Broader Horizons

For the last six months i’ve been shooting for an exhibition. Nothing grand, just the second year of a show that is done with three friends. Last year was an education. However, this year was a completely different kind of challenge. I set myself the task of doing something original (where ‘original’ is defined as doing something that none of my immediate circle of acquaintances was doing, and not aping a style that i already knew). Despite my best intentions this ended up being a nightmare.

It’s one thing to have a clear idea in your mind and go out to shoot it. It’s quite another to have a rough idea of what you’re looking for, and spend six months hoping that there is some consistency and clarity to what you are doing. In some ways it’s not dissimilar to starting out on a coding project that you know isn’t going to come to fruition for several months–along the way there are going to be times when you wonder how the whole is going to hang together with the parts…

But here i am, six, or is it nine, months later, with what appears to be a decent set of photographs. Maybe they aren’t as consistent as i’d like them to be, but they broadly fit into the theme, as it was initially defined. Certainly there are some bonus points that i failed to pick up along the way… however, i’m happy. Mostly because it was hard work and it’s done!

More than anything, it’s nice to be able to go out and look at other things!

More Mark Kennedy

This is getting really out of hand! An English undercover policeman working in Germany, at the behest of the German federal police chief, and targeting, of all things, anti-fascist protestors?!

Germany’s federal police chief, Jörg Ziercke, was forced to admit to MPs at the Bundestag that not only had Kennedy had a long-term lover in Berlin – in direct violation of a law forbidding police officers to have sexual relationships while undercover – but that he had been invited to Germany by the authorities to infiltrate the anti-fascist movement.

Presumably one could be excused for suggesting that European governments are pro-fascist. Some very senior police need to be held to account for these actions. Obviously it’s not good that the police are working undercover, and as agent provocateurs, but the fact that police forces across Europe are organising to disrupt what have to be seen as legitimate protest movements… blood boils.

The Legacy

David Suzuki is one of the elder statesmen of the environment movement. I’ve not really read much of his work, but whenever i’ve seen him comment on things he has seemed straightforward and level headed.

His latest book, The Legacy, is a short (it’s less than a hundred pages) summation of his thinking. It’s the kind of poignant, well written, carefully considered book that you’d expect of someone who has spent their life in science and thinking about ecology and environment.

The problem with it is that it’s fighting the last war. Or maybe not even that, maybe it’s fighting the wrong war? It seems to me that the environmental movement has basically bet the farm that people can be persuaded to see their position in the interconnected web of systems that make the earth function.

Meanwhile, the predominant ideologies of the world have been busy making sure that the people are distracted, self-centred, and focused on nothing but their immediate family unit. Nature is something that is mastered, resources are something to be consumed, progress is about doing the same things faster.

This is really bought home by the follow Victor Lebow quote:

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.

These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption. The home power tools and the whole “do-it-yourself” movement are excellent examples of “expensive” consumption.

What becomes clear is that from the larger viewpoint of our economy, the total effect of all the advertising and promotion and selling is to create and maintain the multiplicity and intensity of wants that are the spur to the standard of living in the United States.

This is really what the last 50 or 60 years have been about–creating enough demand to keep up with our capacity to turn the resources of the earth into consumable goods. Perhaps it seems relatively harmless in the ’50s but as things stand now, with population approaching 7 billion it’s bordering on suicidal.

Democratic capitalism aka consumerism isn’t interested in having people understand that they are part of a complex web of system that are interrelated in more ways than we can possibly imagine. It’s only interest is turning whatever stored sunlight it can lay it’s hands on in to short term profit.

In short, it’s pointless attempting to convince people that nature is beautiful and that we can only survive for the long-term by living in harmony with it, if the entire system of our existence is about maximal exploitation.

Wikileaks on Japan

Nothing is going to happen for a while:

The deputy editor of The Guardian, Ian Katz, summed up that newspaper’s decision thus: “We didn’t see much of international interest in them, which is why we haven’t run anything — or anything much. WikiLeaks is beginning to make regional packages of cables available to media partners in different countries now.”

Rather oddly:

One unsubstantiated rumor circulating among Tokyo journalists is that the organization reached out to Japan’s most popular newspaper, the Yomiuri, perhaps unaware that its strictly hierarchical editorial structure and conservative politics might not make it the best launching pad for an anarchist-inspired project to topple power. Given the Yomiuri’s close ties with the Liberal Democratic Party, journalists there may anyway have been privy to many of the “secrets” buried inside the WikiLeaks cables.

Yomiuri… it’d be amusing to see them attempt report this stuff, no doubt it would have to be almost entirely redacted to not contradict their editorial madness. Asahi, although far from perfect, would probably be a better bet – they at least claim to be in some way ‘progressive’.

My guess is that whoever does take on the task of publishing this stuff (in Japan) is going to be subject to some fairly extreme pressure, both legal and extra-legal. What we really need is for the press outside Japan to take an interest. Given the current lack of interest in all things Japanese around the world, it’s likely to be quite a wait…

The Files in the Crypt

For the first time in a while i’m going to have to travel with a laptop containing a work environment. This means that it’s time for some more security fun! As work involves code and (potentially) data that is HIPAA sensitive, it makes sense to not carry at around unencrypted. Just for once this is practical security instead of paranoia–if the machine were to be lost or stolen i need to be sure that neither the code or data are visible.

The most obvious thing to do would be to enable OS X FileVault. There are a couple of issues with this:

  • the disk in this laptop isn’t particularly large
  • and (heretically) i’m not entirely sure that Apple are completely trustworthy

Which isn’t to say that turning on FileVault is a bad idea, but that if my solution is going to involve another disk, then perhaps there is another way. One simple method would be to create an encrypted disk image (via Disk Utility -> File -> New -> Disk Image) on an external drive, mount it, and sym link to it from my home dir.

This feels like it would work well, and would be manageable enough. It does suffer from the same (imagined?) flaw of requiring me to trust that Apple’s implementation hasn’t been back-doored for the US Government (not that i’m doing anything that they’re interested in, just a back-door is a back-door, is a back-door…)

Another approach would to be a third party tool, preferably something open source, which has been reviewed by third parties. There are actually limited options out there – which isn’t a surprise–the more i’ve looked into this security stuff the more i’ve realised that it’s of limited interest to most people.

The encfs user-space (FUSE) file-system has been ported to OS X, but as you might imagine the integration is a little primitive–it comes from Linux-land… More promising is TrueCrypt, which ticks all of the open-source boxes, in cross-platform, and has nice administration tools. The only downside is that there is no 64bit implementation… none of my machines are actually new enough to run a complete 64bit environment, so perhaps i probably shouldn’t worry about it!

My plan is therefore to:

  • turn on FileVault for my home dir
  • temporarily set a boot password for the machine while travelling (don’t yet know how to do this in OS X… like this)
  • setup an external drive as a TrueCrypt volume to contain all code and data
  • attempt not to lose or have the laptop stolen
  • avoid all american airports like the plague

I’d be interested in hearing theories as to why nobody seems to care enough about all this stuff. My expectation would have been that by now it would be in demand enough that such features were pushed back into the OS, and that vendors cared enough about their reputations to open source those parts of the system such that they could be reviewed by trusted third parties. Why isn’t it happening?

The Hunt for the Yellow Goosefish

Let’s get this out of the way first. This is a yellow goosefish, and i’ve never seen one. It’d be great to tell you that i had, but i shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

Went diving on short-notice. Just me an the guide, who turned up with a hangover and looking a little worse for wear. He did however have a glint in his eye – something was afoot!

When it’s just the two of us we usually head off for a nice long surface swim, and then down to the second point (二の根) to check out the nudibranchs. Today we were going a little further out towards the fifth point, looking for a reportedly meter long キアンコウ (anglerfish, yellow goosefish), that had been spotted over the weekend, in about 40m of water.

Seeing as it was now tuesday, and said beastie was last seen moving, i didn’t really fancy our chances. Even thought the visibility was good (20 – 30m), trying to find anything that is the same colour as the sand, on a plain that drops off out of sight is never going to be easy.

And, it wasn’t! On the far side of the second point the sands really open up out to the fifth point, and it’s all super deep. My feeling was that even if we did find this thing it was going to be way to far down to get to… in the end it didn’t matter, by the time we’d blown through out bottom time (and had a few false alarms) it was clear that it wasn’t going to happen.

Back at the beach, with several hours to mull over our defeat it became obvious that the only thing to do was go back and try again! Extended silences were punctuated with exclamations of determination to have another crack. It doesn’t help when some of the other regular guides are there with pictures, and encouraging advice about where to look…

Deciding that we’d go back, see some of the other sights, and not stress about finding the anglerfish. That way we reasoned we were bound to get lucky. Needless to say, we didn’t.

Trying to get more time to explore, the second surface swim was longer than the first… which had been plenty long enough. By the time we were practically over the second point a nice long nap seemed like a good idea. Instead down we went, swam right along the top of the point, and down to about 35m where a thorny seahorse (イバラダツ) was hiding… i say hiding, but it was actually in plain site, i just couldn’t find it! Somehow my guide managed to take a picture of it without me noticing. I blame it on the lack of nap. We then swam over the sands towards the fifth point, where another guide pointed out a warty frogfish. Unfortunately this was also down close to 40m, so it was then time to get up a little and head back to the beach.

Two 45 minute dives at some silly depths, hunting for weird and wonderful undersea creatures. Great days diving. I’m really going to miss these monthly dives! Don’t suppose i’ll ever get to see a yellow goosefish, but it was a lot of fun trying.

Oh, and as an aside, i’ve managed to cure my problem with the cold (it was 14 – 15ºC at depth) by buying an undershirt made from merino wool. Quite amazing how much of a difference it makes. They always say that you shouldn’t wear cotton next to your skin if you’re trying to stay warm, and i can really see why.

There is a message here…


We had a good meeting on Saturday night. Looks like this years exhibition is coming together really well. It feels like we’re more in sync this year… which is odd because we’ve all been very quiet about our plans. Was good to see everyone excited and enthusiastic about getting stuff on the walls.

More details nearer the time.

Hakusai and Two Lentil Soup

While making this soup it occurred to me that i was making it up as i went along, and writing the recipe in my head. Thought it might be fun to write down… it was good, so here it is!

  • 3 – 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 tbls olive Oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 10 whole peppercorns
  • 150g red lentils
  • 150g brown lentils
  • hakusai (roughly enough to fill the pan you’re cooking the soup in)
  • white pepper
  • salt

Boil a few dried shiitake mushrooms for around 10 minutes in a little water. While the mushrooms are softening, finely chop a large onion, and sautee in a pan with a few whole peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves.

Remove the shiitake from the stock, and carefully (there is usually grit or dirt trapped in the mushrooms) pour the stock over the onions. Remove the woody stems of the shiitake, finely chop, and add to the pan.

Add roughly 150g of both red and brown lentils to the pan, cover with water, and season with salt (less than a teaspoon, but lentils need salt so don’t be too stingy) and white pepper (yes, white pepper, it works well with hakusai).

Bring to the boil and then simmer gently until the brown lentils are soft (but not falling apart). This takes roughly 20 – 25 minutes. Keep an eye on the lentils as they cook, the red lentils will fall apart and thicken the stock, and the brown lentils absorb a lot of water. If the stock gets to thick it’ll stick to the pan and burn – you’re making soup not stew!

Wash and cut a large pile of hakusai, and add into soup. Let the hakusai soften for roughly 5 minutes (it can take a little longer depending on how thick the leaves are).

Eat with decent bread.

Can you buy ‘cake’ with Food stamps?

You have to wonder if America is heading for one of those really nasty periods of history:

There is a telling detail in the US retail chain store data for December. Stephen Lewis from Monument Securities points out that luxury outlets saw an 8.1pc rise from a year ago, but discount stores catering to America’s poorer half rose just 1.2pc. Tiffany’s, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue are booming. Sales of Cadillac cars have jumped 35pc, while Porsche’s US sales are up 29pc. Cartier and Louis Vuitton have helped boost the luxury goods stock index by almost 50pc since October. Yet Best Buy, Target, and Walmart have languished.

I haven’t seen any recent Gini numbers, but the trend is pretty obvious.

Or maybe not? The number for more recent years show that despite a peak in 2006, the coefficient has levelled off at around 47. The value of YoY comparisons is never quite clear. Perhaps it’s obvious that those with wealth are quicker to resume spending, while those without are more cautious, and continue paying down debt?

Suspect this will be one of my more ill considered posts.