Allen Ginsberg's Howl is permanently associated for me with winter in Berlin.

It fixed itself there in the winter of 2009-10. I'd fallen in love, in a way that I'd not believed myself still capable of, and my emotions had burst open into areas I hadn't felt since I was a teenager. It was also one of the coldest winters, and cold has always energised me. I'd go out the door in the morning, onto uncleared month-old snow, be jolted awake by the cold air, and only restrain myself from running with the knowledge that I'd slip over if I did.

Howl was the constant mental soundtrack when I was outside -- as I paced through a park eating carrots on my lunch-break, or earned scathing looks for muttering to myself in the u-bahn. It was the perfect accompaniment for my manic, convoluted rush of half-forgotten emotions -- extreme states and rootless poverty, bursts of arrogant passion just a whisker away from despair or self-destruction.

Since then, Howl has always been somewhere in my head. Especially at a time like now, when the cold loosens up my head and I can recover an echo of how it once felt. There's a miniature revelation as the poem becomes physical rather than intellectual, as the ecstatic intensity briefly becomes comprehensible. I tap fingers, twirl pens; the body fidgets and the mind free-associates.

All this has happened again these past few days. It's always half a surprise -- no more, no less. There's a strange interplay between my past and my present and Allen Ginsberg, and some point where Howl suddenly bursts into colour. So rather than dissect it I'll just repeat some of the lines which -- for no obvious reason -- shine most brightly to me:

      who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in 
              Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their 
              torsos night after night 
       with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, al- 
              cohol and cock and endless balls, 
       incomparable blind; streets of shuddering cloud and 
              lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of 
              Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo- 
              tionless world of Time between, 
       Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery 
              dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops, 
              storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon 
              blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree 
              vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brook- 
              lyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind, 


You can (should!) read the full poem here
The UK government body responsible for regulating estate agents is...

Powys County Council

For real. And here's a Guardian article.

I'm not entirely sure how that works. The central government body responsible for it was abolished, so it got handed off to a county council. They got enough cash to hire three people. The UK spends about £140 billion on real estate each year -- not to mention house prices being basically the only allowable topic of dinner-party conversation. And it's watched over by those three people in Powys county council.
The Interplanetary File-system must be one of the most interesting technical concepts I've come across lately.

[warning: the below is pretty technical. Likely both confused and confusing, written to help me et my head round IPFS]

Globally distributed file-storage is something that's been just around the corner for a long time now. Bittorrent and the like got us 90% of the way there, but functioned as mechanisms for sharing single files, rather than as a layer of infrastructure for other applications to be built on.

To download a file (as with bittorrent) you query its hash in a Distributed Hash Table. You get a list of users storing that file, and download it from them. As a file becomes more popular it becomes cached by more users, so no one node gets overloaded -- again like bittorrent. The IPFS designers are also leaving room for more ambitious incentive schemes like Filecoin.

As for uploading: each user has a writeable directory, with an address generated from a keypair. This means the system can enforce only one user being able to write to a directory, without needing any central authority. Only you can upload to your directory, because only you can sign uploads with the private key corresponding to the public key in your directory name.

There's also a git-like version history built into the filesystem. This feels like overkill to me. The advantage, though, is that you can provide a mutable-seeming directory structure, while under the surface the directory is an immutable data structure, namely a Merkle Tree. It also means that files don't get deleted -- the user just commits a version of the directory without the files. And perhaps you hope that other nodes won't store the old data, but you have no way to enforce that.

Here's how creator Juan Benet describes it:


IPFS provides a high through-put content-addressed block storage model, with content-addressed hyper links. This forms a generalized Merkle DAG, a data structure upon which one can build versioned file systems, blockchains, and even a Permanent Web. IPFS combines a distributed hashtable, an incentivized block exchange, and a self-certifying namespace. IPFS has no single point of failure, and nodes do not need to trust each other.
There's a $1.5bn plan to bring wind energy from Wyoming to California, via pumping air into a specially-built salt cave, and letting it out as needed.

It's a wonderful, baroquely over-the-top scheme. And, as BDLGblog says, it all feels like something out of a steampunk Aeneid:


The restless regions of the storms she sought,
Where, in a spacious cave of living stone,
The tyrant Aeolus, from his airy throne,
With pow'r imperial curbs the struggling winds,
And sounding tempests in dark prisons binds.
This way and that th' impatient captives tend,
And, pressing for release, the mountains rend.
High in his hall th' undaunted monarch stands,
And shakes his scepter, and their rage commands;
Which did he not, their unresisted sway
Would sweep the world before them in their way;
We have a "maker" movement that's almost entirely disconnected from the (industrial, international) processes that do most of the making. Here's a nice essay about it:


It is intoxicating to trace materials and people back towards their origins. You start with an iPhone in Brooklyn and end up in an open pit mine in Alaska, Russia, or Peru. You start with Silicon Valley and end up digging a ditch in Thailand. It is great fun, zipping along unexpected pathways to exotic locales. But Beware! Exoticization is one of the hazards of trying to grapple with networks of sublime scale. So are: oversimplification, marginalization, undue emphasis, overcomplication, obfuscation, and tedium.


It makes me wonder how William Morris would react to it all. The Arts & Crafts movement might not have liked industrial production, but they were a lot closer to it than anybody I know, and were always moving back and forth between individual craft and small-scale industry. And they were close enough, and thoughtful enough, to think about the workers.
Bonkers Victorian inventions, including:
  • A steel collar, to protect against garrotting
  • A mechanical leech, in case there's a shortage of real leeches
  • A corset with built-in inflatable boobs
I'm not sure how I managed to spend so many years grumbling about the failings of fb/twitter/lj/tumblr, without ever getting round to joining Dreamwidth.

I guess maybe it was that I wanted to do it *properly* -- find a decent username, use it as a space to show other sides of myself. But I never got round to any of that, and so just followed the general drift towards ever-more-obnoxiously commercial spaces.

Ello has finally prompted me to turn up here. It's so obviously inferior to dreamwidth in every way, and still I signed up. Pretty embarrassing, really! But I'm here now.

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danohu

December 2016

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