Trautmann’s Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend

51W4BK7hBlLAn odd book.

Ostensively about a footballer, but actually a triumphant depiction of the victory of democracy over the evils of national socialism. Trautmann is the “everyman” showing how Hitler corrupted a country, turning good germans into brainwashed Nazi’s, who can only be saved by the shining purity and downright “goodness” of the English people.

Which isn’t, of course, to say that there was a good side to the national socialism, just that any nuance is lost beneath the whitewash of jolly old england riding to save the day.

And the odd part? Well, it’s an enjoyable read. Trautmann comes across as sincere and humble. As is the reaction to him by the working class people he meets as a POW in the north of england. The author makes an effort to provide balance – highlighting the incompetence / complicity of Baldwin, Chamberlian, etc. but it was beyond me to separate an individual’s story from the greater arc of english history…

Facing the Other Way: The 4AD Story

51UQXhZvu8LIt seems odd that a book should be published about a record label, and not the music that it released. However, in the case of 4AD it makes perfect sense (to me).

4AD became more than a label, a means to get music released, it became an aesthetic. A carefully curated group of bands, where by just having a catalog number was enough to tell you that it was something that you should hear. Released on 4AD? It’s probably good. If it’s not great when you first hear it, it’ll probably grow on you if you stick with it. That was my mantra as a teenager. From Bauhaus, The Birthday Party, Wolfgang Press, to Dif Juz, The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, and Clan of Xymox, it was all good. And it was all on 4AD. Yes, it was ruined for me with the Pixies, but in my musically formative years it was everything i needed. As they moved forward, i hung on becoming increasingly obsessive about uncovering the secrets of the back catalog.

What i hadn’t known was that the progression in the releases, was a roller coaster ride through one man’s fight with depression. If the Pixies and Throwing Muses were the attempts to hang on and run a label, giving bands indie success, releases like Hope Blister, The Red House Painters, Ultra Vivid Scene, were charting the depths of the label’s guiding light, Ivo Watts-Russell’s despair. It’s odd to think that he kept this mostly to himself, all the while broadcasting it, as a plea for help, unheard for years.

A Beautiful book. But, maybe only for those touched by the magic of probably the greatest label to chart the death of the music business.

My Father


Rest in peace.

For the last decade or so i’ve been using writing and publishing online as a means to organise my thoughts, to provide structure to what often feels like a whirlwind of ideas and emotions. I suppose this is going to be another one of those posts. It has taken me several weeks to start writing, and i’m still not really sure what i want to say. It mostly feels too personal to share…

Over the last twenty or so years, roughly corresponding to the time that i left england, my relationship with my father became much closer. During my pretty standard angry / confused / rebellious teenage years things were a little fraught… My memories of him that time are a mixture of him sleeping off his work schedule (commuting to London from the Norfollk coast, and a lot of travel…) and a general feeling that i wasn’t meeting some vaguely known set of expectations. Never bluntly expressed, but perceived to be there under the layer stress, and periodically, anger. No doubt that was all to do with wanting me to make the best of things, but i guess it never comes across that way to a teenager.

He was a big, imposing man, both physically and intellectually, leaving a impression on any of my friends that he met during this period. His humour was pretty coarse, his wit often caustic. Being direct, telling people what they didn’t want or expect to hear, was always softened with charm, and i dare say, sheer physical presence.

By the time i’d made it to California, and was making a fist of starting a career, the tension went away and we started to build a relationship on a different, more equal basis.

At heart he was an engineer (originally aeronautical, at hawker-sidley, i think) but eventually on trains (APT-E at BR, bi-modal (truck / train) systems, and eventually railway networks). It was an engineer that he approached most things. We spent a lot of time talking about photography, with him more interested than me in the raw technology. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the gear was as interesting as the photographs, he was just fascinated by the changes and what could be done with them. A lot of his bird photographs are really good. One day i’ll go through it all and get it online. In much earlier times i’d been his darkroom assistant, (whether i was actually helping is debatable) and have happy memories of those times developing and printing together.

Similarly with computers, we’d had computers around the house almost since it became practical (early BBC Microcomputer, in 1981, etc) but it was mostly left to me to do the tinkering / programming after all the pieces had been brought together and shown to function. Like photography it wasn’t that he couldn’t code, just that having new toys was more interesting. He told me once that as a kid he’d taken a lot of things around the house to pieces to find out how they worked. Unable to get them back together he’d taken to burying them in the garden… creative destruction?

Towards the end of his career, when he was living in Holland during the week, he started to mellow. Maybe it was just that the pressure was gone, the house was paid for, the kids had been put through university and were working. We never really spoke about it… but he travelled more for pleasure than business, and was easier to be around. In his 60s, after retiring, he had cancer, and the experience of beating that, seemed to mellow him even further. My wife, with whom he’d always got on, took to him as a gentle giant, and i’d often find them sitting around chatting about nothing in particular.

During a turbulent time in my mid-30s, which saw me quitting a good job and wandering around aimlessly for a year not really knowing what to do with my life, he did the only thing that would have helped – listened. My clearest memory from that period is him telling me, “some people seem to go through their entire lives without a single directed thought”. I can’t really say that helped with the existential gloom through which i was stumbling, but it did give me a perspective from which it was possible to embrace the turmoil.

Over the last five years, we’d generally talk one or more times a week. He was still trying to find the perfect camera / lens combination for birding, and even though his hands weren’t as steady, was out there in the hides most days that the light was good. We’d talk more about which lens or doubler he should buy than the photographs, but it was always entertaining, and gave us an excuse to talk about other things where perhaps i wouldn’t have otherwise made the effort.

All those chats and calls on IM / Skype / Video reduced the importance of me not being around much  – i’ve almost spent more than half my life outside england. Had we not had those tools, it would probably be a source of great regret that i’d not had more opportunities to talk with him.

And now he’s gone. All those things will have to remain unsaid. A great treasure house of memories and experience groans closed.

Darkest Green?

(via Jim Grisanzio)

[Don’t watch that if you have any form of new year blues / uncertainty about the future. It is dark. Very, very dark. Really.]

Hard to work past the doom, and follow up on the feedback loops. Looking into just one of them is daunting. Methane levels are indeed rising, but finding evidence that would indicate a massive outgassing (from either the arctic or the siberian permafrost) is difficult.

My sense is that the truth lies somewhere between “extinction by mid-century” and “if we recycle and change the lightbulbs it’ll be fine!” To me collapse still seems inevitable, and i say that because the scale of climate change is going to make recovering from each disaster increasingly difficult.

Obviously we can’t continue to exceed carrying capacity, with the resource depletion that that entails, but given everything that we’ve “locked-in” in terms of changing the composition of the atmosphere, a simple collapse of capitalism isn’t going to magically push the planet into recovery… and may in fact make things worse for a while. Managing the decline of nuclear is a good example of that. We’d better hope that all the plants can be peacefully brought to an idle in the absence of external infrastructure. The Fukushima experience doesn’t really indicate that is a realistic expectation.

Edit: sourcing for a lot of the claims in the above talk can be found here.

More Snowden

There is another round of revaluations from the Snowden leak. The power to shock has somewhat been reduced, which isn’t to say that the information isn’t scary, just that it’s more focused in terms of it’s potential to be invasive on ordinary people.

The good news: this leak shows a number of tools that the NSA / GCHQ can use to target individuals. The qualification is that it’s extremely bad news if you’re one of the targeted individuals

The bad news: the degree to which individuals can be targeted using the described tools is immense. If a five eyes agency determines that you are a threat your best bet would probably be to never touch a computer or a mobile device again. For the rest of your life. It really is that bad.

The other bad news is for silicon valley / the american tech industry. The degree to which they are implicated in these exploits is … questionable. At the very least they are culpable for having written software / firmware which is easily exploited, and done very little to address the problems. At the worst they are complicit in the whole scheme. Their future is probably determined by what leaks next. It seems likely to me that this will result in the end (or the severe tarnishing / diminishing) of several well known brands from the pantheon of old silicon valley names.

Has Cisco, for example, been knowingly leaving backdoors for the NSA, or has their hiring / contracting process become so lax that they are easily exploitable by agents? If that is the case, can they assure anyone that the only infiltration has been from the NSA?

This is the material that i’d have released up front. It shows the kind of activities that you’d expect a five eyes agency to be involved in. Sure it’s scope is terrifying, and of course they are pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable given the homegrown nature of the online business, but it is by it’s nature relatively targeted. The dragnet surveillance that came out first should concern people far more…

Unfortunately this story isn’t interesting to the general public, especially in the five eyes nations. The governments outside the five eyes are acting pissed, but making behind the scenes efforts to get themselves an inside loop on the data being gathered. Unless there is a change in the “i’ve done nothing wrong, and have nothing to hide” attitude, we are locked into the fast track to techno-authoritarianism.

Happy new year!

ps. if you are interested in how the hacker community is reacting to this (they are the ones most likely to be affected by these revelations) you should watch Jacob Applebaum’s talk at 30c3.