Money and a Crap Book

I'm delighted and saddened at once to realise that I'm at a level of readership that allows me to read half a book, turn to the nearest person and say: 'This, this book is crap. Not only is it crap, but it's wrong.'  And so it was with a book that I was actually quite excited to get my hands on.

David Wolman is a contributing editor at WIRED, just about the only magazine I read. He also writes for the New Yorker and the New Scientist, just about the only other two magazines that I've ever read. I squealed giddily (in my head) at his slightly polemic-y article on a universal currency and was highly compelled by the original article from a few years ago that spurred this book: The End of Money

Wolman's hypothesis is simple: we don't need physical money. In fact, not only do we not need it, but it's bad for us, the economy and the planet.

He dwells early on with the argument about germs and cash being handed around. I'm immediately mentally countering with the idea that we probably have infinitely more physical public contact in other arenas - public transport, bars and clubs... hospitals. I'm hoping that this isn't the basis of the entire book. 

He puts that argument aside for the first few chapters. If you don't know much about the history of money - what it is, and more importantly what it actually means then there's some succinct and valuable information here. But this information is punctuated by poor proof-reading and editing. For example, he mentions 25p pieces twice - whatever they are - and keeps referring to 'The Covent Gardens.'  He's American, and I have a first printing so I decide to let it slide. 

US' new $100 bill video - check out the music.

The next chapter delves into the murky world of counterfeiting and the technology involved. Again, there's some absolutely fascinating hard fact and great stories in here: The existence of the supernote phenomena that plagues the US economy - apparently an economic attack by North Korea to weaken the dollar by introducing super high-quality $100 bill forgeries forced the US Mint to redesign it for the first time in a hundred years or so.  The questions of who owns the paper money, the tax breaks it grants and its use by criminals and foreign governments is examined - apparently a third of US paper resides in the vaults of dictators. 

Then it starts to get really interesting. We delve into the psychology of cash, the studies that show how illogically we value it above electronic money. How the physicality gives it a sense of worth and enshrines a reluctance to spend it. Here lies the crux of the argument for the economy; not only is paper money expensive to make and control but we don't like spending it. We count out pennies and cherish twenties but wouldn't think twice about buying a book for £19.99 on Amazon through Paypal.

What's missing with electronic money, Wolman argues, is the sense of value that  goes into the design of paper money - the legacy and power of cash. His solution? We need to design interfaces that evoke feelings of value when transacting. And this is where I stopped and turned to the person nearest to me. 

Who is this 'we' that would design interfaces to make us think twice about instantaneously and effortlessly paying for a meal and a healthy tip? What profit-minded credit card company, bank or transfer service would pay for or endorse software that would make transacting slower and more thoughtful? The easier we can spend and the more disconnected we are from that process, the more money they make. I can easily imagine some sort of iPhone app coming out of a garage somewhere that sends out reminders when we spend over a certain amount a day. But to make transacting electronically like using cash, you essentially


Bernie Madoff used complex ponzi schemes and false electronic reports to cheat investors out of $36 billion. Michael Anthony Fuller tried to break a fake $1 million note in Walmart.

Let's be logical here. He states that about 1% of cash is counterfeit. Wolman himself points out how well-buffered and insulated the markets are against these forgeries. If you get a counterfeit £20 note, the chances are you won't even know. They're so good that you can take into a shop, spend it and never see it again. Eventually it makes it's way to a central bank, they find it, test it, tell shops to look out for it and then it's over. The only way you lose is if you spot it, take it to a bank and hand it over in exchange for a hearty 'thanks mate.'

The physicality of cash makes it difficult to counterfeit in colossal amounts anyway and easy to trace. I admire a couple of kids who can print out a passable £100,000 in fivers more than, for instance, Vodafone, Philip Green, Amazon or Google who use intractable and complex methods enabled by electronic banking to hide inconceivably gargantuan amounts of money from the public purse. And what about the Bernie Madoff's of the world who use similar means to criminally cheat the world out of billions, cause a collapse of confidence in the markets and eventually, the trebling of university fees?

I could go on. The whole thing is riddled with theoretical failings and flat-out wrong monetary theory. He appears to have made his mind up before he started based on the simple idea that cash is for nostalgic patriotic idiots and everyone else is behind him on this one.  Save your pennies and don't read it.

The Manager

The glass was ice cool on his forehead. He gazed down past his feet. Down below and beyond the glass he could see a group of the crew busying themselves with the operation of some machine on the deck that he could never understand. Did the crew even speak English? He got by in passing conversation with the captain when they ran into each other. Weekly meetings about ship matters began in English but his lack of input quickly began it's shift into Russian, Polish and Hungarian while he faded away. 

He knew the mockery that he elicited from the crew, the sniggers and glares. He was the troll under the bridge between two worlds in a very small space. Friend of no-one and thoroughly misunderstood. He would greet the traders when they landed, brief them for fifteen minutes and then they were in the hands of the medics and scientists downstairs for prepping before trading began. After two weeks, at the end of their tenure, he debriefed the trader for another fifteen minutes and saw them off from the tiltrotor deck before returning to his quiet office. 

At least he had a view from the trading floor. The crew buried themsleves in the mechanical bowels while the traders buried themselves in the ebb and flow of the markets. His job offered him regular glimpses into both these worlds but mostly he enjoyed looking through the icy window. 

In an hour or so, a group of directors and inspectors would be landing on board. He'd show them the reviews and statistics that the computer basically prepared for him and they would nod, prod and shake their heads as they marveled at their creation. In the year of its operation, the ship had never failed. The Russians kept the reactor humming and the traders kept the activity flowing - the colossal and rapid bubbles and bursts that paid his salary.

They would shake his hand, pat him on the shoulder and board the tiltrotor back to Archangelsk and from there they would head to London, Amsterdam and New York. That evening they would be in their homes. They'd watch some videos, have a drink and climb into bed comforted by the steely beast tearing around the arctic circle miles above their heads. 

A misty circle of condensation was forming around his head.  The crew below were probably laughing at the man in the suit with his head against the window gazing down at the deck. He breathed in to his chest and let it go with a sigh. Turning on one heel he looked up and around at the traders plugged into their systems. They weren't really here anyway, they were off somewhere in the fractional world, operating at light speed around the markets. They had to spend the first forty-eight hours after their tenure in the medical center to recover, receiving the surgery and psychological refitting to bring them back to normalcy.

He used to eat with the people from the medical center when they first started. Some of the discoveries they were making and experiments they were performing were fascinating to hear about. Gradually he became irked by the way they began to refer to the traders. Their talk of stock, lineage, redundancy and modification made him retreat to the humane sanctuary of his office for his meals and recreation time.  Now he saw them less than the crew.

A vibration in his pocket reminded him of the imminent arrival of the tiltrotor form Archangelsk. One last glance around the silently tense trading floor confirmed the paragon of glory and success he was supposed to be conveying. He headed downstairs to the visitor's reception with it's laughable palm trees and marble floor acting as an ill-fitting signifier of the business this ship was in.

Alternative Histories

Everyone has a favourite alternative history story. Mine would have to be Man In The High Castle, a world of Axis victory over the allies of WWII where Phillip K. Dick turns his lens on his native America now dominated by Japanese businessmen, the I Ching and a nostalgia for American collectibles reminiscent of the post-war Middle East, freed of British cultural domination. His novel suffers from still being US worship, understandable really as it was written less than 15 years after the end of the war during the world explosion of Americana. 

The genius of Man In The High Castle isn't in the antipode of history we know (and love) but of the sophistication in its construction. The daily habits and activities of the average subservient American that would appear insulting and alien to the average Texan enrich the novel and these macro-realisms teach us a lot about the American mentality.

(Please note the clearing of the Mediterranean, not simply a fictional speculation but a genuine plan proposed to the Nazis and rejected as essentially being too insane. I'll blog about that another time.)

The theme varies substantially, but subtle differences can be exceptionally revealing in alternate history, a slight change in values can suddenly shed light on paradigms we might take for granted. The Alt History Wiki, has some interesting examples. A page on the Aliens franchise is as simple as listing a fifth film made in 1996 in pattern with the four before it as a micro-parody of blockbuster regularity. It's a little way off the excitement going around for the forthcoming Prometheus, seemingly only a half prequel in that it doesn't bear the name of the series: Alien 0 for instance.

There are some notably well-developed and logically progressive timelines buried in the site. One alternative history is set in a world where the Roman empire survives. (In it's contemporary form - forget my rants about how it never really died, just dissolved into the fabric of civilisation.) There's some text to wade through but of course the revelations and excitement are to be had in the maps. We're familiar with maps of the Roman empire - at a time when territory was the de facto mark of power, a large map was better than a big ole' pile of gold, hence the great store and faith but in cartographers.

Regrettably, and against my expectation, the wiki isn't a collection of literary alternate histories akin to Alberto Manguel's gold-standard Dictionary of Imaginary Places, a book that my grandfather kept on his shelf and I would pour over for hours on every visit. Manguel's book is sadly out of date now but still an absolute necessity for any serious fantasist.

Before wikis allowed me to read episodes ahead in Game of Thrones without ever having to even look at the covers of the novels, something like the Dictionary of Imaginary Places would have provided the perfect solution to delving into the strange and twisted lands of novels that were out of reach. Such a wealth of imagination is hard to come by in such a simple form, everything from Middle Earth to Moore's Utopia are in there.

On a similar wave of collections of short, formatted fantasies, Jorge Luis Borges' A Universal History of Infamy (now published as A Universal History of Iniquity) delivers a series of criminal fables of wrongdoers and their lives in Borges' uniquely galvanising and jaw-dropping semi-fantastical tongue. If you have the time (how could anyone possibly not?) buy it and read it. And keep it on the shelf next to Manguel. They were friends after all.

Growth Part 3: The New Economies

This post is heavily indebted to the work of Gregory Rader who created the chart that first sparked my realisation of a realistic lookout for alternative economic models. 

Rader's chart take's a little bit of explaining to fully understand. The x axis shows the relatedness of participants in an exchange and the variable thereof. So, more related parties will have a greater amount of trust born of contextual knowledge of each other. Transactions at this end have more of a chance to be slower, being paid back over a long time and be more qualitatively related, intuitive and holistic.

The y axis shows refinement, which is a slightly more complex variable. It refers to the product being exchanged. At the refined end, the most effort is being put in by the producer to ensure utility of the product. Therefore its value is readily apparent and easily consumed with little effort. At the other end, the product might be more abstract, taking a lot of effort from the consumer to make use of in order to extract utility and its value might be uncertain.

I would invite thought about a third axis - time. Transactions happen at different speeds and over different periods of time and these can be key values. A future's contract might not mature for ten years but might be traded hundreds of times a second. A debt to a friend might not be paid back for weeks while buying something from a shop is near instantaneous. However, this might complicate thing too much.


So let's begin to plot some things on here. I've put them in groups for ease of understanding. Again. I have to emphasise that this is my reading of Rader's chart and my application of it.

Firstly the Apple MacBook Pro and the Arduino. Both are in the transaction quarter, in that they are both made by unrelated parties for a demographic they are not personally familiar with but both have different degrees of refinement. The Apple is almost entirely complete, requiring little input from the user, while the Arduino needs some input from a user who understands how it functions and how best to utilise it. However, the Arduino is not so abstract as to be in the realm of the attention economy in that it is still a tangible product with intended application.

Secondly, the Twitter accounts. One of a friend would have a high degree of relatedness. You would hold conversations and the relationship would be reciprocated but the product is mostly unrefined, non-specific and requires effort on the consumer part to utilise. The celebrity account requires less, in that there is familiarity and an acceptance that it fulfills a semi-marketing role and it is not as related in that there is no consistent responsiveness.  As it gets more popular, it may in fact move into the attention economy, where it has enough 'clout' to sway attention.

Thirdly, the gift and collaboration.  A gift for/from a friend is given with the understanding of an intangible reciprocation, now or at a later date. No quantitative agreement is necessary and there is an intuitive understanding of it's significance although it's utility may be very obvious (i.e. a bottle of wine etc.) Collaboration on the other hand is more abstract, being a sharing of ideas it requires a certain agreement to the nature of the relationship and effort on the part of all parties to ensure that proper utilisation is achieved of any ideas that are born of the collaboration.

Fourthly are the attention products. As there is no social or cultural paradigm for the attention economy, most of the products here work to push the consumer into one of the neighbouring quarters. For instance, advertising which is as unrelated as any product takes effort for the user to move up into the transaction quarter for the end product while a service liked LinkedIn aims to draw people who share similar intangible ideas or understandings into tighter relationships so they can form collaborations or friendships.

But this map could be further distorted. Recent shifts through technology and wealth distribution mean a skew on this chart. Again, this is something Rader touches on but I think is vital if we're to think about new models of growth in order to understand the relative value of each economy and the amount of activity within them.


So, we have these shifts in the way we interact in that more and more of our exchanges are taking place outside of a monetary mode of exchange. I.e, to refer back to Part 1, the transaction cost for all the economies except for the transaction quarter are minimal - in most cases, only the cost of an Internet connection. I've put a few more examples on here, but note how with the growing power of the attention economy the Celebrity Twitter account has moved into the attention economy since it now holds clout over how we move into the other quarters. 


Placing my own work within this framework provides an outline of where the area of interest lies. 88.7 situates itself on top of the 1%. The product is highly refined, very specific, so refined in fact it requires almost no input from the user - becoming an abstract source of growth. At the same time the process is so rapid as to be entirely anonymous. It also serves to concentrate monetary wealth more and more and ensure the shrinking of the transactional quarter. New Mumbai on the other hand presents a world of trust and proximate gifting, the type of economy we could expect more of as disparity grows with the shrinking transactional quarter. The community involved find themselves in a shared circumstance that re-enforces familiarity and trust. This results in a variety of goods being traded, some more refined than others such as the mushrooms, some less such as the expertise to use them. All this is done on the basis of reciprocation and understanding granted by close relationships. 

Where we look to now is the opposite quarter, the one of interest to economists and techies alike. The intangible unrelated content, the swirling of ideas and irrelationships between anonymous, distant parties. What does this look like and how might it manifest itself? At the moment, activities in this quarter try and push us out into one of the other economies that we are much more familiar with, how might the Attention Economy function on its own?

Growth Part 2: Peak Attention

Peak Attention is a term often used by Venkatesh Rao on his blog, The Ribbonfarm. In his absolutely seminal, must-read article A Brief History of The Corporation he breaks up the history of commerce into discrete chunks of time and corresponding values. From colonial and imperial reliance on land-grabbing for natural resource, industrial reliance on productivity and capital to the 20th century and today where the commercial focus is on attention.

Sadly, Peak Attention made it into the buzzword lexicon of techpreneurs, marketeers and advertisers making it easy to jump to the conclusion that Peak Attention is symptomatic of the idea that 'we're running out of time' - that up until the Internet we had a good 12 or so hours a day to sit around, twiddle thumbs and wax lyrical at leisure. Really, it all began back in the annals of time (around January 2008) when Matt Webb of BERG (who in fact, possibly coined the term) wrote an oft-quoted post that kicked off the whole idea and began it's more refined development. Rao begins to expand on it succinctly:
Take an average housewife, the target of much time mining early in the 20th century. It was clear where her attention was directed. Laundry, cooking, walking to the well for water, cleaning, were all obvious attention sinks. Washing machines, kitchen appliances, plumbing and vacuum cleaners helped free up a lot of that attention, which was then immediately directed (as corporate-captive attention) to magazines and television.
Attention in an economic sense and commercial reliance on it is born of Schumpeterian growth - where innovation breeds new types of capital, thus resulting in growth. Cynically, Schumpterian growth could be outlined with the angsty teen axiom of companies finding ever new exciting things to make and sell that we didn't know we needed. To generalise: faster ways of making clothing cheaper filled a niche during the industrial revolution when people were poor and poorly clothed. But once they were clothed? Then innovation pulled fashion beyond the tailors and boutiques and into the magazines of the new middle class allowing for economic growth beyond the demands by creating new demand.
It is fairly obvious that Schumpeterian growth has been fueled so far by reserves of fossil fuels. It is less obvious that it is also fueled by reserves of collectively-managed attention.
As Rao points out, Schumpterian growth needs our attention on that market bubble which it has created in order to nurture it.  In that sense it's quite quantum - if we don't look at it, it doesn't happen. Because our genuine demands (food, clothing, a roof etc.) have been filled, we now have a disposable income (created by Schumpterian growth) to invest in excess consumer demand (kittens, shoes, chocolate and so on) but there's only so much we can buy, so much we can look at, so much we can take an interest in and our exposure to a wider variety of these things and the ability of producers to access us is now almost fully saturated. 

How Rao and Webb propose or envision dealing with this problem is where the real difference emerges. Webb looks to the technology and the businesses behind it, taking a very Nicholas Carr-like line that we need to be more conscious decision makers, both on a producer and consumer level in self-editing: 
What are the consequences of living post-Peak Attention? Nobody will be able to understand anything hard unless they make sacrifices.
But this solution still works within our current economic model, it ensures the continuation of the bubble and bust economy and a certain amount of triviality in our transactions. Rao's suggestion is much more radical. He proposes that peak attention means the end of Schumpterian growth, as evidenced by the rapidly advancing 'creative destruction' of capitalism - a zero-sum theory borrowed from Marxism stating that crashes and bubbles are required to create new wealth i.e. Polaroid camera's being 'destroyed' by digital cameras - both exist within the same market. He posits that a new metric is required to measure and sustain growth. Instead of trying to cope with dwindling attention and it's deferential effects on our economy, we change the way we measure activity entirely and make it more suitable to the way we interact now and in the future.
The point isn’t that we are running out of attention. We are running out of the equivalent of oil: high-energy-concentration pockets of easily mined fuel.

The result is a spectacular kind of bubble-and-bust.

Each new pocket of attention is harder to find: maybe your product needs to steal attention from that one TV obscure show watched by just 3% of the population between 11:30 and 12:30 AM. The next displacement will fragment the attention even more. When found, each new pocket is less valuable. There is a lot more money to be made in replacing hand-washing time with washing-machine plus magazine time, than there is to be found in replacing one hour of TV with a different hour of TV.
What’s more, due to the increasingly frantic zero-sum competition over attention, each new “well” of attention runs out sooner. We know this idea as shorter product lifespans.
So one effect of Peak Attention is that every human mind has been mined to capacity using attention-oil drilling technologies.
...the oil rig of human attention, will start to decline at an accelerating rate. Lifestyle businesses and other oddball contraptions — the solar panels and wind farms of attention economics — will start to take over.

It will be the dawn of the age of Coasean growth.
So what are the metrics of Coasean growth? How do we measure it? As outlined in Part 1, it happens on a very specific, individual level, beyond the controls of the state, excluding it form measures of GDP which are endemic of Schumpterian growth and beyond the territorial measures of the mercantile economy. One of the most widely proposed solution is 'clout.' Essentially, the more influence one has in directing the attention of consumers makes them more valuable actors in an economic sense.

Attention span is set to be the limiting factor on growth above capital - the time in which we have to utilise our utilities is become more of a limiting factor than the usefulness of our utilities. In this sense, money - currency, as a measure of growth and power become irrelevant.

Growth Part 1: Coase Theorem

Writing posts in parts implies that I have some grand manifesto to expound upon. Nope, not yet. More than anything, the issues I'm dealing with at the moment are causing me some consternation and by breaking them into parts I hope that I can encourage some discussion that will allow them to influence each other and build a very rigorous understanding of the ideas at hand. So... RSVP via twitter or email.  There's a Dilbert in here too. Which is fun and worth reading through to.

Ronald Coase is 102 years old (the picture is obviously not recent) and numbers himself amongst the pantheon of the many Chicago school academic economists to win the Nobel Prize. I keep coming across his work in relation to future economic models as the discussions around the attention economy (more later) and zero-sum growth gain a foothold in the mainstream as potential stumbling blocks for our current model and possible tacks for blame for the unmentionable financial hiccups of the last decade.

His most popular theorem on social transaction costs - later dubbed Coase Theorem - is now a cornerstone of economic theory, and yet it is almost entirely counter-intuitive and anti-classical in the economic sense.  Aaron Levine summarised it thus:
Assuming zero transaction costs and economic rationality, Cease, in his seminal work, demonstrated that the market mechanism is capable of eliminating negative externalities without the necessity of governmentally imposed liability rules.
Which makes almost no sense and so, as with most systems work, requires analogy. The story is that Coase came up with the theorem while working on the problem of radio stations that share the same bandwidth and endlessly squabble over property rights. Regulators find it notoriously difficult to assign radio frequencies to stop stations interfering with each other as their listening base grows and shrinks. Coase realised that without outside influence, this would be a self-regulating system: The radio station that was collecting the most revenue from listeners would have incentive to pay off the radio station receiving less for extra bandwidth. However, the most used analogy is of the wheat farmers and the rail company which I've highly simplified beyond even the original analogy:

A train line runs through a farmers wheat fields. Sparks from the train wheels have the regrettable habit of setting the wheat on fire, damaging the harvest. Suppose that optimally, with a full yield the farmer can make £50,000 per year, with the fire damage he can make £40,000. This happens ever two years, such that over a ten year period where he should make £500,000, he makes £450,000 - a loss of £50,000.

Solution 1 utilises the standard model of a national legal framework and is what we use normally. The farmer sues the train company for damages, costing him legal expenses, time and other nasty transaction costs and the train company has to pay £10,000 to install guards to prevent further damage. Everyone is disgruntled, bitter and unhappy.

Solution 2 is the Coasean solution. The farmer and the rail company strike a deal where he pays them £20,000 to install the £10,000 guards. Now, the train company makes £10,000 profit, giving them incentive, and in four years the farmer has recouped his losses and guaranteed to make a full harvest forever.  Everyone makes money and there are smiles all round.

The point here is that it relies on a fundamental shift in our current economic model and its potentially messy untangling from government frameworks. The parties come to a bargain that is specific and mutually beneficial, circumventing the standardised system in place to deal with such grievances.

As you can see above, this has often led to the model being cynically dubbed a Coasean Bribe since it avoids the infrastructure involved in mitigating transactional relationships (more on this later). Fundamentally it relies on trust - trust that the bargain will be upheld and that the train company will install the guards with the money and not invest it elsewhere. Interestingly, in practical studies, it seems to work. But an economy of trust in non-proximate relationships is nothing new. As monetary theorists and myself are keen to point out, currency is just trust in a nation.

So why is there so much interest in this form of transaction? Essentially, if you look at it hard and squint a bit, it represents an entirely new model for economic growth. Peak Attention pundits (more on this, later - I know) talk, quite flatly about the fact that we, as actors in nations that produce GDP, are running out of time. Our economic activity is almost totally maximised and our economy will not function without growth. A new model is needed that doesn't use growing GDP as a measure of success...


The US' National Archives has released a collection of 15,000 of an epic 80,000 photographs taken by photographers for the Environmental Protection Agency in the early seventies called 'Documerica'. This period marked the beginning of institutional environmentalism in the US after more than a decade of grassroots activism and the photographs go to show the sorry state of the relationship be tween the US people and their country at this period.

A good selection of 46 of the originals are available on the Atlantic website, while MSN's photoblog has helpfully cataloged a couple of modern comparisons made by the Associated Press.

Young Stalin

I read this about a year or so ago almost straight after reading Stalingrad by Antony Beevor and have recently had cause to revisit it. The early period of Soviet history presents such a stark contrast to the utopian dreams of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Everything in this period is mud and blood, the secrecy and deception of the Union hasn't yet spread to the general populace, who are still largely rural and unaware of what's going on amongst the political classes.

Into the melee steps Soso - the bear. He is expelled from his Orthodox seminary for reading banned literature after which he falls in love with the works of Lenin, working his way up to becoming resident bank robber, murderer and thug of the Bolshevik party. He was hated and feared by everyone else in the party and his megalomania drove the vast majority of people away from him but at once made him admired and loved by his closest allies. 

The book traces his story from birth in 1878 all the way up to the very beginnings of the revolution in 1917 from where the history of his life is better known and more widely written, including by Montefiore in the follow-up that was published prior to Young Stalin. His life truly was fascinating, but as Montefiore points out, his notoriety and lasting power were reliant on just the right circumstances of time and opportunity, without which he would have been another of the thousands of obscure, violent criminal minds driven to revolution at the time.

Instead of a blurb, the rear of the book contains nine mugshots of Stalin at various stages of his early life, and underneath them a description of his life at each point - urchin, chiorboy, student priest, poet, lover, pirate, gangster, killer, commissar. No better summation of the man's early life exists.
1910 file on Stalin from the Baku Gendarmerie

Brains and Patrick Keiller

I went over to the Wellcome Collection recently to see the new display of neuro-related tools, paraphernalia and artifacts. There's been some hype around the show and from the huge presence of tourists and art students, it was obviously marketed at quite a specific crowd. In fact, the art student and tourist presence was so heavy that it was nigh-on impossible to see most of the things on display. When one could get close to an ancient trepanning tool or a slice of Einsteins brain it was essentially a rather dull affair: 'Here is a slice of brain.' Oh yeah?

It's not like you're supposed to expect in-depth analysis and inspired curatorial work at the Wellcome - it is essentially a depository of obscure medical objects and their stock in trade is letting you look at them. Which was exactly what the exhibition was, with little in the way of history or explanation and an apparent random arrangement of the various tools that attract coos and awe from the assembled tourist and art student population. If you already know about brains and their history then there's nothing new here, though the tumblr set up for the exhibition has some wonderful imagery.

What a relief then, after spending two hours or so tactically attempting to navigate around the London Marathon when I managed to eventually find my way into Tate Britain for the Robinson Institute from Patrick Keiller.

Patrick Keiller

In a stark contrast to the Wellcome, the Tate commission from Keiller is beautifully laid out, full of space with a methodical step from each section to the next. Which is essentially the whole point of the show. Keiller pulls strands of economic and political history through hundreds of year of British history and geography to weave stories that are often impossible to guess at, sometimes humorous and other time profound. The Guardian have done a lot better piece on it than I could, so I won't go on about it. It is deep and involving if nothing else. The raw array of artistic and design aesthetics laid out - from etchings to charts and books, pieces of rock and stark photography drag you into the mystery that Robinson is unraveling. The whole story reminds me heavily of Perec's A Void or Cesare's Invention of Morel in the mystery and other-worldliness of the familiar landscape.

Patrick Keiller

Patrick Keiller

Patrick Keiller

Patrick Keiller

Ruinous Stash

French photographer Vincent J Stoker's series Heterotopia - The Tragic Fall is a total stash of ruin porn. The photographs are beautiful, all of a very simple and classic composition and bursting with shades of decay and depth. A little bit of searching for more information about the photographs yields a tired over-explanation where 'I take awesome photographs of awesome places' would have sufficed, even been better. There's such a variety of places that all hold a unique continuity and what I really want to know about is the process in finding and photographing the places as well as a little more contextual info on each one. After all, the fascination of ruins is in the stories that they are testament to, their lives and the unique energy they suddenly hold as they decay. These photographs should be about the subject, not the photographer's leanings on Foucault.  Still, photographer's silly blurb aside, they are beautiful shots taken with real skill and obvious perseverance. 

To this end: *drool*