Category Archives: Uncategorized

This is how it reads

“To the finder of this present,

This is for you. Please open it and listen to it, or pass it along to someone else who might enjoy it. This valentine’s day I have no one to make mix CDs for, so I have decided to make them for strangers.

This is for you – whether you have someone or not. This is for hand holding and for solitude, for bad breaks and first dates.”

And the picture of the first CD. http://twitpic.com/8jjsxl Also this is the first thing I’ve done which has ever gone viral.

Untitled Poem

The maudlin drunk lagrange point /
slip-slide out of sight /
aching souls in Northern Pub half-twilight /
golden liquor newly coined /
from brass taps and full casks /
pulled by dead eyed bar staff /
and sad songs from jukebox born /
with cigarette burns on the chairs of the lovelorn /
the maudlin drunk lagrange point /
heading towards some sort of light /

At the cutting edge of post-modernism

I am, by and large, in favour of post-modernism. I think the ability to critique western cultural values from within is a good thing.

And then we have this:

“We see the emerging opportunity to ‘snackify’ beverages and ‘drinkify’ snacks as the next frontier in food and beverage convenience,”

– The above is a quote from Pepsi Co’s latest press release.

This, dear friends, is the cutting edge of post-modernism. Leaving aside the appalling mangling of the English language (again, I have the view that linguistic shifts are also, generally, good things). Here we have market research, as it would be, if it were conducted by Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. What does a ‘drinkified’ snack actually look like? Probably some amorphous fructose jelly that perfectly embodies Jean-François Lyotard’s conception of the rejection of the hegemony of epistemology.

I’m going to drink a beef smoothie and then go to bed. Happy 2011. This is what the future looks like.

Crowdsourcing for Fun and Profit

Hello dear readers,

I apologise for my long absence from the realm of Blogdom. I am currently trying to leverage the power of social media to find myself a new job. Maybe you could help me crowdsource one by pointing a link in the direction of this blog?

I am looking for some sort of work, ideally in the North Of England (but I am open to moving). Preferably in a role that will let me leverage my IT skills and bibliophilic tendencies. Some sort of web content creation or new publishing type of thing would be ideal.

Failing that I can cope with the existential mundaneness of another generic office job.

If you know of anyone that can help please let me know.

Sorry I generally try and keep things whimsical around here but The Big Society doesn’t seem big enough to accommodate my future employment right now (I would include an angry political rant but much has already been said on that by people far more eloquent than I).

Thanks for reading

Sore thumbs – a column about videogames

[For context the below was written as part of McSweeney’s column contest. It failed and so I present it here for your enjoyment instead]

My first experience with a computer set my life on a new trajectory, almost Damascene in its nature. Somewhere in the 8-bit sprites, the high keening wail of the tape deck, the reassuring click of micro-switches in the joystick, something numinous was lodging in my psyche: There are other worlds in there. It was November and my father had brought home a ZX Spectrum for my brother’s birthday. This slab of grey plastic would become the altar upon which I sacrificed countless hours and slew mono-paletted abominations.

I could be wrong but I think the first game we had was called Oh Mummy – it came on a cassette tape. It took about ten minutes to load. It was – in hindsight – awful. At age six, I had no objective criteria to judge the relative merits of a medium I had no experience with (take note, Roger Ebert). I thought it was brilliant. In essence it was a clone of Pac-Man. The player was trapped in a maze with the titular Egyptian mummy and had to excavate the sand around various tombs to get their contents, without touching the mummy. People this days complain about the likes of GTA promoting violence, but the essential message of Oh Mummy (some 20 years previously) was: “Hey kids, meddling in other countries, desecrating their holy sites and stealing their valuables is cool”.

Oh Mummy was my gateway drug. On sunny days I could be found crouched over wireframe models of the Death Star or roaming through pixellated forests. At one point in my early teens my mum started checking my arms for track marks because she was concerned about my antisocial behaviour and my permanently drawn bedroom curtains. She didn’t buy my explanation that it was to reduce the glare on the monitor screen.

That’s not to say that I never played outside. I kicked a ball around in the park the same as anyone else. But away from the phosphorescent world of binary, truth be told I was a bit geeky. Too tall to be comfortable with my body. Interested more in science than in sport. The computer provided me the opportunity to be a hero. It’s not really suprising that the biggest selling videogames of all time have been power fantasies. Who wants to play a game where you have to go to work or school everyday? (As an aside please play http://www.molleindustria.org/everydaythesamedream/everydaythesamedream.html
It’s an art game where you do precisely that).

I can’t speak for all gamers however. The lonely nerd stereotype is precisely that. I’ve met girl gamers and boy gamers and dad gamers and gamers who happened to be grandmothers and gamers who happened to be disabled or poor or all of the above. One thing that I think does unite us, is that videogames allow us for a brief while, to escape from the mundane and quotidian. To consider reality from another perspective, whether that be defying the laws of physics (for example Sonic and Mario), considering our own humanity (Deus Ex) or toying with other lives and ways of living (The Sims, Black and White and countless others).

Somewhere in that stark pixelly world is the version of ourselves that we’d rather be. I think videogames are morality engines. Teaching ourselves right from wrong. Sometimes I think that anyway. Sometimes I just think that they’re damn good fun.

Human beings are built to play. Leaving aside teleological questions about the nature of human life, play is the one thing that no adult ever has to teach a child. It comes as naturally as toenails or freckles. If you know any young children, then maybe you could borrow one for a brief period? Leave them in a room full of lego bricks or toy cars or Barbie dolls. What happens? Well assuming that the child establishes swiftly that the aforementioned toys are not in fact food (baby’s first ontology, if you will) you should witness some play. Some of that imagination. Children become miniature shamans when equipped with toys. They infuse them with life and power. There is something totemic about Barbie or lego, a force that whispers “This is not all there is. Other worlds are possible”.

It is that abundant optimism that gamers experience when stepping into the World of Warcraft or walking through the forests of Hyrule. Of all the ills that have been laid at the feet of the games industry (the Columbine high school massacre for example), very little in the mainstream media has ever addressed the positives that gaming can bring. The disabled can experience what it is like to walk again. The weak can be strong. It is fundamentally escapism we are talking about, but escaping to a platonic ideal. And when we come back to reality, and the luminous haze of our artificial worlds are stilled, we are different. The heroism and self-sacrifice of Halo, the urge to explore every nook and cranny of Super Mario World, the sheer persistence required to complete a game of Final Fantasy. These are the positive virtues that we gamers bring in to the real world too. I am all too fond of announcing “I levelled up”, every time I learn something new. I think videogames are there to remind us of those virtues, to hold our hands and show us what is ultimately real.

Jet lagged

So once again I find myself a fish out of water in a foreign country. In these situations my naturally occurring social awkwardness becomes weaponized. A darwinian mechanism that pre emptively steers me from embarrassment.
There is a certain idealized Englishness that I muster in these circumstances. The first word I learn in any new language is generally “thank you”. The second of often “sorry”.

Japan is humid. The people are friendly. I arrived jet lagged, the gajin face of tiredness. There was a sign in the airport for “pet hotel”. My ability to parse both language and events, has been somewhat afflicted by the density of memes here.

Not even Icarus dreamt of these wings

Air travel occupies a peculiar space in the venn diagram of our collective unconsciousness. It is the space in the intersection of the circles of sheer terror and consumerism. Here you are, in a place that no human could ever, through sheer biology, alone survive. Hanging miles above the surface of this dirty rock called Earth. It is something thaumatological in nature. Not even Icarus dreamt of these wings, extending outwards from the body of your plane, almost as if it were your body hanging in the sky. Chrome and daubed in the warpaint of British Aerospace or Emirates or Virgin. Think for a second. Beneath your feet are a few meters of storage space, hydraulic systems, landing gear, oil and baggage. Then beneath that nothing for miles.

And then you are offered a fine selection of duty free…

I suspect that duty free was invented purely as a mechanism for dealing with the sheer existential terror of flight – I imagine some Ur Air Traveller in the early days of aviation saying to their spouse “But Honey this is not a naturally tenable position for a human being… oooh look Calvin Klein”.

I’m not entirely sure that’s what Icarus had in mind

I guess what I’m saying is that I have a long haul flight ahead of me and I’m trying to rationalize it as best I can.

Songs for the General Election

It’s been a fairly emotive election run up so far. Regardless of your party of choice (or lack thereof) there have been a number of gaffes, smears and audiotapes. Non UK readers may have missed out on such gems as Bigotgate (incumbent Prime Minister calling someone a bigot behind their back whilst still wearing a sky news microphone that recorded his every word). Or podgy faced robot David Cameron rattling on about the various minorities that he apparently met on the campaign trail (see http://www.fridgemagnet.org.uk/toys/dave-met.php).

Anyway I thought I’d throw together a track listing to see us all through Thursday night. Maybe we could all celebrate with Pie Minister’s fine foods too (http://www.pieminister.co.uk/#/home). Plug the following into spotify or youtube and get very angry that your candidate of choice didn’t get in.

#1) Know your enemy: Because everyone knows making Rage Against The Machine guitar sounds with your mouth is the coolest for of political protest. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIsZwGbi9g8&feature=related[/youtube] (Ah-wah-wah-chucka-chucka-wah-wah)

#2) Thatcher ****** the kids: Remember Thatcher? “There is no such thing as society” – Frank Turner wrote a definitely Not Safe For Work song about her: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjfSucUhJiQ&feature=PlayList&p=A512A66931FC8E69&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=16[/youtube]

#3) The times they are changing: Bob Dylan [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEzoH_wLpmM&feature=related[/youtube] The line it is drawn / the curse it is cast / the first one now / shall later be last / for the times they are a changing – Well hopefully we might see some election reform. I for one am tired of the two party system…

#4) A century of fakers by Belle and Sebastian. Not that I’m cynical about the public image of politicians or anything [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A35Ne6Wmoms&feature=PlayList&p=0D9AD5C129A53C2F&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=32[/youtube]

#5) A Design for Life by The Manic Street Preachers. Only the Manics could write a rock song about the importance of libraries and the working classes [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpCxEpoFAHI[/youtube]

#6) Anarchy in the UK by The Sex Pistols [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQkActP-isE[/youtube]
Cliche but it might make you feel better if your team doesn’t come in. Just don’t start a UK version of the Tea Party movement okay?

#7) Electioneering by Radiohead [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnRDDmXupA4[/youtube]
“I will stop, I will stop at nothing / Say the right things when I’m electioneering” A simple but angry rock song, written in 1997 around the time that Tony Blair got in.

#8) Don’t Believe the Hype by Public Enemy. Yeah that’s about the sum of the message but it also has a funky beat [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6BJ3CvPLhs&feature=related[/youtube]

#9) The revolution will not be televised. Gill Scott Heron. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS3QOtbW4m0[/youtube]. Okay so it’s actually about Black US civil rights but it is still a good spoken word political statement

I’m sure people can add other suggestions in the comments below

An open letter to the BBC

[Please forgive the mildly self-righteous tone of the below. Messing with the BBC bring out my inner Daily Mail reader]

To whom it may concern,

I grew up in a small town in North Yorkshire and listening to John Peel was one of the ways I could escape the hum-drum nature of my adolescence. Music for me was a window to another place. John always championed the little acts. Small bands with shoe-string budgets. Muscial genres I had never heard of (how many people know what Gabba-Gabba is? Or chip tune?). Every night was different. Imagine if for your entire life you ate only gruel and then someone gave you a banquet. How could you ever go back? Since the death of John Peel, 6 Music is the only aspect of the BBC to ever sustain his legacy. I get the same sense of playful quirkiness, of sheer unadulterated discovery from 6 Music that I did listening to his show. How can I ever go back to the weak gruel of chart music?

At its best the BBC champions risk. For example Jeremy Paxman asks questions that no one elses dares ask. David Attenborough goes in search of dangerous animals that no else dares film… and 6 Music plays music that no else dares to play.

The world is a richer place for the existence of 6 Music. You could cancel it. You could use the budget to create a brand new quiz show about dancing aimed at all the family and hosted by Adrian Chiles and Tess Daly. You could stop taking risks. But there’s already a place for that on ITV. The saddest thing is that you’d be killing a part of yourself – your ability to champion the underdog.

Sore thumbs

I’m currently NDA’d (Non Disclosure Agreement – acronym fans) and therefore unable to disclose too much about the videogame company I’m working for. However nothing in the NDA prevents me from discussing the psycho-social demographics of working in the videogame industry so I will endeavour to encapsulate the twilight realms of the career geek for your reading pleasure.

The first thing you notice about any good tech company is the strong smell of black coffee that assails you as soon as you enter the door. If you dear reader, are in any way shape or form interested in investing your time, effort or money into a technical enterprise, then please be aware that parts per million of caffeine in the blood stream of the average employee will correlate strongly on a graph against stock price. Forget Dragon’s Den, a simple blood test will tell you all you need to know about a company’s third quarter profits. An alert geek is a productive geek. A free cola machine and a permanently boiling coffee pot are also good indicators.

The other thing I have noticed is that the friendliness of staff is inversely proportional to the need to wear suits. Everyone is the same in Gap clothing. As soon as people start wearing suits then the difference between plebian and upper management is highlighted by the quality of tailoring. This can cause tension and resentment. Wearing casual clothes is one step towards creating a meritocracy rather than a plutocracy (for the record I cannot honestly tell the difference at a glance between say Primark and Gap clothing).

I’m a tester (I don’t think I’m breaching anything by revealing that). I sit for long hours with sore thumbs until the joypad begins to twist my hands into claw-like shapes. I’m typing this like a crab, the ends of my pincer/hands tapping away at the keyboard. I’m sure I’ve lost some of the neurons I had this morning. My synapses have been rerouted, distorting and changing the laws of cause and effect in accordance with the cartoon realities I’ve been inhabiting. This is only a temporary thing (I mean the job, I’m hoping the reality shift will prove temporary too but I digress). Anyhow reader I must retire to my chamber as I am feeling somnolent.