Friday, November 30, 2007

Flat 34

Here's the news you've almost been waiting for: I've decided to bite the bullet, grab the bull by the horns, grasp the nettle, gild the lily, polish the turd, disappear up my own fundament and star in my own slice of internet history. Consumed by the sentiment and the sheer emotional effort of leaving London, I have undertaken to document the exit process from my current abode in the form of pretentious and self-involved video podcast, in which will be revealed everything.

Everything will include (and this list is not exhaustive) secrets from the kitchen, the living room, the balcony, the bedroom, and the park; hats, hits, musical instruments, educational implements, records, reminders, and rebelliousness; stones, sticks, the bog, the Bible, Buddha, and my sock drawer.

There is absolutely no point in doing this, except inasmuch as it allows me to mark the passing of this time and end up with something of a record. If I could invite you round to say goodbye in person, I probably would, but I doubt you'd all fit in at once. I also have this strangely perverse art sensibility about the entire thing which I'm finding impossible to ignore. This could be the first situationist conveyance in the history of London.

I've registered the pre-requisite dot com domain - which you are welcome to visit once I have set it up - but if you're already subscribed to just hang out there, or else watch my video "Twitter stream" for real-time,breaking news-style updates as they happen. I'd feel more excited and hype this obscure project some more, but I was up until 3am making the first one, so now I'm going to eat breakfast, take an aspirin and think about writing some meaningful letters to local dignitaries in the name of art.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Are Books Important These Days?

I am much struck by the news of England's resounding fall from grace in the international reading league. England has slipped from third to 19th in the world in a major assessment made by The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls). This study is made every five years of children aged about 10 in 40 countries.

It seems that this woeful situation is a result partly of modernity - contemporary computer culture is to blame - but it also surely derives from the massive focus on IT skills in schools. These skills are however frequently paper-thin, and to assume that the hard-won benefits of widespread literacy can be swapped for keyboard and mouse skills, knowing your way around a spreadsheet and a social network, and running auctions on Ebay is a dreadful mistake for educationalists to make.

Being brought up in a house full of books, taught to read early and encouraged to be independent and discursive in my reading, I have always been a fan of the old fashioned tome. For me, books were a necessary way out of the misery of my childhood and into a world rich with paper-based possibilities.

I would happily read three books every week, visit the library to ensure my addiction was never without supply, sometimes, in the days before I developed morals, would even steal from bookshops to satisfy my lust for the printed word. Yes, of course I knew stealing was wrong, but I also knew my parenting was untrustworthy and morally questionable, so having taken the decision to exempt myself from their badly-applied standards, I also used books to establish my own moral compass, which was frankly far more consistent than theirs. I was careful only to steal from the affluent chain bookstores who factored into their bottom line the concept of "shrinkage", that euphemism for staff theft, which was a tacitly accepted fact of life. I learned about shrinkage from a book I stole on retail management.

The vast majority of books I read however were honestly acquired, the purchased items the product of conventional Saturday work, hard graft and saving. I read everything, with a boyhood appetite way beyond Jack London, The Saint and Biggles, devouring science fiction by Vonnegut, Asimov, Dick, sagas by Tolkein, adult-standard children's literature by Alan Garner, T.S White and C.S. Lewis, existential masterpieces of the age like Milligan's Puckoon, Beckett's Waiting for Godot, and my favourite, Joseph Heller's Catch 22, which I read and re-read until the cover was falling off and retained by yellowing sellotape. Here at last was a profound howl at the universe, the horrible inevitability of death, and the powerlessness and pointlessness of the system to which I could completely and utterly relate and could understand. By the age of fourteen, I had read this book twelve times, and could quote long sections. Sometimes, like the soldier who saw everything twice, I quoted it twice, slightly spooking myself because, in Catch 22, that character died.

Now, I am not advocating the continued destruction of forests and lauding dead-tree media in some misplaced glow of nostalgia, nor am I selling you the Amazon Kindle, but I think we desert books at our peril. There is still an important role for books to play in life and we need to get them in perspective and stop blaming books for our excessive use of paper. Books can be recycled more completely than any electronic thing, and in fact, books are not the major users of paper, that accolade goes to business documents, which also win the award for being the lagest component of global air freight. Then there is food packaging, newspapers, direct mail, the US dollar.. don't get me started. Far more paper is wasted outside of books than inside.

Are books important these days? Yes, because the continuity of the written word stretches back to the earliest papyrus and parchment, pre-historical clay tablets of cuniform, cave paintings, all the ways in which human beings have scratched upon the surface of life to leave behind some message for posterity.

Is reading important in this new age of computer-aided communications? Yes, because, when the electricity supply disappears, if you cannot read words on a page, then you can no longer connect with the wisdom of the ages.

Is writing important these days? Yes, because nothing replaces the personal investment in the making of the mark, the seeking and finding of the phrase, the effort to elucidate, examine and transform one's life using the power of words.

Books, old books, dry words and motionless, flat pictures, books, frail and prone to decay by burning and rotting, books lost, spines broken, propping up tables, books, dusty, unread and forgotten, still remain the best mechanism we have with which to say something that might last longer than the short echo of our brief lives; what magical containers they have proved to be.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Into The Dark

Less than a month to go until the winter solstice, and I can really feel the sense of impending doom that accompanies this time of year, manifesting itself in a series of bad news days for the government and the nation, and making us all feel insecure in a way that war, threatened invasion and being bombed has never done; riots in beautiful Paris and protests in civilised Oxford over different local brands of fascism, and of course the fallout continues from the football debacle, the national disgrace of losing in the game we invented to a well-organised team of highly skillful and committed ex-Nazi sympathisers - Croatia.

Dealing with doom and gloom (here I am at 6:43 am waiting for the first glimmer of dawn, and seeing only tungsten and chrome) should be easier for us more northern cultures. My dear artist friend Loose Mutton just so happens to be "dating" a large, handsome and passionate Croatian man and was lucky enough to be in the Croatian crowd at Wembley as our team crashed out of the European tournament. In the following days she joined a Facebook group whose title is "Fuck the European Championships. Lets Have a Girlie Holiday to Croatia" which I thought was an appropriate reaction and an excellent response, marred only by the misuse of the apostrophe. When the French lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup, it would have been untypically fantastic to see similar reactions from our more southern neighbour; had they only formed a group called " Baisez la tasse du monde, buvons un bon nombre de vin italien!" they might have recovered their dignity much quicker, might not have elected Sarkozy, and would not be in quite the same train-vandalising mess they are in now.

We pass annually through the eye of the needle, and the escaping light does something at once manic and stoic to true northerners. I recall that on my flight to Boston recently, the very charming Bostonian I sat next to, Mr Nelson, said to me of the differences between the Americans and British, "with the Americans, it's always an emergency, but there's always hope; with the Brits, there's never an emergency, but there's no hope at all." So, as the daylight disappears to all but a few scant hours, there might be fascists on the loose, a bumbling, unconfident government, and an unmitigated footballing disaster, but hey ho, still, we have plenty of time for tea.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007


At this time each year, the American ex-colony celebrates its continued survival by indulging in the mass slaughter of turkeys and the laying down of beers in the fridge. The first time I visited the Land of the Expensive, it was Thanksgiving, and I was taken by our generous hosts along with their entire family up to the very beautiful Bass Lake, California to celebrate.

I was amazed at the amount of food we managed to consume. At the time, my girlfriend and I were vegetarian, so we ate some oddities which had been diligently and conscientiously prepared for us by Anne, the hostess. These comprised pseudo-Turkey rashers, which took about 30 minutes to erupt into massive flatulence, and the alternative (served day 2) was a nut roast, but one so swimming with egg that it was more like a baked omelette with nut garnish. I don't think they understood that nuts are a really good source of nutrition on their own and that the egg in there is just supposed to bind the mixture together. Despite not joining in the meat-fest, we were treated with huge civility, and we made up for our lack of decent mains by eating all their roast vegetables, which were delicious, while they systematically demolished the Turkey until they were sick of it and dying for a burger.

I named Mr Turkey Reginald Clarkesonville, to the raised eyebrows of the family and the amusement of Deanna, the youngest daughter who had spent some time in the UK and had a sense of ironic humour.

The family were thrust together much as at Christmas, in enforced bonhomie, gluttony and idleness; and we found ourselves something of a distraction from the family politics and bouts of bickering. We were happy to play the role - despite this our hosts were good company. Bass Lake was beautiful, clean and on the edge of one of America's national jewels, the Sierras, and I will be forever grateful for the effort they made to take us into Yosemite. I was stunned to find myself inside images which Ansel Adams had imprinted into my childhood mind. I still have a false fingernail I found there, in among the pine cones and the hundreds of family 4x4s.

On the final day, I watched a strange family ritual. The "log cabin" (centrally-heated wooden house) in the woods by the lake that the family owned had a deck and a large picture window, in front of which was a picnic bench. Too cold for picnicking, but not for Mr and Mrs Raccoon and their five children, who delighted us by making short work of the Thanksgiving remains. Chunks of meat remaining on the massive corpse of Reginald Clarkesonville were swiftly and nimbly consumed by these clever, resilient, confident omnivores, and we sat entranced, youngest to oldest, observing this timeless scene.

In Britain, with our different history, Thanksgiving is neither in our calendar, nor our nature. We wait until Christmas at the end of the year to stop work, gather families around a meal table, get drunk, suffer collective indigestion and fight, but it would be wrong to think we don't need an equivalent holiday. As a nation, we need more to complain - after all, it's something we're very practised at - and I feel it would be an entirely good thing for us to have an annual excuse to moan, getting things off our chest and achieving an early catharsis. That way, when Christmas arrived, we'd be so much happier already.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Romulus and Remus

As the UK gasps at the stupidity of a junior tax clerk putting 25 million families' most sensitive data in the post and losing it, I find myself once more reading the Olds, rather than the News; in fact, a most beautiful and spectacular find in Rome, the root of all modern-day government, the heart of the thread of fascism whose eagle emblem still sits atop the mightiest power.

Exploring deep under Emperor Augustus' palace on the Palatine hill, archaeologists have found the most remarkable, decorated cave, which appears to be a shrine built in the place most sacred to Rome, the place where twin brothers Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf who had rescued them from the river Tiber, where according to myth, they had been thrown, along with their mother, by an angry god.

But, surprising as it may seem, wolves and other animals raising feral human children is not myth - in particular, read the well-documented story of Kamala and Amala, indian children who were "rescued" by Reverend Joseph Singh in the early 20th century. He did his best to rehabilitate the girls, but as the commentary here notes, they constantly longed to return to their home in the wild and his efforts were sadly partial in their success.

Unlike our wolvish friends, I was raised in a series of council houses in the London Borough of Croydon by humans, but was always fascinated by the concept of being so intimately connected with nature, devouring books by Jack London, Gerald Durrell, Lyall Watson, anything which would re-connect me with the green world I felt was missing from our over-tidy and thoroughly corrupted lives. Standing illicitly on an Upper Norwood flat rooftop, on top of Crystal Palace hill, looking for miles over the rooftops of south London, I would frequently dream of the Great North Wood which had existed only 100 years previously, stretching across the entire south east of England from the coast to the Thames, imagining that the forest lurked beneath the tiles and tarmac. Somewhere around here, Romany charcoal burners still sent trails of smoke snaking through boughs of beech and birch. Small pockets of green remained, woodland glades now relegated to untidy Victorian parks. I would read endlessly of so-called primitive cultures whose learning in nature vastly exceeded our own, North American indians, far eastern and African cultures who maintained an intimacy with nature that we have lost. Even then I had the instinct that this was knowledge we needed more essentially than the academic progress we were supposed to be relying upon for our future survival.

We may be a nation of shopkeepers, but like Russian dolls, inside all of us is the smallholder, the grazer of animals on common land, the tribal and nomadic hunter-gather; and at our core, we are feral. The Romans knew this, and whilst they spread a scientific, civilising, centralising influence which exists to this day, they worshiped a religion with animism at its core, knowing that, in times of disaster, we resourceful humans might, like Romulus and Remus, find succour from even the wildest of predators.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Facebook Fallout

Just as my most conservative and least impressable friends are finally lured into Facebook's shiny blue garden, I'm observing a sea-change among the restless seekers and taste-makers of internet fun - people are beginning to complain of being bored, and even leave, deleting their profiles. My favourite quote (anonymous for the purposes of this blog) was the marvellous, "Facebook is currently experiencing technical difficulties". What, that everyone's bored of it already?"

The Terms of Service state that Facebook not only own all content you put there, but also that they will own the archive of your content, deleted or not. Add this to the fact that they will also collect data about you from "newspapers and other sources such as instant messages" (it's the "such as" which concerns me), plus the very real CIA connections from the top down and you have the world's most spooky social network. They have been taken to task recently by bloggers when they refused to acknowledge the right to a pseudonym - Article 15 of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

Before Facebook caved in and allowed him back in (to take his place alongside 500 people named Jesus Christ), "Jon Swift" wrote:
By banning bloggers who use pseudonyms Facebook has declared war on the blogosphere. More and more bloggers have been using Facebook as a social networking tool, but how useful will it be if so many bloggers will be left out. I know a number of prominent pseudonymous bloggers who still have profiles on Facebook but apparently their days as Facebook members are numbered. I'm not going to rat them out to Facebook's jack-booted thugs, however, even if they threaten to torture me.

Some of these prominent bloggers used to be among my more than 200 Facebook friends. I wonder if my Facebook friends have noticed yet that I am gone. I wonder how many of them have sent their zombies to bite me only to have them return unsated. Oh, how I miss being poked and being invited to join silly groups and causes and to install buggy widgets on my profile page that I then have to immediately uninstall.

This socially and politically conservative business has been hugely successful since opening itself up to people outside its orginal college constituency, and allowing third party application writers to come into the garden and make hay from its nicely manicured lawns. But in all probability, Facebook's very popularity contains its downfall. What nobody likes to say is totally obvious - there is a limit to success, and I sense that Facebook is nearer to that limit than people currently imagine.

What happens when an exclusive, fashionable club becomes well known? As their dancefloor fills with the great unwashed, the movers and shakers move elsewhere. Unconcerned by the links with the CIA, sufficiently savvy to create plausible fictions in order to maintain discreet privacy, they are are already regrouping in places beyond the reach of Mark Zuckerberg and his latest investors, in places far more interesting, where new forms of self-expression are being enabled without fratboy rules, and new dances are being danced which will make the Facebook foxtrot soon seem very dated and ordinary.

Facebook, and others within the current spate of dazzling new media webshows, will shortly be learning the lesson that the music business, the film business, showbusiness have all known for a long time - nobody likes last year's fashion.

Like my kind actor friend once said to me, as I shared a pint with him after a particularly good gig, "Don't be too hot, for once your moment in the limelight has passed, you will forever struggle to recapture that sweet moment of success and popularity; and the consequent chill is very cold indeed."

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Beachball Of Death

This week I suffered the computer crash from hell, in which I lost a month of emails and other important data.

Who actually does regularly back up their personal data? Well, I do, every so often, act upon the clanging bells of panic as they emerge from the distant woods of my paranoid imagination. "You know that important stuff you've been working on all month... you really wouldn't want to lose it now, would you?" echoes the plaintive, maundy cry from the bottom of the barrel of common sense. Sometimes I even obey the instruction, pull out an external drive, and spend a tedious hour or three data managing.

Email is different these days. Everybody in the world uses webmail, and of course so do I. But I also use a delightfully archaic email application called Eudora, which for me is "Brain Central" and this is my ultimate depository of all communications, business, personal, metaphysical.

I have blithely and loyally carried on Eudora using since 1994. Aside from ensuring massive retro-compatibility, Eudora has things about it I really like, like managing multiple logins and identities, turning off HTML emails, sticking attachments into the folder of your choice, and having a very boring list-like interface which doesn't distract me from doing the communicating I'm supposed to be doing when I'm using it. Eudora predictably downloads my emails to my local office computer, which these days is an Apple laptop. I have a habit of keeping emails on the server for months at a time, and then every so often clearing the web-stored mail, and if I'm being data-virtuous, backing up my local email archive.

At the end of last month, before I headed off to Boston, I had one of those moments of controlled, low-level panic which sometimes arrive before making a long trip. So, I channelled the energy into backing up my laptop, which in the end, I left behind in Blighty, in the firm belief that people, let alone geeks, spend far too much time lurking behind bright screens of silicon-based life-form future extinction, and not enough time in actual, meaningful interaction with each other, especially at international conferences. I think that was a wise choice - I didn't break a shoulder lugging a heavy metal object around, I spoke to more people, I only actually needed to use a computer three times for ten minutes over three days in any case.

As a result, when the awful beachball of death started spinning uselessly on my screen this week, I did at least have some data to go back to, and just three weeks or so fell out of my world and into dataland, or wherever it is that data that used to exist on this plane of reality now exists (or doesn't). But in that three weeks, so much has happened, in work, at home - it's been really hectic, unusually, importantly hectic. I really didn't want to - and in the case of my conveyancing, probably couldn't afford to - lose my information.

It's a sick feeling, realising that something you really actually need is on a broken computer.

I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow account of how it took over two days to bring the laptop back to the point where I could retrieve most of my data with the exception of emails between 25th October and 12th November. I will tell you that after that first terrible day, I awoke at 4am, and with a mind churning just like the bloody beachball, I decided to attempt once more the process of booting up from the TechTools Pro DVD and see if I couldn't get hold of the files I need for my move out of London.

I followed procedure, held "C" down on the keyboard, but the Mac ignored my command and just booted up, as if it had always been doing that without interruption and without malice for an endless golden time of harmony and peace between nations. Without wanting to scare the machine into freezing and crashing once again, I pulled off practically all the irreplaceable data which I hadn't backed up, including the important property sale and purchase files.

After which, the machine froze once more. I rebooted from the DVD, and the whole recovery process continued well into the next day, to an eventual more-or-less fix.

I gave a brief, shattered and sincere prayer of thanks, went back to bed. The next morning, I had a hospital check-up to go to, an ultra-sound scan of my heart in the extremely modern UCH in Euston Road. Compared to the data drama, despite my normal mixed feelings on all things medical, this was a veritable piece of British piss. As I lay on my side in the pose of Botticelli's Mars, covered in gel and listening to the "squish squish" of my own motor amplified through the speakers of a medical computer as a pleasant woman filled my chest cavity with sine waves, I mused on the necessity of back-ups, of health checks, and once more thanked God for waking me up and getting me to try again.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sex With A Bicycle

A 51 year old Scottish man has been found guilty of having sex with his bicycle and sentenced to three years probation and also placed on the Sex Offenders Register for three years.

If Robert Stewart had known of Flann O'Brien's famous book, The Third Policeman, he might have thought twice about this intimacy. O'Brien's treatise, expounded by Sergeant Pluck, was that the laws of physics and the leeching of the atoms of one thing into another caused profound changes to occur in the physical make-up and the behaviour of individuals and objects.
The gross and net result of it is that people who spend most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles.

O'Brien described how certain people would be seen leaning against walls and if moved, would simply clatter over and lie without being able to get up again. On the other hand, bicycles after a lifetime of proximity to humans, would take on human attributes, and become unreliable, wayward, even drunk.

I wonder whether horrified Sheriff Colin Miller had thought to pass the same judgement upon the bicycle. After all, it takes two wheels to tango.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007


I've been getting a fair bit of difficult behaviour from some of the people local to me recently. Being stone cold sober, meditating daily, and having had sufficient in the way of mortality reminders, domestic and work dramas to cope with over the last 18 months to knock out a fair bit of self-aggrandisement and its evil twin self-pity, has helped me cope with this a lot.

I kind of feel I am now more-or-less the right size, not too big, not too small, for the various tasks which fate has allotted me, and I observe a significant lack of desperation in the quality of my reactions to crises. It's rather nice to realise that change is not an abstract concept, it's a real phenomenon working every day in my life. What is the word, forebearance? Old fashioned patience? Faith in a higher power? Hey hum, whatever it is, I seem to have it right now, and that's a very good thing. Roll with the changes, bend like a blade of grass in the wind.

Still, it would be inhuman of me not to feel the stress, and I got to feeling a bit crazy by yesterday mid-afternoon. So, I turned to my regular therapies. I started looking for music yesterday about 5pm and by 9pm I'd mixed a one and three quarter hour funky music podcast which made me feel much better.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

On Seesmic

I've never been one for mindless bandwagon-jumping. I look askance at people who attempt to glow beautifully under the rapidly passing headlights of this or that technology bus. My skin tone and moral complexion don't need to look good, thanks to a deal I made with the Great Genie of Personal Confidence back in 1988. I simply cannot look any better. At all times, thanks to the excellent bargain I made, I am bathed in good light without the need of buses or other transportation. But, I do get curious from time to time, and I hop on board to see what the journey is about.

I've been intrigued by the flurry of internet business start-ups in 2007, and particularly those looking to do something around the phenomenon which has become known as social media which for various reasons is where I now spend a lot of my time, but I'm choosy about keeping my online life de-cluttered. I joined Twitter end of 2006 to see what all the fuss was about, and it took me a while before I saw the value of it, rather than just seeing novelty. I joined Jaiku and a few other Web 2.0 sites to explore them and judge them all against one other; they all work slightly differently, but the question is, differently enough to make a difference? Much as the conventional, older parts of the internet, blogging, forums, have done, I made new friends via Twitter, and I also found I was maintaining and deepening existing friendships. In the end, I find value (or not) in the context of my real, everyday life - you know, the smell of sex, and all that.

A while back I noticed (via Twitter) that several of my friends were using Seesmic, a new web-based video blogging tool, still as yet in Alpha, i.e. not public, and in the process of being constructed. There's a best of Seesmic on YouTube called Seesmix. My curiosity piqued, I recently asked Loic Le Meur the man behind Seesmic for a look, and he kindly let me see what the fuss was all about.

I once described Twitter as "community text radio" when trying to get the point of its rolling 140 character commentaries and quips across to someone recently. Seesmic is more like community video chat, contributions arriving on a permanently unfolding roll, content uncensored conversational and spontaneous, with multi-threaded memes running back and forth organically.

At the moment, the site seems pretty much based on webcam moments - a lot of people in front of their laptops - with the option of converting videos to flash before uploading. Like Twitter and Flickr, Seesmic has a combination of public and private settings - you can choose to follow people, you can also watch the public timeline. I like that it integrates into other useful popular internet applications like Twitter and Skype, so by following the Twitter stream (which has RSS, so you can subscribe to it like a blog or a podcast) you can, if so moved, watch videos as they come in.

I prefer to film on location and on the move, as anyone who has witnessed will know - I am a big fan of pocket video. As soon as I have a WiFi phone with a decent web browser and good video capability that can plug into its web interface, I can see this being really useful for me. Better for spontaneous short-form video than sites like Blip or BlogTV, more about conversations than egotistical display à la YouTube, and unlike Facebook, not claiming your work's copyright by default, I can really see this addition to the new mediasphere catching on.

Check out my meandering muse on Seesmic here.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Google: My Two Cents

Since I started blogging, I've been taking oblique looks at the old adage "absolute power corrupts absolutely" in the context of the politics of the internet. On the basis that rational dissent and robust questioning is essential for any society's health, I've regularly questioned the business methods of dominant internet corporations, and Google, the biggest Ad agency in the world (also do search)* powering this blog and several million others, commanding huge financial sums, and claiming not to do Evil are particularly worthy of inspection.

This summer, Blog of Funk #1 ceased to be and I wrote sideways for a short while during which time I made careful assessment of my intentions for its future in the context of my own online future. I'd used Google's Adwords in the past to fuel commercial campaigns, and always intended commercialising my work more actively at the point when traffic made that an option.

In May 2007 this blog received 24,987 unique visitors, 35,134 visits, served 61,956 pages and 526,923 files. Self-consciously stopping in July, with less updates occurring, I watched a lot of traffic tail off, and lost about 25% of my regular readers who dropped out on the basis that (as far as they knew) I'd stopped writing. Resuming in August, I plugged Google's contextual text links Adsense into the blog pages, and started to accumulate earnings; but several things have made it impossible for me to collect, and Google's opaque and inaccessible structure has made questioning their decision completely impossible.

In order to qualify for Google's Adsense program you have to take a pledge not to click your own ads (easy enough). In order to get paid, you have to verify your account, and this is done by nominating a bank account, and then reporting back to tell them which amounts landed on which days. This done, I awaited reaching the threshold which would trigger a pay out. After three months, I was confident of hitting the threshold and due for some cash. However, there is another verification process which is required, the phone number confirmation. Online fraud is prevalent and this is their belt and braces protection. So, I responded to their email encouraging me to complete the verification in order to be paid, went online and triggered their automated system to call me. The phone call system generated a pin number on a webpage, which I duly tried punch in when the call came; but, each time I attempted it, the line was dropped. Warily reading the instructions, I realised I only had three attempts, so, after two failures, I stopped and emailed them.

IDate: Sun, 23 Sep 2007 04:05:09 -0700

I am unable to verify my phone number. I tried twice. Both times I
picked up the call, I heard the instructions, but when I pressed the
numbers on this perfectly normal touch-tone phone, the line was
instantly dropped. Please advise.



I got a standard reply:
Hello D,

Thank you for your email.

If you received your phone verification call, you might not have been able
to verify your phone number for a couple reasons. First, make sure that
you are using a touch-tone telephone to make the call. Then, when the call
is in process, please remember to press the # key after entering your
phone verification code.

If you have taken care of these two potential issues, the problem might be
due to temporary system downtime. Please visit your phone verification
page and reschedule your call to try again. Thank you for your

For additional questions, I'd encourage you to visit the AdSense Help
Centre ( ), our complete resource
centre for all AdSense topics. Alternatively, feel free to post your
question on the forum just for AdSense publishers: the AdSense Help Group
( ).


The Google AdSense Team

I wrote back:
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2007 09:40:18 +0100

Dear Ciara

In my message, I stated that I do have a touch tone phone.

I was not able to use the # key because the call did not allow me to
progress past the first tone pressed - it simply dropped the line as
soon as I did press the first tone.

The system was not down. It was however not functioning on my number.

If I do try again, and fail, then the three calls allocated will be
used up - and then what will I do to get paid? Bear in mind this is
all about me accessing my funds.



I got this reply:
Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2007 08:13:29 -0000
Subject: Re: [#201548472] None of the above

Hello D,

Thanks for your email.

I understand that you've had some trouble verifying your phone number.

Since you've already received and entered a PIN, I've manually overridden
the phone verification requirement on your account. As a result, you won't
need to verify any additional information in order to receive your

Going forward, please keep in mind that if your payments are on hold for
any reason other than PIN or phone verification, you'll need to remove the
holds prior to the 15th in order to be paid in that month. Otherwise, your
outstanding earnings will roll-over to the following month and you'll be
paid out according to our normal payment cycle.

Once you've removed any additional holds from your account, you'll be
issued a payment at the end of the first month after your balance exceeds
US $100.

For additional questions, I'd encourage you to visit the AdSense Help
Centre ( ), our complete resource
centre for all AdSense topics. Alternatively, feel free to post your
question on the forum just for AdSense publishers: the AdSense Help Group
( ).


The Google AdSense Team

So, all ready now to receive my earnings of over $100, initially held up by some glitch with their phone system, but impressed with their customer service, I waited expectantly.

On Friday, 26 October, I received this:
It has come to our attention that invalid clicks and/or impressions
have been generated on the Google ads displayed on your site(s).
Therefore, we have disabled your Google AdSense account. Please
understand that this was a necessary step in order to protect the
interests of AdWords advertisers.

As you may know, a publisher's site may not have invalid clicks or
impressions on any ad(s), including but not limited to clicks and/or
impressions generated by:

- a publisher on his own web pages
- a publisher encouraging other users to click on his/her ads
- automated clicking or surfing programmes, or any other deceptive
- a publisher altering any portion of the ad code or changing the
layout, behaviour, targeting or delivery of ads for any reason

These or any other such activities that violate Google AdSense Terms
and Conditions and programme polices may have led us to disable your
account. The Terms and Conditions and programme polices can be viewed

If you have any questions about invalid activity or the action taken on
your account, please do not reply to this email. You can find more
information by visiting

Yours sincerely,

The Google AdSense Team

This was clearly wrong. I asked people what to do, and was told, it can be caused by anything unusual - just let them know and lodge an appeal. So, I appealed. Maybe it was the syndication of one of my blogs into social network Ning (Adsense was plugged quite legitimately into four blogs). No way I clicked any ads. People that I share my flat with, perhaps, using the same IP address as me, but probably not, and anyway, I checked, they said no. I generated some webstats to show Google what had and hadn't happened.

The appeal didn't work. Furthermore, if your appeal is rejected, that is it. No more appeals, no more Adsense, ever. No payments, even those owing for over a month and which their own system's malfunction prevented you from accessing.

Call me cynical, but I don't think it is a coincidence that on the day I was due to receive a backlog of earnings, Google chose to invalidate my account. Looking at it, I now suspect that this is regular practice and so do other people. Think of the multiple millions of dollars never paid to small electronic publishers, bloggers and website owners all over the world, none of whom has any comeback according to their terms and conditions, very few of whom can afford lawyers to challenge Google in a court.

It's easy to criticise Google and other corporations for their big mistakes - Yahoo passing the information to China about dissident bloggers, for example, or YouTube's blatant infringement of intellectual property. Yahoo since found itself lambasted not just by human rights groups globally, but by the US government, and YouTube is now fighting the mighty Viacom. But, I am now minded to start to focus on the ways in which Google and others take money from those less able to protect themselves.

First, the terms and conditions need to be challenged. In the UK we are benefited by the legal concept of reasonableness; even if a contractual relationship exists, if a judge deems part of it unreasonable, it won't be lawfully enforceable. This is a huge advantage over (for example) the US system where however iniquitous a deal may be, so long as it is strictly legal according to statute, it can be made to stick.

Second, the anti-trust issue. In their unparalleled power, Google it seems to me is now in the position which Standard Oil once enjoyed, and is abusing its dominance quite oblivious to the lessons of history. Too much power in too few places is bad for society; we cannot be limited to working within systems with built in disadvantages to the common people; and not to permit the questioning of bad decisions is an abuse of the freedoms my ancestors won when they got the vote. In the same way that mighty Microsoft was finally tamed by that upstart new super-state, the European Union, and forced to pay huge fines and abandon its anti-competitive practises, Google, soon coming to a phone near you, might just be getting too big for the health of that newest nation - the Internet.

As a result of this, I've chosen Adbright as my revenue generator for this blog. Aside from the fact that you have much more control over ad rates, appearance, and payment point trigger, I have already noticed that earnings are rolling in quicker than Adsense, which took a while to make anything, and in the end, paid out nothing. As of now, after 48 hours, from Adbright I have made three cents. Now this is not much; but, it stands for something important - my two cents, and one in the eye for Google.

* thanks to Ewan Spence

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mauled By Puffins

I do not recall which curmudgeonly commentator pronounced that there was nothing so boring as hearing other people's dreams, but I've never agreed with that sentiment. Aside from the fact that the psychologist in me (get out, Carl, you've been in there long enough) finds the tumult of inner worlds a fascinating landscape to explore, the link between consciousness and unconsciousness, the willed and the unbidden, the instinctive and the planned is at the root of all creativity.

I have a good memory, and bizarrely for a person with no psychology training, a tendency to remember the dreams of others, especially those people close to me, but not exclusively. In the last two days I have been told of three dreams, one of which was a second-hand account of a sibling's dream, which are all striking and somehow resonating the bell of my own mind.

Dreams in their semi-randomness seem often to reveal pre-occupations and neuroses, if not obsessions. Obsession, like paranoia, is a much misunderstood term and an often too casually applied definition. When people talk about their obsessions what they mostly mean is neurosis, the dents on the mind left by traumas which, unresolved, cause the twitch, the facial tic, heightened states of anxiety, even phobia. Mild neurosis, shallow but persistent psychological imprinting, is suffered by many, obsession by very few. Seeing people in the grip of genuine obsession is enough to make you think twice about using the word lightly.

My mother's neuroses were several, but many of them are resolved now, or at least less constricting. One thing that remains however is the claustrophobia which derives (we think) from being in bomb shelters. "Open the door," she'd suddenly yell, "you know I hate being shut in!" She was quite open about it and without shame, demanding that we accomodate her. The crude semi-submerged Andersen shelters offered blast protection and some respite from falling masonry, that was about it. It must have been terrifying, hearing bombs drop and knowing that a direct hit would be the end. So this is an entirely logical neurosis, with an easy to determine cause. Less so the fear of heights, which she managed to pass on to me. Not all heights, in my case, just occasional, very high heights. Sometimes, even on TV I get the pit of the stomach, bollock-tightening sickness which conjures up the dread.

I used to have dreams of falling, especially when i worked on floor 15 of a tower block. Spectacular views, and no fear whilst in situ, but over a period of months I'd awake suddenly in cold sweat with a gasping intake of air: not a nice way to spend the night. I have every so often experienced lucid dreams, and I believe it is possible to encourage and develop lucid dreaming, in which flight is possible - this would be a great remedy. In waking life, I conquered vertigo by climbing Cornish sea cliffs, but not entirely.

So, this morning's dream was relayed to me about an hour ago by my good friend Egg, who told me a convoluted and dynamic tale of money, bullying and protection with the excellent detail of me stuffing Pierre Cardin shirts into his bag. To avoid the evil school-type bully, David Bailey, he lied, said they were a duvet. See, even in other people's dreams I have good fashion taste.

Yesterday's two dreams come via Mrs P who dreamed she was being mauled by foxes. Disturbed, but understandable if you live in a green London suburb. London is full of foxes. I am thinking of starting a campaign to bring back hunting on horseback with hounds, but in cities, where they are needed. The third dream was also relayed to me by Mrs P whose brother dreamed the very same night that he was being mauled by puffins. As she told me this in a London street, her face lit up and we fell about laughing. That's the fraternal difference showing through: the clever urban predator versus the swimming, tunneling seabird. As for the mauling, bite marks, beak marks, you pays your money, you takes your choice. Except, we don't choose our dreams, do we? If we could pay to have dreams we wanted to have, someone would make a fortune. In that uncontrolled space, dreams choose us, they find us to show us things about ourselves which sometimes leave us confused, sometimes enlightened, and sometimes most marvellously amused.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

New Vember

It's been quite fun writing haiku each day for a month, kept me off the streets as I got down with poets artists and dreamers of all persuasions, nationalities and creative alignments. I wasn't just writing haiku, I was writing all kinds of verse - sonnets, songs, prose, monologues, dialogues, scripts, screenplays, novels, short stories, soap operas, doggerel, diagonals, cut-ups, buttercups and business plans. Also limericks, which had, as detailed below, a most incredible affect on both my sexual attractiveness and fashion status:

A funky young blogger named Deek
Drank limericks each day for a week
For the month of October
He smoked stone-cold sober
And now he is totally chic

So, now that I'm totally and utterly fashionable, and full of beans, I'm pleased to announce that I have something quite interesting planned for December.

But I'm not going to tell you what it is until we get there.


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