You must to listen to this week's Inner Voices from Radio 4 while it's still available online (until mid next week). It's Stewart Lee doing Pea Green Boat, fifteen minutes on The Owl And The Pussycat. This link will only work for a week: Inner Voices in the BBC Radio Player.
I am an owl. The cat is a cat. We are not sailors, neither of us. Who sewed our tiny blue uniforms? Who fashioned my owl-sized beret? Who dressed us, against our will, as miniature mariners? [...] To distract me from my pain, I have been given a small guitar. Which I suppose would be some consolation if I had any fingers.
Listen. Is funny.
Some days, everything is set up to perfection. I've got stacks of work to do, but for the first time since the beginning of the year, everything is working as it should be. My Powerbook plugs in to everything in seconds, my papers and links/notes are all at hand and well-integrated, the music's good, and I have my favourite pen in not just black and blue but brown too (and a fresh notebook to boot). Current desktop setup. It's all trending like this, tiny innovations that make life slightly better. There are coloured fridge magnets that may or may not make a pattern so I can indulge my autistic side while washing up; there's a miniature saucer near the kettle for the tea spoon. The plants are doing well, we have fresh herbs to use for dinner.
Here I am, in my own house, no flatmates any longer, Es is at a show for a week, I'm completely on my own. And with the run of the place, look at what happens. While the cat's away, the mice cover the wall with post-its, preparing for a presentation.
(I say mice, I mean me. I figure that's obvious, but it's best to say, just in case I'm giving the impression I'm like the cobbler with the shoe-making elves. Only with mice. Who can do PowerPoint.)
In an hour, a science programme starts on Radio 4 dedicated entirely to The Sound of Life (9pm). From the first episode programme notes,
The programme uncovers the accidental sounds made by the first life-forms in the oceans which later evolved onto land. Bacteria, which can still be found in the Antarctic Ocean today, made the first sounds of life on planet Earth. They produced bubbles of oxygen, which made sounds as they passed through the water. They also formed dense, soggy mats which sloshed against the shores, creating the first sound of life for three billion years. The trailer I heard just now was a heavy humming. Awesome. Listen!
We went for a tour round St Pancras Chambers yesterday. Celia took photos, and Phil did a write-up. During the 1960s and 1970s, the building was used for offices by British Rail, who put suspended ceilings in the tall rooms and slathered white and beige paint over the marble columns and the murals. Eventually they computerised their accounts department, punching holes in the ornate ceiling and swinging the wiring down into the old coffee lounge. Rod and I discussed a 1960s version of steampunk (the iron staircase had already been too much for me; I could see the building unfolding into a mechanically articulated robot, striding off down the Euston Road to do battle with the London Zoo aviary, which is wispy but swarmishly powerful, like the birds within it. Clank clank clank. And the radiators looked like Babbage heatsinks (computional turbines attached to every fin)). What would 60s steampunk be? I think the age of Empire was characterised by bureaucracy, but of an ecological kind. The British Empire would infiltrate with its rules and its values, a weed that would bind the soil, and conquer countries from within. A network ahead of its time, like the contemporay booms in the railway (early 1900s), electricity and electric lighting (early 1890s) and the telegraph (1880s). It fully understood the value of distributed, rule-based but contextual operation. Flexible cellular automata, sweeping the wealth back to London.
The late 1950s and 1960s were different. This was an era of early cybernetics: command and control. Centralisation, nationalisation. They had the idea that big control was done centrally and only the tweaking delegated (can you imagine this happening in the real Empire? India being controlled from Westminster?). In a way, they were right: they had colossal power at their fingertips. New materials meant bridges as long as they could imagine, buildings in any shape they desired. Well, new materials being concrete. The South Bank Centre: designed, then poured. A 1960s steampunk would see a tattered culture rising out of the left-behinds of an ornate past that had a terrible temper. On the one hand they would be factual and rational, using their valve-driven computers to manipulate and influence. London would be the nerve centre of the new Empire, a nexus. Puppeteers. But another culture would exist within them, almost in contradiction. The new freedoms of the 1960s would also be there. And the control-structure would simply ignore the pleasure-loving anarchy. In its rationality it would control the trains, the housing, food, distribution, traffic, the whole of civilisation's infrastructure, a tuned machine. And the people would be care-free within it, wielding power unrestrained, running programs on the Camden computational monoliths, and piping the results to the provinces. Free energy, and free love: the River Thames as a giant construction line, superfreighters feeding in cargo of raw material at the estuary, and the assembly and manufacture taking place successively upstream, doing the will of the people, spitting out exoskeletons, telepresent-robots, teledildos, scooters for the national monorail, whatever. Whatever's needed for the night's party, or the spying, or the drama. Whatever, as long as it doesn't interfere with the delivery of milk. And Parliament would have moved to St Pancras.
I've just heard that the Blogging tutorial at the Hypertext 04 conference that I'm doing with Noah Wardrip-Fruin is definitely going ahead (guest starring Mark Bernstein, what's more!). I went to the this conference last year, HT03, and it's an eye-opener (my notes). A different take - and, I'd argue, a structural, academic and mature take - on the medium we're mucking around with every day. It's good to be reminded that the www isn't where it ends, and there are a lot more systems out there, ready to inspire us. That's why I think the weblog and hypertext worlds in particular need to meet up more. The weblog world because, well, stuff like page-per-post, permalinks, trackbacks and even comment threading are working around limitations in the type of hypertext that the www implements. We're still trying to figure out the problems, and there are loads of papers with solutions ripe for the reading. And the hypertext crowd? Mainly because I think people will take to weblogs very quickly. But also a bit because I want to see what will happen.
Anyway, Hypertext 2004 is in Santa Cruz this year, and runs August 9-13. Let me know if you're going and if you fancy meeting up? (And if you fancy coming to the blogging tutorial, that would be cool too.)
Speaking of which (thanks Phil!), I appear to have mislaid my copy of Abstracting Craft. Which is more than annoying because a good number of the pages were turned over and I wanted to remember those places. You don't get the same kind of experience, or the same pages, on a second reading. It's likely I've got to a pub or shop or something with it, and I've asked you [you being any number of people] to stash it in your bag for a while, and then completely forgotten about it. If you have it, could you let me know please?
Alternatively I've lost it, which would be most upsetting.
Update. I found it. I found it as soon as I started frantically looking for another book (which, now, I swear I've lost, but it could turn up). Looking along book shelves is always like that. I get distracted by another book I'd forgotten about, thinking about that for a second but still scanning along the shelf, and end up not noticing the one I'm actually looking for, little blinks of attention that stop me seeing things. I'd looked in the most unlikely places too, but it was under a photo frame all along.
I do hate losing books. I turn the pages over in some kind of extelligence, storing the pops of inspiration I get in folded paper. For good non-fiction I think this is essential: The first reading gets inside your head and changes you, and if there weren't little anchors to the particularly great bits that emerge between you+text, it wouldn't be as much fun. Exceptionally good non-fiction is nothing like that. Each time you read it you get more out of it, it speaks on so many levels. At times like that I refuse to turn any pages down at all. Sometimes landmarks stop you reaching the in-between.