Essays listed alphabetically




It turns out that nobody ever said that, least of all Stewart Brand, who normally receives the credit.

Seth Godin pointed out in his blog thingy that

Thirty-five years ago, in a conversation with Steve Wozniak (pioneer of the personal computer), Stuart Brand (founder of the Whole Earth Catalog along with many other foundational disruptions), said:

On the one hand you have — the point you’re making Woz — is that information sort of wants to be expensive because it is so valuable — the right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information almost wants to be free because the costs of getting it out is getting lower and lower all of the time. So you have these two things fighting against each other.

Mister Godin references another article about the history of that almost-fictitious quotation, which itself makes some interesting points and adds some facts.

Has anyone ever said any of the things that people say they say? Certainly Thatcher never said “there is no such thing as society”, for example.

“Information wants to be free”


Owen Kelly grew up in Birkenhead, worked in Brixton, and now lives in Helsinki.

He has worked in physical theatre and as a community artist, cultural consultant, computer trainer and web designer. He has written several books, chapters and reports including Community, Art & The State (1984), Culture & Democracy: the manifesto, with John Lock and Karen Merkel (1986), Digital Creativity (1995), Urban No-Mind (2012), and Ambient Learning and Self Authorship (2015).

He currently works as principal lecturer in online media at Arcada, a university of applied science. His research explores conviviality, dividuality and immersive simulation as tools to assist in the struggle for cultural democracy.

He acts as an active member of Pixelache, and you can find his personal web site at You can download his publications from, and you can uncover broad hints about the direction of this research at

146 Word Biography

While talking to a group of students about how innovations can take very simple forms I wondered to myself who invented the upside down bottle and when.

I found one possible answer: Heinz introduced the upside down ketchup bottle on February 11 2002.

However further research (or ten minutes more googling until I found the right search term – “history” upside down shampoo bottle if you want to know) told me that

Paul Brown invented the upside-down bottle in 1991 and sold his invention to NASA, Heinz, and several shampoo manufacturers. He later sold his company, Liquid Molding Systems, Inc., and the rights to the design in 1995. He received $14 million and retired.

You can find a much more detailed version of his story at

1991: bottles turn upside down


Some conspiracy theories are dangerous. Some conspiracy theories are dull. Some are stupid. Some are meta. Some meta theories, as we shall see, are obviously more meta then others.

I have just come across this site which is a kind of all-inclusive conspiracy theory mash-up from 2011, which is still on the web with the date of The Ascension intact. The date is December 31, 2012, fact fans, and I, for one, don’t recall ascending. This section from one of its many pages (the conspiracy is vast and multi-dimensional and so is the site) stands as a candidate for the Quote of the Decade.

Or any decade, if we are honest.

Duality still plays out in the 4D. Deception is involved to convince beings that they are from 5th dimensional frequencies. The red flag for me is that they still use technologies to solve problems they face. In the true 5th dimension, technology does not exist. Everything in the true 5th dimension is done by ones spiritual powers.True spiritual power is infinitely stronger than any technology created in this Light Universe.

The Galactic Federation of Light & Ascended Masters will come to Mother Earth and tell humanity to evacuate onto their ships to “save us” from the pending environmental destruction that she will unleash leading up to Dec. 21st 2012.
People will become scared and react from an ego state of mind. Since trust will be somewhat established already with the GFL that they will board ships, or go into inner earth realm called Argartha. Argartha is really a holographic reality and is not the true Shamballah that resides on Mother Earth in the 5th dimension. They will also say that we need “help” to ascend into the higher dimensions. They will present humanity a technology called “Light Chambers” that will ultimately control what level of ascension they want you to experience.

I don’t prescribe to the version of Ascension that requires you to be saved by extraterrestrials whether it be via Ascension Light Chambers, Technological Safe Zones, or Ascended Master Worship. I prescribe to the sovereignty of each individual and would like to remind you that you are more powerful than some ETs or Ascended Masters have led you to believe. Some ETs and Ascended Masters are taking advantage of your “spiritual amnesia” and are not telling you the Truth regarding your spiritual powers. You are an INFINITE BEING OF LIGHT and do not need to be “saved”. Your are so Powerful and Spiritually Strong that the only thing that can stop you from ascending is yourself.

So now you know.

On another page the Conspirator in Chief says that he has removed the dates from the site since they have proved “unreliable”, but they are still on this page. Perhaps it is a conspiracy.

2012 calls from the fifth dimension

According to C-Net,

The first text message was sent on Dec. 3, 1992, by British engineer Neil Papworth to Richard Jarvis, an executive at British telecom Vodafone, who was attending his company’s holiday party in Newbury, England.

Typed out on a PC, it was sent to Jarvis’s Orbitel 901, a mobile phone that would take up most of your laptop backpack, and read: Merry Christmas. But Jarvis didn’t send a reply because there was no way to send a text from a phone in those days

Although Papworth is credited with sending the first text message, he’s not the so-called father of SMS. That honor (or blame) falls on Matti Makkonen, who initially suggested the idea back in 1984 at a telecommunications conference.

Makkonen played a very active role in the development of the GSM standard, as well as working for Telecom Finland before and after it became known as Sonera.

He disagreed with today’s anniversary right up until his death on June 26, 2015. He believed that we should regard the launch of the Nokia 2010 mobile phone in January 1994 as the true starting point for mobile messaging, because only then could people easily write and receive messages.

25 years of texting :)


As part of the Convivial Mechanics experiments we have spent time finding and testing open source equivalents to the tools we have got used to using. I note three here for reference. I have no idea how many people know about these and I understand fully that the fact that I discovered them in the last three months says nothing at all about their popularity or lack thereof.


Mattermost looks and feels exactly like Slack. It has feature parity, and in some areas it has more advanced features than Slack. Slack has only just got threading for comments, for example, while Mattermost has had threading since we first looked at it. It also supports markdown fully, whereas Slack has a very limited set of pseudo-markdown commands to enable you to bold words, and so on.

One potential disadvantage lies in the fact that you have to deploy the open source version on your own server. Having said that John deployed it on Pixelache’s Linode in ten minutes, and it has caused no problems so far.


WeKan offers a fully-formed Trello clone that you can host yourself. It seems to have most of Trello’s features (or, more accurately, all of the features that I have used in Trello) and it has very active developers, and an active discussion forum.


OnlyOffice has two million users and offers a cloud-based office system that you can install on your own server. It includes Online Document Editors, Desktop Document Editors, Mobile Document Editors, Document Management, Mail, Projects, CRM, Calendar and Community sections.

3 convivial open source tools


During the last month I have worked my way through Tiny Habits by the appropriately named BJ Fogg PhD.

The other day I stopped reading, looked at the sky, and wrote this down.

1. Every morning, upon waking, write a numbered list of tasks you intend doing that day.
2. Email the list to yourself at an alternative email address.
3. Open the email some time before lunch with an expression of genuine surprise.
4. Ensure that you do none of the tasks in the list that day.

I had a reason for writing that down, which concerned the fact that the tasks I think I should do may not always prove the ones that need doing. I have found that clearing my mind at the start of the day sometimes reveals something interesting hiding behind the tasks I thought I should do.

Mister Fogg’s book, however, strikes me as interesting in many ways. It presupposes in an almost Peircean way that we live by habits which get disturbed only on rare occasions. The content makes sense, although I noticed that he has placed all the references on his website, leaving the arguments in the book itself almost completely anecdotal. I have promised myself that I will take the time to go there and check them out. In fact, I have put this in my todo list for Friday.

Interestingly, though, by the time I put the book down I had come to realise that a careful reader could boil the argument in every chapter down into one or two illuminating paragraphs. The resulting essay might, I suspect, prove very useful indeed.

David Allen had this problem (if we see it as a problem) when he wrote Getting Things Done. He went the whole distance, admitted that he could write down the essential components of his system in a paragraph – and then did so.

I tend to think of this strategy as the “open source solution”: the one used by people like Red Hat. Give away the core of the system and then sell packaged solutions to make adopting and maintaining the system easier.

I think that the best way to use this approach is to use it openly, as David Allen has done.

4 step productivity workout


We have a domain where students can create subdomains to house Wordpress and other CMS sites. We rent the space from the lovely people at HostMonster because that way the sites live outside our firewall, and our IT people sleep easier.

One result of this is that I am the ultimate webmaster for these sites and so some, but not all, of the comment spam reaches me. Specifically it reaches me on all the sites where the student has not filled in the information in the dashboard with their own email address.

Today I received notice that this comment is awaiting my attention.

I and also my pals were analyzing the nice tips and hints from your web page and then suddenly got a horrible feeling I never expressed respect to the blog owner for those tips. The young boys had been as a consequence warmed to read them and now have extremely been taking advantage of these things. Thank you for actually being very helpful and then for obtaining certain impressive things most people are really wanting to be aware of. Our own honest apologies for not expressing appreciation to earlier.

Fair enough, it contains a link which somebody somewhere hopes that somebody will click on.

Hey, let's go to Poland for our holiday this year!

The strange thing, though, is that the link did not point me at Viagra, job opportunities in my own home, or exciting live webcam porn. It wanted to send me to a website (entirely in Polish) that seemed to be offering holiday apartments for rent in Poland. This seems a rather small niche market for a global spamming operation.

Or is there something about holiday rentals in Poland that I don’t understand?

A little more spam, please

I subscribe to an increasing number of email newsletters as an alternative to scouring social media for something actually interesting.

One of the newsletters I get comes from A Book Apart, whose books I heartily recommend. Shortly after I posted about they sent me a newsletter jam-packed with interesting things to subscribe to.

They said that “we’ve rounded up a few of our author and staff faves”, and after I had looked through it I thought that I would repost the list here, if only to remind me of the links after the email has gone to email heaven.

And, in fairness to ABA, I have kept in the final paragraph which points you to their blog (also well worth reading) where you can sign up for the very same newsletter you can see excerpted below.

A Book Apart newsletter

Rachel Andrew loves Coding with Veni by Veni Kunche, a newsletter for underrepresented coders.

Ethan Marcotte keeps A11y Weekly from David A. Kennedy in rotation for a weekly does of accessibility, and Anjali Ramachandran’s Other Valleys for media and tech news largely not from the US/UK/EU.

Katel LeDu finds something useful or surprising (or both) in Recomendo’s weekly list of brief recommendations of really cool stuff. She also never misses any of Erin Ruberry’s In Better News dispatches, because each note has: good news, good animals, and good GIFs.

Lisa Maria Marquis looks forward to perusing professional and creative development opportunities across design, the arts, tech, and more—in Words of Mouth. Speaking of opportunities, she highly recommends Remote Jobs Club, where Sanj Ambalavanar collates a biweekly roundup of remote jobs that “aren’t restricted by commutes or a particular geographic area.”

Dan Brown thinks Leisa Reichelt deserves your attention. She reads “loads about design and user research with a touch of organizational design, strategy, diversity, accessibility and the odd bit of feminism”—and she wants to share it with you every week (or so).

Jeremy Keith is a big fan of The History of the Web, Jay Hoffman’s weekly dose of the best stories from, well, the web’s history.

And! Don’t miss out on excellent newsletters straight from our authors, like: Lara Hogan’s company newsletter, Lisa Maria Marquis’ literary dispatch, Jeremy Keith’s industry roundup, and Chris Coyier’s weekly CSS-Tricks transmission.

Check out what’s happening over at A Book Apart’s blog and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on new releases, author interviews, and special offers!

A newsletter apart

I did not write this essay. David Rovics wrote it. I subscribe to his newsletter, which is always informative and sometimes amusing, and this arrived this morning. For those who don’t know, David Rovics is “an American indie singer/songwriter”.

According to Wikipedia:

His music concerns topical subjects such as the 2003 Iraq war, anti-globalization and social justice issues. Rovics has been an outspoken critic of former President George W. Bush, the Republican Party, John Kerry, and the Democratic Party.

Rovics is critical of the United States government’s policies and claims that the “U.S. government’s foreign policy represents U.S. corporate interests” and that “the U.S. government does not like democracy either at home or abroad.”

His official site, songs of social significance, is worth checking out. This piece is well worth reading in its entirety. I republish it here because it deserves both to be heard and to be remembered.

The United Nations has a strict definition of the term “refugee,” whereby you are only a refugee if you are fleeing war or persecution of some kind. If you are fleeing a place because there is no way for you to feed yourself or your family if you stay, the UN defines this kind of movement as “migration.” Until 1967, the only refugees recognized by the original refugee convention were Europeans. So clearly there’s lots of room for improvement.

In any case, however you define the term, the history of what some call civilization has been full of refugees. Most sensible people think that if you’re starving, that’s also a good reason to seek out a place where you might not starve, and that also counts as being a refugee. That is the definition of “refugee” that I use — anyone who is fleeing for their lives, for whatever reason.

There is a lot of propaganda here in the US — in the schools, histories, in the media, etc. — that we are a country of immigrants. Of people seeking a better life in a “new” world. To be sure, there were some very wealthy and powerful Europeans who were seeking greater degrees of wealth and power in the Americas, and they found it.

People like the Van Renssalaer family, of royal Dutch extraction, who came to New York in order to be given much of the state by the Dutch crown. Through this massive land grant to the already-wealthy, they got much, much wealthier through the practice of exploiting peasants, aka “tenant farmers,” up and down the Hudson River Valley. There are a lot of other similar examples throughout North and South America.

Even people who have swallowed the line about “migrants seeking a better life in the new world” are aware that millions of people were brought to the Americas in chains, mostly from Africa, so clearly weren’t “migrants.” They may also be aware that there were 500 nations full of people already living within the borders of what today is known as the United States. 500 nations full of people with different languages, customs, and highly advanced farming, forestry and game management practices, who were systematically driven off of their lands and killed through a web of market-incentivized methods of extermination. Including but not limited to the European practice of “scalping,” which involved white settlers getting paid by the local authorities on a per-scalp basis.

But what of the European “migrants”? What of the ancestors of the majority population today in the US and Canada? My ancestors, for example? Aside from the Van Renssalaers and their ilk, the Europeans who settled North America were certainly primarily refugees. They came not seeking a better life, but seeking to live. They were fleeing the violent, disease-ridden, often war-torn cities of Europe. Fleeing corrupt, despotic rulers. Famines, pogroms, inquisitions and crusades.

They were refugees seeking survival, seeking not to be killed for practicing a certain religion, seeking to have land to farm so they could eat — land that was systematically stolen from them in Europe in order to force them into miserable, fatal jobs in dangerous, deadly factories. (In England they called this practice “enclosure.” In Scotland it was known as the “clearances.” In Ireland, the Irish called it slavery, and referred to each other as slaves — an accurate description of their condition through most of British colonial rule there.)

The refugees coming from Europe to the Americas over the course of many hundreds of years were coming from Europe because countries like the US and Canada had a whites-only policy for accepting refugees, aka “immigrants.” If not for this racist policy — now a slightly less racist “quota system” — perhaps there would have been a greater proportion of refugees migrating from other parts of the world. In fact there were, but many of the Chinese, Japanese and other non-whites who came here to build the railroads and work the coal mines were sent back later, and could never get citizenship, by virtue of the fact that they weren’t European.

Generally, these European refugees came here with promises of work and land. They often found neither, but were sometimes given the opportunity to have land to farm if they went west and stole it from someone else first. This was the principal method of westward expansion, backed up by genocidal military campaigns to help clear land for settlement.

This process of settlement also produced massive flows of refugees throughout the Americas, such as the Cherokee and hundreds of other nations — millions of people altogether — forced at gunpoint to leave their ancestral lands and try to survive somewhere else. Usually somewhere with rocky soil that the whites didn’t want to bother with.

If you’re familiar with the history I have laid out here so far, it’s very likely that you’re unfamiliar with what I’m about to tell you.

Before the Americas became the primary method for the European ruling classes to give rebellious peasants the “flight” option (within the “fight or flight” equation), European refugees went south and east instead of across the Atlantic. That is, throughout what in Europe they called the Dark Ages, starving European peasants fled in their thousands every year to live in relative safety and prosperity in lands ruled by the Ottoman Empire.

That is, European Christians fled Europe in order to live under Muslim rule in the Middle East and North Africa. Every year, in their thousands. It was a one-way flow. Muslim farmers from Ottoman lands wouldn’t think of moving to Europe. Such a move would likely result in them being killed for the crime of not being Christians. Also, while most of Europe was ruled by petty, xenophobic despots in the post-Roman period, the Middle East and North Africa, by contrast, was ruled by comparatively enlightened rulers. Things in the Ottoman lands were much more predictable, much more stable. You got taxed once a year, rather than whenever the local baron wanted to build a new castle or make war on his neighbor. And you could freely practice any religion and speak any language without fear of persecution.

By far the most dramatic chapter in the history of refugees on our planet took place in 1492, when the new rulers of Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, declared in their Edict of Alhambra that all of Spain’s approximately 800,000 Jews (the Sephardim) had three months to leave Spain before they would be killed.

Thousands of Sephardic Jews died in various attempts to get out of Spain, “aided” by Spanish sailors who generally took them out to sea, only to cut them open and dump them overboard once they got far enough from land. (There were rumors that the Jews were eating gold and diamonds, so the Spanish sailors had to verify whether or not this was true, rather than saving their lives.)

However, the vast majority of the Sephardim survived the Alhambra Edict — by being rescued by the Ottoman fleet. That is, the Ottoman ruler, the Sultan, sent his navy to Spain in order to rescue Spanish Jews, and resettle them within Ottoman lands that had not recently been overrun by xenophobic religious bigots such as Spain’s new rulers.

Contrary to what happened with the Jews who stayed in Europe — such as those who went to Portugal or Russia, so many of whom were ultimately killed — Jews in the Ottoman Empire lived in peace and prosperity for over a millenia. (If westerners know anything about Ottoman history, they usually know about the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Although this was an unspeakably awful chapter in the history of humanity — the dying gasps of the Ottoman Empire in the midst of losing the First World War — it is not representative of the thousand-year rule of the Ottomans.)

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, European and American powers could finally do what they had wanted to do for centuries — divide up and rule the Middle East. You’ll note that the European colonial powers had at this point taken over much of the world — which was easier to do when you were coming with modern weaponry backed by a dynamic, ruthless economic system into a place that had so far suffered neither of these developments, such as North America or Australia. Attempting to colonize other parts of the world that were at a similar level of “development” proved far harder.

Prior to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, colonial powers had made very significant inroads in terms of economic domination of places nominally under Ottoman rule, such as Egypt. The British and American colonists in Egypt, in fact, pioneered new ways of exploiting not only the living there, but the dead, as well, in their practice of using the cloth wrappings of the dead to make paper in the paper mills in Maine.

But to rule most of the former Ottoman lands, the colonial military campaigns that we know of as the First World War had to take place. With tens of millions killed, millions starved to death, and untold numbers homeless and destitute, European and North American powers were prepared to run things in the defeated lands, and they did.

Colonial rulers in the Middle East then did what they had already done in much of Asia and Africa. They drew borders, created new countries, with an aim to create countries and systems of governance that were inherently unstable politically. They did this by dividing tribal lands up into different countries (with half the tribe in one country and half in another), and by picking an ethnic or religious minority in each country that was a sufficiently small minority that it wouldn’t be too threatening to the colonial power — but would be sufficiently large that it was big enough to control the rest of the colony’s population, if provided with enough weapons and ammunition.

In the new country of Iraq, the ruling class became elements of the Sunni minority. In Syria it was the Alawite minority. In Lebanon, the Maronite minority, and so on.

There were lots of ups and downs in the past century of US and European domination of the Arab world. One country in the region even managed to have a thriving, multi-party democracy for a while — Iran — until it was overthrown by the CIA in 1953. Because of this kind of behavior on the part of the CIA and the divide and conquer policies of the colonial and neocolonial powers, the region has largely been in a state of turmoil since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Western powers have worked hard to exploit divisions at every turn, fueling conflicts such as the Iran-Iraq War, the Lebanese Civil War, and the Syrian Civil War, and sending massive amounts of military and other forms of aid to the specifically Jewish-European colonial land grab known as the state of Israel.

These western policies have resulted in millions of Palestinian refugees — mostly descendants of the 700,000 Palestinians driven out of their homes at gunpoint after Israel declared itself to be a Jewish state in 1948.

The US-UK occupation of Iraq created a refugee crisis in the region, both in terms of “Internally Displaced People” (refugees within their own country) as well as millions of Iraqi refugees flooding refugee camps, towns and cities throughout the region, particularly in Syria. This refugee crisis and the many strains on Syrian society caused by it also helped foment the Syrian Civil War, which has resulted in an even larger outflow of refugees. Since these refugees effectively can’t seek refuge in neighboring countries because they are all already suffering from bona fide refugee crises themselves, many of them go instead to the traditionally unwelcoming, colder lands to the north and west — Europe.

Internal European conflicts have resulted in massive numbers of European refugees who sought refuge elsewhere in Europe. There have been some nice success stories with such movements of refugees, such as 1943, when thousands of Danish Jews were transported by other Danes to Sweden, where they were given asylum. (This story is in stark contrast to the lesser-known episodes of German civilians fleeing the aerial bombardment of their country, who were starved and refused medical aid in places where they fled to, such as Denmark.)

For most of the past thousand years, though, Europe has generally been an intolerant place for anyone different from whatever the norm was considered to be at the time. Catholic and Protestant despots had a longstanding tendency to kill people who were perceived to be different. While the Ottoman world was made up of relatively thriving, multicultural societies, Europe was a place where you were far more likely to starve, and far, far more likely to be killed in a crusade, a pogrom, or, later, in a gas chamber.

The gas chambers of Nazi Germany were in a way a logical conclusion to the long tradition of European xenophobia, bigotry and intolerance. They certainly were not an exception to the rule of the crusaders, inquisitors, and mass murderers that you can see memorialized with statues throughout European lands.

But now, if you ask most people in Europe or North America, you’ll probably find that people think of religious intolerance as being a mostly Muslim phenomenon. Today, westerners know much more about the jihadi groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State than they do about the much longer and even deadlier (though otherwise very similar) European tradition of crusades and inquisitions.

For most people in what we call “the west,” history has essentially been turned on its head. For centuries, millions upon millions of Europeans fled Europe. Many of them went to the very Muslim lands where the predominantly, historically Muslim refugees today are leaving.

While it is beautiful to see the solidarity with Syrian and other refugees to be found in abundance on the streets of modern-day Germany, Sweden and elsewhere, it is also a fact that the xenophobes throughout Europe and the US are playing a massive role as well — such as the neofascist president of Hungary today, the ascendant neofascist parties such as Le Pen in France or the Swedish Democrats in Sweden, and the governors of 27 states in the US who are refusing to take Syrian refugees. And the federal government in the US, which is only prepared to take in a tiny fraction of them in the first place.

It is also beautiful to see governments like those in Germany and Sweden standing by international law, standing by their commitment to take in refugees. (The Syrians of course all qualify as refugees according to the stricter UN definition.) But of the 28 countries in the European Union, that leaves 26 others who are breaking their own laws by refusing to take meaningful numbers of legitimate refugees, leaving Germany and Sweden virtually alone in Europe to shoulder this responsibility.

And there is no country in the world that seems even to be considering doing what the Ottoman Sultan did over 500 years ago. That is, not just giving safe haven to those fleeing war and persecution, but actually sending their navy to the war zone and rescuing them. If there were a single ruler in the west who was capable of behaving as ethically as the Ottoman Sultan did half a millenia ago, the world would be a much better place.

A Primer on Refugees


For the last four years I have been engaged in producing and creating a large-scale project that began as an attempt to create an online synthetic world, and moved swiftly into the more interesting attempt to model a synthetic culture.

This has involved the creation of a space in the world (an island in the southern Mediterranean) and the attempt to fill this space with a geography, history, economy and ethics that together form the kind of narrative that one would expect to find when reading a real culture. In doing this we have posited “culture” as the continual reading and rereading of a number of contending narratives, whose relative importance, and believability, waxes and wanes over time.

Our narratives, though, are necessarily haunted by our conscious and unconscious feelings and biases, as well as the incomplete nature of our personal knowledge, and our inability to perfectly imagine the space we have brought into being. This paper will discuss the issues we have encountered in our project, focusing on the complexities of a many-authored communal discourse around a becoming space.


In this paper I want to talk about a book that does not yet exist. I want to describe it and explore it, and I want to do this as part of the process of bringing it into existence. This book is the history of the republic of Rosario, a small and unimportant island in the south of the Mediterranean, approximately half way between Crete and Malta and some two hundred kilometres north of the coast of Libya. The reason that I want to talk about the narratives of Rosario, and their relationship to reality on the one hand and abstraction and memory on the other, is because at Arcada, the university of applied science where I lecture, we are building a simplified, digital version of Rosario which we are housing on-line in the massive multiuser “world” known as Second Life.

I have written and spoken many times elsewhere about the technical and pedagogical issues surrounding La Mentala Rosario, as the on-line project is known, so I will not go into those in any great detail here. I will merely say that the project began almost five years ago as an attempt to draw together the various different strands of the multimedia degree course and showcase them – and crucially the relationships between them – inside an ongoing project that was larger than any specific group of students. The idea was that each year of students would contribute to an aspect of the overall project and that their contributions would leave a permanent mark on the synthetic world.

Before we began working on creating the world itself we drew together a history for Rosario: a complex set of characters and events as well as institutions, culture and fashions. We ended up with an enormous amount of documentation that was published in a series of e-books, and later as a wiki. This is still being updated and will, in fact be completely revamped over the summer to make it more easily searchable. You can see the current version at – Marinetta being the small capital city of Rosario.

The first public manifestation of the project was not an on-line world but a web site aimed at travellers and holiday-makers, extolling the virtues of Marinetta, and the areas surrounding it, including the pleasure beach and the harbour. This web site was created by students, using the web sites for Malta and Gozo as reference material. I showed this web site, and talked about the overall project, at a philosophy and history conference in Helsinki in 2003, and I was dumbfounded by the reaction that it got. I am used to a wide range or reactions to the project, both inside and outside Arcada. Usually these are approximately what you might expect. They range from “what an exciting idea” through to “what an idiotic waste of time”. However at this conference two academics from Helsinki University became genuinely and forcefully angry: not primarily about the project itself, although they were to some extent angry about that, but they were incensed about the web site.

They wanted to know how we could even consider acting so irresponsibly an accusation that initially left me completely baffled. It soon became clear, though, that what was angering them was the fact that the web site appeared to be real. It was not labelled “this is a fiction” or “this is a joke”, and these two professors were genuinely concerned that hypothetical web surfers might become entranced by the descriptions of the beaches of Marinetta and thus be tricked into purchasing plane and boat tickets to travel to the Mediterranean, impoverishing themselves at my instigation. They were worried that this was a private joke that gave us power over the unwary.

This odd and inconclusive quarrel has stayed with me. My initial reaction was to dismiss their concerns as ludicrous, but later I began to see them as interesting in a way that relates not just to questions of veracity and verification, but also to the place that imagination is given in our world and the place that it has been given within the history of literature. Part of the purpose of the holiday web site was precisely to comment on the lack of authority of much information on the web, and the need to seek corroboration from secondary sources. To have attempted to do this with a web site clearly labelled “satire” would have been self-defeating.

The desire to live in a world in which everything is clearly labeled, and every label is accurate according to an internationally agreed set of standards, is a recent phenomenon; an odd and fearful attempt to prevent imagination and fiction from haunting what we like to think of as our reality.

The word “fiction” is derived from the latin “fingere”, meaning to reshape, and it is worth noting that reshaping is not the same as “making something up”. It implies a different and more complex relationship between threads and narratives; between truth and lies. The early Greeks regarded the lie as a verbal sport. George Steiner, in Language and Silence (1970), for example, tells of a dispute between Athena and Odysseus in which “mutual deception, the quick saying of ‘things that are not’, need be neither evil nor a bare technical constraint. Gods and chosen mortals can be vituosos of mendacity, contrivers of elaborate untruths for the sake of the verbal craft…”

In this reading of the world truth lies at the surface of things and not in the heart of the speaker. Persuasion is a game, as it is in the debating societies that traditionally lie at the heart of British public schools. According to Ivan Illich and Barry Sanders in “ABC: the Alphabetization of the Popular Mind” (1988) this was true all the way from antiquity until some time in the thirteenth century. “I stand for my word and I swear by it. My oath is my truth until well into the twelfth century: the oath puts an end to any case against a freeman. Only in the thirteenth century does Continental Canon Law make the judge into the reader of an accused man’s conscience, an inquisitor into truth, and [makes] torture the means by which confession of the truth is extracted from the accused.”

Illich and Sanders go on to point out that vexing questions of veracity were an issue from the outset of written literature. Chaucer, they say, “needs to have his Canterbury story taken as truth – for this is the way readers come to enter into any fictional dream. He gains this sense of verisimilitude in several ways. By making himself one of the travelling group of pilgrims, Chaucer has to tell one of the proposed hundred and thirty or so tales, “The Tale of Sir Thopas”, which he uses to undercut his own literate power by telling a story so dull that the hosts beg him to stop.”

“But too much truth can get Chaucer into theological trouble; he must move his creation into another category; into untruth. And he can do this best by letting his audience think of him as a liar.”

Chaucer, in other words, presents his tale as truth, as the documentation of a pilgrimage that actually occurred and in which he participated. He reveals that this cannot be so only in the most subtle of ways. His descriptions, which he insists are accurate, are far too detailed to be genuine recollection. Through the accumulation of an impossible amount of detail he indicates to the attentive reader that he is, at the very least, reshaping the material that he is working with. That it is, in fact, fiction.

What is true at the beginning of written English literature is also true at the beginning of the development of the novel.

Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Journal of the Plague Year (1722) are usually referred to as among the first novels in English, predating Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) by twenty years. In both of these books Daniel Defoe wishes the reader to understand the stories as “true”, and so both of them offer little or no clues that they are fiction: stories that have been invented or reshaped. In Plague Year the narrator is HF, who allegedly lived through the plague years in London. Indeed the subtitle of the book is “Being observations or memorials of the most remarkable occurences, as well publik as private, which happened in London during the last great visitation in 1665. Written by a citizen who continued all the while in London. Never made publik before.”

What was Defoe’s purpose in doing this? According to Illich and Sanders “it is in this period that the idea of story begins to separate itself from history: what constitute “untruth” and “facts” take different paths. … Defoe takes advantage of this confusion between story and history: in his own story he shows us that what people lose faith in are forms of oral discourse… But he is reporting all of this, of course, in a skillfully made-up work of fiction.” The “facts” in Journal of the Plague Year contradict many of the facts in previously published accounts, but this is the only indication that Defoe’s work is not an actual history.

Both The Canterbury Tales and the novels of Defoe can be seen as commentaries on the medium in which they are presented:acute attempts to analyse the nature of the new medium by practising within it. They are commentaries on a new field at the very moment that it is emerging. Without wishing to over-praise my own work, and certainly without attempting to create an unseemly trinity of Chaucer, Defoe and me, this is in part precisely what the Marinetta holiday web site was doing. It was commenting on the slippery nature of truth on the web by placing false leads into it, and hiding fictions within the sea of alleged facts.

We are arguing, in effect, that what is true at the beginning of the development of the novel is also true at the beginning of the development of online synthetic worlds.

Indeed, the relationship between truth and fiction, and the interweaving of different kinds of narratives, becomes more interesting and more complex still once we enter an online world. When a new user first enters Second Life she is asked to choose a name; then given a default avatar, the character that represents her in the world, and asked to customise it. At this point, I have noticed, people tend to do one of three things. Firstly, some new users make a character that is an obvious cartoon version of their real-life self, naming it, shaping it and dressing it to resemble their real life persona. Secondly, some people name and create a character that seems to bear little or no relationship to who they are in real life. Thirdly, a small group of people decide to have no consistent appearance. This group treats their avatar’s body in the same way as its clothes. They change body shape and body size as often as they change shirts.

These three groups seem to have a direct bearing on the way that people interact in the world. Some people take the experience seriously, and quickly and easily become emotionaly involved in their Second Life, while others remain detached, regarding the whole thing as a game – an adult Barbie and Ken to be viewed from an ironic distance. From the distance of the detached player any notion of emotional involvement seems absurd, and yet, after eight months in the online world, I have noticed that many of the detached users, however, gradually slide into an intense emotional involvement with their Second Life. They begin investing their Second Life with the goals and desires of their real life. The membrane between the two becomes more and more porous.

I am forcefully reminded of the writings of both Kinky Friedman and Philip K Dick. Although not obviously similar, they both blend fact and fiction in a way that would make Defoe’s head spin. They both create fictional avatars that represent them in their fictions and then struggle to determine the correct distance from which to view that avatar.

Kinky Friedman is an ex-country singer of some notoriety who moved to New York. He turned to writing crime fiction starring a private eye called Kinky Friedman, who is an ex-country singer of some notoriety who moved to New York. He has written twenty novels, beginning with Greenwich Killing Time in 1986. Many of the other characters in these books are also real people including Mike McGovern, a senior reporter on the New York Daily News, who features as the main suspect in a murder in one of the early novels, and as Friedman’s drunken sidekick in many of the others. Other real people play pivotal roles in the narratives. Willie Nelson, for one, is kidnapped in the novel Roadkill (1998) and Kinky Friedman has to find and rescue him.

In many ways these books could be seen as burlesque: as a sly parody of a genre that nonetheless celebrates it. They could also be seen as fiction, though, in the proper sense of a reshaping; and it seems to me that, in their reimagining of the author, they explore many of the issues that face new users inside Second Life. They present the reader with an idealised set of characters; characters that have been exaggerated and simplified, not to make them more beautiful or approachable but to make them more like themselves than they actually are. The novels are, in many ways a vehicle for Kinky Friedman to discover himself, and his relationships with his friends, through constructing a mirror out of narrative that he can look into to see things as they really are. Kinky Friedman is in many ways his own primary audience, and it is the tensions that arise between the two Kinkys – the protaganist and the authorial voice – that make the novels interesting.

Philip K Dick uses a similar strategy for arguably more profound purposes in his final sequence of novels Valis (1981), The Divine Invasion (1982), The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1983), and Radio Free Albemuth (1985). He is a central character in each of these novels, and his novels are themselves important to the narrative.

‘ You’ve certainly written some important novels,’ the girl said. ‘Ubik, Man in the Castle -’
‘The Man in the High Castle’, I corrected her. Obviously they had never read my work.

That was from Radio Free Albemuth. In The Divine Invasion Dick provides a one paragraph plot synopsis of Valis, which is described as an old science fiction book from the twentieth century.

All three novels are concerned with a search for God, and are based around a series of visions that he had; visions which he documented in a separate Exegesis that he never intended to be published. The four novels offer different reshapings of the same set of events: events whose reality he could never quite decide. In many ways the novels can best be seen as attempts by Dick to work out for himself how real these events were, by reshaping them into fiction in order to examine them more clearly. Like Friedman, he is using his fiction as a mirror and a magnifying glass, but his search is altogether darker and more desperate than Friedman’s.

This, I think, is a process that is very analogous to the one new users go through when they begin to find things to do within Second Life. The membrane separating their “real life” from their Second Life becomes increasingly porous as they use one to mirror and magnify aspects of the other. The second world becomes an abstract diagram which can be superimposed on the first world to model and reshape it.

Synthetic online worlds, then, are no more “worlds” than Disneyland is a country. They are communally written, open-ended narratives, in which each user is given a character, from whom they can maintain whatever distance they feel comfortable with.
These so-called worlds are literary frameworks upon which we can project and mirror ourselves.

In his Exegesis Philip K Dick writes that our entire reality is “a projected framework – it appears to be a projection by an artifact, a computerlike teaching machine that guides, programs and generally controls us as we act without awareness of it within our projected world. The artifact, which I call Zebra, has “created” (actually only projected) our reality as a sort of mirror or image of its maker, so that the maker can obtain thereby an objective standpoint to contemplate its own self. In other words, the maker (called by Jacob Böhme in 1616 the Urgrund) is motivated to seek an instrument for self-awareness, self-knowledge…

“It constructed a reality-projecting artifact (or demiurge, cf Plato and the Gnostics) which then, on command, projected the first stage of the world we know. The artifact is unaware that it is an artifact, it is oblivious to the existence of the Urgrund (in terms that the artifact would understand the Urgrund is not, rather than is) and imagines itself to be God, the only real God”.

Dick is describing here a personal cosmology, a kind of crypto-gnosticism, that he evolved painfully over may years to try to explain a series of visions that he had of Rome AD70 and the eternal struggle between Rome and the True Christians. Unintentionally, perhaps, he is also providing a detailed and prefigurative description of the realities, uses and human needs that are evolving in the relationships between programmers, users and avatars in online worlds; ideas which are necessarily at the heart of Rosarian culture.

And so the book I began with, the book of the history of Rosario that is yet to be written, will necessarily also be a book of our history and our aspirations. More precisely it will offer us ways to mirror our own history, and through that mirroring, gain insight into the real world. As Michel de Certeau wrote in The Writing of History (1988) “the past is the fiction of the present… this writing fabricates Western History”. The merely fictional becomes real as the membrane between worlds dissolves and diagrammatic abstraction comes to haunt reality.

Online synthetic worlds should be seen as a new literary genre as well as an innovative use of information technology. They have a direct lineage that can be traced back to Chaucer and his attempts to explore the world by reshaping it and holding it up for examination, and they have direct precursors in the popular literature of the twentieth century. If we see them as communal literary creations rather than places, then we will be able to understand them, and the processes that go on within them; and find satisfying human uses for them .

Abstraction Haunted by Reality

According to Feedly this morning the BBC online news is reporting that the Mail on Sunday is reporting that a Friend of Rolf Harris is claiming that he received a latter from Rolf Harris that shocked him.

Rolf Harris, for those otherwise engaged, is a former national treasurer who, at the age of 84, has been sentenced to five years and nine months in prison for what appears to be a lifetime of opportunistic sexual assault on young fans, paralleled by the long-term abuse of a close friend of his daughter.

Having said that, the methods of news-as-prurient-entertainment are a wonder to behold. The Guardian later reported that BBC online news is reporting that the Mail on Sunday is reporting that a Friend of Rolf Harris is claiming that he received a latter from Rolf Harris that shocked him.

The Mail Online starts its story about his vile letter with the image below, a purely descriptive image that serves only to remind us of the man who used to be on the telly whenever we switched it on.

The Guardian claims that

Convicted paedophile Rolf Harris has written a vile song from his prison cell, in which he displays no remorse for his victims whose lives he wrecked, says the Mail Online

The victims’ lawyer, Liz Dux, said she had spoken to one of them and was told her feelings were of “total revulsion”.

The various news outlets in the chain report that the cause of the revulsion is the fact that the letter contains the lyrics to a song that the elderly entertainer plans to record “the moment he is out of jail”.

He wants it to have “a country-rock sound with a heavy back-beat”, although he confesses that he has not yet written the tune, and will have to work on this before he is released.

In fact, the Mail Online headlines the story thus:

In shock letter from cell, shamed star reveals ‘country rock’ lyrics that damn his sex victims as greedy ‘wenches’ – then brags about cushy prison life

The Mail also employs two graphologists to tell us that Rolf’s handwriting show a man who is “angry and ashamed”

Handwriting expert Ruth Myers said Harris’s letter reveals a man who ‘cannot be truthful’.

‘It shows a man who is creative but difficult and defensive,’ she said. ‘Outwardly he is pleasant but in reality he cannot be truthful and is in denial.

‘He will make excuses and justify his actions rather than face up to reality. He will pretend his deceit does not exist – to him his conscience is clear.’

I think there are many things wrong with this, unless you want to regard it as good old-fashioned British entertainment, which you are quite entitled to.

The main issue is that most or all of this is only “in the public interest” in the most tangential way imaginable.

“I am calling for this letter to be shown to the parole board and for it to be taken into account when deciding when to release him,” Dux, from law firm Slater & Gordon, told BBC Radio 4.

“The whole point of parole is for people to show some sort of remorse and understanding of their actions when they return into society and here is someone who is clearly behaving as he was before, with complete disdain and an attitude that he can behave how he wants.”

All this will be in the public interest if and when Harris is considered for parole but for the moment it is not.

Harris has been in jail for less than a year. Why is this important, assuming that any of this is? Because remorse is a process, not something that happens in a single rational flash. According to the letter, which The Mail prints in full he says that “at last after eight months the inner rage has come to the fore”.

In other words, he says that his feelings have begun to shift.

Inner rage might, or might not, be a necessary step on the road to remorse and Harris might (or might not) feel very differently about those lyrics (which appear to describe the women he feels are seeking to make money off him by making up lies as “slimy woodworm”) in another eight months.

The “whole point of parole” is for people to have arrived at “some sort of remorse” by the time they apply for it and we can expect them to find this difficult if it is indeed possible. If they had had an “understanding of their actions” at the time they were doing them then they probably wouldn’t have done them in the first place. Since they did do them, then they will have to make fundamental changes in how they think about themselves, other people, and the world we live in, before they can arrive at anything like remorse and a comprehension of how they have affected other people.

In an adult society we could reasonably do without any knowledge of letters Rolf Harris sent to a person he viewed as a friend. We could put it to one side as nothing to do with us, or we could wait to see how it all plays out; and to see what happens if and when he applies for parole.

In the world of the digital lynch mob, though: why bother? Why not have an opinion about it right now, and every other time they prod us into having one?

According to Feedly… Rolf Harris

From an article in Red Pepper by Keir Milburn that reflects on The World Transformed festival that ran alongside this year’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool, and posits something called Acid Corbynism:

The coinage was inspired by Acid Communism, a book that radical theorist Mark Fisher was writing before his tragic and untimely death – but the precise relationship between Acid Corbynism and Acid Communism is yet to be pinned down. For me, the clue to solving this problem and by doing so addressing the questions above, is the phrase ‘On Postcapitalist Desire’, the subtitle of Mark’s book. To understand what Acid Communism might mean, and therefore how Acid Corbynism might relate to it, we must start from those desires, produced within contemporary society but whose fulfilment points far beyond the limits of a capitalist world.

Pinning down such desires is no easy thing. It requires us to identify the parts of our lives that are most cramped and constrained by capital’s drive to expand itself. Capitalism is a world in which our own needs and desires are subordinated beneath the drive to add another zero to an accounting sheet. Fisher’s book was partly inspired an attempt to spark a new wave of consciousness raising groups initiated by Plan C, a political group of which Fisher was a member and I still am.

Consciousness raising groups, which were the bedrock of the feminist movement of the 1970s, involve small groups of people meeting to discuss their lives and their problems. In doing so people come to realise they have similar problems and difficulties. In fact, the commonality of problems leads quite naturally to the conclusion that they must have structural causes and can’t be the result of individual failings as might previously be thought. From there we can recognize which of our desires can produce collective action to address them. Consciousness raising groups are machines for discovering post-capitalist, and post-patriarchal desires.

The example of 1970s feminist consciousness raising groups led Fisher to think about the other forms through which consciousness was being raised during that period. These include the heightened level of class consciousness derived not just from high levels of union membership and militancy but also its reflection in popular culture. In fact, the control exercised by working class and, lets be honest middle class, kids over the direction of popular culture and fashion was a powerful form of ‘psychic resistance’, as Bobby Gillespie once put it, against the indignities of class. In the 1970s, a working class hero was something to be.

It was amidst this stew of popular culture and politics that Fisher identified the impact of LSD as another form of consciousness raising, or in this case consciousness expansion. By this Fisher meant not just the direct affects that taking Acid had upon members of the New Left and the counterculture but also the more diffuse effects of psychedelia, which worked through pop culture to embed a notion that reality is plastic and changeable. The Beatles experiments with Acid, for example, led to a burst of sonic inventiveness which did as much to feed a feeling that a new world was being invented as did the change in their clothes and hair length.

From these examples, we can see how consciousness raising encompasses a series of functions. It involves identifying the structural causes of the social constraints that are placed on your life. In addition, it involves the feeling of increased confidence and capacity that comes with seeing yourself as part of a powerful collective actor rather than an isolated individual. And it also includes that expansion of social and political possibility that comes when what is presented as necessary and inevitable is revealed as merely contingent and therefore, in principle, as changeable.

Acid Communism is a politics that puts this last function first. It’s not a programme to be achieved or a final state to be reached; it’s the real movement of revealing and overcoming the premises now in existence with the aim of abolishing the present state of things. It’s an open-ended experimental communism that seeks the expansion of social and political possible beyond the limits imposed by capitalism.

…Acid Communism must be a movement that passes through different iterations. Expanding what seems possible cannot be a one-time deal. Instead each expansion of freedom allows you to see further. Indeed, Acid Communism involves the widening and democratisation of freedom, as ever more people are given the confidence, material security and free time to explore what freedom means. The counterculture of the 1960s and 70s can be reinterpreted on this basis as a mass exploration of new ways of living. In distinction, the neoliberal era can be seen as a period of consciousness deflation or depletion. The reduction of life to a single model, Homo-Economicus. Indeed, Mark Fisher had begun to redefine his concept of Capitalist Realism along these lines, as a conscious project to undermine both the material basis and psychological resources upon which raised consciousness depends.

Do I believe this? I don’t quite know. I want to but I will need to think (and feel) some more before I decide.

Seconds later: yes I do, but don’t quote me on that. Yet.

Acid Communism

I have just read an interesting piece by Bruce Schneier in Wired online in which he talks about the ways in which governments and the media are doing terrorists’ jobs for them. His basic point is that the aim of terrorism is to spread terror, and the only way to combat it is to prevent people feeling afraid.

He also makes the point that the recent arrests of 25 people in England for allegedly plotting to smuggle liquids onto aircraft and then mix them into bombs in the toilet are, to put it mildly, far fetched. None of the 25 had purchased any plane tickets, according to but they “were in the process of perusing the Internet to find flights to various cities that had similar departure times”. Some of them didn’t even have passports, so they were presumably looking for local flights.

The Register has an article by Thomas C Greene arguing strongly that the alleged plot simply could not have worked for technical reasons. Mixing safe substances together in an airplane toilet to make a lethal bomb is something only Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise can do, and then only if the movie is fast-paced enough that you don’t stop to ask questions.

Greene says that we are “told that the suspects were planning to use TATP, or triacetone triperoxide, a high explosive that supposedly can be made from common household chemicals unlikely to be caught by airport screeners. A little hair dye, drain cleaner, and paint thinner – all easily concealed in drinks bottles – and the forces of evil have effectively smuggled a deadly bomb onboard your plane.

Or at least that’s what we’re hearing, and loudly, through the mainstream media and its legions of so-called “terrorism experts.” But what do these experts know about chemistry? Less than they know about lobbying for Homeland Security pork, which is what most of them do for a living. But they’ve seen the same movies that you and I have seen, and so the myth of binary liquid explosives dies hard.”

He then goes on to explain how the process would work in real life. It would be difficult, dangerous, smelly and take several hours in the toilet with an ice bucket. And that’s assuming you had a passport and a plane ticket.

As Bruce Schneier says, much of what is going on is not security, it is theatre; and the problem with that is that the theatre is making us frightened which is the terrorists’ intention in the first place.

Airport Security Theatre

Alexa is Amazon’s AI-ish household assistant. It lives inside a device called an Echo, and acts as a hub. You connect it to other devices from televisions and phones to heating systems.It sits listening to everything you say, waiting to hear you say “Alexa”, at which point it interprets the next thing you say as a command and does what it thinks you have told it to do.

The Register reported today on an issue a woman from Portland, Oregon had with her Alexa-stuffed house.

She had spoken to her local television station, KIRO7, about the problem.

“My husband and I would joke and say I’d bet these devices are listening to what we’re saying,” said Danielle, who did not want us to use her last name. Every room in her family home was wired with the Amazon devices to control her home’s heat, lights and security system.

But Danielle said two weeks ago their love for Alexa changed with an alarming phone call. “The person on the other line said, ‘unplug your Alexa devices right now,'” she said. “‘You’re being hacked.'”

That person was one of her husband’s employees, calling from Seattle.

“We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house,” she said. “At first, my husband was, like, ‘no you didn’t!’ And the (recipient of the message) said ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘oh gosh, you really did hear us.'”

The Register asked Amazon what exactly had happened and Amazon replied that

The Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like “Alexa.” Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a “send message” request. At which point, Alexa said out loud “To whom?” At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, “[contact name], right?” Alexa then interpreted background conversation as “right.” As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.

If I understand this correctly the issue did not spring from a software error per se, but from the underlying logic that powers Alexa. It did what its programmers wanted it to do, but it interpreted the sounds it heard wrongly during several consecutive steps. It also presumably spoke to the couple at a volume too quiet for them to hear as they concentrated on their conversation.

This raises several questions.

It raises questions about how Amazon, Google and others can program round problems such as this. It also raises a more fundamental issue: what does Alexa do that offers such benefits that sensible people would risk this kind of malfunction?

What does Alexa actually do that people can’t more usefully do themselves?

Alexa wants to gossip

On March 17 my brother Mark commented on Facebook.

Ministers are saying we’re “at war” and Johnson is doing his Churchill impression. So let’s all remember that, at the end of WW2, people didn’t want to return to the old ways – they chucked out Churchill and that was the start of the NHS, the welfare state, a building programme of council houses, the nationalisation of industries, improved education and a general sense that a better future was possible. Just saying.

He makes an important point. YLE has run articles claiming that Finland will return to a new normal in which many things will have permanently changed. One of them says that the current “huge upsurge in telecommuting may lead to significant changes in working life, impacting the whole of society”.

The article quotes Anu Järvensivu, who researches working life at Helsinki’s Humak University of Applied Sciences, as saying

We are on the brink of major changes. These changes could become evident in both transport systems and in homes. A widespread increase in the level of telecommuting is the kind of factor that may change society an awful lot.

I do not believe, however, that we will go back to exactly the same situation again

I suspect that the longer the process of quarantine, social isolation and working from home goes on the greater the likelihood that Anu Järvensivu’s predictions will prove the first timid stages of much larger changes of the sort Mark alludes to.

All change!

According to several different sources, the musician Damien Riehl has worked with programmer Noah Dubin to create a collection of 68 billion melodies, eight notes long. According to the musician Damien Riehl himself this means that “Noah and I have exhausted the data set. Noah and I have made all the music”.

He has, or intends to, put all this music on line. He believes that this should end musical copyright disputes, such as the one that plagued George Harrison when a publishing firm came a knock knock knocking claimed that they could hear the Chiffons’ song He’s So Fine all the way through My Sweet Lord. This started a neat little trend in which publishers claim resemblances that enable them to obtain royalties from songs they would otherwise have no rights over.

Riehl hopes that in future disputes songwriters will simply point to an entry in his free online library and say “you didn’t write it either”. As The Independent put it: “Mr Riehl said his motivation was to demonstrate that the number of possible melodies is finite and therefore liable to patterns being repeated unintentionally.”

Mashable describe this goal as a valiant attempt “to copyright every single combo in order to give it to the public so musicians and artists can use melodies without worrying about copyright issues down the line.”

You can see the whole TEDxMinneapolistalk in which he explains all this here:

We may, of course, question whether a huge string of eight note melodies do in fact exhaust all possibilities. Off the top of my head, doesn’t the melody of Gentle On My Mind last more than eight notes? “It’s knowing that your door is always open and your path is free to walk” takes about 15 notes.

And once we have exhausted the extended melodies of John Hartford, we still have the whole of African, Asian, and Indian music, not to mention a whole world of First People music, much of which does not even use western scales.

Still it seems like a nice idea, as well as a good place to go fishing the next time you want a melody or two.

All music already written (or not)

Since we arrived back from India, Sunshine has had a runny eye. In the last few days his cheek has started visibly swelling. We took him for blood tests last week, and the results came back saying that his signs all seemed perfectly healthy.

Irma took him for further tests this morning and learned that cancer has completely eaten away the bone in one cheek. The vet will remove some teeth, which now simply hang from an unsupported gum, and give him some pain killers.

We will give him a few days of his favourite treats, say goodbye, and then take him back so the vet can put him down.

He arrived in our house on January 28, 2012, having lived wild for a short while. Allegedly he arrived in the world sometime in 2005, so he will have lived approximately fourteen years.

The house will seem empty without him.

All things must pass, Sunshine

We arrived back yesterday evening from fifteen days in Agadir, on the coast of Morocco. We had planned to go to escape the the darkness and snow of a Finnish winter. However, global warming meant that there was no snow to escape.

Last summer was extraordinarily hot and dry, and this winter has seen no real snow. There have been flurries but no adults have been skiing and no children have been sledging. Instead the temperature has hovered around the zero mark producing the worst effect possible. Snow falls for an hour or so and then melts and then freezes. In a normal winter the snow-ploughs sweep away the snow and throw grit onto the ground. So far this winter it has not been snowy enough to bring out the bobcats, and so the ground is treacherous.

We stayed at the Caribbean Village, my first experience of an all-inclusive holiday.

Upon arrival we were equipped with a rock-festival-like wrist band which entitled us to unlimited food and drink. “Unlimited drink” included all known alcohol, and so it was possible for the enthusiastic to drink gin and tonic continuously from ten o’clock in the morning until midnight.

Observation soon suggested that, faced with this unusual situation, almost everybody followed a similar pattern. On the first day they ate a bit too much and got tipsy. On the second day they ate far too much and got drunk. From the third day on they ate more or less normally and drank less and less. By the second week most people were drinking soft drinks by the pool and less and less at dinner.

Personally I find even Diet Coke too sweet in large doses, and I settled on a possibly eccentric 50/50 mix of orange juice and tonic water. Eventually the barmen got used to it, and just prepared it without asking when I hove into view

Why did this remind me of the legalisation of drugs? Because one of the main argument that is advanced against even discussing the possibility of legalising drugs is that the result would be a nation of incapacitated addicts. The all-inclusive holiday suggests another possibility – self-regulation. This has always seemed a much more likely outcome to me. It was, however, good to see some tangential and anecdotal evidence for this.

In the interests of science, then, I should point out that we got drunk twice after the second day. Once was when we visited the nightclub to see what it was like, and the answer is “I don’t remember”. The second time was an entertaining private occasion. I should also point out that some people seemed fairly drunk most of the time, although nobody appeared drunk to the point of danger or self-destruction.

But that is to be expected. If drugs were legalised then some people would become hopeless addicts, some people would never touch the stuff, and most people would act the same way as they acted with alcohol at the Caribbean Village.

By the way, some of the best and most cogent arguments for the political, social and medical reasons for legalising drugs have been advanced by Thomas Szasz, particularly in his book Ceremonial Chemistry.

All-inclusive Holidays & the Legalisation of Drugs

This is the working title for the research that I have been carrying out over the past few years.

The research concerns the possibility of using single player pocket words as a tool for self-management. I shall add more (much, much more) during 2013 as I come closer to reaching my conclusions.

Ambient Learning

Mirko has now put my thesis defence from last Friday online at a permanent URL. You can find it here:

I would like to thank Mirko and Nicke for getting the whole event streamed in the first place.

Ambient Learning & Self Authorship online

This paper was delivered at the second annual League of Worlds conference, held in October 2005 at AppState University, Boone, NC.

1. Introduction

In this paper I try to tackle a problem that has been disturbing me for some time now: the way that the self-serving term “virtual reality” has been allowed to fashion and shape much of the discussion that takes place around this topic, to the detriment of everyone except a small group of hucksters and cheerleaders. I conclude by suggesting a way out of this: an analytical approach that is, I believe, more securely anchored, and more logically coherent, than the mish-mash of second-hand film theory and third-hand semiotics that currently passes for ‘virtual theory’.

The ideas expressed here make use of the works and thoughts of the American logician Charles S Peirce, and the Canadian media-poet Marshall McLuhan, to make sense of the many-layered nature of digital stuff. (I use the word “stuff” because I know of no more specific word that conveys the combination of work, play, communication and exploration that exists simultaneously in the digital domain.)

The arguments presented here have their starting points in two long conversations at different conferences: with Scott Cunningham from the Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism, at Texas Tech University, and Lisa Palafox from the School of Arts and Sciences, National University, at the 2005 conference of the Society for Phenomenology and Media; and with Maria Wahlstrom Bäcke, from the Department of English at Karlstad University, at Cybercultures 3. These arguments have since been developed further by email and instant messenger.

As always, I should stress that while the good bits might well be theirs, the bad bits are definitely all mine.

2. Where is cyberspace?

In the last decade two terms have become familiar in academic research, grant applications and journalism: “cyberspace” and “virtual reality”. Both of these are confusing and misleading.

The widespread adoption of the term “cyberspace” has had the effect of imposing a set of spatial metaphors on an area of activity that is tangentially spatial at best. These, in turn, have served to characterize the way that work in this area is approached, discussed and thought about. There is, to take but one example, a site, that cheerfully declares itself as “an atlas of maps and graphic representations of the geographies of the new electronic territories of the Internet, the World-Wide Web and other emerging Cyberspaces”.

I would suggest that this claim is nonsensical as it stands. Moreover, it will remain so unless it is supported by detailed argument explaining why these new “electronic territories” are, in fact, territories, what kind of territories they are, and what features they possess that can reasonably be said to be geographical.

The term “cyberspace” introduces uncalled-for ideas of distance, geography, neighbourhoods, frontiers, and more, into discussions that are actually concerned with the reception and interpretation of digital data. Its proponents appear to assert that our use of the Internet causes us to travel to a place that has the kind of intractable and non-negotiable reality that, by definition, places have.

Consciously or not, they imply that we ‘go’ to these places in a similar way to the way that we go to Legoland or Melbourne. It is true that we might make games or educational environments that exhibit persistence by retaining information from one user session to the next, and also that we might begin engaging with an onscreen environment which predates our involvement. These points only address our status with regard to the digital environment, though. They say nothing about our ontological relationship to it, which remains a coming together of a creative imagination and a set of ongoing relations.

3. Neither virtual nor real

If cyberspace is not a place, then ?virtual reality? is neither virtual nor real.

The use of the word “reality” implies that “the new electronic territories” are an object, or a collection of objects, that “has the properties it has independently of any individual?s arbitrary wish or desire”. (Ketner, 1996). In practice, the onscreen experience is a process that has to be willfully sustained by the user. Rather than an alternative reality, it is much closer to what William Gibson has referred to as a process of “consensual hallucination” (Gibson, 1984)

At the start of a session, the user has to suspend disbelief, and then during the session has to work at keeping it suspended. At any time, deliberately or accidentally, the user can lose focus, or have focus snatched away from them; and thus be bounced out of imaginative communion with the onscreen world. The process of engagement requires the user to remain willfully insensitive to all activity at the fringes of their senses: the sound of traffic outside the window, the sight of a fly in the room, the smell of cooking from the restaurant downstairs.

There is no similar set of maneuvres required to remain in situ in reality. By definition you cannot be bounced out of communion with a geographical reality. However much you may wish to live as a solipsist, you do not exist in Legoland or Melbourne by force of will, and you cannot beam out of there by withdrawing consent. Real objects, and real places containing real objects, have an existence that is outside our interaction with them. We work within the limitations that they impose upon us.

It might be argued at this point that nobody is claiming that what is shown on screen is real, only that it is virtually real. However, the word “virtual” is as bogus as the word reality. When we are told that somebody was “virtually dead” or that “the company was virtually bankrupt when the new CEO arrived” we understand two things from this. Firstly we understand “virtual” to be almost synonymous with “almost”: the phrase means something very similar to the person was “almost dead”. Secondly we understand “virtual” to imply the imminent possibility of movement towards a final state. The person was “almost dead and in a condition that might become real death at any moment”. The company was “almost bankrupt and might have collapsed into actual bankruptcy in a matter of days”.

The phrase “virtual reality”, then, seems to imply that what we are seeing might not be reality now, but contains the possibility of motion necessary to move it into a final state of actual reality. There is no evidence whatsoever to show that this is anything other than wishful thinking. It is, at best, an optimistic fantasy and, at worst, a deliberate sleight of hand.

4. Pedantry and snake oil

It might be possible to acknowledge that these terms are unfortunate, and even that they have been deliberately misused, while denying that this is anything to be concerned about.

My contention is that there is something to be concerned about. These terms have not simply been used to describe an (allegedly) new phenomenon. They have also been used to direct attention and energy; to make certain activities appear self-evidently sensible, while marginalising others. By insisting on discussing digital activity in terms of geography and reality, “innovations” like Swatch Internet Time can be made to seem important, as a way, for example, of making the information superhighway navigable. If cyberspace is not a place, then Swatch Internet Time was a badly flawed solution to a completely nonexistent problem.

When this was launched on October 23, 1998, Nicholas Negroponte, its chief architect and cheerleader, found the idea that there were “new electronic territories” to explore very useful for his purpose. He was happy to take the metaphor literally, and encourage others to do the same. He said: “Cyberspace has no seasons. The virtual world is absent of day and night… Internet Time is not geopolitical, it is global. For many people real time will be Internet Time”. (Swatch, 1998)

This kind of language strives to make it appear as though we are working with objects that are “out there”, that we have discovered somewhere new and unexplored, when in fact we are working with processes, with relations, that are negotiated communally, and whose every aspect is contingent.

5. Objects and Relationships

The processes that we are exploring can be described as processes of immersion into a coherent set of patterns, intended to be imagined as a world. The purpose of these processes, or relations, can be described as learning through play, or perhaps as play through learning. The difference between process and place, between relation and object, though, is unbridgeable.

These relations have three characteristic facets that together can be labeled “engagement”: immersion, interaction and identification. Users become immersed in what is depicted on the screen to the extent that they can keep their attention focused there. Often the onscreen data enables them to interact with other users, while providing a mediating framework within which this interaction can be contextualized. Lastly, users may identify with their own onscreen avatar, but more importantly, if their experience is successful, they will come to identify with the environment itself, with the laws, relations and events they find there.

6. The world of tools

The onscreen worlds that we create are not “realities”, for the reasons that I have described, but I believe that they can fairly be described as worlds, if we use that word in the sense of “the world of theatre mourns the death of Lauren Bacall”, or “he strode the world of tennis like a colossus”. Richard Bartle, among others, has suggested the use of “world” in this context. (Bartle, 2003)

Used in this sense the word “world” means a club, a group with insiders and specified laws and codes of behaviour; a group however that serves a public function involving outsiders. In this, and only this, sense, it is appropriate to talk of onscreen worlds; to talk of “entering the world of” Ultima Online or Rebel Dawn.

We do not, and cannot, live in this sort of world. We do not eat and drink there; we do not have sex there; we do not make friends or enemies there, except insofar as we can and do the same things when we use a tool like a telephone. An onscreen world is a tool for facilitating complex interactions between people, sometimes by providing them with a backdrop in front of which they can move and talk, and sometimes by providing them with created entities with whom they can practice or simulate interaction.

These worlds that we “enter” are sophisticated communications tools that bear a family resemblance to older tools like telephones. In Marshall McLuhan’s terms both are cool media.

There is a basic principle that distinguishes a hot medium like radio from a cool medium like the telephone, or a hot medium like the movie from a cool one like the TV. A hot medium is one that extends one single sense in ‘high definition’. High definition is the state of being well filled with data. A photograph is, visually, ‘high definition’. A cartoon is ‘low definition’ simply because very little visual information is provided. Telephone is a cool medium, or one of low definition, because the ear is given a meager amount of information. And speech is a cool medium of low definition, because so little is given and so much has to be filled in by the listener. On the other hand hot media do not leave so much to be filled in or completed by the audience. Hot media are, therefore, low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience.

(Marshall McLuhan, 1964)

We are working with a low definition, cool medium, and our claim is that the worlds that constitute, or result from, this medium have an educational use and an entertainment value. We need to be able to justify this claim, and to resolve the doubts of those who have been seduced by the hype and disappointed by the reality.

7. Semeiotics

If we are to be able to resolve doubts, which is after all the underlying point of all scientific research (in other words, the enquiring activities of a scientific intelligence, “that is to say, by an intelligence capable of learning by experience”), we need a firm starting point for our investigation, a logical method for resolving doubt. As Ketner points out, “Logic is the fundamental academic discipline, basic to any academic subject which proposes to use an objective method.” (Ketner, 1996)

I suggest we could do no better in this respect than to examine some of the concepts proposed by the American scientist and logician Charles S Peirce. He was a pragmatist, who believed that it was futile to look for an absolute starting point for our thinking. He believed that we “cannot start from any other condition than that in which we actually are … We really believe many things, and, therefore, philosophic doubts upon such matters must be mere pretence and can result in nothing but a show of demonstration of things really taken for granted”. (Ketner, 1996)

Peirce evolved a logical system, semeiotic, which was triadic in form. In line with his belief that we have to start from where we actually are, semeiotic “conceptions can be viewed as abstractions from common-sense practices, and as such are by no means infallible or eternally valid.” (Bergman, 2000) His work is described as triadic because he demonstrated that, while the conventional binary logic (yes-no, cause-effect) is adequate for describing brute, natural events, it is completely inadequate to describe any relations that involve purpose; that is, any events that involve or derive from human agency. Binary logic proceeds by writing intention or purpose out of the equation, which, from Peirce?s perspective, misses the whole point!

He argued that “John gives the book to Mary” is a single set of relations containing three elements. He demonstrated, mathematically and linguistically, that it could not be reduced to sets of two, as proponents of sequential cause and effect would argue. “John holds out the book. Mary takes the book” is not the same as “John gives the book to Mary” precisely because the element of intention has been removed.

In terms of communication, we should also note that an important element of Peirce’s semeiotic is its ‘future-orientedness’. (Bergman, 2000)

8. Diagrammatic Thought

For our present purposes, Peirce’s key concept of diagrammatic thought is of particular relevance. Kenneth Laine Ketner explains this as follows. “How then can we analyze thought, or signs, or communication” … If “analyze” means “come to have a better understanding of x” then the answer seems to be that we must analyze signs (triadic relations) by means of other signs or triadic relations. In particular, if there is a matter about which we lack understanding, we can use a set of relations that we comprehend reasonably well to model the relations in the area of relative ignorance … Stated in a very abstract fashion, this is Peirce’s method of diagrammatic thought, a technique he originally developed out of mathematical considerations, but adapted for other problem areas.? (Ketner, 1996)

Peirce himself described this faculty of “abstractive observation” as one that “ordinary people perfectly recognize, but for which the theories of philosophy barely leave room. It is a familiar experience to every human being to wish for something quite beyond his present means, and to follow that wish by the question: Should I wish for that thing just the same, if I had ample means to gratify it? To answer that question he searches his heart, and in doing so makes what I call an abstractive observation. He makes in his imagination a sort of skeletal diagram, or outline sketch, of himself, considers what modifications the hypothetical state of things would require to be made in that picture, and then examines it, that is, observes what he has imagined, to see whether the same ardent desire is there to be discerned. By such a process, which is at bottom very much like mathematical reasoning, we can reach conclusions as to what would be true of signs in all cases, so long as the intelligence using them was scientific.” (Ketner, 1996)

Despite his clear and powerful arguments, and the demonstrable success of his method, people habitually ignore this method, assuming that it to be “unscientific”. Current theorists attempt to replace it with approaches such as Sassurean semiotics and structuralism: approaches that claim to be able to analyse purposive relations in terms of dyadic concepts. Peirce’s semeiotic differs radically (and very usefully) from these approaches, because it is concerned explicitly with the analysis of triads, and so proceeds through diagrammatic mapping, which is seen as a legitimate scientific tool for resolving doubts.

9. Mapping relations

Unsurprisingly Peirce did not write a comprehensive philosophy of media theory, but subsequently others have drawn the major aspects of such a philosophy out of his books and manuscripts. Interestingly, his work can be seen as a direct precursor of the work of Marshall McLuhan, with many of the same themes and strategies observable in both.

Peirce, for example, was explicit that ‘whatever we know, we know only by its relations, and in so far as we know its relations’, and indeed, he claimed that ‘in reality, every fact is a relation’. (Ketner, 1996) In this he is in complete agreement with Marshall McLuhan, who stated that ‘objects are unobservable, only relationships among objects are observable’. (Marshall McLuhan, 1964)

Both avoided statistical approaches to analyzing relations, in favour of ‘abstractive observation’. Peirce proceeded by constructing diagrams (or models, or artfully argued analogies). Marshall McLuhan talked of his approach as ‘building probes’ that have no methodological point of view. He claims that his method is ‘like that of a safecracker. In the beginning I don?t know what’s inside. I just set myself down in front of the problem and begin to work. I grope, I probe, I listen, I test ‘until the tumblers fall and I’m in. That’s the way I work with all these media.’ (Ketner, 1996) He describes himself thus: ‘I am an investigator. I make probes. I have no point of view. I do not stay in one position. I don’t explain. I explore’. (Ketner, 1996)

This is the heart of the matter: it is futile and self-limiting to look at onscreen worlds as objects, rather than discussing their characteristic facets as the cultural production of repeatable dialogic relations. It is impossible to do this by amassing statistics. It may indeed be impossible to do this by any means other than a process of mapping.

10. Movies, immersion and diagrams

We might begin to discuss the relations embodied in immersive worlds by noting that these constitute a cool, low definition medium. In this, as Marshall McLuhan himself noted, they are very different to movies, which are a high definition, low participation medium. The apparent similarities between the two, between movies and computer-generated worlds, then, are superficial and misleading.

This means that there is no reason to presume that anything we know, or think we know, about the reception and interpretation of movies will have any, direct or indirect, relevance to the study of immersive worlds. (I am not yet prepared to say that film studies are entirely irrelevant for our purposes, but I will say that any attempt to introduce them into the discussion will need to be carefully argued every step of the way.)

If we cannot use film theory for our purposes, then what can we use? Logically we should look to find a body of critical theory that deals with a related cool medium. I believe that we can find just this in literary theory.

In slightly different ways Peirce and Marshall McLuhan are themselves pointing towards a literary critical approach to analysis This approach begins by creating exploratory models and then proceeds by discussing and debating the feelings and reactions these models engender. They are both arguing that logical analysis is a process of dialogue, not an operation of sifting facts and computing numbers.

The kind of dialogue that we need is a challenging one; one taking place at the boundaries of narrative and the borders of language. We need a dialogue that begins where Marshall McLuhan began, In the words of Jonathan Miller, Marshall McLuhan believed ‘that there is a point where apparently language is broken down in the lines of getting ideas across, and he is try to open up the possibility of not remaining silent, of being communicative by using new techniques which language has perhaps not provided’. (Stern, 1967)

11. The fallacy of the fracture

If we adopt a literary critical approach we will immediately see that the work we are engaged in is not completely new, nor unprecedented. It is a continuation of work carried on for at least one hundred and fifty years. The idea that history has altered, that everything you know is wrong, and that today is nothing at all like yesterday is revealed as just more of the self-appointed digerati?s snake-oil salesmanship.

All of the aspects of what I have termed engagement have, for centuries, been available through the act of reading. Any novel invites the reader to engage with it in the same way as an onscreen ?world?, by using strategies that rely upon the willing engagement of the user.

As Marshall McLuhan has pointed out repeatedly, we are not at the beginning of a revolution. Our problem is that the revolution began decades ago and we didn’t notice it. The move from goods to information (from “atoms to bits”, in Nicholas Negroponte’s phrase) began with the introduction of movies, telephones and radio; gathered steam with the introduction of television; and continued with the introduction of computers and networks.

The key to this is not computers, but electricity: ‘electricity not only gives primacy to process, whether in making or in learning, but it makes independent the source of energy from the location of the process’ (Marshall McLuhan, 1964), which is why Marshall McLuhan designated the current period the electronic age and not, for example the television age. The Internet, and the 3D environments that we are capable of accessing through it, are the most recent and most powerful electronic tool available to us, but they are part of a lineage, a cultural history, that stretches back to the beginning of the twentieth century.

If we understand this, we can see why there is no place called cyberspace, where the rules of life are different or somehow suspended. ‘Minimally all humans share one discursive universe, ie reality. This reality is a conception brought on by the fact that world refuses to conform to our will.’ (Bergman, 2000)

From this perspective we can see the thread of continuity in our work that links us to the Dadaists, to Joyce and Burroughs, and we can see the ways in which our work is fulfilling the prophecies of Ted Nelson concerning hypertext, in ways he never imagined.

12. Diagrammatic worlds

Peirce preferred visual diagrams, arguing that the visual was the most highly developed sense, although he was liberal in his definition of ‘visual’. He viewed algebraic equations, for example, as visual examples of the diagrammatic method. Onscreen worlds such as Marinetta can be seen as visual diagrams, or more exactly as a lattice-work of visual diagrams woven together but still able to be viewed discretely from different perspectives.

This kind of on-screen world can be viewed as diagrammatic maps or texts to be analysed most efficiently through the tools of literary criticism. The objects on the screen may not be “text” in the sense of letters on paper but they are interpretable cultural markers and the relations between the users, the screen, and the onscreen “world” can certainly be seen as textual.

The terms we use for the machinery (hardware and software) that does this, and for the outputs of that machinery, must be terms that describe process, not terms that conjure up an imaginary “out there” and insist on discussing it as though it were real.

If we start from here we shall avoid the pitfalls of pseudo-geography, and the traps laid for us by the elves of self-promotion. We should be able to start talking about our work in terms of its antecedents and its intended goals; in terms of analogies and diagrams, rather than dubious ‘realities’.

We should now be able to engage in dialogues that are, in method as well as subject matter, congruent with the constructed worlds whose narratives we are ‘writing’. From here we can develop critical tools, based on the similarities in approach between Peirce and Marshall McLuhan. We can, in fact, look for ways of explicating Peirce?s trivalent logic and putting it to practical use as a key part of the foundations of a logical and objective system for analyzing and understanding on-screen diagrammatic worlds.


Richard Bartle, 2003. Designing Virtual Worlds. New Rider Publishing
Mats Bergman, 2000. Meaning and Mediation. Helsinki: University of Helsinki
William Gibson, 1984. Neuromancer
Kenneth Laine Ketner, 1996. Elements of Logic. Arisbe Associates
Marshall Marshall McLuhan, 1964. Understanding Media. New York: McGraw-Hill
Patrick H Samway (ed), 1995. A Thief of Peirce. University Press of Mississippi
Gerald Emmanuel Stern, 1967. Marshall McLuhan Hot and Cool, New York: Signet
Swatch web site, .beat section, 1998

Analogy is better than Reality

There is no clear standard for judging what constitutes a virtual learning environment. The term has been used to brand everything from a set of collaborative desktop tools to a fully immersive virtual world. Perhaps, then, any attempt to determine what a VLE “really is” will be doomed. Perhaps we should choose a different starting point, and concentrate on asking questions that will allow us to decide whether a specific self-described VLE will be suitable for our needs or not.

This will, of course, only work to the extent that we are clear about our own needs.

I suggest that the following eight questions will provide a useful starting point for analysing whatever presents itself to us as a virtual learning environment.

1. What are the pedagogical aims of the VLE?

We need to understand here whether the VLE is intended to

  • encourage learners to explore and receive codified knowledge;
  • facilitate the development of specific competences within the learners;
  • develop the learners’ knowledge of how to acquire knowledge (so that the main focus would be on learning to learn).

It could be argued that the second and third aspects outlined above amount to the same thing. I would suggest, however, that the third aspect is increasingly becoming a distinct area of pedagogy in its own right, as the rate of knowledge production increases and the only certainty is that most of what you know today will be out of date next year.

2. What are the limitations of the VLE?

The definition of a VLE is very wide. Some people (MJ Styles, Effective Learning and the Virtual Learning Environment) explicitly include such software as WebCT as VLEs, while others (Henry Jenkins, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education in the 21st Century) implicitly suggest that these are little more than traditional teaching in a modern clothes.

In evaluating a VLE it is important to determine ist possible uses. Unless one clearly understands its design limitations then there is a danger of misusing it (by over-inflating expectations) or misjudging it (by accusing it of failing to perform tasks it was never intended to perform).

3. Does the VLE allow for different kinds of learning experiences?

Different VLEs may have weaknesses in different areas. It is therefore necessary to ask how a specific VLE will allow for different learning experiences. Reimann and Rothmeier suggest (in Didaktische Innovation durch Blended Learning) that learning necessarily occurs in three overlapping forms. First students learn from information. Secondly they learn from the kind of feedback generated through interaction with peers. Thirdly they learn through collaborating and absorbing different, but equall valid, perspectives.

This implies that a successful VLE must facilitate at least these three kinds of experiences. It must allow for students to amass information. It must allow for open discussion, as well as guided tutorials. It must provide a setting for collaborative projects and tasks.

4. Does the VLE allow for different learning styles?

Marc Prensky has written at length about twitch culture, and the diverging aspirations and learning styles of digital natives and digital immigrants. In this he is far from alone. Chris Dede (Planning for neomillenial learning styles) has also argued that the networked society is causing fundamental changes in the approaches of students to learning, and to being taught. Evidence of this is also available at

There is a suggestion here that the currently defined learning styles may not be more than provisional, and that genuinely new learning styles are emerging from the new practices of consoles gaming, online role-playing and always-on multi-tasking.

A VLE must be analysed in terms of its ability to cope with, absorb, and grow with new learning styles. This ability ma be seen by examining the role of the “teacher” within the VLE.

5. Does the VLE require teachers, coaches, guides, or scouts?

The use of VLEs in the context of emerging learning styles requires a careful examination of the kind of teaching (as opposed to learning) that the VLE facilitates. Does it require teachers? If so, how does their course preparation differ from the preparation they would do for traditional classroom teaching?

John Tashner, at Applachian State University (name of paper to follow) has spent five years teaching courses within ActiveWorlds, and he has argued persuasively that there is no place for a teacher within that, if it is used as a VLE. Instead, he prepares courses in the form of exploratory games and exercises to be carried out individually or in teams. In his terms he “preloads” the VLE with learning materials and a “learning narrative”. While the course is taking place his role is as a scout – exploring the world and checking for design problems that are revealed through student frustration or puzzlement, and as a guide who appears as a kind of super-user.

In this kind of practice the role of the “teacher” is more like that of Don Juan in the Carlos Castaneda books, than that of a traditional pedagogue.

6. How large is the pedagogical distance in the VLE?

One of the most interesting arguments about distance learning that I have read has been proposed by Otto Peters (Learning and Teaching in Distance Education). He suggests that the usual measurement of distance is both wrong and misleading. He argues that it makes little difference if the student is in Helsinki and the teacher is in Rotterdam. Rather what matters is what he terms the “pedagogical distance”, which he characterises according to the intensity of the (real or potential) interaction between the teacher and student. In his terms, a large lecture hall at a university, where a lecturer stands up and addresses 100 students, and then takes a few brief questions before striding out, is an example of distance learning even though everyone involved is in the same building at the same time. On the other hand a lengthy one-to-one tutorial by telephone is an example of “neighbourly learning”.

From this perspective it is important to look at the size of the pedagogical distance opened up by the VLE. Does the teacher appear nearer or more remote as a result of immersion in the VLE?

7. How immersive is the VLE?

Broadly speaking there are two kinds of VLEs. The first kind attempts to be transparent, and to act as an invisible interface between the student and learning. WebCT, study.log, and other similar tools are of this kind. The second kind provides an immersive world which, far from being invisible, is itself a part of the learning experience. Second Life, Active Worlds, World of Warcraft and other MUVEs provide this kind of VLE.

I am not certain that it is possible to say that one approach is correct and the other is wrong. However I do think that each approach offers different opportunities and has different limitations. It is therefore important to look at how immersive a VLE is, and what part the process of immersion plays in the game of studying.

8. Is the VLE open, available and portable?

Many VLEs are hidden behind firewalls, or inside college intranets. It is clear though that increasing amounts of students (digital natives and others) are keen to take control of their patterns of learning, and to fit these patterns into the overall ebb and flow of their weekly lives. It is also clear that genuinely collaborative work demands such an approach. We should therefore look at the openness and availability of a VLE, since this is likely to have an increasing importance in determining its popularity with students and its ability to adapt to changing learning patterns.

Analysing virtual learning environments

I have noticed a tendency for Indian politicians to claim that people should regard sacred Hindu texts as accurate historical documents; and to use this claim to assert that India discovered and used various aspects of modern science and technology thousands of years before any other culture.

In 2014, for example, Quartz India reported that “Prime Minister Narendra Modi caused a few eyebrows to be raised when he suggested that ancient India must have been skilled in plastic surgery. How else would Shiva have grafted an elephant head on Ganesha after having beheaded the boy, Modi asked”.

According to the Guardian, while chief minister of Gujarat, he “wrote the foreword to a book for school students in Gujarat which maintains, among other things, that the Hindu God Rama flew the first aeroplane and that stem cell technology was known in ancient India”.

I saw what follows on page 2 of in The New Indian Express today.

I have no idea how I should take this, and I have not found anyone in India who can persuasively explain the phenomenon to me.

Ancient Indian science

In Petersburg, Kentucky, USA, just 4 miles west of the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati International Airport, a Creation Museum is being built. This walk through history museum will, it says, “be a wonderful alternative to the evolutionary natural history museums that are turning countless minds against the gospel of Christ and the authority of the scripture”.

You can find out more about this timely event at the Answers In Genesis web site. There are construction photos and information on how you can become a charter member.

This may or may not be connected to the forthcoming All-Kansas Summer Circus which is due to start soon, according to Carey Gillam of Reuters:

The Kansas Board of Education has scheduled six days of courtroom-style hearings to begin on Thursday in the capitol Topeka. More than two dozen witnesses will give testimony and be subject to cross-examination, with the majority expected to argue against teaching evolution.

“I feel like I’m in a time warp here,” said Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray who has agreed to defend evolution as valid science. “To debate evolution is similar to debating whether the Earth is round. It is an absurd proposition.”

Absurdity is just a matter of opinion, of course. I expect that none of this would seem absurd to our old friend Hal Lindsey for example.

Answers in Genesis, official!

I read an article in the Guardian this week about a recently published study that suggested great apes have a theory of mind. This contrasts with previous studies and, if correct, raises profound questions about a number of questions: the relationship between humans and animals, and the possibility of animals having moral rights, to name just two.

The newspaper article says that

In a fresh take on a classic psychology experiment, the apes were able to correctly anticipate that someone would look for a hidden item in a specific location, even if the apes knew that the item was no longer there.

The ability to predict that someone holds a mistaken belief – which psychologists refer to as a “theory of mind” – is seen as a milestone in cognitive development that children normally acquire by the age of five.

The findings overturn the view that the ability to place oneself in another’s shoes is uniquely human.

You can find the actual research at the Science website here. The abstract says that

Humans operate with a “theory of mind” with which they are able to understand that others’ actions are driven not by reality but by beliefs about reality, even when those beliefs are false. Although great apes share with humans many social-cognitive skills, they have repeatedly failed experimental tests of such false-belief understanding. We use an anticipatory looking test (originally developed for human infants) to show that three species of great apes reliably look in anticipation of an agent acting on a location where he falsely believes an object to be, even though the apes themselves know that the object is no longer there. Our results suggest that great apes also operate, at least on an implicit level, with an understanding of false beliefs.

The actual study lies behind a paywall but looks as though it will repay careful analysis.

Apes have a theory of mind

The garden, 18:30


The day started with Naa and I leaving the house silently. Unusually, Irma leapt out of the bedroom to hug us and say goodbye. Equally unusually, the bus was almost completely full when it arrived.

I spent the morning and some of the afternoon with the Web Analysis and Social Media group looking at gamification. We watched an online lecture by Gabe Zichermann in the morning, and the one I always show by Jane McGonigal in the afternoon.

After this I read a thesis draft and commented on it, sorted out someone’s Wordpress problem, and worked out how one of the Masters students might take the Digital Landscape course on her own over the summer, before she goes home to Korea.

My leg has been hurting all day, and I have been walking like a pirate or an old tramp, depending on your point of view. Personally I have adopted the pirate line. I noticed that it seems to hurt less the more I walk, and more the less I walk. Perhaps if I do a marathon at the weekend it will cure itself.

Now I am at home. For the first time this year it is warm enough for the door into the garden to be left open. The cat is wandering in and out every few minutes as though it is testing the facilities. I have wandered out into the garden and am looking round. The cat has wandered after me and is trying to attract my attention.

In a few minutes I will agree that it is probably ten minutes since it was last fed and lead it back into the house where I will stir the food in its bowl while it watches. When it has been stirred enough it will agree to eat some.

Irma will talk with the Crisis helpline. I will have a shower. We will both go online. We will both go to bed.

April 10, 2014

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  • April 2013

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  • April 2014

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  • April 2015

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  • April 2016

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  • April 2017

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  • April 2018

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  • April 2019

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  • April 2020

    Today we went to Abu Dhabi where we spent several hours in the new-ish Louvre. We liked it! While there we wandered into the souvenir shop where we perused the books. We felt as though we could have bought any of them cheaper in Kiasma, which struck us as somewhat odd.

    Because of this I found myself looking for small books and slim volumes. I noticed this one shrink-wrapped on a lower shelf and pulled it out. I looked at the front and, after a minute or two, burst into laughter, to the point where Irma looked up to see what I found funny.

    The text in the strip along the bottom made us both chortle.

    However, when I turned it over, I laughed harder. Rather than apologising for the assemblage the text on the back tried to turn it into an advantage. “Look how modern we are”, it said: “we don’t even bother to write anymore!”

    The book you are holding in your hands utilizes the unique characteristics of the Internet — relying on web infrastructure and collaborative tools to share and use resources in keeping with the characteristics of the medium…

    I put it down not knowing whether I should feel outraged or impressed. I decided on the latter.

    I would have loved to have seen what it looks like inside but not enough to spend 142 AED, which converts into about 32€.

    Art of “Writing”

    Once upon a time last October, Robert Sharl wrote a blog entry in which, quoting Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, the way you do, he talked about the breaking down of the differences between the roles of producers and consumers. I paraphrase. You can, of course, check out the original source yourself.

    I emailed Robert, asking about references for the assertion that “we might reasonably expect them to be characterised broadly by a displacement of existing centres of power in the creative industries, by the further breakdown of the defined roles of artist/producer/distributor/consumer”.

    It wasn’t that I disbelieved him. In fact, the opposite: I was hoping that this was true. What I was looking for was some clear evidence that it was true. I wanted this for a part of an ongoing discussion that I have been having about, and around, the Marinetta Ombro project.

    I am old enough to have actively participated in the class of C86. No, I wasn’t on the tape itself but I was one of the ringleaders of the Contagious Collective, and the so-called “fifth member” of Negrava, the tape-band whose releases sold literally dozens of copies worldwide. Why do I mention this? Because, at that point, “we” thought that the role between artist and audience, between producer and consumer, was being dismantled. In fact those very sentiments are embedded in the Contagious constitution. We expected the PortaStudio to unleash popular creativity, and end the dominance of the big corporations. Or something like that, at least.

    The fact was, or rather, the fact seemed to be, that (as it turned out) this was something that was happening at the margins, on the unpopulated far shores of the beach, and the main bathing area was left untouched. In other words, at the real centres of power, nothing was changing. The revolution, the dissolving and rearranging of roles, turned out to be happening only in the minds of Malcolm McLaren and a few “groovy” public relations offices with their eye on the next media trend.

    The reason why I asked Robert my question was connected with this: are we sure that anything is actually changing now? Or will we just get this century’s version of BowWowWow, while the corporate world turns as it “always” has? So, in this context, his assertion that “each new technological conduit (the railways, telegraph, telephone, fax, sms, email) has increased the participatory potential of big media (from letters to the editor to the BBC turning R1 playlists over to the whims of SMS-equipped listeners), but the flattened, symmetrical landscape of the emerging media really takes this to a new level” is not, in itself, reassuring.

    Sure, some playlists may have been turned over, as he describes, but how many, and to what effect? Has radio been changed beyond recognition? Has (brilliant though it is, as both concept and practice, in my view) changed the recording industry, and the relationship between player and listeners? Do we now all know about (for example) Centrozoon, as we all should, in my opinion?

    This is not a criticism of Robert. Just a clarification of my original question. Now if only somebody can provide those references, or something like them, or a reason why we can’t have them but can carry on acting as though we do…

    Artist / Producer / Distributor / Consumer

    On November 12, the sovereign state of Asgardia left earth and ascended into orbit. According to C-Net,

    Although the physical territory of Asgardia will consist solely of what’s basically just a floating file server in orbit, the self-proclaimed “space kingdom” insists the deployment of the satellite Asgardia-1 is just the beginning of a much grander vision of a true space state.

    Asgardia is probably one of the few self-declared sovereign states you could fit in a backpack. Asgardia-1, a small cubesat that’s roughly the size of a loaf of bread, is among the 14 cubesats that will be launched from Wallops early Saturday aboard an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft bound for a long stop at the International Space Station. It will then have to wait at the ISS for a month before Cygnus detaches and heads to a higher altitude where the satellite can be deployed.

    Asgardia-1 will carry some key files, like the national constitution, flag and database of all its “citizens” (citizenship requires little more than filing out an application online and agreeing to the terms of the constitution), but most of its storage is filled with files uploaded by citizens. So far, over 100,000 humans have accepted the terms of the constitution and uploaded over 18,000 files to the satellite, according to Asgardia’s website.

    The cubesat “will be our foundation stone, from which we will look to create a network of satellites that will help protect our planet against asteroids, solar flares, manmade space debris and other space hazards,” Asgardia’s leader and current one-man government, Russian nanoscientist Igor Ashurbeyli, said earlier this year.

    Asgardia has its own calendar with thirteen months of twenty eight days each, totalling 364 days, with one no-month Year Day at the end of the year (and presumably two in leap years). They point out that the “thirteenth month, Asgard, is between June and July. Every year and month begins on a Sunday, so the same date in each month or year will always be on the same week day as well”.

    The founders, headed by Dr. Igor Ashurbeyli, worked on many other aspects of the new country’s existence prior to the launch of the satellite. They have a system of government in place, as well as citizenship, and a constitution. The first three items in the constitution declare:

    1. Asgardia is a free and unified Space Nation.
    2. The objectives of Asgardia are:
      • To ensure permanent peace in space;
      • To ensure equal opportunities in space for all Asgardians, currently residing on Earth, regardless of their Earthly citizenship;
      • To promote the welfare of the entire humankind.
    3. Anyone can become a citizen of Asgardia, conditional on assenting to the Declaration, and abiding by the Constitution and the legislation of Asgardia.

    It also has a Supreme Space Council.

    Supreme Space Council

    The Supreme Space Council is a special governance body in Asgardia that analyses the adherence to laws and the actions of governmental bodies to Asgardia’s Supreme Values.

    The Council is comprised of a Chairman and its members, Asgardian citizens who have particular achievements in the area of building the Nation, including economics, science, culture, art, education, the rule of law, healthcare, human rights and freedoms, parenting, sports, charity, and/or other public or government achievements.

    The status, organisational foundations, powers, and operational procedures of the Supreme Space Council shall be set by the Constitution and Asgardia’s laws.

    Apparently parliamentary elections will soon begin, and applications for candidates have begun.

    According to its news site, “Our space nation is growing! The number of Asgardian citizens has surpassed the 140,000 mark. Together, we made one more step towards recognition of the space kingdom by the United Nations and the world community.”

    Asgardia is go!

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  • August 2012

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  • August 2013

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  • August 2014

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  • August 2015

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  • August 2016

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  • August 2017

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  • August 2018

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  • August 2019

    September 30, 2013

    August 30, 2001 – January 12, 2014

    Aurora Liberty Sippola


    I very rarely take any notice of Facebook challenges. Yesterday, however, Camilla issued this challenge to Irma:

    Day 1/7. Seven days, seven photos in black and white of your everyday life. No explanations, no people. Challenge a friend to join every day. Today, I challenge Irma Sippola.

    That seemed interesting to me, and so when Irma joined in and challenged me I decided to accept. I also decided to store the photographs here, so that I can find them later.

    Day 1

    Day 2

    Day 3

    Day 4

    Day 5

    Day 6

    Day 7

    The challenged

    During the seven days I challenged Antti Ahonen, Brendan Jackson, Jake Harries, Luke Kelly, Susanne Palzer, Arlene Tucker, and the legendary Elvis Flor.

    B&W Challenge

    I remember that when the Bluefire e-reader first arrived on the iPad I downloaded it to see what it was like. Not as good as Stanza, I thought to myself, and deleted it again. Since then a lot has changed.

    Firstly Stanza was purchased by Amazon and allowed to languish. When iOS arrived it not longer worked, and it was several months before a fix was posted. During that time I had looked at iBooks and decided to use that instead. I used it fairly happily until the end of last year.

    Secondly, while I wasn’t looking Bluefire leapt ahead by leaps and bounds.

    Last December, when we went to India for Christmas, I carefully loaded a lot of books onto the iPad to read on holiday. Many of these were work-related and actually needed to be read. A week before I left I synced with iTunes and all was well. I read one of the books, listened to some music and did all the other things I do on a daily basis with my iPad. The afternoon before we left I synced again and received the message telling me that my settings had changed, and asking me if I wanted to apply them. I said yes, because I had no reason not to.

    When I opened my iPad on the plane to carry on reading I realised that iTunes had wiped out almost all of my books and all but one of my cds. This had happened to me twice before, and so I recognised it. I was not happy.

    A library (not mine) in Bluefire

    In Kerala I noticed that Comic Viewer had lost no data, despite the fact that I had side-loaded comics through iTunes. When I had wifi I therefore downloaded Bluefire and looked at it again. It seemed fine. For me it had one very important advantage from the outset: like Comic Viewer I could use iTunes to sideload books, but the app itself did not come under the authority of iTunes.

    Back in Helsinki I loaded all the books I needed to read into Bluefire and noticed a second advantage. Like iBooks you can categorise your books to make them easier to find but, unlike iBooks Bluefire has a built-in Library category that shows you all the books you have loaded. This is much more useful than it sounds, because it means that it is impossible to lose a book. If I can’t remember which category I filed something under I can scroll down the Library category and find it there.

    I have been using it regularly for the past month and I am very happy with it. The page-turning animation isn’t as smooth as Apple’s, but I have set the pages to slide rather than turn and that has worked just fine. After all I am supposed to be concentrating on the content of the book, not judging an animation competition.

    Everything else about it is as good or better than iBooks. It has a neat way to dimming or increasing the brightness: sliding your finger up and down the screen. The way it displays the books content in a screen of its own that is always available is also something I like.

    Since I don’t use iCloud to synchronise anything, because I much prefer Dropbox, to which I have been committed for years, then iBooks has no advantages for me, and a huge potential disadvantage. I look forward to a long life as a happy Bluefire reader.

    Back to Bluefire

    The BBC has reported that a “picture of pensioners bowling with bombs by graffiti artist Banksy has sold in London for £102,000, breaking a record for his work…The artist’s Balloon Girl also sold for £37,200, while another piece called Bomb Hugger fetched £31,200. But a rare signed artwork, Precision Bomber, failed to sell.”

    Bombing Middle England

    The piece, which you can see here is, as you might expect, called Bombing Middle England.

    The mysterious artist’s web site is amusingly only one page with no links. Sometimes it is just a spraypainted Banksy. Within twenty four hours of the sale becoming public news the website had been changed to this:

    A web page

    Banksy walks an interesting tightrope. Or perhaps, more accurately, he walks a tightrope that may or may not be interesting, according to what you are or are not interested in.

    Banksy makes money

    Sophie Hope drew my attention to an article by George Monbiot in the Guardian, in which he describes a set of projects taking place in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham.

    He regards them as potentially transformative.

    Just as the council began looking for ideas, the Participatory City Foundation, led by the inspiring Tessy Britton, approached it with a plan for an entirely different system, developed after nine years of research into how bridging networks form. Nothing like it had been attempted by a borough before. The council realised it was taking a risk. But it helped to fund a £7m, five-year experiment, called Every One, Every Day.

    Researching successful community projects across the world, the foundation discovered a set of common principles. Typically, they demand little time or commitment from local people, and no financial cost. They are close to people’s homes, open to everyone, and designed to attract talent rather than to meet particular needs. They set up physical and visible infrastructure. And rather than emphasising novelty – the downfall of many well-intentioned schemes – they foster simple projects that immediately improve people’s lives. The foundation realised that a large part of the budget would need to be devoted to evaluation, to allow the plan to adapt almost instantly to residents’ enthusiasm.

    They launched Every One, Every Day in November 2017, opening two shops (the first of five) on high streets in Barking and Dagenham. The shops don’t sell anything but are places where people meet, discuss ideas and launch projects. The scheme has also started opening “maker spaces”, equipped with laser cutters and other tools, sewing machines and working kitchens. These kinds of spaces are usually occupied by middle-class men but, so far, 90% of the participants here are women. The reason for the difference is simple: almost immediately, some of the residents drew a line on the floor, turning part of the space into an informal creche, where women take turns looking after the children. In doing so, they overcame one of the biggest barriers to new businesses and projects: affordable childcare.

    He goes on to describe some of the range of work carried out as part of the project, while admitting that it currently involves only a very small (and self-selecting) group of people. ”Four thousand of the borough’s 200,000 people have participated so far”, he notes.

    Barking transformation

    Here are two sites I have found recently that may be of use in a number of ways.

    Basecamp is a collaborative online project management system, which I should investigate in the new year. It might be a way of organising student work. Or it might not.

    It is free if you want to organise one project at a time, and $12 a month if you want to organise three at once, and share 100megs of files. Pricing goes up to $149 per month which gives you unlimited projects, 2 gigs of file sharing, time tracking and ssl transfer.

    TempInBox offers anonymous temporary inboxes. You can use these for anything you want. For signing up to services which you suspect will spam you with “news” you have no interest in, for example.

    Since this site is getting spammed daily, and since I receive endless emails from iTunes and similar places then I think I could find a use for this in the next few months.

    Basecamp & TempInBox: sites to watch

    In the 1930s there was one dominant entertainment medium in American homes: the radio. (Two if you count newspapers, magazines and comics; which we won’t.) Familes gathered around the radio every evening to listen to popular radio shows which included many thirty minutes dramas, soap operas and comedy shows.

    Then television entered American homes and radio began to slide into what looked to be a terminal decline. It saved itself by reinventing itself as a mobile medium. In the 1950s, then, families gathered around the television set, often looking at televised versions of the same shows they had been listening to on the radio. Dragnet, The Lone Ranger, Buck Rogers are some examples of this.

    Radio no longer commanded the attention of the majority of people in the same way. Instead people listened in cars, or in the garden or on picnics. They listened to increasingly small chunks, and thus the disc jockey led music stations came to dominate radio. Unlike Buck Rogers they provided listening that anybody could dip in and out of. People switched the television on at a certain time, so as not to miss a program, but they listened to whatever was on the radio when they happened to be in the car.

    In the early twenty first century digital radio in Britain is being regarded as an expensive failure. Consumers have remained unconvinced about the additional features that it offers and it has aroused little real interest. In England, according to a recent Ofcom survey only 6% claim that they are considering getting it, and half of those who have access to digital radio do not even realise that they have.

    The kind of mobile radio that has existed for fifty years is under growing threat from Walkmans, iPods and similar devices. Downloading music, and the ability of ipods and similar devices to randomise playback by shuffling tracks according to user-defined criteria, give users the option of using their own devices as players or as personal radio stations (“radio” being defined here as a means of listening to an unpredictable selection of audio material from within a broadly predictable range).

    The only obvious unique selling proposition that radio has left is its ability to broadcast information and entertainment as it happens. This is sometimes claimed as it salvaton, and the basis of its next incarnation. However it raises the question of how much radio actually benefits from being live. Is there a sufficient amount to make it worth my while taking a radio rather than an ipod if I make a train journey from Helsinki to Rovaniemi? In other words is “live” a sufficient attraction to make me decide to listen to 12 hours of what broadcasting professionals have scheduled for me, rather than the 30 gigabystes of music, comedy, recorded drama and podcasts that I have selected for myself?

    Yesterday British Telecom announced that they were investing £100 million in a new service to be called BT Vision. According to yesterday’s Guardian, BT is

    promising to shake up the broadcasting industry by offering a mixture of top-flight football, movies, music, classic TV shows and other on-demand services without a monthly subscription.

    Once, it was enough for the telecoms behemoth to try to persuade customers that “it’s good to talk”. But now, with traditional revenues eroded by the ubiquity of mobile phones and rival carriers, it hopes to persuade customers to watch, bet, download and interact too.

    It announced its arrival by vowing to take on BSkyB, the biggest pay TV company in Britain with more than 8 million subscribers, in its heartland of movies and sport. BT will give away a free set-top box, dubbed the “V-box”, to customers who sign up to its basic broadband package costing £17.99 a month, targeting viewers who want greater choice but are not prepared to pay a monthly TV subscription.

    It hopes to shake up the pay TV industry in the same way as “pay as you go” phones boosted the mobile market.

    BT hopes to attract up to 3 million subscribers by allowing them to catch up with programmes they have recently missed and access classic shows on demand. Next year, it will add other “next generation” services such as video calling during programmes, betting during football matches and interactive console-style games. Ian Livingston, chief executive of BT Retail, said research showed that almost three-quarters of the 60m TV sets in the UK were not connected to a pay TV service: “That shows a lot of customers want multichannel TV but don’t want to have to pay £30, £40 or £50 a month.”

    The box will allow customers to watch Freeview channels and easily record up to 80 hours of programmes on an inbuilt hard disk, but will also allow them to access a range of on-demand services from movies to music videos and Premiership football via their broadband connection.

    This has been misleadingly described in some reports as “BT’s new television service”. It would be more accurate to say that this represents BT’s calculated bet that, like radio, television is in terminal decline. BT owns no television stations, and its plans neither call for it to buy or create any. Its plans, in fact, do not call for “broadcasting” in any way at all, and certainly not over the airwaves.

    Broadcasting has almost always been a three layered activity: an institution with a state-sanctioned licence (BBC, YLE, WSOYSamama) that owns one or more stations (BBC1, YLE2, SubTV) which, in turn, broadcast a more or less continuous stream of programmes. The institution has usually bundled the programmes inside the station and then given the station a public identity. (In Finland in recent years both SubTV and the late MoonTV ran very visible poster campaigns for the station itself, trying to brand it with a recognisable identity.)

    SubTV teletext program guide

    BT has joined those players (which include Apple’s iStore, Motorola, and Nolia among others) who are betting that digital artefacts (which may or may not be “programmes” in a traditional sense) can be unbundled and sold to consumers separately – without the need for any kind of intermediate schedule or station.

    Where does so-called mobile television fit into this?

    An article in today’s The Register quotes at length from a new report by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm, who suggest that the mobile telephone will be at the heart of the personal digital world. This suggests that there are a lot of hurdles to overcome but implies that, broadly speaking, mobile phone manufacturers and networks will need to adopt the same kind of strategy that Apple and BT are pursuing.

    The assumptions of this report are highly contentious because it is not at all clear what is meant by “a mobile phone”. Apple is expected to launch an ipod in January that will also act as a phone. Reports suggest that it will not be a hone that plays music, but rather an ipod that also sends and receives phone calls. Like an ipod it will apparently rely on a home pc for downloading, sorting and cataloguing audio and video, and will act as a player only.

    This is a subtle but fundamental difference and it remains to be seen which model consumers will prefer: whether they will regard phone calls as something that their ipod does on the side, or whetherthey will regard phoning as the central activity and playing audio and video as a fringe activity.

    In my opinion the irony of the situation is that, on the one hand, Telia had better hope that Apple are right and Nokia are wrong. Only if consumers see entertainment as the equipment’s central function will a market develop for downloading digital artefacts to hearand view on the move. On the other hand, if Apple are right then nobody will be downloading anything using G3 anyway, and so the real winners will be those companies who have both mobile and broadband services – because it is broadband that Apple and BT are betting heavily on as the single digital delivery system for home and mobile players.

    Which won’t be called mobile television unless we simply want to confuse ourselves.

    Beyond Television

    Today I got an email that said the following:


    I hope u do not mind my english grammar, considering that i am from Indonesia. I infected your machine with a trojan and now have all of your private information from your operating system.

    It was installed on an adult site then you have chosen the online video and clicked on it, my software quickly gain access to your computer.

    After that, your webcamera captured you going manual, on top of that i caught a video that you’ve viewed.

    After a short while furthermore, it pulled out all of your device contact list. In case you want me to get rid of your everything i possess – transfer me 490 euros in btc it is a crypto. This is my btc account address : 17XJ9HNFCm9SREjLLw5PwqhmR4qRw1ajqc

    At this point you will have 27hr s. to make up your mind As soon as i will get the transfer i’ll get rid of this footage and everything thoroughly. In any other case, you should remember that your video is going to be submitted to all of your friends.

    I could immediately see four problems with this.

    Firstly, I haven’t watched any “adult sites” in recent times so I rather suspect that my Indonesian friend has mixed me up with someone else.

    Secondly, looking at the instructions at the end, I realise that I genuinely do not understand how to transfer the 490 euros to my would-be blackmailer. I do not doubt that I could find out, if I felt that I had to. Right now, however, I could not comply with this request even if I wanted to.

    Note to beginning blackmailers: bitcoin has advantages of anonymity but it has a certain opacity for most of the population. If you wish to receive your ill-gotten gains please remember to include detailed payment instructions.

    Thirdly, brief simulated experiments at home show that watching a movie online requires me to angle my laptop lid upwards. Videoing my penis requires me to angle my laptop lid down. Therefore a captured webcam will record my face, or the ceiling, whenever I watch a movie; and my groin will remain an unrecorded mystery to everyone except me.

    Fourthly, though, and of most interest to me: “your webcamera captured you going manual”? This caused me to pause for a minute.

    Has “going manual” become a synonym for wanking in recent times, without anyone telling me, or has my blackmailing chum’s lack of fluent English invented a wonderful neologism?

    I find it a delightful metaphor, with its implicit confusion of erections and gear sticks. Indeed, I got so excited reading this that I almost went manual, right there and then.

    Almost, but not quite.

    Blackmail Ahoy!

    I have noticed recently that the blockchain fad has begun to move out from cryptocurrencies to less obvious areas. I have not followed closely enough to understand whether this constitutes a loss of interest in bitcoin et al, or a widening of interesting that leaves bitcoin as popular as ever.

    I first noticed this late last year when I discovered Decentraland had an auction of virtual land and I went to see what this meant exactly. Not only did I learn on their site that “Decentraland is a virtual reality platform powered by the Ethereum blockchain. Users can create, experience, and monetize content and applications”, I also learnt that “Thousands of investors, artists, developers, and community leaders made the Genesis City auction the largest sale of virtual land in history. Next, Decentraland’s Iron Age begins with the blockchain deployment of Genesis City.”

    I noticed that 3,047 participants had bought 70,399 parcels of land and “burned” 161,483,050 MANA in the process. I also noticed that, on their timeline, the Iron Age has no specific starting date.

    Any auction of “virtual land” that does not yet actually exist raises any number of interesting issues, whether or not it involves Etherium or any other blockchain currency. This note does not attempt to answer any of them. It simply drops some urls onto a webpage to remind me to come back to them later to check how it all pans out.

    I decided to make this note once I learned that Pokemon have some potential relevance to all this. I learnt from a post from 2016 by freebird1 that

    Estimates show that there are around 10M daily users of Pokemon Go and this seems like plenty for Niantic to launch a new Pokecoin digital currency. Each Pokemon could have it’s own unique blockchain code that cannot be replicated once created. The level of inflation (creation of new Pokemon) could follow an algorithm like the creation of new bitcoin thus ensuring a certain level of scarcity. An algorithm could also be used to determine the rarity of each Pokemon and move sets and stats could be coded as well.

    This would drive the potential for collecting, hoarding and trading to go to a completely new level. With property protected by the consensus of the network and miners rewarded with Pokeballs (or such) to validate transactions, the value of the most desirable Pokemon would likely go way higher. This would lead to even more players joining the game with the hopes of hitting the jackpot by finding a valuable rare Pokemon. Exchanges would emerge buying and selling Pokemon, secure “wallets” to store them to avoid theft and even Pokemon savings vehicles. In short the value of the game and franchise would go through the roof!

    I then found out that some people have begun putting this kind of idea into practice. I found Cryptopets, Augmentors, and lastly Blockchain Critters, all of which seem to have borrowed liberally from the mechanics of Pokemon and Tamagochi.

    At least one of these appears to have a website but no actual creatures (yet?).

    Finally I found Tokenized Games, a site that acts as a directory of “new blockchain games” and currently lists more than 150 games in various stages of development.

    I shall watch and wait with interest, and return to this later in the year to see how developments have or have not occurred.

    Blockchain vs Pokemon

    I read and article on Medium yesterday that left me wondering. Not about anything specific, you understand: just wondering.

    The article, Ravencoin — Remember, remember the 5th of November, seemed to concern the “mining” of some flavour of virtual coins other than bitcoin. It starts like this:

    Beep!, Beep!, Beep! 6:45am on November 5th. I’m tired — exhausted really. I’d driven back from Vegas’ World Crypto Con and got home at about 12:45 in the morning, and didn’t sleep because of the adrenaline rush. Before going to bed, I decided to modify my issuebulk python script to trigger on block 435456 — the activation block for asset creation. I tested it a few times on different blocks to make sure it worked. Every second it checked for block 435456 and then allowed the remainder of the script to run.

    It rapidly gets more cryptic. Somewhere near the end I read this:

    So there I am, bleary-eyed, and watching seconds scroll by when block 435456 hits. Crap! Failure after failure scroll by in a blur. “Error: Please enter the wallet passphrase with walletpassphrase first” over and over. Oh yeah, I’m on mainnet, I need to enter a my passphrase. I quickly enter my passphrase and tell it to be active for six minutes, and run the script again. Dust!?! What is this? Why are my asset issuances failing? Everything worked perfectly on testnet.

    You will probably feel as pleased as I did to learn that everything works out in the end.

    I didn’t get all the assets I wanted, but I was gifted the ownership token for TRON and TRON_BLACK later that day, and even sent a GRATITUDE token. Thank you, you know who you are!

    Medici didn’t get all the assets they wanted, not because they couldn’t, but because they didn’t. It was the right thing to do.

    Thank goodness for that, I say.

    Blocks of What?!?

    Ralf skyped me yesterday to point out that I was being blogged about.

    Brent Schlenker has posted about the memi thesis in Corporate eLearning Strategies and Development. Thank you Brent!

    Unfortunately things are moving so fast round here that he was still spelling it mimi. (Oh, that’s so last week!) I will take care to stop moving the furniture around too much anymore. I think the main points are nailed down now, and we can begin the excursion.

    Blog Me!

    I looked at a Conservative Party campaign video called Twelve Questions, that they had uploaded to YouTube. At the time I watched it, 40,545 other people had also seen it.

    At first glance the video looks like a parody, made to make him look foolish. Or it looks like an out-take from a tv comedy show in which an actor makes fun of campaign videos, and politicians’ attempts to look like “normal people”.

    Then I began to wonder, and I fell into a rabbit hole.

    Does the video look like this accidentally, or did the makers cunningly design it to look as though it accidentally made fun of Johnson? Will all campaign videos in the age of social media take on this hue?

    In the early days of television politicians adapted themselves to the medium as little as possible. They happily treated interviewers as members of the lower classes, and interviewers happily adopted this position.

    Later things became less formal. Interviews became arguments, and politicians created strategies to deal with this. Harold Wilson would pause to light his pipe and, in the time that took, awkward questions would dissolve or disappear from viewers’ memories.

    In the nineties, politicians lost their ties and and downplayed their Oxbridge accents, and started to resemble the participants in a reality tv show, just like you and me. Hi there, call me Tony. Call me Dave.

    Perhaps we will look back at this video and come to see Johnson cunningly adapting to the age of social media in which self-aware buffoonery makes likes, and likes make stars, and stars make headlines, and all headlines seem like good headlines.

    From this perspective his choice of either The Clash or the Rolling Stones as his favourite band seems perfect in its preposterousness. It forms part of the same self-aware buffoonery as his “I make model buses” video where his seeming inability to mask his own amusement at what he says reveals itself as a major strength.

    Ladies and gentleman, we have seen the future: a low budget animated series in which the humour will prove cruel and pointless until the projector runs out of power.

    Boris Johnson answers 12 questions

    For reasons that will no doubt go down in history, Britain finds itself trapped trying to leave, or remain in, the European Union. The entire political class has collectively taken leave of its senses, and got itself into a problem of its own making that, apparently, has no solution whatsoever.

    The current episode finds the Conservative Party wasting almost all of the time left for finding a solution in an election for a new leader, who will inevitably become (for however short a time) the new Prime Minister. The media have decided to treat this as a public event, whereas in fact it remains, as it always has, an internal Tory matter. The result of the election by 100,000+ Conservative Party members will have very public consequences, but the public will have no say whatsoever in the election itself.

    The odds-on favourite is everyone’s favourite reprobate Boris Johnson, a man whose main talent is a contrived unsinkability, closely tied to a peculiarly English view of the amiable rogue, the man who makes you split your sides with mirth even as he leaves the room with your life savings in his pocket.

    On June 21, the Guardian revealed that: “police called to loud altercation at potential PM’s home”. According to the report

    Police were called to the home of Boris Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, in the early hours of Friday morning after neighbours heard a loud altercation involving screaming, shouting and banging.

    The argument could be heard outside the property where the potential future prime minister is living with Symonds, a former Conservative party head of press.

    A neighbour told the Guardian they heard a woman screaming followed by “slamming and banging”. At one point Symonds could be heard telling Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat”.

    So far, so tawdry.

    When I thought about this later I wondered how this had happened. The report points out that a neighbour informed the Guardian, who had a bone fide exclusive. A couple of days later, the "neighbour went public".

    Tom Penn, who has lived at the property in south London for just over a year, said he wanted to put the record straight on his reasons for recording the row and then dialling 999.

    Penn, who heard the loud argument, said he only contacted the police as a last resort after knocking three times at the couple’s flat and was concerned over the “bizarre and fictitious allegations” put to him and his wife since news of the incident broke and dominated front pages.

    It comes after the Guardian revealed that police were called to the flat Johnson shares with Symonds in the early hours of Friday morning after the neighbour heard a loud altercation involving screaming followed by slamming and banging. On a recording made by the neighbour, Symonds can be heard telling Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat”.

    In a statement released on Saturday night, Penn, 29, said: “In the early hours of Friday morning, I answered a phone call from a takeaway food delivery driver. At the same time, I heard what sounded like shouting coming from the street.

    “I went downstairs, on the phone to the driver, and collected my food. On the way back into my flat, it became clear that the shouting was coming from a neighbour’s flat. It was loud enough and angry enough that I felt frightened and concerned for the welfare of those involved, so I went inside my own home, closed the door, and pressed record on the voice memos app on my phone.

    “After a loud scream and banging, followed by silence, I ran upstairs, and with my wife agreed that we should check on our neighbours. I knocked three times at their front door, but there was no response. I went back upstairs into my flat, and we agreed that we should call the police.

    “The police arrived within five minutes. Our call was made anonymously, and no names were given to the police. They subsequently called back to thank us for reporting, and to let us know that nobody was harmed.

    “To be clear, the recordings were of the noise within my own home. My sole concern up until this point was the welfare and safety of our neighbours. I hope that anybody would have done the same thing.

    “Once clear that no one was harmed, I contacted the Guardian, as I felt it was of important public interest. I believe it is reasonable for someone who is likely to become our next prime minister to be held accountable for all of their words, actions and behaviours.

    “I, along with a lot of my neighbours all across London, voted to remain within the EU. That is the extent of my involvement in politics.

    He then goes on to complain about the “unpleasant things being said about myself and my partner, and some quite frankly bizarre and fictitious allegations, have been upsetting for not only us, but also for family, friends and fellow Camberwell neighbours, who are currently being harangued by the media”.

    This whole business strikes me as more than bizarre in several ways.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that anyone of any political allegiance could fairly describe Johnson as a charlatan. I have no doubt that he deserves pillorying. I do have severe doubts, however, about the Guardian doing something that it would shout very loudly about if the Daily Mail or the Sun did it: basing “an exclusive” on secret recordings made by a neighbour of a private quarrel going on between two adults in their own apartment.

    Remind me never to rent an apartment next to Tom “phone against the wall” Penn, whose idea of normal behaviour clearly differs from mine. You might want to take the phrase “along with a lot of my neighbours all across London” as a trigger warning.

    This might perhaps redefine the concept of neighbourliness for a whole generation. It might also serve to pinpoint the exact moment when The Guardian joined the tabloid press.

    Boris Johnson shouts loudly

    Dear People of the 23rd century,

    On June 23, 2016, most of the adult population of Great Britain voted in a referendum in which they had to decide whether or not to leave the European Union. The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting. Leave won by 51.9% to 48.1%. This became known as “the democratic will of the people” and almost all politicians from almost all parties promised to “enact the will of the people”.

    Three years later, after two delays, the government has failed to get a majority for any concrete plan, mainly because it has become clear that no plan exists that would involve leaving the EU without devastating the British economy.

    David Cameron invented the referendum because he believed that Britain would vote to stay in the EU and that would put an end to infighting within the Conservative Party. It all went very, very wrong and he ran away the next day. Theresa May became the new Prime Minister to almost everybody’s surprise and spent three years failing to achieve anything at all. Eventually she resigned.

    Now, at the time of writing, the Conservative Party has almost completed the process of electing a new leader who will automatically become the new Prime Minister. The twelve or more candidates have dropped out, one by one, and we now have the final two: Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson.

    Both have run around television and radio studios trying to persuade the 160,000 predominantly old and white members of the Conservative Party to vote for them, while the rest of the country looks on.

    Boris Johnson has become the clear favourite. I have found a clip of him answering a question on a television show. The interviewer has asked him if he has a hobby. Note his facial expressions as he answers.

    He appears to a) make it up as he goes along, as if for a dare, and b) take a not-so-private delight in the fact that he can apparently get away with it.

    “I can say anything, me”, seems his assessment of the situation as he sets about proving its accuracy.

    Boris Johnson’s imaginary hobby

    I found this, then I found it vaguely amusing. It has something to do with machine learning. How much? I have no idea.

    According to their website “Botnik is a community of writers, artists and developers using machines to create things on and off the internet.

    Botnik Studios is an entertainment group devoted to displaying the work of the larger community”.

    Unsurprisingly they have a YouTube channel of their own.


    Sometimes I read something and then either forget about it or ignore it. Sometimes I read something and find myself drawn back to it later: asking myself how good (or how bad) do I find this idea? Yesterday I read about Brandless in CO.DESIGN (their capitals, not mine) and I have thought about it on and off ever since, wondering “how much stupidity do they think I can house in one head?”

    I read a second article, also from Fast Company, that provided some background information. I learned that

    A few years ago, Ido Leffler, a Bay Area-based entrepreneur and founder, woke up in the middle of the night, suddenly bothered by a system he’d been participating in his whole life: the inflated cost of consumer packaged goods. “It just hit me: Why were we spending $15 or $20 on things that cost maybe $2 or $3 to make?”…

    That, Leffler thought, should not be the case. And when he met with Tina Sharkey, then the CEO of Sherpa Foundry, the incubator arm of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sherpa Capital, he learned that she’d long been thinking in a similar vein…

    Ultimately, Sharkey and Leffler are aiming, by doing away with excess costs and supporting an ethos of transparency, to eliminate the background noise of financial stress and choice overload. “It’s not just about creating a community of people that are looking for everyday things that are affordable and match their values,” Sharkey says. “It’s about taking action, putting people first, and ushering in an entirely new way of modern consumption.”

    They “want to create a platform where people could find items that reflect their values–whether it’s organic, non GMO, or gluten-free–across a wide swath of products at a price that’s accessible to almost everyone” which sounds neat until you ask what it actually means.

    According to the original article it means that

    The company sells a limited number of products that range from food to kitchen supplies to beauty products, all for $3 or less. Brandless’s CEO and cofounder Tina Sharkey says this is possible because most food has what she calls a BrandTax, a markup in price that customers pay for the privilege of consuming a particular brand–which means that customers end up paying up to 40% more than what food actually costs.

    The original article – this one – focuses on the design challenges of branding a company called Brandless and that makes fascinating reading if only because it become clear that Brandless, unlike say Muji, has an approach to not branding itself that involves totally branding itself.

    I went to the Brandless website and had my fears confirmed. They usher in “an entirely new way of modern consumption” by replacing the search for home-made or locally-made products, made by people who love what they do, with stuff that “reflects your values” in the vaguest way possible. The website tells me that

    At Brandless, we put people first. That means you. We know your values are important and you look for better-for-you products in every aspect of your life. So do we! Around here we focus on “just what matters.” That starts with offering products that match your values, preferences, and at times requirements—where it matters our products are non-GMO, sometimes organic, fair trade, kosher, gluten free, no added sugar and more. It’s different for everyone.

    Run that past me again: “where it matters our products are non-GMO, sometimes organic, fair trade, kosher, gluten free, no added sugar and more. It’s different for everyone.”

    Well that’s reassuring, don’t you think. More importantly though: what does it actually mean? It seems to offer everything while actually offering nothing specific at all. “It’s different for everyone” tells me nothing at all. What? Why? How do they know?

    (In fairness, at another place on the site they do say that “our vast food assortment is entirely non GMO and well over half is organic” but, in the context, I find this confusing rather than illuminating. Does this mean that all foods count as “where it matters”, in which case why don’t they say so, or make the headline statement clearer and less obviously equivocal-by-design?)

    They then spell out, in a diagram, the alleged damage that the oddly trademarked idea of the BrandTax actually does:

    Again this looks at first glance as though it explains something while actually explaining nothing at all.

    It seems to suggest that Brandless does not have “markups” when they obviously do. At best they have a lower mark-up, which raises questions about their supply-chain which they simply ignore.

    Somehow they slip into the diagram the idea of “inefficiencies”, without explaining what this idea means, and without suggesting how these “inefficiencies” arise for Proctor & Gamble and similar companies, but don’t arise for them. If by “inefficiencies” they mean shameless profiteering on the backs of brands we grew up with, then they should say so. If they mean something different then they should spell it out, because I can’t work it out for myself from the little information they have given me.

    I could extend this critique for thousands of words. I could, for example, analyse the drawing of the “Source” with its suggestive tree and sun, and happy producer. However I have other things to do. I will only add here that they appear to have identified a problem (some stuff seems too expensive) which supermarkets have already addressed by developing their own in-house brands. They then seem to have dressed it up in focus group-driven language for concerned hipsters, whose concerns centre round their own convenience; and then created a design strategy that invalidates the very language they have strived to create.

    They claim that “We’re a group of thinkers, eaters, doers, and lovers of life with big dreams about changing the world. Our mission is deeply rooted in quality, transparency, and community-driven values. Better stuff, fewer dollars. It’s that simple.” They have “raised around $50 million in funding from investors like New Enterprise Associates, Google Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Cowboy Ventures, and Slow Ventures”.

    You might conceivably seek to “change the world” by encouraging people to rethink how they live and buy; by encouraging people to buy at lot less stuff of higher quality (by which I mean stuff produced by people earning real wages, and in ways that damage the world as little as possible). You might “change the world” by encouraging people to know their producers, know what and how their producers produce. If these ideas lie at the heart of Brandless then I have misunderstood and I apologise.

    On the other hand, Brandless, you started the conversation and I have not heard anything from you along these lines. I have only heard meaningless fluff about “community-driven values. Better stuff, fewer dollars” which, according to you, means that “It’s that simple” (whatever that means).

    If my mind had not boggled a long time ago, then it might start boggling now.

    Brandless: oh dearie me

    In the past few days there has been a spate of announcements by businesses of one sort and another to the effect that they are opening branches in Second Life. This has given “residents” something to do while Second Life crashes and burns, and generally acts as though it has been bound, drugged and beaten.

    There have been a series of problems allegedly connected to the asset server proving to be less scalable than predicted. I say allegedly because much of the voluminous correspondence on the blogs and forums suggests that, as an explanation, it is rather over optimistic. Although it has been proffered by the Lindens many residents are offering anecdotal evidence to suggest that the breakdown in scalability is much wider. We shall see.

    In the meanwhile Channel Four’s pretend radio station (it streams itself over the net like all those other radio stations on announced that it was about the become the first radio station in Second Life, and thus immediately caused another blizzard of angry residents’ mails and comments. Not only did this dismiss the many resident-run radio stations currently streaming in Second Life, it also ignored the fact that BBC Radio 1 own four islands in SL, have organised live events there, and have given away hundreds of virtual radios that stream Radio 1.

    Wagner James Au followed this up in an attempt to get the other side of the story. However the replies he received from Nathalie Schwarz seemed to provide more evidence that Channel Four had not thought about what they were doing beyond its value as an attention grabbing two-day piece of publicity.

    Dell Island

    Today Dell joined the frenzy. They launched Dell Island and will be selling virtual Dell pcs which, from what I have seen so far, do slightly less than the almost free, resident built Pear computers. However, according to ZDNet, “Dell Island features the aforementioned factory room, where residents can configure their real and/or virtual PCs, as well as a walkthrough model of a Dell XPS 710 PC and a mockup of Michael Dell’s University of Texas at Austin dorm room, where the company was founded.”

    I went to Dell Island, and I thought that it must have been great fun to build, which is not necessarily a compliment. There is a neat scale model of the island on the island, and a giant computer that you can walk around. This, of course, raises the question: why would you want to walk around a giant computer that isn’t labelled and doesn’t do anything?

    I couldn’t figure out how to use the transport system, but that may just be me. I also found the Factory difficult to use, which may again just be me. However, the laptop I ended up with only does one thing: it loads a web page configured to enable me to order the exact same laptop in real life. And I cannot imagine that my annoyance with this is just me.

    A 3D advertisement that has no function and looks no better or worse than a functional 1L$ Pear? I don’t think so.

    By the way, for those interested in following the attempts of publicists and marketeers to leverage Second Life in the eternal quest for news coverage, there is an interesting page at Rohit Bhargava’s blog, Influential Interactive Marketing.

    Business moves into Second Life


    I have noted the nature of written English in Indian newspapers before, and so I note it again this time as an additional aide-memoire.

    I note it because I find it tricky to reproduce in a way that does not begin rapidly to descend into a generalised and stereotypical lampooning, and I do not intend that at all.

    The language carries the flavour and cadences of the prose of adventure stories from the nineteen twenties and thirties. It reminds me of John Buchan or Edgar Wallace. It has the air of a language that diverged from the English spoken in Britain some decades ago, and it seems in many respects all the better for that.

    On January 1, for example, The New Indian Express reported on the front page that

    Days after Railway Board Chairman VK Yadav indicated rationalisation of fares to enhance revenue, the cost of passenger tickets went up a tad with immediate effect.

    It was certainly not a New Year’s gift, as fares were jacked up from 1 to 4 paise per km in all categories except suburban sections and season tickets. Yadav though received the gift of an extension of tenure by a year.

    In addition, the newspaper quoted General Manoj Mukund Naravane, the newly appointed army chief, as saying:

    A new normal in our response mechanism has been emphatically underlined.

    Let me say again: I do not post this to make fun of Indian journalism. Rather I want to remember it as it actually appears on the page, and not let my memory distort it.

    I find its divergence from the language of current British newspapers both interesting and refreshing.

    Cadences of divergence

    This essay was written by Owen Kelly and Dermott Killip in 1981 and was first published in Camerawork 22. It was highly edited and condensed from a pamphlet that we wrote entitled Shooting People Is Wrong, published by Mediumwave. I have resisted the temptation to update the arguments here, and have merely altered a few typos and amended some sentences where, in retrospect, the editing obscured or altered the intended meaning.

    In my view the ideas expressed here still hold but do need updating. I shall attend to that in a separate essay, following a photographic project that I have in mind to test these ideas in the context of digital photography.


    This essay has developed out of our work with pinhole photography with teenagers. In the course of this work we have become concerned with the assumptions that photographers often make about the relationship between the photographer and the photographed. This relationship is often seen as resulting from the objective limitations of the medium, but it can be better understood, and countered, when it is recognised as resulting from specific decisions and choices.

    These choices involve, among others, the design of equipment and its subsequent development.We are not suggesting that the nature of photographic equipment determines the nature of photographic activity. Rather we are suggesting that it imposes pressures and limitations which come to be seen as natural. In this way activity is contained within the boundaries suggested by technology, without in the end being determined by it.

    In writing about the assumptions within photographic practide we draw implicitly from our own experiences. We are not of course suggesting that they constitute the only basis for an alternative practice.

    The Photographic Reality

    All photographs are jointly authored. Pinhole photographs are jointly authored by the subject and the photographer. With standard photographs taken at speeds faster than a thirtieth of a second authorship is shared between the photographer and chance. Nobody can think at this speed, not even a Cartier-Bresson. What such a photographer can do however is take a large number of photographs and subsequently select one of them as representative of the ‘decisive moment’. In doing so s/he is acting as a post facto editor. The elision of the distinction between this role and that of camera operator serves to disguise the true nature of photographic joint authorship.

    Pinhole photography raises serious questions about the authorship claimed by photographers and the nature of the reality they are supposed to record. The recording process used in pinhole photography takes far longer than that used by standard cameras. Pinhole cameras have no lens to intensify available light and often se photographic papers as negatives, so exposures range from seconds to hours. Like old photographic portraits, which often have a blurred softness to them, pinholes record movements that occur too slowly for modern cameras.

    Pinhole allows the subject to become the author of their own image: the exposure durations allow the subject to play an active part in the process. The operational time zone of standard photography is so quick that it renders the subject passive.

    Moreover,the fuzzy appearance of pinhole photographs, their recording of people as events recorded over time, show that they are not relections of reality as conscously experienced, but are instead diagrammatic approximations to conscious reality.

    Human choices over the duration of light, which are embodied in the design of modern cameras, enable sharp clear images to be produced. These images, however, are approximations of a reality which, because of the short exposure times, is beyond human comprehension. MOst photagraphs are now taken at speeds (as in subliminal advertising) that can only be perceived unconsciously, if at all: most photographs are in fact analogues of events of which most people are unaware. Standard photographs therefore share a similar relationship to socially conscious reality as that of x-rays, which are also analogues of a reality to which we can have no direct access.

    The relationships embodied in pinhole and standard photography are completely different. These differences are obscured by the view that the camera is a socially neutral tool, a view embodied in our received concept of the history of photography.

    The two histories of photography

    The history of photography is usually seen as a series of connected development whose roots may be traced back to 1835 and Daguerre and Fox Talbot. In fact there is not just one history of photography, but two separate and discontinuous histories. The first history did indeed begin in 1835 and proceeded through such innovations as the Petzval lens of 1840, the creation of wet-plate photography in 1850, and the modern plate camera developed in 1895.

    The second history of photography may useful be dated from 1887 when Goerge Eastman founded the Kodak company. This history is not a natural development of previous photographic practice, and nor are its aims the same. Its roots lie in the spread of capital intensive industrialisation from manufacturing industries to all aspects of life which could be organised for profit. The creation of the factory worker was now being matched by the creation of the consumer. Entrepreneurs were now viewing the general public as an atomised collection of private consumers, a mass market, whose needs could profitably be transformed into a small range of wants, to be satisfied by a modest range of mass produced goods.

    The founding of the Kodak company marked the beginning of the industrialisation of photography. It created a new type of camera, a new kind of photographer and a new type of photograph. Eastman recast photographers as consumers, as people who could more easily be persuaded to take photographs than to learn the photographic process. Eastman therefore developed and marketed a miniature fixed-focus camera, mass-produced and standardised, that was already loaded with a one-hundred exposure film. When the film was completely exposed the whole camera was sent back to Kodak. The consumer was sent a set of prints and a reloaded camera. It was sold under the slogan ‘You press the button – we do the rest’. Eastman advertised the cameras directly to the masses using the brand name of his company: Kodak.

    Eastman’s intention was to reorganise the process of photography along the same lines as the division of labour using in the factory system. He divorced the ‘photographer’ from the ‘technician’, realising that successful marketing depended on simplicity of operation and a guarantee of reliability. He wrote in the primer of one of his cameras:

    The principle of the Kodak system is the separation of the work that any person whomsoever can do in making a photograph form the work only an expert can do…We furnish anybody, man, woman, or child, who has sufficient intelligence to point a box straight and press the button…with an instrument which altogether removes from the practice of photography, the necessity for…any special knowledge of the art.

    This created the basis for a new photographic practice in complete opposition to that which had previously existed.

    The older practice was one in which people were photographed as part of a collaboration between photographer and photographed. The cameras used, because of their weight and the long exposure times they needed, were mounted on a tripod, so it was usually necessary to obtain someone’s permission before photographing them. Indeed, it was necessary to ask them to stand still while the plate was exposed. In this way the taking of a photograph was, as in pinhole photography, the representation of an event that had taken place in order to be recorded and which would not have happened otherwise. The photographer and photographed were both willing players in a co-operative drama which they hoped might reveal a kind of truth from its fabrication. This practice often produced a distinctive type of photograph:

    The synthesis of expression brought about by the length of time that a model has to stand still is the main reason why these (early) pictures, apart from their simplicity, resemble well-drawn or painted portraits and have a more lasting effect on the spectator than most recent photography. (Walter Benjamin, A Short History of Photography, 1931)

    Eastman’s cameras, on the other hand, were small, light, and used roll film. The photographer was no longer confined to taking pictures of people deliberately participating in the act. The new small cameras now enabled the photographer to record anyone undertaking any activity. The photographer could seek to become the objective recorder of events, an individual witness of reality. The subject no longer needed even to be aware of the camera’s presence, since the photographic relationship had ceased to be dependent on voluntary co-operation. Instead the photographer now completely controlled the relationship and the subject could be framed, captured, taken and shot, yet remain completely unaware of their new-found existence as a frozen figure trapped within the boundaries of a photograph. The photographer became a consumer or reality; the world was there for the taking.

    The new rollfilm also freed photographers from having to think before taking a photograph. Now they were able to shoot first and ask questions later; safe in the knowledge that the camera was waiting, ever ready, to pounce on whatever appeared before it.

    Eastman did not invent reportage or candid photography; both had existed before within, and as part of, a larger practice. But there was no reason to assume that they would become the dominant way of photographing people. Eastman though turned the unequal relationship between photographer and photographed that lies at the heart of reportage and candid photography into the basis of a new photographic practice. His technical innovations disguised a moral re-evaluation of people and the way they relate. The Kodak is the direct ancestor of modern day Leicas, Polaroids and Instamatics, and while none of these cameras determine the type of photograph taken, or the method by which to take them, they are primarily designed with one particular mode of photography in mind.

    This new photographic practice also produced a new kind of photographic imagery, of people in ‘informal’ and ‘natural’ poses. Because they were heralded as being the product of merely technical developments within existing photography, they appeared directly comparable to earlier images. HOwever, when faced with the new practice itself, the public resisted it:

    Generally speaking it was not until the years between 1900 and 1914, when the requirements of journalism began to exert a certain pressure on photographers to give an impression of speed and urgency, that photography began to make feeble attempts to capture motion. The snapshot had been a technical possibility for years, but all the Kodaks and ‘detective’ cameras in the world could not by themselves have made photographers take the subject – and the beholder – by force or by surprise. The public…would have been shocked and disturbed by any such act of violence on the photographer’s part.

    The older practice of photography, with its reciprocal relationships, became a marginal activity and thus allowed the histories of photography to be interpreted as a single unified history. But when people now talk of photography they are generally referring only to the industrialised practice developed by Eastman.

    The new photography

    Public resistance to reportage photography was overcome after the First World War. The advertising and newspaper industries welcomed reportage photographs because they appeared to show the world as it really was. Advertisements began appearing that used photographs of people behaving naturally in ordinary surroundings, not just as illustrations, but as factual evidence.

    The new photographers were proponents of the New Objectivity movement, firmly committed to the view that photography was an objective medium. They used the new light fast equipment (eg Leica and Ermanox) to produce a new type of imagery. Thomas McAvoy, for example, first used a Leica against the explicit intructions of his editor-in-chief:

    At an official reception in Washington, I defied him and took a whole series of photographs in front of my bewildered colleagues with their large cameras and flashes. Comparing my prints to theirs, the management admitted that my photographs were much more atmospheric and lively because, without flash, I had caught the guests unaware.

    McAvoy became one of the four original staff photographers for Life magazine, and the Leica became the foundation stone of the new photo-magazines. Photography only attained its status as an apparently objective medium, though, by recording instants so brief that they rendered the subject defenceless against the speed of the shutter, whose click instantaneously transformed them into static elements within a photographic composition. This new form of photography reduced its subjects to a passive and malleable substance whose shape was determined solely by the photographer (and his co-author Chance). Thus, only when photography had gained complete mastery over its subjects and reduced them to objects did it come to be viewed as truthful and objective.

    These new photographs contained traces, as do all photographs, not only of the subject but also of the photographer’s relationship and stance to the subject. Their seemingly unmediated appearance forces the viewer to regard the people contained within them from exactly the same stance and in the same way as the photographer. The viewer, in looking at the subject from the photographer’s point of view becomes their unwitting accomplice in the taking of the picture.

    The reportage tradition often attempted to use photography as a means to achieve social change., yet paradoxically it was ‘socially concerned’ photographers who were responsible for legitimising the inequitable relationship between subject and photographer in documentary photography. Photographers such as Riis and Hine wished to show the victims of squalor and to expose appalling social conditions. Their photographs often made a considerable contribution to the removal of these conditions, yet it is precisely because they were so powerless that the poor were the first to be portrayed in this documentary form. Documentary photography allowed the subject no control over the form of their depiction and while the poor may have considered any help at all useful, its arrival on terms set only by others effectively reduced them to supplicants, and so compounded and institutionalised their helplessness.

    Documentary photography became accepted by the general public on the assumption that its methods were as irreproachable as its aims. Unfortunately this was not so: documentary photography captured people on film as passive objects in a passive landscape by shooting them unawares and at great speed. They had no authority over the image being produced nor any determining role in its production. Standard photographic technique does not allow any reciprocity between photographer and photographed at the point when the image is taken. It operates on the basis of an unequal relationship and its use necessarily underpins and legitimises their inequality. Standard photographic technique is essentially an act of subjugation, in which people are inevitably reduced to objects for the use of the photographer: it is an oppressive activity and unusable as a means of liberation.

    Constructing an alternative medium

    It can be argued that giving someone living in one room with four children access to a camera is only a bitter joke, but we believe that the camera can be used as a revolutionary instrument. It can unite people not only with a shared picture of the world, but bring them together in the very process of taking pictures. Photographs can change a private experience into common awareness (Camerawork 13)

    Questions concerning socialist photography are complex. We have shown that there are two disctint ways of producing photographs withe people: with or without the conscious and willing participation of the subjects. There are equally two ways of consuming the images: as souvenirs of events and people once known, or as evidence of events or people of which we have no direct knowledge. Those who have direct experience of the people or events depicted in an image form a ‘primary group’ who use of the image will be different from the range of uses to which it can be put by other secondary groups.

    It is important to remember, in regard to socialist photography, that photographs are always used: their production is never an end in itself. Moreover, they are used by particular people in specific situations, as part of a wider process of communication. The way in which an image is produced and used is as important as what it depicts.

    This might seem obvious, yet the implications are only now becoming apparent. Only recently has it come to seem sensible to question industrial processes (of which photography is one) not in terms of how they are being controlled but rather in terms of whether they are capable, even in principle, of being controlled at all. Nuclear power has brought this question to the fore: it has become obvious that a society that depends on nuclear power for its energy supply will be changed enormously by that dependence. Nuclear power requires armed security and secret institutional arrangements in ways that the gas board doesn’t. Control of radioactive materials cannot be decentralised, democratised or left to the ordinary citizen, even in principle. Nuclear power is not just a way of producing more energy, it is also a way of producing less freedom. It cannot do one without doing the other.

    The issues raised by debates about nuclear power lie below the surface of all other large-scale industrial processes. All industrial processes produce social effects over and above those caused by ownership and management. The latter can be altered by negotiation or legislation or by workers’ action, but the former cannot. The questions raised by the debate over nuclear power are striking evidence that industrial processes are not neutral; they are determining agencies.

    These questions should be central to any attempt to create a radical alternative photographic practice. Photography is both an industrialised process itself, and a major producer of raw material for the industrialised information industry.

    Any alternative practice must therefore start from the very beginning by considering the equipment to be employed. The 35mm camera is designed to shoot the world with machine-gun rapidity; handheld and instantly usable. On the other hand the pinhole camera (and the plate camera) is designed to make one image at a time. It needs to be loaded, set up for each photograph, mounted on a tripod or fixed to a surface. The plate camera does not have a separate viewfinder: the image is viewed on a ground glass screen, where it appears full-size; that is, the same size as the negative that will be produced.

    In contrast, a miniature camera is held right up to the eye so that the image forms on the retina: the camera appears as a transparent means of perception, rather than as a tool for the construction of images. Miniature cameras invite an oppressive relationship between photographer and photographed. Firstly the camera appears to disappear as a tool and reemerge as an extension of the photographer. This makes participation by the subject seem absurd. Secondly they seem to have no natural limit, in that they will take photographs in batches of twenty four, thirty six, or whatever. This, coupled with their ability to take individual photographs very rapidly has led to the practice of shooting many photographs and then choosing and cropping in the darkroom later. This makes participation by the subject impossible.

    For these reasons photography has come to seem the domain of the photographer, who has become one of those professional experts whose activities go unquestioned through seeming unquestionable. The act of photographing somebody duplicates the power relationships that operate throughout our society: the powerless acquiesce in their own oppression because objection has come to seem outmoded, and the right to equal oppression has come to seem the best that can be expected.

    It is interesting to note, in this context, that West Indian youth along with other groups who see themselves as oppressed, and the system itself as oppressive, are strongly opposed to being photographed by strangers. This is not simple paranoia; a suspicion perhaps that the photographer is a police officer. Rather it is the entirely accurate realisation by people fighting for room for their own culture that to be photographed by a stranger for unknown purposes is to be oppressed. To be shot for use as an object in a photograph is to be reminded of how little control you have over your own life.

    To build an alternative practice, a convivial photography, it will be necessary to abolish this oppressive relationship. Co-authorship must be clearly established before any photographic practice can claim to be a ‘revolutionary instrument’: it is impossible to fight oppression by reproducing it. The ‘decisive moment’ must be anticipated and shared, through predetermined means by all the participants. The photographer must relinquish the role of director and share it with the participants, who may then join in the process of constructing the photograph. Images produced in this way are positive images: portraits of people prsenting themselves through the camera as they wish to be seen. These photographs become records of people consciously participating in a social act of recording, and can thus be read as constructions designed to communicate meanings, rather than as frozen moments allegedly revealing hidden ‘truth’.

    Positive images do not reduce people to just one of their roles in society by capturing them unawares as they act this role out. Nor do they reduce people to the status of raw material, shaped by the photographer to make some point of his or her own. Rather they allow the subject to use the camera as a medium of communication and thus counter the camera’s tendency to stereotype.

    Through co-authorship the distinction between photographer and photographed breaks down as the photographer retreats to the role of camera operator, making possible the photograph planned under collaborative direction. Whereas with miniature cameras the act of photographing an object occurs near the start of the process, in convivial photography it occurs near the end. Standard photography makes much of the darkroom: choosing from the contact sheet, enlarging, cropping, touching up. It is here that the photograph assumes its finished shape. In convivial photography there is only one negative and usually it is contact printed. The final image is, as far as possible, the same as appeared on the ground glass screen.

    The crucial work is done before the negative is exposed: what is to be communicated is decided and discussed, and the frame composed to show this as clearly as possible. Only then, when all concerned are reasonably sure that the image is the way they want it, the shutter is pressed and the photograph made. A plate camera is not necessary for this: it can be accomplished with a standard 35mm camera mounted on a tripod. To do this, however, is to swim against the tide, to use the machine to do the opposite of what it was designed to do.

    Positive images are well able to perform a valuable role within campaigns and other areas of socialist and community photography because they offer a means of expression that reinforces our ability to take purchase on our lives. The display of these images in, say, a housing campaign, is the simultaneous portrayal of people as individuals and members of a group, as well as a demand for better housing and an expression of strength. Picturing people as they chose to be pictured is part of a demand for change on their own terms, a portrayal of people who are fighting back against oppressive circumstance, and not resigned to the status of oppressed victims.

    The distribution of photographs is as important as their production, and we must make certain that the method of distribution does not contradict the purpose for which they were originally produced. We must recognise that most distributed photographs carry only secondary meanings. The displacement of primary meaning by a continual bombardment of messages of marginal secondary meaning constitutes a major form of cultural oppression. It is this oppression that that engenders the isolated despair which is felt as political apathy and cultural dependence, and it is this which must be resisted by those working in this area of culture.

    This resistance must take the form of producing and distributing photographs for known primary use, with the acknowledged aim of centring culture. People must be educated into demanding control over their images, not just by giving permission for the photograph to be taken, but for each subsequent use of the image. Radical photographers must provide release sheets for the photographed to sign, which list specific uses of the image for which permission has been given. We deny categorically that photographs of people belong to the photographer: they belong jointly to all whose who participated, to all the co-authors.

    At every point the question must be asked: what is being communicated and why? If an exhibition is being shown to people not directly connected to it we must ask: have they nothing more interesting to do? We are not arguing here for parochialism. What we are suggesting is that groups meet through strength and not weakness: that they treat the borders of their experience with the authority gained from mastering its centre.

    If photography is to be a tool for liberation it must help to oppose the fragmentation of culture. It must help to foster community in order that fragmentation may be resisted and culture may be centred. The ways to do this are made apparent by the changed relationships engendered by pinhole photography, the plate camera, and the deliberately constrained use of the miniature camera.

    We are suggesting severe constraints on the production and distribution of photographic images: what is needed is less public photography. We are demanding a thorough review of photographic technology, and a conscious development of a different set of social relationships in the production and consumption of photography.

    To oppose the dominant practice is to forge a new medium of communication, whose methods work towards furthering the control people may have over their lives. We must seek to achieve a medium whose social relationships are governed by a morality based upon people’s equal worth so that it may communicate not only messages about social action, but also induce feelings and sentiments congruent to that action.

    The aim must be nothing less than achievement of a co-determination, in which we are able to determine the conditions of our existence as well as being determined by them. A photography that knows its place will know in which places it can liberate and in which it will necessarily oppress.

    That will truly be a useful tool.

    Cameras as Convivial Tools

    Carmine Infantino died today, aged 87. He was born on May 25 1925, and became one of the greatest mainstream comic-book artists of the twentieth century.

    Although Infantino drew the stories the cover is actually by Lee Elias!

    His first published work was Jack Frost in the third issue of USA Comics, in January 1942 when he was sixteen. He inked the feature and his friend Frank Giacoia, who was seventeen at the time, pencilled it. By October 1947 Infantino had switched to pencils and drew The Secret City in issue 31 of All-Flash, thus beginning a lifelong, and profoundly influential, association with the Flash.

    In the nineteen forties he regularly drew other strips including Green Lantern and the Justice Society of America. In the nineteen fifties, when superhero comics almost disappeared in the wake of the Wertham witch hunt, Infantino switched to drawing westerns, mysteries, and science fiction comics.

    In 1956, in the words of Wikipedia,

    DC editor Julius Schwartz assigned writer Robert Kanigher and artist Infantino to the company’s first attempt at reviving superheroes: an updated version of the Flash that would appear in issue #4 (Oct. 1956) of the try-out series Showcase. Infantino designed the now-classic red uniform with yellow detail (reminiscent of the original Fawcett Captain Marvel), striving to keep the costume as streamlined as possible, and he drew on his design abilities to create a new visual language to depict the Flash’s speed, making the figure a red and yellow blur. The eventual success of the new, science-fiction oriented Flash heralded the wholesale return of superheroes, and the beginning of what fans and historians call the Silver Age of comics.

    This included the cover for issue 123 of Flash, which reintroduced the original Flash, now posited to live on Earth 2. This cover became iconic, and has been referenced in many subsequent comics.

    Flash 123: arguably one of the three most famous covers in comic book history

    In the nineteen sixties he also produced a look for Batman and Robin that would remain definitive for many years, and is still referenced today.

    Flash 123: arguably one of the three most famous covers in comic book history

    I can remember both of these images from my childhood.

    I am certain that it was Infantino’s art that played a large part in establishing Flash as my favourite superhero. Even when the stories were dopey the art made the comics worth looking at.

    Since the Flash’s superpower is essentially the ability to run very fast, his depictions of speed formed an essential part of the narrative. His graphic depiction of motion blur, and his decision to make this blur a key component of many panels, was, at the time, unprecedented, and gave the stories a distinctive look. The comic artist Matt Seneca has written a precise and interesting analysis of this.

    Interestingly, when Carmine Infantino returned to the Flash in the late 1980s, he changed his style dramatically. Where his faces and bodies had been rounded, they were now sharply angular, with perspectives more harshly exaggerated. Even in his sixties he was still pushing forward and experimenting.

    He was a powerful creative influence on my early years, as I’m sure he was for many others. Stumbling upon his work at the age of eleven or so helped turn me into a lifelong comics fan. I am forever grateful.

    Update 1

    Kelson at Speedforce has published a detailed obituary, which includes a story that I had not heard before about the genesis of Flash 123, and the re-emergence of Jay Garrick, the first Flash.

    Update 2

    At Comic Book Resources, in the Robot6 blog, Tom Bondurant writes about Carmine Infantino, and points out something that I had forgotten.

    In 1987 Infantino penciled the “elegaic Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt (written by Robert Loren Fleming as a direct homage to the original Showcase story, and inked by longtime Infantino collaborator Murphy Anderson). It contended that at the moment of his ‘death’ in Crisis, Barry was transformed into the time-traveling lightning bolt that struck his shelf of chemicals all those years before.”

    Although this story was later ignored it seemed to me to provide a wonderful conclusion to Barry Allen’s life. In a moment of wonderful circularity he became the fluke lightning that caused him to become the Flash in the first place, thus retrospectively making the rather lame origin story make perfect sense.

    It seemed fitting that it was Carmine Infantino who drew it.

    Carmine Infantino

    This note logs a train of thought that started in one place and ended up somewhere entirely different.

    Over the summer I read All Our Tomorrows, an alternative history novel by Ted Allbeury, that looks at what happens when riots in the 1980s lead to the breakdown of civil order in Britain, with the result that the Prime Minister asks the Russian government for help.

    This, of course, leads to the kind of help that amounts to an occupation by another name. I find myself waiting to see if this gets solved by the triumph of the plucky British underground, or whether something less expected and less jingoistic happens.

    Yesterday I also found myself wondering where I had heard Ted Allbeury’s name before and one googling later I remembered. He had played some background parts in the offshore radio saga in England in the nineteen sixties. Initially I wondered if he had had an involvement in the murder on one of the forts off the south coast, but that turned out to revolve around another character called Oliver Smedley.

    This in turn led me to think about the pirate radio ships in general. I remembered Radio Caroline merging with Radio Atlanta and one of the ships journeying slowly around the coast of England from Frinton to the Isle of Man where it became Radio Caroline North.

    Tom Lodge broadcast for the entire thirty six hour journey round the coast. I cannot now remember whether I read or guessed that he had chemical assistance of the purple heart variety to enable this. I do remember him gibbering like a lunatic at the end of the journey when Caroline North dropped anchor while I and thousands of other teenagers listened on our transistor radios.

    According to Wikipedia, “MV Caroline sailed from Felixstowe to the Isle of Man, broadcasting as she went. The only broadcast staff on board were Tom Lodge and Jerry Leighton. MV Caroline arrived at her new anchorage on the southern tip of the Bahama Bank, Ramsey Bay, on 6 July 1964, at a position formerly occupied by the Bahama Bank Lightship”.

    Thinking about it now, I realise that I lived through the short but profoundly influential period of offshore radio pirates at exactly the right age.

    I remember Anthony Wedgewood Benn, as he called himself at that point, declaring that socialism and pirate radio could have nothing to do with each other. Pop music represented capitalism at its worst, and radio without government supervision could lead to anarchy.

    I learned a lot from living through that period, huddled to the transistor radio in the evening waiting for The World Tomorrow with Garner Ted Armstrong. All of that affected my thinking, and in many ways, the rest of my life.

    Other people felt the effects too. Tom Lodge became a succesful guru called Umi in later life.

    Activity, I realised, can have more effect than theory. But you already knew that.

    Caroline North: thinking about thinking

    Over the last ten years I have found myself drawn to explore the social nature of knowledge in more and more detail. I have done this by asking naive questions such as “how did people work out which mushrooms to eat and which to leave?” and “how did people discover magnetic compasses?”

    Some of these questions have definite answers. The answer to the question “what came first: frozen food or household fridges?”, for example, has a definite answer: frozen food. (You can start investigating this by googling Clarence Birdseye.)

    This week I found an article on the BBC website that approaches this from an interesting starting point. The article asks “How do people learn to cook a poisonous plant safely?” It then focuses on the cassava, a plant that needs a lot of preparation and proves deadly if the preparation goes wrong, since it contains dangerous levels of hydrogen cyanide.

    According to the article,

    Toxic plants are everywhere. Sometimes simple cooking processes are enough to make them edible. But how does anyone learn the elaborate preparation needed for cassava or nardoo?

    No single person does, according to Joseph Henrich, an evolutionary biologist.

    He argues this knowledge is cultural. Our cultures evolve though a process of trial and error analogous to evolution in biological species. Like biological evolution, cultural evolution can – given enough time – produce impressively sophisticated results.

    Somebody stumbles on one step that seems to make cassava less risky; that spreads and another step is discovered. Over time, complex rituals can evolve, each slightly more effective than the last.

    In South America, where humans have eaten cassava for thousands of years, tribes have learned the many steps needed to detoxify it completely: scrape, grate, wash, boil the liquid, leave the solid to stand for two days, then bake.

    Ask why they do this, and they will not mention hydrogen cyanide. They will simply say “this is our culture”.

    I will continue seeking other examples, anecdotal or not.

    Cassava, knowledge & society

    Today I discovered, because I received a link to a reflective article there about Tove Jansson.

    I looked at the About page and discovered that

    Caught by the River is an arts/nature/culture clash, posting daily at It began as an idea, a vision and a daydream shared between friends one languid bankside spring afternoon.

    It was conceived as an online meeting place for pursuits of a distinctly non-digital variety: walking, fishing, looking, thinking. Birdsong and beer. Adventure and poetry. Life’s small pleasures, in all their many flavours. It was – and still is – about stepping out of daily routines to re-engage with nature. Finding new rhythms. Being.

    Now in its twelfth year, Caught by the River is ever-morphing, widening its tastes and pool of contributors.

    I then noticed that they issue a fortnightly email newsletter and subscribed immediately. I thought to tell Jake, who might want to subscribe.

    As might you.

    Caught by the river

    Ceefax began on 23 September 1974. It provided screens of text-based news and information including news headlines, sports scores, weather forecast and TV listings. When it started it was maintained, and updated manually, by one man, Colin McIntyre, who died in May 2012.

    He was appointed as the first editor of Ceefax. At the beginning his job was primarily to type up news that he read and copy-edited from wire services, turning it into rolls of punched-tape which were fed into a tape reader from where they were “read into an anonymous metal box called a core store which actually transmitted the pages”.

    A Ceefax screen from its last-ever day

    According to the BBC news site, “Ceefax had initially been developed when BBC engineers, exploring ways to provide subtitles to enable viewers with hearing problems to enjoy BBC TV programmes, found it was possible to transmit full pages of text information in the ‘spare lines’ transmitted on the analogue TV signal.”

    In the beginning nobody watched it, or in the official description “the service was a minority interest”. Later the BBC came up with the cunning wheeze of broadcasting it on actual televison throughout the night and before the morning programmes. This meant that people stumbled across it accidentally, which in turn led them to actually use it. By the early nineties, before the internet ruined everything, twenty million people used it at least once a week.

    Today, the BBC tells us, “Olympic champion Dame Mary Peters will turn off the last analogue TV signal in Northern Ireland at 23.30 BST. A series of graphics on Ceefax’s front page will mark its 38 years on the BBC.” This will leave Britain with a digital-only television service in which Ceefax – technically – can have no role.

    In a world of digital television the revolution will not be pixelated.

    Ceefax: an obituary

    I have taken what follows from the final chapter of Bats Fly At Dusk, the sixteenth Cool and Lam novel by Erle Stanley Gardner, writing under the pseudonym of A. A. Fair.

    He first published the novel in 1942. I bought my copy in a clearance sale in the Modern Book Centre in Trivandrum, India a couple of days ago.

    Donald Lam has written a letter to Bertha Cool explaining exactly what really happened. This forms part of his letter:

    The only fly in the ointment was that the man who had actually hit Josephine Bell and was intoxicated enough to become obnoxious, was not so intoxicated but what he remembered what had happened after he sobered up. Therefore he got in touch with his insurance company in a contrite frame of mind, and the insurance company went dashing around trying to square the thing. The accident wasn’t reported to the authorities because the driver of the car was so intoxicated the insurance company was afraid to let him report the true facts, including the significant fact that he couldn’t remember the name of the person he had knocked down, etc etc.

    In 1953, in The Go-Between L.P. Hartley wrote “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”. This might serve as an example of what he meant.

    Erle Stanley Gardner did not write social satire, he wrote thrillers; and he wrote them quickly. The paragraph above describes a situation he expected his audience to recognise, and not one he intended to shock them with.

    Changing social mores, indeed.

    Changing social mores: alcohol in 1942

    I can no longer remember exactly how and when I first became aware of Chyawanprakash. I think that we probably spotted it in a supermarket some years ago when we felt in the mood for trying something randomly.

    I think that I initially became interested in it because I picked up a bottle to examine it and noticed that it had the longest list of ingredients that I have ever seen on any foodstuff anywhere.

    This week we found a sugar-free version which tastes just as good, although it has a slightly different texture: slightly fluffy instead of molasses-like.

    I just counted. If I did it correctly this tub contains forty six ingredients, none of them chemicals or e-numbers. As examples of the ingredients, number one equals amalaki, number eleven equals kantakari, and number thirty one equals vidai.

    It has the colour of Marmite and you spread it on crackers, or at least I do. According to the small print on the label, “regular consumption of Dabur Chyawanprakash helps strengthen the immune system and helps keep you fit by protecting you from day to day ailments like cough and cold”.

    And it tastes good.


    Citroen has unveiled a new “object” (don’t call it a car, whatever you do) called the Ami One Concept. It has done this because

    Since 1919, Citroën’s history has reflected its ability to move with the times by creating non-conformist and revolutionary vehicles that have gone on to become icons. At the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, Citroën is unveiling its approach to urban mobility, which it intends to be accessible to everyone.

    Citroën Ami One Concept is Citroën’s take on freedom in the city: #LibertyElectriCityMobility! It combines all the advantages of 100% electric technology with a bold and colourful design and complete ease of use. It also scores top marks on comfort and practicality.

    Following in the footsteps of 2 CV, Ami One Concept is adaptable to all types of uses “à la carte”, from car sharing to rental. Ami One Concept preaches freedom of movement for all and has the potential to become an urban and popular icon.

    If you want facts, then:

    1. Ami One Concept boasts a cube-shaped body and compact dimensions (2.50 m long, 1.50 m wide and 1.50 m high)
    2. It has identical doors on both the right and left, resulting in different opening directions, which are hinged on the driver’s side for easier access and on the passenger side for greater safety. There are identical bumpers, identical wings set diagonally against the buffers on both front and rear; identical rocker panels on the right and left; reversible Daytime Running Lights (DRL) and rear lights on the left and right.
    3. 100% electric it charges easily in two hours. It reaches a top speed of 30mph without emitting CO2 and has a range of 60 miles.

    Even better, Citroen don’t want you to buy it (although you can, for 6,000€). They want you to rent it for 20€ per month.

    And, technically it counts as a quad bike so you do not need a driving licence to drive it. Which explains why they insist on referring to it as a “transport object”…

    Citroen Ami One

    Yesterday I started to think about how I will teach the CMS course this autumn. Specifically I began to ponder what I intended to do about Wordpress 5.0.xx and the new Gutenberg editor.

    I have tried it and didn’t like it. I have read about it and the extraordinary accessibility problems that it has generated. I have had enough trouble showing students how to build a Wordpress site in previous years without having to throw react.js into the mix while allowing for the fact that Gutenberg still contains enough bugs to trip up even a conscientious student.

    I looked at ClassicPress, which forked from Wordpress last autumn, and has now had its official release. I noticed that it has an immigration tool. I also realised that the block editor has no logical role to play on this site, which has been designed with no external-facing plugins and a mass of my own custom php code.

    I built the theme here from scratch with no intention of using it anywhere else. I built it over two years while teaching the CMS course, to show how I could use a grid-based design. I based it on the jointsWP starter theme that implements Zurb Foundation. All of this means that, even if Gutenberg had won universal praise from its launch, I would not need it.

    I therefore backed up this site manually in its entirety and switched over to ClassicPress 1.01. The immigration tool just worked and, as far as I can see, everything works as before. Most importantly, though, I will no longer have to worry that the core architecture will no longer change under my feet.

    My task this autumn just became manageable again. My personal teaching project will now focus on security and speed. I will revisit some of the php and make sure it all follows best practices.

    I may also look at the suggestions that Natalie Gustaffson made in her thesis in the Spring about moving the site to a headless state in which most of what gets delivered gets delievered as static pages.

    ClassicPress: the new foundation for here

    I just got an email from ClipMarks, about whom I had thought nothing for several years. It said

    After much consideration, we’ve decided that it is time to shutdown Clipmarks. On behalf of the team, I want to thank you for being part of our journey. It is important to us that we shut down the service in the most responsible and considerate manner possible. Towards that end there are two things that you should consider:

    • First, we’ve arranged with Clipboard (a new service under entirely different ownership and management) to give you an account on their service, which is currently accessible by invitation-only. You can accept this invitation and register your account now.
    • Second, from the registration page, Clipboard will allow you to easily request that your old clips be preserved in Clipboard. If you don’t want them converted, then do nothing. We can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to convert all of your older clips, but if the demand is sufficient, we will do our best.

    We hope that you’ll accept the invitation to join Clipboard. Like Clipmarks, they believe that the Web is better when people can easily save, share and discuss the parts that they care about.

    the ClipMark logo at the time of death

    I followed the link to the Clipboard (a new service under entirely different ownership and management) blog, and its seems that ClipMarks is not the only service shutting down without giving notice. Some sister service I had never heard of called Amplify is also shutting down with immediate effect.

    Boy, do they have an angry bunch of ex-users posting on the Clipboard site!

    I stopped using ClipMarks because a combination of Evernote and ReadItLater worked much better for me. Now the Evernote has the Clearly browser plugin I can store any web page offline, and keep as much or as little formatting as I want. I looked at Clipboard’s site, and I couldn’t see anything to change my mind.

    I hope they find a niche and lived there happily ever after, but I m not convinced that it will be a big niche.

    ClipMarks bites the dust

    In January Ray Ozzie finally made his next move, after leaving Microsoft in 2010. He announced that he was starting Cocomo, a new venture that, as CNet pointed out, began advertising for employees by stating that

    A new day has dawned as it relates to how we might interact with one another, and a handful of us are just starting work on a new communications product for this new world. We’ve got huge goals, pragmatic plans, and a sense of urgency. We aspire to deliver compelling tools for social interaction that people will use, value and love.

    I was interested in this because I remember beta-testing Groove, his pioneering cloud-based networking, groupware thing.

    Since January 5th the company has been in stealth mode, and little or nothing has been made public. All that Ray Ozzie has said is that it will involve “cloud-based backends, phones, pads and so on on the front end” and that it will be about “what we’d call social productivity, but in the past was called groupware or cooperative work. I like envisioning tools for new environments that let people do things in ways that are more fun, more productivity.”

    Since we have come to the end of the year, I looked at Cocomo’s web site again.

    The complete front page one year later

    It still has the same, minimalist one page design that it had ten months ago. In my opinion (whatever that’s worth), it is a neat design for a company claiming to be operating in stealth mode, that hints at a kind of retro-futurism. I wait with slightly bated breath…

    Cocomo at the end of the year

    How do psychics work? How do they manage to convince people that they are receiving messages from “the other side”, from loved ones who wish to communicate or console?

    One traditional explanation involves conspiracies and hidden associates. Perhaps the client has their pocket picked before the seance and thus the medium gains prior information which she or he then uses as the basis of the purported communications.

    I have found a book that explains a different strategy called cold reading, in which the “psychic” knows nothing in advance, has no accomplice, but simply uses a set of interconnected psychological strategies to draw information out of the client, and to take the session in the direction that they require.

    The book is by a stage magician called Ian Rowland and is available from his web site. The site itself is interesting and covers a range of related topics.

    Cold Reading

    There are two online resources that I tend to use to generate ideas for colour schemes.

    Color Wizard

    The first is called Color Wizard. It is currently at version 3, and it allows you to specify a base colour. The site then shows you a series of colour swatches that suggest matching, contrasting and complementary colours.

    It is very useful for sudden inspiration. You can find Color Wizard here.

    Color Schemes 2

    This site does essentially the same thing, although it claims to be using a different “more classical” way of interpreting colours. If you use Color Scheme 2 make sure to click on the help link which explains in some detail how it works. Without understanding this you won’t be able to use it effectively!

    Color Scheme Generators

    What follow are notes from a talk I gave at a conference called Digital Memories, in Salzburg, on March 17, 2009


    I live in Finland where cultural life has taken interestingly different turns from those taken by the Anglo-Saxon cultures. Some aspects of cultural life still flourish in Finland when they have died in England and America. Personal diaries are still bought and kept.

    My partner’s mother has kept a diary for seventy years, and she still has all of the volumes available to her on a shelf in her apartment. My partner has followed the same pattern, and she has kept a diary since she was eight or nine. Both of them regularly reread their diaries, but they also use them in specific ways that I shall return to in a moment.

    The process of keeping a diary, and referring back to it, is something that used to be very common. In fact, from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century one of the marks of a civilised person was the commonplace book that they kept.

    Somehow, though, the whole idea of commonplace books has slipped from public memory.


    In his book Commonplacing in the Spiritual Traditions Norman Elliott Anderson says:

    Commonplacing is the practice of entering literary excerpts and personal comments into a private journal, that is, into a commonplace book or, to use a 17th century synonym, a silva rerum (“a forest of things”). Typically the excerpts were regarded as exceptionally insightful or beautiful or as applicable to a variety of situations, and so as such they are often especially quotable. . . . The practice of commonplacing can be traced back in the European tradition to the 5th century B.C.E. and the Sophist, Protagoras.

    Historically commonplacing has played an important role in education, and it has served as a vital tool of erudition.

    In Schools in Tudor England, Craig R. Thompson says:

    Boys … had to keep notebooks or commonplace books in which to record, and then learn, idioms, quotations, or figures useful in composition or declamation. Not a little of that wide learning and impressive range of quotation adorning Elizabethan literature comes from these commonplace books.

    In The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England, Samuel Eliot Morison says:

    Students with literary tastes, in days when books were hard to come by, kept ‘commonplace’ or notebooks into which they copied out verses or prose extracts that particularly appealed to them.

    Wikipedia says:

    Commonplace books emerged in the 15th century with the availability of cheap paper for writing, mainly in England.

    By the 1600s, commonplacing had become a recognized practice that was formally taught to college students in such institutions as Oxford. The commonplace tradition in which Francis Bacon and John Milton were educated had its roots in the pedagogy of classical rhetoric, and “commonplacing” persisted as a popular study technique until the early twentieth century. Both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were taught to keep commonplace books at Harvard University (their commonplace books survive in published form). Commonplacing was particularly attractive to authors.

    Some, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mark Twain, kept messy reading notes that were intermixed with other quite various material; others, such as Thomas Hardy, followed a more formal reading-notes method that mirrored the original Renaissance practice more closely. The older, “clearinghouse” function of the commonplace book, to condense and centralize useful and even “model” ideas and expressions, became less popular over time.

    From the standpoint of the psychology of authorship, it is noteworthy that keeping notebooks is in itself a kind of tradition among literateurs. A commonplace book of literary memoranda may serve as a symbol to the keeper, therefore, of the person’s literary identity (or something psychologically not far-removed), quite apart from its obvious value as a written record. That commonplace books (and other personal note-books) can enjoy this special status is supported by the fact that authors frequently treat their notebooks as quasi-works, giving them elaborate titles, compiling them neatly from rough notes, recompiling still neater revisions of them later, and preserving them with a special devotion and care that seems out of proportion to their apparent function as working materials.

    Psychology and Theology

    Gestalt therapy suggests that this process of regular reworking of memory and history produces a radically different sense of self. Commonplacing is a process of continual reintegration. This is useful, and its use would be recognised by people from Perls, and Eric Berne, to Osho and Krishnamurti, all of whom regard the disintegration of personality as a major cause of ennui and alienation.

    The Cambridge theologian Don Cuppitt would go further. In Is Nothing Sacred? he argues that with postmodernism we have finally realised that the world is outsideless and exists only for us. In a world in which we accept that the god we worship is also the god that the culture in which we swim has itself invented, there is an overriding need to engage in personal pattern-making in order to structure ourselves to combat the void.

    We are, in effect, what we remember ourselves as being.

    We stopped remembering when education was industrialised. Frederick Taylor laid down the four underlying principles of this approach in his 1911 book Principles of Scientific Management where he stated that

    In 1962, the historian Raymond Callahan wrote an account of how scientific management has affected education, called Education & the Cult of Efficiency. Much of his book recounts the influence of Taylor’s ideas on educational administration — everything from how to make better use of buildings and classroom space to how to standardize the work of janitors. Other aspects of scientific management in education treated students like workers. “The ability to add at a speed of 65 combinations per minute, with an accuracy of 94 percent,” wrote one reformer, “is as definite a specification as can be set up for any aspect of the work of the steel plant” (John Franklin Bobbitt quoted in Callahan, 1962: 81). Another line of reforms required teachers to document their teaching activities in order to minimize “waste.” …

    The best example of Frederick Taylor’s ideas at work in education today are high-stakes standardized tests — tests which have a significant effect on funding for schools and the careers of individual students.

    It was the growing acceptance that schools were a site of industry, and that pupils were raw material to be reshaped according to the short but complete instructions from the planning room that led to the dismissal of self-education, based on the performative remaking of memory.

    The chronofile

    Buckminster Fuller provides a demonstration of this process in action.

    Although he never indicated that he knew anything of the commonplace book in 1917, he decided that he was “determined to make myself the guinea pig in a lifelong research project”, and that he would document every aspect of his life as part of that project. He named the expanded diary and journal he created for this purpose the chronofile. It was, in fact, a commonplace book intended to be used in a much more rigorous way.

    Not only did he use the chronofile to capture the minutiae of his life, he used to subject its contents to regular, detailed analysis, and use these analyses as the basis of future action. All of this is explained at length in an article entitled Bucky, that was originally published in Marshall McLuhan’s magazine Explorations, and later reprinted in The Buckminster Fuller Reader as Buckminster Fuller Chronofile. He wrote that

    The Chronofile consists so far of 250 volumes (half of them now bound in leather) containing (circa) eighty thousand letters, ie 300 to 400 pages per volume.

    The first important regenerative effect upon me of keeping this active chronological record was that I learned to ’see myself’ as others might see me. Secondly, it persuaded me ten years after its inception to start my life as nearly ‘anew’ as it is humanly possible to do. Thirdly, it persuaded me to dedicate my life to others not myself, not on an altruistic basis but because the chronofiled last thirty-two years of my life clearly demonstrated that I was positively effective in producing wealth only when I was dedicated to others. Further chronofile observation then showed that the larger the number for whoom I worked the more positively effective I became. Thus it became obvious through the chronofile that if I worked for all humanity I would be optimally effective.

    Fuller thus extends the traditional role of the commonplace book from recording data that passes in front of him (striking passages he has read, quotations from speeches he has heard, sketches of buildings he has admired) to include the recording of almost every aspect of his life, including reports of his appearances in the conversations of others:

    I also keep a record of hearsay items published about my work and reported to me as having occurred over and above the items which I have actually received and entered into the record. There is a fairly constant percentage in the average of uncollected but reported items as ratioed to collected items. Reliable reports of the existence of uncollected items average twenty five per cent of the number of items collected.

    It is from analyses such as these that he was able to form hypotheses about general social or economic trends, which he could then explore further. The chronofile enabled him to use his own life as part of his research laboratory, and thus everything he did, from taking a tram to attending a movie, provided data that would have a later educational value.

    Blogs and wikis

    Storage is at the heart of digital technology, and almost unlimted storage capacity is a defining feature. We can therefore reinstitute commonplacing.

    The memi

    In The Little Book on Living, Krishnamurti asked: “Why do you want to read others´ books when there is the book of yourself?” The memi can be seen as a way of rendering the book of yourself tangibly so that it can be studied whenever it is needed with a view to finding patterns that might otherwise go unnoticed and learning lessons that be otherwise be unavailable.

    I have thus defined the memi as

    a portable, personal, lifelong dataspace, under the control of its user, and capable of publishing to, and subscribing to, a range of networks simultaneously. At its simplest it can be seen as a combination of a diary, address book, aide memoire, personal library, expense sheet, notepad, and portfolio. Everything you might want to remember, or be reminded of, or reuse, can be found in one place, where it can be searched, sorted, linked and cross-referenced.

    The memi is intended to store a lifetime’s worth of data, from birth to death. It is not an “official” document, maintaining a log of data that has been taken from you. Rather it s a personal record of whatever data that you wish to keep for later use: data you may choose to share or not share, in a spirit of radical transparency .

    It draws from two separate cultural and technical thought experiments.

    Vannevar Bush first proposed the idea of the memex in 1945 in an article in Atlantic Monthly. In this he grappled with the concept of living in a world of limitless access to knowledge. He prophesied a personal learning tool, and the descriptions he created of this tool lay behind my initial thinking about the memi. (In fact the very name memi is a convoluted homage to the memex.)

    Ted Nelson proposed Project Xanadu, which was designed to link, and make available, all world knowledge. Importantly the aim of this was not interactivity, but participation.

    In 1965, he presented a paper at the Association for Computing Machinery in which he first proposed the idea of hypertext, and first used the term. In many ways his ideas were similar to Bush’s with the important difference that his concern was not with the machine itself but with the information: the ways in which it needed to be packaged and addressed to make intuitive links between items possible.

    He began by envisaging something similar to a word processor that would allow different versions and documents to be linked together nonlinearly, by association. From there he developed the idea of a global network of linked data, available worldwide, which he dubbed Project Xanadu. In 1967 he formally launched this, and although many people claim that the project has delivered nothing since, although it continues to exist, this is not true. The Transliterature open standard has been published and the first viewer for such documents is also now available.

    In September 2007, Nelson and Robert Adamson Smith gave a plenary talk, Back to the Future, at HT07. The abstract makes clear that his current position has not retrenched despite the popularity of the web: “Others imitate paper (Word, Acrobat) and the constant 3D world we live in (’Virtual Reality’). Our system instead tries to create documents better than paper in a space better than reality.”

    His initial ideas, which he has developed but never backed away from, are collected in the 1974 book Computer Lib/Dream Machines. Here he wrote that
    paper media, whatever their disadvantages, have at least been compatible; you could store the books, magazines and notes on the same shelf, compare them on the same desktop. Not for the new media, whether electronic or optical or magnetic or computerised. Each one needs a separate device. You cannot presently make margin notes on a video tape. I say it will all have to come together again. We need a presentational and archival medium that can be as standard as paper, to reunify the present mess of separately beautiful and mutually unintelligible forms of storage, presentation and annotation. The hope may be a shared-standard data structure.

    His concerns here are more cultural political than technical. He is concerned with the users’ abilities to derive meaning from the data at their disposal. He worries over the need to use technology to further autonomy, in the service of cultural democracy.

    Interactivity vs participation

    It may be useful here to draw a distinction between interactivity and participation, I will do this by quoting Henry Jenkins, writing in Convergence Culture.

    Interactivity refers to the ways that new technologies have been designed to be more responsive to consumer feedback. One can imagine differing degrees of interactivity enabled by different communications technologies, ranging from television, which only allows us to change the channel, to video games that can allow consumers to act upon the represented world…. The constraints of interactivity are technological. In almost every case, what you can do in an interactive environment is prestructured by the designer.

    Participation, on the other hand, is shaped by cultural and social protocols. So, for example, the amount of conversation permitted in a movie theater is determined more by the tolerances of audiences in different subcultures or national contexts than by any innate property of cinema itself. Participation is more open-ended, less under the control of media producers and more under the control of media consumers.


    We can view the memi as an extension of memory, in the sense that Marshall McLuhan meant.

    Viewing it in this way, we might ask ourselves: is this bad? We might remember that in Phaedrus, Socrates wrote that

    The discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves… You give your disciples not truth but only the semblance of truth… They will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing.

    Was he right? Is this bad?

    Commonplacing: an extension of memory

    I contacted Ann-Marie and Stacco from DisCo today about fixing a time to record a discussion with them for a future Miaaw podcast. Both Sophie and I want to chat with them.

    While looking through our email correspondence I came across a link to the Commons Transition primer site. Not only does it look very nice, it contains an interesting library of free books, some written by Michel Bauwens and some not.

    I thought I would post it here, for my future reference and yours.

    Commons transition primer

    You may or may not know that “the godfather of competitive eating, Takeru Kobayashi burst onto the American scene at the 2001 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, where the lithe 5-foot-8 Japanese 23-year-old, using a revolutionary water-dipping technique and a body-wiggling maneuver known as the “Kobayashi Shake,” ate an astounding 50 hot dogs—double the prior record”.

    You may also not know that he has become seriously disgruntled with the Major League Eating organisation, whom he claims have turned the sport into sports entertainment.

    ”For something to become a sport, you have to have an organization that creates the competition, separate from the organization that the athletes belong to. There need to be different leagues. Each athlete needs to have the freedom to have his or her own agent, and managers, and people that they trust, supporting them solely. The people that create the competition can’t be the judges. The agents can’t be the judges. Everything has to be separated into a system so that it’s really respected and trusted as a sport, and so the athletes can take themselves seriously as well.”

    In that regard, Kobayashi would like to spearhead the competitive-eating charge into the mainstream, if the opportunity presents itself. “I would be so honored and happy to be the person to bring that to fruition. My whole point in the beginning was that I wanted to create a market, not just to beat somebody. I wanted to pioneer this into a sport.”

    You can read all this and more here in The Daily Beast.

    Competitive Eating 2019

    This paper was written jointly by Camilla Lindeberg and Owen Kelly. It was delivered by Camie at the 2004 Ed-Media conference, in Lugano, Switzerland.

    Abstract: virtual worlds as teaching aids

    This paper describes a way of working with teaching in a field like new media; a method of teaching in a fast evolving field, where people more and more must teach themselves in order to keep up with the development in the techniques and trends. The paper outlines a course held in the autumn of 2003 in Arcada a Swedish speaking polytechnic in Finland. The aim of the course was to use a virtual world as a teaching aid for introducing concepts of brand management to media students.

    1. Background

    In the Spring of 2002 the Media Department at Arcada Polytechnic began a long-term initiative aimed at tying together the different strands of the multimedia courses. It was intended to provide an environment within which students and staff could devise projects. It took the form of a multi-user 3D environment, modeling Marinetta, the capital city of the Mediterranean island Rosario.

    In August 2003 a group of 3rd year multimedia students began a course on brand development. The aim of this course was to examine the nature of brands, and the ways in which packaging, advertising, web sites and other media can be made to reflect the look, feel and ?values? embodied in a brand.

    This was one of the first courses to be taught entirely within the Marinetta framework.

    2. Marinetta, the capital of Rosario

    Marinetta is the 3 dimensional reconstruction of the capital of Rosario, available on the Internet at With a full culture and history, Marinetta in itself is an interesting project. Technically it is built with SCOL, a French 3D software, and makes use of Flash, MySQL and php to deliver a rich media experience.

    The aim of Marinetta is to function as a multi-purpose environment suitable both for games, education and business. It provides environments for meetings as well as online lectures in the city?s school, the Kollegio Ilana. It has a movie theater where QuickTime movies can be shown and a radio station that will stream music and radio plays.

    Marinetta has been designed to facilitate a wide range of educational activities. Creating developing the on-line world has been the subject of several classes. The brand management course was the first attempt to use the environment to teach a subject not directly connected to the construction and management of the world.

    Usually such a course would be taught in one of two ways. Either students would be invited to remodel an existing brand such as Coca Cola, as a hypothetical exercise, or they would be asked to invent a competitor to Coca Cola and design the logo and packaging for that. Our aim was to explore a third option for teaching concepts: an option based on detailed simulation in a laboratory-like parallel world with its own history and its own peculiar constraints.

    3. The Brand Management Course

    The course was structured as a series of lectures and workshops, followed by a large project. The project was to design a brand for Marinetta (that is, a virtual brand for a virtual world), and to realize this as a package and an advertisement.

    The nature of the world had already been mapped out in detail by other students in the previous year. (The results of this are available as downloadable e-books at the Marinetta web site). Rosario has a detailed geography, along with a list of native animals, fish and vegetation. The size of the population has been measured, and there is a detailed chronicle of over 2,000 years of history.

    The students were not therefore able to use whatever came into their heads. They had to ask themselves a series of questions ? questions that a number of them found difficult to answer. They had to work out what was needed on the island; what would be possible to manufacture and distribute; and what its competitors would be.

    Students were challenged to invent companies and the products that these companies manufactured. These were then branded and fitted into the concept of Rosario. Logos and packages were designed and placed in the worlds? capital Marinetta [1] as hoardings.

    We have discussed the nature of a virtual culture elsewhere, but history is one of its necessary features. For this reason, the students were not supposed to invent a ?new? company. Rather they were supposed to create a company with a history of its own, and to create the current packaging for one of its products.

    4. The educational problem

    The Finnish educational system is based on a traditional methodology whereby each subject is strictly taught in school. There is a clear distinction between the role of teacher and the role of student. This poses a problem for multimedia education at Arcada and elsewhere. One of the main challenges for the institution has been to take pupils who expect to be taught and change them into students with the initiative to learn on their own. One of the main (if unspoken) subjects on our syllabus has therefore been teaching our students to learn how to learn.

    As a solution to this dilemma we have tried to structure our courses so that the students can actually make something real in order to implement the concept of teaching themselves. The creation of a virtual world with consistent rules, but a degree of flexibility that the ?real world? does not possess, has been a part of this process.

    5. Monitoring progress

    At the beginning of the course we formulated four questions to enable us to monitor the pedagogical effectiveness of using a virtual world as a framework for the project work:

    Are the multimedia students skilled and interested enough to create concepts?
    Is there a problem between teaching and learning?
    Is task-based learning an open ended dilemma or a good teaching environment?
    How can the students be made to show their skills and use them fully?

    6. The course

    We had structured the course in two sections, one about the actual background and theory on branding and the second on design. The aim was that in the end we would have to products a fully planned virtual brand and a logo and package that fully fitted the profile of the brand.

    In the first section we provided the students with theory on branding, marketing, logo design and color theory. We showed them other case studies and made them research a well-known existing brand. This concluded with the students writing a short report on an existing product.

    In the second section the students were provided with the full history of Marinetta and Rosario. This consisted of four e-books that described the facts on geographical conditions, nature and wildlife on the island, as well as providing a list of all the businesses currently in Rosario, a list of the royal family and presidents and famous people of Rosario.

    The students were told that they needed to fully understand these facts in order to create something that would belong to the world.

    The biggest challenge for the students was to actually create a brand, do a marketing profile and figure out a target group for it. Not all of the students came up with an interesting concept that fitted inside the virtual world and its culture. Some seemed unwilling or unable to make the necessary imaginative leap.

    We had thought that this would be an easy task as every piece of information was right in front of the students [2, 3]. However, some of the students didn?t seem to understand that they had to go through the learning process on their own.

    At the end of the course we were presented with a wide range of projects. Some were a successful attempt to imagine life on the island and to design something that fitted in with that life. Others were confused attempts to do this, and a few seemed nothing more than simple remakes of a packet that might be found on a local supermarket shelf.

    Examples of the finished projects will be made available in 2004 on the Marinetta web site.

    7. Conclusion

    Planning, developing and designing something virtual can be seen in some ways as more than actually doing it for “real”. Some might say that in real life you have to please real customers but in a virtual world you don?t have this problem. Marinetta is intended to overcome this.

    This is not entirely true however. Creating something for a virtual world means that you have to follow the rules in the world, the same way you have to follow the rules of our society. Most of these rules are built in to us as part of a long process, a process that starts in infancy and continues the whole of our life.

    When creating something for a virtual world and society this process is missing. The only way our students can create something for Marinetta is by learning and absorbing the rules we have created, discussing with his/her fellows and asking us for guidance when they are stuck. We were left feeling that we had perhaps underestimated the difficulties that some students would have in this process of absorption. The process of simulation has to begin with the student simulating the process by which they have absorbed their own culture!

    This was the first year the students had to create design concepts for Marinetta. It seemed to be a harder task than we had imagined. The task didn?t just teach the students something, it also taught the teachers. In creating something for a world and society we need to consider the internal rules, and we need to make sure that they are presented in a way that makes sense to all of the students encountering them for the first time. The process of absorption seemed easiest for those students who had, in one way or another, already developed techniques for this ? by playing Dungeons and Dragons, for example, or by traveling extensively.

    Next year the students will be facing an easier task, mainly because some of the confusion will be removed when we show the outcomes from this year.

    We now know that we need to take the students deeper into the virtual world of Marinetta in order to create something in there. This will be a daunting task, as the world is developing all the time. We need to ensure that the guidebooks, and the transparency of the framework, develop in the same way and at the same pace as the island itself.


    2. Brand Channel (retrieved 30.09.2003). Brand Channel worked as a good resource for papers in branding. The students were given the URL and adviced to read some of the papers that could help them in creating their brands.
    3. The Origin of Things, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Rotterdam, 2003, NAi Publishers Rotterdam, Amsterdam. This book helped the students to see how design develops from a sketch to the actual thing.

    Concept Development in a Virtual World

    The idea of representing ideas or thoughts diagrammatically is not a recent one. As early as the third century, Porphyry of Tyros produced map-like images to demonstrate the structure and workings of Aristotle’s philosophical concepts.

    However the current usages of the terms “mind mapping” and “concept mapping” are relatively recent. Both terms have known inventors, who have spent many years developing their ideas, and both terms arise from theoretical assumptions or research. Despite the apparent similarity of the terms, and despite the fact that both describe methods of representing ideas diagrammatically, they have completely different aims, and work in very different ways.

    Mind mapping

    Tony Buzan, variously described as a popular psychologist, a self-help guru and a business consultant, invented mind mapping in the late 1960s “as a way of helping students make notes that used only key words and images”. Since then he has developed it as a central technique in his international “brain friendly” management consultancy business.

    Buzan contrasts mindmaps with other, traditional, forms of note taking and brainstorming: bulleted lists; hierarchical lists; numbered points, all of which are found wanting. Buzan claims that these forms of brainstroming put people into “a semi-hypnotic trance” that actually prevents them thinking. He also claims that the mind map utilizes the full range of left and right human cortical skills, balances the brain, taps into the 99% of your unused mental potential, and taps into deep-level intuition (which he calls “superlogic”).

    HIs use of the term “mind maps” is not accidental then. He intends it to imply that the technique he is selling reaches parts of the human mind that remain inaccessible to other forms of thinking and planning. His evidence for this claim appears to be secondhand at best, but you are free to believe him.

    The language and tone of his website is decidely upbeat and life affirming; and presents a collection of decontextualsed facts that (it suggests) Tony has noticed fit together in a way that you haven’t. On the basis of this, and a series of testimonials about the effectiveness of his “brain friendly” seminars, mind mapping is presented as a breakthrough in harnessing the power of human thought.

    Mind mapping is a simple technique, but in The Mind Map Book (1991), Buzan lays down ten clear rules for making a mind map:

    1. Start in the centre with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colours.
    2. Use images, symbols, codes and dimensions throughout your Mind Map.
    3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.
    4. Each word/image must be alone and sitting on its own line.
    5. The lines must be connected, starting from the central image.
    6. The central lines are thicker, organic and flowing, becoming thinner as they radiate out from the centre.
    7. Make the lines the same length as the word/image.
    8. Use colours “your own code” throughout the Mind Map.
    9. Develop your own personal style of Mind Mapping.Use emphasis and show associations in your Mind Map.
    10. Keep the Mind Map clear by using Radiant hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches.

    Mind maps are supposed to use the normally unused 99% of the brain, and the technique allegedly makes use of both the left and right cortex. The website makes no reference to any research demonstrating the truth of this. I have read allegations that academic studies have disproved many of the claims Buzan has made for mind maps, and thrown serious doubts on the rest, but I have yet to find details of these alleged studies themselves.

    Peter Russell worked alongside Tony Buzan during the 1970s and 1980s, developing the business applications of mindmapping and, in his words, teaching “mind-mapping skills in a variety of international corporations and educational institutions”. He has added to the rules above, with some further suggestions:

    1. Use just key words, or wherever possible images.
    2. Start from the center of the page and work out.
    3. Make the center a clear and strong visual image that depicts the general theme of the map.
    4. Create sub-centers for sub-themes.
    5. Put key words on lines. This reinforces structure of notes.
    6. Print rather than write in script. It makes them more readable and memorable. Lower case is more visually distinctive (and better remembered) than upper case.
    7. Use color to depict themes, associations and to make things stand out.
    8. Anything that stands out on the page will stand out in your mind.
    9. Think three-dimensionally.
    10. Use arrows, icons or other visual aids to show links between different elements.
    11. Don’t get stuck in one area. If you dry up in one area go to another branch.
    12. Put ideas down as they occur, wherever they fit. Don’t judge or hold back.
    13. Break boundaries. If you run out of space, don’t start a new sheet; paste more paper onto the map. (Break the 8×11 mentality.)
    14. Be creative. Creativity aids memory.
    15. Get involved. Have fun.

    Because mind maps are a form of brainstorming, they cannot be right or wrong, they can only be useful or not useful. They canot be judged, since the purpose of any mind map that I make is to reveal my thought processes to me in order that my future thoughts and actions can proceed more clearly. If your mind map does not make sense to me, then that simply does not matter. All that matters is that it makes sense to you, and proves useful in helping you clarify and plan.

    Peter Russell’s web site uses a mind map as a navigational tool. This is the mind map that he uses:

    a mind map made by Peter Russell

    Although this is a diagram, and one that shows relationships, it is not clear (to me at least) why the relationships are as they are. I have no objection to this, since I assume that the purpose of this mind map is to give us a glimpse into Peter Russell’s mind, not to provide a standard taxonomy of the content of his site. The very fact that we might have ordered the map differently serves to point out to us that we are not Peter Russell and, in that very limited sense, the map might be said to be completely successful.

    Concept mapping

    In a paper entitled The Origins of the Concept Mapping Tool and the Continuing Evolution of the Tool, Professor Joseph D Novak wrote that a “research program at Cornell University that sought to study the ability of first and second grade children to acquire basic science concepts and the effect of this learning on later schooling led to the need for a new tool to describe explicit changes in children?s conceptual understanding. Concept mapping was invented in 1972 to meet this need, and subsequently numerous other uses have been found for this tool.”

    His work had been aimed at questioning Piaget’s then-dominant theories of cognitive operational stages (which suggested that children under the age of eleven could not benefit from instruction in abstract thought). His primary question was: “Are these claimed cognitive operational limitations of children the result of brain development, or are they at least partly an artifact of the kind of schooling and socialization characteristic of Piaget?s subjects, and those commonly tested in US and other schools?” In pursuing this he was contrasting Piaget’s work with the work of DP Ausubel, who said, in Educational Psychology: a Cognitive View (1968), that “If I had to reduce all of educational psychology to just one principle, I would say this: The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly.”

    Ausubel believed that the key principles of learning included progressive differentiation, integrative reconciliation, and overcoming misconceptions. Progressive differentiation describes the process in which learners build on what they already know, elaborating upon previously understood concepts. Integrative reconciliation refers to the process of clarifying ideas that may previously have seemed confusing or have been partially misunderstood. Overcoming misconceptions involves remediating faulty ideas and clarifying their position within a scheme of concepts.

    Novak’s team originally began their research with interviews, and began looking for another tool when the interviews came to seem too unwieldy, and too difficult to interpret objectively. Initially they used concept maps to codify the responses in interviews, and then later realised that they could be used to replace interviews as a method for studying understanding.

    In Novak’s words, the concept maps that they developed “show the specific label (usually a word or two) for one concept in a node or box, with lines showing linking words that create a meaningful statement or proposition. We define concepts as perceived regularities or patterns in events or objects, or records of events or objects, designated by a label. Concepts are arranged hierarchically with the most general, most inclusive concept at the top, and the most specific, least general concepts toward the bottom. Propositions are statements about some event or object that shows a relationship between two or more concepts. There may also be cross-links showing relationships between concepts in two different areas of the concept map. Identifying a new crosslink may sometimes lead to a creative insight. Concept maps are also based on an explicit cognitive psychology of learning, and constructivist epistemology”.

    Subsequently, realising the power of a concept map to distil thinking into clear and objective hierarchical structures, Novak and others have consciously sought to develop concept mapping as a wider knowledge representation tool. They have developed a range strategies for using concept mapping as a teaching method, and as a method of assessment.

    These include the “parking lot”, in which students are given a concept map in which a set of related concepts (about the rain cycle, magnetism, or whatever) are parked down the left hand side of the map. The students have to arrange these concepts into a map, using as many of them as possible. A variation of this is the “Expert Skeleton Map” in which students are provided with a concept map that has been started by an expert in the field, but with many of the concepts still parked. The students’ task is to finish the map.

    I have constructed a concept map for the Rich Media Technology course I am teaching next year. It aims to answer the focus question: what is the logical structure of the Adobe Flash application? I made this because I have found that many students who approach Flash for the first time get hopelessly confused about how it all fits together, since when the program is opened it appears as a mess of disconnected windows, whose functions can sometimes seem very unclear.

    a concept map made by me

    This map does not show how I intend thinking about this problem. Rather it shows the results of my thinking. Successfully or not, this is supposed to be a pedagogically useful representation of the different aspects of the application, mapped so that the relationship between them is clear. It is intended to serve as a reference point for students who are lost, but it will also serve as a map to enable students to make sense of the course itself. Each lesson will be related back to the map, enabling students to see where that day’s topic fits into the overall course.

    The concept map was made with CmapTools, a free software created by the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, with whom Novak has been associated since 1987. Used in conjunction with CmapServer this provides a collaborative online mapping tool that can house stored or linked materials for display in the maps, and can be used to build multi-level nested maps. Using CmapServer, links in any concept map can point to another concept map.


    Mind mapping and concept mapping aim to assist in very different tasks.

    Mind mapping aims to enable users to break free of their habits and to think creatively. It is a tool that aims to assist in the opening parts of a mental process. If I wanted to write an essay on symbolic forms and was confused by my reading and uncertain where to start then I could, conceivably, begin by making a mind map. Out of this would come some arrangements and links, and I might begin to see how I could fit various ideas together. Tony Buzan would argue that this would be a more efficient way of proceeding than making lists or notes, and would be more likely to lead to original and creative thinking.

    In some ways mind mapping finishes where concept mapping begins. By making mind maps I would allegedly get to understand how the various different strands of my thinking fitted together. At the end of this I would be in a position to know what the question was that I wanted to address. Did I, for example, want to answer the question “How are symbolic forms transmitted through history?”, or did I want to ask “Is the notion of symbolic forms flawed?”

    Once I had this focus question I would be in the position to begin making a concept map. This point would naturally arise near the end of the thinking process. When I had my ideas sorted out, when I knew the concepts involved in the construction and transmission of historical forms, I could begin to map their relationships. Whereas the mind map was deeply personal, and addressed only to myself, the concept map should be an attempt to produce an objective mapping of the ideas in my essay and should, in some circumstances, be able to stand in place of the essay. At the very least it should provide a visual abstract of the essay.

    More general uses of the terms

    In researching this paper, I realised that mind mapping and concept mapping are sometimes used as general terms. I read articles that made claims such as “the way we use mind mapping works very differently”. This seems to me to be problematic. Not only do both the terms have clear long-standing definitions, but Tony Buzan has even registered “mind map” as a trade mark. To use these terms to describe any attempt to scribble ideas down on a piece of paper and join them with lines and circles simply serves to devalue the two terms, and makes it difficult to discuss their uses and effectiveness.

    If people can say that “the way we use mind mapping works very differently”, and demonstrate that this is so, then whatever they are doing, they are doing something else – something that Tony Buzan would not recognise as mind mapping.

    If there are other working approaches to the process of rendering ideas and thoughts diagrammatically, with a rationale of their own (and there are), then it is logical for them to be given other names, so that they can be discussed alongside these two long-standing techniques. On the other hand, where people are simply jotting ideas down on paper, then it would be better for them to admit that this is what they are doing – and possibly seek out a more structured approach.


    Both mind mapping and concept mapping have official histories, which offer theoretical justifications for their use. Both terms therefore have specific meanings, however genuine or specious the claims behind them might be.

    Mind maps are intended to be subjective, and users are explicitly exhorted to “develop your own personal style of Mind Mapping”. Concept maps are intended to be an objective presentation of the logical relationships between related and understood ideas or events.

    Mind maps are intended to help develop strategies, as a technique for brainstorming. Concept maps are intended to have a pedagogical function, and to serve as a method for presenting information and for assessing students’ understanding of information.

    Mind maps appear to be based on second-hand evidence, and are presented as an innovation in thinking able to help international corporations gain a competitive edge. In this they call to mind the style and content of Edward de Bono and others. Concept maps are the result of long-term pedagogically based research and have been directly tested , with the results written up in peer-reviewed papers.

    Concept maps, and the related tool CmapTools, would seem to be ideally suited to the development of strategies for distance learning and epedagogy.


    Having written this I went back to the concept map that was at the heart of the Learning Object that Camilla Lindeberg and I made about perception in Rosario, and completely remade it. In the process of this I recast the Learning Object, and I will put the new version online as soon as I have had a chance to talk to Camie about it.

    More interestingly, though, I uncovered the heart of the problem that we had been experiencing in trying to conceive our learning object in the first place.

    Second Life, where Rosario is housed, presents information in four ways, and the consequences of this became clear to me when I had made a better concept map. Information is presented as 3D rendered graphics using central perspective; as views into a database; as text overlays and as 2D overhead map projections.

    The map projections have as valid a claim to be a symbolic form as central perspective or database. Arguably maps, not central perspective, can be seen as the symbolic form that dominated European culture for the past two or three centuries. If central perspective creates the individual ?I? who demands to be taken account of, maps create the ?imperial we? who have the right to colonise the mapless, and to rule empires.

    I have been researching this and I will post something about it when the time is right.

    Online References

    Wikipedia on Mind Maps∞

    Buzan International∞

    The Spirit of Now – Peter Russell∞

    Wikipedia on Concept Maps∞

    The Origins of the Concept Mapping Tool by Joseph D Novak and Alberto D Canas∞

    The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct Them by Joseph D Novak and Alberto D Canas∞

    Visual Learning∞

    Concept Maps are not Mind Maps

    Today I read an article by Drew Austin in Real Life Mag called The Constant Consumer that addressed some of the same concerns that I have wrestled with in my recent discussions with Scott and Mats.

    The ostensible topic of the piece centres around Amazon’s long term plans, and the social effects that they will have. He points out that

    Amazon similarly merges the customer and the user within its own optimized environments, letting these subjects exist at the center of an ever-expanding system. Imagine an avid Amazon customer’s typical day living with a near future iteration of the platform: He wakes up and speaks his first words of the morning to his Amazon Echo in the kitchen, asking Alexa to order toothpaste after noticing he was running low. Upon checking his email, he gives Alexa a few more instructions, adding social engagements and reminders to his calendar, checking the weather, and finally opening the garage door once he’s ready to leave for work. At the office throughout the day, idle shopping fills his distracted moments. He browses books, clothing, and even furniture, placing orders within seconds, many of which automatically appear in his shopping cart based on patterns from his activity history (he even knows that some of what he buys will be waiting at home tonight). During the evening commute another Alexa-enabled device in his car prompts him to send his sister a birthday card, an action he asks Alexa to do for him. He stops by Whole Foods to pick up groceries — as an Amazon Prime member, it’s always the most cost-effective option in his neighborhood. He arrives home to find a variety of Amazon packages stacked neatly on the living room coffee table, delivered throughout the day by part-time contractors who let themselves into the house via the smart lock on the front door. The soundtrack to his entire day is provided by Amazon Music, in which his Prime membership has automatically enrolled him for a small monthly fee. Few parts of this hypothetical day, which is already within the realm of possibility, remain untouched by Amazon’s user experience.

    He argues that, in this and other ways, “Amazon, as much as any single company, is transforming the environments in which we live and embedding itself within the fabric of daily existence”.

    This becomes the point where my concerns and Drew Austin’s merge. Amazon, in effect, have assumed the power to change the nature of human agency, or (perhaps more accurately) to affect the media landscape or sensorium within which human agency occurs, and thus change the nature of human agency.

    Constant consumption
    Contact me

    I have just had a problem with my menus suddenly disappearing behind a new div that I created.

    It took longer than it should to fix the problem which is to do with a bug in the way that IE6/IE7 deal with the cumulative effects of declaring a z-pos for elements.

    I found a long, illustrated, exposition of the problems called Effect of z-index value to positioned elements, which demonstrated the various issues, but only offered implicit solutions.

    I found the solution that I actually needed at I probably would not have understood the significance of this if I had not read Aleksandar Vaci?’s article first.

    CSS: z-axis and IE

    Owen Kelly was born in Birkenhead, Merseyside. He has worked as a community artist, a cultural consultant, a soundscaper and a multimedia programmer. He has an ongoing interest in developing convivial tools that might assist in the struggle for cultural democracy.

    He currently works as principal lecturer in online media at Arcada, a university of applied science, in Helsinki.


    2014 – now Principal Lecturer, online media at Arcada, University of Applied Sciences

    2010 – 2013 Doctoral researcher at Aalto University

    2003 – 2013 Lecturer, online media at Arcada, University of Applied Sciences

    1998 – 2003 Multimedia designer at Endero

    1994 – 1998 Course leader for multimedia at Lambeth College, London

    1990 – 1994 cultural consultant

    1980 – 1990 founder / community artist at Mediumwave, Brixton, London


    2012 – 2015 Doctor of Arts (with distinction) from Aalto University School of Arts, Design & Architecture

    2004 – 2007 MA in E-Pedagogy at University of Industrial Art & Design, Helsinki, Finland.

    1969 – 1973 BA (Hons) in English Literature & Sciology, University of Keele, Staffordshire, England.

    Selected Affiliations

    2012 – 2017 Board member of Piknik Frequency Ry

    2011 – 2012 Active member of Pixelache

    2003 – 2009 Founder at League of Worlds, an international annual conference on the educational use of virtual worlds


    2015 Ambient Learning & Self Authorship (doctoral thesis). Helsinki: Aalto University Publications

    2013 Urban No-Mind, a phenomenological diary. Helsinki: HLM

    1996 Digital Creativity. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

    1994: The Creative Bits (with Eva Wojdat). London: Comedia

    1986 Culture & Democracy (with John Lock & Karen Merkel). London: Comedia

    1984 Community, Art & the State. London: Comedia

    Selected Publications

    2017 Cultural Democracy: developing technologies and dividuality, in Dr. Alison Jeffers and Gerri Moriarty (joint editors), 2016. Culture, Democracy and the Right to Make Art: the British Community Arts Movement 1968-1986. London: Routledge

    2011 Marinetta: a culture not a classroom, in Randy Hinrichs & Charles Wankel (eds), 2011. Transforming Virtual World Learning. Bingley, UK: Emerald

    2011 Diagrammatic Inquiry: Rosario is not Virtual and it is not Reality, in Len Annetta & Stephen Bronack (eds), 2011. Serious Educational Game Assessment. Boston: Sense Publishers

    2010 Sexton Blake & the virtual culture of Rosario: a biji, in Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss (ed), 2010. Mashup Culture. Vienna: Springer/Verlag

    Curriculum Vitae


    April’s boys collect data every Friday,
    gliding home in June-kissed madness.
    November’s orphans play queer rhythms so
    the Uninvited visit where xrays yield zero.

    I made that up in the middle of a night made sleepless by the stultifying heat and the urban mosquitoes partying on my body.

    It isn’t necessarily great poetry, although the metre (almost) holds. However, it may well be the start of a whole new type of poetry, in which case I wait with great excitement to see the next example.

    Notice that it consists of two thirteen-word sentences. Notice that the first letters of the words of the sentences contain the letters of the english alphabet in sequence: “April’s boys collect”, and so on.

    Now imagine how much better off I would have been sleeping…

    Damn that alphabet

    DarwinTunes is a pretty amazing project that has been developed at Imperial College London and Queen Mary University of London. There are some interesting names behind it. One of the founders, for example, is Bob MacCallum who is

    a bioinformaticist in the Laboratory of Immunogenomics at Imperial College London. During the day he creates genomic research tools for the insect disease vector community (e.g. malaria, dengue…), and also uses evolutionary algorithms to unlock the secrets of gene regulation in these organisms. By night he is consumed by an evil, creative genius, and toils away at DarwinTunes and other projects.

    Another is Armand Leroi, who is Professor of Evolutionary Developmental Biology at Imperial College London. There are more.

    Their project is interesting conceptually, but even more interesting practically – because it produces extraordinary results. This is what they say they are doing.

    The organic world – animals, plants, viruses – is the product of Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Natural selection expresses the idea that organisms (more accurately their genes) vary and that variability has consequences. Some variants are bad and go extinct; others are good and do exceptionally well. This process, repeated for two billion years, has given us the splendours of life on earth.

    It has also given us the splendours of human culture. This may seem like a bold claim, but it is self-evidently true. People copy cultural artifacts – words, songs, images, ideas – all the time from other people. Copying is imperfect: there is “mutation”. Some cultural mutants do better than others: most die but some are immensely successful; they catch on; they become hits. This process, repeated for fifty thousand years, has given us all that we make, say and do; it is the process of “cultural evolution”.

    However, the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. For example, how important is human creative input compared to audience selection? Is progress smooth and continuous or step-like? We set up DarwinTunes as a test-bed for the evolution of music, the oldest and most widespread form of culture; and, thanks to your participation, we’ve shown that reasonably complex and pleasing music can evolve purely under selection by listeners.

    You can hear some of the results on their site, and at Soundcloud.

    Listening to the differences between generation 150 and generation 8700 of uncoolbob is ear-opening. What they are doing is, in effect, testing some important elements of meme theory, and showing how culture might evolve through a memetic process. They are providing a practical demonstration of a hypothetical historical process that does not actually prove anything but certainly provides strong suggestive evidence.

    Applause all round.

    DarwinTunes: sexed-up music

    David Rovics has made political music for years, and has funded his work in many different ways. He tours regularly and has a kind of 1000 Club through which people to donate to help him continue his work where he operates, as Robert Fripp might say, “inside the marketplace but not as part of the marketplace”.

    I once borrowed one of his regular essays to post here, because I wanted, in a small way, to help its transmission; to help it go as “viral” as these things do.

    Now he has started a crowd-funding exercise to fund the production of his next album. He explains that

    I wrote an album’s worth of songs over the course of the summer, which makes me want to record an album. Making albums with other musicians is really fun, and lots more people listen to those albums, as opposed to the solo acoustic ones, all of which makes me want to record an album with other musicians. But time in a studio and taking musicians away from their day jobs to make a record involves expenses, and there’s no money to be made in this sort of endeavor these days. So that, combined with the fact that my rent is covered for next month, leads me to this crowdfunder.

    This is a crowdfunder for an artistic project, an album of songs, that has the prospect of being heard, but no prospect of paying for itself, even after years of streaming on Spotify to 5 or 6 thousand monthly listeners. It has the prospect of a long life on all the streaming platforms, and the prospect of playing a role in doing what music can do, in inspiring and educating a lot of people of all ages, wherever English is spoken and there is internet access. This is true of just a simple solo acoustic recording, if made professionally. But it’s much more true of a bigger sort of project.

    He has also made an elevator pitch video:

    You can find out more about the project, and contribute to help make it happen, by going here.

    Please do.

    David Rovics album project

    I did not write what follows. David Rovics did. He posted it here on his blog Songwriter’s Notebook, as part of his ongoing ruminations on the cultural, economic and politic aspects of life as a working musician.

    If you find this interesting then you should definitely read more of his writing on Songwriter’s Notebook.

    Coping with future shock: getting more out of the web for people who got stuck…

    I heard an interview with the author who coined the term, future shock, back in the 1980’s. I haven’t read the book, but the term has become familiar, since it’s now something we’re all experiencing to one degree or another.

    For better and for worse, children have the most impressive ability to assimilate the world around them, because they have such an inquisitive orientation, combined with the basic human need for acceptance, to fit into the tribe. It’s an especially obvious phenomenon if you observe small children — all the other kids are doing it, I’m going to master this, too; walking, peeing in toilets, climbing trees, watching videos, playing Minecraft.

    As we get older, we tend to lose this sense of adventure about everything, and adapting becomes harder, or impossible. And then, even if we don’t get all stultified in our adulthood, it’s still hard. This fact really struck me in a recent visit to my father’s place. He’s now in his eighties, and very active as a composer and musician, among other things. Really ever since he was a kid, he’s been ahead of the curve vis-a-vis technology. In the 1960’s he was using the latest reel-to-reel recording devices. In the 70’s he was doing things with personal computers well before they were commonplace. In the 90’s he was experimenting with websites, and he was one of the earlier ones to move all the exercises involved with composing and creating scores and transposing things, etc., to the digital realm, using programs like Finale.

    But even for someone like him, in this rapidly-changing environment, it’s so easy to get left behind. In my last visit I was trying to figure out, eventually with help from Adobe customer service, how to export tens of thousands of photos from an antiquated photo editing program that was invented long before the internet came around. Figuring out how to do a bulk export of the photos was challenging enough, but what seemed perhaps as challenging was understanding the concept that now that these photos were uploaded to Google Drive, they could be shared easily and accessed on any device that’s signed in to Google Drive. My father blinked, and suddenly everything is on the Cloud (and we’re not talking about the sky), and suddenly most useful things done on a computer involve a browser, rather than a program that’s actually running on your hard drive.

    So many other people, who do not have the attitude of an adventurous toddler, get so much more thoroughly left behind by modernity. People like my mother, also in her eighties, who can’t find the volume on her laptop even when she really wants to listen to one of her son’s podcasts, or use the map on her phone even when she’s hopelessly lost and has the phone in her bag.

    Many people, perhaps most, adapt to a new technology, or attempt to do so, when it’s really forced upon them. In the 90’s, many people started using the new technology of email as soon as it became somewhat widespread. Others waited until no one replied to their letters or phone calls anymore, before grudgingly buying their first laptop, twenty years after personal computers became popular.

    Many people enthusiastically experimented with every new communication platform that came along, when it came along — Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, etc. Others got on Facebook only after they couldn’t figure out where all their friends went, who they used to communicate with by email or on a now-extinct platform like MySpace. Or when they could no longer find out what was going on around town through any other means, after the newspapers went out of business, and the email announcements lists they were subscribed to stopped posting.

    What seems to have happened to many people who then grudgingly made the move to Facebook is they got stuck there. It works well enough for their purposes, for keeping in touch with friends, keeping track of local events, news stories, and many other things. This seems to be especially true of middle-aged and older people, who are making up an increasingly large base of the regular Facebook users. Younger folks are more likely to be looking for other things that have come along.

    By the same token, those of us who nowadays are termed Content Creators — artists, musicians, photographers, journalists, filmmakers, livestreamers, podcasters, bloggers — tend to be ahead of the curve in terms of understanding new developments with technology and communication, because we run into the limitations of the corporate-controlled platforms before people who might fall more into the “consumer” category.

    So, for those of you who got stuck in Facebook’s universe, but are increasingly coming to realize that it’s not providing the kind of context you once got from it, that’s because it isn’t — they just try not to make it that obvious. But everything about your Facebook experience is determined by mysterious algorithms that are designed to make you spend as much time on Facebook as possible. The desire to spend as much time on Facebook as possible isn’t what motivates most of us generally, so that creates a bit of a disconnect. Most people are looking for other things — connection, news, stories, songs — Facebook is the means, not the goal.

    You can keep on muddling along on Facebook, and I’ll muddle with you, since it is an indispensable tool for the modern artist that cannot be ignored any more than Spotify, Apple, Google or the interstate highway system can be ignored. But there are tools in popular use by many people that you might like to explore. If you’re already well familiar with navigating the worlds of streaming music, subscribing to podcasts, getting notifications about things you’re actually interested in, or following artists’ tours in a way that’s relevant to your physical location, then the philosophical part of this shpeel is over, and you can go do something else now.

    What follows is practical stuff – for those of you who are or were keeping track of artists, journalists and other people and subjects of interest mostly through your Facebook feed and perhaps email announcements lists, and you’re wondering if there is a better way. Not that you should abandon these mediums of communication entirely by any means, in my view – but whereas half the population uses Facebook on a regular basis, less than a quarter is subscribed to a podcast on a podcasting platform. If you’re a member of the majority of the population who doesn’t do podcasts except maybe when one pops up in your Facebook feed or on an email list, then you just might want to keep reading – but you need to have your toddler hat on for this, not your “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” outfit.

    Listening to Music

    The main way artists release new music, and the main way people follow the work of artists they like, in terms of new and old albums of that artist, is by following them and listening to their music on free streaming platforms, especially Spotify. There are loads of problems with this, and artists desperately need to organize a campaign for streaming justice, in my view. But that’s not what this is about, so I’ll stop there on that tangent.

    I have not released a physical CD in many years, nor do I have any plans to do so in future. The vinyl album I released will surely be my only one, and I’ll have those boxes cluttering my family’s apartment for years to come I’m sure. The era of physical merch is over. So if you want to listen to my latest stuff, or that of most artists, you won’t find it there.

    You may find a post about a favorite artist’s latest release coming up on your Facebook feed, but if you did see that, it’s probably because it was paid for by the artist. It’s a terrible system in that regard and many others, Facebook. You can free yourself from their evil algorithms by intentionally following artists you like on a streaming platform.

    If you haven’t done it before, listening to music on a streaming platform is as simple as downloading the free app (Spotify or zillions of others), signing up to either the free or paid tier of the service, depending on whether you can deal with the occasional ad and whether you want to be able to listen to albums in the actual order the songs appear or not. Most people evidently don’t care about those things, and sign up for the free service. (Signing up for the paid service does not benefit the artist any more than streaming on the free service does, in case you’re wondering.) Then, you search for an artist you like, and click “play.”

    If you ever used to do mixed tapes back in the day, you’ll find that creating playlists on Spotify and other streaming platforms is very easy, and most of the artists you might be interested in are there – their entire catalog. Some of you may be wondering how or why it is that the entire catalog of most artists can be found on all of these platforms — both more commercial ones but also most any independent one who was on an independent record label some time in the past 25 years. The explanation is that most labels and millions of independent artists used platforms such as CD Baby to register and distribute their CDs. When download services like iTunes came along, CD Baby set up a structure so with one or two clicks you could have all the music they were already distributing for you available on iTunes. The overwhelming majority of these artists and labels signed up for it. It was a good deal – these downloads on iTunes were expensive! And then streaming eventually came along, and artists almost all clicked “yes to all” for that, too. With a click, your whole catalog is suddenly made available on dozens of streaming services around the world, voila.

    For those of you who want to support artists and are concerned about the streaming platforms for that reason, I hear you and feel the same way. But not using the platforms doesn’t help the artists, any more than using them helps the artists. If you want to help struggling independent artists, sign up to their patronage programs.

    Listening to Podcasts

    With podcasting it’s the same kind of thing, but with slight variations. First of all, to make sure we’re on the same page, what’s a podcast? It’s basically a segment of audio you can stream or download, usually one that is part of a series of some kind. Maybe if you’re on an email list or looking at your Facebook feed, you click on a podcast that someone shares, so you’re familiar with the concept that way.

    But to take advantage of the medium in a more reliable, less cluttered and random kind of way, to help you get away from these mediums like Facebook that are ruled by billionaires and their mysterious algorithms, your best move is once again an app. Examples include Podcast Addict and Podbean, or whichever podcasting app may have come with your phone, like if you have an iPhone. Using any of these apps, you can find the vast majority of the podcasts that are out there that are worth listening to. You can find a podcast, subscribe to it, and then get notified on your phone when a new episode is out, or just go to the app and refresh it to see all the latest episodes of any podcasts you’re subscribed to.

    How is it, you may be wondering, that it doesn’t matter which podcasting app you download, that whether it’s a little open source one or a big corporate one, you can access most of the same podcasts from around the world? This is because when people like me sign up to a podcasting platform – one that’s not just for listening to podcasts but also for uploading and distributing them, such as Podbean – we jump through some fairly simple online hoops to get the podcast registered for distribution on all the different major podcasting platforms, such as Apple, Google, Spotify, etc., and then they automatically go out on all of those platforms every time we put up a new podcast episode.

    Watching Livestream Broadcasts

    Livestreaming various kinds of things has become very popular, but reliably knowing about broadcasts you may be interested in and watching or participating in them when they happen can be very challenging. The internet is divided into various corporate platforms, all vying for your attention, and they don’t want to share it. They all have various things to offer, pros and cons, and naturally tend to attract different sorts of people. But any of them who are interested in a particular artist or other person who does a livestream these days can often more reliably see broadcasts that pop up on their screens.

    If you are seeing livestreams popping up a bit more often than they used to, the reason is because increasing numbers of people are using broadcasting platforms that allow them to livestream on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch and other platforms simultaneously. This way, whichever one of those platforms you may be logged in to when a broadcast happens, you’ll see it pop up on your screen (depending on your computer or phone’s various settings related to this sort of thing). If it’s not a window popping up your screen, it may be a phone notification, an email, or all of the above.

    What’s All This About Notifications?

    If you’ve noticed that I’ve mentioned notifications a lot, here’s why. In the age of Too Much Information, for those who want to get away from the noise and clutter of their Facebook feeds and email lists and hone in on the online content they’re really interested in, in such a way that they can keep track of it easily, the notifications on your phone are your friend. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, on any Android phone, you drag down from the top of the screen once or twice and you get your notifications. Any of your apps that have new content will probably let you know in the form of a notification, which will appear in a list of the most recent updates from each of your apps (unless you’ve blocked this feature for that app, or for all of them). There’s a similar function on iPhones, too.

    David Rovics on using the internet

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  • December 2019

    The garden, 15:51


    Everyone was very full and very sluggish this morning. We got up late and tidied up a bit. The weather was stable. It was about minus one and there was no snow in the air.

    I am in the garden looking at the wooden pig-dog-thing that stands in the entrance. We moved it when it started snowing and now it is on top of the rotting stand I use to reach the drains. It is nicely decorated for the festive season.

    Later we will have a dinner of delicious leftovers, Irma will take Naa to the metro, and we will all go to bed early.

    December 9, 2012

    Today I sent an email to Sophie Hope and Nick Mahony to bring them up to date with the plans Oliver and I have so far devised for the Convivial Mechanics event in September. In part I said that

    We will organise a two-day event. The overall topic will be around decentralising culture and cultural decision-making in a networked world. Ideas of cultural democracy are central to this, as are a set of practical tools and strategies for the decentralised decision-making that cultural democracy will require.

    The first day will aim to attract academics, activists, artists, city employees, curators, politicians and others who might take Friday afternoon off work to attend a symposium. This will take place in a venue in the centre of the city. The second day will take the form of two concurrent all-day workshops, and will aim to attract a smaller group of people who are prepared to commit themselves to a day of devising. This will take place on Suomenlinna, an island castle a short ferry ride from the city harbour. (You can see it at

    The first day will take place in the afternoon and early evening on Friday September 28. It will consist of 5 or 6 fifteen minute presentations followed by small group discussions and a plenary. The format will be similar to the format of the Manchester conference that Alison and Gerri organised. Two of the other presentations will come from Nathalie and Rich, the founders of Loomio, the decision-making software that grew out of the activities of Occupy New Zealand. We are also hoping to get Sven Latzel to speak about the ideas embedded in sociocracy 3.0. (See for more)

    On the second day we plan to organise two parallel one-day workshops in which we will work to create some sort of practical outcomes from the discussions. One group will work with Oliver, Nathalie and Rich and look at democratic decision-making. The other group will work with Sven and us, and will look at ideas of cultural democracy, try to relate them to their people’s personal experiences and frustrations, and then look at how we can combine to move these ideas forward in practice.

    Then we will have a party, or at least some cakes.

    We have invited Aga and Ilpo to join us in devising and organising this. I feel hopeful that this might help us take the ideas we have discussed, and the workshops we have held so far, and boost them into orbit or, even better, past the moon and in the direction of the nearest faraway star.

    Decentralising September was an early bookmarking site, that began in 2003, was bought, mismanaged and sold by Yahoo, and then relaunched under new owners in 2011, arguably after its moment had long passed.

    At its height, in 2008, the service claimed more than 5.3 million users and 180 million unique bookmarked URLs. The site had three urls. The first two were amusing (but difficult to remember) hacks around the .us domain: and later The third (and current) domain is

    In September 2005 the site looked like this:

    the Delicious site in September 2005

    In February 2008, it looked like this:

    the Delicious site in February 2008

    Today, January 30 2013, it looks like this:

    the Delicious site in January 2013

    The middle image shows three years after they had been bought by Yahoo. Clearly, whatever Yahoo did or din’t do with the site, they didn’t spend a lot of time or money on its design.

    A much fuller history of the site is available at Wikipedia. history

    I had originally intended that the first Convivial Café experiment would draw to a close in a few week’s time. Instead it has not yet begun. I have nobody to blame except myself, and my ability to complicate things or to spot potential complications, depending on your point of view. Let me try to explain what has happened so far and, more importantly, what will happen at Halloween.

    The story so far

    I began with the intention of updating the virtual café methodology that Peter Small developed almost twenty years ago. I asked myself how he actually organised them in practice, and I remembered that he used a mailing list for each table in the café. This seemed a bad idea in 2016 for several reasons. Firstly it would require a lot of manual fiddling at my end. Secondly, it would mean that participants each got a digest in their email once a day, and maybe more often. People’s mail habits have changed in twenty years and I doubted that people who welcome this. Thirdly this meant that the café would have no social elements at all, and this seemed to be a wasted opportunity at the very least.

    I therefore looked for an alternative approach and I experimented with forum software. Initially this seemed to offer a perfect solution but then I began to see limitations and problems. Forums have their own history and many people “know how to behave” on them. I looked at the Guardian’s Comment Is Free forums and these confirmed my fears. Forums lend themselves, for both technical and cultural reasons, to a particular kind of smart-alec-ness. Every discussion on Brexit in Comment Is Free, for example, has devolved into trivial name-calling and flip sarcasm.

    Finally I looked at social media software, and decided to use BuddyPress. However this needs to be attached to a website and that served to fuse two projects together.

    While I had been doing and thinking all this I had also been putting together a grant application and a series of workshops for a project called Convivial Mechanics, that sprang from the ideas in the first workshop that I gave in Access Space, as well as research I had been doing at Arcada. These workshops drew from the same set of inspirations as the content in the original Culture & Democracy manifesto, the one that we have said we will update. I had been drawing up the content for a website for this, and it occurred to me that all of this formed different aspects of the same set of ideas.

    I stated to think of the Convivial Café experiment as one of the first actions of Convivial Mechanics, which meant that the BuddyPress café would fit naturally on that site. Once I realised this I understood what I should do: build one site where we can meet and work together on ideas that come from the same sources and all lead to the same sets of creative, cultural, political and social concerns.

    In the grant application I described convivial mechanics like this:

    Convivial Mechanics

    In the current phase of capitalism the idea of enough no longer plays a significant public role. Growth has become an all-encompassing aim. We have learned to accept that whatever we like would prove even better if only we could have more of it, even though research suggests otherwise. We no longer feel this envy solely about material goods. We have learned to feel it about those intangible goods such as status and ranking, which our digital tools have begun to measure and make explicit to us.

    The prevailing economic system demands constant growth because capitalism long ago developed the capacity to satisfy our basic needs, and moved on to manufacturing new, less tangible, needs for which we can learn to demand satisfaction. The various ecological, economic, political and social crises in the last fifty years have demonstrated, however, that we do not have infinite resources available to us, and have laid bare the idea of infinite growth as a fantasy. The desire for infinite growth now appears inhuman in theory as well as in practice. It represents an inversion of the idea that we create tools to extend our capacities. Infinite growth makes us slaves to our tools, and leaves us waiting breathlessly for “innovative” goods to consume and “disruptive” trends to follow.

    Recognising that the world has finite resources and that people live as social beings, that we become persons only through socialisation, we need to find ways to reconnect our selves with the world we have inherited. To do this we need to have a clear idea of the qualities of that world. We need to know what we will gain by doing this and we need to know this in human rather than statistical terms.

    We need to reinsert the idea of sufficiency into public debate and we need to create work that does just that. We suggest that, as Ivan Illich suggested in 1971, we can do this

    only if we learn to invert the present deep structure of tools; if we give people tools that guarantee their right to work with high, independent efficiency, thus simultaneously eliminating the need for either slaves or masters and enhancing each person’s range of freedom. People need new tools to work with rather than tools that “work” for them. They need technology to make the most of the energy and imagination each has, rather than more well-programmed energy slaves.

    This project aims to explore our current digital tools in order to see if, and how, we can rethink them as tools to help people “make the most of the energy and imagination each has”. To do this we will need to draw together ideas and practices from different fields, and to create practical demonstrations of convivial tools in action.

    To begin this we have reached back in time to reclaim a specific and powerful idea of sufficiency, first proposed by Ivan Illich, and in order to do this we borrowed his term conviviality.

    Illich suggested in 1971 that to

    formulate a theory about a future society both very modern and not dominated by industry, it will be necessary to recognize natural scales and limits. Once these limits are recognized, it becomes possible to articulate the triadic relationship between persons, tools, and a new collectivity. Such a society, in which modern technologies serve politically interrelated individuals rather than managers, I will call “convivial.”

    He wrote that he chose

    the term “conviviality” to designate the opposite of industrial productivity. I intend it to mean autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment; and this in contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment.

    The concept of conviviality gives us a clear goal to aim at. We do not intend to “make the world better” (because inevitably that means something different to each of us) but rather to work towards a jointly understood goal of conviviality.

    We use the word mechanics in all three senses proposed in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

    1 : a branch of physical science that deals with energy and forces and their effect on bodies
    2: the practical application of mechanics to the design, construction, or operation of machines or tools
    3: mechanical or functional details or procedure

    Convivial mechanics, therefore, names a hypothetical branch of science and artistic research that explores the existence of natural limits on human behaviour, both material and social; researches the implications of conviviality for cultural democracy; and applies this to the design, construction and operation of digital tools that will serve the aims of a reborn and convivial sufficiency.

    What happens next?

    I intend to finish the website next week and test it the week after. I now know how the café will work in such a way that it builds upon the spirit of Peter Small’s ideas while using the best of social media. I know it will function best as part of the website. The first Convivial Café will therefore open for reworking the ideas in the Culture & Democracy manifesto for the twenty first century at 12:00 GMT on Monday October 31.

    I apologise for the long delay to those people who have waited patiently but I genuinely hope that what we do will start some balls rolling and I therefore want to start the working process properly. However I would rather that the chaos lived in my head and got sorted out before we start rather than started too soon and discovering after weeks or months of work that the process had fatal flaws and fell apart before our eyes.

    On All Hallow’s Eve we uncover the wagons and start to roll.

    Delays: building in progress posted an article on Tuesday 19 April 2005 which looked at the reason the open source software movement has been successful. The reason, it argues, is because it taps into the power of user innovation.

    The article is based on an interview with Eric von Hippel, professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

    He examines the shift to user-centered innovation in a new book, Democratizing Innovation, which argues that manufacturers should redesign their processes to systematically seek out user ideas and innovations. The book suggests that:

    By drawing on the creativity of lead users, who are often ahead of the curve on technology and marketplace trends, companies can improve the chances that their new products will be commercially viable, von Hippel maintains. The open sourc development model in the computer software field is quickly spreading to other sectors, as communities of users help aircraft builders design passenger jets and banks to structure loan and investment offerings.

    “Companies are not used to this,” he observed. “They’re used to the traditional model of find-a-need-and-fill-it. They’ve set up structures to do that, and their structures are geared toward getting rid of the lead users as outliers. But now they’re confronted with this new model of innovation where everyone follows the lead users.”

    This is not necessarily new information, but it is interesting to see it being schematised and turned into passing wisdom.

    Democratizing Innovation

    Recently I have been inundated with scam-spam offering me millions of dollars if only I help someone unlikely steal an even larger amount of money for themselves. I have been getting four or five a day, interspersed with offers of Viagra, fake Rolexes, and hot news about a lottery I have won without even entering.

    This sort of thing:


    It may interest you to know that I work here in Switzerland as a Government Secret Agent/ External Auditors with the International Bank for Settlement BIS. My name is Mr. Edward Robson, Financial Comptroller, Foreign Exchange Department-BIS.

    This afternooon I accidentally found a site run by a dedicated group of people who actually reply to these things in an effort to counter-swindle the swindlers and/or have fun. Some of their exploits are highly entertaining.

    Deposited in your account, or not

    Irma has sent me this photo that she took of the DGD team after one of our final sessions together in January.

    Sahan started working with Simi and the team today. We had some Whatsapp banter while he worked. It struck me how much I have missed them all since we returned to Finland.

    From left to right we have Jomol, Lekshmi, me, Stephy, Sona. Renu, Ancy, Ajay, Rahul, Sarjan, Shahan and Simi.

    You can see the room where we have the workshops, freshly painted with the handmade stools that Irma had made. You can also see one of the eleven laptops and rucksacks that the club uses.

    You can see the mural on the wall behind Jomol here.

    DGD coding pause

    I found this online:

    The “illness” that the Buddha diagnosed as the human condition is duhkha, a term often rendered in English as “suffering” or “unsatisfactoriness.” The Buddha spoke of three types of duhkha. First, there is the ordinary suffering of mental and physical pain. Second, there is the suffering produced by change, the simple fact that all things—including happy feelings and blissful states—are impermanent, as is life itself. Third, there is suffering produced by the failure to recognize that no “I” stands alone, but everything and everyone, including what we call our “self,” is conditioned and interdependent.

    I found it on a page of the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School.

    I found the whole page interesting but this paragraph interested me most. Why? Because most English translations of the Buddha’s words emphasise the notion of suffering which can make Buddhism into a gloomy and negative philosophy with the same “get me out of here” approach to living as Calvinism. The simple replacement of suffering with unsatisfactoriness causes a profound shift in the apparent approach on offer.

    Relieving suffering offers a view of the world in which not having toothache becomes as good as it gets. In many ways this relates to the view of traditional psychology which has a large and complex vocabulary to describe the negative conditions into which people can fall, but little or (in some cases) nothing to say about what happens to people when they no longer suffer from maladies of the mind. They self-actualise or go clear, whatever they involve.

    Switching to discussing unsatisfactoriness seems like a shift to thinking in terms paralleling those used in positive psychology where psychological health offers as much to study as neurosis. Achieving a state of satisfactoriness sounds like the first step on a positive ascent; relieving suffering less so.

    As the article points out, the “Buddha’s sermons and teachings pointed toward the true nature of the universe, what is known within Buddhism as the Dharma.” The chameleon nature of language can sometimes weigh heavily upon us.

    Dharma chameleon

    This essay is a (slightly) revised version of a chapter included in Serious Educational Game Assessment, edited by Leonard Annetta and Stephen Bronack. The book was published in 2011 by Sense Publishers: Rotterdam. Full details of the book are available here.


    This essay looks at a number of issues that arose during the Marinetta Ombro project, which was an attempt to create a comprehensive synthetic culture for exploratory pedagogical purposes, and which resulted in an online representation of the Mediterranean island of Rosario. This became a multiuser, online “world”, in which students learned, played and experimented.

    Part of this process inevitably involved struggling to find ways to describe and analyse what we thought we were doing. A number of related questions dogged the project. Foremost among these were a series that asked: what do we think we are doing, and how do we know that we are doing it? Put another way, the kind of project that we were intending needed to be documented and assessed, and yet it was not obvious how suitable assessment criteria and strategies could be developed.

    We did not intend to develop a “virtual world” for purposes of distance learning, but rather to develop a synthetic culture that could be used to feed background material into courses and, through this, tie disparate courses and different disciplines together. Our intention was that this culture (itself a learning object) would manifest itself in a number of ways, including online; and that this online manifestation would form the framework upon which a set of curricular activities could be erected.

    For reasons described below it was neither practically possible, nor theoretically desirable, to use quantitative or statistical assessment tools, and we were therefore driven to ask ourselves what kind of research framework was, in fact, possible.

    This, in turn, led us to try to tackle a problem that has been disturbing us for some time: the way that the self-serving term “virtual reality” has been allowed to fashion and shape much of the discussion that takes place around this topic, to the detriment of everyone except a small group of cheerleaders. This essay documents the conclusions we reached, and the routes we took to reach them; and relates these to a series of brief case studies of specific curricular activities that were built upon the Marinetta Ombro framework.

    The ideas expressed here make much use of the works and thoughts of the American logician Charles Sanders Peirce, and the Canadian media-poet Marshall McLuhan, to make sense of the many-layered nature of this digital adventure. (I use the word “adventure” here because I know of no more specific word that conveys the combination of work, play, communication and exploration that exists simultaneously in the digital domain.)

    This essay concludes by suggesting a way out of the problems we encountered: an analytical approach that is, I believe, more securely anchored, and more logically coherent, than the mish-mash of second-hand film theory and third-hand semiotics that has recently passed for “virtual theory”.

    Marinetta Ombro: a brief history

    The Marinetta Ombro project was begun by Camilla Lindeberg and me in January 2002, and it officially ended in June 2007. The primary purpose of the project was to develop a virtual culture that would form a mythos capable of being used both as a metaphorical platform for learning, and as an environment within which we could encourage students to enter into real producer/client relationships.

    According to the initial documentation:

    The Media Department at Arcada [a university of applied science in Helsinki, Finland] set out to develop a long-term project to consolidate the online media course. This project was intended to act as a laboratory within which students could test their ideas; improve their planning, design and programming skills; and then watch as their experiments had real and lasting effects. It was agreed that this project should be innovative, and capable of attracting international users. It was also decided that it should also exhibit commercial potential.

    After lengthy discussion between staff and students it was determined that the project should take the form of a detailed and realistic synthetic world. This world would live somewhere on the world wide web; be designed to grow and develop in unpredictable ways; and be designed from the outset as an international partnership (Kelly, 2003, p1).

    According to notes posted on the official Marinetta Ombro website in February 2003, the project was designed to “construct La Mentala Rosario, an online representation of the history, culture and commerce of the mediterranean island of Rosario. Its purpose was to explore the theoretical and practical pedagogical possibilities such a simulation might provide”.

    We decided not to begin with a tabla rasa, but to adopt a set of arbitrary limitations. Therefore the initial starting point for the imagining of Rosario was literary: specifically an anonymous novella called Sexton Blake and the Time-Killer, published in Union Jack, issue 1,071, on 19 April 1924; and subsequently republished in Shadows of Sherlock Holmes, (Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 23 April 1998) describes Time-Killer as a story in which “Sexton Blake encounters a ghostly hound on London’s underground, is commissioned to find stolen microbes, searches for a lost Lord and a Trade Union Leader, and ends up on a very mysterious island”. This island is described in enough detail to provide a clear framework for further imaginings, but sketchily enough to leave a lot of room for serious playfulness.

    From this starting point staff and students began to posit a culture; that is, they began to bring into existence the geography and history of Rosario, moving from a position of almost complete ignorance to a deep and sympathetic understanding of contemporary life on the island.

    The process of building the culture has been described in detail elsewhere by both Camilla Lindeberg (2004) and me (2006); and also in several student theses, beginning with Finding “Reality” in Virtual Environments by Niklas Weckström (2004).

    The first online version of the city of Marinetta was launched in 2003 using a French software called SCOL. A second version used a German games software called 3D GameStudio. The third version, which was in many ways the most successful, launched in December 2005, on a nine-sim island in Second Life.

    From the outset we were as concerned with the form of the “world” as with its content, and we were dismayed at the kinds of discussions that students were finding on the web and in printed media.

    Where is cyberspace?

    From early student reports we realised the extent to which two terms had become familiar in journalism, academic writing, and research applications: “cyberspace” and “virtual reality”. The ways that both of these were used were, accidentally or deliberately, confusing and misleading.

    The widespread adoption of the term “cyberspace” had the effect of imposing a set of spatial metaphors on an area of activity that is tangentially spatial at best. These metaphors, in turn, served to characterize the way that work in this area was approached, discussed and thought about. To take but one example, there was a site, that cheerfully declared itself as “an atlas of maps and graphic representations of the geographies of the new electronic territories of the Internet, the World-Wide Web and other emerging Cyberspaces”.

    I would argue that this claim is simply nonsensical, unless it is supported by detailed argument explaining why these new “electronic territories” are, in fact, territories, what kind of territories they really are, and what features they possess that can reasonably be said to be geographical. Which, of course, it isn’t.

    The term “cyberspace” then, introduces uncalled-for ideas of distance, geography, neighbourhoods, frontiers, and more, into discussions that are actually concerned with the reception and interpretation of digital data. Its proponents imply that our use of the internet causes us to travel to a place that has the kind of intractable and non-negotiable reality that places have. Consciously or not, they imply that we ‘go’ to these places in a similar way to the way that we go to Legoland or Melbourne.
    It is true that we might make games or educational environments that exhibit persistence by retaining information from one user session to the next, and also that we might begin engaging with an on-screen environment which predates our involvement. These points only address our status with regard to the digital environment, though. They say nothing about our ontological relationship to it, which remains a coming together of a creative imagination and a set of ongoing relations.

    Neither virtual nor real

    If cyberspace is not a place, then “virtual reality” is neither virtual nor real.

    The use of the word “reality” implies that “the new electronic territories” are an object, or a collection of objects that “has the properties it has independently of any individual’s arbitrary wish or desire”. (Ketner, 1993, p.8 ). In practice, the on-screen experience is a process that has to be wilfully sustained by the user. Rather than an alternative reality, it is much closer to what William Gibson has referred to as a process of “consensual hallucination”.

    At the start of a session, the user has to suspend disbelief, and then during the session has to work at keeping it suspended. At any time, deliberately or accidentally, the user can lose focus, or have focus snatched away from them; and thus be bounced out of imaginative communion with the on-screen world. The process of engagement requires the user to remain wilfully insensitive to all activity at the fringes of their senses: the sound of traffic outside the window, the sight of a fly in the room, the smell of cooking from the restaurant downstairs.

    There is no similar set of manoeuvres required to remain in situ in reality. By definition you cannot be bounced out of communion with a geographical reality. However much you may wish live as a solipsist, you do not exist in Legoland or Melbourne by force of will, and you cannot beam out of there by withdrawing consent. Real objects, and real places containing real objects, have an existence that is outside our interaction with them. We work within the limitations that they impose upon us.

    It might be argued at this point that nobody is claiming that what is shown on screen is real – only that it is virtually real. However, the word “virtual” is as bogus as the word reality. When we are told that “the victim was virtually dead” or that “the company was virtually bankrupt when the new CEO arrived” we understand two things from this. Firstly we understand “virtual” to be nearly synonymous with “almost”: the phrase means something very similar to the person was “almost dead”. Secondly we understand “virtual” to imply the real possibility of movement towards a final state. The person was “almost dead and in a condition that might become real death at any moment”. The company was “almost bankrupt and might have collapsed into actual bankruptcy in a matter of days”.

    The phrase “virtual reality”, then, seems to imply that what we are seeing might not be reality now, but contains the possibility of motion necessary to move it into a final state of actual reality. There is no evidence whatsoever to show that this is anything other than wishful thinking. It is, at best, an optimistic fantasy and, at worst, a deliberate sleight of hand.

    Pedantry and snake oil

    It might be possible to acknowledge that these terms are unfortunate, and even that they have been deliberately misused, while denying that this is anything to be concerned about.

    My contention is that there is something to be concerned about. These terms have not simply been used to describe an (allegedly) new phenomenon. They have also been used to direct attention and energy; to make certain activities appear self-evidently sensible, while marginalising others. By insisting on discussing digital activity in terms of geography and reality, “innovations” like Swatch Internet Time could be made to seem important, as a way, for example, of making the information superhighway navigable. If cyberspace is not a place, then Swatch Internet Time is (and always was) a badly flawed solution to a completely nonexistent problem.

    When this was launched on October 23, 1998, Nicholas Negroponte, its chief architect and cheerleader, found the idea that there were “new electronic territories” to explore very useful for his purpose. He was happy to take the metaphor literally, and encourage others to do the same. He said: “Cyberspace has no seasons. The virtual world is absent of day and night… Internet Time is not geopolitical, it is global… For many people real time will be Internet Time”.

    This kind of language strives to make it appear as though we are working with objects that are “out there”, that we have discovered somewhere new and unexplored, when in fact we are working with processes, with relations, that are negotiated communally, and whose every aspect is contingent. In terms that will be discussed later, it attempts to reduce a triadic relationship to a dyadic coupling, which is logically impossible.

    Objects and Relationships

    The processes that we have been exploring in the Marinetta Ombro project can be described as processes of immersion into a coherent set of patterns, intended to be imagined as a world. The purpose of these processes, or relations, can be described as learning through play, or perhaps as play through learning. The difference between process and place, between relation and object, though, is unbridgeable.

    These relations have three characteristic facets that together can be labelled “engagement”: immersion, interaction and identification. Users become immersed in what is depicted on the screen to the extent that they can keep their attention focused there. Often the onscreen data enables them to interact with other users, while providing a mediating framework within which this interaction can be contextualized. Thirdly, users may identify with their own on-screen avatar, but more importantly, if their experience is successful, they will come to identify with the environment itself, with the laws, relations and events they find there.

    The world of tools

    The on-screen worlds that we create are not “realities”, for the reasons that I have described, but I believe that they may fairly be described as worlds, if we use that word in the limited (and metaphorical) sense implied by “the world of cinema mourned the death of Lauren Bacall”, or “he strode the world of golf like a colossus”. The use of “world” in this context has been suggested by Richard Bartle, among others.

    Used like this, the word “world” means a club, a group with insiders and specified laws and codes of behaviour; a group however that serves a public function involving outsiders. In this, and only this, sense, it is appropriate to talk of on-screen worlds; to talk of “entering the world of” Ultima Online or Rebel Dawn, or Second Life.

    We do not, and cannot, live in this sort of world. We do not eat and drink there; we do not have give birth or die there; we do not make friends or enemies there, except insofar as we can and do the same things when we use a tool like a telephone. An on-screen world is a tool for facilitating complex interactions between people, sometimes by providing them with a backdrop in front of which they can move and talk, and sometimes by providing them with created entities with whom they can practise or simulate interaction.

    These worlds that we “enter” are sophisticated communications tools that bear a family resemblance to older tools like telephones. In McLuhan’s terms both offer a shifting figure and ground; both are cool media.

    “There is a basic principle that distinguishes a hot medium like radio from a cool medium like the telephone, or a hot medium like the movie from a cool one like the TV. A hot medium is one that extends one single sense in “high definition”. High definition is the state of being well filled with data. A photograph is, visually, “high definition”. A cartoon is “low definition” simply because very little visual information is provided. Telephone is a cool medium, or one of low definition, because the ear is given a meagre amount of information. And speech is a cool medium of low definition, because so little is given and so much has to be filled in by the listener. On the other hand hot media do not leave so much to be filled in or completed by the audience. Hot media are, therefore, low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience.” (McLuhan, 1988 , p. 31)

    We are working with a low definition, cool medium, and our claim is that the worlds that constitute, or result from, this medium have an educational use and an entertainment value. From the beginning of the Marinetta Ombro project we realised that we needed to be able to justify this claim, and to resolve the doubts of those who have been seduced by the hype and disappointed by the reality.


    If we are to be able to resolve these doubts, which is after all the underlying point of all scientific research (in other words, the enquiring activities of a scientific intelligence, “that is to say, by an intelligence capable of learning by experience”), we need a firm starting point for our investigation, a logical method for resolving doubt. As Ketner (1990) points out, “Logic is the fundamental academic discipline, basic to any academic subject which proposes to use an objective method” (p. 13 ).

    I suggest we could do no better in this respect than to examine some of the concepts proposed by the American philospher, mathematician, and logician Charles Sanders Peirce. He was a pragmaticist, who believed that it was futile to look for an absolute starting point for our thinking. He believed that we “cannot start from any other condition than that in which we actually are … We really believe many things, and, therefore, philosophic doubts upon such matters must be mere pretence and can result in nothing but a show of demonstration of things really taken for granted”.

    Peirce evolved a logical system, semeiotic, which was triadic in form. In line with his almost phenomenological belief that we have to start from where we actually are, semeiotic “conceptions can be viewed as abstractions from common-sense practices, and as such are by no means infallible or eternally valid.” (Bergman, 2000, p. 134 ) His work is described as triadic because he demonstrated that, while the conventional binary logic (yes-no, cause-effect) is adequate for describing brute, natural events, it is completely inadequate to describe any relations that involve purpose – that is, any events that involve or derive from human agency. Binary logic proceeds by writing intention or purpose out of the equation, which, from Peirce’s perspective, misses the whole point!

    He argued that “John gives the book to Mary” is a single set of relations containing three elements. He demonstrated, mathematically and linguistically, that it cannot be reduced to sets of two, as proponents of sequential cause and effect would argue. “John holds out the book. Mary takes the book” is not the same as “John gives the book to Mary” precisely because the element of intention has been removed.

    In terms of communication, we should also note that an important element of Peirce’s semeiotic is its “future-orientedness”. (Bergman, 2000, p. 134)

    Diagrammatic Thought

    For our present purposes, Peirce’s key concept of diagrammatic thought is of particular relevance. Kenneth Laine Ketner explains this as follows. “How then can we analyze thought, or signs, or communication? … If “analyze” means “come to have a better understanding of x” then the answer seems to be that we must analyze signs (triadic relations) by means of other signs or triadic relations. In particular, if there is a matter about which we lack understanding, we can use a set of relations that we comprehend reasonably well to model the relations in the area of relative ignorance … Stated in a very abstract fashion, this is Peirce’s method of diagrammatic thought, a technique he originally developed out of mathematical considerations, but adapted for other problem areas.”

    Peirce himself described this faculty of “abstractive observation” as one that “ordinary people perfectly recognize, but for which the theories of philosophy barely leave room. It is a familiar experience to every human being to wish for something quite beyond his present means, and to follow that wish by the question:”Should I wish for that thing just the same, if I had ample means to gratify it?” To answer that question he searches his heart, and in doing so makes what I call an abstractive observation. He makes in his imagination a sort of skeletal diagram, or outline sketch, of himself, considers what modifications the hypothetical state of things would require to be made in that picture, and then examines it, that is, observes what he has imagined, to see whether the same ardent desire is there to be discerned. By such a process, which is at bottom very much like mathematical reasoning, we can reach conclusions as to what would be true of signs in all cases, so long as the intelligence using them was scientific.”

    Despite his clear and powerful arguments, and the demonstrable success of his method, people habitually ignore this method, assuming that it to be “unscientific”. Current theorists attempt to replace it with approaches such as Sassurean semiotics and structuralism: approaches that claim to be able to analyse purposive relations in terms of dyadic concepts. Or it is ignored in favour of reductionist “quantatitive” research which seeks to assert a near-perfect relationship between those sampled, their responses and their real opinions; and between those opinions and the opinions of the larger population whom they allegedly represent.

    Peirce’s semeiotic differs radically (and very usefully) from these approaches, because it is concerned explicitly with the analysis of triads, and so proceeds through diagrammatic mapping, which is seen as a legitimate scientific tool for resolving doubts.

    Mapping relations

    Unsurprisingly Peirce did not write a comprehensive philosophy of media theory, but subsequently others have drawn the major aspects of such a philosophy out of his books and manuscripts. Interestingly, his work can be seen as a direct precursor of the work of McLuhan, with many of the same themes and strategies observable in both.

    Peirce, for example, was explicit that “whatever we know, we know only by its relations, and in so far as we know its relations”. Indeed, he claimed that “in reality, every fact is a relation”. In this he is in complete agreement with Marshall McLuhan, who stated that “objects are unobservable, only relationships among objects are observable”.

    Both avoided statistical approaches to analyzing relations, in favour of “abstractive observation”. Peirce proceeded by constructing diagrams (or models, or artfully argued analogies). McLuhan talked of his approach as “building probes” that have no methodological point of view. He claims that his method is “like that of a safecracker. In the beginning I don’t know what’s inside. I just set myself down in front of the problem and begin to work. I grope, I probe, I listen, I test – until the tumblers fall and I’m in. That’s the way I work with all these media.” He describes himself thus: “I am an investigator. I make probes. I have no point of view. I do not stay in one position…I don’t explain – I explore”.
    This is the heart of the matter: it is futile and self-limiting to look at on-screen worlds as objects, rather than discussing their characteristic facets as the cultural production of repeatable dialogic relations. It is impossible to do this by amassing statistics. It may indeed be impossible to do this by any means other than a process of mapping.

    Movies, immersion and diagrams

    We might begin to discuss the relations embodied in immersive worlds by noting that these constitute a cool, low definition medium. In this, as McLuhan (1964) himself noted, they are very different to movies, which are a high definition, low participation medium. The apparent similarities between the two, between movies and computer-generated worlds, then, are superficial and misleading.

    This means that there is no reason to presume that anything we know, or think we know, about the reception and interpretation of movies will have any, direct or indirect, relevance to the study of immersive worlds. If we cannot use film theory for our purposes, then what can we use? Logically we should look to find a body of critical theory that deals with a related cool medium. I believe that we can find just this in literary theory.

    In slightly different ways Peirce and McLuhan are themselves pointing towards a literary critical approach to analysis, an approach that begins by creating exploratory models and then proceeds by discussing and debating the feelings and reactions these models engender. They are both arguing that logical analysis is a process of dialogue, not an operation of sifting facts and computing numbers.

    The kind of dialogue that we need is a challenging one; one taking place at the boundaries of narrative and the borders of language. We need a dialogue that begins where McLuhan began. In the words of Jonathan Miller, McLuhan believed “that there is a point where apparently language is broken down in the lines of getting ideas across, and he is try to open up the possibility of not remaining silent, of being communicative by using new techniques which language has perhaps not provided”.

    The fallacy of the fracture

    If we adopt a literary critical approach we will immediately see that the work we are engaged in is not completely new, nor unprecedented. It is a continuation of work carried on for at least one hundred and fifty years. The idea that history has altered, that everything you know is wrong, that today is nothing at all like yesterday, and “virtual worlds” are a new way of teaching and learning is revealed as just more of the self-appointed digerati’s snake-oil salesmanship.

    All of the aspects of what I have termed engagement have, for centuries, been available through the act of reading. Any novel invites the reader to engage with it in the same way as an on-screen “world”, by using strategies that rely upon the willing engagement of the user.

    As McLuhan has pointed out repeatedly, we are not at the beginning of a revolution. Our problem is that the revolution began decades ago and we didn’t notice it. The move from goods to information (from “atoms to bits”, in Nicholas Negroponte’s phrase) began with the widespread availability of electricity, spread with the acceptance of movies, telephones and radio; gathered steam with the introduction of television; and ascended to ubiquity with the recent dominance of computers and networks.

    The key to this, then, is not computers, but electricity, “for electricity not only gives primacy to process, whether in making or in learning, but it makes independent the source of energy from the location of the process”, which is why McLuhan designated the current period the electronic age and not, for example the television age. (McLuhan,1964, p. 370) The internet, and the 3D environments that we are capable of accessing through it, are the most recent and most powerful electronic tool available to us, but they are part of a lineage, a cultural history, that stretches back to the beginning of the twentieth century.

    If we understand this, we can see why there is no newly discovered place called cyberspace, where the rules of life are different or somehow suspended. “Minimally all humans share one discursive universe, ie reality. This reality is a conception brought on by the fact that world refuses to conform to our will.” (Bergman, 2000, p. 135 )

    From this perspective we can see the thread of continuity in our work that links us to the Dadaists, to Joyce and Burroughs, and we can see the ways in which our work is fulfilling the prophecies of Ted Nelson concerning hypertext, in ways he never intended.

    Diagrammatic worlds

    Charles Sanders Peirce greatly preferred visual diagrams, arguing that the visual was the most highly developed sense, although he was liberal in his definition of “visual”. He viewed algebraic equations, for example, as visual examples of the diagrammatic method. On-screen worlds such as the Marinetta Ombro project can be seen as visual diagrams, or more exactly as a lattice-work of visual diagrams woven together but still able to be viewed discretely from different perspectives.

    This kind of on-screen world can be viewed as a set of diagrammatic maps or texts to be analysed most efficiently through the tools of literary criticism. The objects on the screen may not be “text” in the sense of letters on paper but they are interpretable cultural markers and the relations between the users, the screen, and the on-screen “world” can certainly be seen as textual.

    The terms we use for the machinery (hardware and software) that does this, and for the outputs of that machinery, must be terms that describe process, not terms that conjure up an imaginary “out there” and insist on discussing it as though it were real.

    If we start from here we shall avoid the pitfalls of pseudo-geography, and the traps laid for us by the elves of self-promotion. We should be able to start talking about our work in terms of its antecedents and its intended goals; in terms of analogies and diagrams, rather than dubious “realities”.

    We should now be able to engage in dialogues that are, in method as well as subject-matter, congruent with the constructed worlds whose narratives we are “writing”. From here we can develop critical tools, based on the similarities in approach between Peirce and McLuhan. We can, in fact, look for ways of explicating Peirce’s trivalent logic and putting it to practical use as a key part of the foundations of a logical and objective system for analyzing and understanding on-screen diagrammatic worlds.

    Diagrammatic Inquiry as praxis

    The analytical approach outlined in the preceding sections was developed over a period of approximately three years and was therefore (roughly speaking) in place at the time when we launched a version of the island of Rosario in Second Life.

    This meant that the early stages of the project involved a period of genuinely open-ended exploration in which we undertook practical activity while mapping it and analyising it in order to see what it might mean and where it might lead us. The later stages took place within a fluid but developed theoretical framework in which we attempted to assess the worth of activities through the use of the existential graphs developed by Peirce and the tetrads laid out by McLuhan in Laws of Media.

    Our approach to assessment was frankly hermaneutical and literary. Arcada is a small institution, with approximately 1200 students and 120 staff. It is simply too small to allow us to use the standard tools of quantative research. What does it mean to say that 25% of a class of eight students felt like this while 50% felt like that? Why should we assume that two, or even twenty, students are representative of “students”?

    There are powerful theoretical arguments to suggest that this kind of approach is always flawed, advanced by both Peirce and his followers. These start by noting that statistical arguments are dyadic while all human relationships are triadic. (A full discussion of Peirce’s concept of triads is beyond the scope of this essay but an illuminating introduction can be found in Kenneth Laine Ketner’s paper Novel Science or How Contemporary social science is not well and why literature and semeiotic provide a cure.) Ketner (1993) has asked “how then shall we analyze thought, or mind, or communication, or literature, or society, or culture if these are essentially triadic? ” (p. 54). He suggests that, following Peirce, “we must analyze triadic relations by means of other triadic relations” (p. 55).

    However, whether or not statistically based assessment is always flawed, in our case it was simply not possible. We did not, and do not, have a large enough pool of students to allow for control groups of any kind; nor to allow us to phrase results in terms of percentages with anything like a straight face.

    Marinetta Ombro as mental mapping

    The first stages of the Marinetta Ombro project involved imagining aspects of the virtual culture we wanted to create. We had to create the history and geography of the island. Concept design and branding courses form a key part of the digital online media students’ degree program, and we utilised those courses for this purpose. The island was precisely located (halfway between Crete and Malta and north of Libya), and students were challenged to answer questions such as: what animals and plants would live on the island, and what crafts would we find there? What happened to Rosario in the First World War ? Is Rosario primarily European or African? What god(s) have the Rosarians worshipped and why?

    Students were further encouraged to raise more general questions about the specificity of place and time, and the shorthand methods that are used to depict these in different media. What makes Paris parisian? Where do we find the nineteen-fifties-ness of the nineteen fifties? How do we recognise these in films, books, radio broadcasts and postcards? The success or failure of these exercises was measured by circulating the initial results as e-books, and then devising presentations and lectures about aspects of life on the island.

    A web design course then took this material as its starting point and built websites designed to attract holidaymakers to Rosario. These were launched online using the URL and remained online until the project closed. They were updated annually as part of the web design course.

    Arcada’s media courses have always worked within a constructivist framework that, as far as possible, allows students to learn through doing. Students are placed in designer / client relationship as early as possible, and the use of the data from the island of Rosario enabled us to place students in such a relationship much earlier than previously. Because there was “real” data, and because there really was an existing site online that was due to be updated (and because we inserted a launch date into the process) students who were not yet ready to work in a live situation were able to simulate it with an uncanny accuracy, by working in a live situation.

    Working with mental maps

    It was not just the media students who participated in this way. We were also able to interest staff and students from other departments. The community health students have always had to work together to produce a community health plan as an important part of their course work. Previously this had been an entirely imaginary exercise, based on extrapolating data from publicly available information from municipalities in Finland. For three years after the inception of the Marinetta Ombro project, however, students produced health plans for different villages on the island, based on a complex series of population and economic data that we constructed for that purpose. These figures were not simply made up. We derived them from averaging the population figures for surrounding regions, allowing for the differences in geography and wild life, and different cultural and political histories.

    The success of this project was measured anecdotally. The students enjoyed the exercise and were able to explain why. The attractions of creating a healthcare plan for a village in Rosario were not dissimilar to the attractions of playing Pokemon. Both have a set of established mythologies that you can consult outside the game, and both mythologies feed into, and serve to enrich, the experience of playing the game.

    Being given a random set of figures and then told they represent a nameless town that needs a health plan seems to be less engaging than being given a set of e-books that relate to an online world you can explore, and being told that one in of the villages you find that there is a need for a health plan . Context is all, context is engaging, and (at least in this limited sense) rich. Immersive context that drew people in was something that both Pokemon and Rosario seemed to supply.

    This was further illustrated when the international business students became involved with the island. They had also previously engaged in simulations that had been almost context-free. They had had to construct business plans for imaginary companies based on figures they were given. When the staff decided to use the island of Rosario several things happened. Firstly, the starting point for the simulations was moved several steps back, and secondly the students were told to, in effect, invent their own simulations.
    What happened was that the figures on population density, age and gender spread, educational levels, and health issues that had been collected for, and by, the community health students were given to the business students. They were told to analyse the figures and then look at the geography and history of Rosario. They had to propose a business that they believed that they could start on the island; construct a business plan; and then justify it in terms of the overall context.

    Bizarrely, this resulted in the students making a three metre square papier mache model of the island which they displayed publicly at a number of conferences. We therefore had a real model of a so-called virtual world that demonstrated the imaginary businesses that the students had really situated there based on the extrapolated figures they had been given.

    Marinetta as coding

    The initial stages of launching the 3D online world meant that Marinetta became a topic for a number of programming courses. Here, as in the previous examples, the main consequence was that the teaching exercises in existing courses were refurbished or upgraded. From being isolated examples proposed to make a specific point they became building blocks in a larger structure.

    Digital online media students created a set of websites designed to make the project self-documenting. A newspaper site at enabled any students involved in any aspects of the project to report on their activities in the guise of newpaper articles.

    A hub site at housed an online encyclopedia, listing the ever-growing details of the island’s history, with entries dating from 1452BC “when the Emperor Tutmosis III, husband of Queen Hatshepsut, ascended to the throne after her death in 1480 BC, and began the great territorial expansion of the Egyptian New Kingdom. Phoenicia and Palestine were conquered and the island of Rosario was subsumed into the Empire, serving as a convenient port and supply base”.

    This history, like the geography, carefully slotted any necessary fictions into consensus reality – and the success of this was one of the key measuring sticks during the early phases of the project.
    The very existence of the island online prompted two separate programming interventions from the Computer Science department at Arcada. The first looked at the whole question of security and caused students from the cryptography courses to take the SCOL engine to pieces, and propose a series of improvements. The second resulted in John Packelen’s thesis Virtuella Världar: öppen källkod och icke-öppna lösingar, which detailed his research attempting to construct a home-made 3D environment build in Macromedia Director 8 to compare with SCOL.

    Subsequently, computing science courses have looked at developing ways of communicating in and out of virtual worlds: projects that resulted, for example, in one of the first instant messaging systems for Second Life.

    Marinetta as design

    The existence of the island online enabled a wide range of design exercises in several courses to be expanded and enhanced. Again, our emphasis was not on teaching “in a virtual world”. Rather we were attempting to use a synthetic culture as a learning object, to improve the quality of existing courses by making the exercises appear less arbitrary to the students due to the fact that they now slotted into a global context, a back story that students could play with while learning.

    One powerful example of this was the introductory course in digital imagery which is essentially concerned with making sure that students have a clear understanding of key Photoshop concepts and an ability to use Photoshop to practical effect. It is impossible to teach Photoshop without making images, and traditionally it has been difficult to find a suitable range of images that students have a genuine interest in.

    When we had moved Rosario into Second Life, we found several ways to solve this problem. We quickly realised that designing and manufacturing clothes in Second Life required students to understand and use almost everything that we were trying to get them to learn. They had to use layers and masks. They had to understand how to use transparency. They had to understand file formats. They had to make 3D images using 2D templates.

    We did not need to assess the effectiveness of this course, statistically or diagrammatically, because it became abundantly clear very early on that almost all students preferred making clothes for their avatars to colorising photos of Elvis or any of the other previous “teaching exercises”.

    We soon built upon this by setting up a free clothes store on Rosario and advertising it inside Second Life. We invited students to assess their own, and their peers’, work using one simple criterion: if you give it away and nobody takes it, is it any good?
    Our students are training for a life as web designers, graphic artists, programmers-people (often self-employed) who will be working to specifications set by clients. Understanding what the market wants is therefore one of the skills that they need to learn during their time at Arcada. By co-opting the other residents of Second Life as potential customers we were able to put the students inside a genuine working market.

    The students’ final Photoshop exercise was not simply to make some clothes, it was to make some clothes that other residents would want. This meant that they had to do market research. They had to look round Second Life and see what people were wearing. Then they had to work out what they could do that would attract residents. Then they had to make and market it.

    And if you made it and nobody came then you were invited to offer a constructive self-assessment.

    Marinetta as interaction

    The existence of the island of Rosario, and its capital village Marinetta, in Second Life prompted a series of interdepartmental and international projects that were based upon the interaction possible in a huge online environment, and the creative interference that this can generate.

    The tourism department at Arcada produced a detailed tourism plan that was aimed at solving a real problem. In order to get the Photoshop courses outlined above to work we needed to have a regular influx of tourists to the island. We could not rely on them simply finding Rosario, we had to find ways of seducing them into finding it.

    This is a real problem for professionals working in tourism. How do I differentiate my client’s town / resort / spa from other apparently identical ones? The tourism students were therefore able to engage in a real project that involved real people (the avatars in Second Life are “virtual” in a strictly limited sense, something I have discussed in detail elsewhere) who had no necessary willingness to be so seduced.

    The plan they produced became the blueprint for several design and progamming courses, whose exercises were jointly intended to put the plan into action. This was repeated for several years with the cumulative information serving as the assessment criteria. It is important to note that the students were not “simulating” a marketing exercise, they were actively engaged in a real one with a real aim that was intended to make real people spend at least part of their time in Second Life visiting Rosario. The assessment criteria were therefore not “educational” (meaning feedback from a simulated exercise in a safe learning environment) but, rather, identical to the assessment criteria they would face after graduation. “You promised X number of people, you only delivered Y. Why I shouldn’t fire you?”

    If the assessment methods were clear it is fair to say that assessing the effectiveness of the clear-cut assessment methods was less than clear-cut. Some students revelled in what they saw as freedom to “really do it”. A smaller number of students claimed that “it wasn’t fair”. An interesting result of lengthy discussion with the students, individually and in groups, was that the students who objected to the exercise as unfair seemed all to be students who wanted “teaching”, and were unhappy in any situation that they perceived as self-led.

    The whole Marinetta Ombro project reached its climax when Helsinki held the Eurovision Song Contest in 2007. I have described this elsewhere from the perspective of the people of Rosario, who:
    “Campaigned to be recognised by the organisers and allowed to submit an entry. Perhaps unsurprisingly the organisers remained unmoved, despite the viral videos that appeared on YouTube in favour of the campaign”. Kelly (2010)

    Undeterred Rosario commissioned an entry; recorded a video and broadcast it on YouTube, where it was a success. The song was written and played by L’angelot. It was called Al Dek Manto in the honor of Dek Manto, the great Rosarian writer. You can find it at

    The video was broadcast several times on Finnish television durng the period of the song contest. In what proved to be the climax of the Marinetta Ombro project, students from Arcada, in collaboration with a team of students from ITT, Dublin, organised a parallel Eurovision event on Rosario which ran continuously for forty eight hours. The attendance during that period was close to (or just over) one thousand unique avatars. By Second Life standards, it was a huge event.

    The students had put in an extraordinary amount of voluntary effort, and afterwards we sat back wondering what (if anything) we could do next.

    This final set of events was a joint project between Arcada and the Institute of Technology Talleigh in Dublin, Ireland. It involved four Irish students on an annual exchange who had been given a chance of devise something to the limits of their imagination, and had seized the chance. For at least one of them it was crucial in their subsequent employment.

    The answer to “what (if anything) we could do next” was that we sat back and thought about the possibilities, and decided that, in its current form, the project had reached a natural conclusion.
    So we stopped it.


    The existence of the island of Rosario enabled us to pursue a number of liberating activities. It still does. In 2008-2009 Catharina Gröndahl got permission to demolish the entire island and lead its rebuilding, based upon lessons learned in the process of trying to meld the pre-existing Rosarian culture with the (implicit) culture of Second Life.

    Her rebooted version looks at lessons learned from the underlying Second Life technology, and attempts to answer questions such as: why have roofs if it doesn’t rain? Why have art galleries if nobody can steal the art, and it doesn’t rain? What is the obsession in Second Life with cafes and houses all about? The answers to these and other questions form the basis of her thesis, which will be completed in spring 2010.

    The ways in which we have assessed the efficacy of the work the project has enabled have been based on our belief that Second Life is a tool not a geographical space, and that it is best analysed as such. We have come to believe that the best methods for this analysis are diagrammatic and not statistical. We have created diagrammatic models that relate to things we think we know in order to find out more about those things, and more about what we think about them. Some of these “things” have been existing academic courses; some have been more exploratory.

    In each case we have been clear about what we are doing and the relationships involved. In each we have measured success in human and not statistical terms. We have been assisted in this by the fact that we are a small institution in a liberal country that prides itself on a humanist approach to developing its culture.

    We have been lucky.


    Bartle, R. (2003). Designing Virtual Worlds, New Rider Publishing.
    Bergman, M. (2000). Meaning and Mediation, University of Helsinki.
    Kelly, O. (2003) , Possibilities of Virtual Culture, conference paper, retrieved from
    Kelly, O.. (2006) Abstraction Haunted by Reality, conference paper, retrieved from
    Kelly, O. (2010), Sexton Blake & the Virtual Culture of Rosario in S. Sonvilla-Weiss (ed) Mashup Cultures, New York: SpringerWien
    Ketner, K.L. (1990). Elements of Logic, Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press
    Ketner, K.L. (1993). Novel Science. In Semiotica 93, pp 35-59
    Lindeberg, C., Kelly, O. (2004), Concept Development in a Virtual World, conference paper, retrieved from
    McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media, McGraw-Hill.
    McLuhan, M., McLuhan, E. (1988) The Laws of Media, University of Toronto Press.
    Samway, P.H. (1995). A Thief of Peirce, University Press of Mississippi.
    Stern, G.E., McLuhan, M. (1967) McLuhan Hot & Cool, Signet.
    Weckström, N (2004) Finding “Reality” in Virtual Environments, (unpublished thesis) Arcada University of Applied Sciences

    Diagrammatic Inquiry

    I have been thinking about the function of the diary on this site, and I have decided that it has drifted, month by month, until it no longer serves anything like its original purpose. 

    When I began it I intended it as an act of discipline. I intended it as a way of making me see. Once every day I would notice something and photograph it.

    When I began the diary contained a daily photograph with a contextual caption. Sometimes this explained where I was, or why I was there. Sometimes it offered a reason why I photographed this subject rather than some other.

    Over the six years I have been doing this the captions have grown into descriptions of my day, to the point where they describe the day’s weather; what I had for breakfast; what I did when I got to work; and so on. This has become time-consuming and pointless. People have begun pointing out that some entries are factually incorrect when I am not sure why I am even bothering to write them in the first place.

    If I want to know how often it rained this year, or what time I got to work, or what I had for lunch, there are far better ways of tracking this than writing an online diary. I have an app on my iPad called Habits, which I downloaded when it was free for a short time. It would enable me to create endless amounts of lists tracking just these things if I could be bothered, which I can’t. It would enable me to make graphs and add things up and so on.

    If I cared about how many days it has rained in 2015, which I almost certainly don’t.

    Six years ago I posted notes about interesting things I had found, invented or seen, and I posted a daily photograph. That sounds like a much better arrangement, and one that I will revert to.

    At the end of 2015, then, the diary goes to sleep. Hopefully one result of this will be that other things wake up.

    Diary goes to sleep

    The cover shows a detail from Art of Change's digital image Awakenings

    Digital Creativity was commissioned by Fiona Ellis when she was Assistant Director, Arts, of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK Branch, and was publsihed in 1996. The book was intended to provide artists with some knowledge of what was becoming possible in the brave new world of digitalia. That this world was new to most of the people involved can be clearly seen from the opening paragraphs of Fiona’s foreword:

    When this book was first commissioned computers were better understood by six year olds than by forty-six year olds. The Internet was the province of anoraky enthusiasts with pale skin and bad eyesight. Platforms were something you stood on waiting vainly for trains.

    This was only just over a year ago. Now at the corner of Stamford Hill and Manor Road there is a billboard advertising the Internet service provider Demon to the not particularly rich or technically-minded folk of Stoke Newington.

    At this year’s conference of the Association of British Orchestras the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s website was described to a substantial audience, who seemed to understand what was being said to them. On-line newspapers are readily available to anyone with equipment costing less than the price of a Continental holiday for a family of four.

    The state of the art at the time of publication can also be seen from the first page of my introduction to the book:

    As long ago as 1980 Alvin Toffler claimed that the world was on the verge of The Third Wave, in which agriculture and industry would be superseded by information as the driving force in society. In 1995 Nicholas Negroponte, the founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, confidently predicted that soon, for most purposes, ‘atoms will be replaced by bits’. It is not necessary to be completely convinced by the technological optimists to recognise that something is going on. We can read about it on a daily basis in the media, and we can see it in the high streets.

    On 15 November 1994 the Daily Telegraph launched Electronic Telegraph, a professionally created daily electronic version of the newspaper which was (and is) made available free on the Internet. Since then the Times, as well
    as New Scientist, Time Out, and a host of other magazines, have developed on-line cousins. Some are simply digital versions of the printed item, while others like the Guardian’s GO2 and the Daily Mail’s SoccerNet are
    more customised. In this same period, the leading magazine publishers in Britain have all launched regular titles devoted solely to the wonders of the Internet.

    Meanwhile, the shelves of newsagents are currently awash with magazines containing ‘free’ CD-Roms mounted on the cover – and not all of them are computer magazines. Even the Rolling Stones’ latest compact disc Stripped contains an extra three video tracks that can be played on a PC or Macintosh equipped with a CD-Rom player.

    pdf logo
    This essay is now available as a free ebook, suitable for iOS and Android devices and most e-computers.

    The writing of the book was not without its difficulties. The Gulbenkian Foundation were keen to stress the unprecedented nature of the situation facing artists (and presumably others). I was keener to stress the continuity of the wider historical process, and to point out that Marshall McLuhan the Merry Pranksters and the Grateful Dead had all in different ways been important precursors of the ideas and practices of digital creativity.

    We came to an uneasy compromise. All references to Frank Zappa and others deemed too old to be credibly at any leading edge were removed, but other historical references were allowed to stay. (The Grateful Dead got smuggled in courtesy of John Oswald’s work on the legal actions Island Records brought on U2’s behalf against Negativland.

    I think that the book still holds up as a historical reference. Even better, I don’t think I said anything that I would wish to pretend I hadn’t. I avoided joining the Negroponte “Everything You Know Is Wrong”Fan Club, while still maintaining that what was happening was important and could well have profound social and cultural effects.


    The book has been out of print for some years. In 2012, however, the Gulbenkian Foundation made a number of books from their backlist available for free download.

    I applaud this move wholeheartedly, and am very happy to offer a link to the official download. Click on the box above above and you should automatically download the book as an unlocked pdf file.

    Digital Creativity

    Irma took a copy of the Finnair magazine, Blue Wings, with her when we arrived at the airport last Friday. Today I sat down and thumbed through it. This article caught my eye. It made me despair at the rapid recycling of potentially interesting ideas as cheap promotional stunts for dimwits. If I still despair about that kind of thing.

    It also made me decide never to look at an issue of Well+Good, something I have successfully managed so far.

    The article suggests that all those hotels and bars that have never managed to provide wifi for their customers will now suddenly get rewarded for their incompetence or meanness. They will take their “can’t be bothered” approach to customer service and market it as “proudly analogue”. Irma correctly pointed out that this will probably stop amusing the hotel guests when they want to check in to their flight home.

    You might also notice that the man with the unnecessary hat and beard in the accompanying illustration reads an analogue magazine while holding a cup of artisanal coffee with a generous slice of hand-crafted cake in front of him. You might also notice that his phone sits next to his cake, switched on.

    Presumably he has just posted an update to his social media of choice announcing that he has gone analogue. Ho hum, I say.

    Digital detox, my arse

    On the metro today, while reading on my iPad, I came across a post by Cory Doctorow from his site Craphound. In it he talks about DRM – the digital rights management system that we got told to use about twenty years ago.

    He writes:

    The established religion of markets once told us that we must abandon the idea of owning things, that this was an old fashioned idea from the world of grubby atoms. In the futuristic digital realm, no one would own things, we would only license them, and thus be relieved of the terrible burden of ownership.

    They were telling the truth. We don’t own things anymore. This summer, Microsoft shut down its ebook store, and in so doing, deactivated its DRM servers, rendering every book the company had sold inert, unreadable. To make up for this, Microsoft sent refunds to the custom­ers it could find, but obviously this is a poor replacement for the books themselves. When I was a bookseller in Toronto, noth­ing that happened would ever result in me breaking into your house to take back the books I’d sold you, and if I did, the fact that I left you a refund wouldn’t have made up for the theft. Not all the books Microsoft is confiscating are even for sale any lon­ger, and some of the people whose books they’re stealing made extensive annotations that will go up in smoke.

    What’s more, this isn’t even the first time an electronic bookseller has done this. Walmart announced that it was shutting off its DRM ebooks in 2008 (but stopped after a threat from the FTC). It’s not even the first time Microsoft has done this: in 2004, Microsoft created a line of music players tied to its music store that it called (I’m not making this up) “Plays for Sure.” In 2008, it shut the DRM serv­ers down, and the Plays for Sure titles its customers had bought became Never Plays Ever Again titles.

    We gave up on owning things – property now being the exclusive purview of transhuman immortal colony organisms called corporations – and we were promised flexibility and bargains. We got price-gouging and brittle­ness.

    Upon closer inspection of the blog post you will find that this constitutes part of a recent article Doctorow has written for Locus Magazine. You really should read the whole article there. It contains much more context and detail.

    The final paragraph reads thus:

    There’s a name for societies where a small elite own property and everyone else rents that prop­erty from them: it’s called feudalism. DRM never delivered a world of flexible consumer choice, but it was never supposed to. Instead, twenty years on, DRM is revealed to be exactly what we feared: an oligarchic gambit to end property ownership for the people, who become tenants in the fields of greedy, confiscatory tech and media companies, whose inventiveness is not devoted to marvelous new market propositions, but, rather, to new ways to coerce us into spending more for less.

    This neatly encapsulates where we find ourselves today, and what lies in store for us tomorrow, unless we start doing something about it.

    Digital Feudalism

    Monocle offers a range of free email newsletters, and I subscribe to several of them. The daily one takes about ninety seconds to read, and the weekly sometimes has interesting articles.

    One of the daily newsletters this week started with an article by Christopher Cermak, which began like this:

    When I moved to Germany seven years ago it didn’t take long for someone to mention the TV comedy Dinner for One. “You must watch it,” they would say. “But be sure to wait until New Year’s Eve.” I naturally assumed it was a German-language programme and enquired as much. “No, it’s in English,” came the response. “Don’t they watch it in the US or the UK?”

    I became intrigued, and then when I read on, I decided that I definitely wanted to know more.

    Now here’s the strange part: this sketch originally played in UK seaside-town theatres but only became beloved in Germany after a producer invited the two British actors to record it for a TV show in 1963. It has since become a new-year tradition. Meanwhile, most people in the UK (where it was aired on TV for the first time in 2018) have still never heard of it.

    I looked it up in Wikipedia and learned that it “is a two-hander comedy sketch written by British author Lauri Wylie for the theatre… It is an 18-minute single-take black-and-white videotape recording, performed by British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden. It has become a tradition in Germany, and is the most frequently repeated television programme ever”.

    Will it make me laugh, you might wonder. You can decide for yourself.

    For the record, I have a fondness for much British music hall so, yes, it did make me laugh.

    Several times.

    Dinner for One

    This morning at the Content Management Systems course I raised a question about Wordpress plugins. I have been saying that they are a bad idea unless they are used carefully. Firstly, creating a site by banging together a collection of plugins can lead to all sorts of problems. You rely on the developers for a lot of your site security. Secondly, if you don’t understand how your plugins work, you may be left with major problems if a plugin stops being developed and then breaks.

    I have been suggesting that you should only use plugins when you understand them yourself and could replace them with your own functions if necessary, or when they serve a specific, sandboxed non-core function that could be removed from the site without affecting its overall look and functionality. An example of the latter might be a plugin that lists your latest tweets in the sidebar. If it breaks you can be certain that another one will come along, and if one doesn’t then you can put something else in your sidebar.

    The front page of the Disqus site on the day this was published!

    The question I raised this morning concerned comments. I invited the students to look at Disqus and tell me whether, by my own criteria, I should use their plugin or not. Since I have had comments switched off since my site was attacked by malware they are not currently a core function. Since I can export all my comments from Disqus I can presumably (with some work) reincorporate them in the site in the hopefully unlikely event of the company ceasing to exist. The consensus was that I should use it.

    So, as of right now, this site has comments enabled again, and they are being maintained by Disqus. The good news is that it took less than twenty minutes to set it up so that the Essays and Notes accept comments and the Album doesn’t (because the album serves a different purpose). The bad news is that it has been active for twenty seven minutes and I still haven’t had anyone leave any comments…

    Update 1

    Someone asked me how likely Disqus is to go away so I googled. According to a Crunchbase post that I looked up twenty minutes ago, Disqus was “was founded in 2007 by Daniel Ha and Jason Yan”. The post says that

    Disqus is a networked community platform, reaching over 700 million people a month, 1.3 million registered communities, and over 70M active commenters. The service offers a networked comment system used to foster engagement and connect audiences from around the web.

    So it seems pretty likely to stay. Indeed, it seems more likely to be bought by Google than to suddenly drop dead.

    Update 2

    After installing Disqus, I tweeted the urls of two recent posts. Within six hours I had five comments. I am happily impressed.

    Disqus now powers my comments

    This post exists solely to be given the category Phtodiary. This will prevent the category being perceived as ’empty’ and being deleted by the database cleaner.

    Deleting the category will orphan the subcategories with disastrous consequences.

    Do NOT Delete


    Microsoft has just pulled out of the e-book market for the third time, and all books bought from its online store will stop working today.

    According to the BBC website,

    Consumers who bought ebooks via Microsoft’s online store are losing access to their libraries.

    The service, which launched in 2017, relied on the use of a web browser rather than a dedicated app and failed to build a significant audience.

    Titles purchased or offered for free will no longer be available.

    Out-of-pocket users are, however, being offered refunds including a $25 (£20) credit if they made highlights or notes, which will also be lost.

    Microsoft first entered the e-book trade in 2000 when it persauded Barnes & Noble to adopt its MSReader format, which never really took off. It tried again in 2012 (again with Barnes & Noble) but pulled out again in 2014.

    The most interesting point in the article concerns the site Defective By Design which offers advice and support for DRM-free living. It’s literature page offers legal ways of obtaining DRM-free books that you actually own, and whose fates therefore remain in your hands.

    E-books overboard

    This is an essay about living and acting inside a world of visual knowledge building.

    Man’s onotological vocation is to be a Subject who acts upon and transforms his world, and in so doing moves toward ever new possibilities of fuller and richer life individually and collectively.
    Paulo Freire

    The future isn’t something hidden in a corner. The future is something we build in the present.
    Paulo Freire

    The trouble with a cheap, specialized education is that you never stop paying for it.
    Marshall McLuhan

    In this essay I will look at several aspects of Marshall McLuhan’s thinking and seek to relate it to the current cultural environment: one in which information is transmitted and received instantaneously, and stored at a distance, in amounts unthinkable even two decades ago. I will briefly attempt to place McLuhan’s cultural commentary within a political framework drawn from the writings of Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire.

    My reasons for doing this are to attempt to construct the basis for a digital e-pedagogy that does not present itself as politically neutral but rather as a tool for the further democratisation of society. One of the fears most often expressed about the digitalisation of cultural expression and education is that it leads to passivity and a kind of dazzled bewilderment. It is important, for me, that we develop a form of e-pedagogy that has open and shared activity at its heart, and explicitly so.

    In Understanding Media McLuhan argues that different technologies create conditions in which the relative values placed upon each of the five senses changes dramatically. He claims that the mechanical age was an age in which a linear visuality dominated, but the new electric age is more tactile, tribal and auditory. He says that the “aspiration of our time for wholeness, empathy and depth of awareness is a natural adjunct of electric technology”. He further states that

    every culture and every age has its favourite model of perception and knowledge that it is inclined to prescribe for everybody and everything. The mark of our time is its revulsion against imposed patterns. We are suddenly eager to have things and people declare their beings totally.

    At first sight this might suggest that we are moving away from the possibility of visual knowledge building as we move deeper into a digital world. Marshall McLuhan, however, claims that the opposite is the case. He argues that the mechanical culture, although favouring the visual over the other senses, had a much more profound charactersitic that stemmed from this sensory imbalance. It was a private culture that promoted individuality and a strict pattern of one-way transmission for knowledge and information. It was an era that developed Taylorism, the process of reducing complex industrial processes to a chain of simple, almost meaningless, tasks; and then applied the same methodology to transport, housing, education and medicine.

    The electric age, the culture we now refer to as digital, generates different patterns of behaviour which are more fluid and spontaneous; and assume a level of self-learning that would have seemed laughable fifty years ago. The typing pools of the mechanical age have disappeared as executives have come to regard operating their laptops as a necessary skill. Millions of people have taught themselves to use word processors, mobile phones, email, digital cameras, and other devices and processes without even noticing that they are mastering skills which would have formed the basis of a profession a generation or two ago.

    Formal education has become just one, relatively small, arena for some kinds of learning, although most people spend much of their time learning and updating an increasingly wide range of skills. Children begin to learn how to teach themselves when they get their first GameBoy or PlayStation. Every new game means more learning, either self-learning or the tribal learning of a peer group passing hard-won information between themselves.

    The use of games as a primary form of learning in a digital age is not surprising. McLuhan has pointed out that games

    are dramatic models of our psychological lives providing release of particular tensions. They are collective and popular art forms with strict conventions. Ancient and nonliterate societies naturally regarded games as live dramatic models of the universe or of the outer cosmic drama… As models they are collective rather than private dramatizations of inner life. Like our vernacular tongues, all games are media of interpersonal communication, and they could have neither existence nor meaning except as extensions of our immediate inner lives.

    From this perspective the movement towards learning through games is a movement towards a society based upon exploration. Exploration is the primary task of the artist, and art, as Marshall McLuhan noted in The Medium is the Massage, is “anything you can get away with”.

    In Marshall McLuhan’s words,

    how art became a sort of civilized substitute for magical games and rituals is the story of the detribalization which came with literacy. Art, like games, became a mimetic echo of, and relief from, the old magic of total involvement… Art, like games, is a translator of experience. What we have already felt or seen in one situation we are suddenly given in a new kind of material.

    He claims that most people “look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” We continue to cling to models of action that are no longer applicable, and it only is those who engage whole-heartedly in cultural exploration who can drag us into the present. Artists “know that they are engaged in making models of situations that have not yet matured in the society at large”. In their artistic play, they discover what is actually happening, and thus they appear to be “ahead of their time”. Non-artists always “look at the present through the spectacles of the preceding age”.

    The idea that games are models, and that art is such a game, was not an entirely new idea when Marshall McLuhan propounded it. Similar thoughts had occurred to the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, who had suggested that the acquisition of almost all human knowledge, including mathematics, is achieved by a process of ?diagrammatic modelling? in which one area of experience is deliberately mapped onto another. At the root of these arguments is an idea that is vital to the development of a successful e-pedagogy. Both Peirce and Marshall McLuhan argue that learning is achieved through a mapping process that is game-like and uses game-like tools. Whether explictly designed as such or not, these tools are learning objects that function as overlays. Placed over, mapped onto, an area of life, they offer a new perspective, a different view, that encourages the development of skills – including the skills of analysis, reflection and autonomous learning.

    Both children and adults are daily using learning objects created by artists and designers without even having to recognise them as such. The point of most Super Mario games is to work out the nature of the rules and the nature of the course to which the rules apply. The player has to work out, by methodical exploration, what the purpose of the mushrooms and the gold coins are. There are an increasing number of adult entertainments that follow this model of artistic learning objects. Both The Sims On-line and Second Life are game-like structures that have no purpose and no conclusion. There is no winning or losing, just the possibility of endless exploration. In both games there are detailed accounts, in user blogs and forums, of the ways in which ?players? use the game to map elements of the real world in order to learn about it, about their reactions to it, and about strategies for improving them.

    However, this approach is not without its critics and its dangers. Ivan Illich stated the dangers very succinctly in Tools for Conviviality.

    The vision of new possibilities requires only the recognition that scientific discoveries can be used in at least two opposite ways. The first leads to specialisation of functions, institutionalisation of values and centralisation of power, and turns people into the accessories of bureaucracies or machines. The second enlarges the range of each person’s competence, control, and initiative, limited only by other individuals’ claims to an equal range of power and freedom… The illusion prevailed that the machine was a laboratory-made homonculus, and that it would do our labour instead of slaves. It is now time to correct this mistake and shake off the illusion that men are born to be slaveholders and the only thing wrong in the past was that not all men could be equally so.

    The danger we face, then, is in believing the hype and assuming, along with Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelley, and the other members of the Californian Utopian Club, that technological advances are inevitably good, and will bring about happiness for all without any need for political or cultural intervention. As Illich points out, a “convivial society should be designed to allow all its members the most autonomous action by means of tools least controlled by others.” This is not necessarily the primary goal of either Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. As we design learning objects for mapping, we must ensure that we are producing tools that genuinely allow for autonomous action. This is much harder than it might appear at first sight.

    SimCity provides a useful example of the difficulties. When this first appeared many educational institutions began to use it as a teaching tool, a learning object that students could use to explore the complexities of politics and economics. Only later did people begin to realise that the structure of SimCity was based around a very specific, profit-driven theory of economics, and that keeping your city thriving meant unconsciously adopting a very specific economic point of view. What was actually being learned was not what appeared on the surface to be being taught!

    As we have moved from the mechanical, linear age, we have entered an age that Marshall McLuhan claims is more nearly tribal. We have re-entered a time of dialogue, in which artists / explorers engage our attention and we, increasingly, talk back. We have moved away from instruction and towards discussion as praxis. As Paulo Freire says in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “there is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus, to speak a true word is to
    transform the world.”

    Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world. Hence, dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do not wish this naming: between those who deny others the right to speak their word and those whose right to speak has been denied them. Those who have been denied their primordial right to speak their word must first reclaim this right and prevent the continuation of this dehumanizing aggression.

    The words of Freire and Illich do not contradict Marshall McLuhan, who himself held strong views about what he was observing: views which he sought to dismiss as unimportant in terms of his mission to conduct cultural ?probes?. Rather they strengthen his insights by providing a framework within which comparisons might usefully be made. If Marshall McLuhan stands back and reports, somewhat detachedly, about the historical processes he believes that he can observe, Illich and Freire offer us guidance as to how we should act within these processes to facilitate democratic human growth.

    Marshall McLuhan says that ?in the electric age, the closing of the gaps between art and business, or between campus and community, are part of the overall implosion that closes the ranks of specialities at all levels.? Illich and Freire suggest what we might do about this and, from our perspective, offer valuable suggestions about the criteria we might employ building visual learning objects that favour conviviality over passivity.

    E-pedagogy, conviviality and praxis: a sketch

    For the last few weeks I have thought from time to time about today, when Auo should light up the house celebrating her fifteenth birthday. I have wondered how to “celebrate” it. I feel foolish buying her presents that she will never see, and I feel traitorous not giving her something.

    Auo in the late summer of 2013

    Finally I decided to do two things. Firstly I decided to buy two Lego mini-figures because we both liked them for the same childish reasons. We both wanted to find out which one we had got from the sixteen on offer in the current series, and secondly we always pretended that the one we got disappointed us, knowing that the one we really wanted would not have excited us any more.

    Secondly I decided to commit myself to writing everything in e-prime for at least the next year, including all the daily entries in The Time of Day and this entry here. I had explained the idea behind e-prime to Auo in the months before she died, because I had decided to write my doctoral thesis in this way. The idea had both amused and interested her although she also thought it dopey. She tried writing in e-prime herself but lost interest in a while, quite reasonably, because she could not do some of her English homework without using some part of the verb to be.

    As a way of remembering and commemorating her, this probably makes no sense to anyone except me (and Auo). That, I suspect, makes it a perfect way of remembering her.

    And I very definitely do.

    E-prime and Auo

    For no reason at all I have been delving into Flatt and Scruggs lengthy discography recently. Sadly only one of them managed to make the transition into post-hippy country music with particular flair. Lester Flatt was dragging his feet while Earl Scruggs was enthusiastic and embraced what he saw as new freedom.

    Their 1968 album Nashville Airplane is not necessarily an outstanding album but is definitely interesting. In the extreme. It begins with a version of Like a Rolling Stone that translates it into a pure bluegrass and was a much more radical reinvention at the time than it might sound today. The same can be said about their version of Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. The banjo work on that is amazing!

    Allegedly this difference of opinion was the main reason that the partnership up, and shortly afterwards they both went solo: Scruggs with a fluctuating group of family and friends and Flatt with a new band called Nashville Grass. The album Earl Scruggs performs with his family & friends that followed this was similarly adventurous, although there are times when the friends predominate and he almost sounds like a guest at his own party.

    A late sixties album cover

    Having said that he continued to make interesting music, continued to modernise his sound without losing its foundations, and was an astoundingly influential figure in twentieth century music. He and Lester Flatt practically invented bluegrass. Steve Martin was quoted today as saying

    A grand part of American music owes a debt to Earl Scruggs. Few players have changed the way we hear an instrument the way Earl has, putting him in a category with Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Chet Atkins, and Jimi Hendrix.

    I could not agree more.

    Earl Scruggs died today was a project that ran for almost three years, from February 2001 until December 2003. It was conceived with two purposes in mind.

    Firstly it was a deliberate attempt to blend fact and fiction, and in that sense may be considered as a precursor of the Marinetta Ombro project. It provided a set of weekly journals written by me, Mike Tomersen, and Berressee, the alleged performance artist from Belgium. It also contained a series of game-like elements.

    Secondly it was an experiment in creating a site using only Flash. The body of the webpage consisted of no more than an instruction to load an 800 x 600 pixel Flash movie. This acted as a container for the site and enabled the site to have ebook-like page turning that worked across all browsers.

    The prelaunch web page

    The page above is the html-based launch page that introduced the project. The links included the material created for the opening. The documentation was the first Flash-only experiment and constitutes an early attempt to produced an ebook.

    The mail addresses were offered and two hundred and sixty seven people applied for one. They were offered through an early incarnation of whose business model has unsurprisingly shifted since then.

    The puzzle was a Flash-based sliding block puzzle of a Jasper John’s style target, each piece of which colorshifted rapidly as the puzzle was played. You won if you completed the project before you got a blinding headache.

    The site also used the Rational Calendar, based on the ideas of Dave “Dave Cutlass” Cutlass, who held that the world had undergone a catastrophic Occlusion that held sway between 325, when the Council of Nicea was convened, and what we have been taught to think of as “1945”, when the Nag Hammadi gospels were unearthed. Cutlass argued that the years of The Occlusion were spurious and should be expunged from the calendar. He held that the real date should therefore be treated as the year 381.

    The project ended when it became clear that I would be much better off ploughing the effort necessary to keep the EarthG site updated into working with Camie Lindeberg to develop the Marinetta Ombro project.

    So I did.

    The Legacy

    Technically the site was very successful, but in the long run it was a an interesting but disastrous failure. Search engines could not access the content and the Flash movies cannot themselves be read by the current plugin. It was a hard lesson in the problems of committing to a closed proprietary system that requires one specific rendering engine.

    The main outcome of this project was a more or less complete enthusiasm for open date, open formats and the open source applications that use them. Since the EarthG project finished one of my first questions has always been “how can we back this up in a future-proofed way?”

    Needless to say, the EarthG archive currently exists on some Zip Drives which is, with hindsight, a perfect double whammy of dopeiness. I will try to retrieve something from there at some point this year, and post at least a sample of screenshots. For the moment all that still exists are screenshots of the page as it was at the beginning and an equivalent page showing the site as it was at the end, when the Flash superstructure had been removed and all that was left was a simple goodbye page.

    Ho hum.


    Authors: Owen Kelly, Camilla Lindeberg and John Grönvall


    Marinetta is the capital city of Rosario, a fictitious island situated in the Mediterranean Sea. It is also the title of an ongoing educational multimedia project that began in June 2002 and is intended to last for a minimum of five years.

    Rosario has been created with a detailed geography, history, and local economy. It has a native language, which is (not coincidentally) identical to the reformed version of Esperanto known as Ido.

    The goal of the project is to develop an immersive on-line environment that will permit different kinds of learning to take place simultaneously, while permitting one strand to interfere creatively with another. This will include both learning about the environment (graphic design, 3D modelling, scripting and programming, database management), and learning within the environment (language tuition, cultural theory lectures, and so on).

    At the heart of this is an interactive, multi-user 3D world that has been constructed using the SCOL programming language, developed in France by Cryonetworks, and is viewable on PCs by downloading the SCOL Voy@ger plug-in.

    The world is situated in a website that makes use of a standard range of tools and technologies: Apache, MySQL, php, Flash, Javascript, XML and HTML.

    We wish to offer a demonstration of the island, explaining the development process, exploring the resulting website, detailing the experience of the first six months online and outlining the long-term pedagogical goals.

    1. Background

    Arcada is a polytechnic in the metropolitan region of Helsinki in Finland, serving the Swedish-speaking minority. In the spring of 2002 the Media Department decided that an umbrella project should be developed for the digital media courses. The students need and expect work experience as an important part of their course, and the recent downturn in the fortunes of the Finnish multimedia industry has meant that we have had to prepare to find ways of providing some of that experience in-house.

    The umbrella project needed to allow students to maintain a complete and complex website with a real user base; it needed to force them to create innovate web applications to service the users and increase traffic to the site; and it needed to compel them to address theoretical issues concerning usability, user interface design and the possibilities of cross media integration.

    The project also had to enable the students to work within the kinds of situations, and under the kinds of constraints, that they were likely to encounter upon graduating.

    2. Creating Rosario

    The initial task was to decide the core parameters for the project, and staff and students were canvassed for ideas. From this process emerged a consensus that the project should revolve around the creation of a 3D world available on the web.

    The idea of setting this world on a distant planet, in remote past, or in the far future, was explored and rejected. It was agreed that any of these settings would make the setting of realistic work-related briefs too difficult. It was decided, instead, that the world should be set in the present, somewhere on Earth and that the parameters of the world should be taken from an existing description.

    The nature of the world emerged from the discovery of a 1923 magazine story, Sexton Blake and The Time Thief, which was partly set on a Mediterranean island called Rosario. The island was described in sufficient detail to provide a basis for the 3D world, while leaving enough to the imagination to let the designers work creatively.

    The members of a concept design course spent several months planning the island in great detail. Simultaneously, a design course and a programming course began the work of constructing a 3D world, using the SCOL technology. This software is extremely powerful and very easy to use in a simple way, but its documentation is very sketchy. The students involved were forced to grapple with fundamental issues including learning how to learn, and how to generalise their experience.

    The concept design group produced a long and detailed history detailing the story of Rosario from 1452BC to the present day, which was revised when it was decided that the technical limitations of the software should be incorporated into the narrative.

    It was agreed that the website should be the official government website of Rosario, and that it should contain an interactive 3D model of the capital city, Marinetta, with chat facilities, working buildings and in-world banking. It was also agreed that visitors to the site should feel as though they were visitors to a foreign country and that, to facilitate this, the island should have its own language. After much research it was agreed that the islanders should speak the reformed Esperanto known as Ido, which is the language used for all signs, advertisements and government documents.

    Marinetta will be publicly launched on January 22nd 2003 at and the launch itself is currently the subject of a project for students training to be producers. After the launch, these students will continue to produce real-world events that mirror the various holidays and festivities that have been designed into the Rosarian calendar.

    3. Visiting Marinetta

    Users will be able to log in to Marinetta as residents or holiday-makers. Residents will receive a password-protected house in the city, and an in-world bank account. They will be able to use this to pay for the range of services that will be added over the next two years. Holiday makers will be able to roam the city, and engage in public chat, but will be unable to enter buildings which charge an entrance fee.

    Marinetta will be equipped with two museums and a gallery, which will be curated by artists and arts organisations. They will be capable of displaying any work that is capable of being digitised.

    The cinema will show a range of student and independent work in Realmedia or QuickTime formats.

    The library will contain a range of e-books in Ido, English and Swedish. We will be looking to include a range of teaching materials for the Ido language there, including papers discussing the advantages and disadvantages of artificial languages in general. We will also be looking at ways of encouraging the production of new material for the library, including experiments in poetry in Ido.

    The banks will contain in-world computers enabling users to carry out a range of financial transactions including payments and subscriptions.

    4. Developing the island as an educational resource

    The project has four long-term goals. Firstly it attempts to provide a rich multi-purpose environment on the web that will act as:

    1. a new kind of environment for distance learning

    Almost all the online environments that we have seen suffer from the fact that they are designed for one single purpose. Some are designed for distance learning; others are designed for entertainment such as role-playing games. The real world does not work like that. People walk the same streets and sit on the same train for very different reasons.

    Our intention is to create such a multi-purposed world: a world in which distance learning is one of the many possible activities that take place. We believe that this will provide a much richer and more appealing environment that allows for spontaneous interaction between the inhabitants.

    The college in Marinetta has facilities for streaming live lectures, and for replaying pre-recorded material. The lectures will be streamed into lecture theatres within which those attending will be able to chat to each other and the lecturer.

    The interface has a panel that allows the display of web-pages or Flash movies which means that materials and demonstrations can be given while the lecture is streaming.

    Normally a user is represented on the island by a 3D avatar. However, smaller groups can hold fully interactive tutorials in private rooms where everybody can use a web-cam to communicate directly with everyone else.

    2. a laboratory for cultural studies

    If the environment that we create is rich enough then the uses that it is put to will be unpredictable. Learning how people use the environment and what people want from it will provide students with valuable experience in the fields of monitoring and marketing.

    Within the environment itself there are opportunities to undertake marketing assignments and then monitor the results. A number of rival brands have been created (5L and Granda-L for soft drinks, for example) with the express intention of allowing to students to gain experience in developing brand strategies, including package design and advertising material.

    The use, and public awareness, of Rosario will be able to provide the basis for many kinds of thesis work. If ideas are transmitted as memes across the internet then perceptions of the reality of Rosario might be the subject of fruitful scrutiny, for example.

    3. a test-bed for web applications

    The project has been designed to be as open-ended and flexible as possible in all aspects, including the database structure for the user accounts that uses an XML schema designed to facilitate expansion.

    The initial applications that are planned include a radio station streaming to subscribers as long as they are logged in to the world; an in-world messaging system; buddy lists; an island stock exchange that allows users to buy and sell shares in the businesses on the island; and a number of job-themed games that enable residents to earn Rosarian lira.

    4. a framework for in-house apprenticeships

    Once Marinetta is launched it will be treated as an external client. A small government consisting of relevant staff members, and student representatives, will create job briefs that mimic exactly the kinds of briefs students will be likely to get upon graduation.

    Students accepting briefs will be credited with work experience weeks as they would if they carried out work experience at a commercial company. They will be expected to carry out the briefs in the same way too. They will work on their own initiative, seeking help and tuition as they feel they need it.


    1. From January 22nd 2003, Marinetta can be found at
    2. An English version of A Visitors Guide to Rosario can also be can be found at
    3. The Voy@ger plug-in can be downloaded from the Marinetta site.
    4. Information about the SCOL programming language and development tools can be found at Cryonetworks have gone into liquidation and the future of the software is currently under discussion. It seems possible that the language will become an open source project.
    5. Information about the Ido auxiliary language can be found at

    Educational Opportunities in a Fictitious Country

    Last week I thought about political novel writing, and reminded myself of that trilogy I had read in the eighties. I could not remember the name of the trilogy, the individual novels that comprised it, or the author. I tried googling but could not find a query that would reveal what I wanted.

    Yesterday Irma asked me to get some old unwanted novels from the back shed to take to the book exchange at Helsinki airport when we leave for India on Sunday. I went out in the almost-dark of early evening and found fourteen paperbacks. Tarku had given us some and I had found others in secondhand bookshops in Helsinki, Porvoo and Pellinki.

    When I got indoors I looked at them in more detail to make sure that I actually wanted to get rid of them. I picked up a copy of Christopher Isherwood’s second novel The Memorial and realised that I had not actually read it. I put it to one side and then later in the evening actually started it.

    I liked it. I liked the structure and the dialogue, and the depiction of the characters.

    Tonight, two thirds of the way through it, I decided to look in Wikipedia at Isherwood’s entry to see what I could see.

    Straight away I saw that, at school, he formed a life-long friendship with Edward Upward. I knew at once that Upward had written the trilogy that had come into my mind last week.

    I looked at his entry and found the name of the trilogy: The Spiral Ascent. I added that to Todoist as something that I should try to find in a library at some point. I then saw the external link at the bottom of the page to his official site, and went there.

    Edward Upward died in 2009, at the age of 106. He had spent most of his life as a socialist, and had made his trilogy available free late in his life. I discovered that I could therefore download all three of the novels as .epub or .pdf files from his website.

    I did.

    I also added this to my list of serendipitous happenings.

    Edward Upward & serendipity

    While we were at Benita's on Saturday, Pirjo announced that she was going to balance an egg on the table when she got home. She explained that you can only do this at the Spring and Autumn equinoxes. She had read this in a newspaper, and seen it discussed on television. She had tried it in the Spring and it had worked.

    It was the final half-price sale at Benita’s so Irma dashed in to buy some eggs.

    An egg is successfully balanced on a table, while Naa looks on unimpressed.

    I looked this up on my phone, and discovered a number of sites, including one called, which described this as an urban myth that refuses to die. Phil Plait at BadAstronomy says that

    At any day of the year, grab a carton of eggs and try to stand each one. Usually you cannot stand a raw egg because the inside of an egg is a very viscous (thick) liquid, and the yolk sits in this liquid. The yolk is usually a bit off-center and rides high in the egg, making it very difficult to balance. The egg falls over. However, with patience, you can usually make an egg stand up. It may take a lot of patience!

    I discovered that the eggs we had bought stood up quite easily. I have several photos of several different attempts, all of which were successful within a minute or so. This probably says more about the difference between farm eggs and battery hens than between the equinox and any other day.

    Egg balancing at the equinox

    Elliott Carter died yesterday at the age of 103. He was, as far as I know, still composing music up until the end of his life, and if I were to seek a role model for creative living then, for as long as I can remember, he would have been one of the strongest candidates.

    Elliott Carter in what other people might describe as old age

    There are, of course many obituaries but I found myself seeking out, and rereading, one of the warmest pieces I recall seeing in the last few years about Carter. It was written by Damian Thompson and appeared in the Telegraph in December 2012. Thompson was reflecting on a performance of “a smorgasbord of Carter pieces”, and I find the essay uplifting perhaps because he is not a committed fan of modernism, yet still finds Carter completely convincing and (even better) enjoyable.

    Meanwhile, in the current obituaries, Ivan Hewitt notes in today’s Guardian that, as he turned fifty, the

    joining together of aspiring strenuousness with an ever-increasing allusiveness would define Carter’s creative project for the next two decades. It revealed itself in three works of astounding complexity that occupied him for more than 10 years: the Double Concerto, premiered in 1961, the Piano Concerto – written partly in Berlin, and imbued, according to the composer, with the dark atmosphere of that divided city – and the Concerto for Orchestra of 1969.

    Carter was by then 61, and his life had long since settled into a pattern that mingled teaching and composing during the academic year, with more concentrated creative work during summer retreats at the Carter’s modest country home at Waccabuc in upstate New York. He had now reached the age at which Brahms was already thinking of retirement, and most composers are in some way retrenching. Nobody could have guessed that Carter was just getting into his stride, and that ahead of him lay more than four decades of creativity.

    I remind myself of this whenever I despair at the speed at which my thesis and accompanying works are proceeding, and when I look at the notebook in Evernote full of ideas for projects I have not even begun to begin yet.

    Thank you, Mister Carter. I am listening to Canaries right now: yes, one of the greatest drum solos ever written!

    However, for those wanting to find out about rock music from another dimension, this performance of Lumien at Tanglewood is well worth watching for a glimpse of that world’s elderly Frank Zappa in action…

    Elliott Carter (1908-2012)

    According to The Science Page

    The same guy who invented PayPal, created the Tesla Cars, plans to create “SolarCities” and also developed cars that will make money for you when you don’t use them, has ANOTHER very brilliant idea. Elon Musk plans to launch 4,000 low-orbit satellites in order to give free internet access worldwide. The billionaire’s company, SpaceX, revealed the initial framework of the plan in January, with the official request being submitted to the Federal Communications Commission.

    4,000 will apparently enable the network to reach literally everywhere on Earth. The network will somehow run itself sometime within the next five years, and communication everywhere will cost nothing at all; although, as The Independent points out

    The astronomical cost of the satellites and launch may be the limiting factor. The customers for the service are the very poorest populations in the most remote regions on earth. The initial cost of the satellite network will be difficult to recover.
    Whether for philanthropic reasons or in the search for global telecommunications dominance, Musk is not the only eccentric billionaire pushing this frontier.
    Greg Wyler, an entrepreneur from Florida and founder of OneNet is being backed by The Virgin Group and Qualcomm to create a similar satellite network. With experience creating networks with his companies RwandaTel and O3B, Wyler might be the man to beat Musk in the next big space race.
    Wyler still owns a significant amount of the licensing to supply satellite internet in various regions, meaning Musk may struggle trying to find the space for his own network.
    Richard Branson said in Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek “Greg has the rights, and there isn’t space for another network… If Elon wants to get into this area, the logical thing for him would be to tie up with us and if I were a betting man, I would say the chances of us working together rather than separately would be much higher.”

    I point this out here for several reasons. Firstly, the same few billionaires have already started to sew up the remaining parts of the future that still have a future. Secondly, I want to look back at this and see what actually happens in the next five years.

    Jet cars? No. Space phones? Yes. Richard Branson? Maybe not.

    Elon Musk: free wifi for everyone on Earth

    A shopping trip to Porvoo today yielded a couple of unexpected presents in the form of two old Saint books from a junk shop. I have been trying to find some for the last year, but they are not available anywhere that I know of in Finland – not even in the fantastic secondhand Englsh bookshop in the cente of Helsinki.

    The books are Enter The Saint and The Avenging Saint (formerly known as Knight Templar). Both are very old paperbacks. The first is an American edition from 1945, a genuine Pocket Book, which is interestingly shorter than a standard paperback. The other is a 1948 Pan Books edition, with a wonderful cover.

    I have read very little Leslie Charteris since I was about twelve years old, and bought a few reduced Saint books as some of my first ‘adult’ novels. The only one I have been able to find was in a Mammoth collection, The Mammoth Book of Short Spy Novels, and it was good enough to make me want to see what some more was like.

    Now I will.

    Enter The Saint

    The Entropia Universe is another online synthetic world that claims to have a “real” economy. Currently it claims to have about half a million members.

    It all takes place on a planet with several continents, moons and space stations. Unlike Second Life, only the accounts are free. Everything in the world costs money which you either earn by working or import using a credit card. This includes food and drink (because avatars in Entropia have to eat and drink to stay alive) and building materials.

    Work includes hunting, farming, mining, trading, manufacturing and so on.

    This is an intriguingly different mix of game and platform. It contains some of the things that are missing in Second Life and should be there if we are to model a virtual culture properly. Perhaps we need to think in the long term of learning some lessons from both of these and applying them to a world of our own creation in Multiverse, if that launches successfully with a range of tools that we can use without recourse to java and C++.

    Entropia: another online world

    Author: Edward R Tufte

    Year: 1990

    Category: information theory

    Publisher: Graphics Press

    ISBN: 0-9613921-1-8

    Wikipedia says that “Edward Rolf Tufte (born 1942) is an American statistician and professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University.” According to Tufte’s website, this book

    celebrates escapes from the flatlands of both paper and computer screen, showing superb displays of high-dimensional complex data. The most design-oriented of Edward Tufte’s books, Envisioning Information shows maps, charts, scientific presentations, diagrams, computer interfaces, statistical graphics and tables, stereo photographs, guidebooks, courtroom exhibits, timetables, use of color, a pop-up, and many other wonderful displays of information

    It does indeed do this, and in addition it provides a comparative analysis of how different graphical approaches may be applied to similar problems with very different results.
    He begins the book by announcing his area of interest, and his purpose in exploring it:

    Even though we navigate daily through a perceptual world of three spatial dimensions and reason occasionally about higher dimensional arenas with mathematical ease, the world portrayed in our information displays is caught up in the two-dimensionality of the endless flatlands of paper and video screen… Escaping this flatland is the essential task of envisaging information – for all the interesting worlds that we seek to understand (physical, biological, imaginary, human) that we seek to understand are inevitably and happily multivariate in nature.

    His examples look closely at the ways in which design can support analysis of complex data or distract the viewer away from reasoned analysis. He discusses lines, geometry, and color:

    Of course color brings to information more than just codes naming visual nouns – color is a natural quantifier, with a perceptually continuous (in value and saturation) span of incredible fineness of distinction, at a precision comparable to most measurement.

    He also discusses various strategies for layering information, including the use of three dimensions. With regard to the latter he offers cautionary advice:

    effective layering of information is often difficult… An omnipresent, yet subtle, design issue is involved: the various elements collected together in flatland interact, creating non-information patterns and texture simply through their combined presence. Josef Albers described this visual effect as 1 + 1 = 3 or more, when two elements show themselves along with assorted incidental by-products of their partnership… Such patterns become dynamically obtrusive when displays leave the relative constancy of paper and move to the changing video flatland of computer terminals.

    The reference here is to Interaction of Color by Joseph Albers, published by New Haven in 1963, and revised in 1975.

    Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is its wholeness. It is difficult to quote from it because the arguments he advances are woven tightly into the illustrations and examples that he draws upon. He slowly builds an implicit theory through carefully chosen indicative expositions without ever pontificating from a loftier position.

    This makes the book something that one experiences rather than reads, and in this respect it is a living example of the approach that he advocates.

    Envisaging Information

    There are many entries here about the research purposes fuelling the development of this site: namely my intention to construct a portable, personal online dataspace that can act as a life-long repository. Much of this is collected or referenced in the first excursion The Memi as a tool for epedagogy.

    The process of building this dataspace – the memi – has proceeded by a deliberate process of careful trial and carefully observed error. This is a process that Peter Small would refer to as bottom-up design, and indeed my interactions with Peter have been a powerful inspiration for this. (This is not to say that Peter would approve of what I am doing, or even recognise his influence in it.)

    I began by porting over most of the content of my previous site, which had been built in WikkaWiki, as an earlier part of the process because, without a large amount of content, discussions about the organisation of content would be purely theoretical guesses.

    Unsurpisingly issues of access were impotant from the moment I looked at the site. The menu system had been worked out in the previous incarnation, and I added tags and a tag cloud to this. These worked, and the tags added a whimsical folksonomy to the more structured taxonomy offered by the sections and categories available in the menus.

    However there was still at least one element missing. A lot of ideas being developed were scattered through the entries in ways that were not signposted. I found that even I was losing rack of some of them, and I was the one who had written them. This seemed to imply that nobody else would stand a chance of finding their ways through the increasingly variegated landscape.

    The answer that suggested itself was to add a layer of handmade overviews. I imagined that these would serve as introductions to topics that were discussed in several entries, and would provide another way to journey through the site. I tried to write introductions along these lines several times and failed.

    Looking back through the failed attempts I decided that the problem lay in the fact that they kept trying to be more than summaries. They all introduced new content, even though I made conscious efforts to avoid this. Finally I decided that the relationship that I was imagining between the summary and the original posts was the wrong relationship.

    I looked through the posts I had tried to summarise and drew out the general themes. Rather than summarising the posts I then used them as references, and wrote a hyper-linked essay that explored the themes in more detail than any individual post.

    This was not what I meant by an essay, though. An essay, to me, was a single developed piece of writing (such as a conference paper or a magazine article) that I had imported into the site as part of the archives. Most of the references in such an essay were external: to primary source material, or to other papers, available on the web. What I was doing now was much more wiki-like. I was writing an “essay” that referenced and quoted from other entries on this same site. This introduced an entirely new layer that acted as both content and navigation.

    I decided to call this sort of entry an excursion, since it provided a guided tour through a selected part of the topography of this site. For about a minute and a half I called it a trip – which would have been shorter and simpler to incorporate in the menus. I changed my mind an instant after the phrase Son of Timothy Leary entered my mind.

    I then decided that excursions should be visibly different from usual entries, since they were, in effect, meta-arguments, content that reflected upon and (hopefully) refined existing content. I therefore created the vintage bus and ticket iconography.

    The iconcograohy a go-go!

    Whether this “works” or not is a matter of opinion, and I am still not sure what mine is. This doesn’t matter, though, because if there is one thing fully working in this site it is the separation of content from layout. The excursions use their own page-excursion.php template file, and that and the graphics can be replaced in two minutes.

    Finally I made an important editorial decision. I decided that I would write excursions in such a way that they did not simply include internal links, as other entries do, but they quoted complete paragraphs from the entries that they referenced. These paragraphs would appear inside a light blue block. Clicking on the block would take you directly to the quoted entry. The quoted entry would either have a linkback section at the bottom where a clearly labelled link would return you to the excursion, or a reciprocal blue block. I created No Such Post to check that this would be readable, and it seemed to pass the test.

    I then decided that every excursion should have an icon linking to this page, so that anyone reading an excursion could find out more or less what you have just found out. This is the ticket that sits in the right-hand sidebar.

    This new layer will certainly work. I have begun writing my MA thesis in this form, and that will become the first excursion. It demands a particular writing style however: a style where the author thinks in terms of modules rather than chapters. This, in turn, will mean developing new habits.

    So far, years of writing carefully in sections or paragraphs is making this a slow (if educational) process…


    I have written a piece about navigating through the memi, in which I look at the differences between taxonomies and folksonomies; and between visual and literary navigation.

    However there is also an additional navigational need. This concerns the question of how a set of linked pages can be seen to form a larger piece. I realised that this was a problem when I looked at the opening page of my thesis. It looks like any other page. There is nothing to show that it is intended to be the opening page of a set of connected pages. More importantly there is no obvious way to find it.

    It is not an essay, which I have taken to mean a lengthy piece of writing that lives in a single (long) page. It is an excursion through the memi. According to an excursion is:

    a short trip or outing to some place, usually for a special purpose and with the intention of a prompt return: a pleasure excursion; a scientific excursion.

    which is a more or less accurate way of describing a set of linked pages that can be traversed for a special purpose, and in a specific order, in order to follow an argument.

    I shall add some kind of visual pointers to make it clear where an excursion starts, and I may need to add a menu item to list all the excursions.

    Writing styles

    If we conceive of an excursion as a multimedia object consisting of an indeterminate number of pages, linked together in a specific order then we need to consider how this will be organised, and how this organisation will be presented to the user. These are separate but related issues.

    The pages will need to be organised in such a way that they can be read either separately or as part of the overall argument. The only alternative would be to make the subsequent pages “secret”, which is to say to make them in such a way that they cannot be found through the menus, the tags, the search function or any other usual method of traversing the site. This would seem to me to be unsatisfactory at many levels, as well as technically difficult.

    I can see two possible approaches to creating an excursion.

    It could, in effect, be a meta-argument pointing out the nature of the journey and the reasons for the particular route. This would mean that the excursion was a single page that read like an executive summary of the arguments, and linked to all the other pages were the details, the elaborations and the proofs were written up. In this approach the excursion would be a set of assertions with each assertion linked to an entry that treated it like a issue in its own right, and proceeded from question or hypothesis, through argument and evidence, to a conclusion.

    The second approach would be to avoid the use of a summary page to which users returned time and time again, and instead make a set of pages that were read sequentially as a set of linked essays that, read in the right order, possessed a synergy. The problem with this approach is that it would be easy to get lost, as each individual essay would almost certainly have its own internal and external links. This would necessitate an additional map-based navigational panel, so that the user could retrace their steps.

    I have no final opinion on this matter at the moment. I am just noting that there are consequences below the surface of either choice. I am also noting, in passing, that in the first approach the executive summary need not be a written essay. It could be a concept map, with each box on the map linking to an entry that expands upon the topic it raises.

    A third option

    I thought about this at some length, and it dawned on me that there is a possible approach that uses visual enhancement to build upon the first option. This would work by quoting paragraphs directly from linked posts, making the entire quoted paragraph into a link, and then indicating this by rendering the background in very light blue. This would provide an intuitive method for building an essay out of an explanatory text while embedding Lego-blocks of linked paragraphs that can lead the viewer directly to a related entry.

    The paragraph above is a working example of this. It links to a related post about navigating through a memi.

    As with the first option above, the main page would provide an overview, but the use of embedded paragraphs would make the hyper-linking altogether more graceful. It should be noted that this will either involve planting summary paragraphs at the end of pages to which excursions will be made, or it will require several extra levels of attention during the process of writing and editing. Without summary paragraphs there will be paragraphs that exist in two separate entries (the original entry and the excursion where they are later embedded), and they will need to read fluently in both contexts.

    Holy, moly, Batman!

    Excursions through the Memi


    From Reuters, via Yahoo just now:

    On November 30, Regan Books is publishing a book OJ Simpson wrote with the working title “If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened.” Simpson’s book “hypothetically describes” how he would have committed the murders.

    He will also be giving a long two-part exclusive interview with the publisher Judith Regan, on FoxTV, elaborating on (and publicising) the book, for which he is being paid several million dollars.

    I can think of nothing humourous to add to that.

    Fact as Fiction (Part 1)

    The story so far: Rupert Murdoch owns Fox TV and also ReganBooks, among many other things. Judith Regan has arranged to publish a book in which OJ Simpson explains how he would have done the murders, if he had done them. She has also interviewd him for a two-part puff-piece on Fox News. Growing numbers of people (not least the relatives of those he hypothetically didn’t murder) have become vocally angry about this latest attempt to drag it all up and give OJ several million dollars for his trouble.

    Yesterday Rupert Murdoch reacted to the growing public anger about these festive OJ Christmas specials, by personally intervening and cancelling both. He claimed that they were both seriously “ill-judged” and apologised for any distress that they might have caused.

    Judith Regan then issued a long (2,000 words and more) statement in which she defended herself and her decision to create the book and tv show. The complete statement is wonderfully deranged, as she adopts the best, and most modern, defence of all. She claims that she is the real victim in all of this.

    Her reasoning follows a long, shallow, rambling path that claims her heart was broken by her first husband and as a result she quite naturally wanted to see justice done in the OJ Simpson trial. She says (in part):

    I wanted it because I had once been that young woman who loved with all of her heart and believed in the goodness of man, the trusting girl who fell for the guy, who believed in the beauty of romance, the power of love, the joy of family and the miracle of motherhood. Like Nicole Brown, I believed with all my heart . . . and then got punched in the face.


    On that day, October 3, 1995, as Howard and I sat watching the television with a conference room full of people, I said, “He’ll be acquitted.” I said it out loud, and the others in the room looked at me in a way I’d been looked at before: “Oh, God. She’s crazy.”

    But I knew it, because I’d been there. I’d listened to the lies (“She hit herself’), watched him charm the police (“Sir, I don’t know why she’s saying this”), endured the ignorance of one cop who looked at me with disdain and said “You must like it,” and couldn’t understand why they didn’t believe me.

    That man was tall, dark, and handsome. A great athlete. A brilliant mind. He was even a doctor, with an M.D. after his name and a degree that came with an oath: “First, do no harm.” He was one of the brightest men I’d ever met. And he could charm anyone. He charmed me. We had a child. And then he knocked me out, with a blow to my head, and sent me to the hospital.

    He manipulated, lied, and broke my heart.

    And then, after all but leaving me for dead in a hospital, where his daughter died a few days later, he left for good.

    So as I watched this new scene play itself out, I knew that this man—the killer, as Kim calls him—would be acquitted.

    The essay then takes in her feelings when her parents sent her to confession at the age of seven or eight, and moves slowly and aimlessly along several other gulleys before finishing, not with any clear explanation about why she commissioned the book, nor with any apology to those who were distressed by it, but with another look at her own life, and the problems and epiphanies that she has suffered as she clawed her way back from hell.

    I thought back to Christmas Eve, a few years ago. The man who broke my heart was now standing on my doorstep, shaking. He talked about my son, now in his twenties, and told me I’d done a great job raising him alone.

    During the years that I was running from work to homework, from my office to every school play, assembly, swim meet or parent conference, he never showed up for a single thing. While I was raising my son, he had lived a high life and then lost everything. He ended up in prison, lost his medical license, lost many of his worldly possessions, lost his looks and now, most of the women who once cared had gone, too.

    And he was losing his mind. His hand was shaking violently. He had Parkinson’s disease, and was a broken man. He looked at me. The girl he’d left in the gutter had raised two children alone, had built a successful company, and was now a happy woman.

    “I guess you think I’m getting my comeuppance,” he said.

    And strangely I didn’t. That a man who had so much could throw it all away and fall so low—it gave me no pleasure.

    I was sad for my son, sad for the women he’d left behind, sad for the mother and siblings he’d disappointed and I was sad for him that he’d missed the opportunity to live a beautiful life.

    When I sat face to face with the killer, I wanted him to confess, to release us all from the wound of the conviction that was lost on that fall day in October of 1995.

    For the girl who was left in the gutter, I wanted to make it right.

    The moral of this story, as Jack Webb might say, is that in my soap opera I am the star and everything else is a plot device. Welcome to twenty first century solipsism, where my stubbed toe overtrumps your heart disease every time.

    Fact as Fiction as Fact (Part 2)

    The RSA2012 conference has just been held in San Francisco. Enrique Salem, the CEO of Symantec, gave a keynote speech. If we are to believe The Register he said

    the average US 21-year-old has sent over 250,000 emails, text messages, and IM sessions, has spent over 14,000 hours online, and doesn’t accept information from a single source, but checks with his or her network instead. They use email rarely and have never known life without the internet. They even think differently, multitasking constantly in what he called “continuous partial attention.”

    The fact that he appears to say that these 21-year-olds have sent over 250,000 emails, while also asserting that they “use email rarely” suggests that the journalist, Iain Thompson, may not be quoting him entirely accurately. Or that Enrique Salem is simply operating on too high a level to be worried about contradictions. Perhaps he is the Walt Whitman of technology.

    Even allowing for the possibility that this contradiction may be the result of a misquote, or bad sub-editing, there are still serious problems with what Salem said. And these are more important. I shall now make an assumption: that even if this apparent contradiction results from a mistake in the hearing, writing or editing, then Iain Thompson still heard the numbers he quotes correctly. He did not mishear “about 374” as “over 250,000”, for example.

    These are impressive figures, and the kind of numbers that can be used to advance the hypothesis that “digital natives”, a term Salem apparently used, have grown into beings we cannot imagine. These figures, and others like them, tend to sail past the listener, sounding alarming or exhilarating according to your position on these issues, but sounding like evidence.

    Let’s look at them. Twenty-one years olds were born in 1990 or 1991. Whatever might be the case now it is unlikely that babies and toddler had internet access in 1990. The very first incarnation of the web was proposed in 1990, and Internet Explorer was not launched until 1995. Let us therefore say (very optimistically) that all these twenty-one year olds gained full internet access at the age of seven. There are approximately 5,110 days, or 122,640 hours, in fourteen years (not allowing for leap years). If these junior net users were online every day during this period for a total of 14,000 hours then they were online for an average of almost three hours a day. However, according to ComScore Data Mine the average American aged between 18 and 24 spent 32.2 hours online per month in 2010 – which works out at just over one hour per day. (The highest score was for 45-54 year olds who spent 39.3 hours online per month.)

    Since Salem invokes a number almost three times higher than the average score in 2010, and we know that internet use has increased dramatically since 1995, we can deduce that his numbers are very likely nonsense. Impressive as they whizz by, but guaranteed to fall apart under the slightest scrutiny.

    The same logic can be applied to the “250,000 emails, text messages, and IM sessions” he refers to. Here Salem has created a carefully mixed set which is almost impossible to take apart in quite the same way. “How many emails, as opposed to text messages?”, we might ask. However, lumping them all together as “online messaging”, Salem is claiming that twenty one year olds have sent an average of two online messages per hour every hour of their waking lives since the age of seven.

    Think about this: Facebook launched on February 4, 2004 and Twitter launched in March, 2006. The age of social media and hourly status updates is not very old. These numbers are therefore utterly unbelievable, unless Salem can provide some kind of supporting evidence that, among other things, clearly demonstrates that most other surveys and research findings are either deeply flawed or being badly misinterpreted.

    This is one way that urban myths are created, and fear and doubt is spread. Snake oil salesman makes up statistics to sell snake oil: exclusive. Or: journalist misunderstands man of integrity and probity, and mayhem ensues. Take your pick.

    Fact checker wanted!

    Once upon a time a little girl lived in a small village at the edge of the woods. Most people in the village were happy doing as little as possible. They all did what they had to do but no more. Tina, however, was different. She always wanted to learn something new.

    The villagers went to the stream and fished, and Tina went with them to watch. “What are you doing?” she asked. “How do you catch the fish?” she asked. “Go away you irritating young person”, they replied.

    Tina did not spend all her time bothering the villagers though. She used to wander into the woods on her own from time to time. “Hello birds”, she would say. “Hello sheep”, she would say. “Hello rabbits”, she would say. “Tweet, baaaa, and thweep”, they would reply.

    The villagers went to the fields in the Spring to plant corn, and Tina went with them to watch. “How do you know how much to plant?” she asked. “How do you know where to plant it?” she asked. “Go away you irritating young person”, they replied.

    Tina continued to wander into the woods on her own from time to time. “Hello goats”, she would say. “Hello little pigs”, she would say. “Hello worms”, she would say. “Greep, oink, and shooop”, they would reply.

    The villagers went to the fields in autumn to harvest the corn. “How do you know it is ready?” asked Tina. “How do you know you’ve got enough?” asked Tina. “Go away you irritating young person”, they replied.

    Tina continued to wander into the woods on her own from time to time. As she did so she begun to understand what the birds and the sheep were saying to her. She began to talk back to them.

    Next she began to understand what the rabbits and the goats were saying to her, and she began talking back to them.

    Finally she began to understand what the pigs were saying to her, and she found this very interesting. She began spending afternoons in the field by the stream exchanging gossip with the pigs.

    She never understood what the worms were saying to her. But neither did the birds and the sheep, or the rabbits or the goats. The pigs maintained a certain ambivalence.

    By Christmas the villagers had got fed up with Tina. “What use is she?” they asked each other. “She doesn’t cook because she is always following us around. She doesn’t sew because she is always following us around. She doesn’t make candles for the long winter nights, because she is always following us around”.

    One old woman, by the name of Martha, had a particular dislike of Tina. She was jealous of her because, even though the villagers claimed not to like Tina, they talked about her all the time. “Nobody has made candles this winter,” she said to anyone who would listen. “We must send someone through the horrible woods to the village on the other side to buy some”.

    “Who can we send?” the villager replied. “We are all busy fishing, and collecting firewood, and walking around.” “We can send Tina!” Martha replied. “B-b-but the last three people who went through the woods never returned,” the villager replied. “They got lost or got eaten.”

    “Exactly!” Martha replied.

    Eventually when Martha had talked to enough of the villagers, everybody thought it was someone else’s idea, and then everyone thought that everyone else had agreed with the idea, and then everyone agreed with the idea because they thought that everyone else had already agreed with the idea.

    So the villagers told Tina that she had to go through the woods to fetch candles from the other village. “Oh,” said Tina. And that she had to avoid getting lost. “Oh oh,” said Tina. And that she had to avoid getting eaten. “Oh, gulp,” said Tina.

    As Tina entered the woods she spoke to her friends and they spoke to her. They agreed to join her on her walk, and they all tweeted, baaaed, and thweeped, greeped, oinked, and shoooped as they went along. Nobody knew what the shoooping meant, of course, except maybe the pigs.

    They had not gone far through the woods when the birds gave a tweet of alarm. “There is a fox ahead,” they said. “He wants to eat you”. Tina talked with the rabbits and they dug a big hole, and the fox fell in.

    They had not gone much further through the woods when the sheep baaaed an urgent warning. “There is a big, bad wolf ahead and he wants to eat you,” they said. Tina talked with the pigs and they built a cage from twigs and vines and tricked the wolf into sitting in it before they closed the door and tied it firmly shut.

    Eventually they all reached the other village. The animals sat at the edge of the wood and the pigs gave Tina wise advice on how to bargain for candles. She got one hundred and twenty two candles for the price of one hundred and twenty, and a free sandwich and a glass of fresh spring water.

    Three days later she said goodbye to her friends at the edge of the woods, and walked back into the village with almost enough candles for everyone for the winter. The villagers were amazed and delighted. They all praised Tina and gave her another sandwich and a big glass of foaming ale.

    Martha was consumed with jealousy. “If it’s that easy,” she thought, “I will do it myself and get an even bigger mug of foaming ale and even more praise”.

    “One hundred and twenty two candles for the price of one hundred and twenty,” she roared at the villagers. “Bah! I can do MUCH better than that. I will go and get us all a proper bargain!”

    She stormed off out of the village and down the hill to the woods. The animals watched as she approached. “Out of my way,” she shouted, throwing a stone at a bird. “Out of my way,” she shouted, shoving a sheep aside. “Out of my way,” she shouted, kicking a rabbit. “Out of my way,” she shouted, hitting a goat on the head. “Out of my way,” she shouted, throwing her shoe at a pig. “Out of my way,” she shouted, trying to stamp on a worm as she hurried to pick up her shoe before the pig ran away with it.

    “You stupid animals. Keep out of my way, do you hear – not that you can understand because you’re just animals and not people,” she yelled as she got to the woods and disappeared into the trees. Everyone watched her go, but none of the creatures tried to talk with her because, after all, they were just stupid animals.

    They didn’t tell her about the fox who had climbed out of the hole the rabbits had dug. They didn’t tell her about the big, bad wolf who had managed to free himself from the cage that the pigs had built. They watched her go and they never saw her again.

    And neither did the villagers.

    Fairy tale: Tina Two-Languages

    Last Autumn I walked into a McDonalds for the first time in months, and I decided to have the vegetable burger: a Vegetable McFeast, as it happened. I thought about how little difference the lack of fresh prime beef made to the experience since, by and large, the particular variety of garnish and sauce made it a McFeast in the first place, rather than, say, a Big Mac. Last week Mikko brought a vegan pizza from a line of cheap supermarket pizzas into a Pixelache meeting and I had a similar reaction.

    I have therefore decided to explore this hypothesis: that taking the meat out of takeaway food need do nothing much to the taste or the experience. Today I found myself walking through Itis without having eaten lunch and I decided to perform the first test. Since I had had a McFeast a few months ago I opted to start with Burger King. I went up to the counter and ordered a Veggie Burger meal. I got this:

    BK Veggie Burger

    The burger unwrapped

    With the paper wrapper opened the burger looked like an average burger in a sesame bun.

    The burger inside

    Here lay the problem. The salad and sauce seemed quite meagre, and I immediately recalled that I used to eat Vegetable Whoppers in London in the nineties. They had all the trimmings of a meat Whopper with the meat patty replaced by one made from crushed corn, pepper, potato and carrots. They felt big in your hands, whereas this feels more like a standard cheeseburger.


    The meal cost 6.45€. It consisted of the burger, fries, and a soda water.

    The burger contains 390 calories and includes 22g of protein, 42g of carbohydrates, 9g of sugar and 15g of fat. I contains just over 1g of salt.

    The vegetable patty tasted noticeably different from a meat patty when I started eating. However as I sat and ate while reading the overall experience converged with my memories of eating “normal” burgers. In other words, when I didn’t pay much attention to what I put in my mouth I noticed nothing especially better or worse about the vegetable burger. If I stopped to think I could definitely taste a difference and feel a difference in the texture. By the end I felt as though I had eaten in Burger King: I felt I had had the genuine experience, not a substitute. As a side note, the fries surprised me. They had some actual substance and taste.

    I decided that next time I came to Burger King I would definitely choose a Veggie Burger rather than a standard burger; but I would much prefer a Vegetable Whopper if I had the option.

    Finally I found one additional advantage to ordering the Veggie Burger. They didn’t have one on the serving hatch and they had to make it freshly. I had a hot burger in the best possible condition. This, of course, will only work as long as I remain in a small minority.

    Fast Veg 01: Burger King

    Last January I decided to experiment with mass-produced fast-food vegetarian burgers to test my hypothesis that taking the meat out of takeaway food need not do anything very much to the overall taste or the experience. Yesterday I found myself walking through Itis hungry and decided to perform the second test. This whole thing had started with my distant memories of a Kasvis McFeast and so I decided to have another one to compare with my now distant memory of a BK Veggie Burger.

    I stopped at McDonalds and got this:

    BK Veggie Burger

    The burger unwrapped

    With the box opened the McFeast looked like an average burger in a sesame bun; by which I mean that it didn’t shout “Look at me, I’m vegetarian”.

    The burger inside

    This didn’t disappoint in the way that the burger from Burger King had. The salad looked substantial. The cheese waited in place. Sauce and mayonnaise fell everywhere. The bun felt big in my hands, like a McFeast should.


    I bought a burger on its own this time. I didn’t feel the need for fries and a drink. The McFeast on its own cost 4.10€.

    The burger contains 494 calories and includes 13g of protein, 49g of carbohydrates, 11g of sugar and 26g of fat. It also contains 1.4g of salt.

    Nothing felt wrong with the Kasvis McFeast when I started to eat it. The vegetable patty did not taste noticeably different. In other words it did not stand out but felt convincingly tasteless. It acted as an ideal anchor for the salad and condiments. By the time I had finished I felt full but not bloated. I didn’t feel let down, or robbed of the real experience.

    My memory seemed accurate. I still prefer a Kasvis McFeat to a BK Veggie Burger. It has just enough extra in it to make a noticeable difference. Did I find the patty better at McDonalds. Possibly I did, but that may simply reflect that it had more to hide behind in the McFeast. The addition of cheese made an unexpectedly large difference in pushing the experience of chewing the patty itself into the background.

    Finally I found that the advantage I discovered when ordering the BK Veggie Burger still stood. They didn’t have a Kasvis McFeast ready on the serving hatch and so they had to make one freshly. I had another hot burger in the best possible condition.

    Fast Veg 02: McDonalds

    Apparently I don’t eat burgers very often, even for research purposes. I posted my first report in this series from Burger King on February 23rd, and the second one, from McDonalds, on May 18th . The purpose of doing this, as I explained in the first note, involves testing the hypothesis that “taking the meat out of fast foods need do nothing much to either the taste or the subjective experience”.

    Today I have entered Hesburger, the Finnish owned fast food chain, to eat their vegetarian burger. I anticipate something interesting because, in the past, their vegetarian burgers have differed considerably from the other chains. For the last couple of years they offered a falafel burger which I never got round to tasting before they replaced it with something newer and, possibly, trendier.

    I go to the counter and order a kaurahärkäpapuhampurilainen ateria.

    According to Hesburger’s website

    Tämä trendiherkku sisältää härkäpapu-kaura-porkkanapihvin lisäksi tomaattia, jäävuorisalaattia, maustekurkkua ja sipulia. Majoneeseina Hesburgerin paprika- ja kurkkumajoneesi.

    Hyvää kasviproteiinia tarjolla!

    According to my approximate translation we learn here that

    this trendy delicacy consists of a steak made from broad bean, oats and carrot, accompanied by tomato, iceberg lettuce, pickled gherkin and onion. It includes Hesburger’s paprika and cucumber mayonnaise.

    Good vegetable protein on offer!

    How can I possibly resist an offer like that?

    Hesburger 2017 Veggie Burger

    The burger unwrapped

    With the paper wrapper opened the burger looked like a usual Hesburger burger in a defiantly sesame-free bun. It came in a cardboard tube to stop it falling apart in the wrapper. I removed this before taking the photograph.

    The burger inside

    The cardboard tube that housed the burger came off covered in sauce. I soon realised the reason for this: the burger itself contained a very generous, perhaps over-generous, serving of Hesburger’s secret sauce (available in bottles in Finnish supermarkets), some of it hidden out of sight below the lettuce. The burger looked solid, in a good way, the sauce seemed satisfactory, and I certainly couldn’t fault either the tomato or the lettuce.

    When I started eating, the burger felt and tasted quite different from the previous two. It did not feel at all soggy or sloppy and had a distinctive crunchy texture somewhere inside it. I don’t mean that the burger itself felt crunchy, although it did feel pleasantly solid. Rather it felt as though it housed crunchy bits in the way that some chocolate bars do; and this noticeably added to the mouth feel.

    It also had an interesting and pleasant after-taste which lingered for some time.


    The meal cost 7.60€. It consisted of the burger, fries, and a Coke Zero Sugar.

    The burger contains 616 calories and includes 14.6g of protein, 59.9g of carbohydrates, 9.1g of sugar and 37.4g of fat. It also contains 1.8g of salt.

    When I looked up the figures afterwards I found that I had guessed correctly. I had not imagined the differences I noticed. This burger had a very different composition to the other two. At Burger King the vegetarian option weighed in at 390 calories with 22g of protein and 42 grams of carbohydrates. At MacDonalds the Vegetable Feast weighed in at 494 calories and included 13 grams of protein and 49 grams of carbohydrates.

    Hesburger, then, gave me lots more calories, a middling amount of protein and a load more carbohydrates than the others. Maybe that explains why it had a distinct taste rather than just acting as filling for the bun, and why it simply tasted so good!

    It might also explain why I still felt full several hours later, an experience I did not have on either of the previous occasions.

    As on the previous occasions they had to make the vegetarian burger to order, and so it arrived as fresh and hot as it could possibly get.

    I had found it difficult to really distinguish between the offerings from Burger King and McDonalds. I had no difficulty distinguishing Hesburger’s burger from the previous two.

    Did I enjoy it more than the other two? Very definitely.

    Would I eat one again? Absolutely.

    Fast Veg 03: Hesburger

    We have come to The Mall of Travancore, the new mall at the edge of Trivandrum. According to the website it offers “a complete mall experience to the capital city. Situated at NH bypass, Chakkai Junction, it is located right next to the international airport. Spread across 7 acres and a built up area of close to 7 lakh sq ft, the mall will have more than 300 brands in over 150 stores”.

    We have suddenly become very hungry. We decide to go to the McDonalds in the mall to see what an Indian McDonalds offers in 2019. I have a Veg Maharaja Mac, which comes like this:

    The burger unwrapped

    With the box opened the burger sits there looking perfectly normal, but overflowing with shredded lettuce. The sesame seeds add a nice touch.

    The burger inside

    I take the top off and the top pattie comes with it. The pattie will turn out to feel crisp on the outside and slightly soft and moist on the inside. It holds together and certainly doesn’t start to fall apart or break into pieces. I can see onion amidst the salad, and a thick sauce too.

    The burger has a cardboard tube around it to keep it all together. It needs it because this package houses the two patties and the middle section of bun that a proper Big Mac should have.

    The verdict

    The meal cost 204 rupees, or approximately three euros. It tasted fine.

    The Maharaja Mac had a pleasantly spicy taste and the pattie turned out to contain cheese and corn. The sauce resembled cocktail sauce (of prawn cocktail fame) but it fitted in remarkably well with the corn and cheese burger.

    Overall it gave a satisfying mouth-feel. The fries and the soda water seemed the same as you might find at a McDonalds in Helsinki or London. It had no sliced tomato, but the crunchy onion made up for that.

    I enjoyed it. I would eat one again quite happily if I found myself feeling hungry in a mall in India.

    Fast Veg 04: Maharaja Mac

    We have come to Honolulu to celebrate what should have been Auo’s eighteenth birthday. Wandering along the beach road in Waikiki I spotted a Burger King, and I remembered something I had read on the flight here. From last week the Impossible Whopper ceased its limited trial runs and became available at all Burger King restaurants across the USA.

    Today I have walked down Kuhio and Kalakaua again to find the Burger King and try one for myself.

    I order an Impossible Whopper and it arrives in the same kind of wrapping as a regular Whopper, albeit with a snazzy new logo.

    The burger unwrapped

    With the box opened the burger sits there looking perfectly normal. It smells like a Whopper and has no obvious distinguishing features.

    I will note that this small Burger King has only three people on duty: a man on the front desk, a woman cooking, and a second woman preparing and cleaning. From where I stand I can see each burger getting individually prepared. I watch my patty as it cooks.

    The burger inside

    I take the top off the Whopper and what I can see inside looks exactly like an average meat Whopper. I see lettuce and mayonnaise, pickles and tomato, and a patty. Everything seems present and correct.

    The burger half-eaten

    I don’t normally include this kind of picture, but this time the nature of the Impossible hype compels me to.

    I have had two big bites of my sandwich and chewed and swallowed them. I hold up my burger and see something very like this. The patty looks exactly like a regular patty. I note that it tastes exactly like one too.

    The verdict

    In the context of a fast food sandwich the Impossible Whopper works with astonishing success. If I suffered from paranoia (and hadn’t eatched the patty emerge from a different drawer to the others) I would suspect they had run out of supplies and given me a regular burger instead, thinking that I wouldn’t notice the difference.

    The patty does not have any give-away differences, in terms of taste and texture, in the way that, say, the one in a McVegan does. Afterwards I notice that it has even left the same kind of bits between my teeth that a meat burger would.

    Whether you regard this as good or not depends on what you think about Whoppers, and fast food burgers in general. The Impossible Whopper does not offer any health benefits, and doesn’t pretend to: it contains as much calories, fat and salt as regular Whoppers. It also requires at least as much processing. It does, however, avoid involving any cattle in the process, with any or all the benefits that might imply.

    The Impossible Whopper cost $8.99 (or $11.99 if you opt for a meal, which I didn’t). That costs $1 more than a regular Whopper, although several “special deals” offer ways of getting regular burgers and meals cheaper.

    I liked it. I definitely found it the tastiest fast veg burger yet; and, yes, I would have one again with no hesitation.

    Fast Veg 05: Impossible Whopper

    I learned last Sunday that Burger King had introduced a new vegan burger to Finland: the Rebel Whopper. I went home and googled and discovered from Bloomberg that

    Burger King started offering its meat-free Rebel Whopper across Europe on Tuesday in one of the largest product launches in its history and the first big restaurant deal for Unilever’s plant-based patty.

    Now available in more than 2,500 Burger King outlets in 25 countries on the continent, the Rebel Whopper features a patty made by The Vegetarian Butcher, a Netherlands-based manufacturer of faux meat products bought by Unilever at the end of 2018.

    I also learned that Burger King have classified the Rebel Whopper as “almost vegan” because they have decided that they will cook them on the same grill as the meat burgers, and so they may get mild contamination

    Today I went to the centre and walked into the Church of Burger King, in Rautatientori, to try one for myself.

    I order a Rebel Whopper meal, and the burger arrives in the same kind of wrapping as a regular Whopper, albeit with a snazzy new logo (but not the same one as the Impossible Whopper I had in Honolulu in the summer).

    The burger unwrapped

    With the wrapping opened the burger sits there looking pretty much like any other Whopper. It has no obvious distinguishing features.

    In the brief period that I waited I noticed plenty of other people ordering them so, for the moment at least, they have achieved lift-off.

    The burger inside

    I take the top off the Whopper and, just as with the Impossible Whopper what I can see inside looks exactly like a meat Whopper. I see lettuce and mayonnaise, pickles and tomato, and a patty. Everything seems present and correct. I notice that the burger itself has the traditional striped grill marks and crumbles around the edges like a meat Whopper.

    I should point out that much of the garnish has clung to the upper bun. When I put them back together the Whopper contains pickles, lettuce, onions, and lots of tomato, as well as non-vegan mayo that you can ask to have left out, if you are so inclined.

    The verdict

    What I said about the Impossible Whopper in the summer remains true here: in the context of a fast food sandwich it works with astonishing success. As previously, I notice afterwards that my Rebel Whopper has even left the same kind of bits between my teeth that a meat burger would.

    How do the two compare? Frankly I find this impossible to say. I would need to eat them one after the other to spot the differences. This must, then, mean that the differences do not amount to anything large. Both worked excellently as burger fillings, and both Whoppers looked and tasted like a Whopper-lover would expect.

    I would certainly have one again. In fact I might even say that I would feel more tempted to visit Burger King for an emergency intake of fast food, now that I know that I can get a Rebel Whopper all over Europe.

    The Rebel Whopper meal cost 8.45€ and I did not look to see what the Whopper would cost on its own.

    Fast Veg 06: Rebel Whopper

    McDonalds launched the McVegan in Tampere in 2017 as a test, and then launched it in Finland and Finland on Thursday, December 28, 2017. I duly went and ate one, photographed it, and forgot to write it up. Subsequently I deleted the photographs as well.

    Recently I learned on the web that McDonalds now have a new, improved “proper” Impossible-style vegan burger in Germany called the Big Vegan TS. Armed with this information I made an effort to seek out and gulp down a second McVegan before they disappear forever.

    I ate this one in Rautatientori, with fries and a Coke Zero.

    Unlike the other burgers I have tested this year the McVegan came in a cardboard box.

    The burger unwrapped

    With the wrapping opened the burger sits there looking pretty much like any other burger. It has no obvious distinguishing features.

    I sniffed it but to no avail. I got a standard response from my noise. Fast food, my nose said.

    The burger inside

    I took the top off as I usually do, and found the standard stuff you would expect to find, in the kind of quantities that you might term generous, if you felt generous.

    The McVegan does in the guise of a standard burger, so it does not contain the extra garnished that you would expect to find in the premium range. Unlike the Rebel Whopper, it does not aspire to the status of a McFeast, for example.

    The verdict

    I felt slightly disappointed when I had my first McVegan a year or so ago. Partly, I suspected, because it does not aspire to premium status, which seems like a shame. It replaced a perfectly acceptable Vegetable McFeast which did have all the big tomatoes and onions that you might want inside your bun.

    This time I knew approximately what to expect, and so I felt no disappointment. In fact, it tasted better than I had expected. The McVegan has soy as its prime ingredient and seems, to me at least, to have a faint aftertaste of Marmite, which might hint at the presence of yeast somewhere in the recipe. As a Marmite lover I do not find this a disadvantage.

    The burger feels substantial in your mouth, although it does not really make much of an effort to imitate meat. Which you might find a good thing. It works as the patty in the bun, without leaving faux bits of “meat” between your teeth as both the Impossible and Rebel Whoppers did.

    The McVegan meal cost 5.45€ and the McVegan would cost 3€ if you purchased it on its own.

    Would I eat it again? Yes, in the right circumstances.

    These would include feeling hungry, feeling happy with fast food, and failing to see a Burger King anywhere in the vicinity.

    Fast Veg 07: McVegan

    I realised over the weekend that I had completely forgotten that vegetarians exist.

    Last week we found ourselves passing through Rautatientori, and we paused briefly for a juusto-veke or two at Hesburger. Priced at 1€, and apparently available for only a few weeks, they seemed too good an opportunity to miss. I wondered, while eating, whether the “juusto” consisted of real cheese or vegan cheese. And what about the mayonnaise? I worried about this apparent lack of attention to detail.

    While walking on Saturday, it suddenly occurred to me the extent to which veganism has become the new normal. For years vegetarians struggled to avoid meat, without even considering not eating, butter, cheese, and eggs. Vegetarians presumably still exist, and continue to avoid eating meat while happily having butter, cheese and eggs. They just don’t make the news anymore.

    Hesburger presumably intend this cheap but tasty snack for vegetarians. I should therefore probably stop worrying about the provenance of the cheese and just enjoy the lack of cow.

    Today I stopped in the shops above Kaisaniemi metro for a quick juusto-veke, while on my way to a seminar that did not actually exist. The burger came in a standard Hesburger paper wrapping; this one in a dark brown and white.

    I think I expected some sort of green.

    The burger unwrapped

    Once I have opened the paper the burger sits there looking like one of the bargain burgers available from all the chains. Visually it resembles a McDonald’s cheeseburger.

    The bun steams slightly and gives off the smell you expect when you unwrap a burger: not meat exactly, or not meat at all.

    The burger inside

    Opening the burger as always, I notice the complete lack of salad. The tiny piece of lettuce I noticed when I opened the wrapper turns out to have little or nothing to do what I will shortly eat. It only appeared to peep out of the burger.

    This really does resemble a McDonald’s cheeseburger in its design. It does, however, contain a slice of cheese, a generous helping of vegetarian mayonaise, some ketchup, and several slices of gherkin.

    The verdict

    The juusto-veke makes no attempt to act premium. It does not even aspire to the status of a McVegan. Nonetheless it does what it sets out to do: it gives you a cheap fill.

    At 1€ you shouldn’t expect anything more, and if you think “cheeseburger” you will probably get a pleasant surprise. The patty contains no soya, but consists of peas and beans mashed together. It doesn’t taste much like meat but, spiced up with the crunchy pickles and mayonnaise, it tastes pleasant enough – and it maintains a burger patty consistency.

    You can get the full meal for 4€ and personally I hope Hesburger keep it on the menu. I would certainly prefer it to a 1€ chocolate bar, every now and then.

    Fast Veg 08: Hesburger’s juusto-veke

    I found myself in Rautatientori, between meetings and lunchless, the other day. I had to choose between Hesburger and McDonalds. Hesburger had renovation going on all around it, so I chose McDonalds, expecting a McVegan.

    Imagine my surprise when I saw that McDonalds have tweaked their strategy. They have introduced “limited edition” premium meals that come and go, never to reappear. This month they have The Piquant Burger, and it comes in three varieties: beef, chicken and veggie.

    Knowing that I would have nothing else to eat until supper I ordered a Piquant Veggie meal. It came in an impressive black, shiny Limited Selection by McDonalds box.

    I could feel the surprise building up.

    The burger unwrapped

    I opened the box to discover that the burger came in an inner wrapper, telling me in a classic-looking font that it had “Great Taste In Every Bite”. This did not completely surprise me, because Finnish people usually wrap a napkin around their burger to avoid any indiscreet direct hand/burger contact. I remember finding this very odd when I first observed it as a newcomer. Even though I still can’t quite bring myself to do it, I now find it normal when other people do.

    This burger comes with its own contact-avoiding inner wrapper. Luxury, indeed!

    The burger itself looks like a standard premium burger, in a sesame bun and well-stuffed with salad. By a wonderful coincidence a man sits down next to me with a Piquant Chicken and I peer at it as he opens the box. It looks no different to my Piquant Veggie.

    The burger inside

    Once opened up for inspection it becomes clear the the piquant-ness comes from the picked red onion that fills the top half of the bun. The rest is as you would expect: a big slice of big tomato, a cheese slice, a fair amount of lettuce, a large patty.

    Once reassembled, and removed from its wrapper for full hand contact, it behaves and tastes just as it should. It acts like a premium McDonalds burger that just happens not to contain any meat.

    The verdict

    By the time I had finished eating it I still had no idea what the patty contained. It did not have the mouth feel of the new technopatties that sit inside Impossible Whoppers and Rebel Whoppers. It might have contained soya, or oats, or peas, or anything else that non-meat patties contain. In the context in which it sat it really did not matter.

    The point of the Piquant Veggie lay entirely at the piquant end of the taste spectrum, and I genuinely doubt if the meat added anything at all to the experience. The piquant end of the taste spectrum turned out to offer a nice sharp experience, somewhat like adding sourkraut to a burger. I liked it.

    I also liked the idea of offering a vegetarian version of the current big deal. This seems to me the direction that restaurants should move in. Just as supermarkets in Finland no longer have vegetarian or vegan aisles, but have decided to put the vegan “sausages” alongside the meat sausages, so restaurants should offer to replace the meat with a plant-based option rather than offering special “alternatives”.

    On the way out I looked at the menu board and saw that McDonalds have already started down this path. The El Maco started out as a limited edition, got brought back a few times because of its popularity, and has become (in Finland at least) a regular fixture on the menu. When I looked it now sits alongside the El Veggo, which claims the status of completely vegan.

    I might try that next!

    The Piquant Veggie meal cost 8.95€. The Piquant Veggie costs 5.95€ on its own.

    Fast Veg 09: Piquant Veggie

    Yesterday was Father’s Day and a box of socks and a bottle or two of aftershave were mine! I also got a strikingly strange card from Auo whose imagination takes many odd turns.

    The front of my Father's Day card

    The card appears to show a possibly vampiric girl facing away from us about two metres to the right of a small but blazing cross. The effect is spooky in an indeterminate way.

    I was impressed and amused.

    Father’s Day 2012

    In her column in The Guardian on Friday 22 April 2005, Polly Toynbee discussed the fact that, despite strong indications that crime is steadily dropping in Britain, fear of lawlessness is a major factor in the then-current general election campaign.

    She quotes a story from the autobiography of former Metropolitan police commissioner Robert Mark to illustrate her point. In it, according to Polly Toynbee:

    He writes cheerily of “the odd brawl and punch-up” when patrolling the city centre at weekends in strength “because drunks frequently started fights and a good time was had by all”. Jovially he recounts a “funny” story: “One Friday night an enormous navvy pushed the head of a constable through a shop window and started quite a battle in which uniformed and plain clothes men cheerfully joined in … it grew to quite serious proportions, stopping the traffic … the crowd was jeering and becoming unpleasantly restive.” So what did he do? He took out his illegal rubber truncheon and gave the offender “a hefty whack on the shin”, which broke his leg.

    In court the prisoner with his leg in plaster was fined “the customary 10 shillings” for this routine Saturday night fight. But Mark’s point is: “Far from there being any hard feelings he greeted me cheerfully and we went off for a drink together. Nowadays, of course, it would mean a complaint, an enquiry, papers to the director of public prosecutions. Not that I didn’t deserve it, but times were different, thank goodness.”

    Her point is that:

    People hitting each other was more frequent and more acceptable than now. Yet 48% of “violent” crime reported in yesterday’s figures caused no injury whatsoever. These shock-horror reports about bingeing Britain are certainly right about more booze consumed in these full-employment times, right that most violence is drunk young men hitting each other, but devoid of any historical perspective on street brawling.

    A general lack of historical perspective is, arguably, one of the consequences of the radical monopoly exerted by the information industries of both the corporate and state agencies. And the numbing occlusion of life under radical monopoly is something that hardly anybody seems willing to talk about.

    Fear of Lawlessness vs Lawlessness

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  • February 2020

    During this year’s edition of the Pixelache Festival Owen and Oliver conducted a curious workshop. It combined two seemingly disconnected activities: Making DIY Facecream and Making Collective Decisions. Within the framework of Convivial Mechanics this combination nevertheless made perfect sense. Both activities try to understand the “recipes” or the “source code” of making things: material things like face cream or abstract things like decisions. If you understand the “source code” you can hack, adapt and improve those “recipes”.

    What do we mean by Convivial Mechanics? According to a definition we wrote elsewhere

    Convivial mechanics names a hypothetical branch of science and artistic research that explores the existence of natural limits on human behaviour, both material and social; researches the implications of conviviality for cultural democracy; and applies this to the design, construction and operation of digital tools that will serve the aims of a reborn and convivial sufficiency.

    The Performance

    Owen surprised the crowd by demonstrating the making of a green tea flavoured face cream with a cheerful cooking show eloquence. He also surprised everyone with a collective realisation of how simple a process you need to make face cream, or in fact any cosmetic cream. He used a recipe that he had combined from several sources that he had found on the web. The basis of this combination revolved around the possibility of sourcing all the ingredients locally or from local shops.

    While the freshly cooked cream cooled off, the workshop headed into more contested waters. After Oliver introduced two models of collective decision making process – including the major pitfalls or traps that can lead to poor decisions – everyone present tested several methods. The group had a task to collectively decide how to spend 100 EUR. They could choose to spend the money within the group; to donate it for a cause; or to devise something completely different.

    The first method used involved 1 person one vote. The second method involved dotmocracy in which each person has 3 votes. Both methods produced the same winning decision: to spend the money within the group. Interestingly the proposal that received 0 votes with the first method, became a close second under the rules of dotmocracy.

    In the second phase each participant made one concrete proposal about how to spend the 100 Euro. Proposals ranged from “distribute the money evenly between the group” to “buy icecream” to “buy beer and gasoline, drink the beer, make molotov cocktails from the empty beer bottles, and start a riot” We then attempted to test two decision making processes. First we played Instant Run Off, which starts with 1 person one vote, after which the two proposals with the most votes face off in a second round, where again everyone has one vote. This process seemed to go smoothly and we produced a winning proposal without major issues.

    The second decision making method focused on a consensus process. It immediately became apparent, that the previous decision reached through the Instant Run-Off actually actually had only lukewarm support in the group. Participants then divided into two groups in which they discussed their individual proposals to see if they could combine them, or to see if new collective ideas would emerge. The new or modified proposals then got written on a gradient of agreement scale.

    Each participant could vote on each of the proposals and mark their support for each proposal. Since the gradients of agreement included a BLOCKING vote the process drifted apart and became a blocking game.

    Whenever an agreement on a proposal occurred, one participant chose the block option. Since no agreement could arise the appropriate decision would have involved letting things cool off for a while and then meeting later to restart the process. However since we had a deadline, the second best choice would have involved picking one of the proposals by random.

    Eventually we decided by dictatorship. Oliver gave the money to Timo to buy something for everyone that they wanted from the shop. It seemed the most obvious solution, and in that way the process failed, since it did not produce a surprising outcome.

    So what did we learn from this experience?

    The Face Cream Recipe

    What You Need:
    .25 oz (by weight!) bees wax. Grate the wax, or you can buy it in pellets. Avoid wax made for candles, as it can be mixed with other things and be scented. 100% pure bee wax is what we’re after here.
    1 oz almond oil (I order on Amazon)
    1 oz coconut oil
    1/4 tsp Rose Hip Seed Oil (I got mine at Amazon)
    1 packet organic green tea
    Sterilized container to store lotion in
    A chocolate melter or double boiler
    A deep, heavy cup and a hand mixer
    Fine sieve or tea strainer
    How To Make It
    Clean and sterilize all of your equipment. This lotion has a longer shelf life because it is oil only, but we don’t want to create a breeding ground for bacteria.
    Combine wax and oils in a double boiler or chocolate melter. Allow everything to melt together.
    Open the tea bag and pour loose tea into the oils. Let the mixture warm and extract from the tea for 15 minutes.
    Strain oil mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a deep cup. (I used a pyrex measuring cup.)
    Whip the mixture with your hand mixer, periodically scraping down the sides, until lotion is room temperature and creamy.
    Store green tea face cream lotion in a cool dark place. Keep in mind that lotions have a shelf life. Do not use anything that looks or smells wrong. That said, oil only lotions have a very long shelf life.

    The Decision-making Lessons

    LESSON 1: one person one vote in a democracy can really prove misleading about the group’s preferences.

    LESSON 2: Consensus takes time! A lot more time than simple majority votes.

    LESSON 3: More time doesn’t help per se. The consensus process needs to be well facilitated, it doesn’t just happen by itself. Especially it needs to have good tools for transforming the the initial individual ideas into more interesting and diverse collective ideas.

    In our case this process was not especially facilitated and we had little time, which created confusion. In a consensus process a certain level of frustration and confusion might prove inevitable and even desired, because of a wide range of ideas and proposals and a long deliberation process. However this process must find a closure in which divergent opinions come together in a satisfactory conclusion.

    LESSON 4: A consensus process may not always prove desirable, especially with a deadline looming, or with little available data. In such cases a random choice might prove better for the group dynamics.

    LESSON 5: Gradients of agreement offers a useful tool to visualize the preferences of a group,and proved far better than Instant Run Off or dotmocracy.

    LESSON 6: If we attempt to build a consensus, the BLOCK option in the decision making process needs careful consideration, because it can lead to troll behaviour, and as a result to deadlock and frustration.

    We should regard it as the “nuclear” option, used only when the group has really grave concerns. Also, someone using a block vote should have to substantiate it, and give reasons that allow the group to address the concerns of the blocker. Someone might then modify the proposal and call for a re-vote. We could then consider that, in this second round of voting, the vote of the original blocker counts as a simple disagreeing vote. In this case the strict consensus changes to a super-majority vote.

    Feel the Smoothness!

    Thinking out loud:

    What we accept as normal usually serves to determine where we look when we notice a problem, and what we look for. If we think about the material costs of digitalisation we tend to despair. Everything seems bound up with everything else. Can we really about our computers and our phones? Do we really want to return to a good old days that, if questioned, we would deny ever really existed?

    Part of the problem, maybe most of the problem, lies in what we accept as normal in the process of digitalisation. We accept, through conscious and unconscious training, that the technology we use undergoes constant change through a necessary process of “innovation”. The operating systems for our phones change rapidly, the apps our phones use quickly adapt to the new operating systems, and then soon come to demand them, and we throw our phone away and purchase a new one in order to keep our apps up to date.

    The meme of constant “innovation” exists in our heads and not in our technology, and it serves the needs of manufacturers and suppliers, and not the needs of users. Bluntly it serves the needs of a capitalism that makes sense only if we regard growth as potentially infinite, which increasingly requires us to exist in a state of permanent dissatisfaction. Whatever new gadget we buy or rent exists only as a stopgap until the newer new gadget comes along – and that too, of course, exists for us only as a stopgap.

    We do not have to accept this as normal so let me suggest a thought experiment.

    We can throw ourselves behind another meme, and make a different kind of sense of the digital gadgets in our lives. We could aspire to the fifty year computer: an imaginary media infrastructure based upon the fact that the computers we have today – laptops, tablets and phones – are good enough. We can meet 90% of our human needs with these machines, and without waiting for or wanting anything “better”. We can write novels, read reports, take and process photographs, create artwork, design books, logos, and websites, play games, send and receive email, plan projects, play games, and many other activities right now. Perhaps virtual reality will offer us something usefully different, something genuinely new that we will want to take advantage of. The point still stands: everything that we have to do today we can already do without needing our hardware and software upgraded.

    The fifty year computer would offer a different approach to digitalisation, and to open source. It would challenge designers and programmers to make empowering users their central value. We could aim to improve software so that it became easier and easier to use, clearer to navigate, simpler to understand. We could aim to make sure that we conceived and designed our data formats and APIs with non-obsolescence at their heart. Our hardware and software should enable users to customise them, and to continue using them for as long as they wish. The automobile industry provides us with a model for this. Until the 1970s owners who wished to could maintain their own vehicles and customise them themselves. I have a friend who owns several old VW beetles, one from 1960, and she continues to maintain them and customise them. She can do this because the design of the car allows her to do this. Volkswagen produced it from 1938 to 2003 and, although the car changed to meet changing standards it never underwent radical “innovation” and its design remained recognisably the same both externally and mechanically. I would wager that in 2070 nobody will do this with the retro Beetle 2 introduced in 2012, which uses sealed parts that users cannot tinker with.

    The fifty year computer could follow a simple path. Its “innovation” would lie in the fact that its designers did not intend to inculcate perpetual dissatisfaction in its owners and instead allowed owners to gain expertise that, once learned, would remain relevant and current. I do not suggest that the fifty year computer would replace current computers, or that it would somehow become mandatory. I suggest that it could grow alongside current patterns of manufacture and consumption, offering a different definition of knowledge and innovation, fuelled by a desire to make money by making life easier, rather than creating profit through perpetual dissatisfaction.

    This would provide the open source movement with a challenging new path to explore. Instead of shadowing commercial software we could create software that embodied a different spirit and a different model of how the world should work. This model would offer a clear congruence with the growing realisation that we need to conserve energy, that we can no longer ignore the material repercussions of digital technology, and that we would do better to enhance human needs than to confine us in cages defined by technological possibilities.

    Fuck “innovation”, let’s innovate.

    Fifty year computer: a small idea

    Unlike many countries, Finland still has two paid-for evening newspapers, and Finns still read them.

    Tonight, at Prisma, we spot the placards. Both of them agree that Finland has shut down, following the government announcement about the state of emergency that comes into play tomorrow.

    Koko Suomi kiini indeed.

    Finland shuts down

    When Naa turned eighteen Irma took her to Chiang Mai for two weeks, to celebrate, and Auo asked where I would take her where she had her eighteenth birthday. I asked where she would like to go. “Hawaii”, she said immediately. (She did not say this randomly. She had desperately wanted to go there since she turned four.) “Okay”, I said. “Seriously?”, she asked. “Promise”, I answered.

    Now I will live up to my promise and, since Auo can no longer come, Irma will come instead. It will stand as the very last thing we can do for her before August 30, when we should have celebrated her eighteenth birthday and the start of her adulthood.

    Months ago we used our carefully saved Finnair points to upgrade our flight to Los Angeles to business class. This felt more like an emotionally complex pilgrimage than a simple vacation, and we both had mixed emotions about it, so we wanted it to feel special: as much for Auo (or our memory of her) as for us.

    We also upgraded for very practical reasons. We will fly to Honolulu early tomorrow morning, on a second long flight, and we wanted to make sure that we will get some sleep before we land in the States about 6am head-time.

    At the gate the woman checking my ticket said “Ah, you’re the one they have downgraded”. “Not me,” I said, and so they called a supervisor. I learned that Finnair had indeed decided to downgrade me: not us, just me. “The flight has been overbooked and the computer has decided that you are the most eligible for downgrading.”

    I pointed out that someone had phoned Irma late this morning to (as we understood) ask if we would downgrade because of overbooking. Irma had explained our situation; and we thought that, by the end of the conversation, the woman who phoned had accepted that she should find someone else.

    I also pointed out that the flight did not overbook itself. Someone at Finnair had overbooked it, or caused it to become overbooked, either as policy or by accident, and now Finnair expected us to pay the price for this.

    The woman at the gate agreed that business class contained other people who had upgraded: some of them travelling alone, and some of them ending their journey in LA. But “the computer” had decided to nominate me, and apparently nobody could do anything about it.

    I confess that I didn’t even know downgrading existed. Way to go, Finnair.

    However I can usually spot bullshit when I someone gives it to me, and right here, right now, I spot bullshit.

    If you overbook flights as a matter of policy then you need to have another policy in place to deal with the inevitable outcomes of the overbooking policy. If you really hand the problems you have created over to an algorithm then you need to make sure it has all the information it needs to make decisions.

    In this case, it needs to know two things at the very least: who has a travelling companion and who doesn’t, and who has an onward connection, and who doesn’t. If Finnair doesn’t have that information then it needs to find it out – by phoning all the potential candidates if necessary – before it tells “the computer” to make a decision.

    At the moment, as I write this somewhere over Norway, I realise that I have not got the sleeping cushion and neck-rest I would have brought with me if I had known I would find myself in seat 21H for the next eleven hours. I notice that the man next to me seems determined to fight for every last centimetre of the shared armrest. I will probably sleep very little, if at all.o

    Meanwhile Irma sits on her own in business class, stressed about me sitting here, and with the joy of the journey soured. She has come back several times to apologise for getting the good food, and the comfortable chair/bed. She does not feel at all happy with the situation. She will probably sleep very little, if at all.

    The advertised point of upgrading becomes meaningless if it proves a mere favour that Finnair can withdraw at any point right up to the moment that you board. I thought we had made an agreement. I guess you have some small print that absolves you of responsibility.

    Vegetarian option? Sorry sir, you need to pre-book that in economy class. Fish? Only in business class sir! Okay, no dinner for me then.

    You should never believe a favour from Finnair, it would seem, or plan under the impression that it will come true – or you might find yourself like me: on an eleven hour flight with none of the things you need, all of which you could easily have brought with you from home, if only you had known.

    Having said all this, the ground staff and the crew all behaved impeccably, and clearly felt very embarrassed about the situation.

    The woman at the airport had not made the decision but found herself having to give out the bad news and absorb our response, which had more to do with sadness and despair than any kind of entitled anger. She kindly assigned me to the Economy Plus row, so I had leg room “and free headphones”.

    The flight crew gave me a consolation glass of sparkling wine before take-off and a free wifi voucher. They did all they could, and more.

    I have no complaints about the people from Finnair that I met. None at all. I never do. I never have, in the twenty years I have used Finnair as my carrier of choice.

    My complaint lies entirely with Finnair’s apparent policy of overbooking flights (which does not happen by accident), and the disconnect between the people creating and enacting that policy, and the ground crew and flight crew left to deal with the consequences of the corporate fuck up that sometimes follows.

    Corporate fuck up indeed, Finnair.

    Now explain to me again how “refunding my points” will help me sleep tonight on this eleven hour flight, prepare me for my follow-on flight, and get our pilgrimage off to the best possible start.

    After you have done that, you might want to congratulate me on switching, years ago, to a Finnair Mastercard, precisely so I can gather points to upgrade on flights like this that feel (for whatever reason) important to me, even if not to you.

    Finally you might want to explain how I can feel certain that “upgrading” actually means that I will get upgraded.

    And stay upgraded.

    Finnair downgraded me. ”Downgraded”?!?

    When Finnair downgraded me I spent some of the flight writing a post about it. When I landed I posted a tweet linking to the article. This had several interesting consequences.

    Firstly, someone from Finnair read the tweet and responded.

    Secondly they opened a case for me, informed me that they had done so, and then unilaterally offered me a gift voucher to, in their words, “to alleviate your discontentment regarding this incident”. I confess I had not expected this and my discontent did indeed feel alleviated.

    I replied, thanking them. I asked if they could ensure that the same did not happen on our return flight. The reply said that “Unfortunately, we are unable to affect on overbooking situation procedures”.

    We then learned of someone who had been bumped from their flight entirely last week due to overbooking and had, as a result, missed the conference where they had a paper to present.

    I feel happy that Finnair responded as they did. I feel far from happy that tickets currently seem less like contracts and more like vague promises.

    Why has overbooking become an accepted practice?

    Finnair reply

    YLE online notes that

    The freesheet Metro reports on a demographic shift.
    Quoting figures from Statistics Finland, the paper notes that people born in 1948 have lost their position as the largest single age group in the country, a status held for the past 22 years.

    They have now been replaced by people born in 1963, all 75,223 of them. There are only a few hundred more 55 year-olds than 70 year-olds, but that’s enough to give them first ranking.

    At the end of September, Finland’s population stood at 5,520,535.

    Now we know.


    According to YLE on November 1st

    31,797 persons moved to Finland in 2017, which was some 3,100 fewer than the previous year. Meanwhile nearly 17,000 people left the country in 2017, or six percent more than the year before, according to Statistics Finland.

    Seventy-five percent of newcomers were foreign citizens — mostly from outside the EU — while 60 percent of emigrants were Finnish nationals. Most new arrivals hailed from Iraq (2,369 people), Syria (1,422), and Russia (1,420).

    Immigration from EU countries to Finland went down by 721 people from the previous year, reaching 12,192 in 2017.

    The state number cruncher reports that emigration to EU countries has steadied, with 11,617 people leaving Finland for other EU member states, which is just 189 persons fewer than the year before.

    The southern regions of Uusimaa and Pirkanmaa attracted the most new residents, while Kymenlaakso in the south-east had the largest relative migration loss, according to the statistics agency.

    The global shuffle continues apace…

    Finnish population

    In central Europe some countries have recorded the highest temperatures ever. In Britain people appear to die every day for reasons connected more or less directly to the heatwave.

    In Finland we have some sun, for some of the time, on some days, and a whole lot of wind on most days. Interspersed with this we have rainstorms.

    Finnish sunbathing therefore requires a different approach, and different clothing, to sunbathing in the rest of Europe.

    Finnish sunbathing

    Yesterday a European Union directive went into effect, prohibiting mobile phone carriers from charging so-called roaming charges when a subscriber leaves one country and enters another. From yesterday every subscriber should pay the same price wherever they call from in Europe.

    Finland has negotiated an exception and four Finnish phone companies – elia, Elisa, DNA and Moi Mobiili – will continue charging roaming charges for at least the next year. According to an online report by YLE, this exception springs from the work of FICORA, the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority, whose spokesperson Petri Makkonen explained:

    The aim [of the decision to allow the charges] is to ensure that domestic mobile prices do not rise. Without these exceptions, the cost of a mobile network subscription could rise hugely, and could make it impossible for [Finnish] operators to continue offering their customers unlimited data.

    The same report suggests that

    Finnish mobile customers use more data than any other country in the world. According to a survey carried out last year, Finnish residents consume an average 7.2 gigabytes of mobile data every month. By comparison, the figure in second-place South Korea was 3.8 gigabytes.

    The same study, carried out by telecoms competition specialist Tefficient, found that when compared to other EU countries, mobile data in Finland is relatively cheap, too.

    Most Finnish phone companies offer plans with unlimited data, so perhaps the continuation of roaming charges may prove a price worth paying unless you spend half of every week in Germany or Spain. I don’t.

    Finns & mobile data

    Everybody should read Roger Johansson’s 456 Berea Street blog, for its hints and notes about web design. It is a treasure trove of information. Today Roger posted links to two posts by Vitaly Friedman, whose own site is also worth checking out at regular intervals.

    One is called 25 Best-Quality Free Fonts, and is a carefully drawn-up list of useful fonts that are available for download.

    The other is a later page entitled 19 More Free Quality Fonts.

    There is also a post on Vitaly’s blog that points to a set of free mini-icons that can be downloaded from The icons look like this:

    The post also contains a comprehensive list of links to other (not always free) sets of mini-icons.

    Fonts: free & high quality

    Food trucks seem a big deal in Hawaii, or at least on the island of Oahu.

    We made our first sightings at a street festival on Kalakaua Bvd the Friday after we arrived. The police had closed the road to traffic and the trucks and stalls arrived. They prepared and served everything from shrimps and fish tacos to chicken and ribs.

    Shrimps and fish tacos also seem a very big deal on Oahu. We discovered this for ourselves when we stopped at Mikes in Kalkua on the North Shore.

    My garlic shrimps swam in a lake of oil, with cabbage somewhere at the bottom. The oil seemed designed to soak into the big balls of rice that accompanied them. The locals tucked in heartily, as we gathered that they did regularly. I approached with somewhat more caution.

    The shrimps tasted delicious, but unfortunately I had considerably more oil lapping around the rice islands than I could manage.

    Some trucks move and some obviously sit unmoving wherever they have landed. Mike’s contained both kinds, and I saw a whole carpark of permanent trucks in the “historic town of Haleiwa”, all offering shrimp or chicken or tacos.

    Finally, just as we left, I saw my final food truck: an unmoving three wheeler by gate C3 at the airport, selling several different kinds of hot dogs.

    Food trucks in Hawaii

    I spent much of yesterday at a symposium in Newcastle, where we talked about the community arts movement, its place in history, and things that followed from that. At some point somebody used the expression “Sunny Jim”, while telling a story, and somebody else wondered out loud where that expression came from.

    Quick as a flash, and without even thinking about it, I said “Force Flakes”, and everybody looked at me oddly. “High o’er the fence leaps Sunny Jim, Force are the flakes that power him”, I continued.

    I first came across Force Flakes as a student at Keele in the Potteries where I found it in a small grocery store, and switched to eating it and saving the boxes.

    I had spent all the time since then thinking that the cereal originated in England (it didn’t) and that Sunny Jim first appeared as the mascot for Force Flakes (he didn’t). I looked up Force Flakes in Wikipedia and found that it has a much more convoluted and interesting history than I suspected.

    I also remember liking the idea of the Sunny Jim doll that you could obtain by sending in packet tops. The doll had a wonderfully Edwardian air to it because you received it as a cloth kit that you sewed together and then stuffed.

    Not so long ago, after it had disappeared from the market Nestle bought the brand and tried to reinvigorate it in England to no avail. Not enough people remembered it to make it trendily retro and, without knowing anything about its history, the packaging took on a vaguely baffling air.

    Sunny Jim has finally gone to sleep.

    Force Flakes

    An example of yogic thinking

    A Sufi tradition advises us to speak only after our words have managed to pass through four gates.

    At the first gate, we ask ourselves, “Are these words true?” If so, we let them pass on; if not, back they go. At the second gate we ask; “Are they necessary?” At the third gate we ask; “Are they beneficial?” and at the fourth gate, we ask, “Are they kind?”

    If the answer to any of these is no, then what you are about to say should be left unsaid.

    The image was created on an iPad 2 using iOrnament, which is more useful, and has considerably more depth, than it might first appear.

    Four gates

    Kochi Fort, Kochi, 18:30


    Sreni collected us at 8:00 for what was advertised as a drive of almost six hours. After an hour we stopped for a Kerala breakfast at a restaurant called Al Saj, in Kazhakutton. The breakfast was served in smaal outdoor cabins, each of which held up to six people. We ate with our fingers. We had appam, which are slightly sticky half-globe pancake-esque things made from rice flour, served with chicken curry and vegetable curry, with a sweet chai tea and chappatis.

    We arrived at Kochi seven and a bit hours later, and checked into the Hotel White Rose, in T. M. Mohammad Road, which was perfectly acceptable. It was clean and quiet with air conditioning and a working fridge in each room.

    Then we drove to Jewtown to look at the oldest synagogue in India, which was closed because it was Friday. We spent a couple of hours dealing with the official traders, during which Irma bought some door knobs and an old wall plaque.

    As we walked past a disused building we stopped to look at an exhibition that was part of the Biennale. The building had been taken over entirely for a show by, dedicated to, dissident Burmese artists, celebrating the role they played in the 8888 uprising.

    The girls were desperately hungry so we walked to Café Crafters, where I had a Jewtown Club Sandwich, Irma had a chicken burger and the girls had fish fingers and chips.

    Now we have driven to Kochi Fort, the island that houses the Chinese fishing nets that everyone photographs, including me. We are walking along a very large fish market where the stalls will cook the fish while you wait, and give you a takeaway meal. Interestingly, some of the stalls offer free wifi while you wait.

    As I take my photograph a large cargo ship sails by. The exposure is so long that the boat dissolves into a streak of lights.

    We will soon discover that our hotel is five minutes walk or less from the fishing nets, and also from the main venue for the Biennale. We will go to our rooms, get washed and fall asleep in seconds.

    Friday January 4

    Outside Arcada, 15:00


    I completed my first week cycling to the metro station by cycling to the metro station and getting there at exactly the right moment to catch the train. This was better than the nine minute wait yesterday.

    I spent the morning running the first session of Web Analysis in which I explained about Omtänk and then gave a ninety minute lecture on the history of modern media. More specifically I talked about The Electric Age which began in 1884 with the first street light in Wabash Indiana.

    At 13:00 I had a tutorial and at 14:00 I attended the monthly Rector’s Coffee to check up on everyone else’s grant applications. After a slice of cheesecake I went down to the IT office and got my new phone: a Microsoft Lumia 650. This replaced the old Samsung which has lain in a drawer for two years, and is now deemed a security risk. I am checking out the Lumia and it seems quite nice. Before deciding whether to use it or keep using the Clie I bought in Berlin, I have gone outside to test how it works as a wifi hotspot. It is lying in the grass while I am standing with my iPad, out of the range of Arcada’s wifi.

    It works. I is also the lightest phone I have ever held. I am going to use it.

    When I have cycled home we will go to Prisma for weekend shopping and plants.

    Friday, April 1

    The sky above Europe, 11:00


    This morning we woke at 7:00. Irma packed the meats and cheeses from the fridge, we washed, and the four of us were outside at 7:45 waiting for our taxi. 

    It arrived one minute early, driven by a very talkative Catalan woman. Irma practised her Spanish all the way to the airport.

    We had breakfast in McDonalds, because it seemed to be the fastest way to get served coffee. I had the first Egg McMuffin I have had in a decade. I think the last one I had was in Honolulu in 2003.

    We boarded the plane at 9:50 and most of us went straight back to sleep.

    Now I have woken up to find us flying over the mountains where the Lufthansa co-pilot committed suicide last week, taking all his passengers and the rest of the crew with him. Happily for us, we seem to be maintaining a sensible altitude.

    At Helsinki our bags will be almost first to arrive and we will march outside, say goodbye to Sampo, and wait for the 520 bus to Itäkeskus, which will arrive two minutes later.

    Once we have unpacked and dusted, Jana will phone to say that we can collect the cat, and Sunshine will be collected. It will arrive at 19:00 desperate to go into the garden while we are desperate not to wait up until 1:00 to let it back in. 

    We will compromise by refusing to let it out.

    Friday, April 10

    Itis, 17:20


    Naa stayed the night at Kamppi so I went to work on my own. I spent the morning with the XML group, who were busy developing their plans for an epub book. They are each taking one of the Oz books and using it to design the template for a complete series.

    I was on my way home when Irma phoned to ask if I wanted to meet her in Itis. Here I am, walking toward the Stockmann Crazy Days sale. She will not be there. Instead I will find her in the chemists, getting a new supply of sleeping pills.

    Oddly, Irma’s doctor never seems to give her sleeping pills, if such things exist; preferring to give her other tablets the side effects of which include sleepiness. When we get home Irma will read the instructions in the box to discover that these tablets are intended for treating schizophrenia, with side effects that, apart from drowsiness, include depression and death. She will spend some time on the phone trying to get a second opinion.

    Eventually we will learn that these tablets are quite often used as sleeping tablets in small doses. I will not find this reassuring.

    Friday, April 11

    O'Connell Street, Dublin, 18:50


    Today I repeated my Wordpress lecture to the second group of third year students. The third year students were definitely more talkative than the fourth year.

    In the afternoon I had a meeting with David Irwin, at his request. He is the Head of Humanities and he regards our partnership as the most important and successful that his department has. Since I regard it as successful and interesting we got off to a good start. He outlined various ways in which he would like to strengthen the ties, and integrate our two courses more. He finished by suggesting that he wold visit Arcada in the autumn to explore our options.

    I left ITT happy, feeling that this year’s visit had been very productive. The Wordpress sessions had made me fine-tune the presentations that I will need to give at Arcada soon, and the final meeting was a very nice bonus.

    For the first time since I have been here the sky has turned blue. I have therefore actually walked into Temple Bar and wandered along the river bank. This morning someone told me that the best fish and chip shop in town is Beshoff in O’Connell Street and I an now about to find out if this is true or not.

    I will conclude that they are better than Wednesday’s but not as good as the huge plates Auo and I had in Soho last autumn.

    Friday, April 12


    Itäkeskus metro, 8:27


    I woke up at 4:00 with a fragment of a song going round in my head. I lay there trying to expand the fragment and find the rest of the song, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. Eventually I decided that OMD had written and sung it on one of their more recent albums and went back to sleep.

    I woke up again at 7:10 with a start. The song I had had in my mind: the Flying Pickets singing Only You.

    Irma had hardly slept again and I left somewhat down into a bright blue morning. The weather had changed again and hopefully our moods will follow.

    At Itis I just miss a train and stand on the platform looking at posters for the election. A woman walks past as I photograph one set of images. These show candidates for the SDP who still lead Perusuomalainet, the right wing party making a sudden surge in the polls as people in the countryside who have never seen an immigrant come to believe that the immigrants they have never seen might change the country in a way they won’t like.

    Arcada will seem very deserted. The office will contain Jani, Monica, and me for most of the day. I will start the day by looking out of the window and wishing to go out into the chilly sun. I will contemplate a long walk and then try to settle down to do some of today’s tasks.

    I will start by opening the official video for The Flying Pickets’ Only You. I always liked the video and I will prove to have identified the song correctly. This easy win will, perhaps unsurprisingly, serve to cheer me up. I will turn my attention to more pressing issues.

    Fortunately I think I broke through in my application writing yesterday. Suddenly I will switch from feeling like I have an impossible amount to do to feeling as though I am finishing off something that only needs a little more work. I will suspect that both positions constitute forms of self-delusion, with the primary difference lying in the fact that the current delusion feels like a more comfortable fit.

    I will read through the application and fill in the remaining sections. I have not hear back Mats yet (I sent him a brief draft on Wednesday and a full draft of what I had written so far yesterday afternoon.) I will wonder whether he has not seen them or his silence constitutes his opinion of them.

    I will then receive a heavily annotated copy of the document I sent to Mats, and pause for thirty minutes to read it. I will return to my application, duplicate it in Scrivener, and get to work on version 2, making changes and changing the emphasis of some sections. I will feel very grateful for his advice.

    In the afternoon I will turn my attention to the next Miaw podcast and begin to edit it in to a state fit for publishing. This episode features our conversation with Abhijit and will prove an interesting listen.

    After thirty minutes I will find myself yearning to return to my application, and so I will. I will find a time next week, after the application deadline, to do the editing, and update my diary. Then I will read through the application again and set off on another writing spree.

    At 16:30 I will leave Arcada hoping for a peaceful and pleasant weekend. The probability that I will get one will not seem very high.

    We will go to Prisma and by 21:00 I will find myself pleasantly surprised. Fun will transpire after all.

    Friday, April 12

    Sörnainen, 7:50

    Moonshine was out all night and was unusually affectionate when it was let in this morning. Irma was up oddly early, and Auo and I left on a later bus, because she has been complaining that she has been getting to school too early.

    Now I am at Sörnainen, waiting for the tram, and Filip has joined me. I am looking around at the snow-free environment and I notice the aerial signage.

    At Arcada I will set Emma off on a documentary project about OpenSim that we will use as part of the Snowcastle Valley project, and then I will set to work on the HLM site with the aim of having the whole thing working by the time I go to Dublin on Monday. I will, of course, be distracted by the need to prepare for Dublin.

    Backups need to be made, cables and adaptors and chargers need to be found and packed, itineraries need to be checked. I will leave for home still uncertain about whether I have done everything that I intended to do, but certain that I have done most of it.

    Friday, April 13


    Arcada, 16:50


    This week I completely changed my diary habit; dropping Informant (which I have used since 2009) and switching to the much simpler Tiny Calendar. This happened as the indirect result of a time zone bug in Informant in Dubai, an ongoing problem with the Focus View, and an argument in the beta forum. Some snippily suggested I should find something else, so I did, and everything became simpler.

    This morning I began work with an event labelled “Diaries up to date”. I took this to mean two things: get rid of the extraneous category colours in Outlook, and bring this up to date. I had only made sketchy notes for the last week. I did this for ninety minutes and then I had no more to do.

    At 11:00 I recorded a five minute radio piece for two students: a soundtrack for a slide show. They had warned me to book ninety minutes for this. As I had suspected, two takes and I had it done, leaving me seventy five minutes of free time to work up some javascript examples for next week.

    I had a thesis tutorial at 13:00 and then wrote an abstract for the SPTA conference in the autumn that I had learned about in Manchester. One theme at this revolves around what we might learn from the original movement for cultural democracy. If I dont get accepted I shall lodge an official complaint.

    I carried on preparing for block 4 of Structuring Information and the wrote to Alison offering my thanks and enclosing my receipts. During this I got a surprising and delightful message from Irma, “come home now”. She made it clear that we had no emergency; she just wanted to start the weekens as soon as possible.

    I leave Arcada at 16:00 and forty minutes later find myself on the front seat of a 95 bus on my way home in the sun. I photograph the road as we approach Ring Road 1 from the bus. A woman crosses at the lights.

    We will drive to Crazy Days and then to Prisma where we will buy some wine. We will drink this while watching Steve Coogan playing Paul Raymond in an biographical film that both of us will find interesting.

    Friday, April 13


    Garden, 17:00


    Celebrating too early can lead to problems. Last night we over-celebrated the start of the holiday, after both having over-busy weeks at work, and had a great time until late into the night. As a direct result I misjudged my morning walk, did a longer one than I intended, and arrived home after Irma had finished her brunch.

    She left for the shops while I had mine alone. An argument swam just below the surface like an enemy submarine.

    Later Naa arrived and good humour surfaced again. Irma hid eggs for our traditional Easter Egg hunt. Naa got more than me as usual. Naa laid hers out on the table to photograph and upload somewhere. I walk outside and lay mine on the ground to photograph and upload here.

    In the evening we will watch The Best Ever Marigold Hotel, the holiday movie the broadcasters have prepared for us.

    We will go to bed early.

    Friday, April 14

    Henry Street, Dublin, 13:00


    We got up in time for a large Irish breakfast. Since I didn’t want bacon (because it sticks in my teeth) I got three sausages, alongside my two fried eggs, baked beans, fried tomato and toast.

    The weather is brighter than we expected and this is a day of shopping.

    We have walked down to the Spire and now we are walking along Henry Street. We have been into a number of shops and we can see Marks and Spencer in the distance. Four street artists are sitting in black outfits waiting for people to donate money. Their act seems to consist entirely of sitting still in costume and not much money is changing hands. I stand watching for fifteen minutes while Irma is shopping.

    Later we will reach the end of Henry Street and stop for an afternoon drink at The Church. Half of Dublin will be in there and all of them will be ordering cocktails. We will be sitting at the bar by the cocktail station, and we will spend an hour or more watching things being shaken until they change consistency.

    We will decide not to eat there and walk across the river into the Temple Bar area where we will eat gournet hamburgers at Bo Bo. On the way back it will start raining heavily and we will be forced to take shelter in a pub for a while.

    And then another.

    Friday, April 15

    Garden, 18:15


    This morning I was up and out first. It was cold when I left. It was damp and about to rain at Itäkeskus. It was snowing hard at Sörnäinen. The temperature was 1 degree.

    In the morning I gave the first year students attending Social Media and Web Analysis a lecture on social pools and pooling. This went a lot better than my first attempt a couple of weeks ago. I accompanied it with Ted talks by Robin Dunbar and Nicholas Christakis which made it more authoratative.

    At lunch I had a meeting with Lasse, Tore and Johan at which we ironed out the remaining wrinkles in the plan to make a permanent feature of Arcada’s teaching. I have never worked so hard while eating flounder.

    In the afternoon I had a tutorial about a Masters thesis, a Skype meeting with Jutta, and a long chat with Luke in London. I then wrote an assignment and posted it, wrote six mails, arranged a tutorial and a meeting for next week, and left for home.

    When I left for home the sky was clear, the temperature had risen, and the snow and wind had both gone.

    Now I am in the garden looking at the first real signs of Spring. Irma and Naa are visiting Irma’s father. 

    Friday, April 17

    The woods, 13:30


    Today is Good Friday and we got up very late. We have had breakfast and I have gone for a walk. I am sitting in a stone circle in the middle of the woods where, for some reason, I have never sat before. It is very peaceful and I will spend twenty minutes here.

    The sun is hot and the wind has died down. Later we will sit in the garden and have a cider, after I have got the garden chairs down. Later still we will watch television and go to bed.

    Friday, April 18

    Arabia, 7:50


    Naa was at Kamppi, so Auo and I got up and left while Irma slept.

    I am at Arabia, and for the second day in a row I stand and look at the green. Today I am also experimenting with using my new phone as a camera. Theoretically it is more powerful than my actual camera and if it is as good or better in practice then I will have one less thing to carry.

    Two days ago I used it as a camera for the first time and emailed the photograph to myself. Today I will take five minutes to install the bridging software and then drag the photos into my laptop through the USB connection.

    Friday, April 19

    Tirmobaaren, 16:12


    I woke up feeling fresh and ready for four days of doing nothing much. I went for a walk with the Flaming Lips ep Onboard the International Space Station in my earbuds. It has a bit in the middle where it sags a little, or not depending on your mood, but There should be Unicorns and the end song We A Family, where Miley Cyrus walks “onstage”, lifts it up again.

    They recorded it for Record Store Day in 2017, and I have always liked it.

    After brunch we drove to Pellinge where we sat waiting for the ferry to arrive. To our surprise we noticed that the bar had opened.

    We let Sunshine out and loaded all the food into the fridge and then decided to go to Benita’s to fill our water cannister. We knew Benita’s would open tomorrow for the Easter Market, or we thought we knew, and therefore found ourselves surprised to discover it not only the bar closed but the taps on the beach without hoses or water.

    We therefore headed back to Tirmo for water. We crossed on the ferry again and, lo and behold, we filled our cannister from the fully functional tap.

    After this, and since the Tirmobaaren had opened and we have forgotten to bring food with us, we stop for chips and beer. We see Ville and Margit, and Irma sees two people connected in one way or another to her work. I look very carefully at my beer and wonder why it tastes as it does. Either I have forgotten what beer tastes like or this beer doesn’t taste like I want it to.

    We will get on the ferry for a third time and spend the rest of the afternoon setting everything up and getting the house working. I will move things from here to there, put the bikes where they should go, and set up the chairs and table on the terrace.

    Having done all that we will then sit outside on the terrace drinking ice cold cider in very warm weather.

    No meal? We will eat sandwiches!

    ———— EXCERPT ————

    After this, and since the Tirmobaaren had opened and we have forgotten to bring food with us, we stop for chips and beer. We see Ville and Margit, and Irma sees two people connected in one way or another to her work.

    ———— TAGS ————

    Friday, April 19

    Henry Street, Dublin, 16:30

    Jutta and I had a final early breakfast and then she left for the airport. I felt as though I had a chill or flu and so I retreated to my room and tried to read.

    I couldn’t decide what was me and what was the environment. Certainly the temperature seemed to have dropped about ten degrees and I was having to sit in my room with my cardigan and jacket on.

    I left the Townhouse for a final lunch at O’Sheas to discover that it was raining very hard and there was a bleak, driving wind. Now I am out again doing my final shopping. I have been to Tesco and Boots, and I am walking back down Henry Street and about to cross O’Connell Street. The needle is in front of me. It is not raining as hard but the pavements are now very slippery.

    Later I will check in online with no way of printing the ticket but with a perfectly viewable version on the iPad. I wait with some interest to see what happens.

    Friday, April 20


    Somewhere over London, 15:52


    Last night, before I took my clothes off, I remembered that my deodorant had run out in the morning, and raced out and round the corner to get some. Tesco had Nivea Men for 4.50€. Dealz over the road (”a member of the Poundland family”) had exactly the same thing for 1.50€.

    This morning I woke early with several hours in which I had very little I needed to do. I didn’t even need to buy deodorant. I decided to start with a very large breakfast. I persuaded the young Polish cooks to replace my rasher of bacon with an extra fried egg and an extra sausage. I had that, toast, and a big pot of tea, washed down with orange juice.

    After this I walked round to Tesco and got five different cheeses for home, as well as two Irish kitchen towels from Paddywagon. I walked across Gardiner Street to the second hand bookshop and chatted to the owner. Then I went back to my miniature room, which I had grown to like, and showered and packed.

    At 11:40 Liisa appeared at the corner where we had arranged to meet and we walked down to the bus station just as a 747 appeared. Thirty minutes later we arrived at the airport.

    We avoided buying any Guinness souvenirs yesterday. At the airport we bought various unnecessary gift items including a candle and some candy. We also had lunch: ploughman’s sandwiches and banana and honey smoothies.

    The ninety minute flight from Dublin to Heathrow takes just under an hour. I have a window seat with nobody next to me. As we approach London I photograph a bend in the Thames.

    We will arrive at Terminal 1 and walk out of the airport and through a series of subways to Terminal 3 where we will re-enter the airport and go through security again. In the two hours we spend there Liisa will have a burger in the Curator Bar & Grill and I will buy a Boots Meal Deal so I can take the obligatory Lucozade bottle home. She will have a beer and I will have an apple and rhubarb fizz.

    During these two hours I will also get some Chanel perfume for Irma where, to my surprise and delight, the saleswoman will ask me if I have enough time to make my own Chanel card to go with it. I will say that I have and she will jump for joy. Apparently absolutely nobody else this week has agreed to learn how to make their own card. I will thus spend a happy ten minutes hobbying away while receiving instructions and encouragement from a young woman who has obviously received special training in this.

    Everything will go smoothly until we find ourselves sitting in our seats waiting for take-off. We have a row with an empty seat in the middle so, effectively, we have business class seating. We will sit waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Our 18:05 flight will eventually begin to taxi along the runway at 18:56, and take off two or three minutes later.

    Liisa will spend the flight watching a movie and listening to music. I will read the first four issues of God Complex: Dogma and find them much more interesting than I had expected. I will read the latest issue of Doctor Strange and find it as nonsensical as I had expected. I will love the tone, though, and really like the continuing presence of Bats, the irritated dead dog.

    We will make up most of the time we lost at Heathrow, and land at about 23:10. I will say goodbye to Liisa in the plane, race through security, and out to the road. Irma will arrive at exactly the right moment for me to leap into the car.

    We will arrive home. I will unpack. We will go to bed. Sleep will arrive immediately.

    Friday, April 20


    British Embassy, 18:40


    I got to Arcada to begin teaching. Fortunately for her, Naa arrived before the teaching started. She sat down at the spare desk next to Jutta and started reading again for her exam next week. I started lecturing to all 72 of the Social Media Analysis class.

    I took a long lunch break and raced to the centre to sign some bank papers connected to the roofing adventure. I got into the same metro as Irma.

    I arrived back at Arcada in time to meet Naa and have lunch just before the second session of Social Media Analysis began. The session had technical difficulties but I solved those by giving my conclusions first and then (after a short break) showing the two movies that should have preceded the conclusion. Everyone left happily confused.

    After a tram, metro and tram ride I got to the British Embassy to join Irma for the second time today. At the Well in the Park the bar has genuine Spitfire beer for the first time ever, and we have some. Irma and I both take photographs of various bottles and glasses in various combinations. People sit outside for the first time this year. I notice that they all appear to have thick coats on.

    We will chat with Tom and his Finnish wife, and the others we usually talk to, and then leave for an evening at home with some prosecco.

    Friday, April 21

    Puotila Metro station, 8:00


    The weather has got cold and I am standing on the platform waiting for the metro. I have just made it to the station before the damp air turned into rain or hail. I am wondering whether these windows are supposed to shine in the way that the glass on the cycle sheds does. If so then the windows are on the wrong side of the building, because I have never seen the sun pour through them. Without the sun they look faintly silly, like a child’s attempt at decoration.

    When I get to Arcada I will run the final class of the Web Analysis course, after which I will sbriefly lead an afternoon session of the Interactive Storytelling group. They will work through the editing process. We will agree on the date of a final meeting, and I will leave them to it.

    I will have lunch with Nathalie and we will go through my work for the year. Then I will return to the Interactive Storytelling group.

    Friday, April 22


    129 Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis, Paris, 18:15


    I said goodbye to Naa last night, and to Irma this morning just before I left, suitcase in hand.

    I spent the morning with the First year in the Web Analysis & Social Media class, discussing privacy and online friendship. We rehearsed the concept of social pooling, which I will be talking about tomorrow.

    After the class I finished my slides for tomorrow’s lecture and uploaded them to Dropbox. Then I left Arcada.

    I read the new draft of Anna’s thesis on the tram and bus and then, once I was through security, we had a telephone tutorial. I then phoned Naa, and left a Happy Birthday message on Facebook for Luke. I looked for Albert, who is supposed to be on the same flight as me, but didnt find him.

    I still hadn’t found him when I phoned Irma from the plane, just before switching the phone off. I eventually found Albert fast asleep with headphones on in the middle of the plane when I decided to leave my seat and walk up and down. Since I was at the back in 32D the walk took in the whole aircraft.

    When we landed, and Albert had got his luggage, we started the train adventure. We asked at the Info Desk which train we should take. Any, apparently. We queued about fifteen minutes for a ticket machine. We went down to platform 11 and 12 to wait. After fifteen minutes the notice on the screen changed. Due to an electrical fault at Gare du Nord there will be serious delays. Almost an hour later our train arrived.

    It took us some time to find the house, which is an unmarked door in a busy shopping, eating and drinking street. Once inside we got the keys from a neighbour and went inside.

    The apartment is very nice and very Parisian. It already contains an inhabitant in the form of a very lively young cat called Choco.

    By the time we have looked around it will be 20:55. The performances, which are allegedly fifteen minutes walk away, began at 20:00, so we have the choice of walking there or eating. We will walk across the road to a kebab shop and have a kebab and a can of beer, while getting involved on a televised French soccer match. The team everyone serving and eating kebabs supports will lose 5-4.

    Before going to bed we will spend an hour figuring out the wifi, which is more convoluted than one might imagine.

    Friday, April 24

    Nørregade, Odense, 16:50


    This morning I got to the Academy on my own initiative. I ate a second pate-filled breakfast, and then walked behind the bus station to the taxi rank. I arrived at 8:50 in time to find the right building on campus and walk in seconds before 9:00. when I was due to start.

    I had slightly fewer students than yesterday, because some had projects that they needed to finish for external clients. Nonetheless we had a very productive day. At lunch time, after another mountain of recognisably Danish sandwiches (which were delicious) we went to see a student presentation of the Time Machine project. They had been building prototypes of various aspects of a time machine, and so the room was full of screens showing Flash loops, as well as a vriety of controller devices.

    By the end of the workshop one group had a completed interactive story, in the form of a mobile web app, and two more groups had projects that they planned to finish next week. It was Erik’s birthday and he wanted to show me the better of the only two beer bars in Odense. We drove there and had two small drinks of exotic Danish micro-brewed beer.

    Now he has dropped me off a few hundred metres from the hotel, I have walked down the road, and now I am waiting to cross. On the far side of the road is the Cabinn hotel where I am staying, and just behind that the train station. In a few minutes I will go there and get a ticket for tomorrow.

    I will go for a Chinese meal on my own which will start with hot and sour soup which was, in fact, the only reason I choose the Chinese restaurant. I will drink a bottle of Pelligrino water which will prove more expensive than beer, but possibly more refeshing too.

    Erik and I had a long talk about Aurora’s death. In my hotel room I will sit watching all the videos I have of her, which don’t unfortunately amount to very many. Sitting in a hotel room waiting to go home is, I realise, one of the times I will miss her most. Normally I would be thinking of things to tell her and making sure I have a collection of Danish coins for her foreign moneybox. Now I am watching some video selfies she made before Christmas.

    If I will feel that I do not look forward to going home this will not mean that I don’t want to see Irma and Naa, because I very much do. It will simply be an acknowledgement that late in the evening, packing suitcases, is a time when I will be acutely aware of what will inevitably be missing when I get home.

    Friday, April 25

    Jan-Magnus Janssons plats, 14:00


    I got up, breakfasted on my own, and left early. Irma is working and home and Auo’s school starts at 10:00.

    I spent the whole morning in a departmental meeting that looked at our new development plans, with an expanded business school and a vanishing media technik course. The media teknik students will be absorbed into the new business analytics courses, and thus potentially move out of our orbit.

    Much of the morning revolved around the consequences of this. The consequences of this, of course, will not result from policy decisions or from good intentions, but from practical projects and cross departmental projects that do or don’t happen. I left the meeting concerned about what this will mean for Johnny, and for the informal team that he, Jutta and I have formed.

    I then briefly met a man from YLE, and performed a live interview with Tuulikki so that Tommy could demonstrate the multi-camera iPad app that is his latest research interest.

    The weather has been grayer this morning but, for the moment at least, the sun has returned and I am outside in the square clearing my head. The lions, as always, are asleep. Within an hour the sky will be uniformly grey and as the afternoon progresses it will darken.

    I will spend the afternoon beginning the Narrative website, while listening to Gavin Bryars’ 2007 version of The Sinking of the Titanic on headphones. I have had it for a couple of years but only listened to it a couple of times. It will sound more interesting than I was expecting, once we get past the first ten minutes of all-consuming static.

    In the evening I will continue to explore plugins with the Dynamic Websites class, while introducing them to strategies for safeguarding and securing their sites.

    Friday, April 26

    Arcada, 15:02


    I woke up at 3:00 to the sound of the first rain in a week or two. I wondered where my bicycle seat had got wet and then went straight back to sleep.

    When I left the house at 7:55 I noticed that the final strip of winter snow had gone from the back garden. The rain had melted it or washed it away or both.

    I spent the morning running the final session of Structured Information. We looked at the shallow end of the HTML5 canvas. We made lines and shapes and text. Finally I got everyone to make a five pointed star while I attempted to make one myself. We all, in our own ways, succeeded.

    I then switched my attention to this week’s podcast. I made a final edit to the sound file (to add a bit more of Sophie at the start), re-uploaded the file to Soundcloud, sent out advertisements, and tidied up the page on for the episode.

    I posted a note on Teams because two big email chains arrived congratulating someone on something and someone else on something else. A total of 33 emails arrived while I was editing sound files. Should we not do this on Teams, I asked, or we will end up in the same situation as Pixelache.

    Only Jutta answered.

    At 15:02 I notice how hot I have become. I walk over to the thermometer and photograph the temperature. At least I photograph something and hope I have photographed the thermometer.

    I will listen to an album by Krishna Das all the way to Puotila and then remove my earbuds to cycle home. I will spot the difference between listening to relaxing chants and failing to hear the approaching truck.

    Irma will arrive home an hour or so after me with a series of stories about her day.

    Friday, April 26

    A306, Arcada, 15:50

    I have spent the day not doing what I intended, but that is no longer seeming out of the ordinary. I intended to carry on with my thesis or prepare a pecha kucha movie about virtual worlds. Instead I put on my Captain Admin hat, and sorted out a lot of different things.

    Frida and Lena have now officially passed their theses and have only some minor bureaucratic hurdles to leap before they graduate. I tested Google Hangout with Roni Linser, caught up on some news from Tel AViv, and then sent in the information about next week’s Virtuality Grand Tour (which will look at Hangout as a social learning tool).

    Fred and I had a long, hard talk about yesterday. Jutta and I agreed on Frida’s grade. I sorted out some technical problems with some of the students’ pecha kucha movies, and took a sudden detour into researching how QR codes actually work.

    Now, I am looking out the window. It is time to tidy my desk, wash up my cup, and get ready for Vappu.

    Friday, April 27


    Rautatientori, 13:52


    A very sunny morning, I thought, as I pulled the curtain at 7:30. I cycled as fast as I could to the metro station in a warm breeze.

    I began the morning by watching some videos to try to find some relevant background material for the Interactive storytelling course. I then googled random words and phrases from the videos as a form research by serendipity. I found more useful material than I expected.

    I checked my email and then Its Learning and found that most of the students had not obeyed my instructions. I had started receiving random files with mails saying “I wasn’t sure where to send this, so I am mailing it to you. Is that alright?” I answered every one of them explaining that the exercises had to end up in the specially created discussion forums in Its Learning and not in my inbox, so that other students could see and comment on them (the second part of the exercise).

    After this I had a long Skype talk with Jutta about Josefin, Markus, Oliver, and their respective theses. We agreed on plans of action and timetables, and other scholarly tools, and then I left for the centre.

    I meet an altogether different Oliver at Kiasma to plan the forthcoming Convivial Mechanics activity. We schedule our May event and then start to plan our September mini-festival. Oliver tells about about his time in Cuba and I respond by telling him about my time in Manchester. I explain why I think that Convivial Mechanics and cultural democracy belong together.

    On the way back to Arcada I cross the square outside the railway station and see an ice cream van. You do not see these very often in Helsinki, because they have never formed part of any Finnish tradition. I stand and look at it for a few minutes and then continue on my way to the metro.

    I will spend the afternoon in a sudden flurry of activity related to my conversation with Oliver. I will ask Sophie Hope if she will consider speaking in Helsinki in September, and ask her for the email address of the man from Red Pepper.

    Later I spend two hours reading through the forehandsuppgifter. My mind drifts back to this morning. Most of the applicants did not read the instructions properly and submitted two of the three requested elements. I understand why and, initially, I think that perhaps we did not write the instructions carefully enough. Then, three quarters of the way through the pile, I get a submission with all three elements. Not my fault then; they simply didn’t read the instructions.

    Finally I will read Imran’s draft thesis, which proves every bit as good as I expected.

    After that I will race home. The extra long weekend starts here.

    Friday, April 27


    Riskutie, 07:58


    For the third time this week I walked to the gas station to get the 97V bus; this time under a bright blue sky.

    At Arcada I added to the my slideshow and then at 10:15 I began this week’s Social Media Analysis calls, held for the first time in the old swimming pool. With a break for a lunch involving unexpected cabbage parcels and conversation, the class continued until nearly 17:00.

    The class broke at about 15:00 for a research period, and I used that time for a Nobanet Skype call with the Production Team that I lead. I learned that I now lead a production team of me and Cecilia, which will cut down on the administration if nothing else.

    After class I had to write up the assignment and post it. I finally left the building for the Spring break at 17:25.

    Sitting on one of the newest trams, I find it oddly empty. I assume people must have started their holidays early. I then notice that the seats have schematic maps on the Helsinki tram route woven into them. Well, well.

    I will get home to find Irma out shopping and Naa in the garden weeding. I will join in the outdoor activity with some brushing, raking and sweeping.

    Sunshine will arrive home, lie down on the path and watch Naa working.

    Friday, April 28

    Cruises Street, Limerick, 15:00


    I have been to the second day of the conference and diligently attended everything that seemed to need attending. At 12:00 I had a meeting with Mary Conlon, who is a local artist. I had been put in contact with her by John Fail, who met her at Supermarket. She is working with the city on the media art aspect of their bid to be European City of Culture in 2020, and she would like the group she is forming to become a part of the Pixelache network.

    Now I am walking around the pedestrianised part of the centre, which appears to wish it was The Lanes in Brighton. It has a Tiger and various other shops of similar ilk. It has artisan bakers, and cafes with baristas, and pubs with craft beers. It is called Cruises Street and it has coloured bunting.

    I will take a bus back to the hotel. I will realise it is an eight story building in which the top four storeys are completely undeveloped. They exist as frames. I will go to Aldi again and buy some snacks, and sit in my room eating and drinking, and writing this. I will check the Irish Rail website, becaue I have been warned about weekend track repairs, and the information that I find will be somewhere between vague and gobbledygook.

    If I understand correctly the 8:30 train will run on time because the workman won’t up up yet, but the 10:45 I planned on taking will either run or not, and if it does run then it will either run on time or not.

    I decide that getting the 8:30 train might be a wise idea.

    Friday, April 29

    Itäväylä, 11:30


    I am out for a brisk pre-breakfast walk. I am walking up a small path to Itäväyla.

    Today is Good Friday and everything, except gas stations, is closed. 

    In the afternoon we will go and collect logs from Kontula. In the evening we will eat yönakki and salad, and watch two films. The first, starring George Clooney, will make no sense to either of us. The second will star Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly and every elderly British actor you can name. It will make rather too much sense.

    Friday, April 3

    Garden, 12:05


    I woke to the gentle swishing of snow as it fell in unfeasibly large flakes. It seemed to stop as I watched it.

    After breakfast I went for a walk, listening to The Moral Maze as I did. I arrived home in two minds about it: intelligent discussion or smug chatter? I found it mildly confusing to discover that Michael Portillo seemed by far the most attentive and intelligent of the panelists.

    The morning passed in attempts to create the perfect student assignment involving html, css and tables. By midday I felt convinced that I had come close enough.

    I step outside.

    The frost and snow still lay on the ground and I stop to photograph some of the tiles that used to constitute a path down the side of the house. Nowadays they get buried by snow in the winter and hidden by grass in the summer. They sometimes make fleeting appearances in Spring and Autumn.

    The rest of the day will pass in Zoom tests, email flurries, writing and editing, and other such delights.

    At 16:50 I will call a halt to the working week. I will look out of the window. The snow has stopped. The sun has come out.

    I see blue sky.

    Friday, April 3

    Breakfast table, 7:00


    Last night I was asleep before 22:00 and woke on my own at about 6:30. I lay in bed for twenty minutes slowly coming to. This was the first time I had done this for as long as I can remember.

    Naa was at Kamppi overnight so I am alone at the breakfast table. Irma has put the bag of cereal we bought in Warsaw on the table in case the current cereal finishes. It does, but there is enough in my bowl for today.

    Breakfast cereals, in their packaging, change from territory to territory and I find the way they change interesting. I have a collection of Rice Krispie packets, marking the changes in Snap, Crackle & Pop over time and space. I tell myself that this is related to work, but it is actually related to the purposeless curiosity-for-its-own-sake that Auo and I both had very strongly, and I still have.

    At Arcada I will spend two and a half hours on the help chatline with HostMonster trying to get the ftp problem sorted out before the CMS class. At 10:15 the ftp will start working and I will race to start the class. At 10:25 I will notice that ftp access has stopped again, give the class a research task, and sit down to chat to technicians for another ninety minutes. At the end I will no longer be comfortable with the idea that the fault is self-evidently at their end. I will have a suspicion that it may be caused by student stupidity, and a pretty clear idea of which particular student is Suspect Number 1.

    After lunch we will look at Buddypress in a theoretical and truncated way, because nobody except me will have direct access to an installation. I will leave the class furious, tense and unhappy.

    I will then attempt to book my tickets for the trip to Denmark in three weeks to have the idiotic and non-functional booking system that Arcada uses reject every attempt of mine to log in. Tommy will tell me that he had three days of this exact problem when he tried to book his last trip; and the cost of the tickets almost doubled between when he first tried to log on and when he finally got into the site to book.

    The travel site has only one advantage over services like ebookers, as far as I can see. Like the invoicing system that Arcada uses (a system that is equally unfriendly and non-functional) it serves as a sterling reminder of what web interfaces used to look like in 1998.

    I will eventually give up and arm-wrestle David until he agrees to meet me on Monday to do the booking on his computer, where he can deal with all the issues. Then I will finish off some overdue administration, postpone some more, and leave for home for the weekend.

    Friday, April 4

    Itävaylä, 7:15


    I have had a cold for the last few days, and the summer coat that I have been wearing has not helped. Auo and I mistimed our exit and are now standing at the bus stop waiting for nine minutes for the next bus. I am wishing for a longer and thicker coat, and watching the sparse traffic racing from Helsinki to Porvoo.

    There goes the Porvoo bus.

    By the time our bus arrives, Auo will have updated Subway Surfers to the new Sydney course and be on her way to beating her high score. Just before she gets off the metro I will raise my high score to 15,400. She will be completely unimpressed.

    Hanna is teaching at Arcada today and we will meet for coffee at 10:00. I will spend the rest of the day writing outlines, including a new one for the 1248 project, and reading drafts of student theses.

    At 17:00 we will begin sessions five and six of the Dynamic Websites course.

    Friday, April 5

    Vilhonvuorenkatu, 11:55


    I woke at 3:00 worried about what the manufacturers of vegan foods would call them once the new EU directive comes into force. The meat industry has persuaded legislators that consumers will get terribly confused if people like Quorn continue to label their products as sausages and steaks. They have already stopped Oatly and others from using words like milk, cream and cheese in connection with their vegan alternatives.

    I invented a solution. The whole vegan food industry should sponsor a Creative Labelling Foundation who would generate trademarked generic terms such as molk and sozzas, with clear definitions

    sozza (noun): a vegetarian or vegan product designed to visually resemble and serve most or all of the functions of an old-fashioned meat sausage

    and then license them to companies that wished to use them. This would provide consumers with a uniform vocabulary to use as they abandoned eat animal products. It would also provide producers with a uniform baseline vocabulary for product descriptions that could gradually depart from the traditional vocabulary of the meat industry.

    I then rolled over and went back to sleep.

    Irma worked from home today so I got up quietly, ate my Weetabix noiselessly, and crept out of the house. The cat sat and watched but didn’t make a sound.

    I had a Zoom tutorial with an MA student at 9:00, who knows exactly what he should do and seems certain to get it done in the timescale we agreed.

    After this I reluctantly read through all the written examinations handed in by this year’s applicants for the M course, that Tiina had posted on Teams. I posted my results back there while wondering if she would ever find them.

    At 10:00 I had a second tutorial scheduled. The student did not show up but emailed me twenty minutes late to ask if we could have it online. I said we could and he then emailed to say he wouldn’t get home until after midday so we could have it then.

    I emailed back to say that we couldn’t.

    I left Arcada at 11:40 and now I have got off the bus and walked to Vilhonvuorenkatu. I have just bumped into Aga cycling back from wherever she had gone earlier. She parks her bike and we go into Thai Streetfood to have lunch and catch up. As I wait I notice that the sun shines so brightly that the reflections from the buildings over the road block any view into the restaurant.

    We talk about Pixelache, her father, Irma’s sister, her art work, social tools, and much more. I point out that I think I know the people who own Thai Streetfood. I think Naa’s friend Jennifer started it with her boyfriend, now husband. Whoever started it, the food tastes delicious – and very spicy in a Thai way.

    I will return to Arcada in time for what we used to call Rektors kaffe but have now learned to call Coffee with Friends, which always makes me feel as though I attend a day centre of some kind.

    I will go upstairs for coffee and cake, before returning to start working on my doctoral research plan in earnest. I will email Mats to tell him to expect it on Monday.

    At 16:30 I will leave Arcada and at 17:15 I will meet Irma outside the British Embassy for another episode of Well in the Park.

    The weekend starts here!

    Friday, April 5

    Vartiökarjukuja, 15:15

    It snowed or sleeted last night and this morning, but now it is clear and bright, albeit not particularly warm.

    The girls are at home and we have walked to the beach to collect sticks for Easter. Not just any sticks but little willow branches with furry buds. This is our first beach walk of the year, and we are scampering through snow and slush to find the branches.

    We walked past Plantagen, which has been equipped with a new layout and a new logo. It is open today, but it seems that some legal freak enables it to open every day of the year.

    Later we will watch television until about three in the morning, as the programmes slowly sink below the stupidity horizon.

    Friday, April 6


    Blackfriars Street, 8:23


    I got up early and decided that I wanted a breakfast and that I didn’t want the unlimited offer available downstairs for a mere £8.40. Instead I walked left out of the hotel and up Blackfriars Street.

    I stop and cross the road on the small iron bridge. I stand looking along the River Irwell, which I had mistaken for a canal when I first arrived. I think to myself that it looks so much like a part of Manchester, as indeed it does. I continue to the end of the road and turn right.

    I will stop at the Moon Under Water and buy a large breakfast and a large mug of tea. I will watch large numbers of people doing the same; some of them supplementing (or even replacing) their tea with foaming pints of ale. I will avoid this, preferring to get my kicks the traditional way: from lashings of brown sauce and mustard.

    Yesterday evening I managed to locate the only Cath Kidson shop in Manchester and fortunately I located it five minutes walk from Deansgate. Breakfast over I will check my map and walk to the shop to get the promised hand creams. They open at 10:00 so I will stand outside for ten minutes before they agree to let me in.

    On the way back to the hotel I will pass Waterstones and go in to look around. I will purchase a small Wendell Berry book, and a couple of cards I intend to stockpile and use later. Luke and I will have an email exchange while I finish packing and he will get a train from Leeds while I check out. We will meet at Victoria Station and wander around looking for somewhere to have lunch.

    We get into one of those situations where we walk around talking and finding nothing that takes our fancy until we both realise this could go on forever, until we both see a small pub, the Dib, selling craft beers. We will decide to stop there, where we choose the best seats from a completely empty room.

    We spend a couple of hours chatting. We both have steak pie and a craft beer. I have a Tickety Brew, which has a strength of 2.4%. Luke has something equally cute with a strength of 2.6%. Like many English beers they could simply not find a market in Finland, because in Finland beers have a strength between 4.2 and 4.7%.

    I will walk to Piccadilly, following the signposts, and take a train to the airport. I will begin to feel bloated from too much pastry and potato, but will nonetheless feel an obligation to enter Boots and buy a mealdeal that includes Lucozade.

    Irma will collect me when the plane lands.

    Friday, April 6


    6T tram, Hameentie, 21:02


    I woke several times in the night and, after waking at 4:20, found it hard to get back to sleep again. After a groggy breakfast I walked to Puotila in the wind.

    At 9:15 I held the first session for the Web Analysis course. I explained the nature of the course, aided by a Powerpoint slideshow that outlined a detailed road map that may, or may not, indicate what we will actually do. Then we watched a movie, after which I initiated a discussion and asked students to post their comments online.

    I spent the afternoon preparing for the evening session, which involved making more Powerpoint slides, and constructing a Greatest Hits slideshow that took all the key points from all the slideshows and put them into one long narrative.

    At 16:30 the final session of the Digital Mediascapes course began. Tonight I got the Skype business working properly and two students joined in from a distance. We discussed the Curatr MOOC we had all participated in, and then I began the task I had promised I would do. I took them through all the arguments I had advanced in the course and explained how and why they fitted into their Media Management studies. I think that, by the end, I had persuaded most people – but not everyone.

    Now I have cleaned up Oasis, the room we used for the course, and packed my bag. I started one course and finished another today. The tram arrives and I get on. I sit alone on one of the newest trams thinking nothing.

    I will get home about 22:00 and feel happy to sit down with a glass of wine.

    Friday, April 7

    Itäinen Puistotie, 19:00


    This morning, after a lot of technical kerfuffle, I showed the first year a movie in the small auditorium.I am not convinced that scaling back Arcada’s IT department was a good idea. I do not need help very often but whenever I do it isn’t there.

    At lunchtime I met Margharita, a doctoral student from the University of Tampere. She is attending the MEVI conference being held at Arcada. Originally I proposed a group and she asked to join it, and then the group was cancelled because only she asked to join it. Then she asked if we could meet anyway, and I said yes.

    We talked about the concept of truth as it might apply to journalistic practice while eating sausage stew.

    Today there is one of the occasional Well in the Park get-togethers at the British Embassy. At 17:20 I met Irma a few minutes walk away, and we joined the small but merry thong. We have made a few acquaintances there but none of them were in attendance today. We sat and chatted and ate peanuts while drinking a cold beer. Now we are leaving and I am looking at the embassy entrance. It looks secure but if I turn around and look at the entrance to the American embassy, which is opposite, I will get a lesson in what real security looks like.

    In the evening we will watch a movie called 360. Apparently it got luke warm reviews. We wil like it.

    Friday, April 8

    Garden, Sundö, 14:00


    After we had rearranged the bedroom we needed a chair. After we had painted the entrance we found one: an old three legged wooden chair we had got in Björkböda. Last night, while sitting on it for the first time in its new position, the back leg broke and I went tumbling. Irma managed to take a series of photographs of the incident.

    I had been under the impression that this was a very valuable piece of old Finish country design, and apparently I was wrong. It is a modern copy of an old country-style chair that, even in the original, is neither valuable nor rare, nore interesting. Irma has put it in the garden to stand a plant on and I am photographing it because I still find it interesting, in that I have never seen one like it before. Initially I was sceptical about it but it turned out to be very comfortable right up to the moment when it threw me on the floor.

    In an hour or so I will sit in one of the old garden chairs to read my thesis, which I finally sent off to Stefan and Juha this morning. It isn’t finished, in the sense that they are bound to ask for some changes and I will agree with them, since I am already asking for some changes. It is finished though in the sense that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end: and it more or less makes the sense I want it to make.

    As I sit in the chair, which is twenty years old, one of the plastic arms will break and I will be flung backwards. Irma will manage to take a series of photographs of the incident.

    Later we will go to Benita’s to get gasoline for the mower and do one load of washing using the miracle pulsaatori.

    Friday, August 1

    Sundö, 17:00

    The alarm went off on my phone at 7:15 and I woke up cold. The temperature was just over three degrees, and I got up to wake Naa. She got up to go to work in the fields and I went to the sauna house to write. Auo leaped up as well, and both girls trotted to the fields to pick vegetable and herbs at 8:00.

    The day got slightly warmer and Irma and I did gardening. In the afternoon we collected Pirjo and all went to the village shop, which we are now learning to call Erika’s. After that I went to Tirmo to get a couple of things that Erika did not have in stock. I spent the ferry ride back chatting with Ville who was on his way beack from Porvoo with a car full of the kind of things you need to celebrate your tenth wedding anniversary. A large cold box occupied the front passenger seat.

    Now we are looking at a bag of beans that Irma has brought from Camilla’s shop. What we don’t know is that in a few moments Naa will arrive back with a huge bowl full.

    Later the cold will return and I will be the only person not putting socks on before going to bed.

    Friday, August 10


    Takkahuone, 17:46


    I got up at 7:20, got washed and dressed, and cycled down to near where Naa lives, to have a massage. Sami had recommended Jukka Åström to Irma, and she had gone to see him earlier in the week.

    He gave me a massage for an hour and at the end I felt very well indeed. Specifically, my calves which had ached a lot while waiting in line for my Moomin mug no longer ached at all.

    On the way home I stopped at Prisma to look at painting rollers. I decided not to buy one, but I did buy the latest issue of Monocle, the quality of living annual summer edition. Helsinki came in at tenth this year. Monocle judged Munich the world’s most livable city, followed by Tokyo and Vienna.

    I sat outside in the swing chair reading Monocle until Irma woke up.

    After breakfast I began painting the ceiling of the takkahuone, using one of the existing rollers we had in the shed.

    While I painted Irma failed to start the car because, all of a sudden, battery had no power at all. She borrowed a charger from Minna to no avail and, in the end, one of the young men from Teboil drove round and started it with his battery. Irma then drove to Motonet where another young man installed a brand-new battery.

    I finish painting at about 17:00, and sit down for a minute before I put the Indian icon back in the little recess in the front of the fireplace. I will photograph it as a celebration of fresh shiny whiteness.

    I will spend an hour in the sun cleaning the brushes and roller before we decide to sit on the newly glassed terrace and drink a cider or two. We have discovered that Rainbow Dry Cider (S-Market’s own brand) tastes better than Upcider, so we will sit on chairs with our little tins.

    Heavy rain will appear in the evening and send us indoors.

    Friday, August 10


    Arcada, 15:24


    Aaaaargh, that cat!

    Sunshine had stayed out almost all Wednesday evening, arriving home at about 4:30. He had then slept until about 13:00, and had gone out in the afternoon, returned just before Naa arrived, gone out again soon afterwards, and returnedin the middle of the evening. He went to sleep when I did but then woke at about 2:00 wanting to go out. I ignored him but he refused to give up. He woke me about every twenty or thirty minutes from 2:00 to 6:15 when I finally got up and opened the door.

    I would have thrown him out but but he shot out so fast under his own steam that I didn’t get the chance. I went back to bed and woke up groggily at 8:00. I staggered up to wake Naa because she came down yesterday in order to work on the field today. She wanted to do at least one full day’s farm work this summer; a feeling I can readily identify with because I really wanted to do the hay work.

    Naa got to the field about 8:30 after speed-eating her two sandwiches and gulping down several glasses of water. I washed my hair, washed the dishes, cleaned the dining area, and sat down to read a student thesis. I finished reading at 13:00, and wrote a long and complimentary letter with bone fide bullet points.

    I noticed that the weather forecasters had got it almost right today. The wind had died down overnight and the sun had come out to make a bright, very warm late summer’s day.

    I catch the 15:15 ferry with two water canisters in my hands. At the end of summer I get what Auo would recognise as a result. I jog off the ferry as the cars leave, fill both my canisters, and jog back onto the ferry as the last cars drive onboard. It helps that at this time on a Friday cars completely fill the ferry, but it still counts. There and back on the same ferry: we used to always try to do that.

    As I get off the ferry I pause in the layby opposite the ice-cream stand to let the cars pass me. I could tell by the problems with the parking that the ferry contains a lot of tourists and I want to avoid getting knocked down. I look over at the ice-cream stand and wonder whether I should buy one. I remember that we still have a variety of ice-creams from Jatskiauto in the freezer so I content myself with looking.

    Naa will have arrived back from the fields when I walk into the farm. She will go off for a swim and then settle down to sunbathe. Sunshine will wander in and out of the garden.

    Irma will arrive about 18:30 and the fun will begin. The cat will join us and we will sit with a cider chatting.

    Friday, August 11

    Sundo, 20:30


    I spent most of the day working on plans for the Dib Dib Dob website, which included investigating existing one-page themes for Wordpress and deciding on whether to use Netbeans as an IDE. Both of these (and maybe the site itself) will play a part in the CMS course that I start teaching next month.

    I cycled to the library to collect three Roy Harper cds that I had ordered, and I washed the back wall behind the cooker and sink.

    Naa arrived from work and we drove to Sundö. Here the weather is hot and Irma has already mowed the grass. I am outside watching to sun starting to set over the bay. There is a snake on the loose and I have been warned to stamp when I walk through the grass.

    Later it will cloud over to prevent us seeing the advertised shooting stars.

    Friday, August 12

    The garden, 17:00


    Irma was working from home today and Naa had the day off. I woke up early and read for a while, and then went for a walk when Irma got up.

    I walked to Prisma and back to test my two pedometer apps because this is a straight journey of a known length. Neither of them were correct and, as I suspected, one gave too small a distance, and one too big. Ho hum.

    I arrived home sweating and had a shower. Shortly afterwards Irma left for a meeting with the woman who manages Itis.

    I then walked back to Prisma and then on to Itis to meet Irma at 14:00. I had received an email to say that my thesis was back from the printer and we were eager to see it.

    On the way home we stopped at Stockmann, and when we arrived back Naa came in from her afternoon with Viljam.

    Now I am out in the garden with a copy of the thesis, watching the cover change colour in the sunlight. The layout and design are excellent. It may be nonsense but it at least has the virtue of being visually pleasing nonsense.

    At about 19:00 we will say goodbye to Naa and Sunshine and drive to Sundö, where we will spend tomorrow packing up the house.

    We will realise later that we have forgotten to have a meal today. We will have a sandwich and a cup of tea and go to bed as soon as it starts to get dark.

    Friday, August 14

    Aleksanteran Teetari, 19:00


    I spent the day going through the marks I gave the Media Masters course last Spring, before putting them into ASTA. I wanted to reread the assignments in detail to make certain that I had been fair. I think I have. I finished by posting the marks to ASTA and emailing Mats to ask how public I should make the critiques.

    Arcada has been doing the television production for a new version Of Don Giovanni by the New Generation Opera company. Tonight is the dress rehearsal and we have tickets. We are sitting in a box of our own and Auo in particular is very excited.

    The production will be three and a half hours long, with all the actors filming each other as they perform, and the results being projected onto two screens above the stage. The effect is striking.

    The opera is too long but that is Mozart’s fault. The story disappears in the last third which becomes a repetitive lament of “he’s a bastard”, “oh yes he is, he’s broken my heart”, by various characters in various combinations until finally he is sent to hell. It is not a story in any sense at all and it reminded me, as it did thirty years ago when I first saw it, of Punch and Judy.

    The character neither changes nor develops, nor learns any lessons or suffers any consequences, except at the very end when he is sent to hell.

    Afterwards we will go home and all go straight to bed.

    Friday, August 16

    Honolulu International Airport, 13:03


    Signage does not seem a strong point in Hawaii; something we noticed driving round the island. Finding out how to check in at the airport takes the form of an interesting puzzle.

    Arriving in the departure area offers a second level of the same game.

    To progress we have to discover that the airport contains different areas and that we need to walk out of this departure area, into the bright sunshine and along several walkways, before we find ourselves in the mainland departure area.

    I catch a first glimpse of our plane as we walk along in the bright heat towards our destination.

    Friday, August 16

    Home, 17:50

    My alarm failed to go off this morning, although the phone said it was on when I woke up at 8:00. Irma had already woken Auo and took her to school. I went to the shed to write and spent most of the morning on Arcada planning. I skyped with Jutta for an hour or so, booked a meeting room ,worked out an agenda, and exchanged ideas and news.

    This being a non-eating day, I fed the cat and walked round the garden before returning to the shed to write. This time I went through chapters three and four, worked out how to fix them, and did. In doing this I also moved some material to the remaining (unwritten) chapters so work progressed. Am I on schedule? I am not sure I can answer that. The words arrive as they do, and they are arriving.

    Auo arrived home at about 14:00 and I stopped for a lengthy chat. Naa arrived back about four so I paused again. Now Irma and Naa are in Prisma and I have done enough for today. It has been raining hard but now it has stopped, and I am looking back for a second into the shed, which seems to have become my second home this week.

    Friday, August 17


    Sundö, 19:00


    I started the day with a visit to Tero the Dentist, in his latest premises just outside Itis. I waited as usual until the time of the appointment seemed more or less arbitrary. Tero then repaired two fillings in less than ten minutes, and I left at more or less the time I had expected to leave.

    I stopped at the newly renovated Lidl in Sörnäinen on the way to Arcada which now looks like all the other new Lidls: modern and not very down market at all, honest.

    I spent the morning and the first part of the afternoon finishing the lengthy process of grading the summer course. By the end I knew a lot more about creating formulae in Excel than I did when I woke up.

    I followed this by writing a draft agenda for the final Nobanet meeting in Estonia next month and sent it to Eija. Then I raced home, listening to Pete Wylie and the Mighty Wah! on the way.

    We set off for Pellinge at about 16:00 and got there about 17:40.

    We wander around the garden doing arbitrary tasks. I notice the weather vane on the sauna house, strangely lit by the low bright sun. It stands out against the clear blue sky.

    Soon we will sit on the chairs on the terrace sipping cider. We have reached a perfect moment of warm sun and no mosquitoes.

    We will have a happy evening which we will prolong until early morning.

    Friday, August 17


    Kulosaari Chruch, 16:20


    I spent this morning doing a number of small tasks very quickly. Possibly the most important of these involved me successfully logging into Irma’s new webspace for the Buddy School site. I also emailed Pixelache about hiring unemplyed young people to work at the festival, and liaised with Olivier and Egle about setting up the poetry generator at the festival.

    After this I started to concentrate on looking through Foundation 6. Emilia then told me that she has a specific problem with the Foundation menus, and so I shifted from looking at Foundation in general to looking at how to combine two different building blocks.

    At 15:30 I left for the Indian Embassy to pick up my passport with its new five-year visa. They had no other customers and the woman behind the counter recognised me, so the whole process took less than three minutes.

    I walked to the embassy from the metro by walking to the school and then down the path the runs alongside it, turning left to pass Jyrki’s house. I walk back the other way. This takes me past the church where the school held a memorial service for Auo. I sit here for fifteen minutes not doing anything much; not even consciously thinking about Auo. Eventually I realise that the school and the church seem to have the ability to completely sap my energy.

    I still miss her, and her presence in my life, very much indeed. I take one final look around and get up and walk past the school’s car park. On the way back to the metro I will notice that the R-Kioski opposite the school closed in January.

    In the evening I will go for a long walk while Irma packs. When I get back calm will have settled and we will sit with a glass of wine.

    Friday, August 18

    Happaniemenkatu, 15:10


    No rain! As Irma slept I crept out into the dry and caught the 93.

    I spent part of the morning dealing with irritating upgrade problems. Windows wanted to close to “finish an upgrade” and when it had restarted it wanted to close to “finish an upgrade”. I went outside and caught another Pokemon while the recursion sorted itself out. Then All-In-One Toolbar upgraded itself in Firefox and caused havoc. I ended up on Github reading through a lengthy thread before I found information that led me to a solution.

    I spent the rest of the morning dealing with different aspects of the summer course.

    In the afternoon I started writing a paper that will, hopefully double as a grant application and a conference speech. I kept getting interrupted and sidetracked and, in the end, I put it to one side. Instead I briefly explored compiling a pdf version of Community, Art and the State. The only issue involved putting a cover on it, and that took ten minutes to solve.

    At 14:15 I left for a long afternoon of Pixelache meetings. They were taking place somewhere in Hakaniemi, at Agnieszka’s apartment.

    I left Hakaniemi metro about fifteen minutes ago, and stopped at the market to buy some pies and a cake for the meeting. Now I am losing hope of ever finding the apartment. I have walked around at street level and now I have ascended into a place that seems ideal for a remake of Alphaville. I appear to be in a secret city with its own bars, shops, offices and, for all I know, laws and customs.

    Certainly I am receiving strange looks as I wander the unnaturally wide walkways.

    Suddenly I will stumble upon the entrance and scurry inside. The lift won’t arrive so I will walk up to the seventh floor. We will have a boatd meeting, a members’ meeting, and a discussion about updating Pixelache’s mission statement.

    Samir and I will leave before the sauna, to have a drink in Talo and discuss our plans for exploring digital conviviality.

    Friday, August 19

    Sundö, 16:30


    I got up and did a lot of editing and writing. At 8:45 I saw Camilla and Mikael outside and went to ask them if they needed Auo today. They decided they did so I got her up. She was very happy to be working again.

    Irma got up and we did two loads of laundry, after which I painted thin blue lines around the edges of a newly white cupboard.

    Auo arrived home excited and happy at 15:00 with a bunch of huge sunflowers. Today she had been working with Ann-Sofie on onions, beetroot and potatoes. At lunch they had all sampled a new variety of potato – Melody – that Mikael had been growing experimentally. Auo described them as “more floury than Timo, but still nice”.

    After lunch she was promoted to cutting and gathering the sunflowers, and then making them into bunches. The biggest ones cannot be sold, and that is why we have some of them.

    We put one in the kitchen but the face hung down. I suggested cutting off the stalk and floating it in a bowl. Here it is.

    After Wednesday’s all-night escapade we will feel a need go to bed early and be asleep by 22:22.

    Friday, August 2

    Sundö, 10:52


    Up early, and into a somewhat warmer morning, I have breakfast and write a final copy of the book proposal review that Routledge asked me to do. At the end of the form they ask me if I have any proposals of my own to suggest, and so I tell them briefly about Vision of Cultural Democracy, the book Sophie and I have talked about putting together, based on material from the podcasts.

    I walk back to the main house to get a glass of water and find Sunshine waiting there for me: not to go in but to have the opportunity to roll around in front of me.

    Perhaps his cat radar has warned him that he will not see us for a fortnight from tomorrow.

    Friday, August 2

    Puotila Metro, 8:15


    Irma took the car to be serviced before I left. Naa was still in bed because she is working her late shift today.

    I have just left my bike at Puotila station and I am noticing rhat I seem to have got a regular spot. I am in the same space as yesterday and the day before.

    At 9:15 I will walk with Mirko from Arcada to Aalto where we will meet Mika, the technician responsible for the hall where my defence will take place. They will chat, Mirko will play with the desk, and fifteen minutes later he will be ready to stream my defence on YouTube.

    I will mail everyone on my mailing list to tell them about the possibility to watch online.

    I will have a lunchtime meeting downstairs, where I will have beetroot croquettes and potatoes.

    I will spend the afternoon alternating between planning my teaching and finalising my slideshow.

    Friday, August 21

    Tirmo, 18:52


    Having left Naa on the metro at Sörnäainen I got the tram to Arcada and carried on writing revisions into my thesis. This morning I adopted a different approach. I searched for every occurence of the words “is” and “be” and (if they were not inside quotations) rewrote the sentences. There were not that many of them but some of the sentences needed a lot of tho0ught befotre I could rewrite them.

    At 12:00 I walked to Suvilahti to meet Nathalie. We went to Moko for lunch, and I explained about my plans for the BagTree project, and she talked about her plans for next year. I said that I would try to introduce her to Timo Cantell if she wished.

    I left work in time to go to Stockmann to get some Nomination pieces for Irma’s bracelet as part of next weekend’s birthday gift. At 16:30 Naa and I both arrived home within five minutes of each other, and shortly afterwards we left for Pellinki.

    Now we are at Tirmo in the Friday queue. We just missed one ferry and so we were first onto this one. In a minute Irma will race off, leaving other cars about 50 metres behind us. We will have turned into the road to our cottage before the other cars have even got off the ferry.

    It will be ver cold and windy, but that won’t stop us feeling good about being here. We will be relaxed within ten minutes, and settled in doing the things that need to be done within fifteen.

    Friday, August 22

    Tirmo, 18:00


    The weather was hot, the sky was blue and Auo and I left the house dressed for summer.

    I spent another day planning. This time I started with a Skype meeting with Jutta, because we have promised ourselves that we will have an online team meeting every Friday at 9:00. Then I had a long meeting with Lars in which we began the detailed planning for the project in Johannesburg in October. There is going to be a lot to do, and Lars warned me not to expect to see much of Johanneburg while I am there.

    I got home in time for a smooth exit from the house, and now we are at Tirmo waiting for the ferry to arrive. We were, in fact, here for its departure but it is Froday evening late in the summer and there was more than a ferry-load of cars waiting for the ferry.

    As soon as we get to Sundö, Sunshine will leap out of its basket and start exploring the garden. In an hour he will return from the stream with the first of a series of freshly caught water rats.

    We will clear weeds from the garden, eat and go to bed reasonably early.

    Friday, August 23

    Itäväylä, 8:13


    I woke in the middle of the night to the flash of lightning and the long rolling cracking sound of Finnish thunder. It happened twice, so I presumed that it actually happened three times and the first time woke me up in time for me to catch the second occurrence.

    The rain made a racket in the darkness until I fell asleep again. I wake up to an extreme downpour that goes on through breakfast and most of the morning. The bus pauses at the traffic lights to turn left and I catch a car racing past in the storm.

    I may have dressed for rain but I still arrive at Arcada drenched.

    Friday, August 23

    Sörnainen, 7:30

    An early day and no rain: Auo and I set off silently at 7:10 while the others slept. Here I am at Sörnainen, watching a painted tram leaving the stop while the students stand on the platform for the first time since the start of summer.

    I will begin the morning with some full-strength administration before spending the rest of the time creating a new edition of last year’s DoEL e-book to include seven pages of illustrations that weren’t there but should have been.

    Andy, Jutta and I will go for lunch at the Chinese restaurant in Arabia mall because the restaurant at Arcada has 500 metre queues of bewildered new students. I have never been to the Chinese lunch buffet before and it was a very pleasant change. I could do that again one day.

    In the afternoon we will all address the new students. I will say nothing substantive for the simple reason that I am giving a solo two-hour performance to them all on Monday morning.

    Performance over, I will be in the middle of booking a hotel room in Berlin for March when I will receive an email from Irma telling me that she has just booked the room – just in time.

    After that I will race home so that we can all go to Sundö tonight for tomorrows’s market. I will take a rucksack full of laptop just in case the sauna house calls me at dawn.

    Friday, August 24


    Tallinninaukio, 8:52


    This morning, I learned at breakfast, Irma got up and checked us into our flights to London, and then went back to sleep. As a result we both have exactly the seats we wanted: two aisle seats next to each other.

    I got up slightly earlier because I have an appointment with Tero the Dentist at 9:00. I brushed my teeth, manually and electrically, and cycled off in the bright sunlight.

    I leave my bike at Puotila and walk up past Itis and then up the steps to Tallinninaukio. Over the summer the city have upgraded the environment to include a small, brightly coloured play area. They have also replaced the benches with brightly coloured ones. I stop for a moment to photograph this and then walk to B4 and take the lift to the fifth floor to have my teeth scraped and brushed.

    When I get to Arcada I will get my new unlimited Zoom account, thanks to Aki alerting me to the fact that Arcada now has accounts for staff and students.

    I will then buy Nick’s plane tickets since this now seems easier than sending messages back and forth. I will email Jan the confirmation and he will repay me before Nick has even received the ticket.

    I will then email Arlene Goldbard to ask if she will appear on the podcast, and reply to Mats Bergan about a meeting in a week or two.

    At 11:00 we will have an online conference planning session. Ninety minutes later we will have done a lot more, and have a clear task list for everyone. Aga, Ilpo and Oliver will meet next Monday while I travel by train to Weston-super-Mare.

    I will go for a walk and buy some batteries for the scale at home which claims it no longer has the energy to weigh us, and after that I will perform various tidying-up activities, and run through my plans for CMS one more time.

    At 16:32 I will leave Arcada to race home and prepare for a Chinese Wedding in England.

    Friday, August 24


    Itäkeskus, 16:45


    This morning I stepped outside briefly and decided that I had no option but to swap my cardigan for a proper autumn jacket. Summer has definitely packed up and gone.

    I started the day with an hour-long email flurry to move the Nobanet videos along. This included emailing Erik who responded almost immediately to say he has almost completely recovered and will attend the meeting in Riga in three weeks.

    At 10:15 I had a two hour meeting with Matteo and Gabriele from playRaven, a mobile games company based in Helsinki. We planned an action research project around gamification. We all seemed to agree about what we should do and if we actually get the funding to enable us to do it I will feel very happy.

    I left work at about 13:00; firstly because it looked like rain and I wanted to try to avoid getting drenched while I cycled, and secondly because I had a series of errands to do.

    I got home dry to find Sunshine dozing on the terrace. He came in as soon as I did. I fed him, left him in Naa’s room to carry on snoozing, and went off on my errands which took me to Itis, to Kulosaari, and then back to Itis.

    I stand under a bus shelter in Itäkeskus, waiting for a 93 and keeping out of the increasingly heavy drizzle. I look at the bus stand opposite and like the way that the scene consists of broad horizontal bands in only a few colours.

    When I get home the cat won’t even bother asking about going out because, just as I arrive, the drizzle turns into a heavy downpour which it can see through the window.

    Darkness arrives earlier than it should.

    Friday, August 25

    Naa’s apartment, 19:15


    Today continued the week’s routine. I got up and cycled to Puotila and then continued with the preparations for the CMS class that starts in ten days. I walked from Kalasatama and then at lunchtime I walked back to collect festival leaflets and posters from Pixelache. By the time I walked back again to get the metro I had walked almost ten kilometres.

    When I got home Naa was there ready to look after Sunshine while we drove to Pellinki. However the weather was getting worse and we were all secretly relieved when we decided to turn the weekend into a day trip tomorrow. We decided to see if we could tune the 20€ television that Naa bought and when it was tuned we decided to take it, and her, round to her apartment.

    We are in Naa’s apartment and the television is in place working fine. Finally, about five months after moving in, she can watch Australian Masterchef again. Irma had also packed some other things for her to bring around. Among them are Mr and Mrs Potatohead which I bought for Naa and Auo years ago in a sale at Barnes and Noble in Denver Colorado, while I was there at a conference with Steve Bronack. Naa was immediately happy to see them and as soon as we got here she assembled them and put them in place.

    I have always liked Mr Potatohead, and had one of my own when I was a child. In those days though, you only got the limbs, noses and hats. You were supposed to supply your own real potato for the body.

    Friday, August 26

    Aalto University, 15:30


    I got up and showered, and then prepared myself. We had planned that I would go to Aalto on the bus and tram and change into my finery there. However, when we got up it was pouring with rain, and this simplified the plan. I got dressed formally and Irma drove me to Aalto for 10:30.

    I checked in with Kirsti, met Bryan and Kevin briefly in the corridor, and went downstairs to the hall. They joined me there at about 11:00 for the official pre-meeting. Juha also joined us. We didn’t discuss the substance of the thesis at all, but talked instead about why and how I had written it, and what effect I wanted it to have. We had a sandwich and coffee, and then the ceremonial glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream from the bottle that had been provided for us.

    The doors of the hall were opened at 12:00 and closed again at 12:15, and we entered. I gave my speech, which lasted 21 minutes 20 seconds, although since this included a couple of minutes of confusion at the start when the screen was not showing my slides, I could argue that I cam inside the twenty minute time limit.

    Bryan then responded, and we engaged in two hours of conversation. I had been right in assuming that I couldn’t prepare for this because it covered areas well outside what I would have prepared for, and almost nothing that I would have expected. The conversation was intense, with not a lot of time for thinking. It also flowed so well that at least two people asked me later if we had practised it.

    At the end Bryan proposed that the thesis should be accepted and we marched out in the same line that we had arrived in.

    Now we are in the front lobby. Irma has gone to get the car to take home the extra wine and the flowers. Naa is half hidden behind an enormous bunch of oriental lilies that Aalto provided.

    Nathalie and Lars will return for an hour to Arcada. Bryan and Kevin will go upstairs. Same will walk home. Jutta and I will have one beer in the pizza parlour opposite. Sam Inkanen will order a taxi when everyone has gathered again at 16:45.

    At 17:00 we will meet Irma and Naa at Wanha Mylly where we will spend a wonderful evening eating, drinking, and talking. Irma had suggested the restaurant and made all the arrangements, and I will be extremely grateful to her. It will be one of those rare occasions where most people will leave thinking that it simply couldn’t have gone better.

    For the three of us the only thing that would have improved it would have been leaving with Auo in full flow, wondering out loud when we were going to go to America to see Bryan.

    Friday, August 28

    Home, 17:30


    Naa and I left very early before Irma got up, and we left some birthday presents and cards on the breakfast table.

    I had a meeting with Lasse at 9:00 and he explained how the funding he has will work. Ah ha, I said: I will talk to Nathalie and then email Erik. And I did.

    I then spent the day doing a number of small, irksome but important tasks: claiming money for my Nobanet flights through M2, for example, and trying to find out what was happening with our subscription which is due to start on Monday.

    I spent the afternoon preparing the Mobile Apps course that begins next week, and bought an ebook from O’Reilly as part of the process.

    Naa and I met on the metro home, not by accident, and went to Plantagen to get some flowers. Now we are at home. I have given Irma yellow chrysanthenums, a bottle of champagne, a set of hand-creams, and the Nomination bracelet.

    Tomorrow would have been Auo’s thirteenth birthday and this hangs over today. The house is not filled with celebration and laughter like in previous years. Inevitably the evening will finish with a meaningless agrument that is not about anything at all except a desperate need to find a way of offloading the stress and pain that everyone feels. Everyone will recognise it for what it is and nobody will feel bad about it in the morning.

    We will have too many other things to feel bad about.

    Friday, August 29

    Itäväylä, 11:30

    We are in Helsinki, and for the first time in weeks I woke up late.

    All morning the sky has been overcast and I have gone out for a walk. It seems strange being back in the city after six weeks. I am watching the main road, waiting for the lights to change.

    The washing machine will be whirring all day. In the afternoon we will go shopping for food, and in the evening we will watch the Olympics for the first time. Naa will go to Kamppi to spend the night there, and we will carry on watching athletes throw things.

    Friday, August 3


    Kungsporten, Borgå, 16:32


    This morning we woke up properly rested. We had slept like sardines: head to tail. This had meant that I did not sleep in the corner which seems to act as an oxygen-free zone. We went to sleep about 23:00 and neither of us woke till 8:30.

    When we looked out of the window we noticed that the sky had turned completely cloudy.

    In the late morning we all drove to Ann-Maj’s nursery to pick some tomatoes, which involved locking ourselves in the nursery and having to find another way out. Once we finally emerged we went to the end of the island to drop off some rubbish and then bought honey for Marja at Gunnel’s kiosk.

    We went to Vicke’s to buy some fish. While Irma chatted with Hawken and Maj-Britt, I talked with Mari for a long time. She told me that it had rained hard in Borgå this morning which led into a long story involving he boyfriend digging a ditch to lay pipes and the sudden downpour filling the ditch, causing the pipes to float to the surface, and him to abandon work for the day.

    We then drove to Borgå and as we did, we did indeed drive through some sudden rain.

    We drove to the Kungsporten area which consists of a range of retail parks, ranging from Gigantti to car showrooms. Motonet supplied us with a cable to attach the paddle-board to our ankles, making it difficult to lose. Musta & Mirri provided Sunshine with a range of premium dry cat foods.

    Finally we head to Plantagen, because Irma has not seen the inside of this one. Naa and I find a seat in the entrance and wait for her there. She emerges ten minutes later with a packet of candles.

    We will stop at S-Market on the way home and get antiseptic and bandages for Irma’s toe from the chemist there.

    When we get home we will find that Sunshine likes the new cat food very much indeed.

    Friday, August 3

    Outside Aalto, 13:00


    Today is Auo’s twelfth birthday, and we woke her up with some gifts. including a pink folder containing a yellow envelope containing her tickets for a trip to London with me next week. She was happy, and on the way to school we decided to go to the Science Museum.

    I spent the morning doing a lot and getting the feeling that I wasn’t achieving much. Much of the time I was just ticking items off my task list. I think I found myself administrating my administration at one point.

    Now I am outside TAIK, where I have gone to change my password because the online system refused to allow me to do it there. Apparently one field in my profile contains an old TAIK employment code where it should really contain my henkilötunnus. This is something that the Student Services people have done, and only they can correct it – and they can only correct it on Tuesday or Thursday between 12:00 and 15:00. Another trip next week then.

    I will spend the afternoon completing all the tasks on my list for this week, and then get home for 16:30 when Irma and Naa arrive home. Then we will give out more presents and the fun will continue.

    Friday, August 30

    Casino Helsinki, 13:36


    In an unimaginable plot twist we find ourselves commemorating Auo’s eighteenth birthday by cheering on her best friend Niilia, competing in the semi-final of this year’s Miss Helsinki.

    Later we will have a dinner meeting for Snowcastle Valley the not-for-profit we have set up to work on digital projects with teenage girls in Kerala.

    Friday, August 30

    Aleksanderinkatu, 14:20

    We had an early morning. Auo and I left for school at 7:10 and I spent most of the morning planning courses and doing administration. I also printed out what I have written so far for the thesis. Somewhat to my surprise it came to almost 40,000 words.

    At 13:00 I met Stefan at Dylan and we talked through my progress so far and my strategy for finishing it. Afterwards we went to look for the student office to see if I had completed all the registration process correctly. It was closed.

    Now I am in the centre. I have just been to Stadium in Forum to collect Naa and my equipment for the Midnight Run tomorrow. There is a tank parked outside Suomalainenkrjakauppa for some reason.

    Later it will start raining and get dark. The cat will race in and we will go to bed early

    Friday, August 31


    Grand Pier, 11:32


    Last night I slept soundly, without waking to experience the joys of stomach ache. This I went down to breakfast feeling normal. We both had scrambled eggs; mine on toast and Irma’s on a plate. My breakfast went down well but still felt like slightly too much.

    We walked down to the Grand Pier, paid our £1 entrance fee, and walked the length of the pier to the arcade at the end. As we walk we stop to look at the seafront and the sand. I photograph various aspects of it, including the dog walkers playing ball with their dogs, and the dogs happily swimming out to sea to retrieve the balls. By a happy accident, we have caught the tide at the right time for photographing like this.

    The arcade emits more noise and shouting than Irma can tolerate, so we walk in, look upstairs, pause only to turn round, and then walk out again. The time we spend in there feels just about enough for me too.

    Irma has an old £10 banknote that she needs to change at a bank. Lloyds will prove a better choice than Natwest.

    After this we will decide to sit outside somewhere. We will choose the London Inn where I will spot little bottles of Babycham, which I had thought ceased to exist about thirty years ago. The barmaid will profess as much surprise as me, claiming that she had never seen it between childhood, when her grandmother drank it, and a few weeks ago, when she started working here.

    Irma will like it.

    We will look into The Indoor Market, which sells almost nothing but has a clairvoyant and someone who performs Angel Message Therapy. And no, I don’t mean “massage”.

    We will walk through Grove Park, a real old-fashioned park, that leads us to a theatre, next to which stands a fine looking building called The Old Stable. We will enter to find a pub promising food, which we want. We will find nobody else: neither customers or staff.

    Just as we turn to leave an old man (Italian and aged 75, we will learn later) will appear. He will tell us about how he used to run a successful restaurant upstairs but “you can’t get the staff anymore”. He now intends to sell it. As we finish our drink an estate agent will arrive with a couple of prospective buyers. We will hear him lock the door behind us as we leave.

    We will have an early dinner at Nick’s Bar & Eatery. I will have a moussaka that a budget supermarket would have felt embarrassed selling.

    Stopping at The Criterion as we pass it on the way home, we will learn that the barmaid (who might actually run the pub, since she seems visible all the time) goes by the name Aleysha, or Leesh to her regulars.

    We will return to the Rosita to pack for our journey home tomorrow.

    Friday, August 31


    House, Sundö, 10:15


    I had a strange dream just before I woke up in which I found myself in an old country town in England. For some reason someone had paid for me to stay in the Railway Hotel, which looked exactly like rural hotel from the 1950s. In the lounge I sat with a man who looked like a bank manager I. He showed me small sets of documents from a much bigger piles o documents. My job required me to confirm that these did, in fact, constitute documents. What they said didn’t concern me in this task: only that I could fairly describe them as documents. Every time I picked one up the bank manager asked me nervously, “And would you describe this one as a document?”

    Eventually I asked what else I could conceivably expect to find in a pile of documents if not documents. “Filthy lithographs from nineteenth century Paris, such as would make a lady blush”, the bank manager replied, as I woke up.

    We both wake at the same time and get up to find Sundö curtained by three stars of rain: a full-on monsoon. The garden has deep puddles that threaten to become small lakes. The torrential rain continues through breakfast. I photograph the view from the dining table as best I can.

    After we have finished eating Naa will decide to go and help Lilly and Johan picking potatoes. She will leave the house dressed for an Arctic winter, with rubber boots, a rubber coat and a waterproof hat that hides most of her head.

    I will work in the sauna for two hours catching up on my writing which has fallen behind in the last few days. I will work at full-speed and get a lot done.

    In the early afternoon the rain will stop suddenly and the sun will come out. Irma and I will drive to Ann-Maj’s nursery to get tomatoes. As we leave the wind will come back.

    At 16:20 Naa will come back, exhausted but very happy to have had a chance to join in as she usually does. She and Irma will decide to go swimming and I will have the task of photographing Naa diving into the water for Instagram. I will take my very first boomerang.

    At 19:08, after washing in the sauna, I will practise drying my hair in the wind which has now returned with gusto.

    Friday, August 4

    Hiihtomäentie 35, 11:10


    Yesterday evening Irma noticed blood in the cat litter and booked a time with the vet. This is that time and we are sitting in Herttoniemi with Sunshine looking slightly concerned on an examination table. Mairi the vet is talking to us and explaining that she will anaesthetise him so that she can check for kidney stones, and other possible problems.

    We will leave to order some flowers for Tarkku and then return to find Sunshine completely comatose in its travel box.

    When we get home I will go for a long walk to try to work off some of the consequences of the trip to Russia, and when I get back the cat will still be comatose. Over the afternoon and evening he will wake up, stagger, collapse, and fall aslepp again a number of times. By 19:00 he will almost be normal.

    Irma will go shopping while I will begin working with Scrivener on the e-book. I will make serious progress in using it the “right” way, and be happy for it.

    The vet thinks that Sunshine has an infection but nothing more serious. We will find out for certain next week when the results of the blood tests come back.

    Friday, August 5

    Beach, Hanko, 19:00


    When we woke Irma and Naa walked to the nearby K-Supermarket to buy things for breakfast.

    We then drove to the Tennis Club to see Cata and Jokke who run the café there. Caius was coaching, Jokke was busy behind the counter, and Cata, Claudia and Bebu were on the beach, with Frida. We walked down and sat on the beach with them in bright sunlight.

    When they went to the café to start work we drove to the centre and looked around. The centre was very small and utterly fantastic. I had not realised that Hanko was this nice. It is like a quiet English seaside resort.

    In the afternoon we met Leffe at the café, when he was arriving to play tennis.

    Now we have walked to Hangon Casino, which is not in fact a casino, but a bar and restaurant which is not open this summer. We have walked round it and onto the beach, which even comes equipped with Victorian-style changing rooms. Everyone takes photos of everyone else taking photos.

    Later we will return to K-Supermarket to buy things to barbecue, before walking through the woods to meet Cata and Jokke again. In the woods we will pass a teenage gang meeting. Two girls have a quad bike, a small boy has a scooter and the rest have bikes.

    Tonight we will have spare ribs.

    Friday, August 7

    Gumbostrand, 14:00


    We are on our way to Pellinki, and Irma has decided to take the old road. So far we have stopped at two small bakeries, one of which is in the location where we remember the other one – which has now moved a couple of hundred metres up the road. We never quite get to the bottom of this although we suspect real estate shennanigans of some kind.

    Now we have driven well off the main road to find the little village of Gumbo. For some reason this houses a large and impressive commercial art gallery, and we are wandering around it looking at the work of several well-known contemporary Finnish artists.

    It will be a surprisingly long time before we arrive in Sundö.

    Friday, August 9

    Manas Grindz, Kahuku, 13:09


    We have rented a bright red Jeep Wrangler for today and Monday from the gas station two hundred metres from our condo.

    We have driven almost to the top of the island, up the right hand side, and hunger has struck. We pass through the small town of Kahuku and stop at the roadside diner, where we have chicken, rice and mac.

    I watch the occasional truck driving north up Kamehameha Highway while I eat. The sun casts long black shadows. I think we can see the whole town from where we sit.

    We will both find ourselves thinking something like, “I am sitting outside a roadside diner in Hawaii in the sun watching bright coloured trucks go by!” and smiling.

    We will stop at Turtle Beach, a resort worse than Waikiki in its ability to destroy the very things that caused you to go there in the first place.

    We will drive round to Waimea Bay, which will have no waves at all. Further along though we will see plenty of both, on a quiet unannounced strip of beach.

    Friday, August 9


    Slush, 11:54


    Irma and I went to Slush together again, and this time we went in thick snow. The delegates will get a proper Finnish winter surprise this morning. The slush fell diagonally into our faces as we walked from the car to Messukeskus but Irma couldn’t resist taking some more photos with the people from Space Station, who had space suits on.

    We walked around and listened to a panel discussion on artificial intelligence. Irma became intensely interested and wanted to see more. We passed by a robot arm that served us with glöggi, and now we have reached the stand where we both pitched yesterday. Irma has another idea that she wants to pitch and so I wait. After the pitch, and the t-shirt she gets for doing it, I notice one of the posters from the Don’t share campaign and photograph it while Irma makes herself a tinfoil hat.

    We will then go onto watch some more presentations at the Fireside theatre until Irma has to leave. I will watch some more, gather some more stickers, and leave into the, by now very heavy, snow.

    At Arcada I will make a pecha kucha about how to make a pecha kucha, something I had planned to do for some time. It will work well.

    I will lead the final session of Digital Mediascapes and, for the first time, it will feel to me as though it comes to a conclusion; and a conclusion that makes it appear to form an intrinsic part of the overall course. I will give the final assignment, making sure that everyone understands it, and then I will go home.

    I wil find Naa at home when I get there.

    Friday, December 1