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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
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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.
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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.
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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;
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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.
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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
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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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I love it when political manouvering becomes full-on Machiavellian. This (if true) is a beautifully contorted dodge from Kremlin strategist Vladislav Surkov, protecting his own position:

At one point he began to fear that success would be his undoing: there was speculation that he had presidential ambitions, a dangerous rumour, especially in political circles, and he immediately leaked the fact of his Chechen father, which he had previously kept secret, in order to rule himself out of higher office, or so it’s said. It was his way of saying ‘I know my place.’

Mullet

Jan. 4th, 2012 01:00 pm
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Oh, the ways I find to faff in my lunch-break. Today, translations of Mullet; apparently every country wants to blame them on foreigners and/or sportsmen. So Sweden (similar to Norway and Canada) has the lovely-sounding Hockeyfrilla ("Hockey hair"). The Danes ("Svenskerhår) blame it on the Swedes. Poland goes all the way with Czeski piłkarz ("Czech footballer") -- sports and abroad all in one.

All this from reading the blog of Amelia Andersdotter, who managed to win an election with the slogan "Vote for me because I know a lot about European cooperation, or because I have a mullet".
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The internet is poisoned. In my lunch break I started reading a blog on (er, mostly) Chinese politics, and within 5 minutes was confronted with slash involving David Miliband and a stegosaurus.

[no link, because it wasn't very good porn. I hope in the fullness of time somebody will do better, and occupy that particular niche in triumph]
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It's not so surprising that lobbyists are offering to demonize Occupy Wall Street for money. That's their job, after all: latch on to whatever is happening, and demand cash to support or hinder or manipulate it.

What's sweet is how fixated they are on finding some rich central backer pulling the strings. Maybe it's Soros? After all, these people wouldn't do anything unless they were being paid for it:


"It will be vital,” the memo says, “to understand who is funding it and what their backgrounds and motives are. If we can show that they have the same cynical motivation as a political opponent it will undermine their credibility in a profound way.”
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People, I lack music.

My office in Berlin was in a bar, above rehearsal rooms, with an electro-heavy playlist constantly on the stereo. There was enough music around that I didn't need to find my own. So, aside from the odd medicinal piece for a particular mood, I just soaked up whatever was in the air already.

My current office is more mundane: choose headphones, or choose silence. I can't just sink into the emotional rhythm of other people's music, so I need to create my own or let the entire day be identical.
Still, I'm not really asking for music recommendations. I really want to find music journalists. Or music blogers, music essayists, whatever. I may draw the line at twitter. Suggestions?
Ones I already like:

  • Simon Reynolds (despite his habit of concealing his articles across a dozen half-forgotten blogs)

  • Velvet Coalmine


  • K-punk,
    Splintering Bone Ashes, and the rest of the hauntology crowd. Though they're more philosophy than music, and in any case seem mostly to have given up the ghost.

  • Sasha Frere-Jones (though I wish he were a bit less tastefully even-handed)

  • um...there most be some more? Right?
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Reminder that today is my belated housewarming, and my housemate's birthday party. Location is 8A cheshire road, london n22 8JJ. Turn up any time from early evening -- with friends/partners/etc as you see fit.

Should you need it, my phone number is 07935 589442
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Practical advice time, folks: how do I find interesting films showing in London cinemas?

I'm particularly interested in older and moderately obscure films -- the kind that will turn up over the course of a year, but that I'll miss unless I inhale a listings magazine every week.

Does there exist a website that can take a wish-list of films, and email me whenever one of them is on in London? That seems like such an obvious and potentially-profitable concept that somebody must already have built it, but I can't find it.

Relatedly, does anybody want to come see some films with me?
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George Osborne supposedly used to regularly snort cocaine with a sex worker. Andy Coulson's NotW was on hand to damp down the story, hacking the escort's phone, attacking her personally, and printing an editorial sympathetic to Osborne. Hypocritical Tory saved by friends in high places, what's new?

But what I love is how in the midst of all this, she still manages to put the boot into Hague:

At the time [Osborne] was working for William Hague. I remember that vividly because he called William Hague insipid and I didn't know what the word meant. I do now.


[FWIW I find Hague much less insipid than the average politician, and in fact the current cabinet show up just how insipid the New Labour minsters were. Osborne, by contrast, has no redeeming features I've yet been able to find]
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It seems about time for me to throw some kind of a party. Late-night consultation with my housemate Cristina narrows us down to the middle of October, i.e.:

- Friday 7/10
- Saturday 8/10
- Friday 14/10
- Saturday 15/10

Now would be a great time to tell me about clashes, holidays, bad omens and the like. Which dates could you manage, were you so inclined?

[this is in London, Wood Green, around here]
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Guardian:


Just as Tottenham residents in 1985 lambasted the media for scaremongering about protesters – the Daily Express suggested some had been trained in Russia – today's rioters might be surprised to read about "Twitter-organised chaos".


I love the idea of twitter as the new Soviet influence behind every event. It's not quite a perfect stand-in, but it comes close.
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I'm moving back to London in 2 weeks.

I'll be arriving on the July 4th. My birthday is on July 8th.

Combined, that's sufficient excuse for a gathering of londoners I love.

Conveniently, [livejournal.com profile] mirabehn and [livejournal.com profile] mirrorshard are already organizing a readthrough in Finsbury Park on Sunday 10th. I'm going to hijack it.

So: let's meet in Finsbury Park from noon that day. There will be food, and drink, and Shakespeare, and at least a 30% chance of sun. Those of you who don't know the readthrough crowd can be overwhelmed by how lovely they are. Those of you who do -- well, surely you'll want to come anyway? Anybody with a hotline to God, please hint that sun would be really convenient :)

Details of location, plans in case of rain, etc, to follow once we've figured them out :)
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In less wanky news...
I'll be in London next week, Thursday to Sunday. Then off to Bristol for a couple of days.

Let me know if there are things I should be going to!
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[warning: 600 words of indulgent waffle on identity politics]

I've never been good at pseudonyms, collective identities, self-reinvention. Nonmetheless, I consider them a Good Thing at a fundamental level. Your identity, or mine, is the accretion of social conformism, gender roles, the acceptance of our own position in society. You can try to unpick it, layer by layer, but the chances are you'll never get to a 'real you'.

Or you can take the shortcut: choose another identity, put it on, change it once it's no longer useful. Be Luther Blissett, be Spartacus. Be your friends, or your enemies, or some combination of them all.

[livejournal.com profile] steerpikelet just gave a wonderful interview, where she defends political action without a true name:


Anonymous is its own separate thing, an anarchic and brilliant thing, but the wider concept of anonymity itself as a political statement - whether online or offline - is gaining more and more ground as a way of rebelling against a political culture that not only seeks to root out unsavory elements with surveillance but which mandates individuality as a form of rigid conformity. Think about it: it you grow up being commanded to self-actualise, to be the best individual you can be, to define yourself by buying things, to be yourself and find your special centre and compete with your neighbors and colleagues, then choosing to be anonymous is an inherently revolutionary act, quite apart from the organising possibilities the phenomenon offers. Plus, there’s a growing sense that there is a great deal of power in the collective, in sharing a sense of solidarity, symmetry and protection in anonymity.


It's perhaps not a coincidence that Laurie writes this in an interview with a comics blog. If there's one area that comics have picked over in every possible regard, it's the secondary identity. Start with a world that has Clark Kent/Superman as the mainstream, where almost every hero wears a mask or leads a double life. Then in the 80s, along come Alan Moore and friends, devote their considerable talents to picking apart every aspect of the superhero identity. The Guy Fawkes mask now identifying Anonymous is just the smallest part of this.

The climax of this tendency, to my mind, is Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. A cell of superpowered freedom fighters draw their personalities by lot; each necessary identity is filled by a different person each week. Characters live under layers of assumed identities, brainwashing themselves at each level to forget the next layer. Heroes and villains turn out to be the same groups, veiling their consciousness in order to play out their roles. The end result is reminiscent of, say, Shaiva Tantrism. By the end, it seems that everybody is part of the same identity: a character in a dream, a player in a video-game, the 'fiction suit' with which God walks the earth, or part of a hyper-dimensional being.

Yes, this is part plot device, part stoner esoterica. But it's also a guide to discarding the unwanted parts of your past, and to acting as a group not based on prior hierarchies. And, as Laurie suggests, to dodging surveillance. When government and corporations devote so much energy to tracking and correlating our behaviour, it becomes almost a matter of duty to thow a spanner in the works. That is to adopt some identity not linked to a passport and a birth certificate. To dream a fiction suit, be it, share it, discard it, and move on to the next identity.
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