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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces




amped up, turned down

A junk mail letter addressed to “Daniel O'brien”

I’m hoping that the net time I get a promotional postcard from eyebuydirect, they’ll have added another “&” onto my fully-escaped surname, and so on, until it overruns the postcard’s CSS block into the street.

A voice-mail from Central Computer: my computer is fixed, I can come and pick it up. It felt very like a call from the vet. Shout-out to Central Computer, by the way, and possibly society as a whole: they were very friendly and kind, not only to me, but also to the other customers. For a shop full of water-cooled CPUs, LED PC cases, and mechanical keyboards, they are genuinely compassionate and engaged. Decades ago, I would have had to have put on my geek armour and dueled for my honor in these spaces. And god forbid if you didn’t know exactly what you wanted if you turned up as a non-combatant. Now it felt more like we’re all in it together, us and our little computer friends.

I was besieged by sleep today: Liz has picked up a cold, and my body was doing its thing of defensive unconsciousness. I mostly encourage it. There’s always a moment after I wake up at 6PM, realise I’ve lost a chunk of the day, and despair of every being a proper human being. It’s so strange to breath life and consciousness on us, and then say “here it is, existence! Oh, except for a good third of your life, you’ll just be off“. Maybe it’s a way of breaking death to us slowly. It seems a far better memento moti than sticking random skulls in the backs of paintings, to be honest. Death? Oh yeah, it’s like that thing you just had THIS MORNING. Or afternoon, in my case.

Does everyone else wake up and just wish that they were still asleep, and so on, and so on? I don’t mean in a suicidal way, just “well let’s just wait here, out of the way, doing no harm, until somebody needs me for something.”

If I can confide: the moment one marriage ended for me was when I woke up, opened my eyes, to see my spouse staring at me, already pissed. In a moment, I thought of how that would play out for the rest of my life: to be guilty before the day had even started, to fall asleep worried about what I’d not done, and wake up only to find out what I’d forgotten. I dream frequently of obligations: filling in forms, accepting responsibilities, going back in time at moment when I might have stumbled in my duty. But there’s a point between dreams and waking, between alarms, when you’re mentally, physically, metaphorically off the hook. I can see that as what it’s liike before being born, or after you’re dead. Just babies, and older broken bodies, propped up on pillows, lounging around, looking about at each other, about to say something, and then remembering: there’s nothing to say right now. Just half-listening, bemused, at what’s going on downstairs.


the tyranny of structurelessnesslessness

The equivalent of “time to crate” in conversations with me, is the length of time it takes someone — not always me! — to ask “Have you read Seeing Like a State/Tyranny of Structurelessness”? It was IMMORAL to roll one’s eyes at this point, because obviously it is awesome that anarchist (or CIA, depending on who you talk to) anthropologists and seventies feminists are being read these days.

One thing to note is like many books I airily refer to, I’m not sure I have read SLAS ot TOS. At this point, I think I just have absorbed them by osmosis, and they sit undisturbed in the bottom of my mental knapsack — like that the one about the spoons, and the one about, well, knapsacks, and the one about how humans are like the crazies of the Federation, and that speech by the civil rights dreaming guy, and the fight ’em on the beaches fellow. I don’t need to read them! That would be like double-checking to make sure my kidneys are where I thought they were! I’m made of these locally received ideas.

The strange thing, is more than I know these books, I know the context around them. Like, for instance, that CIA throwaway reference, which is a way of book-blocking Scott’s thoughts if you’re a Marxist-Leninist annoyed by having annoying anarchists say “Have you read Seeing Like a State” in their smug “would you like some bread instead of those bombs? I conquered it myself!” way. For every book now, a cloud of well-documented contestation.

For Structurelessness, of course, there’s the contemporary The Tyranny of Tyranny, by Cathy Levine, and a rich trail of commentary across the zine-continuum that I am going to undermine my message by failing to dig out. Freedman’s other relatively well-known essay, Trashing, which I will misscharacterize as a criticism on in-movement cancel-culture, sort of begins to give a trajectory to Freedman’s style, and will draw you more into her positions, or bounce you further away.

As Noisebridge goes through another paroxysm, I think lightly of Tyranny. But then, for different reasons, I’ve been thinking of all the more structured environments I’ve lived in which have just as unjust results — from the top, and from the bottom. No good solutions: therefore, more solutions! Infinite solution creation! Let a million essays bloom, and let us never have to read any of them, because we’re having too much fun!

(400 words)


player of (PC) games

Liz reminded me that I don’t need to publish some abstract essay every day; I can just, you know, blog.

Having said all that about my implicit middle-classness, I’m writing this in a J.G. Ballardian brutalist lair somewhere near Sonoma. It’s all glass, infinity pools, uncovered concrete and plastic cows, surrounded by wildfire-scorched desolation. The hawks circle below us; there is a wall-length wine refrigerator. I feel like a trapped aristocrat on the fire planet at the end of Player of Games. The company is lovely, the opulence is somewhat accidentally acquired and therefore, possibly, forgivable?

I had a little of what passes for panic attacks for me these days (I used to panic at the Olympics level, these days I just sort of lightly simmer in adrenaline for few minutes until done), and then remembered that apparently cold water can help, so put on, literally, my big boy (swimming) pants and dunked in the unheated pool. My brain bleeped and rebooted successfully.

All of this added to my ongoing bonding with the digital. Like many people, I have started, superstitiously, thanking GPT, if only to protect my own character. I don’t want to end up like those Boston Dynamics bullies, no matter how cold and unforgiving the AirBnB decor. My love of all things is now spreading, like an out-of-control Metta meditation. I left our house after a night spent nursing our Roomba from a nasty blocked spigot and some watertank issues. And I am still genuinely worried for my desktop PC, which I dropped off at Central Computer’s refuge for poorly computers. Dipping into the water, and feeling my overheating mind reset, I looked over to the city, 50 miles in the distance, and wonder how its overcooked CPU was doing. Hopefully it is being pampered while being slathered with thermal grease. The hawks watch me with their heartless, carbon-based gaze, and perch on the exposed metal rebar.

(322 words)


bridging systems of survival

A throwaway comment from a friend noted that their scintilla of respect for Balaji Srinivasan had actually increased after he made his lose-lose bet on Bitcoin reaching $1 million dollars in 90 days. I agree! I (currently) approve of betting on beliefs! Or at least, trying to tie more weight to a stated opinion than just the words. I’ve often wondered about how to attach such bets — in fake money, or real — to my writing, without breaking either the flow or the law.

Then again: isn’t every statement you make a bet on your reputation? I’m intrigued by prediction markets as much as I have an instant reaction against reputation systems. Why is that? Well, I know that my allergy to reputation systems is just because I’ve come to see them as such a hand-wavey solution to a set of really thorny, probably insoluble problems. But surely prediction markets are a similar simplification: and a simplification with equally known problems?

I’m mulling here: Like yesterday, I don’t have the time or the facts to come up with a tidy opinion solution, but there is a sense in which prediction markets do indicate some ability to operate: when they fail, they fail in ways that are in some sense unsurprising to me. Reputation systems fail like reputation does: bloodily, with chaotic consequences. Also, I guess, bets give people a chance to minimize the damage. You can calibrate to your own resources, rather than having to either bet everything on every turn of the roulette wheel — or more practically, just avoid ever having to have to pay your debts.

I guess reputation systems are attempts to make poor models of a complex social phenomenon. Prediction markets are an attempt to hive off a part of the social phenomenon in a tractable, useful way. Sensible minds can disagree as to whether any market has ever been a success story of this hiving-away, whether the interconnection between the social and the marketplace has every led to good results. I think it does, in the same way that language is a model that has served us well, despite its messy connections with reality (I love a good markets=language analogy).

Have you read Jane Jacobs’ Systems of Survival? In it, she talks of two different ethical schemes: the commercial and that of the “guardian” (I’ve seen this mapped to soldiers in some reviews, and the political space to others). Maybe we are in line for an explosion of new ethical schemes, as Europe did in the reformation, incommensurable, but consistent, and we need to work out how to tie them together, because we need all their functionality. Can we set up an “ethical” reputation-money exchange? Clearly not, because we already have a damning word that: whitewashing. So then, how do we wire these systems together?

I need to re-read Jacobs. (Also, apparently, I need to find a better ebook reader for Linux. Any suggestions?)


unclassy acts

I wonder how many socioeconomic classes I’ve really hopped? There’s definitely a version of my bio that let’s me sound rags to riches: Basildon (so déclassé even the rest of Essex looked down on it) to Oxford and a weird proximity to Tory grandees of the future, to Silicon Valley where I sat close on by as the mere millionaires of the 2000s self-inflated into Tessier-Ashpool decadence. But honestly, I was pretty middle-class through all of that. Other kids bullied me for my book learning and BBC accent in Basildon, I grew up mostly in bourgie Chelmsford, I was a grammar school kid at Oxford, and I was mostly in the journalism/non-profit complex in California. Like a stick of rock with “home counties” written right through it.

But I have got to spend a bunch of time with a fair spread of classes, even if it was mostly just dropping by their parties before going back to hide in the bedsit with my laptop. The main class development I’ve noticed during the journey was mostly external to it: people (culture? the dominant media?) were pretty forgiving of the rich (less so the gentry) in the neoliberal 90s. Then after 2008, the resentment of the differently-funded got more and more steep. I was noting with one of my most loyally socialist friends the other day how, nowadays, almost every article ends with a little condemnation of capitalism and the rich, like a perfunctory curlique sign-off, or Casey Kasem saying “and remember, keep your feet on the ground, and soon, soon, you will burn the blood-sucking parasites of the sybarite class as they cower trapped in their stolen mansions”.

Anyway, I guess one of the things I genuinely puzzle ablikeout is how much variance there is between people in each class. I notice a lot of people seem to presume rich people are cleverer; a lot of people also presume that they’re morally bankrupt. You can even — often — believe both: that rich people are sociopathic geniuses. And the reverse is true: that poor people are stupid, and default to ethical purity — except of course, when forced by privation to transgress some minor social rule or other.

I’ve read a couple of papers which claim to prove the richness = turpitude equation; they’re not super-convincing. One identified that the rich become less sympathetic to the poor. Okay. The poor get far less sympathetic to the rich too; people in foreign countries have some strange ideas about locals, and vice versa. It just seemed like an outgroup thing.

Anyway, my own observation is that, at least in terms of ethics and general intelligence, the curves seem to mostly stay the same as you jump up and down the economic ladder. Unethical rich people probably do more damage, simply because they have more power. Unethical poor people, on the other hand, will fuck you up directly, and are terrifying to somebody wimpy but verbal like me, in a way that a monied lizard is not. Is that because I’m a white guy? I don’t think so: again, I’ve met landied racists, but nothing matches being stuck on a nightbus for in-your-face violent prejudice.

Intelligence, is, of course, weirdly even more subjective contested as a value. As someone who came in with the standard prejudices, I am perpetually surprised at how dumb many of the rich are, mostly in a Tim Nice-But-Dim way. I was never surprised by the raw intelligence of members of the working class, because I grew up there. I’m pretty clever, but from an early age was pretty clear how far behind my academic prowess was from just people who could deal with reality faster, more flexibly, and with a quicker learning curve than me. I got out, and they were stuck, but that wasn’t due to intelligence so much as preference, and their comfort with how well they could handle what was in front of them, versus my discomfort in everything that wasn’t safely cushioned in abstraction and safety.

Let me go meta a little bit here: If you’re already disagreeing with me, I think you’re probably right, or at least, no less right than me. I’m knocking out a trite, and factually unfounded opinion piece here. I think it’s a rarely-stated and intriguing opinion, but only because I’m falling back to a wriggly contrarianism.

All I can say is: I too am a sinner. Even if I’d stitched in a few links that back up my point, it’s hardly better than the average Substack blather.

What I really yearn for online are more articles that aren’t like this. What I’d like to do is make predictions or do original research. But that takes up more time than writing; it needs some gearing and machinery underneath the probabilistic GPT text generation of my left hemisphere.

I have some ideas about how I could do that better, but first I need to build up this habit of writing. If I’m not saying anything, I can’t test my thoughts. I am, right now, somewhat sluicing out the opinions as I try to work out what’s valuable and what’s not.

(850 words)



I have a couple of friends who (like my other friend below, who is also not made up) are very irritated by the non-stop AI/GPT coverage. I’m really intrigued by the hard and somewhat arbitrary line between those — like me, I admit — who are just endlessly fascinated by all its developments, and those who can’t bear or understand any part of it.

One said, paraphrasing, that it was really the ridiculous level of hype and investment that could go on important things: local university AI labs, and smart cities, and stupid business plans, and bad social media algorithms, and endless snake oil, and so on. That makes complete sense to me! I’ve just, over time, complete compartmentalized that apart from what I see as the compelling, transformative parts. I have much training in this, having lived through the dotcom boom, the blogging boom, the twitter revolution boom, and the crypto boom: constantly panning for gold in Eldorado’s rivers of shit.

The other was more intriguing: they just couldn’t bear the discourse, because they had ideas on it, and they needed to focus on other things. It was too attractive a solution, but fixing it was not their job, their job was elsewhere. This, too, I sympathize with: whatever this is, it still needs to fit in with all the other work we do, and just because it’s cat-nip for a certain kind of brain, doesn’t mean those brains couldn’t also be put to work attending to other pressing challenges.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but when I first saw things that I had a baroque interest in suddenly turn into the wider world’s obsession and most lucrative industries — primarily computers and nerd culture — I believed that i had seen them first out of some profound predictive insight. It was only after a while that I realized that, no, I was just part of cohort of privileged people whose tastes were aligned, and who would then, over time, go on to pursue those tastes, with plenty of investment and support from other, near identical, people. Who they would then sell all this stuff to. I wasn’t different: I was just the same as every other white boy.

I don’t want to exaggerate this — you can whip up a culture out of nothing but the collective delusions of a privileged class, but it’s near impossible to craft it and maintain it without some connection to reality. Marvel movies exist because a middle-class generation of my age liked those comics, and went into the film business with that sensibility. But Stan Lee had to have built that on some fundamental narrative truths.

Separating that true component, the point at which the spirit of the age touches the eternal verities, from all the bullshit, is a skill. It’s a less marketable skill than you think, because, once again, you’re just one person recognizing the popular delusions of your own cohort: and the real money is in the popularity, not separating the delusions fro the ground. I have to keep remembering this: we don’t prophesy, we herd. We make the future, but we make it out of the things close at hand, using the opportunities and wealth the past handed us.

(542 words)


some fire in me yet

So I’ll keep this one short: it feels like I’m getting back into my stride, and I managed to knock out 2000 words on cognitive liberty and decentralization for a (shh secret) magazine that Mike Masnick is editing for us at the Foundation. The bad news is that my brief was 800-1000 words, but hey, better to kangaroo ahead in first gear a bit than not start the engine at all.

Here’s a sampler, the final mag will be openly licensed:

The PC was always intended as a machine that augments individual abilities. That ambition has deep roots, from Vannevar Bush’s 1945 essay “As We May Think“, Doug Engelbart’s 1962 paper “Augmenting Human Intellect“, through Ted Nelson’s 1974 manifesto “Computer Lib“, Steve Job’s 1980 “Bicycle For The Mind” campaign, to Sherry Turkle’s 1984 book “The Second Self” and beyond.

In this way of thinking about digital tech, the personal computer is an extension of your brain and its abilities. Its memory is to help you remember; its processing power is there to help you think faster; its network connection is for you to reach out to others; its interfaces are to connect more closely to you. It is yours in the same way as your hands belong to you, as your eyes, as your imagination.

Something has taken us from that tradition. The PC has inched closer to our faces, and under our skin. It has become ever more personal and intimate (do you sleep with your phone?) It has in many ways, become more “user friendly”. But it has also much much less user controlled. Its memory and processor now spends its time on showing advertisements, enforcing copyright protection rules, and sly surveillance of your habits that all resist your ability to evade them. That network connection is used to stream out your behavior to strangers, rather than let you voluntarily choose who to communicate to.

No matter how they ape the liberatory language of this tradition, many of us look at Neuralink or VR and see it as a fundamentally alienating tech, controlled by others, leering into our personal space; foreign body horror rather than extensions of our selves.

Those on the cutting edge of technological adoption, like the elderly and the disabled, know the profound difference between tech that expands your personal autonomy, and those that are limited and controlled by others. Many others who might think they have more freedom in what tech they adopt, are feeling the walls close in too.

(400 words)


Only fans

My PC died yesterday, screaming in pain as its brain heated over boiling point. I went out to Central Computer, San Francisco’s local computer store to get it a new fan. I got the wrong one of course, but jury-rigged it in anyway. It didn’t help: I think the CPU cooler may have died too, in the wreckage.

One of the things I’ve been punishing that machine with is Whisper, a speech-to-text ML model that you can cram into a consumer GPU. Peter Thiel likes to say that cryptocurrency is libertarian, and AI is communist (because it requires powerful, locally-connected resources, and might be thrown at the calculation problem). AI certain seems to be generating massive crop surpluses: Whisper was literally a side project for OpenAI so that they could use it to parse and suck down video sources for GPT’s maw. I find this to be just one of the indications of an age of wonder. I’ve spent years worrying that open source was falling behind commercial speech recognition tooling, and OpenAI just chucked one over the transom as favor. Oh, and it also translates, tolerably, and sometimes accidentally.

But my point here is what a pleasure it is to run these tools locally. As Simon, now AI whisperer to the world, notes, there’s a substantial difference from feeding an LLM through a grate in OpenAI’s door, to having it run under your own control, and/or passing around the model among friends and submitting it to the processes of open improvement.

Having it sit with my domain, means that I can do things like record myself all day, and then convert everything I’ve said into text at bedtime. Even though I mostly seem to talk to my cat, just my asides or mutterings are useful to me. I can throw videos or talks at it, I can use it to control my house (ah, the geek dream). I suspect, when GPT or llama gets lopped down enough to comfortably fit on that machine, it’ll be straightforward to wire all of these tools: voice -> text -> GPT -> voice. I imagine this is weeks if not days away. After years of sharing everything with Google, I’ll be able to have a private conversation with my computer again.

I also, in passing, think of that cautionary tale of open science, piracy, and brain uploading, Lena. What strange shapes will these models be stretched in private homes? What does it feel like to stick your hand into these talking machines?

And then, always conscious that it is not conscious, but nonetheless reminded of Dannie Abses’ poem, “In the Theater”, which describes a neurosurgeon, whose mistakes spark broken replies in a patient’s brain, as he tries futilely to remove their tumor.

‘Leave my soul alone, leave my soul alone,’   

that voice so arctic and that cry so odd   

had nowhere else to go—till the antique   

gramophone wound down and the words began

to blur and slow, ‘ … leave … my … soul … alone … ’


poles apart

Exasperated, I once said to a friend: “You can’t behave like you’re right all the time!”.

She looked confused. “How else am I supposed to act?” she said.

Strange attractors

It’s unlikely that I’m correct on everything: even more unlikely when I’m in a minority. I don’t like music, much. But so many other people love music! So I’m probably making some sort of error in that, even if it’s just an error of taste, or a personal incapacity. My theories on the Russian people are heavily outweighed by the estimations of, at the very least, the Russian people, and many more besides. I have some funny ideas on how Brexit happened. The accuracy of those theories are, to some extent in my mind, inversely correlated with how funny they are to other people. I’m not saying that I let the world democratically override my convictions: but the lonelier I am in my convictions, the more suspicious I become.

Despite being politically engaged, I don’t really identify with the right or the left. But so many other people do! And their views seem, often, to be more coherent, more well-thought out, backed up by dozens of books and essays that make the connections I fail to make.

It doesn’t stop me thinking what I think, nor feeling that sense of intuitive agreement whenever I do stumble on someone who, randomly, thinks the same as me on topic. My sister once told me that long before she understood the details of politics, she knew what she felt about the matters of the day. Does that make her right? No, it makes her who she is. Should we fail to add our opinions to the contemporary discussion, just because in a hundred years time, a chunk of them — maybe crucial, fundamental parts of them — will have failed to pan out?

The big bang theory of polarization

Everyone worries about polarization, and online radicalization. But we don’t often seem to worry about our own process of radicalization. Like many of my friends, I’d characterise my politics as having grown sharper over time, in contrast to the softening that I’d been told to expect comes with age. Despite my neither-left nor right-ness, if pushed, I will say I’m an anarchist, for goodness’ sake! A market anarchist! They don’t make those in moderate sizes!

But even among the anarchists, I feel like I need to watch my lip a bit. I find it really easy, in group chats or polite gatherings, very easy to stumble out of the consensus. I don’t know whether this is just me. When someone confesses to feeling like they can’t really say everything they want, that this is what I think they’re touching on. It’s not like I think I’m going to be cancelled: It’s just easy to touch on a topic where disagreement hides.

Of course, this may just be the fricking anarchists. It’s not like it’s a milieu famous for marching lockstep in calm display of unified visions and solidarity. But I also see this fractiousness elsewhere; I see it everywhere.

I sometimes think of online polarisation as being how the inflationary universe was described to me once (and oh boy, if I’m wrong about some things, I really bet I’m wrong about the structure of the early universe). The universe is expanding, I was told, but from any one spot, you won’t see it expanding. You just see everything moving, on average, further apart. Like ink marks on the surface of a balloon that’s being inflated, the universe is always unbounded, but somehow the distances grow in every direction.

That’s what the world’s opinions feel like to me. Some of it is that the Internet provided us with better space telescopes to see across this universe: Europeans knew something of America, but now they hear directly from Americans, and vice versa. Who knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men, until NextDoor came along?

But some of it is more active: as our universe expands, we get to (whether we like it or not) explore that idea space. We can zoom off in new directions, alone or with strange new attractors. We wander into the woods, and then look back, and everyone is further away, because they have so many more choices that they could make.

I find this, in my impossibly optimistic way, rather lovely. I don’t know whether I’m right, but I’m out here, noodling around the Noosphere, reporting back like Major Tom.

In our lanes, bowling alone

Another, different, good friend of mine, as close as one can be, is much as I remember him when I met him at college. We spent a lot of our life together, and I can instantly connect on the rare occasions we meet. We bond on so many features of the modern world, and politely disagree on a few, too.

He is totally convince 9/11 was an inside job, steel girders and planted explosives and everything. Unlike, say, our attitude to the West Country, he gets very annoyed when I express any scepticism about this. He is exasperated that no-one he knows can see the self-evident truth. I asked for evidence, and one Christmas, he sent me videos. For that single holiday weekend, I was convinced of it too: then I snapped out of it. We avoid the topic now.

Our universe of opinions and facts and statements and intuitions is multi-dimensional. Like GPT (everything will be analogised to GPT for the next few months, get used to it), there are millions of vectors in this state space, n-dimensional distances that connect each idea to one another. It’s really easy to just scoot down one or two of these numbers — start where you or I grew up, and then just spin a couple of numbers on the million-chambered one-armed bandit, until we’re the same, except you’re now millions of miles away in a single direction. I’m in London, and you’re in London too, but hundreds of miles upward. We both stayed on the Greenwich Meridian, but you stayed in your flat near Greenwich, and I pivoted off to Algeria. The universe of possible opinions balloons: even if we start close, we fly apart.

So how do we even talk to each other any more? How do we tolerate such distances? How do we stop us all just drifting further apart, from our family, from our friends, from a collective society, into some sort of heat death, or worse?

When the polarisation truly began to hit in the United States, back in 2015, I read a lot about the Reformation in Europe. It’s hard to extract much solace from the 100 years war, but I did. The West crafted a ceasefire from the religious wars that spilled out from those 95 new axes’ of freedom. The United States, in particular, was an unexpected commitment between religious maniacs, so intolerant that they were physically as well as conceptually displaced thousands of miles away, maniacs who thought that their neighbors — only a little more distant than those crammed into Southern England or Holland — were literally irredeemable. Somebody wants you dead in 2023? These people thought you deserved to die, then burn in hell for all eternity.

The truce failed when it came to many other inhabitants of that continent; but just the re-closing of that impossible distance fascinated me.

I am, of course, messing around with GPT, Llama, Galactica, Pygmalion and the rest. (Did you know there’s a GPT-4chan? You’d think they’d be writing about that, in the grown-up newsprobably going to hell, and risked taking their children with thempapers, wouldn’t you? Do they even know what’s happening now, what’s heading straight for us, rappelling down toward our tiny island of human consciousness, down every one of those billion parameters?).

Anyway, one of the things I’m messing around with is to use GPT as a bridge across that gulf. I get it to take some post that I don’t like, that I can’t read because it irritates me so much, the thing that shuts me off from new or distant ideas, and I automatically ask my pet GPT to rewrite it so I won’t bounce off it. Not buy into it: but not be alienated by its apparent proximity or distance from the worlds I do believe I understand. Texts in Chinese, in Hindu; local beliefs expressed in sneers and in dismissals. Love I don’t understand, fears I can’t sympathise with.

In Greg Egan’s Diaspora, humans have differentiated radically across the universe. Faced with a threat that could destroy them all, they create vast human chains of fractionally differentiated, intermediate consciousnesses, long chains of translators that are just close enough to their neighbour on each side of the chain, that they can, across the gradient of thousands of identities, convey an idea to and from an utterly alien descendant of mankind.

That’s my model of what we need to do, already, and will need to do more, not less. We are becoming alien to each other: but we can build tools that let us work together across long distances, as we did once before.

None of us are entirely right, but we need to talk to each other to triangulate, find out what’s wrong, and fix it, together.

(1400 words)


Text at Gunpoint

I remember reading at some impressionable age that there was “no such thing as writer’s block”. I don’t recall the context, but I’m guessing it was the same as my friends who said “there’s no such thing as jetlag”: a small crucifix to wield at the devil itself, rather than a statement of fact.

I don’t know about a “block”, but I have traumatic amounts of writer’s procrastination. Apart from it taking a starring role in my bio, I spent a lot of life devising increasingly byzantine ways of handling it — mostly through invented draconian punishments, and commandeering friends or co-workers to execute on them. When I wrote stage shows, my sinister manager figure, Ed Smith the VIII, literally locked me in a room to write them. When I wrote NTK, I would stay up all Thursday night until five (AM or PM) and I could feel the hot glares of its readers on the back of my neck. My columns were extracted by force. My various writing gigs were gently prised out of my hands by family who never wanted to see me suffer again.

And yet, shit got written. I just spent a few minutes procrastinating by looking through Oblomovka’s back catalogue — ostensibly to find other times I complained about all this, and a) that I remember none of this nor how it got done, and b) it’s fine. Even the 2008 Nanowrimo is okay in retrospect!

Anyway, the point of this is that I’ve been feeling some heavy back-pressure in my head to start writing things down. For the last few years, I’ve been mostly pursuing a role as oral storyteller, where I give (largely unrecorded) talks about what I think, and then people constantly harangue me to document it more permanently. I have slowly realised that I am leaning a little more heavily on my charming British accent than actual facts in my statements, so just for everyone’s safety, I should probably switch to structured text.

Secondly, back at the day job, as our duties and responsibilities have grown, so has my ability to keep it together in my head, shrunk. Processes must be recorded. Atittudes explained. Yelps of discontent justified. The Sumerian brainhack must be reactivated, Socrates be damned!

So I’m writing again. 200 words at least a day here, other wordage elsewhere. Forgive me the heavy drinking, the bouts of undirected anger, the weeping and the sleep deprivation. Onward!

(400 words)


petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.