Wednesday, June 22, 2005

22 June 2005: Inspiration

Inspiration. Some people find it on quiet strolls through the country. Some people find it through seeing enormous furniture on Hampstead Heath. Baseball players, apparently, find it through putting cabbage leaves under their hats, although that practice was today banned in South Korea. Me, I prefer coffee and doughnuts.

Having not taken the development of the Mousehole/Frog Monster universe seriously since scribing the conclusion to the Frog Monster story on the beach in New Zealand a couple of years ago, focusing instead on the curry-travel-write-up-thing, I decided this was to be the week of returning to the world of AZCC, netside connections and the spiralling inevitability of global consciousness. A week of genuine I'm-not-doing-any-work holiday. A week of no commitments to be Doing Things. A week of sitting down with the notebooks (both paper- and silicon-based) and hacking out the next story in the series. And for this, I need inspiration.

The overall story arc has been there for some time, although it's more a fractal than an arc. The plan was to zoom in Mandelbrot-style and focus on particular subsections of the story, which would in turn become stories in their own right. If I hadn't been so distracted with 'Six Months' and this AKTing lark, maybe I'd have written more than two by this point. But the world I created while sitting on the roof all those years ago refuses to go away, the characters refuse to leave me alone, often returning on sleepless nights around 2am when the baseball isn't sufficient to put me to sleep.

Among these characters is one I've come to regard as a friend, albeit at a distance. Wounded One has a depth not so obvious in her contemporaries, although I'm sure they have their levels too. Wounded One has a story of hurt and betrayal more corporate than personal. While a lot of her past can be traced in my own experience at more than one company, her response to these wounds is utterly different to my own: she still believes in the core of what her job was and she continues to perform it, day by day, in her own way and in her own settings. There's a fear in letting go as much as a flat-out belief in what she does, but mainly she continues because it would be too difficult to change. Not yet, not yet. She has to finish the work. So every day, she dresses the part (usually dirty denims and non-descript light-coloured sweater) and commutes to the West End. Her playground, where she spends all her days.

Wounded One is twenty-seven, maybe twenty-eight, and sees her science as art, or at least as elegant mathematics. She takes the problems of the human brain and the interface to it so expertly created by her predecessors, looking to break through the beyond the most basic understanding of the subconscious. Jung's Sea, as William Gibson once called it, and instead of just noting what happens when you throw something in this sea, Wounded One is obsessively interested in noting its tidal patterns, the nature of its waves, the strange monsters that lurk within. At night she sleeps alone, haunted by these same waves that may at once be hers and someone else’s.

As I sit under the apple tree this hot June afternoon, smelling the sneeze-inducing grass from next door's garden, I watch the breeze blowing the leaves a couple of feet above my head and see an apple fall down, the same action that inspired Newton centuries ago to figure out it was gravity (rather than, say, love) that made things fall. I wonder about the route he took to reach that conclusion, the thought processes that had to take place even to open up the possibility of the inspiration hitting at the moment. As my own research heads increasingly towards the study of scientific development and Kuhnian analyses of such turning points, it becomes increasingly clear that there are no formulae for development and prediction. Things happen stop-start, breakthroughs occur on a non-regular basis and stagnation is as likely as steady development in any scientific discipline. When breakthroughs do come, the catalysts are usually unrelated to the work itself: wars and paradigm crises seem to be the mother of invention. Plucking the fish from Jung’s Sea may require both a crisis context and an apple moment.

Wounded One scoffs at me. She is happier with her research than I could ever be with mine. She already has many of the answers, she just can’t tell anyone. She doesn’t care about the big picture and scientific revolutions, she just wants one more answer, one final response to the big question of her day: if I connect my mind to your mind via the netside connection, and you are afraid of spiders, will I also become afraid of spiders?

The battle between the rational and the irrational, the ego and id, the conscious and the subconscious rages, in all generations. And as soon as we think we have the answer, our dreams jump out and surprise us again. For all our measurement, the twin agents of irrationality – pride and neuroses – come out time and again to remind us: ‘no, you don’t know it all.’

Fuelled by scars and driven by a desire deeper than she herself can understand, Wounded One at least has the guts to stand up and say ‘maybe not, but I’m certainly going to try.’ And thereby points to an inspiration deeper than I’ve experienced myself.

That said, the cabbage thing might be just as good.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

15 June 2005: 5 Mins

As I write this, the Podium area of KMi at the Open University, Milton Keynes, is empty, apart from me. It's 8.59am, and the agenda shown on the big screen in front of me distinctly tells of a 9am start. Still, I would guess everyone's still in bed, recovering from the excitement of yesterday. Get a bunch of AKTors together and you can guarantee there'll be much talking about semantic enablement, ontology mapping and potato-powered computers (please stand up Steve and Nick). And much drinking too, no doubt.

Yes, it's that time again, the AKT six-monthly workshop has this time gathered in the sunny climes of Milton Keynes, a town of which it is unfair to say it has no soul: perhaps it simply has yet to discover it? This is Day Two, Day One having been filled with the yes-it-actually-happened-this-time Doctoral Colloquium, which featured myself and a few other misfits chairing a series of talks and posters by the various PhD students from around AKT, the best part of which was holding up the '5 Mins' and '2 Mins' signs when they waffled for too long. My talk, inevitably, turned to the discussion of the definition of 'semiometrics': AKT has its own definition, but the rest of the world seem to have settled on something different. Which isn't usually a problem for AKT - the normal solution is simply to put either of the words 'Semantic' or 'AKTive' in front of it and therein solve the problem. 'Semantic Semiometrics' though... sounds more like one of the possibilities that the Random Band Name Generator came up with for Martyn's group.

Later followed the cheese and wine session, which featured a wide variety of cheese and a greater amount of wine (adding further weight to my theory that everyone's hung over, given that the time is now 9.10am, the agenda still says 9am and I'm still the only one here), followed by me heading back to Aylesbury to see Gareth, Helen and the new Imogen baby. All of which is very nice, although Gareth looks like he's about two days short of sleep (he should listen to my talk on semiometrics, that would put him out), but that's five-week old babies for you. Still, she's growing faster than my overdraft and seems to be doing very well indeed, leading Gloria to ask if there was a rival for my affections, another girl she should be watching out for. I confirmed that was indeed the case.

Well, more coffee I think, and then perhaps I'll do a little work. Unless, perchance, people start showing up. Hasn't happened yet though.

Maybe the clocks changed and nobody told me?

Postscript: First person joins me at 9.19am.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

7 June 2005: Echoes

The BBC are today doing "One Day In Iraq", taking a look at daily life in Baghdad, Mosul, Basra et al., looking at the blogs of the ordinary people who live there.

BBC, that is so last month.

Meantime, IsraCast (via Slashdot) report that an Israeli inventor has figured out how to make underwater diving apparatus that extracts the air dissolved in water, thus allowing the diver to breathe. Apparently it's the same principle used by fish (yes, most fish are small, but sharks are large) and could provide enough air for your average diver to stay down without big oxygen tanks on their back. Perhaps it's the only bit of the Phantom Menace (relevant part of that link is right at the bottom of the page) that was slightly predictive and therefore better than slamming your head in a car door, the baseline Mark Kermode uses as a standard against which he measures the Star Wars prequels.

Monday, June 06, 2005

6 June 2005: Shorts

Yes, I know I didn't blog last week. I've been busy, what with the AKT PhD conference to organise, the Fujitsu work, some IFD proposals on 'health of discipline' (what is an IFD, anyway?), some more Citeseer bits and pieces and some stuff I didn't really understand from Norway's equivalent of EPrints. Not forgetting the fact that at some point I really need to do some of my own research.

But fear not. If you thought my blog was bad, consider Ahmed's Blog, the diary of an Iraqi young man. Far from falling into any of the categories mentioned in my previous entry on Iraqi blogs, Ahmed seems to have simply realised that maybe blogging isn't for him. I hope he isn't disappointed that his is not my favrouite blog.

Incidentally, for a good fun puzzle and an answer that will make you groan, have a look at Maas's blog from Mosul. The puzzle is here, and the answer here. Made me smile to think that such things can be considered even in the midst of the situation Maas describes in her blog.

Now, back to the juggling act of my own work...