, I think. I don't really have the time to blog about it, so here's a quick summary.

In general, my general trend has been to retreat from corporate networks. It's clear that mainstream capitalist tech is primarily interested in acting in its own interests - users must benefit from progress in order for those interests to be advanced, but users are readily thrown under a truck when the time comes. I'm not happy with that. Neither should you be.

I've been running a Raspberry Pi as a home server for a while now - this is currently hosting an installation of tt-rss as my feed aggregator, and wallabag as a link collector, plus a few extra sites and scripts I've hacked together. For example, to avoid Facebook, one of these scripts monitors some Dropbox folders shared between the family, and emails us updates for photos and videos. It's a hack that keeps me in touch with "expected interactions" that capitalist tech has foisted on us.

The flipside of being in control of your own data is that you're in control of your data, and the systems that run it. That means spending a fair while updating OSes, making sure backups happen, fixing things, working out free SSL, and so on. It can be a full time job, and it's only been in the last 4-5 months that things have settled down a bit. There must be some really masochistic part of me that has kept these things going. (A second Pi runs DLNA and, more recently, file syncing as a Dropbox alternative, but still requires upkeep.)

In terms of third parties, I've started using some alternative sources and networks more fully. F-Droid has been great for discovering free, open-source software for Android. I've been hanging about on gnu/social more via my LoadAverage.org account, and recently signed up for the (slightly different?) Mastodon network via an SDF account. In fact, I've been having a lot of retro-fun signing up for SDF in the last couple of months, and may even move to Gopherspace. Deal with it.

I've also been blogging a lot more about my work,  which has taken a lot of my writing energy - I've been writing more, but in a slightly more reflective but less creative way, I think. I don't know how to balance diarising with blogging yet, it's something I don't think I can feel at ease with however I do it, so long as I set myself standards beyond the capacity I have. Maybe I should just become a full time writer...

Anyway, so I feel like I've established a lot of foundations, even if there's not necessarily much to show for it. There aren't many new "public" "projects" per se - I have a few longer term photo projects in the background, but nothing grandiose to point to this year. In 2018, I'd like to move back towards open-source again (I used to run BSD and Linux as a matter of course, 15 years ago) and keep thinking about getting a decent laptop to run Linux on.

I want to spread myself across the internet, get back to the deep hills again. It feels like I'd be leaving friends behind, like Basho venturing out across Japan. Maybe some of them will accompany me, but otherwise I guess we'll always have IRL? So far though, it feels like getting off the mainstream is hard, and to do it en masse is even harder. How can we go on meaningful digital journeys when returning home is just a footstep away?

So it feels good at least - exciting, change is coming, something different is better than this old status quo.

See you out there in the wilderness somewhere.

2017 was actually pretty busy now that I think about it

2017.

2017 was a strange year. Strange for its normality. Like I was returning to a world I never recalled being in before, familiar but in a subconscious, subdermal way, not quite meeting my eyes.

I started out in a foreign zone, entering the year as an interim CEO for the first time in my life. It’s pretty amazing to inherit a company, but not something they teach you at school. Not that that matters much. It was a strange but exciting place to be, but on the whole - at the moment - a bit like my PhD experience. I’m proud to say I’ve been there and been able to do it. But my focuses are different. The timing is wrong.

But aside from that, work has formed a large 50% of my year, emotionally speaking. Stepping away from any “chief” role doesn’t imply you’re out of work. On the other hand, I think I achieved a lot this year - just none of it really planned or expected. (And not just me - we have a great team. but this is my blog, my story.)

We had to drag the company business model into a new version, and at the same time there were some hard, upsetting, joyous decisions to make and actions to take along the way. The team I’d assembled over the last few years fragmented a little - it was the first time I’d “lost” even one of my direct employees, let alone two. I’m simultaneously sad I couldn’t give them more and retain them, and proud of what they’ve achieved and what they’ll go onto become. We do what we can.

So as well as seeing my direct team through changes, I was also picking up product strategy still, and trying to guide projects (long and short term) through the dark hills to some kind of end point. A lot of my learning here has been about either drawing things to a point where it’s possible, and supporting projects through tough times where it’s not. The two ends of the spectrum are completely different, but maybe I’ve calibrated my project and product management skills as a result. We’ll see in 2018.

I’ve also picked up a hell of a lot about company admin - finances, laws, and so on. There’s so much here, I don’t know how anyone runs a company by themselves, to be honest. Main Lesson from 2017: It’s all about who you have on your side. The right people make the difference between success and failure. Sanity and madness. 2017 has been such a “people” year for me.

But we made it through, and all the hard work seems to be paying off. It’s only now, after Christmas, as advent nurses its hangover, that I can look back and really see how busy, stressful, productive it’s been.

And all the while, in the “background” (from a work perspective), the other 50% has been happening too - the “normal” life of a  nuclear family.

It’s harder to write about this side though. While work has “goals”, “objectives”, “strategies”, “documents” and “project management systems”, family life has all the same needs, stresses, and relationships, but none of the structure or tools. It’s impossible to describe how jarring this is, how the juxtaposition - separated by just 40 minutes of travel time, subjected to the rhythm of routine - how it can addle your brain and take over your every presence.

I’ve started seeing a physio this year, because bits of me (mostly my right hand side) don’t work quite as well as they used to. But I know it’s because of an overall tiredness, a lack of energy that ribbons its way between neurons and tendons and literally broken dreams. If I was sensible, I’d parallel the physio appointments with therapy, or the closes I could get to a “mental physio”. I’m really, really glad I have a history of mindfulness and decent whisky. I don’t know how everyone else copes. Actually I do, we’re all on drugs.

Which is not to say I’m complaining about a hard life. I wouldn’t give it up or change it, for so many reasons. Seasoned parents never really talk about the good side of parenting for various reasons - too busy sorting out school lunches, it feels like you’re jinxing something, it’s more productive to bitch about the stuff that needs bitching about, and sometimes, TBH, there are just no words for how mad and joyous it can all get. Sometimes though, all you need is just a certain look on another parent’s face to know it’s all worth it, it’s not all in tired vain.

So 2017 has been about hospital trips and newly-established social circles and story-writing and impromptu music jams and daft Lego inventions and learning all the Pokemon and dens in the forest.

And mostly it’s been about stepping back and watching other people develop.

Which, if you can feel like you’re even slightly responsible for it, is the best feeling in the world.