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 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 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.