Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Books –

My grandfather taught me to read. To begin with he read to me on Wednesday nights; he would come over on the ferry we’d have boiled eggs and Victoria sponge for tea. He would bath me, put me to bed and read until I fell asleep.

Henry Woods was a Welsh miner, quite proud of the fact that he could read at all, and doubly proud of the fact that he could teach said skill to me. Not surprisingly books are a great comforter for me. My earliest days were spent with 365 bedtime stories and Reed’s wonder tales of Maori land (sent to me from my Nana in Auckland). I still have Reed and all my copies of the Pippin annual. I could read somewhat sooner than all the other kids I knew. As such it set me apart but I didn’t notice because I had my head in a book or reading over someone else’s shoulder. At infant school I was often found asleep in the small library with Britannica on my lap.

At juniors I remember distinctly being accused of stealing books; the problem being that no one actually thought I was capable of reading them.

The first stand out book for me was an illustrated copy of Pilgrims Progress I loved the tale, missed the metaphor altogether but worse than that I thought the illustration of Apollyon was soooo cool. No surprises that I ended up an atheist.

War mags yep, Biggles yep, Hornblower Yep, Famous Five yeuuch, Henry Treece Yep, Encycopedias Yeaah, and rather strangely Aircraft of the Fighting Powers. I skipped the Bible. Solzhenitsyn proved too much too soon but Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov were cool with me.

During the long hot summers abroad I went through a MacDonalds phase reading sometimes as many as three pulp specials a day. I returned to school after one such summer, bored with ordinary words and looking for something new. Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves; but I came back to Siegfried Sassoon a book I had seen on the desk of an old mentor many years before , The Memoirs of George Sherston. I felt betrayed that Sherston wouldn’t go back at first and then my life truly changed.

There were only two rules at my boarding school; don’t tell ever and don’t tell anyone; behind this veil lived bullying and abuse. I broke ranks and told about the bullying of one boy by my then best friend and the biggest kid in my year. I regard it as one of the few good things I ever managed at school. The kid who was bullied the most was never sure whether to thank me or not, after all he’d gone from being a victim to a nobody, almost overnight (we later got into a fight which led to me beating him very badly, something I still regret deeply). Despite the beatings, the property destructions and the fights that followed, I never regretted that act. The change was to set me on the road to political activism, protesting and all sorts. At one stage I was the chaperone to the UK’s only lesbian pool team. For many years Tao Te Ching brought peace and space to my mind

Later I read Marx, Mein Kampf, and the Bible but I managed to mix this with Iain Banks, Gibbo and Phillip K Dick (Far more fun). Thomas Hardy changed the way I felt about life and DH Lawrence changed the way I saw people. Oh and I finally read Tolkein; errrrm seven times.

Being involved with stage led me to Waiting for Godot (got it after the 5th performance !) and Dr Faustus.

At University I read Gillies and Aronson in close succession; neither people nor sciences were ever the same again. I launched into poetry going backwards in time from Larkin to Shakespeare. I even finished Foucault’s Pendulum but failed Solzhenitsyn a second time.

I courted my wife by reading AA Milne and the Zig Zag Kid by David Grossman to her. I am currently reading the Iliad a second time. My sister coincidentally is married to a writer and manages a bookshop.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bloggers anonymous anyone ?

I’m p****d off over this Kathy Sierra thing for a lot of reasons.

i) People who perpetrate such nastiness from behind a veil of anonymity are scumbags.

ii) Other mortals who take advantage of anonymity, have had to suffer the wrath of the self righteous and occasionally self serving blog community many of whom see no benefit in anonymity.

iii) The result has been a code of conduct for the blogsphere. This upsets me for two reasons: Firstly the code is unworkable but more worryingly the code represents an attempt to regulate instead of educate. This bothers me because I would have hoped for something more from the online community. A philosophy of freedom seems to have served the online community well, why give it up now?

iv) I don’t like being called a coward on account of the behaviour of others.

So why 81stcolumn ?

I have been 81stcolumn pretty much for as long as I have been on-line. The tag refers specifically to the extra column that appeared on old 80cloumn VDU’s. You only saw this column if the line was full of text and you couldn’t program it (I don’t think). It also laterally refers to 80 column programming cards – when a program appeared not to work for any obvious reason we used to talk about a stray bit in the 81stcolumn. Not surprisingly I was trying to create an air of mystery and grandness. After all, to know what the 81stcolumn is would be to indicate that you have been in computing for quite a while… trying to be a smart arse.

When I decided to attempt blogging I thought long and hard about whether it was reasonable to keep this ID up. I decided I would for several reasons;

I would like to keep my job and politics as far apart as possible. A large part of my job involves communicating with others. In these situations I have to appear to be capable of unconditional and non-judgemental acts. Consequently I didn’t want to have to discuss my politics in these situations or let my politics interfere with how others saw me. I just plain wouldn’t be able to work as effectively.

At the time when I made the decision there was some doubt as to whether I would be re-employed in my current role. Lack of employment would have meant having to leave my wife and my home. SWMBO probably puts up with enough as it is. At the same time I badly wanted to blow the whistle on what I saw as unethical and dare I say bullying practices at work. I hinted at some of this in this blog at the time. The process itself was helpful to me and kept me in my job long enough that I might be able to do something good in the future. I certainly stopped me form threatening to assault my bosses. I eventually made my point clear to my bosses later and that point to my surprise was well relieved and acted on. I honestly believe that my anonymous blogging was helpful at the time. Which brings me rather neatly to my next points.

The idea of blogging anonymously has served the world quite well when gaining a snapshot of life in Iran, China and elsewhere. I am not saying that I am in any way as valuable as these folks. What I am saying is that sometimes the protection of anonymity is of value.

To underline this point whenever I have been “me” on-line it has caused me to question whether I should bother to be involved on line at all. The first time was in a school discussion board where the MSM picked up my name as someone who had been in contact with a known kiddie fiddler. No the guy had never touched me and no I did not want to discuss this further, an unpleasant surprise never the less. On a subsequent occasion, I was phoned and berated verbally by an anonymous contributor to another board, who had tracked me to my workplace to continue a disagreement he felt was unresolved on line. In both cases this would not have been possible had I used my pseudonym.

As someone who has been run-over, searched repeatedly, chased and beaten up for openly expressing my views face to face in public I see no reason to acknowledge an argument to do with my courage (or lack thereof) on-line. Maybe I’m just tired of being the one that gets flagged to be searched in airline checks etc. I know I grew tired of listening to a lot of unhappy people and getting the same government; then seeing a much smaller group of people at protests that had more verbal than material support. I think it most unfair to make presumptions of cowardice, based purely on the failings of others. It shows a complete lack of imagination to think that all anonymous users are “abusers by proxy” or “nastiness waiting to pounce”. I won’t buy into the macho call-you-out b******t as a response. A good read of my blog would identify me fairly accurately anyway.

I have offered to identify myself at my favourite discussion board over at PA. I am still trying to find a balance between the comfort of anonymity and blogging it real. Being scolded from a soapbox is unlikely to help. Besides I'm chronically self conscious in the presence of so many people on discussion boards who are clearly better informed and smarter than me…….