1. Running around Manhattan

    Posted February 7, 2018 in running  |  No Comments so far

    In April this year, I’m running the London Marathon on behalf of Starlight, a charity that brightens the lives of seriously and terminally ill children. Support me here!

    I’ve never run a marathon before. The longest I’ve ever run was 15 miles and that introduced me to a level of exhaustion I don’t think I’ll ever forget, so this is a big challenge for me. Each week I need to add more distance to build up my endurance, but if I push myself too hard I’ll pick up an injury and set myself back.

    This week’s long run was 15km and, as I’m currently in New York for work, I got the chance to run around Manhattan. This made a big change from the canals and marshes of east London that I usually frequent. I’ve run around Central Park a lot in the past, but this time I thought I’d go on more of a sightseeing run around the city and take some pictures along the way.

    When I started out, it was still dark, and bitterly cold. Here is the Solow Building, my favourite one in Manhattan, looking ominous.
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    From this starting point near the south-east corner of Central Park, I headed west along 59th Street until I got to the Hudson River, on the west coast of Manhattan.

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    It was still pretty dark at this point and it had been a cold night, so a lot of the surfaces I was running on were covered in thin, treacherous ice, so slippery that it was risky to walk on it, let alone run. After a while I gave up on the pavement and just ran on the deserted cycleway, which wasn’t icy at all.

    I didn’t have an internet-connected device with me so Google Maps wasn’t an option. Instead, I had memorised my planned route, which isn’t that hard in Manhattan where the numbered streets form an easily navigable grid. And on the Hudson side of the island, there are a series of piers which are also numbered, so I was keeping track of these piers as I ran south. This is one of them, Pier 94. My route involved travelling south as far as Pier 40, so there were a lot more of these piers to go.

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    There’s also an aircraft carrier moored along the Hudson – it’s the eponymous star attraction of the Intrepid Air & Space Museum. By now you’ll notice that the sky was starting to brighten.

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    As the day began I found my eyes drawn to the water and the buildings of New Jersey across the bay, which were staring to glitter as the low sun fell upon them. But I was curious about the bits of Manhattan I was passing too. I used to think of the place as being essentially covered in skyscrapers, but it isn’t – it’s more diverse than that. And of course, more skyscrapers are going up all the time.

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    But it’s nice to see buildings that don’t conform to the skyscraper stereotype, like this weird one:

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    I finally reached Pier 40 and turned left to cut across Manhattan, going eastwards along Houston Street. This took me into a part of the island that’s very different from the wealthier glitzy areas, and is much more like a place where normal people live, with shops that aren’t aimed at oligarchs, and playgrounds for kids.

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    Heartened by this encounter with a side of Manhattan I haven’t had much exposure to, I continued on and reached the other side of the island. Houston Street meets the East River at a place called the East River Park, and this was a high point of my run: the sun was now fully in in the sky, and now that I was on the east coast, the buildings of Manhattan were no longer getting in its way. I liked the look of the East River Park and the Williamsburg Bridge right behind it looked spectacular. And best of all, there was a working public toilet, which was just what I needed at that point in time! You don’t get things like this in London.

    After making use of this facility I began the northbound part of my run, heading up along the East River. The plan was to get up to 60th street and then go back into the city again until I made it back to my hotel. But Manhattan had other plans.

    The east side of the island is, it turns out, a lot worse for pedestrians and cyclists than the west side is. At first it seemed great, especially in the East River Park, and even when I left the park a lot of the pathways looked like this – not as luxurious as the routes on the west coast, but still perfectly fine:

    But before too long these pathways fell away, and I found myself thrown into the mess of gridlocked Manhattan rush hour roads: running along under bridges next to motorways, breathing in car fumes, crossing forecourts of petrol stations, waiting at traffic lights while jogging on the spot to keep my muscles from locking up. It wasn’t fun and I didn’t feel like taking any pictures. By the time I got to the United Nations building I wasn’t able to stick to the river at all and just had to re-enter the city, running up 1st Avenue dodging commuters and waiting at junctions.

    And, with that, the 15km target was reached and I stopped running. It had been good to see new areas of Manhattan and break out of my normal routine, but I’d learned a valuable lesson about the grimness of the eastern pedestrian experience. Next time I run in Manhattan I think I’ll stick to Central Park!

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


  2. Yes, puritanical societies in the past were renowned for their condemnation of homophobia

    Posted January 19, 2018 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    I can’t get over how dumb this is. Kemi Badenoch, a Conservative MP, is complaining that young people have “puritanical” attitudes to sexual harassment and homophobia:

    Young people are becoming puritanical about sexual harassment and what constitutes a sexual advance, according to Kemi Badenoch, the new Conservative vice-chair in charge of candidate selection.

    The MP, who was elected last year, cited those who think Friends, the 1990s US television series, is transphobic and homophobic as examples of such attitudes, saying “something has gone wrong somewhere”.

    [She] said she thought the younger generation’s view of appropriate sexual behaviour was conservative rather than liberal.

    “In the papers, they were talking about how Friends is now sort of really homophobic, transphobic and so on. That, for me, is a very, very – it’s actually a puritanical position, which I think of as conservative.

    In what parallel universe was it “puritanical” to condemn homophobia and transphobia? A quick look at any conservative or puritanical society, either contemporary or historical, will find that homophobia and transphobia tend to be wholeheartedly embraced, often to the point of people being persecuted and killed over it.

    But here comes this staggeringly ignorant Conservative MP with a new take: namely that these harsh, dogmatic puritans were characterised by a rigid and unwavering condemnation of homophobes, and a draconian insistence on a woman’s right to conduct her life without being pawed and objectified by drooling men. It betrays a complete lack of understanding not only of history but of the contemporary attitudes she’s set out to condemn. What a joke.


  3. A new track: “Ocean Equation”

    Posted January 12, 2018 in music  |  1 Comment so far

    I’ve started making music again in the last couple of months.

    Usually I head into the realm of soundscapes, ambient and experimental music, as it’s typically late at night when I’m doing this stuff and I’m getting into a soporific frame of mind.

    But with this track I decided to revisit a niche of music which used to be, and still is, a strong passion of mine: extremely fast and futuristic electro.

    My reference points for this style are, obviously, Drexciya, Dopplereffekt, Detrechno and Ultradyne, but it goes back to “Cosmic Raindance” by Cybotron, and there’s a long historical thread of DJs pitching up traditional electro records or even playing them on 45rpm. Ghetto-tech is obviously a part of this strand but while I got tired of its thematic tropes some time ago I’m still drawn to the disorienting complexity that can emerge from interesting electro tracks at these high speeds.


  4. How the Geocities community reacted to 9/11

    Posted January 1, 2018 in web  |  No Comments so far

    Geocities, founded in 1995, was a colossus of the dotcom era and an early example of a mass-market social web platform. When it eventually died off (under the care of Yahoo!, unsurprisingly) lots of people like me were snobbish about it: who cares about Geocities, this garish place where internet newbies experimented with starfield backgrounds, “under construction” gifs and animated cursors?

    The sort of thing you’d expect to come across on Geocities

    But while yesterday’s trends can seem like naff ephemera that should be wholly eradicated from the cultural memory banks, they often accrue historical value over the years and eventually come to enrich our understanding of an otherwise obscure period of time. So it’s good that some people work hard to preserve dying web platforms which, as aesthetically offensive as they might seem, will one day become major historical records of contemporary culture.

    A couple of these people over at One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age have been going through the Geocities archives, and they recently took a look at how Geocities changed in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks towards the end of 2001

    …It’s the time when Harry Potter fanfic starts to get illustrated with stills from the film, not pictures from the book; when N’Sync fandom gets more vibrant than Backstreet Boys fandom; when you see a bit more of cat web sites than one year before, but still more dog lovers are out there; when GeoCities users call Yahoo! names for suspending their sites for too much traffic.

    However, these are just side notes. The most striking content from 2001 is websites that were made or modified in reaction to September 11. Up until today I looked at 97 of them, and there will be more sad, angry, devastated, patriotic, conspiracy pages appearing in the coming months.

    I recommend going to the article and taking a look through the screenshots.To modern eyes, there’s a kind of poignancy in the more jingoistic fighter-jet/bald-eagle stuff, given how the response to 9/11 ultimately turned out for America. And many of the sites actually shut down after the attacks, their creators no longer sure that their fanfic and other geeky material was necessary or even appropriate in a world turned suddenly serious.


  5. It’s all kicking off in Haringey

    Posted December 28, 2017 in London, transport  |  No Comments so far

    In Haringey, the council is changing the way it charges for car parking. Dialogue between the council and the scheme’s opponents is progressing via a medium that is unconventional but actually rather apt: the parking meters themselves.

    Is this all the work of one person? It looks like the same sort of pen, and the handwriting is similar. The wording in that second matches that of the original yellow stickers. Perhaps this is just a one-man crusade. A lone wolf. Or perhaps these interventions are radicalising a whole new generation of militants. Only time will tell.

    See full post on James Ward’s blog.


  6. A not-so-sly dig?

    Posted December 26, 2017 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but isn’t the German foreign minister throwing some serious shade on to the UK here? The idea that post-Brexit Britain will be on a par with Turkey and Ukraine in terms of its relationship with the EU certainly seems like a bit of dis…

    Brexit: German minister sees model for Turkey and Ukraine (BBC News)


  7. Real-life Mario Kart on the streets of Tokyo sounds really annoying

    Posted December 14, 2017 in comment, Uncategorized  |  No Comments so far

    I’m a huge fan of Mario Kart and have been since its first incarnation on the SNES back in 1992. In fact it’s fair to say that Mario Kart was a major obsession throughout much of the 1990s.

    I wasn’t ready to move on to the N64’s expanded vision of the Mario Kart universe — to me, it was like trying to breathe life into the game of chess by introducing an array of gimmicky new pieces or growing the board to a 12×12 square — but by the time Mario Kart DS came out I was back on board.

    Despite being such a big Mario Kart fan, though, I found myself cringing when I learnt that foreign tourists cruise the streets of Tokyo attempting to have a “real life Mario Kart” experience:

    real-life-mario-kart

    It’s one of Japan’s hottest attractions amid a tourism boom—to the frustration of some locals… Indeed, it’s all fun and games until a tourist drives her go-kart onto the sidewalk and crashes into a police station. Or until another one manages to hit a parked car. The Times reported in May that in the span of two months, Tokyo police have recorded a dozen such incidents, 10 of which involved foreign tourists and none of which involved any fatalities.

    I can only imagine how annoying it must be to be trying to get around Tokyo and then come across a mob of tourists bumbling and bumping along the road in bootleg “MariCart” go-karts, dressed as Nintendo characters. Probably even more annoying than the shrieking pedal buses that crawl around here in London sometimes: at least there’s only one pedal bus to deal with instead of ten of them veering all over the place, and I’ve yet to see anybody on one of those things throwing banana skins on to the road.

    And besides, I can’t help thinking that these tourists, as well as being annoying, are missing the point of Mario Kart altogether. If you believe that trundling along in a glorified golf buggy is in any way a replication of the Mario Kart experience, then I’m sorry to say that you don’t understand Mario Kart, and don’t know what it feels like to play it properly. Sorry if that sounds harsh but there you go.

    Thankfully, Nintendo has sued MariCart for copyright infringement and is in the process of building its own real-life Mario Kart experience in its forthcoming Super Nintendo World theme park. That’s something I wouldn’t mind having a go on.


  8. “Falling down these miserable holes”

    Posted December 13, 2017 in social media, twitter  |  No Comments so far

    The following passage from Slate’s “The Year In Push Alerts” touched a nerve with me:

    As a computer programmer, White said, he gets frequent 30-second breaks while the software he’s working on is loading, rendering, and searching—and during those tiny intervals he feels helplessly drawn to the news. “[I’ll see a] tweet about some bizarre behavior… Look at the article. Click through to another article. Post that on Twitter. Get a like. Look at that person’s feed. See another take on how awful Trump is. Click on it. Feel guilty. Try to focus on work. Someone walks into my office and says, ‘Can you believe that Gorsuch says …’ And so on.” During the first few months of the administration, White said, he was losing approximately half of his work time falling down these miserable holes.

    For me, this pattern started to take hold during the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote and I’ve had to work hard to break out of it. It’s part of the reason why I stopped being a smartphone person and took a step back from Twitter.

    Oh yes, mentioning Twitter reminds me of this thing I saw about Twitter, on Twitter. It’s depressingly accurate and makes me even more keen to run screaming from the noisy blue bird:

    “How a day on British Twitter works”, by @TechnicallyRon. Click for full version


  9. I’ve just finished Infinite Jest

    Posted December 5, 2017 in books  |  No Comments so far

    David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” is a mammoth of a novel. I started reading it in August and only just finished it last night.

    Spoilers now follow!

    Its conclusion felt abrupt, unexpected, like an ambush. This was mainly caused by the way Infinite Jest is constructed, with a lot of events subsequent to the conclusion having been hinted at in earlier chapters, leaving the actual endpoint serving as more of a midpoint. But the ambush effect was exacerbated by the Kindle: when you aren’t holding the physical substance of the remaining novel between your fingers, it can be hard to know just how close you are to its end.

    Infinite Jest sets itself up as a satirical novel. Many aspects of its characters, and of the world it’s set in, are introduced with an air of comedic ridiculousness, from the names of the years in “Subsidised Time” to the physical deformity of Mario Incandenza. But the book very often moves in on these characters or situations and gives prescription drug rehab for christians near me, slower, honest and human, moving beyond its surface tone of satirical irreverence and adopting one that is often painful or even heartbreaking to read. Many of the passages that deal with drug and alcohol addiction, in particular, have a hyperreal aspect to them.

    I did find myself becoming more and more irritated by James Incandenza’s work as a respected avant-garde filmmaker. I didn’t know if we were meant to be cringing at the pretentiousness of his films or not, or to be more precise, if we were meant to cringe at the idea of a world in which films like his are seen as high art. I found myself cringing at a lot of the described films anyway, regardless of DFW’s intent. They sounded like attempts to make rather basic statements but giving them a spurious profundity by wrapping them up in a few layers of artistic obfuscation. Towards the end of the book those were the passages (descriptions of academics building their careers on interpretations of Incandenza’s films, etc) I felt most tempted to skip through.

    The complex and involuted nature of Infinite Jest invites a second reading but its sheer size makes it unlikely that I’ll do that any time soon. So I’ve been reading a few discussions and analyses online. One thing I found is this website, Infinite Summer, which divides the book up into sections that should be readable in a week  and then provides articles and comment threads for each of those sections. It’s a bit like an asynchronous book club, and I wish I’d been aware of it when I started out.

    I’m a big fan of websites like Infinite Summer. It’s both anachronistic and refreshing to see online discussions taking place away from the Borg cube of Twitter/Facebook, conversations you can discover via a search engine and just read through without having to be logged into anything.


  10. Steering clear of the dumpster fire

    Posted December 1, 2017 in twitter  |  1 Comment so far

    There was a time when most of the posts on this blog were about Twitter.

    It started more than ten years ago with me writing about how I didn’t get Twitter before later posts revealed my growing enthusiasm for the whole thing. I savoured the endearing banality of strangers on buses, smirked at “brands” who were botching their forays on to the platform (as if I knew any better), and eventually I was posting semi-technical instructions about how to extract data from Twitter (Twitter eventually stopped that working) or share your loved tracks from Last.fm (I don’t know if Last.fm still exists). I even designed the service that put a British rail company on Twitter for the first time.

    You might remember that back in the late 2000s and early 2010s many people blithely dismissed Twitter as a tool for nothing more than knowing what Stephen Fry had for breakfast. The harrumphing Twitter sceptics were everywhere with their gruff dismissals of what they saw as lightweight ephemera. I made a point of taking them on and trying to convince them of the platform’s value. If you had told me back then that, within the next decade, the White House would play host to a president who used Twitter as his or her primary mode of communication — that “the first Twitter President” was going to be a thing — I’d have been genuinely excited. “Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!”, I would have said to those sceptics.

    In the end the sceptics lost the debate and they lost it hard. Worse, most of them ended up on Twitter themselves, in time to take part in the eventual death spiral that is now well underway. Because Twitter has become a dumpster fire: a raging, unstoppable inferno, casting toxic fumes and molten plastic blobs in all directions.

    If this was the mid-2000s still, it wouldn’t be a problem. We’d just move on. If a forum’s admin turned out to be a Nazi sympathiser, or stood by while Nazis polluted all the threads with swastikas and frog cartoons, people would just leave. I’ve been involved in online communities for long enough to have seen numerous such mass migrations, where a critical mass of contributors moved off a mailing list or message board, leading to the whole community embarking on an exodus to the new, unblemished territory. Renewal and rejuvenation of the community usually followed.

    Unfortunately it’s hard to imagine this happening today, now that Twitter and Facebook have formed what is essentially a duopoly in online community. Users of Twitter look to its owners to sort out the problems it has, and there’s a lot of anger at the business for its inability or unwillingness to do so. But what is yet to dawn on us, as a group, is that the onus is not on Jack Dorsey to change Twitter; the onus is on us to do what we would have done in the mid-2000s and just leave.

    This is easier said than done though, because leaving Twitter at the moment feels like leaving the internet itself. It’s like you’ve made yourself invisible. And besides, Twitter remains the best place to go to complain or joke about how bad Twitter has become.

    So I’ve resolved to start avoiding Twitter as much as I can, just for my own personal reasons. I could do without the feelings of anxiety, rage, frustration and depression that come from scrolling through the timeline that has become the moronic inferno made real.

    But can I find a way to step back from Twitter without stepping back from the internet? If I find enough other people who are trying to do the same thing, then perhaps I will.