Interconnected

All posts made in Dec. 2015:

Favourite books, 2015

Favourite books read this year:

New Things is so undramatic -- the story of a wife at home, and a husband who is a Christian missionary taking the word to people who are hard to understand. Communication and distance runs through this book: Between the couple; between the missionary and his community; between what's really happening and the reader.

It's a delicate book. Half-told shadows of truths, understated language that circumnavigates huge black holes of feelings where light doesn't go.

I found out after reading it that Michel Faber intends this to be his final novel -- he wrote it while his wife was dying. Heartbreaking. You can tell.

Wild Life is by Molly Gloss who wrote The Dazzle of the Day, a novel about a village of Quakers who travel to another star system on a generation ship. They treat repairing the solar sails like farming the fields. And it talks about something that can't be talked about from the inside: Silence.

So Wild Life isn't sci-fi, but - like Strange New Things (did I mention the Christian missionary visits aliens on another planet?) - it's speculative fiction: A woman gets lost in the woods, I don't want to say much more than that.

Except this. There's a memorable period of silence in the woods. For me it highlights what happens in silence... you become detached from what words do. Words, somehow, add our expected reality onto our perceptions. Silence, by removing words, simultaneously creates dissociation - a dreamlike state - but also brings you closer to reality itself, requires you to become embedded.

The beginning, middle, and end of the silence is sensitively and insightfully told.

Archdruid is nonfiction. It's John McPhee's portrait of David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth, told in three parts, each part a fight with another individual, an opponent, over an environmental issue: Mining, property development, the damming of rivers.

The third part grabbed me especially -- David Brower rafts down the Colorado River with Floyd Dominy, through sites where Dominy has won and Brower has lost. McPhee is there too, a participant observer. This isn't journalism, it's telling a story through describing what happens between the three of them.

It strikes me that what these books by Faber, Gloss and McPhee have in common is they all describe character enormously well.

Brower is speaking on behalf of wilderness. Rocks, trees, these things are silent, at least in our human conversations. So we need people to speak for them. Maybe. It's a fuzzy domain. On the one hand, that which doesn't speak sometimes needs a voice, so perhaps we need speakers who will hold its viewpoint inside. Essential if the rest of us aren't going to destroy it by trampling. But the risk is that when you speak for a thing that holds its own counsel, you undermine its subjectivity and its sovereignty -- its right to be understood on its own terms.

McPhee describes the land in words that speak to me: The Utah canyonland had been severed halfway up by a blue geometric plane, creating a waterscape of interrupted shapes. He is also the author of Annals of the Former World.

What happens between people:

I have been having my mind slowly transformed by Group Psychotherapy by Foulkes and Anthony. I've had a long-standing interest in small group dynamics that I'm really beginning to indulge this year, and along with Wilfred Bion's Experiences in Groups, this is the best eye-opener I've found.

Groups (social interactions, company) are the water in which we swim. Having common group phenomena pointed out, or to be shown details of a group's evolution and its impact on individual behaviour, makes me feel like I'm finally seeing something that was in-front of me all along.

This is also the book that introduced me to the role of the "participant observer"... in these psychoanalytic situations, the person who attempts to speak for the group, but is also part of it. Tricky. Enlightening.

When you can see something, well, that lets you ask questions like, why couldn't this be otherwise? And, what about the groups I haven't looked at yet, the ones with trees and rocks and other non-humans?

Group Psychotherapy includes an analysis of the three person closed group in No Exit, the play by Jean Paul Sartre in which he says Hell is other people. I hadn't clicked what a tight description of the group this is. Now seeing how real it is, there's more there for me to read.

I guess that's what brings together all of my favourites this year. There's a reality to the characters, and their interactions, and their behaviours and evolution, and their situations; and so they tell me more - by speaking and by not speaking - and they live longer in my imagination.

@5point9billion news

Some updates for that space+birthdays Twitter bot I launched a couple weeks ago...

  • The bot now picks up the timezone of the user -- notifications are sent out at 12 noon local time.
  • There's a website! I've made Electron Farm as the home for my various Twitter bots. Use 5point9billion's homepage to set your birthday without tweeting it publicly, and also see which stars you've already reached.

The bot just passed 300 active users, which is not bad!

And here's a pretty visualisation of all bright star systems closer than 100 light years. It was a bit quick+dirty to make, but a neat way to get to learn about drawing 3D graphics. I like the way it looks, so I'm thinking about how to use these kind of animations for the bot.

Ulysses and other apps for writing

A quick plug for the Mac app Ulysses which has totally upended my writing workflow in the last few months. Brilliant -- the first tool I've found that fits the way I work.

My previous writing workflow in a nutshell:

  • I capture super-quick notes in Simplenote on my phone, or nvALT 2 (an updated version of Notational Velocity) on my laptop. They're synced together. Perfect for ideas, recipes, records of when I last called the electricity company to give a meter reading, etc. These apps are optimised for search... type a word or two, and all matching notes instantly appear. Over the past two decades I've seen the benefits of serendipitously running across my own forgotten scribbles, these apps are ideal for that.
  • For longer documents, I move to Textmate which really is a text editor for writing code, and it's dated too. I use a plugin I wrote in 2007 called Plain Text Wiki. This lets me write longer, structured documents of multiple linked pages, all as plain text. Seems like a bunch of trouble to go to. But I'm a purist: Since losing a bunch of data in the 1990s, I'm distrustful of other people's file formats. Plain text is the way to go, no Word docs. I want formats that I can extract words from, even when I'm down at the level of reading bytes retrieved from broken hard drive platters. It's happened. That was the first time. The second time a drive failed on me, I ran the server with the drive sitting on an ice tray direct from the freezer -- any warmer and it would seize. I do backups now.

This blog uses Markdown for formatting posts, and I wrote my own blog engine. The engine has changed multiple times, but the data - my posts - remain the same. For quick presentations I use Deckset which lets me make + present great looking slides fast, also using Markdown from plain text files.

So I'm pretty choosey, and my flow is pretty well established.

Every so often, I try a more grownup app for writing. Textmate is ok but it's made for coding. And more importantly, I can't get to the docs I'm working on from my iPad or my phone.

But the Mac apps I've found... they're all about focus. Full screen writing. Dark backgrounds. I don't focus when I write, I'm all over the place. I like to have multiple documents on the go, and often multiple projects.

Enter Ulysses.

Ulysses is plain-text first, with Markdown for formatting. There's a learning curve, and then it's simple: All my text sits in a single library that I've organised into projects. Within each project, there are notes both short and long. There's a prominent search field, and when I look at the Ulysses library on disk, I can find the text files.

I've added my blog as an "external folder" -- to publish, I drag a file from my main library onto it, and sync.

But importantly, it just feels right. I open it and continue writing. I don't have to think about what to call this file and where to save it, but equally I don't need to be concerned about mixing up my work projects and my personal projects.

What's convinced me to make this a permanent part of my workflow is that I'm on the Ulysses for iOS beta and it's great. The library syncs automatically. Being able to access my longer docs while I'm on the bus (which, it turns out, is where I do most of my thinking) and add notes directly to those projects... fantastic. Drafting blog posts while I'm on the tube, in a familiar text editor? So good.

So yeah -- an enthusiastic plug for Ulysses. Thanks!

All of that said: I don't think I would have looked outside my current workflow except that I sat down with Dinah Sanders and she generously showed me how she uses Scrivener, which is the go-to app for authors of proper books.

While I'm not using Scrivener (Ulysses is similar and I'm too committed to my text files...), Dinah opened my eyes to using process and organisation as part of writing. Currently I'm constrained by my own working memory. Every time I try to write a single piece of more than a couple thousand words - fiction or non-fiction - I get in the swamp. This feels like it's helping.

Next

I'm on the lookout for new gigs. 2015 has been a good and exploratory year -- the highlights: I've mentored startups as Entrepreneur in Residence at Techstars and continue to spend quality time with many especially in the pre-series A and hardware spaces, including being an advisor at Tech Will Save Us and making a small investment in Unmade. I've developed Internet of Things policy with the government; built a regular hardware-focused London meet-up; taught design students and explored small group dynamics; got a speaking agent (!) and done talks about the Internet of Things and business models; made a return to coding and built Twitter bots. I still work closely with Samsung on corporate innovation, and have a few more personal projects bubbling away...

2016?

I want to build on 2015 with new gigs, drop me a line if you'd like to chat. I'm open to longer engagements... full or part-time for 3-6 months, that kind of thing. Email is matt@interconnected.org.

New interview

John Pavlus interviewed me about code... how I got into it, what I think it does to and for society, etc. The result is this article, For Designers, Learning To Code Isn't A Yes-No Question featured at Fast Company Design.

Included! My early spiritual experience with transistors. Ted Nelson's amazingly prescient observation that Whatever it may do in the real world, to the computer program, it's just another device and the dehumanising effect technology can have. The steamroller approach of the coding mindset on the world's problems... and it's power too.

I'm delighted with this. For some reason, conversations with John always lead to interesting places - places I don't think either of us (well, me definitely) would have reached without talking together - and it's neat to have some of those endpoints written down.

Go read!

Hamlet and Star Wars and what fiction is

Look, Hamlet. Hamlet is such a non-nonsensical story. All rational, makes sense, about feelings, betrayal, etc. I must have written a dozen essays on Oedipal blahblahblah. Yet the play opens with them meeting a ghost! What is that?? What gets me is I've never questioned this, it fits with the narrative so well. So what are we seeing -- is the ghost some manifestation of the group unconsciousness, the reaction of the court to the actions of the king and queen so totally repressed that the only way it can come out is as a thing with its own body and agency, independent from any individual? And why have I overlooked this so far? Is it because when I read about the ghost in Hamlet I accept it because honestly that's just how things are: The world is inhabited by us and also by these forces that emerge from us all, but are claimed by no-one... and so we treat them as if they are real even though they aren't? I don't know. But the ghost isn't a chorus... it's not part of the staging. The guards meet the ghost! Hamlet meets the ghost!

Oh gosh now here's a thing: the Ghost was originally played by Shakespeare himself.

... which reminds me of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the way the Monolith is the shape of the cinema screen itself, and most of the shots seems practically built to remind you that (a) the screen has edges where we are and so via the Monolith we intrude, and (b) that the director is behind the camera and has a viewpoint somethingsomething

... and I'm reminded of the astounding stage adaption of His Dark Materials in which black-clad puppeteers controlled the character's omnipresent animal familiars - fading from our notice during the first 3 hour part of the play - and then in the second segment, they visit the underworld, and are told that we are followed around the whole time by our own death, always there, always invisible, at which point the puppeteers remove their masks. Tingles.

somethingsomething a crack between our world and the fiction world

(I have an assumption that authors and directors are all always talking about the weird timelessness of fiction and the roles of the author and spectator/reader, because that's the world THEY inhabit. Even, I don't know, Greg Egan with Schild's Ladder which is the hardest of hard sci-fi, could he be any more preoccupied with the nature of crafting a story and how it gets in and out of the page? The entire thing is a metaphor down to the new bubble universe being like the solid pages of a book, and the spaceships weaving themselves like story being constructed letter by letter.)

... and somethingsomething I'm reminded of this 2005 piece about Star Wars and what The Force really is. Being:

the characters come to understand that there is another agent, external to themselves, that is dictating the action. Within the films' fiction, that force is called ... er, "the Force." It's the Force that makes Anakin win the pod race so that he can get off Tatooine and become a Jedi and set all the other events in all of the other films in motion. We learn that Anakin's birth, fall, redemption, and death are required to "bring balance to the Force" and, not coincidentally, to give the story its dramatic shape.

And so, yes:

The Force is, in other words, a metaphor for, or figuration of, the demands of narrative. The Force is the power of plot.

There's a ghost in Hamlet! The ghost was played by Shakespeare! Dunno, good grief, I'm broken, draw your own conclusions.

My latest Twitter bot: @5point9billion

Backstory! Exactly 12 years ago today, I made a little web toy called Light cone. It's still running:

From the moment of my birth, light (that I could have influenced) has been expanding around the Earth and light (which could influence me, from an increasing distance of origin) reaching it -- this ever-growing sphere of potential causality is my light cone. Today... My light cone contains 70 stars. Zeta Doradus will be reached in in 2 months.

Remember RSS for blogs? The idea was you would subscribe to a live feed of your light cone in your blog reader, and get a notification every time you reached a new star. Now RSS is no longer the new hotness, but over a decade later there are still about 500 people subscribed to that old web toy.

I enjoyed it as a tiny, cosmic, lovely thing. I included it in the words I wrote in the intro to Mind Hacks way back in 2004, here: p Eridani, hello! It's still great to look back, to see how far I've come.

So I figured, let's drag this thing into the modern age, let's move this thing to Twitter. (I've been making Twitter bots lately.)

What it does

My new bot is called @5point9billion which is the number of miles that light travels in a year. The idea is that you follow it, tweet it the date of your birth (e.g. here's my starter tweet), and then it lets you know whenever you reach Aldebaran or wherever.

You get tweets monthly, and then weekly, and for the last couple of days... and then you pass the star. It feels neat, don't ask me why.

(Aldebaran is about 66.7 light years away, so light reaching it today left Earth on 1 April, 1949, on the day Gil Scott-Heron was born. I won't reach it for almost another three decades.)

The bot only tells you about bright stars -- stars you could see in the night sky with the naked eye from rural areas. I figured it would be fun to hear you were reaching Tau Ceti, and then be able to look for it up there.

(Tau Ceti is 11.9 light years from Earth, so if you're almost 12 years old - born at the end of January 2002 - you're touching it now. Hey and guess what, Tau Ceti has planets! I passed Tau Ceti 25 years ago.)

So yeah -- my new Twitter bot! I'm testing it at the moment so there are rough edges in the copy, and it might break. But please do give it a go. @5point9billion is over here. You'll need to talk to it from a public Twitter account.

Write-up

I haven't made a habit of project write-ups before, but I'm taking an increasingly "long now" approach to the tech I make and use. How will I remember what I made in a decade? By reading this post.

If you just want to use the bot, stop reading now :) If you want to know a bit about the underlying data, carry on.

Data

My original web toy was based on a list of stars I found at An Atlas of the Universe. It was a little haphazard (I've since discovered) but more importantly only went up to 50 light years. That felt like a lot of headroom when I made the first version of this and I was 25. Now I'm 37 and 50 doesn't feel so far away.

Better data required!

It turns out there are dozens of astronomical catalogues, all of them doing slightly different jobs.

In the end I found the HYG Database which combines three sources, it contains all stars in Hipparcos, Yale Bright Star, and Gliese catalogs which is some 120,000 stars in total.

Of particular interest to me is the data from the Yale Bright Star Catalog which concentrates on naked-eye visible stars. The HYG Database includes and tidies this up.

Then there's the question of filtering down this huge number of stars.

First, filter by distance: There are some 4,061 stars listed within 100 light years (well, star systems but we'll get to that). But this includes objects invisible to all but the most powerful telescopes.

So I picked a threshold -- astronomical brightness is expressed in apparent visual magnitude, basically not how bright the star or planet or whatever actually is (we can't know) but how bright it looks from Earth. And this is a brightness that peaks around 550nm, right in the middle of the visual range... some stars are crazy bright in the infra-red but you can't see them.

(550nm is yellow-green, chartreuse.)

Using this magnitude chart I picked +4.5 as a cut-off (lower is brighter), which is between these two descriptions:

+4.0: faintest naked-eye stars visible from many smaller cities/(outer) suburbs +5.0: faintest naked-eye stars visible from "dark" rural areas located some 40 miles (60 km) from major cities

Filtering by brightness: There are 181 objects in HYG closer than 100 light years, which are also brighter than magnitude +4.5.

It's arbitrary but that's a decent number.

Then, data cleanup.

Our closest star system is Toliman aka Rigel Kent aka Alpha Centauri. In my filtered-for-brightness HYG it has two entries: Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B. Although Alpha Centauri looks like a single star to the naked eye, these two stars can be seen separately with a 2 inch telescope, and they were first spotted in December 1689.

But it turns out there's also third star -- Proxima Centauri. It's dim, small, and although 0.2 light years from the other two, it's gravitationally part of the same system. I've combined these entries.

Actually I've gone through all 181 objects listed and:

  • combined them if necessary
  • added a link to the relevant Wikipedia page
  • tagged them according to how many stars are in the system... of the whole set, only about half (a little over) are solitary. Loads are binaries, some are 4 or 5 star systems
  • made a note if we reckon they have planets. That's cool to know!
  • named them

We've been naming stars for thousands of years. So most bright stars have multiple names, and because Wikipedia is a product of the west, I mainly find European or Arabic names of stars visible from the northern hemisphere. Sometimes there are Chinese names given too.

I've picked my favourite names.

My pick is purely subjective. I've mainly used the expanded version of the abbreviated, disambiguated name given in HYG. For example, when HYG said 52Tau Cet, I've changed that to Tau Ceti.

With others, I've leaned towards traditional names. In HYG: 35Eta Oph. That's Eta Ophiuchi, but I'm referring to it as Sabik. Of course there are multiple traditional names, and to give you an idea of what the Chinese name is like, here's what Wikipedia says:

In Chinese, this star is considered part of ... Left Wall of Heavenly Market Enclosure, which refers to an asterism (pattern of stars) representing eleven old states in China that mark the left borderline of the enclosure ... Consequently, Eta Ophiuchi itself is known as Tian Shi Zuo Yuan shiyi, English: the Eleventh Star of Left Wall of Heavenly Market Enclosure, representing the state Song.

I've played silly buggers with the character accents there but you get the idea.

Now I have to say, the Eleventh Star of Left Wall of Heavenly Market Enclosure is possibly one of the most poetic things I've heard, but I've picked "Sadik" as the name simply because it is more likely to crop up in the books and movies I tend to encounter. As I said, subjective.

But you know what? Cropping up in books matters. I'm a fan of generation ship novels in science fiction -- I keep a list of starship names. I also keep a list of destinations...

It's super neat to think that, when I was almost 12, my light was touching Procyon, the destination of the ship Big Dog in Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss. The Dazzle of the Day by Molly Gloss -- Dusty Miller is carrying a community of quakers to Epsilon Eridani. And Tau Ceti pops up all over the place.

So the night sky gets richer with this tapestry.

Interactions

One speed bump is this bot needs to know your birthday to function -- and I'm asking users to tweet their birthday publicly to start using it. I've been asked a few times about this, isn't it a crazy privacy problem?

Well I thought about having this configuration happen privately through DM, but the thing is your birthday will leak anyway... the distance of stars is public information, so when the bot says "passing Tau Ceti in 2 days," that's a total giveaway. The birthday at the beginning is a hurdle, true, but it makes people realise that their information will be public anyhow: It prevents that fact from being a surprise later. I can set this expectation without explaining anything, it's implicit in the interaction.

Actually the truth is my next bot is going to be all about first pets and your mother's maiden name, and it's all a giant scam.

On the topic of setting interaction expectations implicitly:

You stop the messages by unfollowing the bot, and this is barely explained in the help text. It's an unusual interaction pattern: Most Twitter bots you can use by tweeting at them, and they reply with whatever they have to say, whether you follow them or not.

But this bot is more like a subscription, so I need a way for users to "unsubscribe" that is intuitive enough so nobody has to guess what to do... I don't want people to report the bot to Twitter for spamming and have account suspended.

I'm trying to build this unconscious understanding by making the bot almost unusable unless you follow it. Everything steers the user towards following, hopefully the equation becomes very clear.

What next

@5point9billion is still in beta -- on my list: a bit more copy, a couple more simple features, management tools on the back-end.

Between this and my previous bot (a poem called @liketocontinue) I'm gradually creating a system I can use to tell stories on Twitter. So who knows what I'll make next - I have a bunch of ideas in my notebook - but I'd like it to be incrementally more complicated. As the complexity of what I can do with my tools grows, so my imagination grows too.

Always up for collaborations. Let me know if you have any ideas.

But at the back of my mind is this... My previous version of this project has run happily with minimal intervention for over a decade. The code that runs my blog: That's been running in various incarnations for almost 16 years. My principle is to keep the code I write simple enough that I can rewrite it in a day or two. It's a decent way to future-proof.

The time I keep code running for is longer than the popularity of most languages, of most "best practice" ways of building for the web, of the platforms I use -- RSS, say. Will Twitter be around in a decade? How about the web itself? Is this bot simple enough that I could re-write it in a day or two? No, it's not. Not yet. It would be cool if it was.

I don't know where I'm going with this.

Crossing the river by feeling the stones.

Hey, @auchmill tweeted something lovely: Funny, isn't it? I've never been so aware of my age, or made to feel so okay about it

You can follow @5point9billion over here. 198 people are already using it as I write these words. If any of you are reading, hello!

Hardware-ish coffee morning goings on

Pretty amazing hardware-ish coffee morning yesterday.

Plenty of people present packing products or physical prototypes:

Catlyn and Daniel from BuffaloGrid with their ruggedised battery for simultaneous charging of 20 smartphones. Carried out to communities that agents are visiting anyway (e.g. for banking or deliveries), each port activated individually and paid for by SMS. So there's a business model and neat distribution. Currently running a trial in India.

Tempest from Science Practice and their super low-cost sensor (like, it costs pennies) for testing soil chemistry, and choosing simply what fertiliser to apply. Uses chips with microfluidics. This is actual cutting edge science. Amazing.

Matas of Vai Kai from Berlin with wooden dolls for kids. The dolls sense and react to one another, and connect over the internet. They're made for open play. Currently accepting pre-orders. Matas came along with Kaye and Richard from Paved With Gold, who have helped several startups market their new products.

Amir from Flitch which is an Android phone case which is also a games controller... and it's slightly magical: There is no battery, and no connector. It harvests energy from the NFC reader of the phone, and transmits the controller movements back over the same channel.

Pretty good for an event-which-isn't-an-event! We did the usual -- just colonised a few tables in the cafe, hung out, chatted.

Also we had: Avril and John who are behind the Ding Smart Doorbell which recently won the Design Council Spark innovation programme (and now they're making the thing); Marc who organises London's Mini Maker Faire; Tom from Autodesk who it is super great to see in the scene; Pierre, Jonathon, Lloyd, and Ezo.

That's only 4 out of 16 who aren't dudes. Not great. I'm going to use the new year to attempt a bit of a cultural reset, maybe change the location or the way I organise these things. HOWEVER -- that's my fault, not the fault of everyone who came. And so:

Thank you everyone who has come to a hardware-ish coffee morning over 2015, both here in London and our special event in San Francisco! Probably 100 or so folks? The reason it's fun for everyone else is because you are there. It's been brilliant eavesdropping on the connections being made and the conversations being had. Always surprises and serendipity.

So let's kick off again in 2016 - join the mailing list if you want updates - and in the meantime, coffee morning gang, happy holidays.

Today's restaurant reviews

On the eve of the activation of the Large Volition Collider, we speak with Dr. Giles Spenser about his favourite London restaurants.

1. Nando's

Nando's was a favourite when I was a grad student, so I get to call myself an old timer.

It's where we're meeting now

Yes, and thanks for paying! [laughs]

Seeing people dress up for spicy chicken burgers though... I'm not sure I'm going to get used to that.

A good last supper before you find out whether your theory stands up?

Yes! Well, yes and no. It'll be a while before the data is crunched. Not as long as it took the first time around.

The first time around we didn't have the computation, it took a couple months for each run.

This was with Facebook?

Yes, with Facebook. At the time, Facebook was this incredible map of human activity. Online, of course, and what we called the Internet of Things, that was all collected into their map too. The Deep Web at the time wasn't small, but it was statistically not significant. We wanted social interactions mainly.

So Facebook was this giant realtime map of enough human activity to be useful. And once a week, I would run my algorithms across it, looking for signs of actual human agency in all the changes. For most changes, you can pin down a cause. A comment is a reply to an article, a video is made because someone missed their train in the morning and had ten minutes free time to think. We can pick up that kind of thing from basic EEG and data mining. But some deltas, some changes in the map that is... some deltas appeared to have no cause at all -- spontaneous action.

Aliens!

That was the clickbait, yes. Shortly before I published, Wow Two had been detected, so the explanation everyone reached for was that I'd built a new Seti - a new search for intelligent life - but pointing back at our own planet, our own internet.

But not aliens, no, although still from space. Volition. I was looking at particular patterns in social networks, where novelty comes from. There are correlations. And there's a time element. New ideas, new actions, spontaneous human events... these spike at certain positions in the Earth's orbit, positions that precess. The view we have now of volition is that it's the first two dimensional particle, each a mega-scale skein originating at the central galactic black hole, orthogonal to the event horizon. Rotating around the core and rippling, like flags in the wind, trillions upon trillions of them. Where one of these volition 2-branes interacts with our own patterning, potential is raised, and new ideas form.

The Nando's flagship on Regent St currently has a wait of 2 months. Dinner and wine for two, approx. £200-300.

2. Holland

This is my supper club, welcome! Our franchise has been going for two years, we do a weekly dinner. All vegan.

A bit soon, don't you think?

Maybe, maybe. The Netherlands evacuated Holland what, seven years ago? [Interviewer: Five years.] Five years ago, is that all. And I know a couple of families who are part of the first group moving back in. They're very positive.

The name does upset some people, yes. But I think it's okay, my friends don't seem to mind.

What's the best way to get involved?

I joined up without knowing anyone. Bought some suppercoins in the app, earned a few more by doing washing up duty at a few meets, and I think it took just a month or two to earn enough for supper myself.

You met your wife...?

Here at Holland, yes. We have an allotment together now, so we earn coins by providing food too, and by hosting at our flat. Our group is really well balanced, actually, we're very proud of that. Self sufficient. We don't rent space or buy in service from outsiders at all. I think it's been over a year since we need to use any fiat currency. And it's a good excuse for us to all meet up, of course.

The question for me, obviously, is what made me sign up that first time?

A volition skein is what made me sign up, it turns out, and when I look back at the records of my social interactions that day, my patterning was just right for resonance, and my potential was raised. So here I am.

To join Holland, visit holland.club to buy a starter pack of suppercoins and find a supper near you.

3. Yo! Sushi

This was where it all started?

I was watching a roll coming down the conveyor and grabbed it. Why? Because it was there. And I realised that it was there because someone else had placed it, so that action was transmitted between us.

That didn't seem sufficient somehow - proximate causality but not ultimate - so I decided to check into it. To keep digging back. Which was easy then, as I said, because Facebook had mapped so much, before the Deep Web got so significant. So I was lucky, really, that it was tractable, what I wanted to test.

So what I'd made, at that point, was a good model of actions and feedback, and the tight knots that happens. I was double-checking, this action matched against these ultimate causes, that action matched against those ultimate causes.

But what I found was that I couldn't account for some tiny proportion! That was what I named volition. Volition, I speculated - maybe only a year after that meal in Yo! Sushi - is independent from human agency. And if so, it could be isolated.

And from there to the Large Volition Collider?

The technical work has mostly come from the community, but at its heart it's quite simple. The pattern-network we've created has been evolved in software, and printing and testing it has taken almost 18 months, over an area the size of Oxford near Lake Eyre. For the flatness.

The activation will create a pattern complexity equivalent to, well, not genius level. But a bright 10 year old in a well-formed environment. Once we pass through a volition skein - once Earth on its orbit moves through a skein - the pattern will resonate and we should be able to see the potential rise and new ideas form. Real volition. But it'll take a long time to sift that out from the noise of the normal pattern-network operations.

The critics say it's expensive.

Yes, but what we're looking for is fundamental particle of consciousness itself. If we can find that, what might the applications be? New ideas on demand? Finally identifying the difference between us and the artificial intelligences?

Personally I think we should look for ripples in the volition skein and triangulate the origin of Wow Two. See if we can say something back to those aliens.

Good luck Dr. Spenser.

Yo! Sushi has 120 London locations. Lunch approx. £100-150. Dinner approx. £150-200.

Follow us for live coverage of the Large Volition Collider, starting tomorrow at 02:00 UTC.

Hardware-ish coffee morning, edition 13

Hey, let's have a hardware-ish coffee morning next week!

Thursday 10th December, 9.30am for a couple of hours, at the Book Club (100 Leonard St).

Here's how it works but the short version is there might be five of us, or there might be 15, and we're vaguely interested in hardware startups, or making things with paper, or knitting, or Arduino. Or, like last time, we're into industrial design, VC, and factories. Mainly it's about caffeinated beverages and hanging out. There are no talks or anything like that, it's just a coffee shop. Minutes of the previous hardware-ish coffee morning!

ADDITIONALLY. You'll see from those links that I track our Not A Dude Quotient. If you're a woman or basically don't self-identify as a dude, please feel doubly welcome! Let's be the London hardware scene we want to have.

Uh, what else. Bring a thing if you've got a thing to bring. Always nice to see physical stuff, whether it's a product prototype, a new Pi Zero (I've not seen one yet), or your latest origami.

See you Thursday!