Saturday, December 12, 2015

First a librarian, then an archivist

Since I gave up show business (at the age of 51), and got my first 'proper job' in the local library, I have enjoyed this new phase of my life, and layer of skills.   I don't have a professional qualification, but they have so de-skilled the library service that I feel entitled to loosely call myself 'a librarian'.  After the first couple of years I found my way into the computer department (a DOS-based management system) so was in place for when the Library Service moved into a Windows environment, and for when libraries rolled out free internet access - at which point I described myself as the computer whisperer (as I didn't work in the IT Dept, but for the library service - more involved with the Human-Computer Interface than the technical side, but it gave me the opportunity to be an early uptaker of Internet - as part of my job!

Well, the library eventually 'let me go' at the age of 68, and I sort of retired.  But then the non-animal circus I have been involved in so long offered me the job of creating an archive of their 30 year history.

For the last year I have been collecting up stuff, which is currently on display in a short-lived exhibition, is available on a newly-launched website here - - and the paperwork will all get laid down in the Glamorgan Archives - where it will be stored for future historians, a hundred years from now.

So, to 'librarian' I have added 'archivist' in my cv, still without any qualifications at all....

I plan to have another go at 'being retired', at least until my 70th birthday in February 2016.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Messing about with websites...

I have torn down the old website, rather than tinker with it. 
Currently it has a Home Page quickly made in Word (5 minutes) and a link to a dynamic 'Brain' map which I may use to put some links and bits together with, before re-creating a new website.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Old Dogs in the mountains

Up at the cottage, and the weather has been very mixed.  Dandy Dog doesn't seem inclined to go for steep walks right now, but I am not sure if he is ill or just lazy.

Back then, he even accompanied me up there in the snow (and this is in an area without even a mobile SOS signal, so that might have proved a bit reckless).
I also forget how quickly dogs age, because 3-4 years ago when we last went to the highest point for miles around, he was effectively in his teens, now he 'is' in his late-40s.

Still, yesterday I went without him, for the first time, and it was very misty, rainy so I didn't get another clear shot of the iron age hill fort, or anything.  Hey ho - but some aerobic exercise.

For contrast, this is how I captured it last time, on a crisp winter's day:

And the old dog remains adventurous on brighter days, and walking along the level of the river, rather than up and down the hills...

Note: This blog got neglected in a flurry of other projects, but it is a diary going back aways, likely to get plundered for the more recent years of my autobiography (work-in-progress).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

If you're so clever, why aren't you rich?

This perennial question does assume that the smart thing to do with intelligence is earn money, and to the extent that having money does free up your time, eventually, it could prove a good idea.  However, if you sell all your time in exchange for money, putting off your thinking time, or your creative time, until you have 'enough', then maybe it doesn't seem such a good plan.

In the simple terms of IQ tests (whatever you think they actually measure) I score quite highly.  I got a scholarship type pass to the 11+ exam (although that apparently had a bias towards boys), and on various self-testing scales I did pretty well (though such tests seem rather unreliable).  When Test The Nation first happened I scored higher than anyone in the studio, and as high as the best on-line participant, but that test is not one recognised by MENSA, for instance.  MENSA chooses people from the top 2% of the population, whichever test that gets measured by.

I only once met a group of MENSA members, and don't remember a particularly stimulating time, but I would not dismiss the possibility that not all members are too glum or serious for me.  I appreciate that I might simply have been boring company for them.  Who can tell?

I reckon I know quite a lot of smart people, particularly if we look at them through the filters of multiple types of intelligence (cf: Howard Gardner), a model which seems to correlate with the world far better, as those earlier tests do seem biased towards literacy and  numeracy, in spite of a certain number of spatial awareness elements, and didn't appear to consider excellence in arts of sports (for instance), or maybe relationships, or the ability to communicate, as forms of intelligence.

Although I generally lean towards text-based learning myself (after decades of putting myself through the circus skills hoops, to encourage the other aspects of myself) I still veer away from books that sound like this:

"Despite the many specific disagreements that have marked the development of these theories of aesthetic and cultural  postmodernism, their development has generally been contained within a horizon of consensus that has defined valid theories of postmodernism according to their deployment of methodological self-reflexivity, based (sometimes covertly) in the unconditional rejection of categories of totality, or totalization - a rejection that acts as a negative totalization itself."

This, from a professor of English - discussing the vivid and lucid writer William Burroughs, in "Wising Up The Marks" - a title that sounded sufficiently 'street' that I might find it amusing and enlightening.

No way could I study 'English' in such a context of abstractions and technical jargon (although I did find lighter patches in this book).  That form of abstract, analytical study is what made Samuel Beckett sound unfunny, and Joyce 'difficult'.

The main problem for me, however, remains my dislike of tests.  I don't like the experience of auditions, interviews, exams, tests or any of those events.  Fear of failure, like everyone else (of course) plays a part in that - but also wanting to know who was so damned clever that they can set the tests.

Hard to fool a cat...

I love this movie.

I love Robert Altman, Elliott Gould, Raymond Chandler and the cynicism and world-weariness of film noir (and its deconstruction).

And I love the cat. Especially the gag about trying to fool the cat into thinking it was getting the right brand of food...

Note: though it is an extended stoner joke from 1973, it has one extremely unpleasantly violent moment.

How weird that Elliot Gould is now "the man from Ocean's Twelve", not "the man from the movie M*A*S*H" (long before the tv series).

Monday, March 04, 2013

Why is asking so hard?

I never felt comfortable with other people or society's rules. I thought I was surrounded by idiots. I couldn't even work out why I was on this planet.  I didn't want a job, or property, or respect, or power, or privilege.

I immediately fell in love with the assorted Zen fools that I came across in the literature, and in Western culture the bohemians and tramps and others who simply did not share the values of those around them.

At the same time, I felt sad to be alienated, because when humans act kindly, they seem really great!  I began to feel that in the 60s, when I also stopped feeling so alone, but that didn't really help me re-integrate with society, as I didn't display any musical or graphic talent that could be traded, for instance.

Street performing emerged from my defiantly spending my time on something I found interesting, and taking no heed for the practicalities of tomorrow.  It was other people who spotted the potential, and started to offer trade-off payments in kind (food, shelter, lifts, clothing)  in return for the entertainment value they perceived.  I never managed to hustle my hat-passing, like some of the more efficient/proficient performers who came along later, and turned it into a real profession.  I simply did my thing, and then told people that was all I did, and if they wanted to see me again, they could contribute, and that if they had no money I hoped they enjoyed it.  And that's all.  I have always been embarrassed to ask, and never could beg, for instance, I'd rather starve.

So everything in Amanda Fucking Palmer's wonderful TED talk rang bells for me, from the 'get a real job' jibes, to wondering whether I was somehow exploiting people and relationships, and whether it was fair to act 'as if the world owed me a living'.  I went through all that angst, and it was only the warmth and reassurance of other people (the audiences and students) that convinced me I was genuinely earning my right to be here, to do play/work.  And having regained my trust in people around me, other opportunities opened up.  Please, especially if you are a creative person, give Amanda just under 15 minutes of your time.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Science of Magic

I saw an advert from Kenton Knepper, about some material he was offering on memory - and it was apparently stuff he prepared to show Psychology students at the University of Arizona.

Digging a little deeper, I found the course it was intended to be part of...

The Culture of Psychology and Magic

And that article on Randi's site, further pointed to Anthony Barnhart's website/blog

The Science of Magic

Where I found a link to an article by Teller, explaining how the principles of magic, field tested for centuries, can teach psychologists more than the inverse.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Testing, testing

Just experimenting with using Personal Brain to navigate my website - testing Home Page code in Blogger. If it works here, then I may put it in place on the old website... Personal Brain helps organise the pages, and to the left of each box you'll find a link that takes you to the actual page. I will add more content to the bottom part of the frame, bit by bit.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Living on Borrowed Time

As ever, John Lennon said it better than me (see post title and YouTube clip) - although I have managed to claw a few more years out of this lovely little planet, and the illusion of an individual life, than he did. Bless him.

This morning, I found myself in a snarl-off about the job I have now put 15 years into, because although it seems that my fellow workers know what I contribute, the people who actually pay me don't seem to value the role that highly. Hey ho. I am past retirement age, so I should probably just stop grovelling and quit.

I don't really care about pay-rates, but I like respect.

Since I dropped-out of school (when everyone said "you wouldn't dare leave, think of your future") and I just had to call their bluff (even if I starved, as they implied) I have had the same approach.

I remain a loyal and tireless worker for bosses who treat me with respect, but if someone implicitly threatens me with "think of how you would survive in the current economic climate" I just wanna go (I did that in the late 70s when the country was in crisis and someone thought they had the whip hand). I just walked away. I am still here.

But, if this sounds like a negative rant, imagine this. When we were filming The Dark Crystal we reached the end of the day (18:00h) and had not quite captured something we had all been working towards through the afternoon.

Jim Henson - still sadly missed Now in the film business, if you go one minute over, all the unions claim another hour (at overtime rates). We were so close to getting the shot. Jim Henson announced that he couldn't afford overtime for 150 people, but he and Frank Oz wanted one more try at getting it in the can before we all went home. And, that's how beloved they were, as bosses, every person in that room turned a blind eye to their contracts, forgot their unions rules, and their tiredness and family obligations, and unanimously agreed to give it one more go, to get it right!

That's good management. That's working towards excellence with mutual respect. That was my first ever proper job working in a hierarchy (taking orders) - because of my previous 'bad attitude' to authority figures. I guess it spoiled me for the 'real world'.

RIP Jim, and thanks.

When I was younger
Living confusion and deep despair
When I was younger ah hah
Living illusion of freedom and power

When I was younger
Full of ideas and broken dreams (my friend)
When I was younger ah hah
Everything simple but not so clear

Living on borrowed time
Without a thought for tomorrow
Living on borrowed time
Without a thought for tomorrow

Now I am older
The more that I see the less that I know for sure
Now I am older ah hah
The future is brighter and now is the hour

Living on borrowed time
Without a thought for tomorrow
Living on borrowed time
Without a thought for tomorrow

Good to be older
Would not exchange a single day or a year
Good to be older ah hah
Less complications everything clear

Living on borrowed time
Without a thought for tomorrow
Living on borrowed time
Without a thought for tomorrow

"...all I've got to bother about is standing up..."

Monday, February 13, 2012

So far, so good.

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • My birthday may still be associated with chocolate and cherubs, satin hearts and red balloons, sloppy romance and spending money - but at least it's a secular day now - all the religion squeezed out of it. I don't think the Church ever felt comfortable with Valentinus the Gnostic

  • In 66 years I have travelled 38,504,400,000 miles round and round and round the sun, at 66,000 mph. And that doesn't allow for other movements (sun around the galaxy centre, etc)

  • They didn't retire me yet, so I can still afford teeth, and shoes, and that sort of thing - before I fall into the black pit of the tiny pension
Here's Eric to affirm the wonder of it all:

And if you didn't get all those facts and figures, or wonder how accurate they are, this link takes you to a deadpan analysis of the details

This winter I decided to work on my old man archtype (I get bored with all this 'you don't look yer age stuff') On the whole, I'd rather pose with a spliff but it doesn't involve much more than letting the beard grow out (that fools most people, for some reason).

When George Burns was 93 he was at a party. It was after midnight and he had a whiskey in one hand and a cigar in the other. George Burns

Somebody asked him "What does your doctor say about your lifestyle?" and he said "Oh he died long time ago."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

MultiMedia and the Avant-Gardes

I had to help write an essay about multimedia performances a few years ago, and found a wonderful book by Richard Kostelanetz which gave me a clue to how to shape the piece.

I have just bought it through AbeBooks for a very good price, as the Amazon going rate seemed much higher (£20-30 for the paperback).

Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes.

Mr Kostelanetz has written a myriad of fascinating material, and his website is definitely worth a visit.

Admittedly, I bought the first edition (1993) - the one that inspired me - and he has updated the second edition (2001) - with the cover shown here.
Indeed, he has offered some draft updates, should a third edition ever appear.

What I found, to help me shape the essay/thesis (with a deadline of a week!) was his reference to mixed-means theatre. He analysed the various forms that he covers with that term (Happenings, stage performances, kinetic environments, etc) using what I assume he got from Aristotle's rather rigid 'unities' for theatrical performances:

  • The unity of action: a play should have one main action that it follows, with no or few subplots.

  • The unity of place: a play should cover a single physical space and should not attempt to compress geography, nor should the stage represent more than one place.

  • The unity of time: the action in a play should take place over no more than 24 hours.
However, to describe the wider variety of audience, performer, creator interactions of mixed media / multimedia performance (including circus, in my terms) he offered this table:

And that gave me all the structure I needed to help my friend shape his thesis. We simply worked through all the practical projects and shows he had done, and described them as involving:

  • open or closed space

  • fixed or variable time

  • fixed or variable actions.
So I owe Mr Kostelanetz quite a bit (and the library for having a copy of his book available at the time).
On top of all that, I love dictionaries, and this remains a treasure trove of cross-references, eye-openers, and other fun. He doesn't only cover some of my own favourite artists: Duchamp, Cage, Jarry, Joyce; but other perhaps less expected ones like Burroughs, Dylan and Bucky Fuller; and also genres from Performance Art to Punk Rock to Hypertext, and groups like Fluxus and Dada.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Language as a virus

Reading The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language - an overview on the current theories of language evolution - and felt very amused to find the model of language as a virus now having some currency among 'serious researchers' - given that the title of this blog comes from such a disreputable source as William S. Burroughs, based on his studies with Korzybski.

Perhaps his texts full of taboo subjects, grotesque and diseased images elicited an ugly association of the word 'virus' which hid the fact that he meant to indicate the method by which language appeared to replicate itself (something like what we now call 'memes').

You can find WSB discussing it in one of his less scary texts - The Job: interviews with William S. Burroughs - in the section called Playback from Eden to Watergate.
WSB and the Word Virus collection

"My basic theory is that the written word was actually a virus that made the spoken word possible. The word has not been recognised as a virus because it has achieved a state of symbiosis with the host, though this symbiotic realationship is now breaking down, for reasons I will suggest later."

So anyway, without getting too technical, I flipped open p. 234 of the paperback edition of The First Word, to read:

"Kirby and a number of other researcers find one metaphor especiallly useful for thinking about language: imagine that it is a virus, a nonconscious life-form that evolves independently of the animals infected by it. Just as a standard virus adapts to survival in its physical environment, the language virus adapts to survival in its environment - a complicated landscape that includes the semi-linguistic mind of the infant, the individual mind of the speaking adult, and the collective mind of communicating humans.

According to Terence Deacon, language and its human host are parasitic upon each other. 'Modern humans need the language parasite in order to flourish and reproduce just as much as it needs humans to reproduce.' "

Indeed do artists get there first.

So anyway, Korzysbski had lots to say about 'language hygiene' (or thinking clearly) just as Burroughs adopted the cut-up method to reveal underlying assumptions, prejudices and styles.

Count Alfred Koyrzybski - a marginalized, ignored or forgotten person in the main - offered a set of tools for eliminating sources of error in thinking and speaking, which would have not made him popular with the kind of people who fund research, or politicians and leaders, or advertising execs, or religious types, or... Well, you get the idea. I happen to think he had a point, and quite a few of his tools have become adopted by people without awareness of the source (perhaps).

We use 'air quotes' for dubiously used words; many scientific studies now have started to merge with the use of the hyphen (neuro-linguistic studies, socio-biological) etc, etc. The whole area of study now called NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) - whatever your reaction to those words - remains a study of how words affect us and our belief systems, and how we might need to change the words we use to think about things, to produce real change in the world. And so does the movement called Political Correctness.

Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain Terence Deacon

This review on Language Miniatures had a useful brief summary:
Copyright © 2001 by William Z. Shetter

"But is this perception really all that wide of the mark? Suppose we compare a language with something that really does have animate existence. Let's choose viruses:

  1. Like a virus, a language is an adaptive entity evolving with respect to its human hosts.

  2. Modern humans need this language parasite in order to flourish and reproduce.

  3. Humans ensure that languages, like viruses, are successfully replicated and passed on from host to host.

  4. The earlier the age at which a language or virus is acquired, the more success it will have (given the simple fact of human mortality) in reproducing from generation to generation. So language infects young children.

  5. Languages/viruses are highly organized and passed on as a complete, integrated working system, not as a collection of words/genes."
And here - at On Memetics - you will find a brief commentary on a video by Simon Kirby

“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” AK

Too many words, too little time. In terms of 'mental hygiene', of course, most forms of meditation seem aimed at quietening the chattering monkey mind - because when that compulsive inner voice stops we might just catch a glimpse of the world...

“Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word. “ WSB
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