Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Build the next punk layer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck nostalgia. Build the Punk.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Blogging aka Strut Your Stuff on the Catwalk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disco.very Tech.nology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We stared at the Moon from the centre of the Sun

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 01, 2018

2017 in own technology and fragmentary digital existences

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

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

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

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

In terms of third parties, I've started using some alternative sources and networks more fully. F-Droid has been great for discovering free, open-source software for Android. I've been hanging about on gnu/social more via my 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.