Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sunday feed changes

Clawing some time back to tend to various personal projects, including how feeds get passed around. In the background I'm playing with rss-to-gnusocial, and it's great that loadaverage. org now has ActivityPub support, for Mastodon and Pleroma compatibility. I have a strange situation whereby my replies there go to Twitter without any context, but I'm oddly enjoying the slight surrealism going on.

If you're subscribed to the universal feed at then you've probably just seen an influx of Beamspun posts being added. Future (irregular) posts will show up from now on.

Happy Sunday everyone!

Monday, September 07, 2020

Morning, harvest

How are you today?

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Rubbish activism

Weeds and vodka - worst guerrilla gardening ever.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Notebooks on display

Mentioned doing a notebook round-up in a previous post, so here we go 🤗 I've always used notebooks (and kept them, much to my storage system's chagrin) but recently I've been choosing them with more "intent". I'm trying out a notebook to capture each project or set of thoughts, and half the fun is choosing one which I think will capture and reinforce those thoughts as they get entered in.

Top row from left to right:

1. Taopunk-imaginary-lands - a background project to explore a made up place capturing taopunk values.

2. Symbol doodling - blurring into logos and diagrams, for when images are more powerful than words.

3. Beamspun - for ongoing and emerging thoughts (currently around the idea of Disruption in all its forms) for the Beamspun blog/newsletter project.

Bottom row:

4. Handmade fractal-scribed black paper notebook, to use the lovely new white-inked pen the wife got me. This one is for current thoughts on splitting and re-joining identities, existence and so on. Somewhere between taopunk and Twin Peaks. The cover is experimental, but I'd like to make more in the same vein.

5. Collecting together a story being prompted by the first Paper Arcade volume - two more sections to go, but I'm enjoying the exercise, even if it's stalled for a while. Ink feels so much more final than digital, even when I know it's not.

6. For I Ching readings.

Notebooks. For when screens are too bright.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Network is the Weapon

I recommend a read through this FT article on Cognitive Hackig, TikTok and the use of AI to hook users - it's not too revelatory if you've been following tech news, but it's succinct and well researched, and sadly I don't think the message about the dangers of modern tech is being spread widely enough (he says, still posting to a Google blog...)

In particular though, we can start to see the extension of Web 2.0 to perhaps 3.0. Whereas 2.0 was, in hindsight, all about turning the user into the Product, the new round seems to be about turning the user into a Weapon - the phrase "weaponising" is becoming increasingly employed around our own behaviour, and the actions we trigger through how we amplify and endorse political emotion disguised as information. (This could be an alternative definition of "disinformation", in fact.)

Suddenly the naivety of myself 'just' abandoning social networks is thrown into a new light. The control of online behaviour is likely to turn increasingly into a battle for a wider power than advertising money. Indeed, given the capture of politics by capitalism in the first place, it's almost strange that the separation of more overt politics has been kept so distinct already.

This s an intriguing development biting at the West - the networks and techniques developed around user addiction and big data have made their way into states with mass population control in their blood and intents, and nobody seems really sure about how to detach big money from big states. Europe is defining the battle along personal information lines (such as GDPR) which is good, but needs more encouragement for users to engage and understand data and why it's becoming dangerous. America are adopting the old wartime spirit of using national borders to fend off influence, but mainly because they want that control for themselves - see TikTok.

And the third aspect in the mix is, well, until at what point do we actually understand what our own deep-scanning algorithms are doing? At what key event of complexity does some emergent system behaviour produce shocks that we can't predict, and don't have the paradigm to analyse and interpret, let alone the scientific and social solutions.

You are the Weapon. As the networked surveillance technology permeates ever more into not just our devices but our streets too (hello COVID and smart cities, looking at you), the ability to track and influence populations will become ever more like a tabletop game with thousands, millions, billions of tokens. You, and all your friend, are the new soldiers.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

August 2020

Writing. Hard. Not feeling the energy or mood to really get words into a
publishable form at the moment, but I figure it's good practice.
Cohesiveness is not my middle name at the moment, although partly that's
because I'm also being cohesive in many different areas. Summer has
turned into a routine, but one broken up by the novelty of routine. I'm
working on a lot of things, just not in my usual places of output, not
at my usual speed.

In the tech corner, I've been continuing my solar power trials, and been
running a laptop off solar power for a few months now. This is the first
time it's hit the mains in a while. I should write that up on the 6suns
blog. The solar power side has tied in with more time in the garden,
growing things, trying to reconnect and relax. That's also kept me away
from online interaction so much too - I had a couple of months where I
didn't really worry about email or RSS streams (and I'm not really 'on'
Twitter or Mastodon much any more). That's been an interesting shift -
growing things and solar power share a mindset which is quite different
to modern digital living: a cultivation and storage of energy in order
to grow, rather than a constant barrage of pressured actions, each
isolated from the last. The two don't necessarily mesh well either - I
struggle to post simple updates of what's growing (beyond the odd photo
of an unexpected event, such as caterpillars). The pace of energy
cultivation is a slow and careful one.

I've also been playing with syncthing again, for local-device
synchronisation. I keep having plans to sort out all my digital notes
and combine them with my online outputs, and have been using rsync a lot
more over the last year. It would be nice to not be dependent on
Dropbox, but contingency is a big part of plans once you move more
towards self-hosting. Also, Markdown parsing and HTML output always seem
to take up more time than it should.

I've been writing - I'm two chapters/playing cards away from a first
draft of "something", a journalling "game" providing 13 structured
prompts via a deck of cards. It started out quite fast, and I love the
feel of pen on paper, but I'm not a great completer-finisher. I think I
know where I want the last paragraphs to go, but in my head there are
some critical gaps I know I want to fill still, and I struggle to make
the time to carve out those final links.

I've been learning some Roblox coding, which has been fun to learn a new
framework - especially one which produces 3D worlds at the drop of a
mouse button. It's bizzarely exciting to be able to create worlds so
quickly - previous worlds were built on top of other people's Java to
create MUDs, or have been simple maps. I seem to be doing a few bits of
worldbuilding currently. Anyway, I'm thinking maybe an virtual gallery
to bring in some of my photography might be a good exercise.

Speaking of photography, I've been shooting film again but need to bite
the (expensive) bullet to get haf a dozen rolls developed. I'm getting
back into some experimentation - both analogue and digitally - but seem
to have reached a point where I overthink publishing the results, and so
a lot of it ends up gathering silverdust. I'm middle aged, and know too
much, it seems. But there are some really interesting ideas emerging
around virtual travel, in-game photography, and the interfaces we see
the world through. I've been on a few 'excursions' and got some
intriguing shots, but curating and publishing them is a whole 'nother
exploration in itself.

I've also been reading and playing old games a lot. It's funny going
back to basics - being disconnected while you enjoy things. Modern
content consumption definitely feels "supervised" now - the way we
report on what we're doing on a daily basis, or our attention gets
automatically shared, or recommendations and tailored ads seep into the
worlds we inhabit. It's liberating to be off-line these days, to just
read for the pleasure of reading without worrying about what's next or
who's going to like if you've liked it or not. Nobody knows what I've
been playing on my Gameboy Advance, and it feels like my own experience

And I have half-a-dozen notebooks on the go, each for various strands of
thought. I like thoughts. I like notebooks. But it's getting a little
silly, especially as the original idea was to keep them close to hand -
carrying four pads around with me isn't efficient. That might be a
future post though, a snapshot of notebooks.

Otherwise I think lockdown and COVID are affecting me in subtle ways I
don't quite get. I can spend more time in the garden and less time
around people - half of me is still liking indulging in the solitude,
but the social side of me is craving a good pub night out. I've been
camping in France for a week, which was great, but threw me a little
too. I'm constantly wondering how much I really 'need', and yet remain
attached to the odd bargain and amusements. A bit of me really, really
wants to go full indieweb / solar nomad / money-free, but to do so would
be to let go of so much in my head.

But hey, I have a notebook for that, so it'll work out.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Yussef Agbo-Ola on Design, Architecture and Systemic Design

A bunch of fascinating ideas intertwining in this interview:

"There is a long ideological history related to the ways humans control both the environment and Earth's systems instead of understanding design as collaboration within them."

There is also a good part on "quiet observing" as the start of letting design come forth, rather than be owned by "the designer":

"When travelling to these places my aim is to become empty so the place can speak to me through its built structures and cultural beliefs. I make it a priority to allow the peopl, plants, buildings, textiles, mountains, landscapes, etc. to educate me through the duration of the journey"

I like this idea that design is just a way to bring together diversity, transform it into creativity - that we become conduits for something evolving or re-expressing itself, rather than some superhero capable of creating something "new" and "exclusive".

Art and Construction shouldn't be seen as separate. If we're happy taking photos of the world or sketching it or writing poetry about it, this is design, and we can recognise that the same skills flow through us and can be both 'practical' and/or 'aesthetic' as much as we choose.

A printed photo can also provide shade.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

This Is Still Not A Game, Yet

Rather excellent look from Adrian Hon at QAnon, internet conspiracies, ARGs, politics of disinformation, and - ultimately - our own desire for puzzle-solving, discovery and community. 

QAnon fills the void of information that states have created – not with facts, but with fantasy. If we don't want QAnon to fill that void, someone else has to. Government institutions can't be relied upon to do this sustainably, given how underfunded and politicised they've become in recent years. Traditional journalism has also struggled against its own challenges of opacity and lack of resources. So maybe that someone is… us.

Also bonus points for bringing back a few Perplex City memories, too.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Doing nothing

A strange feeling hit me earlier this week. I stopped after the usual long day, and did nothing. I felt close to bored, but it wasn't as extreme, more akin to just being settled, as if the mind had finally sunk down, among the broken currents of routine and restlessness. I felt no urge to do anything, to enjoy my time, to value it. The content and purpose of leisure fell away. I sat in the garden and watched a multitude of bats swoop low.

Perhaps it was from tiredness. Perhaps it was from holding off alcohol for a day. Don't know, but I know I've been so busy, had so many things on the go. It was pleasant to know all of that was just tasks and distractions, that the world is something we choose to do, even while it always feels like something we must do.

It was pleasant to do nothing, and not feel guilty about it.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Minimum Viable Post

Sitting here with a whisky, thinking about the overload of consumption and communication, and our relationship with time. I wish I had more separation between me and the world - tailor the instantaneous nature of netcomms back to emergencies. I wish people just communicated by photos and postcards in the mail, each picture being a thousand words and all that.

What would Minimum Viable Post look like, just to let people know you were thinking of them, a slow-time visual version of Yo! maybe? I like zink printing - you don't have to buy ink and there's little waste. I wonder if you can get bigger zink printers than my little one, but in the meantime, maybe I'll just stick a small photo onto a larger piece of card. Minimum.

What about non-urgent comms as a form of gift culture?

Friday, June 19, 2020

Packaging shout outs

Yeah this is how this blog works now. What I find interesting after 3 months in lockdown. Send mind-freeing matter. Anyway, impressed with unexpected all-paper and card packaging from, and from

The Medium is the Message. The Product is the Packaging. We arrive and our arrival is a part of who we are.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Looking to try out Scuttlebutt/Manyverse

Looking for a few people to try out Manyverse/Scuttlebutt with (Android & iOS) - no local contact needed, just vague enthusiasm for irregular posting to another stream. Get in touch (personal channel, leave a comment, or via other routes) if you're into experimental social media?

I'm pretty sure intermittent networks are a natural consequence of solar powered computing...

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Walking magics, Batman - What I'm reading

Just read James' South Downs Way zine that arrived in the post (see last post, blog post post) and wanted to add a note here that you should go and ask him for a copy. It's short but so very well crafted, with hints of journeys and lives criss-crossing like ley lines. I know James is exploring some sort of 'magic of walking' theme (in the book, in his broader project, in life, who knows?) and the zine is infused with a real sense of that. Not to be missed.

Elsewhere I'm getting back into graphic novels a bit. Mrs Scribe watched the new Joker film which I sort of got bored of halfway through, but it did make me want to re-read a whole bunch of Batman, and catch all the classics I've never read. So step one has been to order in The Black Casebook and The Killing Joke - the first is based on this Grant Morrison reading timeline, and TBH I don't think I've read the latter, which is exciting but slightly sad. Anyway, I'll hit those up then dig into the rest of the Morrison plots.

And I'm also browsing the Amulet books by Kazu Kibuishi, as I found them on my local library's ebook list. The first two are a good romp, here's a screenshot of one of my favourite scenes:


Friday, May 22, 2020


Getting slack on posting about post. Changing that quickly. Post has become my way of seeing parts of other worlds a little bit, and I'm annoyed I'm not sending more, but there we go. Maybe this post will spark something...

Right: A lovely fresh copy of James' new South Downs Way zine which I'm looking forward to reading.

Left: The wife knows me well, and found this fascinating-looking book on the green man and Britain for my birthday.

Right: Wow, my Jocu Green Man card decks arrived finally, complete with booklet and custom coins. I'm giving the coins to the kids to help them celebrate the Green Man, and I'm afraid to break the seals on the cards, but also want to use them to instigate all kinds of sorcery.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Quick Seaford Head visit

Took the kids for a walk up Seaford Head yesterday... 

It seemed very strange to see so many people around. I've adjusted to solitude, I think. 

Also strange and oddly saddening to see more aeroplane contrails than I'm used to, but maybe that's just the fresh view. 

The golf course re-opens tomorrow, so it'll be harder to get shots like this I guess. 

Good to get back on the paths again though. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Saturday morning braindump

Hey blog, sup? Thought I'd do a random check-in as, somehow, mercifully, weekend lie-ins seem to be coming back into fashion after a decade or something. The boys are playing Minecraft on the Wii U, which proves some things don't change. 

Life is same / not-same, and I'm wondering if the changes have been more profoundly subtle than I have taken for granted so far. In general, nothing has been removed. Yet plenty has been added, and I jump around things - often literally, when I'm wanted on the trampoline or a good tune comes on the kitchen radio, but usually mentally with a monkey mind. 

Some threads going on... 

Home schooling two kids means you're being asked to look at 3 or 4 different mini research areas at a time, in addition to looking after some basic maths and literacy practice. This week we've been looking up Ramadan and rainforests (not been able to factor in a reading of the Vorrh, sadly), life-drawing snails, making up a collaborative cards/2D10 numbers game, making alien maps, etc.

Work seems to have exploded, although I don't think it's virus related. It seems to be more the fact that everyone is looking into a bunch of massively complex and often frustrating things at the same time, pulling out a few roots, and I'm needed in a lot of them somehow. Constantly jumping between devops task wrangling, annual reviews, and company strategy headscratching. Buh. 

Enjoying doing the new Beamspun newsletter, but I've got lazy this week and not bookmarked any links in advance, so going to have to catch up on that this morning. Finding links, checking out links, and even writing a few small but interesting paragraphs definitely not to be underestimated. It's also making me think a lot about narrative and power and storytelling, and I wish I had time for more of that right now. 

Generally I think I'm getting a metric buttload of ideas going through me as everything has gone either weird or disruptive, and my brain wants to turn that into "outputs". I'm even posting to Flickr again, and sending photos to various contacts. I think photography is my goto mode for dealing with things, like my form of therapy - a way to get something positive, reflective and even beautiful out of the chaos around me. See, now I'm thinking about running "photography as therapy" support sessions for people. Shush, brain! 

Also, there are no decent steganography apps for Android, and/or the Web 2.0 does a great job of mangling raw image files that get uploaded? 

I would dearly like to be able to go to the Post Office safely again, so I can offer bigger things and international post on my Etsy shop, which is currently "on holiday". But the PO, with its close-quarter shelves and many vulnerable people in multiple queues, seems like an irresponsible place to go for frivolities at the mo. 

Reading quite a bit (for me) which is really nice. I'll carry on posting updates on Goodreads when I can. 

Last weekend of being 40. Time to get on with being proper middle-aged from Monday. Already got whisky and a red car and a book of crosswords though, so I think I'll just skip to the next stage of full blown Con Club membership and feel young again. 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Music 11.5.20

This morning's listening: Catching up on GHOSTS V and GHOSTS VI, released by NIN back in March for free. A bunch of unexpected Monday morning organising needed at work suddenly, so some epic and calming stuff is proper what I need.

Music what reminds you to breathe and see through structures.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Blogger sprucey

And of course less than a month after my post describing Blogger as "antiquated", they only go and give the thing a UI spruce-up, don't they? Maybe there are only 4 of us using it still and so we all get listened to intently.

Not sure whether to be pleased that Googly is giving it some love, or afraid.

Valuing humans and stopping in an age of profit

Just posted this in a semi-private forum, but wanted to keep a record of it, and open it out a little. I don't know - I think the ideas here tie in with my daily work, which I'm reflecting on a lot as a result of working from home full time. But also they tie in with ideas of simplicity and minimalism coming out of solar- and tao-punk ongoing 'practice'.

The forum started chatting about the value of doing nothing, and why this seems like a rarity these days. There were two threads which I summarised below, but I'm keenly aware there are whole histories of work, religion, productivity and wellbeing that I am mostly occluding for the sake of my own sanity.

1. Up until the rise of a) technological automation and b) money-generating-money (call this 'economic automation'), manual labour was a key part of society. Not only did it keep companies profitable and countries with armies, but it also meant that people were kept 'engaged' in work.

(Note - This 'engagement' covers a broad spectrum of willingness, from slavery through to some sort of idyllic notion of 'working the land'.)

During this time, many ideas in society developed to keep people both 'hygienic' (physically and mentally well) and 'productive'. The idea that 'the devil makes work for idle hands' and that toil keeps us focused is still around today - and for good reason. Knowing what you need to do - whether set by yourself or others - is a fundamental part of identity.

However, after the onset of automation (technical and economic) in the last 200 years, the value of manual labour has declined - or, to put it another way, the relationship between labour as valuable to the individual, and to others, has unravelled. While society does still depend largely on manual labour (eg to pick fruit and veg, as the UK is finding out...), it is a lifestyle which is increasingly hard to think of as 'reliable'.

The narrative has shifted, perhaps, from 'work keeps you fit and sane', to 'mental health is important, so meditate'. Taking breaks, talking through issues, using apps, etc - all these are responses to such things not being valued in our work more broadly, not being a part of *what we do as groups*.

I find this strange. Why do we devalue our own sense of health in order to fit in as robots? And should we look to organisations to lay on counsellors and massages, or should we be trying harder - as employees - to request and/or enforce "more healthy work activities" to start with? What could that look like for different industries?


2. Which brings us back to valuing silence. Because silence is the ultimate example of this - the antithesis of busy business with its always-on, visible production modes.

Silence represents stopping, a lack of output, inaction. It is a terrible and fearsome thing. It cannot be measured or improved, and is fairly difficult to even communicate. And yet, through silence, we reach ideas and realisations. We rest and reflect.

The "old" ritual of church-going and prayer on a Sunday (some of you may still do this) - was/is this a deliberate interjection from the never-ending world of work? (Agriculture is hard and constant.) In the rush to lose religion from society, did we just charge into a world of always-connected-work, and then always-connected-distraction?

Do we now reject silence, afraid that we're either not generating income, or not getting the most out of our expenditure? Have we each become our own little mirror of a profitable enterprise?

Is to embrace silence to laugh in the face of 'profit' then? To accept that to be human is to stop and just exist for a while? Why is this such a 'guilty' pleasure these days - unless stopping makes you anxious?


That's as far as I've got. I carry on looking around me and seeing everyone rushing about, even in lockdown. It feels ... odd. I'm off to have a beer in the wind.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Scattered seedlings

Checked the garden seedlings this morning, only to find one of the trays had been scattered and shredded in the night, by a fox I assume. The local youths aren't that bad. We gathered up the shoots we could find and hastily reported them. Hopefully we'll have turnips in the autumn yet. 

Lazy long weekend here. Bit of a break from screens, trying to reset the mind a bit and bring it back in line with the shoulders and the abdomen. Everything still strange, but the people I talk to seem to prefer it. Feeling oddly hopeful, perhaps. Are we allowed to? 

Sunday, May 03, 2020

A stone lighter

Bit the bullet this weekend, with the help of Mrs Scribe. Won't post the selfie. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Life in Life

This recursive Life video did actually do my noodle in.

Friday, April 17, 2020

New site, Newsletters, and Old Platforms

I've decided to start a solarpunk-type weekly newsletter called Beamspun because a) you can never have enough blogs, can you? and b) I clearly don't have the time for it right now. I figure if I can run a quick weekly post when things are chaotic, then surely it will get easier when we begin to get some routine back. Right? Riiiiight?

[Anyway, the newsletter is 'solarpunkish', but I'm aiming for a bit more of a mix of practical things around reducing energy, drawing on renewables, considering our sources, but also more around the more spiritual and mystical nature of living in accordance with the earth and the universe that bears us. So it overlaps with the old Empty Technology thread and Taopunk, of course. Everything is connected.]

But this post is part announcement, and part musing. In particular, why did I choose to start the new blog on

I mean, there are at least 3 newsletter services and softwares out there which I was going to try, in addition to the option of running something more 'modern' like Wordpress. What gives?

I started on Blogger back in July 2003, apparently. I've used it to run a few blogs over the years, as well as said Wordpress. I self-host my work weeknotes on Wordpress on a Raspberry Pi, for instance. It works, for the most part. It could do it.

It feels ... antiquated to run up a new site. Google don't have a great track record in keeping services going. Blogger doesn't get much love or attention these days. Am I just middle-aged and stuck-in-my-ways? Am I even nostalgic?

To break it down, there were a few requirements I had in mind for the new blog:

  • People need to subscribe to posts via e-mail
  • People need to subscribe to posts via RSS or Atom - this is important for me, at least
  • I like running blogs under a subdomain of these days
  • I don't want to pay money?
The requirements were slightly different to other outlets I have - I want to ensure uptime, I don't really need to email in (which I often do for shorter posts, via mobile), etc.

So I went with because it was a pretty minimal viable setup, and I could get it up and running in less than an hour, including feedburner setup and integration for email subscriptions, and adding a custom subdomain with HTTPS enabled. All went super smooth.

I do still worry about Google taking away, and yes, I do still prefer to self-host. But seems to be outlasting all their other social efforts like even Google+. It's like a rock which has stood since the roman days of the internet, and you don't even need to pay for it, or run ads? (Tell me if you see ads. I have adblockers switched on all over the place.)

I'd better go and find something wooden to touch now. Ulp.

So yeah, Oddly, it's still there, and still does what I want. WTF?

Thursday, April 09, 2020

The other world outside

I stood outside at 8pm, listening to the applause and cheers, the air horns and the rattled tins, and - furher off - the sound of the sea, persistent and elusive as always. 

Peering over the garden gate, I saw the pigeons scattering around the air, dancing with the woodsmoke just blossoming in the vaguely cold evening. They had dislodged themselves along the uproar and I wondered if they were confused more than alarmed. Maybe they thought this some new form of deterrent, a decentralisation of scarecrow technology? 

I turned back to the guinea pig in my arms. Worlds apart, we move on with life amid life that moves on regardless of us. 

Return to the grass

Brucie and Noodles say hi. 

A blade of grass in a microscope speaks more of the full moon than any text. 

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Minor feed fixes

A few feed bugs around in my ecosystem today - moving server has changed a lot of the blocks I've settled on over 15 years, which is the risk of hooking together weird htaccess files, IMAP folders, and god-knows-what. Most things are getting resolved bit-by-bit, with tinyletter-to-IMAP-to-RSS almost working. I think the base RSS feeds (without the .php extension) for Disposable Evidence and Grey Pebbles are currently down, but should be fixed this weekend. If you use their RSS feeds, or my overall-RSS-feed, hold tight and things will resolve in due course...

The joy of being a geek, huh?

In other worlds, I can't decide between splashing out on a very large battery, or just buy loads of books. Either way, bring on the future world.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Ribbons in the trees

Taken from River Notes, by Riitta Päiväläinen.

"It races through the landscape, entwines, weaves into
giant knots, rosettes, cobwebs and labyrinths."

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Of morbid charts and shifting curves [updated]

My news setup is pretty locked down at the moment - has been for a while now, but right now I'm carefully monitoring news 'articles' coming into the country that is my own awareness. Broadly, I'm running off a mix of:
  • RSS feeds for some friends, interesting newsletters, weeknoters, and other blogs for useful topics. Nothing newsy or virusy - everyone in my feeds is lovely and calm.
  • 1-1 and small conversations: email replies to my own newsletter send-outs, family emails, Signal, and now (fairly reluctantly, but desperate times, etc) WhatsApp
  • Work Slack chatter
  • Updates from the missus
  • The FT, and after all of that, BBC news
I make a point of not checking news as soon as I wake up, and make sure I wash, dress and eat, and am settled in myself before hitting any news channels. On both the FT and BBC news, I rarely scroll own more than a page, and never open more than 3 headlines on each.

Increasingly, beyond what-you-legally-need-to-know, the only progress I'm really interested in right now is this slightly morbid death tracker on the FT, via their free to read stats analysis:

The UK curve on this one is giving me some hope, at a local scale. Hope for normality perhaps, but more hope for mobility, for the social panic to die down a bit. Hope is everything. If I can sort out the household and the UK can sort itself out, then we can figure out what we can do to support others round the world. And they're going to need it.

The latest death count for the UK is 578, which is being reported as a "rise of more than 100 in a day", but I think still puts us on track for crossing the Italian and French lines over the next 2-3 days, and - very roughly - could - if the curve holds - cross with China in 5 or 6.

And just check out South Korea and Japan.

I mean, that's something, right?

Current listening: 65daysofstatic's Safe Passage Anti-PandemicAnxiety Extended Edition

Update: Just realised the y-axis is exponential, duh, which makes sense but makes my own extrapolation even flatter than I thought. With virus control, the number of deaths per day increasing is not as important as the multiplication rate. Here's yesterday's update, showing the increase to 578, already cutting under the Italian line:

As we see deaths going up at different rates, it also gets clearer that any country is not just at the whim of network effects of course. Strain on a health system can reach a critical point - lack of resources could trigger outbreaks within hospitals, or a sudden lack of available care, which could spark a rise in deaths. Or the virus may have reached a particular cluster within a state some weeks ago (such as a city) which could only now be manifesting.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Repairing new disrupted rhythms

Quick general update because not getting much time to write these days. Had a week of switching into full on staying focused mode, gearing the office and company up into full remote mode, rather than the partial remote mode we usually run. Luckily I'd done some forethought on what a partially remote company could look like and, even if we haven't rolled that out fully, it meant I was mentally prepared, and it turns out everyone is pretty great and is doing it all anyway.

I mean, I'm still making sure that our core infrastructure is as resilient as it can be, but others have sorted out setting up Zoom calls, putting together mental health guidance, grabbing spare monitors from the office, etc etc. There are some nice photos-from-home going round the office Slack, too, and it feels like we've ... 'opened up' a little in the move to being locked down.

At home, I'm moving to a series of half-days as we now have two boys to look after all day, and both of us parents are still working. I wasn't sure how this would go at all - the first week working remotely was without them, and that was kind of fun. I set up up in my summer house and enjoyed birdsong and my makeshift standing desk (an old bookshelf unit, not with tinges of mould from the winter).

But, fortunately, so far, this week has been good. We're lucky enough to have enough space for the four of us. It's been more relaxed not having the morning rush and the school pickup, and it's been intriguingly fun to do 'lessons' with the boys - I really appreciate the fact that they just love learning, and have come to think this is more fundamental than even literacy or maths. We can pick a subject and weave learning into it pretty easily. In 3 days we've looked at anglo-saxon history, normal distribution and probability, spelling, Scratch and Roblox coding, and a lot of trampolining and jogging round the pond.

So, I figure the plan is to hammer that out this week, get ourselves sorted and routine. It feels kind of selfish saying that as the world kicks off, but this Twitter thread on slowing down and looking after the essentials made a lot of sense to me. Hoping that next week I can find something useful to do in the community, but TBH looking after a company and a family is pretty tiring. I'm sure there will be some little things I can pick up, and I'll see if the NHS volunteering thing could fit into my routine.

One of the weirder things about it all is how much some people are really unaffected - or rather, the distinction in lifestyles is now being laid a bit more bare. I feel like I'm scrambling to re-factor my whole life, yet when I talk to developers who have no dependents, a lot of the time they say it's nearly 'business as usual' - sometimes even more productive!

So in some ways, I feel like I've reconnected to a lot of people, and there is a lovely openness that comes out in Britons in these times. But on the other hand, I also feel disconnected, like I'm in a very different place.

And yet. I talk to the team and to friends and family, and I dig a bit, and I find out that we're all anxious about something, that just because you're not panicing doesn't mean you're fine with things. Sometimes the anxiety is a longer term one - measureable in days or weeks, rather than hours.

So maybe the best thing I can do is just carry on chatting to people. Keep people's rhythms going.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Designs for a cog city

Vague shoddy sketch for approaching a cogged city. The border came first and I'm not quite sure things are where they should be, but it's good to get these things out onto paper. 

The tower set adrift is reminiscent of the September Tower from a MUD world I started putting together years ago, but never finished. In that world, the cogs are in the tower though, and I never got further beyond the cliff that the tower stood next to. 

Worldbuilding still fascinates me. Maybe more to come on that in due course. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Little things

An opened envelope, a postcard of Penguin's Pearls and Men book, a bag of teabags, and a mug with a teabag in.

Unexpected and a breath of air, this tea bag care package plopped through the postbox after James saw my moment of desperation over at the Disposable Evidence newsletter. The kettle was boiling at the time - sometimes the universe just ticks that way (hint: moreso if you believe in it).

Pearls and Men gets mixed ratings, and no reviews, over at Goodreads. This is enough to make me want to read it now.

And such a timely arrival also means I don't quite have to stoop into the unknowns of the Putin teabags just yet...

Photo of a Vladimir Putin set of teabags

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Today (Colour)

Sometimes you need a few days cooped up before being allowed out with sunshine and eyes in order to find out what you were missing previously. Stop taking things for granted. 

Also posting some more shots over at because I'm chaotic and indecisive like this. 

[A lady bought me a few free coffee. This was unexpected but do bring on the gift culture.]

[I am more intrigued about when someone sits here than who or why.]

[Just. I. Who has to pick this up?] 

[The clouds seemed bigger in real life.]

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Updates on Various Papery Things

Papery things occurring in my bubble recently.

1. A small selection (about 10) of my photos are published now in Black and White Photography magazine, available nationally. The photos are taken from a 2-year-long project to document the local duckpond (I'm not exactly a travel photographer...), and this is sort of the first step in moving from taking the photos, to getting a 'finished' selection. It's probably the first time I've done a photo project on this scale, and am learning a hell of a lot from it.

2. A new collection from James, 'Cows don't believe in Slaughterhouses', very calmly and kindly dropped through, on to my doormat the other day. I always enjoy reading James' work with its measured approach to throw you or make you smile. I particularly enjoy the way his coherency builds into a single point that strikes home like an unnerving itch. You can read more and contact him about a copy here. Just do it, he won't mind.

(Also sorry I don't know how to capitalise titles any more.)

3. In sadder news, the smallest bookshop in Brighton, at the Open Market neighbouring the drifts of the Real Patisserie, has brought down its shutters. An old tour of the tiny space is out there on Facebook until bit-rot sets in. The selection of sci-fi paperbacks was awe-inducing, although I never bought any. I can't remember which books I did buy there, except for an old library copy of Balestrini's Tristano - version 11,778 to be exact. As each copy is a unique shuffle of paragraphs, I got it to go with my version 12,652, with some vague plan for bibliomancy.

(Long time readers may remember 'Butterflies and Sand', my old randomised-haiku project.)

4. Among the few decent bookshops left open in Brighton is probably the Amnesty International second-hand outlet on Sydney Street. I picked up a couple of intriguing looking older books up my street - one on Alternative Technology, and one on War Games during the cold war, and the application of game theory. Now I just need to switch off all the screens and get a decent chair to curl up in, forever and a day.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Thoughts on (mostly and scrappily) enabling Webmentions

Out of procrastination, I'm finally playing with hooking up webmentions to a couple of blogs. If you've not heard of them before, then they're sort of a re-invented pingback that automatically alerts someone (in various ways) when their blogpost/page/tweet/whatever is linked to. That's about as much as I know, but the indieweb webmention page is the best resource I've found so far, although I'm following James' lead here really.

I'm using's remote service for now, just to get something up and running - links to replies come into my RSS reader in a fairly basic way, but don't tie in with blog comments or anything. I haven't played with hacking around in in ages. (I found Keith J Grant's posts a good starting point for the basics of hacking together the required parts.)

The funny thing about webmentions, as I start getting into them, is that you don't quite know if someone will get mentioned or not - "you never know who's listening...". Sounds creepy, but I'm more tickled by this slightly chaotic notion than unnerved by it. (eg. I guess some of the links here will fire off alerts. But the one to James above may not, if his Wordpress setup doesn't support webmentions on homepages.)

[Edit: See, I'm mixed up already - I had assumed I was sending mentions, but I think this blog is just listening, so far...]

I don't know how long I'll continue to post via - it's all fairly legacy, I prefer self-hosting (even if my backups fail), and I'm not sure webmention works very well with Blogger's auto-country-URL-switching; I've found webmentions only work if you use the .com version of this blog, not or anything else. So reliability may depend on the location of the linker. And then there's the reliability of Google as a service provider anyway.

However, the re-invented work notes blog over at runs on Wordpress, which is much easier to add webmentions to via the handily-named Webmentions plugin. (Consider this a notification test for myself.)

Longer term, I want a self-hosted, really simple site which does basic formatting and images, and I'm not convinced I need the overhead of PHP for that.

Some next steps I want to play with over the next few weeks (alongside everything else in life):

  • Look into for bridging between various services, which looks like fun
  • Try out an IMAP account for posting via email to Wordpress. I do like the convenience of WP and have a decent setup for auto-updates and backups now. Better posting via email would be a holy grail, probably.
  • Read up more about indieweb stuff, like micropub and microsub, following a brief conversation on Twitter.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Should I get rid of my Kindle?

[Update: Whoa, that was weird. This post posted 3 times, for some reason. Probably a low level network connection glitch, like everything in life now from mangoes to mental health.]

I got my e-paper Kindle out the confounded tech drawer last night and gave it a charge up. Pencil rubbers mocked me from its silver screen, a guffawing reminder that its presence was here to erase the art of handwriting, not to rescue it. Still, I like it's simplicity, the way it has its limits. 

But should I keep it? How does it fit in? I'm a bit torn on this - the Nexus tablet (lurking in the background of the photo, like an advanced ninja waiting to pounce) is there for reading news feeds and saved articles, and has expanded out to being a manga reader too. It's the reading form I use most, between the two tablet-shaped things. 

But I haven't put e-books on my Nexus yet. Should I? 

Things I like about the Kindle:
  •  It doesn't have the silverdust glare of all the other screens, it feels 'friendlier' - not as tactile and pungent as paper of course, but still. Something less _digital_. 
  •  I can send stuff to it really easily. 
  •  It's actually pretty light. 
  •  It is more focused, less distractive than other devices and their all-purpose, Turing machine omnipotency. 

Things I'm not sure about:
  •  Mostly things relating to richer reading - colour, namely. 
  •  Reading PDFs - still fairly frequent for longer form text and slavishly rescued texts of lore - just doesn't work. Zooming is essential for PDFs. 
  • For books, I like the idea of reading e-books, but can't get the hang of picking them up - I always prefer rifling through my real-world shelves when it's time to start a new tome. Probably because I like the idea of clearing physical shelf space once I've read something* - I'm still not sure if you can destroy e-books, but I'm pretty sure you can't leave them in coffee shops or send them in the post. 

Maybe I need to deliberately read something on my Kindle to get used to it again. Maybe I need to strike out and just read e-books on the Other Tablet. I'm not sure I'm quite ready to give up on e-paper just yet. 

* Clearing physical space is so much more satisfying.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Can't see the woods

Trees gone. Coronavirus has nothing on Dutch Elm disease. 

More trees to go. 

Friday, February 07, 2020

Moving on to bigger politics

Caught up on Phil's post on the failure of politics which digs into the state of voting and why politics is pretty depressing to some of us right now:

Boris Johnson produces a good upbeat impression of politics. But even the people who voted for Johnson don’t actually believe it or trust him. They voted for the spectacle of of a bumptious toff offering fake solutions (an “oven-ready deal”) to a fake problem (the EU).

Like Phil, I haven't really been posting political stuff over the last few years. Some of that is just stage of life and not having the time and energy to assemble thoughts into something coherent, and something I'm happy publishing. I don't really have the time or energy to have follow-on discussions either, and taking it to Twitter is like ... well, it would be more productive to beat myself with a heavy stick.

I'm also staying away from public opinions a bit more for 'professional reasons' - I haven't really reconciled being a senior member of a company that needs to be politically impartial with my own public practices. C'est la vie.

But then, I'm not sure I ever have been particularly partisan anyway. My interests and approaches don't ever seem to fit in with a 2-3 party system. Politics carries on whatever the vote, and often feels more tied to the individuals in power than parties.


The bigger picture is more interesting, scarier, and more so for being clearly in our face, like climate change. John Michael Greer has an excellent post, 'The End of the Dream', tying together the rise of the spectacle, the mistrust of 'experts', and the kickback against managerialism and the assumption by those in power that people are here to be controlled.

It reminds me of my own distrust in things, garnered from growing up through an educational system, which recognises that the methods of a 'technostructure'/'biopower'/'surveillance state'/'testing culture' - while productive and convenient - are not there to encourage anything unprofitable, including creativity, happiness, and communities with little to offer after they've been exploited.

(Yes, you can view communities in the exact same way as land under this view - resources which are provided with support only as long as they produce value.)

Greer digs into Michael Lind's book, 'The New Class War':

The populist backlash that put Trump into the White House and popped Britain out of the EU, he argues, arose in response to the takeover of the public sphere by the managerial class, and will continue until the working class majority knows that it can get its concerns addressed and its needs met by those in power. 

And picks up on a key point on why politics is so depressing for me - it deals in symbols, not what I would like to phrase "practical hope".

He insists that the populist movement has no policy goals of its own—no, of course not, it’s simply reacting blindly against the policies of the managerial elite—and that if the populists win and displace the managerial elite entirely, then the result will be the triumph of demagogues who have no constructive policies to pursue and who will not enact any of the reforms Lind considers necessary. It would be much better, he insists, for the managerial elite to welcome working class majorities back into the decision-making process in politics, economics, and culture.

These days I spend a lot of my time, as a comfortable male manager, wondering if I'm the 'elite' or not. I don't know if this is defined by material wealth, responsibilities, or what. I think maybe it comes down to something else - attitude. Which, in turn, influences how you wield your influence.

Attitude is not something you can be trained up in - or not formally, at least. For training, one must look more to things like Buddhist and other Eastern approaches, such as doing the hard work on Loving Kindness meditation. Stop up the mouth, block off the eyes, listen to the world, and become a mendicant.

I digress. And yet I don't. What we're talking about here is the fundamental ability of Democracy (any version of it) to connect people. It's why citizen assemblies are, I think, so important - not because they reach a more 'effective' or 'productive' outcome, but because they encourage us to explore the connections between the differences we have, which in turn stops us from literally killing each other.


Writing this post has got me fired up again. I think I might have to read Lind's book, along with a hundred others. I have time, want to do more in this area, want to disrupt it. I need to define the challenge, find others making the same moves. It's 2020, for god's sake.

Thunder season

No mega plans right now. Thunder season, halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox. Vague ideas bubbling up from the earth. Going to try to spend more time hammering out words - reading, writing, sculpting text. 

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Ex Rings

Death turned into a final count. Taking stock of survival as rings around the sun.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Moby Dick, ch. 58

"...a moment's consideration will teach, that however baby man may brag of his science and skill, and however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may augment; yet for ever and for ever, to the crack of doom, the sea will insult and murder him..."

- Moby Dick, ch. 58

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Processing Ghosts

Up in London, but this shot taken exactly one week ago. I'm up for Chinese New Year, and can't help thinking about the scale of lockdown in China going on. What would happen if London got quarantined in the same way, or England? 40 million people is insane. And yet not, at human race scale.

We're used to moving around now. Travel is no longer the luxury it was several decades ago. Movement of goods, money, people - I could dig into Brexit and the splits between who and movement benefits, but underlying it is a more intriguing notion: that movement is a form of fluidity mirroring the natural flow of the universe. We are drawn to Flow for all things because it makes sense at a systemic level.

Locking down movement feels alien and backwards now. Yet not so long ago, the physical and mental borders between lands and states, the ones leading up and reinforced by continual wars, these were the status quo. Flow was an absurdity, migration something that happened for leisure, once or twice a year, ringfenced adventure.

Yet, exploring stories of migration, this mindset was only ever partial. As we dig into re-establishing borders, we will discover more and more that this narrative of "staying in our place" was only ever a fiction, and a temporary one at that.

The travellers have always been with us, silent and powerful. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Modular personal tech scene

Warren Ellis talking about using an old iPad as an Internet radio device. This is where my solarpunk experiments are also leading me. What's interesting about solar power is that it turns energy into a scarce resource, rather than a commodity. This means you've got to start being careful with it. Making decisions. Choosing priorities.

And it turns out, for me at least, that coupling "parcels" of functionality to particular hardware is a good "energy accounting" practice. I can ring-fence off particular functions on my life until I have the energy for them, and it forces me to think through what I consider to be essential. Not enough power to fire up my old Nexus tablet? RSS feeds can take a bit of a back seat then. Nothing urgent there.

The second advantage is that it's easier to work with an ecosystem of old devices - finding a single, all-powerful "god" device to do everything you wanted costs a lot of money. And these days, they make those things unfixable, so if one function goes down (like the camera module, or an app becomes incompatible), you're looking at replacing and checking through all your functions at the same time. Convenient devices will always give you a (bigger) headache at upgrade or replacement time.

Contrariwise, limiting your scope - of purchases, of software, etc - means you have a much more modular setup. I mean, it's never perfect - one should always assume that technology is a bastard. But it's easier to have one, less essential part of your life knocked out than the key bits unexpectedly.

On the downside, backups multiply accordingly. But again, at least you're able to change or reinstate your backups at a smaller level. What's that saying about eggs and baskets?

Modular personal tech ecosystems. Seriously, the future. Now we just need to get over our taboo about federating tech support within local communities ;)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Upside-down content

Was going to post this as a reply to James' post on leaving Twitter, but thought I'd try out his webping-thing instead. Plus this follows on from my previous post about microblogging. For further reading on the matter, see also Orbifx's post "From Mastodon to News-groups".*

I remember going to conferences and asking people if they had a Twitter account instead of a business card. That felt powerful at the time. And, to be fair, I still follow and respect the tweets/posts/thoughts of many of those people. Looking back, Twitter was more of a contact book with lightweight content - staying in touch with people was more important than actually having a conversation.

And perhaps, perhaps, it still has a use for that. It's not a good business model, which is the problem with fucking technocapitalism. Minor things are useful, but need turning into major things to please the VC crowd. Sure,we have the Fediverse, but one cannot deny the _convenience_ of a one-word identity. In terms of contact books and typable brevity, is the Fediverse any better or worse than just swapping emails?

I wish people blogged more, and tweeted less - a small blog once a week or so for those who are interested, and an even smaller tweet once a season, just to let your weak links and the wider world that you're still alive.

Posting more and more content to your weaker links? It feels like we've got this upside-down and back-to-front.

* and yes, the overlap between orbific and orbifx is slightly confusing.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020


Of course, the thing about trying to pass content around between multiple editors, media and services is that you never seem to get a clean end result. Not sure if the home page is currently frustrating me, or needs to move into full on glitch territory...:

Monday, January 06, 2020

Hovering at the Edge of Social Media - thoughts after a month away

Been off Twitter and Mastodon for a month now, as planned. I was expecting to re-join the throng about now, but haven't quite made it back. I've not returned to work yet, and am still relaxing, watching some TV, playing games, looking after kids, and even indulging in some little projects like fixing my old, original Gameboy.

Of more interest than leaving digital media is the question of re-entering the fray, and how that makes me feel. Have I missed it all? Not really. I've been spending less time online in general, but that time has been more focused on emails, RSS, and XMPP chats. In all three cases, I get more out of my engagement than the random, half-formed fragments that microblogging encourages.

With email, I have a huge amount of flexibility, and can easily sort out newsletters and personal messages from other admin stuff. A medium isn't just about the format and technical protocols involved, but all the support tools, organisational structures and cultural expectations that go with it.

I think email - and/or the people I communicate with - has moved away from the overly oppressive practices that burdened email within corporate contexts. My inbox is still overflowing significantly, but it feels... Fun.

RSS is my relaxing read, my newspaper. I've sorted out some email-to-RSS feeds for any longer format email newsletters which don't have feeds, but the main aim with my feed reader is to enjoy more thoughtful and expansive missives from people whose writing I enjoy. If I had some things to focus on with my RSS setup this year, it would be to:
  1. make it easier to reply to posts - maybe I'll add some sort of mailto link on my own posts automatically somehow
  2. encourage more people I know to set up blogs and post, without it being too much hassle
On that last point, I'm now writing a lot of my posts in a Markdown editor on my phone, and posting them to blogs via email (Edison's Email app is the only Android app I've found that lets me embed an image properly, but still working on formatting issues). Same with my newsletters.

I like this approach - the phone keeps the editing process shorter and more focused, and I can write anywhere, while Markdown gives me some basic formatting. (This post is currently being written in Markor, a FLOSS app on F-Droid.) Still, it's obviously not everyone's cuppa. ☕

XMPP, for me, picks up where I left IRC behind. It's the flipside of the promise of microblogging - short chatter with random, weak-link people. But there's not the half-on half-off limbo approach or microblogging, and nor is there a contorted bastardisation of themed conversations. Rooms are so much better than hashtags or groups - it's funny how subject matter sets the scope of a space, and therein one's own reason for participating.

On the whole, the question is not which social media apps one likes using, but how does one want to engage with the world. Are we looking for deeply fulfilling conversation? Distraction and diversion? Intimate conversation? Q&A sessions and useful info?

In practice, it's probably all of these. The danger is that we get sucked into trying to do all of them at the same time, rather than consciously choosing our mode of thought depending on what we want to focus on, what we want to achieve. It's like trying to buy water from a supermarket - you'll always come out with batteries and mince pies in September, just because there's too much tempting diversity.

So my approach from here is not to just jump back in, but to think about why I'm engaging more, and what I want to get out of my usage. I'll start checking sites again, but am going to hold off installing apps for instant attention. It needs to tie in with how I want to use my time more generally, with my longer term plans and goals for the year.

And that's a whole different post.