about this blog

This blog documents my staying at home and writing (and the subsequent whatevers to that writing). It also serves as an online journal for friends and family. It is more-or-less guaranteed to be sans intérêt to most anyone else.



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Sending news to Mum and the world since last week

2004 Reading List

Being a list of books read during the current year.
Moving Pictures
Soul Music
Faust Eric
Small Gods
Carpe Jugulum
Men At Arms
Feet of Clay
Lords and Ladies
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Guards! Guards!
Interesting Times
Equal Rites
The Last Continent
Wyrd Sisters
The Eighth Colour
The Light Fantastic
Dark Side of The Sun
Only You Can Save Mankind
Johnny and The Dead
The Discworld Companion (with S.Briggs)
- Terry Pratchett
A Child Across The Sky
The Wooden Sea
The Land of Laughs
From the Teeth of Angels
A Marriage of Sticks
- Jonathan Carroll
Northern Lights
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
I was a Rat!
Count Karlstein
The Ruby in the Smoke
The Shadow in the North
The Tiger in the Well
- Philip Pullman
Charmed Life
The Lives of Christopher Chant
Witch Week
Howl’s Moving Castle
The Magicians of Caprona
- Diana Wynne Jones
What a Carve Up!
The Rotter’s Club
A Touch of Love
The Dwarves of Death
The House of Sleep
- Jonathan Coe
The Empty Sleeve
The Sound of Coaches
Blewcoat Boy
- Leon Garfield
The River Styx Runs Upstream [Le styx coule à l’envers - Nouvelles]
- Dan Simmons
The Black Book
Set In Darkness
The Hanging Garden
Hide And Seek
Black And Blue
Bleeding Hearts (Jack Harvey)
Witch Hunt (Jack Harvey)
- Ian Rankin
The Wish List
Artemis Fowl [2]
- Eoin Colfer
Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K.Rowling
The Shining, Stephen King
Eastern Standard Tribe, Cory Doctorov
Free for All, Peter Wayner
Desolation Point, Dan Brown
Darwinia, Robert Charles Wilson

2003’s reads can be found here.
the official portrait...

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birthday presence

Well, she came one day early, but I’m not going to be too cross with Emiline for that. We’re going over to see her this afternoon. Kim [the hospital have said that she can visit her new niece] will be taking photos for her blog.

a Night at the Opera
Ludivine presented me with tickets for an evening at the Opéra, November 9th. It’s dance, at Garnier. Very nice. Only thing is, I’ll have to dress… I mean I can’t go to the Opéra in scruffy dirty jeans… or can I?
[update at 16:45: Ludivine mailed me to say that this is not ballet, but opera: real singing stuff… ]

the Pivot group made me a team member
Pivot is the CMS that I use to make my sites [this one, Kim’s, green, and some others that I’m working on]. I was going to write my own system, and had large chunks already floating around the hard drive of this iBook when I stumbled on Pivot. It was GPL, free as in both beer and chains, and written in PHP. I started using it, adapting it, passing my additions back to the project leader [a Dutch programmer named Bob], and generally mucking in. And then they told me that my status in the forums had been upgraded to Admin [and I received lessons in how to kill posts, threads, split them, move them, and I don’t know what until my head span]. This was totally unexpected and a lovely ego boost. Thank you people.

Steve Jobs announced a special black iPod ...
But the red ‘click’ wheel is so gross, I’ll have to refuse it. But if anyone wants to offer me a white one [not a mini, they look horrible], that’d match my iBook a lot better, I don’t think I could bring myself to refuse…

I was supposed to eat a couscous with Alain
...but we had to put this off until Friday as Kim got delayed coming back. It’ll just be an extended birthday then.

The entry about that weird article in last week’s Guardian has been read 10165 times
Well, that was the score at 6 a.m. today. The ‘Grauniad’ has published a [severely] edited version with a curious error in my URL. So no-one coming from there will be able to read this—Aha! Of course, typos like this are to be expected—how else did the paper get its nickname ?—and it’s nice to know that this venerable institution is carrying on this tradition in the digital era.

I received greetings from various net friends
I have occasional conversations with different net people, whom I have never met in ‘Real Life’. Ludivine thinks this is strange, but I haven’t given it thought for years, as I do lots of meeting people like that. Anyway, thank you all, you’re sweet and it is always nice to hear from you.

Math sent me a surprise…
An acapella version of Radiohead’s Creep. I’m not sure what i’m supposed to think about that… but thanks Math.

What a wonderful day it was, then.

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a very respectful halloween... and where I don’t get slashdotted

From the blog of the lovely Neil Gaiman comes news that at least one American school won’t be celebrating Hallowe’en this Friday.

Sunday, however, we will be in full swing as Kim and friends, tear round the house in disguise, and bubbling high on the sugar buzz. No disrespect intended to any Wiccans, just fun, and lots of games with apples. Halloween, probably because of all this transgressive fun (and who can resist doing strange things with apples) just happens to be my favourite annual festivity. And so, in turn, I organise it for Kim.

I get sideways looks from other parents—the French see Hallowe’en as another example of anglo-saxon (read American) cultural imperialism, encroaching on their natural-born right to make long, boring films with too much dialogue, and not much else. And stinky cheeses. I have to remind people that I’m English, not American, and that we don’t ‘Trick or Treat’; we just lurch about yelling and screaming. And the occasional falling over.

On a strange sideways note, my page ranting against the article in The Guardian” (and which makes me cringe now when I reread it, but I feel that it would be incorrect to rewrite it and cut some of the rambling, even though I severely want to) has been delivered by my Web server over 10700 times. I am amazed. I am still within my bandwidth limit, and as one of those who popped by to read said (and who sent me a nice word afterwards), at least I wasn’t /.ed.

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Say it loud... I am a grandfather

Nico—who is not my son-in-law, but who would be if he and my eldest daughter were married (and please don’t consider this as pressure to chnage things, it’s just that we are currently missing a neat small, word for this linkage—telephoned me. Mother and baby are both fine, he said. Already?! I cried. Yes, he said, we didn’t know either. I think that I looked into the middle distance in some vague daze. Relief, I think was the uppermost emotion, relief that Emiline was fine. Then I started to come down again. And, and what do you call it… erm… her ? We’ve all known since the sonograms that cacahuète was a girl, but they’ve been keeping prospective names secret… Eleanor, he said. He also kindly spelled it for me when I fumbled and muttered. He’ll be used to it, he’s telephoning everyone to tell them so he’ll be getting the same jokes, remarks, fears, relief and pleasure. Keep it short and sweet, I think, thinking back to when Emiline herself was born, that small stringy red bundle… He’s probably feeling just as lost and out of it as you were then. Can I ask you a last question? I slip in quickly, unable to resist. Why didn’t you want to tell anyone the name beforehand. We wanted to see her first, he replied, to check that her name suited her first.

A fine answer, and I think that that is why I don’t really need a word for prospective son-in-law, he can just be Nico in my books.

And now I have just read that John Peel is dead. This is ridiculous, I never met the guy. But… This is not celebrity, it’s not some TV personality. We did live with him. I remember when his radio shows were the only signs of light in an otherwise bleak horizon. I remember hearing—one example among others—Van der Graaf Generator playing La Rossa, live, before Still Life was released. And taping that, and keeping the cassette for years. Kevin Coyne’s cracked voice chanting Marjory Razor Blade… His talking about ‘The Pig’—his surname for his wife—... Even years later, when I came to live in France I still listened to John Peel at night, pushing the radio up next to the metal beams in the building where I lived, in order to boost the longwave reception. Hearing 10:15 Saturday Night by The Cure and being totally mesmerised. Another night, discovering The Jam playing That’s Entertainment…

John Peel was a passer. Some people said that he was just an opportunist for abandoning so-and-so music, and jumping on the next bandwagon. I think he was keeping his nose, his finger and – above all—his ears to the musical winds. He was—I started to type ‘is’—the model for the intelligent DJ; a discover, a passer. He was a model in that he always kept his enthousiasm for music, and just kept on. The sort of model for my musicblog green (in French).

But I never met him. he was just a voice on the radio. So why does his death affect me so?

There it is, death and life on the same day. The cycle. He was only 65. Only. That’s also the part that counts. I’m 48 tomorrow. Only 48. And a new grandfather. Oh well, that part I can learn.

Say it loud, and say it proud…

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hello Reg readers

Oops! I didn’t expect this. Since the Register kindly linked to me there have been hundreds of visitors popping their heads round the door. I mean, had I known, I’d done something… cleaning, hiding tidying things behind the cushions. Got some drinks in… Sheesh, I’m flustered.

Sorry, welcome. Make yourselves at home…

Please understand this was a quick rant that I dashed off when I read the article. My piece burbles on too much. I’m sorry. I’m usually writing for an audience of 3—or 4 if mum remembers to wear the reading glasses—but this got my goat. I should have been shorter, more concise, more punchy…

Anyway, while you’re here, if anyone is looking for a PHP-coder-come-whatever, I mean, as I’m unemployed… here’s a CV in French—English one on request.

Please tread lightly, bandwidth is a non-renewable resource.

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in which I see red...

“Violence on the streets is a pressing issue – but we have the ability to stop it in our spare time,” says someone who should know better in the Guardian yesterday.

Let me explain…In my neighbourhood we all have pets, and can often be seen of a night, walking with the dog. It occurred to me that, while we were out like this, in our leisure time more or less, if we saw anyone creating trouble, or littering, or picking his nose, or sizing up joints for a little burglary… well we could all jump him, and in next to no time, our streets would be safe again.

OK, you can switch off the irony detector now. Sounds ridiculous? Dangerous, even? But that is basically what this article in the Guardian is proposing…

Let’s investigate…

First a short introduction and preliminary points. Those who know me in real life, know that I am a father of three [all girls] and my first reaction—probably not the wisest one, I’ll admit—were anyone to get nasty on one of my girls would involve extremely violent thoughts. The same applies if someone get fresh with other kids that I know. I’m a big softy like that.

The article in the Guardian is written by one Dave Birch, with a Guardian by-line. It is not a letters’ page, it is not a feedback page. It appears to be Guardian-sanctioned content by a regular columnist.

But not only what this guy is proposing unethical—as my intro seeks to point out, it is dangerous in implying that bad and simplistic propositions could provide help to a serious problem.

This isn’t helped by that fact that Child Porn is also a very red-rag-to-a-bull subject. So let’s start by exploring the edges…

Porn is legal in most Western countries. Porn, that is, images [film, text, etc.] portraying consenting adults engaged in acts of a sexual nature. You can call this porn, or erotica, or filth; it all depends on your beliefs. That doesn’t change the fact that the creation and possession of such material is generally either tolerated, or legal, depending on the country where you live.

By definition, Child Porn cannot be legal, as, by its nature, it does not involve consenting adults. Nor should anything be tolerated that encourages or supports child abuse.

Fierce words.

The age of sexual consent varies widely, from about 14 to 18, depending on the country. Some countries— like France for example, where I live—accept that a minor may have sexual realtionships, but try to avoid minor/adult relations through specific legislation. This can lead to problems when a 17 year old is dating an 18 year old, and the younger one’s parents object. Technically, if they do have sexual relations, this is an offence and the police can [and do] become involved. But two 16 years olds, for example, will be left alone. At least by the law.

Please note, I don’t give a fig about the gender of the people in these examples, that is a private matter for the people involved, and irrelevant for the arguments. But it does make for heavy-handed phrases.

Point one: if a sixteen year old takes a lewd photograph of a similarly-aged sexual partner and leaves that picture, with the other person’s consent, on a computer or website, is that trading in child porn? In the States, probably, as the age of sexual consent is generally 18. In France, probably not. I’d agree that it is probably not a wise thing to do, but at 16 people do do dumb things. And that’s not the question. Is age the only concern? In that case, my parents have plenty of photos of me, pre-adolescent and nude. Lots of family albums do. Yet, because of the red-rag effect, communities now often protest and soemtimes block exhibitions and shows that might portray naked children. In most cases, this is ridiculous hysteria.

Point two: having child porn found on one’s computer is the 21st century equivalent of leprosy. And most people would agree that only severely repressive sentencing is enough to punish offenders. Others will talk about chemical castration, even physical castration as not being good enough… Yet, everyone has heard of how easy it is to attack a person, almost any person, through the Internet, through phishing attacks, or browser exploits. Most reasonable people should have already stopped using Internet Explorer and Outlook because of that… but even so it is child’s play to place incriminating images on another person’s machine… [I have image-loading turned off in my mail client, and view only text, but there again, I’m not writing a technology column in the Guardian…]
Here goes. Craft an HTML mail in the Mozilla/Netscape mail application, or in Thunderbird. Place an image in that mail, something easy to identify like a big red cross on a black background. Now, make that image 1 pixel by 1 pixel. Slip it in as a full stop… Mail it to a friend. Chances are that image will be downloaded and placed in the cache used by your friend’s mail client. An image scan of that computer would find it. Try using the new Google Desktop, for example. Of course, your friend didn’t knowingly download the picture, but it was found on her computer, after all. Now think how easy it is to replace the red cross with something more vicious. And how easy it is to spam ‘x’ million people on the ‘net.

Point three: not too long ago, Pete Townshend, the Who’s composer and guitarist, was tarred with accusations of pedophilia after a credit card used on a child porn site was traced back to him. It is known that he has spoken in the past about being abused as a child, and it is theme present in some of his songs. So when he said, yes he did go there doing personal research, I’m inclined to believe him. And feel for him, not against him. Perhaps credit cards could be traced to other people retracing similar painful journeys, or to legitimate, and mandated, investigators. First impressions are not always what they seem…

I hope that you have realised by now that the points above are destined to show that not only is very difficult to define what is Child Porn—especially in borderline cases—, to define what is downloading, as well as to guess the motives of those visiting so-called sites. I have also managed not to mention Nabokov and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson…

This is a complex matter. The abuse and exploitation of anyone, anywhere, anyhow is bad [evil, in my books]. Children are under our collective responsibility, if that bad happens to them through our negligence, that makes things worse.

Child Porn, and Child Abuse are part of that. Along with violence [of which they are a form] they are probably the worst of what our world has to offer.

Nothing in Mr Birch’s comments would improve matters. In fact, public electronic lynchings—which is what he calling for—would make matters worse still. And by diverting attention to a bad solution, more children will be in danger as money and energy is spent where it shouldn’t be.

Now his article.

“A cursory search on any of the file-sharing networks reveals the IP addresses of servers distributing child pornography. These “sick servers” change frequently, but they are discoverable. That is obvious, otherwise the judges, teachers, policemen et al, convicted of downloading such material wouldn’t be able to find it.”

“But what to do about them? Knowing that a sick server in some far-flung former Soviet province is distributing child pornography is one thing, stopping it is another.”

I don’t use file-sharing networks. It is my personal belief that they encourage leeching from valid content creators, so I can’t yea or nay his claims here. However, by definition you must find a server, it doesn’t find you. Someone must go out, look for it and report back. This person has now—in France and probably in GB too—probably committed an offence by accessing the server and the images. Pornography exists only in a space between the object and the viewer/reader. A file is just a file until it is looked at or read, then it is harmless. Or not.

So how do you ‘discover’ these servers [on file-sharing networks, on UseNet, or on the Web] without committing an offence? And your motives in the matter do not give you prior clearance, you can possibly explain that to the Judge as a mitigating factor, but it does not give you ‘carte blanche’ to investigate. That is taking justice into your own hands.

Part of the social pact, this strange, abstract web that makes up the fabric of our societies, agrees that we delegate that power of investigation to agents who act on our behalf. If you stumble on something, fine you should avert those agents. When you go searching the only difference between you, and somebody who is ill-intentioned is that you want me to believe your intentions are clean… And the other one has bells on.

“The scale and distributed nature of this problem makes conventional policing impossible. There are simply not enough resources to track down every sick server, find the people behind them (even if you could), and then prosecute.”

I don’t believe you. Please prove what you are advancing.

Why don’t I believe you… Well, Microsoft, for example, are incapable of finding their own e-mails, but Google can index the net, which is slightly bigger that Microsoft’s mail servers [and they through everything useful away anyway] so, I can find what I’m looking for in a couple of seconds. Thanks Google. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Google has, as far as the web is concerned, already indexed those Child Porn sites. Without the need for humans to go and visit. A similar solution, of a Google-type crawler could perhaps trawl your file-sharing networks, working for our delegates—those we pay to do our dirty work, like policing—can search. And act. They have the authority to contact the server owner in “some far-flung former Soviet province”. And if the FBI have the power to seize Indymedia’s servers in GB—or not—they can send the black helicopters anywhere in the world. If they really want to.

“A more realistic goal may be to disrupt the servers. In many cases, the owners of the servers have no idea they are being used in this way. But if their servers go down, then the distribution of the material will be halted and the owners alerted to the problem. If a web-hosting company sees a server go down, I am sure they will do something about it.”

Again, we have another blanket statement with no backup. How does he know that “In many cases, the owners of the servers have no idea they are being used in this way”. They may not realise what is on their servers, but any one who has a fileserver knows that it serves files, duh…

But what he is proposing is called lynching. DDoS attacks should be a crime, if they are not already. As more and more economic and social life passes through the net, deliberately provoking massive failure of servers is irresponsible, and should be severely punished. It’s not pushing Child Porn I agree, but it is mob rule.

And where do we stop? Is the Co$ authorised to DDoS all sites that it doesn’t like because, it claims, they’re broadcasting what it claims are sacred scriptures. Personally, I think they’re all nuts, and some may even be dangerous nuts at that, but that doesn’t mean I’d condone DDoS attacks against them either. But someone might. And if I were a pornographer, what’s to stop me taking down the Guardian’s site because I feel your article is threatening my livelihood?

“One approach might be to capitalise on the internet dynamic of decentralised co-operation. Instead of internet users calling for someone else to police their environment, perhaps they should band together to tackle it themselves.”

No. This is not anarchy, this is chaos. This is lynching. This is mob rule. Those with the more powerful botnet and able to launch the strongest DDoS attacks rulz.

“Internet users already cooperate in a distributed, coordinated way to tackle other big problems. The canonical example is the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (Seti). Around the world, users have downloaded screensavers that crunch through the signals picked up from outer space, searching for patterns that could indicate unnatural sources. When they find one, as happened earlier this year, they report the signal to a central system for further investigation.”

You previously said that “There are simply not enough resources to track down every sick server,” and here—like my Google suggestion—you say that you can. You can’t. But you can try. And there is a vast difference between a robot trawling a network and indexing it, and someone connecting in to look.

“Suppose they were, instead, searching for sick servers? Instead of merely reporting the problem, they could launch a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.”

Now you have stepped over the line again. A useful suggestion would be to speak with a police technology department, and propose that groups of hackers program such a bot, but that results are forwarded to a technical police team. I think that they’d probably tell you, thanks, we’ll call you. But you never know. I’m pretty sure that they’d tell you that if you did take action in coodinating or launching a DDoS attack, you’d get to see them again. On the receiving end.

“Why not link the automated scouring of the internet for sick servers with the distributed power of screensavers and the DDoS? I am writing this on a plane: at home there are two G4s doing nothing. If I could download a screensaver that either searched for sick servers or obtained a list (from the Internet Watch Foundation) of servers to attack and then cooperated with thousands of other machines to launch DDoS attacks against those servers, I would be doing something to help.

The police could spend their time chasing the paedophile sources of the sick content rather than trying to put their fingers in the dyke. My screensaver might become a life saver.”

Why indeed? And not, you would be doing something to help. You would be just creating a new problem there where there wasn’t one before. This is where he finally slips over the edge into raving bonkers [altitude sickness?]. Who is to decide what is Child Porn without viewing? Who is to decide that so-and-so server must be taken down?

First you start with local vigilant groups, then you start imposing the beliefs and morals of a specific group on society at large. No thank you.

If you want to see the end of child abuse—in all its forms—there is not simple one-two punch to pull. Put simply, abuse breeds more abuse. And bad education and poverty don’t help either

If you really want to act now:

  • demand urgent reforms of prison and sentencing:
    jail is not just a means to take people away from society at large, and in that removal punish them while protecting society. If it also doesn’t also have the finality of preparing offenders for re-integration then it is just barbaric. No person who has been abused, or has abused another, should leave a court or a prison without receiving help and treatment, even if this person is the offender.
  • improve the wages, conditions and consideration of teachers and social workers:
    these are the people on the front line in helping your children—our children—grow up fit and well. If we expect 120% from them, they should get corresponding consideration. On all levels.
  • get involved in after-school activities:
    some people don’t have a family life, and don’t get on well at school. If you want children to grow to find their place in society, and to stamp out all forms of abuse, then get involved in scouts, homework projects, whatever. Your community needs you.
  • get involved in organisation that work to protect children here and abroad:
    I don’t know of any charity that would refuse help, be that time or money;
  • prevent national social security schemes from being dismantled:
    these are the first line to ensure that all, especially the weakest members of society, those without a voice, get the ncessary care and attention to grow up strong and healthy in body and in mind.
  • stop grumbling and stand up and say you want to pay more taxes:
    these things cost money, and money doesn’t grow on trees, it has to come from somewhere. Or give tax-deductible money to charities, then you pay less, and they can do more.

    Nope, none of this is as sexy as cyber-vigilantes with killer screensavers. And it’s old-fashioned, and it’s slow. But, unlike Dave Birch’s article, it works.

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in the train, coming back...

“So I wrote this book about everyone wanting to go to 2046, and they were all surprised I was writing science fiction. When in fact, 2046 was just the number of the hotel room.”

Don’t expect an exact quote, the film was in Chinese.

I am probably the only person who hasn’t seen In the Mood for Love, although after this I shall definately catch it. What can I say? 2046 is a slow, languid, sexy, sweaty, sticky film as we watch the narrator, and his many women, all miss each other, many times, like trains flashing by, pulling into sidings, sliding through time and space.

It was beautiful composed, constructed, played out. And the idea of the human robots whose reaction time slowly increases over time, was poignant. Almost as moving as the scene in Bladerunner, on the roof…

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. [...] All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

And there are other cross-references between these two films. Not just the human robots—who on fact display more emotional reactions than most of the supposedly human protagonists—, but also the climat—and not the effects shots that bracket the film, but the dirt, the walls, the decors, the sweat and grime were the same. Except this was spanning the 60s and the 70s, not some hypothetical science fiction future.

But you and I both know that sci-fi, in fact, talks not about the future, but about the present. After all, that is all that we have. For the moment.

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while I’m on the subject

This is the second time that I have stumbled on Naomi Klein’s column in The Guardian. It is a frightening, disturbing piece. All the more so if it is true—which I suspect is the case, it just sounds so grotesque, as to have that patina of reality.

There is some more good reading here, like this column, Callcentres or Grenades. I fear that she will become a regular reading point.

You can find more about her activities at nologo.org.

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calling it ‘scathing’ is like calling Agent Orange a selective weed-killer

As reported by [the great] Neil Gaiman, [the great] William Gibson is blogging again. You can catch his blog at the link I just supplied but go back in time, to here, and read to understand the reasons why he has started blogging again.

The blog was intititally set up by his publisher in order to provide a forum during the promotion of ‘Pattern Recognition’. Gibson shut it down when he decided that—unlike Gaiman—it was eating too much into his real work. Eating up the vital writing energy. It was a fascinating diary, part travels and signing tales, part dialogue with readers, part chat about “How I wrote some of my books” [and implicitely, why he didn’t just write Neuromancer six different times as some of his fans wanted…], part window into his thought process. All of this combined, in my opinion, helps explain why Gibson is a fascinating writer, why ‘Pattern Recognition’ is his best [written] book yet, his best book yet, and one of the most thought-provoking books of fiction that I have read in the last two years [And I read a lot].

So why come back now, with no book to promote?

The first entry explains it all:

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

posted 8:59 PM

Because the United States currently has, as Jack Womack so succintly puts it, a president who makes Richard Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln.
And because, as the Spanish philospher Unamuno said, “At times, to be silent is to lie.”
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Ex[c]iting times...

Or, Well these would be exciting times if my nose would just stop bleeding, and other disgusting facts.

Yesterday I watched my unique visitors on green, my musicblog project [about which I have been boring everyone recently], soar to over 270. It is October 13th, and I have already broken last months’ record. I don’t know whether I’ll hit my target of 1000 unique visitors for the month of December, but today—at least—you can colour me optimistic. My logs also show that people are wandering around the site, and that the home page is getting twice the number of visits as it is getting unique visitors. This would imply that those who do not arrive here seeking strange things via Google, are coming back.

So why am I running after those 1000 unique visitors [for starters]?

But first of all I want to chat about running costs, and fall-out from the so-called Net economy…

Running costs

If I add up the time it currently takes, and if I manage to squeeze it into complete days—as I did a couple of weeks back—then preparing a week’s entries for green takes two complete days. I currently have a backlog of good tracks waiting on my desktop, but that needs to be refreshed, so let’s say two and a half days in a worse case. The domain costs [hosting and registration] about 100 euros/year. This gives me 250 Mb of storage and 8 Gb of bandwidth. While I do live in the anguish of suddenly jumping off the scale thus getting huge bandwidth charges, I can probablylive within these for the coming year. I also have an ADSL connection that costs 14 euros/month. And I’m not counting my time, depreciation of material, heating costs, insurance, and all the rest. For the moment this is a hobby. But I would like to meet some costs. This means that come January, I will probably be adding advertising—Google, Amazon.fr, and selected products directly related to content—and may also add a Paypal tip jar. For advertising to function, I need to get a good audience, and not only that, but one which understands the idea of helping me cover costs. In exchange for the planned advertising, I intend to expand green to bring in interviews and articles. Which in turn implies a change of layout and format. This means that I will be spending [and already am] more time per week working for nothing. But, as I am currently unemployed, this is a risk that I can take.

Will green ever bring in enough to employ me? No.

Why? Because I don’t think that the french-language audience, and the type of music that I cover can provide that sort of revenue. But it could bring in a complementary income. So why not do this in English, or bring in other music? Simply, because the core values for this site—if that expression has a sense here—are contained precisely in those two factors. Green acts as a mediator between the English-language material, sites and blogs that I seek out, and a mainly francophone public. And, indie/alt pop/rock is the sort of music that I know best, can draw on, refer to thus helping guide people to interesting nuggets. If groups like ‘The Postal Service’, ‘Halloween, Alaska’ and—especially—‘Fredo Viola’ increase their audience, even by a fractional amount in France, because of what I am doing, I can feel satisfied. And if the skills in coding—markup and script—that I am honing by putting together this site, increase my employability, then I’m not losing everything.

The end of the so-called Net economy

I remember when I was running a graphics studio [format utile] with a new media department [volantis], one of the prospective clients came along and his principal subject of conversation was how much money he was going to make from the project—golden balls, he kept saying. Of course, he wanted to pay me in equity, which I refused. I was willing to accept part in equity, but I needed cash to at least cover my expenses, pay wages etc., but he wasn’t interested in that. Of course, it was a rather laborious, trying to get a clear brief together when all he could do was fantasize on vast wealth, so the project kept running over time and budget… Needless to say, he and his lead balls, have disappeared off the face of the earth, and his old domain hasn’t even been picked up by one of those services that stake out old domains. Which goes to show the attractivity of his [then] principal asset.

At that time we [the studio] were working on a project for the web—like everyone else—but while all my partners [and employees, and contacts] were telling me to go looking for venture capital, I refused. Until we had a working, scalable prototype, I did not want to bring anyone into that project. I think that I was probably the only person in that whole bubble period who had that sort of point of view. And people thought that I was ridiculous for it. My point of view was simply that I wanted people to buy into a workable project, not hot air.

Then the bubble burst.

Which was, in my opinion, the best thing that could happen. This means that big money stayed out, and hopefully—having been burned—, will continue to do so. And what we have seen since then have been lots of small projects, mostly run by friends to cover costs. This is where the fun and inventivity is. Because of working on green I have been meeting lots of these strange and crazy projects—now mostly blog-based as that is a quick and easy way to get things up and running. And they wouldn’t be around if the big money was still sniffing around. Instead the money would be sniffing around like sharks, and dirtying the waters…

I was chatting to Alain yesterday about yet another project that I have been floating around. Like green it should aim to cover expenses—and perhaps a little more—and take up a couple of days a week, no more. But with perhaps three projects of this type, I might just find myself earning a living wage… That is worth more to me than a booming net economy. And if you add up all those small sites that might also be allowing their owners to do that, that slowly builds up to quite a decent sum of money circulating. Not big capital, but people getting by. And most importantly, doing it honestly, and having fun on the way.

Stay tuned.

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curiously self-referential at times...

Over the weekend I worked on the RSS feed for green. In fact I did this for the nice people over at Paname-Ensemble, but I don’t know whether that will work out; we’ll see—Frankly, I’d prefer that to do things that way. Anyway, as Math has been pestering me [in a nice way—y’know, like three mails a day just saying ‘rss?’. Oh, and that little mail giving the number of the left-luggage locker at St.Lazare station where he dropped off the negatives like we agreed…] I sent him the address of the test feed.

Even so, I was pretty surprised today to get an invite to visit his livejournal blog and find me in there with his friends—I mean, I think we’re friends, but the suprise concerned the feed. Not just the ‘green’ feed, but there, staring me in the face, was this blog. Strange, seeing yourself like that, hanging around wearing different clothes sort of… So, this is just to say that if there are any of you out there in livejournal land, you can pick up this blog, or green, and consider me a friend. Thanks Math, this might even become fun.

A quick word about Paname-Ensemble, and the Metro project. They are asking Parisian bloggers to attach their blogs to a station on the map of the Paris Metro. [I’m on line 9 at the Mairie de Montreuil station.] While I don’t tend to be very community orientated, what I like about this project is the abstract projection of cyberspace [for want of a better word]—a place we have so much trouble envisaging [because it doesn’t exist on the same reality as daily life, thus bending our perception of outside reality to include its representation, even asking questions as to which is the reality… difficult? false? curious..?], onto another projection that is so banal that we no longer think about it. However, in the same way, the Metro map exists because it is presented to us as is, while being just as false a representation as our idea of the geography/physics/reality of ‘webspace’: for example, there exist a large number of hidden interconnections that link otherwise unconnected lines, these are not on the map, there are the ‘ghost’ stations, there are hidden bridges and crossings… Then there is the intersection of this map with your habits, preferences, fears, experiences… Yet, for any parisian, that Metro map is very real…

That’s all for tonight. Pass me a kleenex.

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How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!

So we went to see Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind and it was a lot better that what I was expecting. And in order to put that into context, and avoid it being one of those put-downs, or damning with small praise—which it is no way intended to be—I need to provide a little context. There is also a confession that I need to get out of the way at some point.

Here goes.

I first read about this film in a report on Salon.com. [As an aside, just as the Gruaniad is the best daily newspaper that I have so far come across on the web, so is Salon probably the best magazine. Just so that is clear.] This must have been in March, as we used the promotional web site as part of the April Fool’s Joke on the company web site—back when I had a job… The film had ‘must see’ scribbled all over it, and I probably bored Ludivine talking about it endlessly. Since then I followed it through its career in the States [it’s out on DVD there now, can you believe it?] and elsewhere [it opened to rave reviews in GB also]. Of course, the French would bury it in the middle of a mid season. I remember when Holes played Paris—it was, as far as I could tell, in one cinema stuck behind the toilets down in Les Halles when I took Kim to see it—that’s French programming. Hellboy coming out, six months late, in the middle of August! Had they wanted to kill the film, they wouldn’t have gone about it any other way… So just believe me when I say that I was waiting, with high expectations, and I didn’t intend to let the film slip by me.

Here comes the confession.

Intuitively, I realise that Jim Carrey must have some talent other than his excellent and hard-working facial muscles, that he must have done something before starring in all those films that Kim thinks are great [and that bore me silly]. But it never occurred to me that he could just act. That he could be a complete, complicated, gawky, feeling and moving person up there on the screen as if he’d just stepped out of a Douglas Coupland novel—that same incapacity to communicate, that impression that he was living just one step removed from his life. He bowled me over, and knocked me out. It was helped by some very neat, very funny, very left-field lines that Kaufman put into his mouth. It was also helped by an excellent supporting staff [I’ll admit that Frodo and Spiderman’s girlfriend did give troubles as I was expecting things to slide into New York, or Middle Earth, at some moment, in some split-screen reality… But they managed to flesh out their film characters sufficiently to help me forget their other personas, most of the time. But Kate and Jim stole the day. With no little help from Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman.]

The film’s production was breathtaking. It was also an amazing contradiction. At one point it was a typical, almost caricatural indie production—shakey camera, bad lighting, lousy framing…—but these were scenes that had been put through the special effects screens countless times as book shelves disappeared, as faces were fleshed over like a japanese horror movie, or when Anderson first meets Agent Smith in The Matrix, when houses collapsed, fences-cars-people disappeared… amazing, frightening, hallucinatory. Wonderful. And when Carrey did pull his trademark grimaces, you understood why.

Obviously, the impression that Gondry wanted to give, was that everything in the film was happening inside his Jim Carrey’s head. This was the case, and it was most excellently and terrifyingly done.

All this would not be complete were it not for Charlie Kaufman’s ability to write a believable story, believable characters, believable dialogue, even if, and when, all—story, people, and dialogue—are completely off the board, preposterous, impossible, and thus so real. He is rapidly becoming a guarantee of quality, and his name alone is already sufficent to go see a film without even reading the critics first.

And there, if I was Charlie Kaufman, I’d finish all of this with a final twist…

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Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us*

This is another one of those days when, to paraphrase Calvin, my brains are dripping down through my nose [which makes me think that I have never talked here about the purety of Calvin and Hobbes – Peace be with them, and chalk up another one onthe ToDo list]. Simple put, the heating in the building isn’t switched on and I’m sure that if we’re not yet sub-zero, we’re heading there fast. However, as life tends to be, the story is not so simple.

[Quick pause. Please excuse me if I disappear like that for moments. At the same time I’m listening to tracks for a new French label called Herzfeld—or, hrzfld as they sometimes spell it—that they suggested for my other venture, my wonderful French blog called green that I am heavily promoting, so all french speakers/readers please go there, and say that it is wonderful and recommend it to your francophile friends. Fingers crossed, as he says this.]

Last winter, before the heating was switched on the people who represent the residents in this building stuck up a notice asking for all to note down the leaky taps on the radiators, so that they could get a plumber to come in, bleed the system, change all the taps at once, get a bulk price and minimum fuss. We dutifully noted our two. Nothing happened. Except the weather got colder. Finally I drew a cartoon of a penguin in a deckchair enjoying himself in the ambiant temperature, which served to ask when the heating would be coming. I got pleasant remarks saying ‘soon’ scrawled onto the drawing, and then that disappeared, replaced by a notice saying that the plumber couldn’t make it, so the taps would be changed later, and that the furnace would be lit soon.

It was lit.

It should be noted at this point that the furnace knows two temperatures: ‘glacial’, also know as ‘off’, and ‘hell on a warm day’, also know as ‘on’. Neighbours above told us that they had to switch off radiators and open the windows to get a decent [livable] temperature in their flat. We laughed.

In fact, the temperature is so hot that even with all the radiators off, and the hot water just flowing through the supply pipes that run floor to ceiling in most rooms, the flat was still overheated.

And then it stopped. And then it started again. And then it stopped. And then it started again. All winter through we had this strange regime of 3 days off, one week on, or so it seemed. From what we heard, the heater is old [this might explain the thermostat issue…] and needs constant encouragement. Or more likely, a replacement. However, as I imagine that all the flat owners must agree on such an expense, and only half live in, and replacing a boiler is not an expense that can be charged to tenants—it’s a fixture, and as such, it is the landlord’s responsability and expense—nothing happens.

Spring came, the warmth came back. Encouraged by this, the heater decided to stay on. We boiled and opened windows. Oh well, I suppose that all that fresh air is good for us…

Now I bet you have forgotten the taps. Told you so. Any organised person would see that the spring is an ideal time to contact the plumber and get the taps fixed: no-one is pressured by the imminent need to switch the furnace on to prevent glaciation in the building, and in the relatively clement period from March to September, not only are plumbers less likely to be running around fixing broken heaters as they are switched off and thus generally considered ‘less’-urgent, but it gives a full six months for an appointment, allowing for multiple cancellations, false alerts, wandering around the flats looking at the taps and mumbling, and all the other sorts of scientific things that plumbers do.

So… Now, we have not only got a cold spell, we have not only got no heater, but we have also got a poster down below asking us to indicate the number of taps that need repairing because…

Something tells me that the plastic waterbottle drip catchers that I hung under the leaking taps will be in use for another year. And we might just have to invest in an electric heater. Just in case…

Atchooo! Bless me.

*A quote from Calvin, of course. ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ copyright Bill Watterson.

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