Weeknotes 7

I'm so good at getting these out every week.

Cargo Culting

I was spending some time researching cargo cults earlier. A usually primitive island culture adopts the symbols of modern technology without understanding what it means, how it works or even what it's supposed to be. The famous examples include the building of whole airports from bamboo with equipment, planes and radios. The idea being that by repeating an airport, they'll bring back planes with supplies. Recently, this more Wasp Factory style cultish island appeared on the media stream and I found myself puzzled by how what would traditionally be considered some sort of arcane horror fiction was tapped in reality.

Cyber Bugs

Remeber Dino Riders? Humans and aliens from the future thrown back in time to the (confusingly broad) age of dinosaurs where they repurpose their spaceship technology to ally or tame the lizards and then continue their pithy war using them as cannon fodder? Well we've got that now with cockroaches and stuff.

Apparently DARPA had a hankering for mind-hacked insects so they could get into small stuff and look at things - don't know, it's not really clear, the point is there's a prevailing attitude in the US of 'if nature can do it, DARPA can do it.' So they've given it a fair shot and they reckon they can actually open up the technology to anyone with around $50 and a few spare hours and a cockroach that looks like it could use a new god-figure in directly controlling its actions. Hell, you can even control your helpless insect slave from your iPhone! Great for a laugh, ah the dominion of man.

OK moral issues aside it is quite clever. Humans have been mind-controlling other human for hundreds of years and this is a step forward. It's hard to sell perfume to a cockroach using David Beckham's underwear, but now you can successfully hook it's brain up to a circuit board.

Cockroaches are probably more useful anyway as well known apocalypse survivors, where dinosaurs as we know didn't do too well. 

Inequality For All

It's hard to know whether Robert Reich's new film Inequality For All will be political point scoring or an actual real-to-god-holy-fuck-how-did-this-happen documentary in the styling of the superb Inside Job.  He was labour Secretary under Clinton and despite an apparent alliance between the two administrations it's easy to see Reich coming out and punching below the belt in favour of the cult of Clinton. The film recently got kickstarter funded which at least means it's not just mindless lobbying but the problem with all these things is (and even Inside Job does this) they look for someone to blame. The modern solution to any intractable problem is to find someone who does or should understand it and get enough people to agree it's their fault and blame them.

I can't 'blame the bankers' for the mess we're in because they were symptomatic of an ideology and just essentially did what people and government told them to do - make a shit load of money and damn the consequences. It's equivalent to laying the blame for a nasty infection at bacteria when really you should have washed your hands properly. Not that I'm comparing high volume trade to a nasty infection.

Anyway, here's a clip from Inequality for All and one from Inside Job because I fucking love that film and might go and watch it now.

Oh and because I'm on a run with great financial docu drama things here's the WHOLE of Enron: Smartest Guys in The Room

And the WHOLE of Last Days of The Lehman Brothers. I'm a giver.

OMG Future Cities

The Beeb has done an article about what our future cities might look like. Put aside the sheer volume of work that's been done on this for the last few hundred years by everyone from writers, film makers, artists, designers, architects, engineers, politicians, scientists, religions, financiers, entrepreneurs, big business, minor celebrities, third world dictators, anabaptists and basically every man and his dog and you have quite a boring article that's about twenty years out of date.

Don't even know why I mention it.

A Nice Graph

Love a graph.

Google Glass

Big announcements this week as non-Wired readers suddenly got all giddy about old pictures of Google Glass and a new ad.  In Freudian terms this whole thing is aimed at the geek superego. Almost all of the points-of-view and activities of the ad are uniquely male as the larger geek community regrettably is. (See previous posts for info on sexism in geekdom.) But all geeks already have glasses. So we're imagining a world where the type of people who furiously follow tech blogs a) don't already have glasses and b) do stuff like skydiving or whatever which no one actually really does. And if you have to wait until you're skydiving to find use of your Google Glasses I just wouldn't bother with either.

Frankly the whole thing's a little premature and riddled with problems. Plus the dreamy tech projection of everyone hanging around in expensive sporting apparatus in a seemingly perpetual sunset/sunrise has a rank stink of either an apocalyptic scenario or a kitschy folksy ad exec's wet dream with the extra wicker weave. Gross. 

Genuinely, it would be more interesting if they showed a video of a guy dodging AR highlighted bulldog shit in Whitechapel.


Your spare time, I'm running short. 

Introducing the Mercenary Cubiclists, Sleep Dealing

When not talking about and idolising at wasps, I've been digging into research for another project I'm taking part in about the future of networked employment and manufacturing. Of course, it's a new technology driven world and so marketing companies and research departments have seized the opportunity to put this guy down as our future:

Yay! Can't bloody wait. We'll all get polyester suits and redacted iPads to work on. And we can be ANYWHERE in the world. Imagine that, oh brave new world that has such wonders in!

Except no. That's never what's going to happen. Well, it is in some far off enclave of irreality, but foresight clings to optimism. So the optimistic and well researched future of networked work has forgotten anything Marx ever said, slapped a vowel in front of what technology we already have (an 'e' or an 'i' will suffice), coloured-by-numbers it in technicolour multiculturalism and marched it off into the trenches of consumerism to be brutally slaughtered.

Capitalism is in crisis, this is not news, or it shouldn't be. Capitalism IS crisis. It requires the entropy-reversing effects of catastrophe in order to recharge itself, to sell quells for fears and cures for ills. A sequence of recent viewing experiences - Cosmopolis and Sleep Dealer in particular have got me pining to explore the poetics of exploitation that is at the core of its modus operandi. So this project will turn away form the iPad'd future creative cafe hubs of work and delve into a far more powerful potentiality.

Sleep Dealer approaches the endless theme park rollercoaster that is the US's Mexican immigration paranoia at a future time. Already the situation on the border takes pages from Berlin's history book but chuck in a couple of drones, some glowing cables, bionic enchancements and a faded-from-overuse love story and you have quite a pleasant dystopian B movie. The genius of Sleep Dealer isn't in its technological vision but in its approach to it's philosophy of work and how the overriding ideologies of capitalism would find the most use of the technology - to commercialise and celebratise drone warfare, to increase alienation between worker and work and between worker and consumer. Perhaps this screengrab explains best:

The American Dream

Parallel this up with a series of revelations about Amazon's globally exploited - and largely first world - workforce and an interesting picture builds up of distance and anonymity. Of hiding the perversion in the production process through technology.

Amazon's employment policies are clever and somewhat devious. To take the Rugley example: First, you promise to build a 'fulfillment' centre providing hundreds of jobs in an area that has been jobless for a long time. In the case of Rugley, a mining town, most skills are non-transferable, education and healthcare aren't great and people are proud of their town despite many leaving to find employment elsewhere. So the promise of thousands of job requiring very little in the way of experience or qualification is a potent honeytrap. Amazon then outsources employment to agencies who hire on short term contracts with the promise that with a proven record you can be upgraded to a full employee. A promise that usually remains unachievable. The terms of the contracts mean that you can be fired for basically anything, just on a whim really and the competition is so intense that no-one will take sympathy on you.

In Rugley, the workers are payed 1p above minimum wage, walk up to 20km a day and climb over each other for meager opportunities and perks. Amazon almost literally bleeds a desperate place dry and pays no taxes. This isn't a unique model. This is used by Amazon in dozens of 'fulfillment centres' all over Europe including Germany where they apparently hire Neo-Nazis to intimidate workers.

This is the dark and distant side of capitalism. Where networking allows exploitation to be hidden and disguised beneath a system of ceaseless profit. Imagine a future of more and more borderless and invisible manufacturies supporting systems they can never see or touch. It's here we find Mercenary Cubiclists.


Visiting The Natural History Museum

I paid a visit to the Darwin Centre to visit the only guy in the country who is more into wasps than I, Dr Gavin Broad. I was given a tour of the hymenoptera archives and grabbed some snaps.

Gavin Broad


Megarhyssa - these guys are hyper-parasites that drill into wood to find the eggs of other parsitoidic wasps into which they lay their own.

Jewel Wasps

Jewel wasps that zombify cockroaches.




Massive Megarhyss

Pugin's Paradise

Some photos from my week away at The Grange - home of Augustus Pugin.

Pugin's hall

Pugin's library

Bangin Ramsgate

'The Great Wall of Ramsgate'

Permacultures / SPACE group