All posts made in Nov. 2005:

ETech 2006: The speaker list is up! Only a dozen or so sessions are posted at the moment. And - exciting - Ben Cerveny and I will be there, speaking on playsh, the Playful Shell. :) More nearer the time.

Day 5 meditation, which may be the last daily entry on the subject. I said to myself, at the beginning, that I'd do this for 5 days, to see what happened, and here we are.

20 minutes again this morning, although my computer beeped somewhere around 18 minutes (low battery) which again made the final 2 minutes difficult. I had the momentary fears of being lost in time again, near the beginning and near the end, but if I just sit through them, then all is well. At the end I found myself wanting more time, so that's a good sign.

I counted my breaths, same as yesterday. But whereas I finished yesterday realising that I should be having the lightest touch on my breathing, this time I went into the time with that awareness... which made the exercise a lot harder. One thing I noticed is that I have a tendency to count a rhythm and have my breaths follow that. Instead I should be letting myself breathe, and counting the breaths almost incidentally. Also it's easy to fool myself into thinking I'm on the right path, and actually I'm just obsessing (uh, about breath counting, but possibly also in general).

It was when I gave up on the counting, near the end ("Count? Don't count. Whatever") that it came together. No actual progress towards just observing my body do its body stuff, but it felt more right.

Another observation: There're a lot of thoughts bubbling away in my mind, even when I'm counting and really looking at my breathing. One thing that seems to help is to not explicitly ignore the sounds from around me. When my mind does drift, it's quite good to have the hum of the radiator there for it to latch onto, instead of churning away about what my plans are for the day.

I'm going to carry on trying to meditate (20 minutes again tomorrow, and longer soon, I hope). It has been fruitful so far, and I find it reassuring that - like a good stretch - it rewards discipline, the ignoring of literal and metaphorical itches, and introspection (afterwards, at least). If I also become relaxed, that's a bonus, but not the goal. As for what the real goal is, I've no idea--I'm just curious.

My posts about meditation won't stop completely. If my practice or experience changes much, I'll definitely say (equally, I'll make an effort to say if - and why - I stop. It's rare for me to sustain an interest in anything for over a week, but I'm going to give it a go). I'm finding this dive fascinating, and the advice and comments in email and IM have been really good, and a pleasure to read and respond to. Thanks all.

How I sit when I'm "sitting": It's a conceit, I know, but I sit in what is probably a very bad half lotus. Yes, I could sit in a chair, but I spend my working life in the armchair anyway, I like sitting on the floor, and I've never had any trouble sitting cross-legged. My legs aren't terribly flexible, but I've been working at the gym on hip flexibility, so the half lotus wasn't out of the question. It's still difficult--fortunately (after reading the following article) it's just tight on my hips, and I'm doing doing anything wrong with my knees.

From Alan Little comes a short series of posts on the lotus position: 1; 2; 3. The last includes a link to a column on exercise to achieve the lotus. I'll quote as Alan does: To lift the leg into Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose), reach your right hand under your calf to grasp the outside of the right lower leg near the ankle. Flex the foot so that you can no longer see the sole, and slowly lift the leg up, rotating the shin and thigh outwards as you do so. Carefully place the ankle on the upper thigh near your groin, with the outer ball of the ankle joint supported by your thigh. Continue to draw the little toe of your right foot back towards your outer knee to prevent the rotation from coming at the ankle or knee. If you pull the leg up by grasping the top of the foot and allowing the foot to sickle, you will only overstretch the ligaments of your ankle and knee rather than opening your hip.

I don't think I'm trying this pose just for authenticity's sake. I'm quite happy to trust that it's better in the long term, and indeed I don't feel the need to shift around every few minutes as I do with a regular cross legged position. I settle into it happily, and maybe the slow change of my hips gaining flexibility will parallel that slow change of my mind.

Alan's yoga weblog is also worth a look. I know almost nothing about yoga, so it's pretty intriguing. I love reading about things I don't understand. You can pick up a lot just by seeing how the words are used and the language inflected.

He made a further point in email which I'd like to hear more about: Christianity has a meditation tradition too - "contemplative prayer" - but in Christianity there's no guidance as to how to go about it beyond sit down, still your mind (how?) and be open to Grace/The Holy Spirit/Whatever. Unlike Christian saints who are expected to let it happen spontaneously, buddhist meditators and yogis have developed a whole range of effective techniques for helping it to happen.

Which makes me wonder, why is that guidance missing from Christianity... or is it not missing at all, and I'm just not looking in the right place?

Two wonderful posts on meditation: frizzylogic [also, her links] passed me links to a couple of posts written by a friend of hers who practices Vajrayana Buddhism. Thanks both!

How to be uncomfortable. There are thoroughly practical tips here, and this stood out for me: The back of your hand will itch. A lifetime (at least) of habit will urge you to scratch your hand. Don't do it. Let the itch be there. Experience it as vividly as you can. If your attention has left the object of your meditation, put it back, without trying to block out the itch, or make it go away. If you refrain from scratching once, and just notice the itch, without trying to make it go away, you have just done something with your experience that is profoundly different.

Actually, this is the line that most resonated. On fidgeting and feeling pain: The other thing in play is that your mind is afraid of holding still. Oh yes. Yes, completely. I get that with the time.

Confessions. A brilliantly insightful post from beginning to end, on what you expect when you start meditating, and what happens: What they say is that they sit down, and their minds go crazy; thought piles on thought; their anxiety increases, if anything; and if their minds settle at all, it's only for a moment. Most experienced meditators will look a little perplexed at this description of meditative failure. "Yes," they'll say, "that's what happens to me, too."

And the post continues from there. It's spot-on, all the way. Yes, I've come nearer to the state I'm after before, but: Unfortunately you only get that state for free once. And yes, I don't do this already because sitting down quietly is almost unbearable, it's true: That's precisely why you hadn't been sitting quietly in a spot where nothing happens, hitherto -- because you knew that being alone with your mind would make you nuts. The thing to bear in mind is that it isn't sitting down and being quiet that has made you nuts. You were already nuts.

My mind isn't under my control. What else? The second thing meditation has to teach you, is that the mind can be still. "You" can't make it hold still, because "you" are the problem. But it can be still. Put the conditions in place, and eventually -- eventually -- it will become still.

Go read.

Meditation, day 4. Or rather, "sitting". Much better than yesterday. I tried 20 minutes this morning--a few people have recommended that that's the minimum to do. This is my first time trying that long, and the time tension got pretty bad when I couldn't remember whether I'd unmuted my laptop in order to hear the end chime. At 18 minutes I broke and had to check. The sound was indeed turned off, but breaking off like that made the last 2 minutes almost intolerable.

I know it sounds like I'm unable to wait for the end, just sitting there in frustration the whole time, but it's really not like that. The nervousness that I've been sitting too long (or only for seconds) comes on very suddenly, and goes just as quickly. My interruption was actually reassuring on a couple of counts. First because I guessed the elapsed time accurately before I checked (which will reduce my nervousness in the future); second because the experience of resuming was so different from when I paused, and I got to notice that difference.

Here was today's big step: Peter Lindberg sent me a timely email about these meditation notes, and asked By "concentrate on my breathing", do you mean just concentrating or counting? (I've been doing both.) From the rest of his email, I got the impression that there was something much bigger in the counting that I was missing. Indeed there was.

I've been concentrating too much on the breathing, even concentrating too much on the counting. I was using it as a distraction technique. This morning I tried to just count, just count my breaths as they happened, for the whole time. I realised very quickly that it's a hard thing to do. How can you count your breaths when the observation itself changes your breathing? Aside from the usual thoughts and interruptions (which I've decided to not care too much about for the moment), the first quarter of an hour passed quickly, and I had moments where I glimpsed what it could be to be counting and breathing separately: My body is a bellows, an automatically moving, rhythmically puffing sack. Along with this came a more vivid impression of the shape of my head, chest, and general body. How is this different from my breathing-as-physical-sensation experience a couple of days ago? Well, it's a lighter touch of my focused mind on my behaviour, I think. I'm not sure. But it felt different, and I'll be trying the same tomorrow. It's something that could definitely improve with practice.

These meditation folks are tricksy. Many times I've read advice that I should be counting my breaths. I just didn't realise it was so literal.

Anne Galloway (in IM) commented on my documentation of the experience. This really is a worry for me. I feel that dwelling on the sitting practice might run counter to the whole thing: 1 step forward, 1 step back. I'm going to carry on. Regardless of the changes I report each day, nothing much is happening. The differences in the experience, day-to-day, are fine-grained, and it's thinking through things (I think with my fingers) that gives me understanding and direction. I don't think I'll get very far on my own, maybe just a recon of the start of the path.

Also, I'm gaining a general impression of the experience I'm circling (but haven't reached). I'd like to be able to touch it deliberately, and I think that involves some kind of contemplation.

I've had many great links to advice in email today. I'll note those down tomorrow.

Day 3. Given how unquiet my mind was, I think I have to reduce my description even further: I spent 10 minutes just sitting this morning. It was the worst so far. The feeling of trappedness came on almost immediately, and I was able to dismiss it quickly. But for the rest of the time, I wasn't even able to concentrate on my breathing as I could yesterday. I couldn't stop thoughts popping into my head. Not in a busy-busy think-about-the-groceries sort of way, but my general internal monologue of noticing things, realising things, and wondering things--it just wouldn't stop. I may-as-well have been waiting for a bus. The time was up relatively quickly (though still something to be endured), and I didn't spend much longer contemplating the experience afterwards as I have before.

My situation this morning: I was in a different place (upstairs facing the radiator instead of downstairs facing the laundry), and I'd had a short lie-in and cereal too before sitting.

It feels, again, that writing about my sitting really doesn't help. But I regard these notes not as telling you but as me mulling. I'd be thinking about what happened anyway, so why not write it down? Besides, the impression of meditation I have is that it must contemplate itself, otherwise it's no different to other times of flow such as dancing.

What's more counterproductive is that I'm doing this without a teacher. To be honest, I think I prefer it this way--but I don't think I'm going to get very far, or even follow the correct path. Whatever. It's still interesting, so I'll keep it up so long as it continues to unfold.

An aside. I'm not sure I've ever talked about my train ride in February 2004, only mentioned it briefly. I took Amtrak from New York City to San Diego, via Chicago (3 hour stopover) and Los Angeles (an hour). It took almost 4 days, and I slept in a chair for 3 nights. I didn't take any cash on the train, and only ate a nasty burger after I left Chicago (at lunchtime of day 2). I ran out of books late day 2, and music (and laptop) around the same time, despite rationing myself pretty severely. I went to sleep when it got dark, and woke when the freight was moved all through the night, and at sun-up.

I looked at the land (the snow then the desert), and sat, and waited, and waited. There's no thinking that can be done. Halfway between point A and point B, there's a time when you can't move. You can't go back, you can't go forward, you just have to be. You just are, you just sit. It's beautiful. There are no ways to describe it, and no ways to reach it. You have to take the journey, and be inside it. I couldn't really speak when I arrived, and I couldn't describe the train ride. I still can't, really, I can just affirm it. "Yes. It is," is all I can say, "Yes, I was on a train." That's all I can say, and that's all that needs saying.

With my sitting, I think I have an idea what I'm looking for, only it won't be the same because this time I have to be able to take myself on the journey, without the tracks.

I think tomorrow I'll try 20 minutes, if I'm able, because something feels like it's happening just before I stop at 10 minutes, and I want to know whether that's an illusion (and I'm filling in the sensation, backwards in time once I finish) or whether it's really there. I also wonder whether everyone has this same scared feeling of the duration that I do.

Day 2. I daren't call it meditation, since I've no idea what I'm doing. Instead I call it my "sitting quietly practice". 10 minutes again this morning and it was pretty much the same as before, in that I wasn't very good at it, but the ways I wasn't very good were slightly different.

When I started, I immediately quietened down to a level that took me a few minutes yesterday. That was a surprise. The experience of focusing on my breathing was considerably more vivid too. I could really lose myself in the sensation of the breath at the tip of my nose (thanks Rob A for passing along this advice). It sounds odd when I try to describe the difference: It's like I was only focusing on the concept of breathing yesterday, but this time I was having the physical feeling of it, located on my body, in my nose.

Speaking of sensations... I also noticed that my continual "let it go" response (for when I notice my attention wavering to sudden noises, vision, or my aching legs) was itself a thing occupying me. A better response was to let the sensations pass through me and go away of their own accord. That felt like a better way to be quiet than keeping busy, furiously pushing things away.

A new distraction was that I was watching myself too much. It happened as soon as I found a new way to behave. This isn't going to make much sense: It's like there were two "me"s. One was doing the breathing and the quietness, and the other was churning away with thoughts just as much as any hour of the day, only saying things like "oh, that's good, good breathing there". (And I guess I don't literally mean two "me"s. Just that I - my thoughts - moved smoothly from doing something, to considering myself doing that thing.) That kind of introspection isn't terrible, but I'd ideally do it from here - the other end of the day - than in the moment itself.

Other than that, the time seemed to go a little quicker, and I occasionally had the familiar sense of frustration and being trapped, though not to the same extent.

Benefits of Long-term Meditation, with Shinzen Young:

Well, that's why we develop those special states of concentration first. That then gives you the ability to perceive and relax at the subtle scale. Now, the interesting thing is that when you observe yourself at the macroscopic scale -- with the naked eye, so to speak -- you get what I would call psychological insights, insights into your individual personality structure. Now, those kinds of insights are very important, and I would never denigrate them. When you observe that same mind-body process in the special state of samadhi or concentration, you begin to get spiritual insights, insights into much more fundamental issues than just why I am the way I am, insights into things that are universal for all living beings. You understand the nature of suffering, how it is that sensation turns into suffering, and therefore how it is that a person can experience uncomfortable sensations without suffering. We're not talking about this suffering or that suffering; we're talking about generically understanding the whole phenomenon, whether it's suffering from anger, from compulsion, from physical pain. You get what every mathematician is always looking for, the generic formula that works for all of these. Well, that's a very deep kind of insight, and that can only be had by observing.


I find it wonderful that it's possible to give words to these kind of experiences, and also that there's something shared, so the words make sense. In the interview, Young refers to stages, and to a third stage (after many years of practice) that is accompanied by a kind of permanent epiphany. I like that the route through these stages can only be refined by people following the teachers over decades, and reporting back whether the words were right or not. There are no short-cuts, and no easy translations. This happens even in little ways.

Shortly before I'd written my piece on representation and the semiotcracy earlier this year, I'd had a good night at a club on my own. I wrote these words: When you are Being In The World, these moments are unrepresentable and cannot be compared. In pure Dasein/dancing, there are no better or worse moments. There is no time.

I struggle to remember what I meant. I kind-of, sort-of remember passing into states where there were no moments, all moments were different, and I could carry on dancing forever. And that better/worse comment, I remember that I thought that was significant. Curious.

I tried meditating this morning. Well, it was probably more like sitting quietly. I was most nervous about the time aspect, so I used a stopwatch application for my Mac called Watch It which finishes with a gentle chime. I made sure my Mail and IM apps were closed, set Watch It for 10 minutes, faced the computer away from me, sat cross-legged on the floor and gazed at, um, the laundry.

It's not easy to try for a clear mind. Just trying it once makes me see how many different thoughts can come up. I tried to count my breaths down from 10 to 0--I can't even do one without getting distracted. But there are moments, during the breath, where there is nothing else, so I focused on those. After some time, I wanted to fidget and stand up. I really, really wanted to stop. This shouldn't be a thing you endure, I thought. But I tried to let that go, and carried on. After a bit more, I was just saying to myself "let it go, let it go" whenever something new came to mind, and then realising I was getting fixated on saying those words so having to let those go to... And then my 10 minutes was up. That was a relief. I was nervous it would feel like hours and I'd feel trapped (I did, a bit), or I wouldn't be able to sit there. By giving myself no option and no possible distractions, and attempting not to "try" so much, trying reach it like some kind of goal, I think I've dealt with some of my nervousness for next time.

So what happened? Not much. It was as difficult as I expected (actually, harder), but still illuminating to experience it first hand. I didn't feel the shape of my thoughts, or anything magical. I'm still within the states of mind I reach by accident. But just as, over that time, my legs stretched out and brought my knees closer to the floor, I suspect that, with practice, I'll become accustomed to my mind, become attuned to how it changes, and be able to take myself further.

There's part of me that thinks I shouldn't meditate--that, somehow, the only valid states of mind are the ones reached "naturally". For a couple of minutes afterwards, I watched the leaves on the tree outside the window move in the wind. There were moments, in-between thoughts, where I was just watching the leaves. Why not spend 10 minutes on that? And then I think, well, I'm not sure I could spend 10 minutes just on the leaves, either. So maybe I'm not indulging myself, like a good meal or a snooze. I'm learning.

In 1960, there were 3 billion people. Forty years later, that has doubled. The UK population has increased by 20% in that time, but still, that's a lot. It amazes me that the institutions and systems of government in place 4 or 5 decades ago still work. Have other changes really soaked up a doubling of our requirement of resources?

Here's a theory. You know when you use an old tape measure, it's always slightly too long? You put that down to the fabric stretching over time, as I do. But what if it actually is too long? Since 1960, they've been putting stuff in the water so that we get smaller and need less food. That's why we can fit so many more people in. That's why Victorian architecture seems so gigantic, and cathedrals even more so. At the time, they were a more comfortable fit.

The Creationists have the right idea with their "giantism": Adam was 15 feet tall; Noah was 12 feet.

Meditation: Reading that meditation is exercise, increasing the interconnections in the brain, has brought it back to my attention, and I've been wondering how to start doing it myself.

  • The Wikipedia article on meditation points to where it appears in a number of religions, and gives a short overview of the area.
  • Most usefully, Mindfulness In Plain English is a long essay (or short book) on one form of Buddhist meditation. I've found it a good read as it addresses important issues, including: how to know when you're done (keep a watch or bell); how to sit (choose one position and don't move); advice on how to clear your mind.
  • A short (again, Buddhist) article on How to Meditate, including common problems.
  • Meditation posture (Tibetan Buddhism). Even the half lotus isn't totally easy.

There are some pieces of advice that are instantaneously useful, like "look before you leap" and, over time, you react against them, react against your reaction, and so on. I'm happy to believe that there is other advice that works over a long period of time, of several years, which is maybe what meditation is. How am I to know how it will affect a person, especially if the change is mostly incommunicable?

Furthermore, I like the idea of feeling the surface of my consciousness, and how my thoughts flow. There's a game I've played which is to name as many animals (well, kinds of animal) as possible in 60 seconds. Once it becomes automatic, you can observe the way you have new ideas: The connections from animal to animal become visible. Thought becomes seen as a trajectory, with its own momentum, turning circle, and junctions. As chapter 5 in the Mindfulness book says, Our mind is analogous to a cup of muddy water. The longer you keep a cup of muddy water still, the more mud settles down and the water will be seen clearly.

But most valuable, so far, has been noticing my inability to sit down and actually start. I feel incapable of saying "there's nothing in the world that absolutely needs me in the next 20 minutes," although I know it's often true. I'm addicted to connection.

Any advice on exercises to begin with, gladly received.

Semiotcraton: The semiotcracy (defined; links) is a constellation of consequences of representation and naming: We want to represent, and - in a society [I include the nonhuman, naturally] - some representations thrive, and interact. They exert forces on the world, giving skins to that-which-is-represented so that alternative representations are progressively denied.

Consider the power of models. The world is round now. 1,000 years ago, the world is flat. Now, the world was flat. The words is and was allow us to refer to alternative totalising models from the inside and outside. They afford us history. They are the this and that of models; they are pointers with minimal representation.

But once our drive to represent has categorised the universe, we will live in a continuous present, a continuous is. The semiotcracy will have caused a self-reinforcing loop where the universe inspires representation, and then conforms to that same representation, inspiring itself. We will be at a dead end. The is will never become a was.

The eschaton is the end times (see eschatology in Wikipedia; the Catholic Encyclopedia). Thus the semiotcraton is the end of history through total naming, and it can happen in little ways, and I see the signs of it everywhere.

(At Design Engaged, Matt Ward gave me a DEscribe badge when I used the word "semiotcraton" (while looking at this graffiti I believe), requiring me to write a definition in 200 words or less. I just made it, if you don't count the hypertext.)

The Church of Mrs Bins and her Nine Lovely Daughters: I've written about this twice, and I think it's worth pulling together, in one place, what I know about her daughters. I see them as the deepest lines of flights of the universe. My sources are The Church of Mrs Bins, which is about the sect, and Proceeding to the next stage which gives a little more information, and says: Mrs Bins models the universe with her voluptuous daughters who represent the Nine Figments of Reality. Daughter Five is the cycle of life; Daughter Six is the harsh unfairness of the world; and so on.

Daughter one is unknown.

2: Mercy. Mercy is what comes after entropy. Once there is a vastness beyond vastness, something happens. Side-effects mount up, water creates an ocean; suddenly, on the surface, waves and a niche appear. Mercy is the emergence of something from the never ending terribleness of before. It might not happen, it might.

3: The trinity. As the text goes, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, rolled up, plump and sunny. To celebrate our god: Once a year we kill her. Once a week we eat her. Metaphorically, so we don't really, but once it happened. "One down, eight to go!" said Mrs Bins, mouth full. Daughter 3 is the world, god, and coyote... or rather, she is the fact that three always go together. We eat her, that's the essence of the human, to eat (to linearise, to experience) the all, and digest (to meshwork it, to give back out, to utter, to calcify, to die). She is the funnel.

Four is also unknown.

Daughter number five is the metabolic cycle, autopoiesis, the circuit, generations (so she's unfinished circuits too). She is the dance between convergence and divergence. Not time itself, but that which manages to persist through time by re-creating itself, and - in particular - the way the mechanism of the recreation exerts its own force on what exists. We are surrounded by what persists, and how it does so.

6 is the Leopard, the judgement of humankind by the universe, the objective morality. She is a cross between Zoroastrian wills, and lines of flight. She is constraint; she gives us meaning.

7 and 8 are unknown.

Nine is deaf, death, the you-are-no-centre.

I do wonder what the other daughters are. They could reference what the Zoroastrian wills cover, the epiphany, something about transformation (copies can never be made exactly), the force naming exerts on the model (the way ideas are more easily comprehended than communicated, for example, told with Moses and the tablets down the mountain and also the naming trouble) or the way things get doubly articulated. Perhaps one is like Odysseus tying himself to the mast, which is how time-binding can be used to make impossible encounters where you're unable to trust yourself. Or maybe they're something more human, through daughter 6 already speaks to human constraints like the game theory equations that shape our social world.

It's impossible to know until the daughters manifest themselves, I suppose. I'll find a way to reveal them.

I remember hearing about software radio in the context of open spectrum [brief notes], but didn't realise how far it'd come now: GNU Radio appears pretty established. Alex Laurie tells me that SDR is the next big thing in mobile--which is staggering, because it means that anything with a chip and knowledge of the correct protocols will be able to take part in the cellphone network, at least at the edges.

But also, it makes me think. If we have a country full of deployed SDR phones, that means they can tune to different frequencies easily, and there's also a lot of distributed computational power, and a network connection... Could the mobiles spend their downtime monitoring a different frequency, say, the cosmic microwave background radiation? The phones would comprise an extremely vast radio interferometer, a huge, distributed telescope. It'd be collaborative COBE and, by listening on other frequencies, a live, end-to-end, mobile SETI@home. Why download the radio signals when you can collect it?

Us from the perspective of an antenna: The nearby presence of a human body, which may be thought of as a crude, poorly-conducting 2 metre monopole, [...] -- An Introduction to Antenna Theory, H. C. Wright.

How they make cheese: Cheese, like honey, is a natural substance, now farmed by man. Specially bred cheese bees are introduced to cow's udders, usually by injection of a fertile queen (in this modern era), or - traditionally - by smearing the teats with butter to entice the swarm to move into the empty udder-hive.

The bees digest the milk, converting it to a silky, stinking, semi-liquid substance, which leaks continuously from the cow as a kind of pre-cheese. Wooden spindles are slung under the cows, and use a slow clockwork to turn a wheel over a 24 hour period, winding the strings of pre-cheese onto a number of cheese bobbins, one for each teat.

Each morning, these bobbins are gathered, and the pre-cheese taken for drying. Eventually it will be woven into the blocks of cheddar, and so on, we see in supermarkets.

There was a programme on about the Romans last night, and what they did for us. Gosh, they built roads. Crikey, when they used long nails they drilled a hole in the wood first, so as not to split it. No shit.

If I didn't have modern day things like computers and guns, I'd do that too. I'd take longer to figure it out, but that's the way. Of course they did those things. They had the knowledge of a whole empire at their disposal, the combined craft of biggest civilisation the West has seen. I wouldn't expect anything less, frankly, than well-built, straight roads, ways to avoid carrying water, and a smart nailing technique.

I want to know about the things they didn't have technology for, and the things that didn't matter, and what they did about them.

Did they have The Market? How did they decide the price of fish? How did they see at night? Who paid for public lighting? What was their attitude towards recycling? Were there formalised routes for gossip? Any mass media? Were there people trying to invent ways to send information faster than the horse? What did they do about sick people? Did they shave their pubic hair, and did they have skimpy knickers (they did both in HBO/BBC's Rome)? Did everyone get involved in fashion, or only the people who could afford a new hat every year? How did they deal with ant infestations; did they care? Did they name their pets? Their genitals? Did they have cultural criticism? Post-modernism? Speculative fiction? When the end was coming, did they realise? Did they care? Did they want it?

Women's fashion below the knee: Around the winter of 2004, jeans tucked into fluffy UGG boots were fashionable. (This is in London, I don't know about elsewhere.)

The first pressure was price, so over the following months I saw knock-off non-UGG boots, with progressively shorter fluffy hair. Eventually the boot hair disappeared completely, and people switched to regular boots.

Only, the boots were everywhere. You couldn't move in London for women in tall brown boots, worn over their navy blue jeans. They were everywhere and, yes, many different styles, but always brown and blue.

That's two transitions so far: Copy-cat boots, then regular boots. My feeling is that the second of these got so much traction because it coincided with another trend, which is the frontier/cowboy look. This is itself an evolution of the gypsy look of the summer of 2004. As winter came on, the gypsy look needed more leather and heavy materials, which naturally turned into the robust, heavily stitched, but still lo-fi feel that remains with us today.

Anyway. The next evolution happened because not all boots fit over jeans, and not everyone can afford to buy new boots to keep up with fashion. By the end of the boot season last year, I was seeing women wearing boots from the previous season. These are tight on the skin and designed to be worn with skirts. Because they had to be worn with jeans - obviously - the jeans were rolled up to expose the boot. Fortunately I don't see that anymore.

Exposing the boot like that, at such cost (rolled up jeans, I mean, seriously!), is such a close parallel to the low-slung trousers craze that I wonder whether it had the same roots. Before they took on a life of their own, low trousers were all about showing off the brand-name on the top of your boxer shorts. Was there an actual boot brand war I was missing, after the UGG receded, or was it just about demonstrating that the wearer could afford to buy a pair this season's boots, ones that would fit jeans inside them? And after it started, it just became the thing to do.

As this year's boot season started, I saw the craziest conclusion to all of this: A pair of jeans with dark cloth patches sewn around the lower leg, to signify boots without actually having to wear them. Beautiful.

I like this new appreciation for texture and complexity below the waist (texture is succeeding, in part, because it resonates with the come-back of tweed). Jeans have had a long run, and there are many competitors attempting to replace them as the default trouser. But maybe, what the last unfolding of the UGG train showed is that you don't need to replace jeans. Instead, you take jeans in a thousand different directions. We might get jeans with ruffled denim around the knee, or lacing, or composed entirely of a loosely-tied patchwork. Who knows.

We don't seem to have had the new fashion spike yet. I'm looking forward to seeing what new developments there are with boots, in the coming months.