Thursday, August 19, 2021

Finds from the Topsham Bookshop

 Recent second-hand finds, which kind of sum up where my background thoughts tend to be these days 😄 :

Three books: Oriental Mystics and magicians, Ecology of Refuse Tips, and Life in Hutongs

The two on the left were from  The Topsham Bookshop in, obviously, Topsham. (Life in Hutongs was also there, but too hefty to bring back, so I found a copy online.)

I can't resist documenting amazing bookshops - they always seem so precarious in this century - and dream of, one day, digging out all those photos and bringing them together. Maybe it would lead to a career galavanting around the country, hanging out and photographing ancient literary palaces, but somehow I doubt it. (Although Louise Boland's Bookshop Tours of Britain may say otherwise.)

Anyway, here are a handful of shots in the meantime. The Topsham Bookshop consists of something of a "two-up, two-down" affair, with a bonus claustrophobic basement to navigate. (A good bookshop should also double up as a maze.)

I wonder where I should try to visit next...


Friday, August 13, 2021

Other People's Internets

I linked to this in my recent notes but I wanted to highlight it more specifically: - How Twitter can ruin a life: Isabel Fall's complicated story Wellll worth a longish read.

It's not just a story about one person, one sci-fi story, or even Twitter. It's a story - almost the de facto story now that modern life has moved to the web 2.0 space. That is, the space which is (inherently?) created by a handful of massive social companies, and the link between profit, attention, and the instantaneous, interconnected Network (singular) we enter into for each global, monolithic service. Anything can be anywhere, leading to everything being everywhere, and ultimately atrophying into a state of continually-scrolling nothingness.

A space in which to post something of value - anything of slight opinion, politic or personal - is not to invite critique or cancellation per se, but to send out some form of content into the wilderness of contexts. To release it into a world in which - taken to a natural extreme - the content will be interpreted within all contexts simultaneously, in the form of a universal potential audience.

Smaller devices and "streamlined" interfaces, increasingly distributed publishers and forums, and time-poor authors - all these encourage a loose binding of original context, that link to "where I'm coming from" being more easily overlooked when compressed into a single headline or hyperlink.

I'm at a point in my life where I wonder what world I want to live in, and which world builders will lead to the societies that make for successful, sustainable future generations. I have to dive deep into my soul with the lights outs and the windows closed to truly consider this internet we have now, as I have grown up with it and seen it change in so many ways. It brings so many benefits, and yet also so much harm and short-term thinking, so little empathy or space for listening. Real listening, like when you're six and scared to death of a thunderstorm passing overhead and there is nothing else outside of those lightning flashes in the dark.

I find myself posting and interacting less and less in the spaces I feel like I "should" be in. The engagement is shallow, and increasingly automated. I let photos speak for me, and even then fairly blandly. Thinking about it, perhaps it's because I have yet to decide on the audiences they are for, the contexts they are allowed to reach.

I wonder. What would an internet look like if I designed it purely for myself?

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Historic Dockyards old and new

A quick edit from a visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyards, which is always a good wander. Big ships are still impressive, and we got to tour past the HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier as well as Virgin's new "adult-only" cruise ship, the Scarlet Lady.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

[META] Weeknotes added to full Scribe feeds

Have added the Atom feed for my (sporadic) weeknotes to my general RSS/Atom feed for a sense of completion. It should also mean that weeknote updates get auto-posted to Twitter too.

To be honest, I have no idea where things get posted, aggregated and forwarded within my ecosystem these days. And I'm sort of loving that.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Exploited even our own brain cells

Instead of realising, revering, and worshipping the power of neural networks and of human thought, we turned machine learning into an industry and drove it into profitable form.

Instead of spending our days in wonder of our own magic, we chase jobs and the ability to produce goods and services ever faster.

And, while we question the ethics of cryptocurrencies, we only stand by and ask whether this newfound paradigm of data processing - wisdom? - is fair and impartial. Never whether it is exploiting our own incredible nature as human beings.

Perhaps we are lost to ourselves for good?

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Zine post

Looking forward to reading today's post including first two issues of Lost Futures, courtesy of Igloo Tree niche and occult bookshop. Hoping to get some time to contribute…

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Mentally here and there: A quick Twitter Presence script in IFTTT

Guilty pleasures of the tech world. A while back I got confronted with the choice of whether to pay for IFTTT or not as the service moved to a more restricted free tier. At the time (and to this day), I had a few utility automation scripts which felt quite handy, even if I didn't use them regularly. IFTTT felt useful to me, so I decided to pay the monthly and resolved to find interesting ways to get something back.

I'm still playing with some scripts, but having access to the "Filter" functionality is really useful. In short it lets you add some Javscript code in between your 'trigger' and your 'action' to make things more dynamic. For instance, I've got one Filter that sets a target Evernote folder based on a hashtag I assign in Tiny Tiny RSS, for more flexibility. It's nice like that.

Today I had a play with IFTTT's "Note" widget, which lets you just enter some text and send it to the service. You can add that as a quick-access widget on your phone screen. I noticed that the Twitter service's actions let you update your bio, and your profile picture, but you can also send a tweet at the same time.

I've been thinking about my relationship with Twitter again, especially now that I'm effectively unemployed. There are days when I don't mind being on there and hanging out, but it also gets tiring quickly. Not just the doomscrolling and the naysayers - also the good stuff. I mean, I follow a whole bunch of lovely and really interesting people, but Twitter's format means that I get 30-40 fascinating ideas, topics and links within a minute of logging in. That's too much for my little brain.

So I'm desperate to treat Twitter (and other social media sites) more as a 'drop-in', like an (un)conference or a meetup or a cafe. It's tiring going to an event, even if it's great, and all of us need downtime to process what we've just been through when we do attend something so intense. 

I figure the in/out time for Twitter should be something along the lines of 1 day "in", for every 3 days "out" probably. For me, at least - that's a check-in twice a week, where I allow myself to be engaged as if I were in a live chatroom. 

In other words, asynchronous is nice, but the human mind struggles to balance things when we're half-present, when the network is always there but the attention isn't necessarily around to match it.

So here's my setup for IFTTT to have a quick way to be 'in' or 'out', a presence indicator for Twitter, if you will.

Firstly, I made a desaturated, darkened copy of my usual avatar image to use when I mark myself as 'away', and uploaded both to the same place on my web host. Here are the two side-by-side:

(The original Megritte-inspired apple-face goes back decades. I'm not sure where the coffee stains came from.)

I then made a new Applet in IFTTT, hooking together the "Note widget" with Twitter's "Update profile picture" action. I had to fill in a default URL for the picture, so just used the URL for the first image as a default.

Then I added some interstitial Filter code that looks like this:

// Default presence avatar img
var avatar_pic = 'megritte_stained_400x400.jpg';
// Shortcut to incoming text
var note_text = DoNote.doNoteNewCommandCommon.NoteText;
// afk message to use
var afk_msg = null;

// Go away
if (note_text.toLowerCase().indexOf('afk') == 0) {
  avatar_pic = 'megritte_stained_grey_400x400.jpg';
  // Check if we want to send a tweet using 'afk <message>'
  if (note_text.length >= 3) {
    Twitter.uploadProfileImageTwitter.setTweet('(' + 
note_text.substring(3).trim() + ')');
} else {
  // if not 'afk', send any text provided as a tweet
  if (note_text !== null &&
      note_text.trim() != '') {

// Set avatar appropriately
'https://<domain and path>/' + avatar_pic);

And then finally I added the Note widget to my phone's home screen, using the IFTTT Android App.

To mark myself 'away from Twitter', I use the widget to send the simple text 'afk'. This will update the avatar to the monochrome version. If I want to, I can add an optional status to send as a tweet after that, eg 'afk Had enough doomscrolling, back next week.'

To return, I can send a 'blank' message - a single space, as the widget doesn't seem to allow properly empty messages - or any text that doesn't begin with 'afk' to include a tweet update. The avatar will be set back to the colour version either way.

Simple enough, as all good daily tech should be. I'm hoping though that it a) encourages me to use Twitter in a more "obvious" way, in that it's more obvious to me if I'm supposed to be focused and engaged with it, and b) maybe encourages others to think about the same thing, by being more transparent about where my mind is.

After all, as we increasingly lose sight of each other's physical bodies, our mental presence has become more and more the point at which we interpret and negotiate our social cues and cultures. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Mini Photo Essay: The First Train

Last week, I headed into Brighton on the train three times. I hadn't stepped foot in the train station in over a year, and I was curious how normal it all felt, despite all the time that passed. Here are some quick photos I took to remember the first day.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Saved From the Rain

Decided to rescue a couple of vinyl pieces from the rain as they lay outside a charity shop a few days away from reopening. The Carpenter soundtrack is in good nick internally. Not played the other yet but Ninja Tunes always worth a go.
Blogs and newsletters:
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making lunch / the shadow of a sparrow / settles outside

Current Reading Stack (+ notes)

Reading notes:

Making slow progress on Gormenghast, mostly just because I'm busy during the day, and my bedside reading light isn't very helpful.

Picked up Ready Player One after my wife suggested it, hoping it's a good romp rather than an annoying nostalgia fest 😉

The pandemic made me pick up Baudrillard's Essays on Extreme Phenomena again. While I was "shunted" by it before, I'm not sure I took it all in. A lot has happened in the world since then, and I'm blowing my mind all over again so far.

Finished off the book about Yang Wan-Li, Chinese civil servant and famous poet. I live the way public officials were expected to have a solid training in the core arts.

Alan Watts picked up again recently for "comfort reading".

Foraging book because start of the month.

Generally a bit man-heavy, but it comes and goes. Just finished A Phoenix First Must Burn on the kindle though.

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making lunch / the shadow of a sparrow / settles outside

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Classic Family Gaming

Finally teaching the kids Settlers of Catan. Feels like the board game equivalent of rolling the SNES out...

Friday, April 02, 2021

That was the March

I was a bit anxious at the start of March - lots going on at work, nothing too tricky in itself except for recruitment and interviews (which had yet to be confirmed at the start), but lots of jumping between different meetings and updates, and unclear approaches to how some of them should best be organised.

Oh, and COVID knocked on the door. The kids went back to school. For a week. Then we got 'the call' on a peaceful Saturday morning, and that was us back to homeschooling for another 7 days.

I reorganised time, we slipped timing in a couple of places, but nothing got dropped overall. I even managed to get over one afternoon for my first vaccine jab, which left me feeling a little tumultuous (in among everything else) for a weekend.

It's tricky to think through what else happened, but lots has been going on. I've been helping out Seaford Environmental Alliance, a new local environmental charity trying to push forwards change. And also I've been involved in Writing Our Legacy too. In both cases, I'm kind of feeling slightly impostery, and everyone else seems to know what they're doing and all the people in the network, so hopefully people don't mind me helping from a tech and planning? point of view, and otherwise cheekily learning from all these knowledgeable ones :) I've been thinkingI should sign up on one of the WOL writing courses...

In some spare time, I've been working privately on 'Sprite Country', a "labyrinthine gallery" for my in-game screenshot photography. The basics are in place but there's a little bit more to do before launching the initial site. The code is on github anyway, but don't expect much support on it yet ;) Thinking about it, I'd like to adapt it to a second site for my other photography when it's ready.

To continue that thread, I've been trying to nudge myself more into a 'foraging' mindset. Or call it exploration, or synchronicity, or what-have-you. I realised I'm still fairly tied into quite a 'rapid consumption of novelty' way of life, in that I keep an eye on new things coming out (however indie), pick up some of them (however cheaply) and then just ignore at least half of it. That goes for books, games, zines, and music to a lesser extent.

Yet I now have enough 'content' (matter/culture) to last me a Very Long Time. And there is plenty of free stuff out there as well. So I really don't need anyone informing me about new releases. Foraging for plants involves wandering, discovering, and appreciating, and I think the same can be applied to the rest of life too - libraries of games, of books, of videos and music. I can relax into the abundance of content without that nagging doubt of FOMO that pervades much of life now.

This month, my wife and I have done a thoroughly good job (if I say so myself) of playing through the original Overcooked on the Switch. It's been a bit of a surprise - I picked it up randomly on sale, after a couple of others mentioned it, and thought it would be fun as a family thing. But it morphed into just the two of us playing it in the evening, and getting hilariously far-too-serious about it - in that way that some people just love organising things for the sake of it. The game is like a frantic form of kanban, and its level design is pretty clever; once you 'crack' the 'rhythm' of a level, it becomes much more possible, and almost a zen-like experience in some places as you settle into a chain of actions and communication that flows freely.

I'm also sure it's made the two of us much more efficient when navigating our real-world kitchen together.

Other than that, things are fairly low-key and I'm trying to just relax where I can. Playing Thalamus on the Switch as well. I'm reading through A Phoenix First Must Burn on the Kindle alongside various magazines. We're replacing a shed. Figuring out Space Hulk: Death Angel from a German edition. Sometimes I even get out for a walk. Been looking into how NFTs work. Published a new Beamspun. That sort of stuff.

I'm still getting my head round the idea that I could potentially meet up with a few people and family now. I've been in 'hibernation'/survival mode for so long now that I've sort of forgotten how to do social planning - or don't trust it yet. Being so close to covid cases makes it trickier too - you know, the risk becomes more real. But once my brain decides to accept it's a Possible Thing, I know I'm looking forward to actually grown up chatting for a change.

Maybe things are changing after all.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Mini Story: A Million Miles

(Drafted before Christmas.)

Mask up, lost in thought in the queue, I overhear a fragment of a conversation. Two letters dart out like fingers: A, and E. But it's nearly Christmas, I think. All the people here in the supermarket are busy picking up chocolates, decorations, drinks and the daily newspaper. The annual selection of festive chart toppers is seeping out over the aisles in an attempt of normality. ("Last Christmas"?) A vaccine is on the way. How can anyone be in A&E? Didn't the world just stop this year? It must be the virus, surely.

Mask up, I load my basket onto the conveyor belt. It reminds me of a crematorium, except the items slide conveniently behind the clear plastic screen in front of the cashier. Transparent, cut off, the screen feels like a window, as if I'm being gently reassured that there's no embezzlement going on. I switch to thinking of an airport security scanner, uniformed guards peering into people's lives through oversized x-ray scans. Is it me rifling through the cashier's day as I pass by, or is she assessing me and my intent?

"How are you today?" I ask, muffled by mask cloth and nine months of conscious distancing. (Lockdown babies must be being born soon, "a decree went out that everyone must return to their birthplace".) She passes a loaf of bread to me. "Not too bad, thanks. How are you?" That polite, programmed response that comes out of all of us instinctively, a script that weaves us together and stops us going insane on an hourly basis. It jars awkwardly wih the conversation I just heard. The bread is too big for this bag, so I start filling a new one.

I can't help myself though. Maybe it's curiosity, fear of awkward silences, or an awareness of Christmas spirit. "Did you say you had someone in A&E?" I ask, trying to sound clear from under this mask. Without lips, my eyes and the inflections have to do the real talking, a tilt of the head carrying some hint of concern against the flow of incoming vegetables. From where I'm standing, I can talk to her without the screen in the way now. The lady in the queue behind me has started loading her shopping on to the belt - bottles of water and a glossy magazine. The thin aisle of the checkout lane acts as both a wall and a checkpoint between me and her.

Not Covid. Crohn's disease. I've heard of it but I'm a passer-by, a shopper, not a doctor. It's her son, in his twenties, taken in last night. Tests. Always tests. She hopes to hear something about the tests when she gets her lunch break. I mentally check my watch - lunch must feel like a million miles away right now. Meanwhile, more bread and chocolates and Christmas jumpers rolling past, more lives and small talk. Wham and Jesus.

The conveyor belt pauses sometimes, the never-ending line of processed goods being held up momentarily by an invisible thread being broken by something huge and global getting in the way. The lady in the queue behind carries on piling up her things into a neat stack while the belt remains motionless. As I watch, the stack turns into a tower - meat and yoghurt and tinned fruit form columns and terraces, dwarfing the line of waiting customers, all growing smaller as the heap gets higher. It looks stable even though I have to crane my neck to see the top. How does she pile it like that without it wobbling? I want to send a message down the space in the aisle, despatch a rodent with a letter asking her to wait. Even though the cashier is passing me more loaves of bread, the conveyor belt is still static and pensive.

I'm not a doctor, I can't fill the silence left by lab checks and sterilised floors. Hiding behind my mask again, I grab the bread and fill up another shopping bag. Seeded baps. White cobs. Baguettes until break. Loaves until lunch time. Bread. Always bread.



Blurry monochrome photo of a  silhouetted figure against the sea

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Amazing sunset today

Use Signal

Great to see Signal getting a bunch of recommendation in light of WhatsApp's latest unprivacy move. I should note that I've been on Signal for a few years, and will happily take contact requests from people I'm in touch with regularly. (Currently Signal needs a phone number, hence the level of trust required here, but they're working on user IDs, according to this Reddit AMA.) Just drop me an email, a DM via Twitter, or via XMPP.

Mini Photo Essay: Winter Garden

Making extra effort to get out into the fresh January frost this week. This morning, all the birds are crying out in the haze, like they're reasserting their collective territory in the absence of traffic and planes. Seagulls, blackbirds, chickens, sparrows, all casting an aerial net over us. 

 I think of church bells trying to join in, either in impersonation or in some attempt to dominate the clouds.

The frosted dew is melting faster than yesterday, sending percussion notes falling from the sloped roof of the shed.

Pyracantha berries, guarded by spikes, waiting to be eaten by wood pigeons and blackbirds.

Remnants of frost on the branch cuttings from the tree that was cut down over the road.

Dustings lurking on the uneaten sunflower seeds. A fox has visited the other night. Perhaps the seeds are too low down.

The leftovers of last summer's tomato plants, nearly forgotten about.

The stems of the purple broccolli, a gift from a stranger, don't seem to bear their own weight any more.

When will the broccolli sprout?

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Service Status 2021-01-03

Apologies if you saw a bunch of old posts appearing in the RSS feed -
the feed stopped working the other day and while the actual problem was
that I'd pasted in a screenshot from Firefox*, I monkeyed about and
think I switched a redirect unnecessarily.

I've switched it back now, which either means things will be as they
were before, or all my posts will get re-published AGAIN.

2021, huh? Can't live with it, can't get basic open standards right
without it.

* Don't paste images as raw data, kids. I hope they teach that in
schools these days.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Five Worlds from 2020

This was originally going to be "5 Books of 2020" as a way to segue neatly from recent review posts, but I wanted to go a bit deeper. 2020 has been a time of escapism, of strange remote places, of everything-being-real-as-if-through-a-mirror. Normality gave way to surrealism in our own homes, and in our heads, and I still feel like waking up is a dream and going to sleep is natural.

As it was, I somehow found time to delve into some new 'worlds' more deeply than I might usually. (Or maybe I'm just getting older now. Answers on a postcard.) 'Worlds' is a difficult one to define - some worlds are more richly and consciously constructed than others (son 1, for instance, is in the middle of the Harry Potter series, and it feels like Rowling is often setting out her universe as a long term plan). Others are intended as throwaway playgrounds, but the intrepid explorer can still find a hundred edges and paths if they know where to look.

So here have been some of my favourite worlds I've been exploring over the last year.

  1. The world of seafaring and whale-hunting that Herman Melville sets out in Moby Dick. For some reason I have a fascination with tales out in the middle of the sea, and Melville dives fully into the area to describe the wonders of the oceans, document the old whaling industry and its social place, and tie it all in with mankind's relationship with 'god' and nature ('godkind'?). My review here.

  2. The alternative and diverse worlds explored in Writing Our Legacy's Hidden Sussex anthology. Each tale or poem from the BAME writers included here offers a little glimpse into a parrallel universe for me - like hearing the neighbours on the other side of the wall and wondering what their decor is like even though it is so close. We travel in our bubbles, form our carriages of what we know and love, and yet WOL has brought out voices that speak of the same places I inhabit, but with such different perspectives and backgrounds.

  3. The small, strange yet delicately delicious world of Cosmo D's Norwood Suite - a game. Or a story, hinted at, through a labyrinthine hotel setup on its last legs, host to a night of odd revelation. As games go, this is short enough - about my level. But the soundtracks and depths which lurk mean that you always feel like you could tumble into it forever and remain trapped. The trailer shows off why it was also a good game to get out my virtual camera for:

  4.  The world-concept that is Permaculture, listed alongside the others here as it is something I have mostly only been reading about. Coming about through putting the Beamspun newsletter together, I found that people have been doing solarpunk far more practically and for a longer time than I had realised. After reading a few books such as Masanobu Fukuoka's One-Straw Revolution and Zen in the Art of Permaculture Design, and hanging out on the reddit, I can link together a few strands in my life much more strongly - namely taoism and wu wei, with a sense of nature, impermanence and ... happiness? It is strange to think of a concept as a world, if the main aim is to live in a different world which is actually the same world. It reminds me that 'the modern world' is as much a construct as any other novel.

    Drawing showing energy flows in permaculture design

    (Image by Fiona Campbell, via Russ Grayson's post about Rosemary Morrow.)

  5. The grittily-extruded world of Moshe Linke's Fugue in Void, a wander through claustrophobic gallery structures and the edges of dreams. This was when I properly started taking some in-game shots, and while the larger project around videogame photography has yet to materialise, I did manage a Fugue in Void narrative-gallery by way of experiment.


Phew, that was a hard choice.  Honourable mentions go to William Kamkwamba's famine-caught world in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, the recent history of India and Kashmir in Arundhati Roy's Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and the hilariously bonkers land that belongs to Maro & Luigi's Superstar Saga.

It's been a long year. What worlds have you found joy and solace in?