13 Resolutions

I don’t usually do New Year’s Resolutions – if I want to change something, I’ll do it whenever, but this year, I’ve let a few things slide, and I really ought to make more of an effort, so I’ll use the same arbitrary day that everyone else does to make the start of my attempted changes.

  1. Go to the gym three or four times a week. (I’m aiming for four in the hope of achieving three. Two is bare minimum acceptable, in a really busy week.)
  2. Put at least 104 photos on-line. (2 a week, but I’m now used to the idea that I go through periods of one-a-day versus extended stretches of nothing.)
  3. Make a serious effort to sell some prints.
  4. Read one new book a week, and write a short review of it.
  5. Listen to one new album a week, and write a short review of it. (The emusic subscription should come in handy.)
  6. See at least two films a month in the cinema. Reviews optional.
  7. Go to at least one art exhibition a month. Reviews optional.
  8. Drink less alcohol. (Scheduled parties/special occaisions aside, when the rules are suspended, I won’t be drinking at all in Jan and Feb, and will be cutting back to a limit of three single whiskies or equivalent, while out for the rest of the year.)
  9. Eat more healthily. I have been extremely rubbish at this, this year.
  10. More socialising. I have not seen enough of many of my friends this year.
  11. Clear my debts.
  12. Make a serious attempt to organise an exhibition, preferably to include other people’s work as well as my own. (May be for 2008, but I should have at least have a date and location for one by the end of the year.)
  13. Develop and release at least one useful website-related tool to the public. (I think this is least likely, purely on the basis of time constraints, but I’d like to have a go.)

God Bless The Electric Internet!

Yeah, I know what the rest of you are thinking. “God, he’s off being all starry-eyed about something really basic like having Broadband again, isn’t he?”

Yes, I am. Up Yours.

I have a long fucking last, got a photo from the Sultan’s Elephant that I like. I got the tools to get it right off the internet – some clever bastard’s script achieving exactly the effect I’m not good enough to get with PotatoShop myself. While I was getting them installed, and fiddling with various settings to fine tune the effect, I was also downloading an album called “Beast Moans” by an outfit called Swan Lake off Emusic. warren_ellis bunged an mp3 up, this massive tsunami of reverb and echo, guitars and strange chimes, just made for my mood right now, sitting here.

I love the fact that I can get a whole album of perfect mood music, on a whim, completely legally, in less time than it takes to make a slice of toast, without leaving the house. I can do it while I finally crack a bit of work that’s been bugging me since May. I love the fact that it cost about a quid to do it. Suddenly, music is a disposable consumer experience – a thing to be had for the price of a coffee.

A thought to come back to tomorrow, I think – I know I’ve got a lot more to write on that topic, beyond my “oo, isn’t that neat” reaction, but bed is calling.

An Old Mentalist Fragment

I was reminded today that some time back, I took part in the 1000 journals project, and after a quick check, I discover that the long forgotten piece (written in about 15 minutes) is available on line. This is what I wrote, just so I’ve got a record of it:

It’s tipping it down, so naturally, the randomiser on the iPod threw up The Pogues “Rain Street” the minute I stepped out the door.

Do you believe in magic?

Loaded question. You can’t answer it properly until you’ve defined what magic is.

So, move towards definition. You can make yourself believe anything, according to Robert Anton Wilson, whose model of the human brain composed of “Thinker” and “Prover” doesn’t entirely convince, but offers a start point, and would suggest that there’s magic wherever you think there is, that consensus reality doesn’t matter.

He’d suggest that if you think something to be true you’ll encounter mountains of evidence in support. Your brain’ll prove what you feel. In evidence, he offers “23 skidoo”, the idea that if you convince yourself that the number 23 is important, you’ll soon find that your life is inextricably tied up with that number. It’ll show up everywhere. Important phone numbers, house addresses, restaurant bills, all on its own.

“Whatever the thinker thinks, the prover proves” is Wilson’s phrase. It’s both the heart of magic, and it’s biggest weakness. The suggested answer would be that magic only exists if you believe in it, and if you do, you’ll see magic everywhere. Against that, of course, one might easily point out that this engenders credulousness.

Perhaps the Art of magic is as much in sifting out pattern from random chance, in diving meaning from chaos, and still maintaining some semblance of healthy sketicism. Looking at it square on, that seems like the heart of magic – another filter on the world through might we may imbue any event with meaning, render it more significant. And if we give it more power, more impact, who’s to say it doesn’t have it? And if we’re lending something power, creating something from nothing, isn’t that magic?

Alasdair Watson
22/1/2003, in Journal 203

Points to anyone who find the slightly obvious hidden message.

Thought for the day: Magic, religion, and Mad Uncle Al(an)

I picked up a copy of Mustard in GOSH, yesterday, because it was a quid fifty, and contained a sizeable interview with Alan Moore. In between talking about comics, and his new novel, and etc, there is, as usual, a bit about magic, in which Alan says “I approach magic the same way I approach writing – no one taught me how to do it, I just thought let’s take a look at this from the outside, see if I can figure it out, and come up with my own approach from there. Y’know, magic is an art, so I’ve decided to approach it the same way I would any art.”

He goes on to say a lot of other things, some of which I agree with, and some of which I don’t, but that quote is such a nice summation of my attitude to the whole thing, I though it was worth noting. I’m always suspicious of magic traditions that require teachers and initiations, and similar bollocks, partly because they have the stink of religion on them, and if magic is anything concrete and proveable, it’s a device for thinking for one’s self, by one’s own lights (I think it’s more, but that’s the most basic use for it, I feel) where as every. single. religion. is about suggesting to their followers that “this is the way you ought to think/feel”. Some of them are nicer about it, some (many) don’t evangelise, some appeal to different subsets, some don’t suggest that it matters much if you do or don’t, but still, every relgion I’ve run across is a means for defining your patterns of thought by the light of belonging to a group of like-minded others. If you like it, ace, glad it works for you, but I have no need for it myself.

I also avoid them partly because, as Moore says: magic is an art (or the Art, if you want to get terribly pretentious about it), and frankly, teachers and tradtions and that sort of thing seems as useful to me as writers workshops, or painting classes. Again, if you like them, good, glad you’re happy. They’re not for me. I’m a hopeless autodidact – if I can’t learn it on my own, by practice and reading a few books, then I don’t want to know. Creativity, to me, is a totally individual thing. Being taught someone else’s techniques *might* be helpful, but I think it has as much, if not more chance of just getting in the way.

I have this sense that today might be a slightly odd day.

(Cheese update: not *as* fucked up as the opium shit, but still, a bit of quality traumatic subconcious behaviour last night.)

Everyone else is doing it (but I can’t)

5 fictional characters with the same profession as me:

I don’t even know *one*.

My job falls between so many bloody stools it’s ridiculous. I’m not an “IT guy” like you’d find in most offices. I’m not a programmer, as is normally understood – all the applications I develop are web based, and rope together a grab bag of technologies. I am not a designer. I am not a user experience consultant or a systems analyst, or a database architect. It sometimes annoys me, because I know there a lot of people out there that don’t take my profession seriously, from the “proper” programmers that look at me funny when I explain that frankly, I have only the vaguest idea what a pointer is (no, please don’t explain) or the DBA’s that assume that because I’d prefer to work in Postgres or MySQL, rather than Oracle, I musn’t be doing anything serious, to the normal people who file me under “web nerd” and do not accord the same level of respect that they would someone with most of a decade’s experience as a lawyer or doctor or or teacher or accountant (and yes, obviously, other IT professionals get that end of the stick, too) it is, from time to time, a little frustrating.

Like I said the other week – the single best definition of what I do is this: I build tools to help people communicate (some of the things they use them for, I like better than others, but ultimately, that’s what I do). I’ve been doing this, in one form or another for the better part of ten years. What I find incredible, to tell you the truth, is that I still have to explain to people what it is that I do. The internet has been mainstream since about the year 1999. And yet, people still don’t understand that the the clever stuff that all these websites do, isn’t the fault of designers (who are very important in other ways), and doesn’t just magically happen because the internet pixies make it work.

(And why, by the way, is it still acceptable for people to be proudly clueless about the basic workings of the internet, as if it were still the provide of the poorly socialised – as if not knowing somehow makes them not a nerd, and confers on them the status of well-adjusted human automatically? I mean, if someone thought that cars just magically went forward, we’d laugh at them. We expect people to at least know words like “sparkplug” and “piston” and have some reasonable comprehension of how they work to produce forward motion, even if opening the bonnet themselves to change anything would be beyond them, don’t we? How many of you actaully know what happens when you type an address into your browser and hit return?)

No, it’s not the sexiest job in the world. But it’s a profession. It requires training and specialised learning. Why the hell aren’t there any fictional characters in my line of work?

I have just read this back. I am clearly on the strong cough medecine tonight, aren’t I? I should probably go to bed, and enjoy my healing coma. Mmmm, medication…

Before I forget:

I’ve half written several LJ entries and ditched them over the last few weeks, trying to do my usual annual job of working out where my head is at after another year. And today, on the tube home, I read the best summation I can think of of why I have:

“I think it’s time for me to ditch all that surface dialogue stuff and have a dark night of the soul instead. I resolve to write down what I really think and feel. Work out in words what it is to be me and once that is done my works that detail the deeply personal will illuminate the universal. But now that I’ve tried to think about what I really think I realise that not only will nobody else give a toss about what I think or feel, but I don’t give a fuck either.

We get tired. We get down. We get happy. We get hungry. We want love. We want to feel good about ourselves. We want to think that there is more than there is. We want to make the world a better place. We want to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” – Bill Drummond, The Wild Highway

LJ Art

Wow, that colourquiz thing everyone’s doing makes me sound like a self-centered, neurotic mentalist. So, in keeping with my general policy of only being one of those three things at a time, I am not posting the details of me results.

Instead, I am going to tell you a story.

Four score and seventy years ago… was rather a lot before I was born. So we’ll skip over the intervening years and leap right to 1998, when I was working alone in a room that had no windows, but compensated by having a really bloody impressive fire extinguishing system. (Seriously: in the event of fire, I had 20 seconds to leave the room before it sealed itself and flooded with some kind of toxic gas. Happily, there were no fires.)

I spent quite a lot of time in that job basically using the web to teach myself all sorts of things, mostly either technical or about writing. Sites like Fray were a big influence on my thinking about the web at the time, and while I don’t read Fray regularly any more, it remains one of my touchstones for thinking about what makes a good website.

(Incidentally, I lied – I’m not telling you a story. Make up your own story, and pretend I told it to you. Pretend it had cyborg ninja mad scientists in it. It was probably quite good.)

Fray, of course, was one of the earliest social network sites. After every story, there’s a “share your experiences” bit (hell, if you dig around, you can probably turn a few of my responses up) and after a while, you started to notice the same names recurring, at least on the more interesting responses. And it had some of the “wow, that’s a really intimate secret they’re sharing” value of postsecret or even group hug (before it became a weird kind of oneupmanship with so much obvious fiction) do.

I’m reminded of this, because I’ve been listening to Alan Moore today, and the line in Snakes and Ladders “Seeing Art we recognise a thought we had but could not utter, are made less alone” reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to talk about in relation to the web, and specifically LJ for a while.

Only, as with every time I set out to do it, I find myself stuttering out. There’s something in my head about the idea of social networks as Art, and it’s trapped in there. I can’t seem to find the clear language to express it. I know that LJ is not, of itself Art. (Except in that computer code may or may not be art.) And most people’s LJs aren’t Art. But I do wonder about the idea of keeping an LJ as an art experiment. Not, you understand, a place to put fiction or any other made-up content. Fiction is not LJ specific. If we accept that the point of an LJ is, as with a private journal, to record the real, true things that happen as part of life, then surely it must be possible to make keeping an LJ into Art.

People have done it with websites, up to a point. Jason Kottke runs his blog as a full time career. I’m not saying that what he does is definitely Art, but y’know, it’s a creative, communicative, endeavour, so it’s got to be at least most of the way there.

But I know from experience – there’s a massive difference between keeping a weblog and an LJ. The social context is everything. The secret of LJ’s success is the word “Friends”.

So how would one go about keeping an LJ that was Art?

God, the shit that rattles around in my head.