I thought I’d better get on with putting a sideblog up before everyone else (including, I fear, the more competent and inquisitive of my cats) does so, gets bored of it, and yawns widely (the cat is particularly good at this bit).
So, the sidebar on the right is produced using the user-friendly combination of the elegant (in function if not name) del.icio.us and Feedroll. These, which took me half an hour to set up, populate, style and integrate into the blog, enable proper one-click posting: from any page, I can click a bookmark on my browser, fill in a description (if I want), assign keywords, and publish.
OK, that’s at least two clicks, but there’s no denying that it’s quick and painless.
Now I have only to ask: why?
Certainly you can use Feedroll to perform proper syndicated news publishing (as in this Greenpeace news feed. But why publish your own bookmarks?
There’s something rather benign and communal in this concept (and with Kinja too), something that is also tied up with that feeling among many web people that publishing (i.e. going public with things, even your own work) is unequivocally a good thing. There is, I think, a parallel with the way in which Open Source software is seen by many to be simply (morally, legally, technically, ideologically) a good thing.
The communal aspect of publishing bookmarks is this: it may be that it’s a good thing for you (it forces you to order your thoughts, think things through, be honest), but more than anything else it’s good for those around you. Publishing your bookmarks may be of interest to friends and to those with whom you closely share interests. More deeply, it gives power to those in the community who can sample the activity of everyone publishing to see what’s going on, and to offer previously unsuspected links (between things, between people) based on what you’ve published.
I said that there’s a parallel with Open Source software. Publishing these bookmarks is on a superficial level a kind of Open Brain project. It’s about sharing, in a small way, your synaptic resources for the good of the group, whether you choose to call that the hive mind, the Third Mind, the colony, the swarm or (call me old fashioned) the research community.
Sometimes things turn up that just smell like plot devices. Deja View is just that: a wearable camera that allows you to record things that you didn’t know were going to happen. I don’t even care that it might even be real. For me, it’s a plot device, and is therefore inherently fictional.
(Fans of this kind of logic will also be pleased by a lecture I once attended which took issue with the hoary question of whether, if Conrad’s Heart of Darkness were racist, it could be legitimately considered to be Great Art. The lecturer, with an intellectual judo throw that would have pleased the late Douglas Adams, argued that as the book was self-evidently Great Art, and as Great Art by consensus cannot be morally bad (by, for instance, being racist), it followed as night follows day that the book could not be in the slightest racist. This was, I felt, an argument that strained to yoke syllogism to its cause from love rather than good sense.)
Two fine articles on fortean subjects:
- A suggestion that the Voynich manuscript is a hoax created using Cardan grilles. The prime suspect is, of course, Edward Kelley. Kelley is a fine example of posthumous inflation; almost anything inexplicable or under the table is obviously, obviously, down to Kelley. The poor man wouldn’t have had time to do half of what he’s been accused of doing. Nonetheless, I do like the fact that the argument comes from the author’s attempt at an analysis of how explanatory theories in general can be improved, rather than a specific attempt to ’solve’ the Voynich manuscript.
- Rorschach ‘wizards’ as cold readers - a (highly subjective) account of the way that experts in the Rorschach test, a device with little or no clinical evidence to back it up, may have consciously or unconsciously employed cold reading techniques to produce superficially impressive results. If nothing else, this article introduced me to the term Barnum statements.
If only I carried a camera when running. I encountered yesterday the perfect image. A proper British fat lad, his blue shirt kept in communication with his jug-like jeans only by thick red braces, red faced like a builder’s mate, was standing under a tree, looking accusingly at it. A slight gesture of the head acknowledged the assistance he was receiving from his mutt - a boxer, of course. It was busy dragging a six-foot branch to its master, the better for him to work out exactly where it came from, and exactly where to put it.
It was a picture story that could only ever have one caption: ‘Sorted’.
We’re we talking about cricket? I think we were.
This is the best online cricket game around. It’s endearingly simple, smooth, and has some lovely touches. See what happens if you send a towering six into the scoreboard.
I spent a pleasant half-hour this Sunday asking a PE teacher from the Black Country how he teaches his sporting duffers to bowl a cricket ball.
Right now, from where I’m sitting, I can see a horde of (I suppose) seven year olds leaping around. Some of them are playing cricket, including one scrap of a lad whose old fashioned shorts look to weigh as much as he does. He’s a good couple of inches shorter than his friends, at a guess second or third generation anglo-Indian or Pakistani. In his you’ll-grow-into-them school shoes, he has the precipitous gait of a small animal yet to come to an understanding with its feet. But, whereas his schoolmates are lobbing the ball to the stumps in polite long-hops, this one fires the ball in like a pocket Darren Gough. He’s getting such pace that on the rare occasions bat connects with ball, it fizzes out of sight like a swooping swallow.
I suppose I’m noting this because I followed some links posted by Mags about the D’Oliveira affair in 1968, which is on everyone’s minds now because of the current Zimbabwe tour farrago.
One of the links is to a 1968 piece by John Arlott, that finishes with this wistful paragraph:
Secondly, within a few years, the British-born children of West Indian, Indian, Pakistani and African immigrants will be worth places in English county and national teams. It seems hard to discourage them now, for, however the M C C’s case may be argued, the club’s ultimate decision must be a complete deterrent to any young coloured cricketer in this country. The final thought on it, however, must be one of sadness and that in the selection the M C C have stirred forces - for both good and evil - whose powers they do not truly comprehend.
Another rollicking Alan Moore interview:
On becoming a magician:
About ten years ago now, in 1993, when I turned 40, I suddenly decided to announce that I’d become a magician, just for a bit of a laugh really. But everyone took me seriously, so then I had to actually do some magic.
On the illustrations for the new edition of Voice of the Fire:
One of the big advantages - and probably why I really agreed to it - is that I’m the writer of the last chapter, so he had to take a glamorous-looking picture of me. I think my extraordinary physical beauty really does deserve a full-page picture, instead of one of those little panels on the back cover. I’m looking forward to that. I still don’t know if anyone will be able to make heads or tails of the novel itself, but when they find the text incomprehensible, they can always sit and stare at the pictures for an hour or two.
On the usual rumours (including the one that he is a recluse):
I don’t venture far outside. I mean, even the other end of the living room is a bit of a mystery to me.
Has it occurred to anyone yet that Alan Moore has given up comics in order to spend more time with his interviews?
The Times has a charming article about Mongolia’s reintroduction of second names, which were banned in the Soviet era because they reinforced tribal bonds.
The problem is that, in a still largely nomadic culture with relatively few written records, many people can’t remember what their family or tribal name was. Hence, they’re allowed to choose anything they like, leading to a wholly predictable glut of Genghis Khans. Others are helped by Serjee Besud, director of the Central State Library:
“I tell them to think of something they were born near,” he said, “the name of a river, valley or mountain. Or people might call themselves after their occupation. We have many Mr Writers and Mr Hunters, even a Mr Policeman.”
So, if you could choose your surname, what would it be? I’ve currently got a soft spot for the horse-gallop name of the Latvian left-back Blagonadezdin, one of the few names that sounds better the faster it’s said.
Walking the fine line between ingenious simplicity and just simplicity:
How to Find Things
I’m particularly impressed that it takes four steps before you get to look in the place the thing is supposed to be. I must admit to being slightly disappointed: I was hoping for a Derren Brown-like self-reading.
In it’s absence, here are Dr Jon’s failsafe rules for finding things:
* If you’re right-handed, start by looking at places on your left (and vice versa): you’re probably subconsciously biased to looking to the same side as your handedness
* Don’t look at your eye level (which is the instinctive thing to do), look at your hand level: depending on the surfaces available, this could be anywhere from hip to head height
* Get a large portable mirror and look at the area you’re searching in it. Failing this, lie down on a sofa/table/bed, hang your head down and look at the room upside down
* Move everything, paying attention to what you’re moving. If you’ve moved everything, you have, by definition, moved the thing you’re looking for
* Ask someone else to look for it: not because they’ll look at it with ‘fresh eyes’ but because they probably borrowed it and need an excuse to suddenly ‘find’ it without you getting angry with them
I suppose that there are three categories of books that to which we must address ourselves: those we haven’t yet finished (for me at the moment, a reprehensible half dozen, plus an unknown number I’ve probably forgotten); those we are yet to read; those that we will not read.
Yesterday’s comments by Julian Cope on the goalkeeper as shaman reminded me of one of the books I’m currently reading, Carlo Ginzburg’s bold thesis on witchcraft, Ecstasies. Ginzburg, of course, draws attention to survivals of shamanistic cults from early modern times to the present. In particular, he finds evidence of shamanistic practices where witches fly on certain nights armed with strange weapons (such as sticks of sorrel) and do battle with opposing groups of witches, sometimes from nearby villages. Can I be alone in detecting a continuum between this, European-originated team sports such as football and hockey, and Quidditch? I doubt Ms Rowling read Ginzburg before inventing Harry Potter, so we must be looking at a folk memory re-emerging periodically along highly structured symbolic axes.
As to what I will be reading, there’s little question: it’s the excellent Jonathan Coe’s excellent biography of BS Johnson, here reviewed in the New Statesman (though the reviewer, in describing Coe as a ‘traditional’ novelist, is clearly forgetting the playful construction of Oh What a Carve Up!.
Finally, I won’t be reading Ulysses, at least not in this page-a-day version. The idea works for Leonardo’s notebooks because they weren’t designed to be read as a narrative. Ulysses was, so sit down and read it at least a chapter at a time, idlers. It’s not as impenetrable as it’s made out to be, not by half.
Of all the admirably barking pop stars thrown up in the 50 or so years of rock & roll history, in Britain we can proudly claim more than our fair share of moon-shouters. What’s more, wheareas American musicians tend to go in for gun-toting (Phil Spector, Ted Nugent) or public breakdowns (Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey), over here we tend to serve up unclassifiable eccentrics such as Vivian Stanshall and the self-designated third Earl of Harrow, Screaming Lord Sutch.
Alas, both are now dead. The mantle of oddness falls on the likes of the KLF’s Bill Drummond (who, these, days exhorts people to do pleasant subsurrealist tasks like bake cakes and deliver them to complete strangers).
Head and shoulders above any others, though, is the ‘drude’ himself, ‘Saint’ Julian Cope. Literally head and shoulders, as it happened, during the Poll Tax riots, when our Jules reputedly wandered among the rioters dressed as a giant.
Cope came to notice in the early eighties with The Teardrop Explodes. It was only later, after going solo, that he went all interesting, becoming a devotee of prehistoric Britain. This culminated in his lavish and useful guide to visiting megalithic sites around the country (and included some particularly joyous essays, including “Why the Romans were so heavy”).
It’s nice to see Julian is still on top form, causing the evacuation of the British Museum. My eye was caught, however, by his theory of the goalkeeper as shaman. As any fule kno, goalkeepers are always themselves deeply eccentric. Cope suggests that this is not because they are peculiar loners, but because they’re channelling the goddess.
“All those people gathered in an unroofed stadium [is] not unlike what must have gone on in pagan sanctuaries. The goalkeeper is the ultimate shaman, guarding the gates to the underground, wearing the No 1 jersey in a different colour and not seeming to be part of the team.”
So that explains it. It’s because he’s protecting the underworld that, on Sunday last, David James looked as though he wanted the earth to open up swallow him up.
1) It’s played by professional footballers
If that’s not enough for you:
2) Euro 2004 is about to kick off, and that means one of two things if you happen to be be English (or to be fair, Dutch, Portuguese or Spanish): either your team will nosedive gracelessly out in the first round or, worse, they will deliver one excellent result, then be squeaked out by the French or the Germans in the knockout phase.
3) The Football League has renamed itself The Championship. This now means that the English Championship will be won by team officially 21st placed in the land, i.e. the winners of the old Division One, which is in turn the old Division Two. Likewise, teams who are playing in what was up until 1990 Division Three will now be playing in Division One, and those hovering near the exit of the league structure altogether will be only in Division Two. Got that? Another way of putting it is that in the late eighties the title of winners of Division One was being contested by Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool. Next season it will be contested by the likes of Bournemouth, Luton and Wrexham.
Contrast the drab money-accumulation of modern football with the renewed glory of English cricket: for the second series in succession they’ve won the rubber before going into the final test and, more gloriously, for the first time in living memory the best fast bowler in the world is an Englishman.
At eight this morning I zig-zagged by animal memory to the backroads school where my local polling station appears, like a rare flower, every couple of years. Walking down the street towards it, I could see figures flitting in and out of the gates; a man in short sleeves with his jacket slung over his shoulder, an old man in a shabby t-shirt, a woman looking as though she were about to go for her morning run, another woman pushing a baby buggy.
Inside, the new-style voting forms were being accepted with the slightest shrug of indulgence; it changes, it stays the same. The booths, chipboard and cheap wood, looked identical to every set of polling booths I’ve ever used. Even the stubby brown pencils seem eternal.
As I posted my votes in the boxes, I noticed with a start of pleasure that the lady in charge of ensuring that white forms went in a separate ballot box was my next door neighbour; a retired woman of the type who seems never to go anywhere in particular or do anything in particular. I recalled that she spent her working life in some sort of council activity, and so is liable to feel the ache of civic duty. As we exchanged civilities I felt a peculiar turning inside my chest; I really don’t know, but I think it may have been pride.
As I left, I was thinking about the duty to vote, the long and bitter fight for the universal franchise, suffragettism, the great reform acts. A yeomanly tear was pricking at the corner of my eye as I stepped out across a small junction and was nearly mown down by a scooter.
The young couple crammed onto it, making it ride low on its springs, were both clutching their polling cards.
The Deep North, mirabile dictu, is celebrating its return from (ahem) its brief, unannounced hiatus with a sequence of just the most wonderful notes from the north.
The bucolic pageantry of a local christening was, I thought, tremendous enough for one week’s dispatches, but it seems the northern contingent have discovered a better game again:
Who wrote your friends?
Casting around those I know best, I find they are a mixture of characters from Fielding (Helen, not Henry), Amis père et fils* and J.G. Ballard. My family were clearly written, for the most part, by Harold Pinter. My mate Paul is evidently by William Gibson with intertextual references to Beckett.
Andy is, I would suggest, from the novel that defeated Alex Garland and Dr B surely occurs somewhere in Malcolm Bradbury’s early novels.
But what of the Northern Professor and the Lady Novelist? A wealth of possibilities suggest themselves. Is the Professor from Chesterton, Arturo Perez-Reverte or (shudder) the start of an MR James chiller? Is the Lady Novelist by Iris Murdoch, Margery Allingham or A.S. bloody Byatt?
No no no. None of those is close. It’s clear to me now; both of them are evidently, naturally, from one of the Lady Novelist’s own novellas - an act of by-one’s-own-bootstraps self-generative impossibilia of which Borges himself would have been proud.
* I’m delighted in a suitably hard-nosed fashion to be identified as being written by Amis M. Better, I think, than being Amis M.
A couple of months ago I had a little bash at a comical experiment that purported to show that the ‘infinite monkeys typing Shakespeare’ thought-experiment was impossible.
Thanks to the ever-reliable things, I’m now aware of a far more useful experiment: the Monkey Shakespeare Simulator. This unleashes virtual simians at the problem; a far more suitable approach to a virtual experiment than wasting a month watching a handful of real monkeys bash a poor typewriter to junk metal.
As I write, the current record is this:
“KING RICHARD. OlazZtssi0cwX?QDjqkP9r]xfaBmlVU]e…”
That’s sixteen whole consecutive letters from King Richard II (from a range of 80 possible letters and other characters). And it only took 24,115 billion billion monkey-years to get past the speaker’s name (that capital O is, significantly, the first letter of “Old John of Gaunt, time-honoured Lancaster,”).
Of course, the Monkey Shakespeare Simulator can’t do infinite monkeys; it just does the very accelerated work of a large number of monkeys (thousands, I think) over a geologically long time.
Remember: infinity is big. Really big. If it were really running a simulation of infinite monkeys the experiment would be successfully completed in precisely the amount of time it takes to type out the entire works of Shakespeare one letter per second (say a few days).
Unfortunately, success is not proof. We wouldn’t know the experiment was successful until we had collated the results of those few days work from our infinite monkeys and compared them with the accurate text. You see, for every monkey that gets it right, there will be 79 who reproduce Shakespeare perfectly except for the very last character, and 79×79 who will get only the last two characters wrong, and so on, back to through the infinite chaos of an almost infinite amount of proofreading. It’s not monkey work, you know.
Sometimes, it seems, knowing you’re right is harder than being right.
Normally I wouldn’t have much to say about Tessa Jowell, and quite rightly. Today, I feel shamed into raising my attention levels on the dear girl’s activities. She is, you know, the member of parliament elected to represent Dulwich and West Norwood, where I live.
In other words, she works for me.
This piece of brutally open democracy comes to us courtesy of the same folks responsible for Downing Street Says (which I mentioned before).
The glory of the thing is that I have just plugged Tessa’s RSS feed into my Kinja account, and now I’ll be updated every time she tells some transparent porky about how much the government loves the arts.
Ah, that was interesting.
Next time I’ll try not to have my site hosting renewal period coincide with a manic period of work, followed immediately by a month of leaping around on holiday. I was as surprised as you were to come back and find the entire rereviewed domain offline.
Unfortunately, this put The Deep North on unexpected hiatus as well. My utter apologies to Peter and Jane, who no doubt guessed from the fact that I was busy sending jokey postcards about pirates from the Mediterranean that I had no idea what was going on.
And my apologies to you; if you missed the journal, or even noticed its absence, that’s sweet of you. Rest assured things are as normal.
In fact, better. The interminable project is finally (virtually) complete. Holidays bracing and relaxing respectively have been had in the pirate country of South West Ireland and the fishing havens of Southern France. Summer glowers down on all of us. I am off to see the excellent Derren Brown on Wednesday night. There are fewer and fewer excuses for not doing useful things.
So, welcome back to you and to me. I wonder what I missed?