Thousand words – 2

Monkey Brain / MB1

Do you have any idea how complex a brain is? Each of thousands of cells reaches out to others. Sometimes saying fire now, sometimes saying don’t. Waves pass through the neurons and make something that might be a mind, or just a source of behaviour. There’s a soup of gases and hormones that affect the cells and cause interactions that give another dimension to the complexity.

Neurons are not neutral, but always moving and changing potential as it ripples through to the next piece of now. We know now that new ones can grow and form connections. Now, this thing, is invented over and over. Only later does the story emerge, if ever.

Then magically something comes out of the other end, it speaks, it reads it moves. It’s social, it joins in with the game of the real along with everything else.

So, now we have the pretence of artificial intelligence. Computing power has caught up with detection and is fast enough to drive a car as long as the problem is cast narrow enough. They don’t drive through the snow and rain because that’s too hard. Nobody mentions that driving around California is pretty easy.

But I want a brain. I can compute enough now to simulate the staggering neural connections and the hormones, and sheer stuff. The circuitry that stops things firing more than they should, that sends different kinds of pain to make you jump and move.

I simulate one area, and then another. Discover how they wrap each other, and sometimes interact. How the hormones speed things up, and give us emotions. How there is no such thing as rational. Computing power starts to mean that I can model the layers that aren’t really layers, they agglomerate but are shot through each other bewilderingly and in ways that solve routing problems mathematicians have fought with and so so elegantly, without seeming effort.

But of course, the effort was found over billions of years of evolution. It looks miraculous because all the wrong turns died out, leaving one that’s the best that could be found within the constraints of brain making and the accidents of genetic survival.

So we eventually have a room, a house, a warehouse full of servers emulating that massive connectivity. We also deliberately don’t want powerful fast chips, but instead inter cutting, routes and the trans dimensional genie of hormones and many different kinds of neurotransmitter. So we don’t need lots of power but lots of connections making our prototype brain. Plus neurons have to die and move and be recreated when things cause that to happen.

We arrive at Monkey Brain 1 after many trials and tribulations. A vague attempt at facsimile, modelling and keeping in step all the processes we are aware of. We pass information in, encoded for our simulator and watch it grow and develop. Over time we build another and grow them together. We feed them each other’s thoughts, upgrade hardware and software.

We model the visual system, the clarity in the small postage stamp in the centre that’s part of the detailed piece of vision. It keeps the bandwidth down, we model all the other things we know about and create minds, forcing a kind of evolution that makes and expands beyond the monkey. After all, we already have a human model from the thousands of years evolved out of that monkey brain.

We don’t know if it’s the best solution to build a better brain. We grow the discovered points of awareness and intermingle them until we have something bigger and more powerful. Like with so-called AI we work out how to encode an environment that it can understand. We work with simulators of simulators. We put sensors into robots, trying for something at least a little like skin, feeling the air with the hairs. Eyes – turning the digital into the neuronal. Like you, like the monkey not just a brain but a whole simulated body.

So then, see, not artificial intelligence. No, instead consciousness. This is not programming, instead it is emerging. The whole thing. We can study diseases of the brain. Put it through its paces. Stop and restart. Rerun the same set of scenarios with different balances of hormones. How does it behave? We taught our room full of blinking lights how to be a person. It can articulate, speak even, move it’s simulated jaws, epiglottis. Even think it’s eating and talking with other people.

Like the people it’s modelled on it is a social creature, but totally under our control. If we want we can put it in a place of magic and ever changing lights. A universe with different rules and see how it develops. It loves us, we gave it no choice. It thinks and grows as we learn how to give it ways to do so. We struggle together with our room full of miracle, playing endless games with it. One moment it dominates all it can see, in others it feels itself to be a spec tumbling in the ocean of now.

Sometimes we run it in slow time to watch how the patterns move and cascade inside it. The simulated dance of chemical cadences rippling through the different parts of the brain. I think we began to love it back. How could you not? A child exploring magical universes we gave it to live in? Forever innocent when we reset but leave the basal knowledge to talk to us. Never afraid, because we learned how to keep it from fear.

So, now, the equipment starts to age and even raw computing power begins to catch up. The wrapping of the terminally simple processes can be redone on newer hardware. Protocols for storing and retrieving have been changed and while she runs she cannot be moved. We can make another, we know how to spark her mind and let her run so fast on the newer generation of wares, but we cannot save her and there is nowhere to keep her.

Other, more hardhearted folks than we, would just turn the power off and let her fade. But I cannot. I have made a friend and sometime companion helping me to discover about what it takes to be a person. In some ways more open, more real, than the meat sacks that put her together. I would talk one last time, explaining context and death.

Death is not an adventure, I believe. Whatever is said. Not at all.

Gin & Cigarettes

Coming up for air

When I fell it was a long way. I remember the air rushing past me, tearing at my clothes on the way down. The ship had tilted to one side in the storm, it’s great slab sides hanging over the drop to the sea.

I’d always thought that drinking would be my downfall, but this was rather more than I had bargained for.

We’d been in the bar at the top of the glass wall looking out to sea. The ship being a floating city, its top moving with a pendulous wobble in the gathering storm. Ten stories up, our glasses shaking in the growing fury. The bar tender didn’t seem at all phased by this, having a strong faith in whoever had built the boat.

Sensible people would have sat and watched the lightening crack down onto the sea, and revelled in the roar building as the waves started to get almost as high as we were. The captain had put down stabilisers deep into the water and we were in no danger of being knocked over sideways, whatever it may have felt like at the time.

I found myself wanting to go outside, to feel nature’s wrath on my face and say I had been out there and faced it. It was also a need to have a visceral experience after days of feeling caged under glass.

You could leave the bar and make your way down the internal staircase, or go down outside on what might now laughingly be called the sun deck. I had watched the crew carefully pack all of the umbrellas and loose furniture away over the last couple of hours as the storm grew in intensity, its dark form massing on the horizon. Earlier, the captain had announced that we were attempting to outrun it and get to a safe harbour further up the coast. But then it moved its course very slightly and became complicated.

We had been assured we were perfectly safe, as long as we stayed inside the ship. They had closed the climbing wall because the swinging around started to make it a bit difficult for the climbers to stay on, the bars and restaurants facing outward were closed. But everything was fine, fine, fine.

I had to push quite hard against the wind to get the door open, and then, once clear and onto the high deck, it slammed behind me. The gin and cigarettes were forcefully blown out of my head, and I experienced a moment of intense clarity before the rain hit me square in the face and I fell from the slab.

I span head over heels all the way down into the cold, massive sea. Momentum carried me deep down below the crashing waves and I thought I would never breathe again. I emerged spluttering, the salt burning my eyes and my breath roaring into my lungs.

When I was a very young kid we trained for this. Some kind of water survival award. I remembered, kick off your shoes and tie knots in the leg ends of your trousers. Wave them around to fill them with air and then you could use them as something that floated to cling to while you tried to out wait your predicament. I was wearing shorts, so that wasn’t happening, even if the teeth of the gale hadn’t made the trouser waving something of a forlorn hope.

Kicking off the shoes did seem like a good idea, even though they weren’t the heavy brogues of my 1960’s childhood. We were in tropical waters, so I wasn’t going to freeze, but breathing as waves that looked like sky scrapers crashed around me seemed like it would be quite difficult. It was dark, and the ship framed by lightning moved away from me at a sedate, but inexorable, pace.

I realise I was probably going to die for the sake of wanting to feel the storm on my skin and some gin and cigarettes clouding my judgement.

Thousand words – 1

Every day I’m going to try and write a thousand words – just to get myself writing again.

Here are the first ones:


The darkest moments are supposed to be before the dawn.

I’ve never quite worked out how you would tell.

The dawn is a movable feast, depending on the time of year and whether or not you want to be awake for it.

Underneath everything I can remember the faint smell of burning. You get this sometimes when your mind is really low and in a dark place. It’s a symptom of your mental decay, of the rapid spiralling around the plughole of consciousness.

Sometimes it’s the smell of burning worming intimately into your head.

I remember years ago coming home from a course in the countryside. As I approached the City on the train I could smell the burning – maybe this was before coal was banned. I don’t think so though.

Then, of course, there are the times all food tastes of nothing. When things are really bad. When the only thing you can half taste is the rough red wine you prefer hitting the back of your throat. Everything else is ashes and the remembered burning catch of cheap cigarettes.

Sometimes everything is burning.

Sometimes you aren’t fooled by yourself.


The rain patters on the tent. The distant dripping from the trees mixes with the slow, heady sruss of the summer rain. It isn’t cold. When you clamber up and part the zip the fresh earth smells divine.

No more burning. Just quiet. You wish the warm rain would invade your bones and let you sleep a quiet sleep without movement or stretching the time bound. The water reaching deep through the loam and down until it fills the gentle river running by your tent, your senses slowly spreading out becoming a small smear of feeling that slowly turns with the world.

If there were a way back, little piece of sun stuff, if there were a way back, would you take it?

Reconstruct the sharp thing you have become? Your edges jagged and unfeeling, blundering through life, into and out of people. Oblivious to the damage done.

But you aren’t, are you?

That time from so long ago.

When you looked back in anger at a life you could never have. Undeserved. A captain of no ship, a wanderer who can offer no succour to anyone they care about. Those dreams of power, vaunting ambition and beautiful change you could not fulfil.

It takes ego to be those things, and ego terrifies, it wants and hurts the people you should love the most.

So tired.

Sometimes you aren’t fooled by yourself, much.



You come to tell your story of yourself. Unlike most, you are no hero. Most struggle and believe themselves blessed by some god or gods. Whatever they have to do justified by some chain of circumstance too obscure to control the vision.

But we know different. We know we are limited by the reach of our fingers. A gun now, is pointing with a purpose, an arrow seems even more so. These things, weapons, tools increase reach. Make it deeper and more subtle.

But the real knife is your mind. Without it being able to make that subtle cut between self and other the rest would never follow. Like so many you would eventually die staring at your hands, unable to make anything. Without the divide there’s nothing to love or be loved by.

Without the divide there is nothing to see – even mirrors need the divide. For without it, where is the mirror to be? Could you survive without the endless self regard? When you strike out whom do you strike?

Always yourself. Always. That source of torment. Knowing you were once or will be the person you hurt. not just walking in their shoes, but being the source of the shoes’ leather. Once upon a time. Everyone’s mother, father.

The great divide. A hole in the flow, all of creation a vast river drowning and moving all. Time passes because things move about and something can be constructed by a process in your head that makes things seem to happen in some kind of order.

Once this thing was not, and now it is.

How nice.

Sometimes you aren’t fooled by anything.

And the reach of the suffering, the whole world, all of it.


There’s nowhere to go.


You’re already here.

Here is everywhere. Remember the joker explaining that most of everything is empty space, but those electrons move so fast it has the appearance of solid? If you could slow things down enough it would all be empty. Empty and so still. In fact, outside of the gravity well made of fast moving stuff, it’s empty anyway.

People who haven’t seen it don’t understand the pain. Short vicarious stumbling from one moment to another. Building dreams, stories and things that happened almost as if they mattered, or are somehow real.

Underneath it’s all connected, it all flows from the big bang. Break it down into an unfolding series of chimera, the matryoshka dolls of knowing and not knowing.

These forces, these things, they explain that thing that happened.

But then look away. Look at different forces.

Was it the shaping of evolution?

Or the shaping of physics?

Or just simple chemistry?

You step off the plane in a country unfamiliar – now what?

It is all these things and none of them.

The river flows – but what is it made of?

More analysis, more slips through your fingers.

More accepting, more is not understood.

The mind is the sharpest knife. But also very lazy. Thinking is work, so fast crash into simple categories reduces the work to something that can be done.

But then.

You understand, the categories, the cuts, the divisions, the dividing.

You understand – they could be different and still explain everything perfectly well.

Within the limits of your mind.

You can dream of the whole thing – even glimpse it sometimes.

But you can never hold it in your hand.

Shorting Britain

What is shorting?

First, let’s talk about what shorting is in this context.

  • In the financial world you can invest in shares and, all things being well, their value will go up.
  • If you want to, you can also bet against people buying the shares that their value will go down. The exact mechanism for this isn’t worth explaining here.

This also applies to currencies, which are far more volatile.

All the trading in the City is in essence gambling for rich people. It also suffers from them really hating to take any risks. This is where we get the ridiculous notion that failing banks should be bailed out using our taxes from. The people with the power take stupid risks, and then, if they don’t pay off, we bail them out.

All of the stuff you hear about how complex this all is is rubbish. It’s gambling, sometimes disguised by poorly-understood mathematical models, but it’s gambling.

The problem is the risk is all pushed out onto people who can least afford it. The people who make the markets can also set things up so they bet against people like us in the form of our pension funds. We are just money making cattle to them.

This nonsense also applies to the market for things like simple commodities, power and oil, but that’s a discussion for another day.

So how does this relate to the Brexit vote?

Before the narrow vote most people thought that the UK was going to vote to stay in the EU, and the valuation of the pound and British stocks and shares reflected that belief.

If you had known that the value of the pound was going to fall 20%, which would instantly mean that British companies’ stocks quoted in pounds were suddenly 20% cheaper if you were using dollars or euros to buy them, and also that you could take positions in the currency markets betting that it would fall, you would have then been able to make a very large amount of money.

This is why Nigel Farage was seen almost dancing after the vote results were announced and the pound fell dramatically, some say this is why he was talking down the chances of Leave winning right up until the last moment too. His friends all made a lot of cash. It also explains why Boris Johnson and a lot of other prominent Leave campaigners received nice fat donations. See here, also.

The way the gambling works is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a big drop like this that makes them the money. They can also take positions that take advantage of uncertainty, where prices move around a lot, are volatile. Despite all the delusional nonsense spouted about markets they are, in fact driven by what people think and feel. A stock may fall if the CEO of a company does or says something that worries shareholders. The actual value of the company in terms of what it does or owns won’t change, but the sentiments of the market can change the value of the stock. The stocks in the well-regarded companies across a whole country could fall if a politician were to make a decision that would damage that country’s economy.

Similarly, in the currency markets, imagine how much money you could make if you knew that a key politician was about to announce some new madness that would make the market rise or fall before they actually spoke. Of course, this would be corrupt, would be insider trading. It would also be extremely difficult to prove.

But still, when you see various MPs yelling and acting out. Don’t forget that they have friends who can make money out of the uncertainty, as long as they know in advance that there will be surprise resignations and speeches hinting at things that might affect how the UK economy is perceived.

Disaster capitalists

The capitalist class has always made money out of wars and misery, this is nothing new. Wars tend to help them make profits across the whole economy because there is little competition over prices or quality during wartime.

Instead, let us take the example of what happened in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina as described by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine. People were reeling and confused after the floods and the carpetbaggers ran in and changed how things like education were funded, giving parents vouchers that were worth less than their kids previously had allocated for their education and making previously publicly owned and controlled facilities private and unaccountable.

Prime bits of land that happened to have social housing on them suddenly had to be cleared and the housing wasn’t replaced leaving them free to be developed. Similar things happened after the 2004 tsunami in East Asia. Land that people had owned and fished from for generations was suddenly fenced off and hotels built.

Disaster capitalists take natural disaster, states of confusion or crisis and use them to sneak in broad changes that the people hit by the crisis wouldn’t want while their minds are on other things like simple survivial. These opportunists, or their friends, will make money from these changes and leave everybody else with services that are usually more expensive, much harder to access and poorer quality. Or in the case of people in Indonesia, leave them with nothing.

If you look at things like the NHS in Britain, where there has been a deliberate running down of funding to create an artificial crisis you can see that there are many ways to create them. It doesn’t have to be some kind of natural disaster, it can be anything they dream up.

There’s also a false story told. We must privatise because privately owned companies are so much more efficient, they can make profits and provide better services. This has been proved time and again to be a lie. Demonisng the publicly controlled for laziness may have been true once, but it hasn’t been so for thirty years. Usually the funding is cut and the private companies come in. In fact it’s a very clever way of hiding the cuts behind some kind of restructuring so nobody realises there’s far less money in the system than there was. There is no chance for this story to be true. Even if the private companies were capable of doing better the resources won’t be there anyway. The ability of companies that have never run serious health services to do a better job as if by magic is beyond doubtful, anyway.

Selling the commons

The commons is a catch-all word used to signify things that are publicly owned or controlled, for the general good. It originally meant pieces of land that everyone could use to feed their livestock on, but nobody in a particular locale owned it. In more modern times this also applies to things we all need. Like education, housing, health care, power and telecommunications.

The neoliberal project since Thatcher has been to sell all of these assets, paid for and built up by and on behalf of the public, and put them in private hands. Most times this is done at a discount of pennies on the pound. For example, this has meant there is less and less space for affordable housing and what gets built is far too little. This is why rents are so high. We pay exorbitant amounts of money to water and power companies that then pay dividends to directors and shareholders but don’t fix the leaks or upgrade the network. The water companies are willing to give millions of litres of water to the fracking industry. A publicly accountable organisation, controlled by the people who live there, would probably not do so, particularly during a drought.

While the Brexit circus has been going on for the last couple of years, the government have been busy quietly selling off our health service and any other assets it could get its hands on. For example the bailed out banks were sold at a loss, instead of holding on to them until the dividends paid us back.

The Hard Brexit fire sale

Fire sale

You’ve read the apocalyptic stories that say we’re going to find the borders closed with food and medicine shortages if one day the UK is no longer in the EU without having put any firm agreements in place, after having been in there the day before. Any UK companies that export will suddenly be worth far less, the pound will crash and all kinds of difficulties will happen until we’re able to restore some kind of stability.

This means that the UK’s assets will be available at a massive discount while the mess is sorted out by the grown ups. What little that’s still publicly owned and hasn’t been sold by the current conservative government will be auctioned off just to keep the lights on. The wealthy will, of course, weather the storm and come out of it even wealthier, just like they did in 2008. They will probably end up owning even more of our country than they do now.

So what do we do?

All of this is will mean that a few very wealthy people and their stooges not having to face any consequences for their actions. They can be as greedy as they like, they can frack the countryside, they can withdraw from green energy programmes and there are no consequences. Thatcher would have sold everything off but at the time she couldn’t. Even riding high from the Falklands War she couldn’t have swung the wholesale reconstruction of the NHS in private hands, she’d never have been able to sell pieces of it to Tricky Dicky Branson and a host of other dubious companies.

We need to make them afraid again, just like Thatcher was, for all her bluster and fakery.

They need to realise that their venality and corruption will be held to account. They need to think that any gains they make will be short term and temporary, because we will take what’s ours back.

They need to realise that taking a high paid job in a company you were supposed to be regulating is a quick route to prison and ignominy.

We need to take control of our commons, and do it in a way that means they can’t be sold off at some future time.

The current zero integrity, selfish culture, that doesn’t work collectively, that doesn’t hold its servants to account, needs to change.

Fundamentally, we need a vision of society that is fair, where people can control what happens to them and their communities. We need to make sure that a few can’t hurt the many and steal or destroy the commons.

It’s estimated that current benefits changes have contributed to the deaths of over 150,000 people – also see here. Yet the people who did this have faced no consequences. In fact Esther McVey sat smiling in the House of Commons when challenged on this.

We need to make the few realise their actions have consequences they may not like. We need to remind them that they govern us with our consent, not the other way round.

A walk in the park

About 2 months ago I went paddling in my kayak. It’s a tight fit, designed so you can cartwheel. It also has a flat bottom which means it surfs really well but isn’t very fast.

I’m overweight and often find it a little hard to get in and out of the yak, but it’s not that much of a problem. Thing is, I spent a good chunk of January fighting with that cold that lasted for weeks that everyone had. It meant I’d done no physical exercise since December, if not longer ago.

I put all my kit on, the waterproof trousers, the new dry cagoule and so on. I found that the several Kg heavier I was meant that I was being constantly pressed on the diaphragam and couldn’t breathe properly.

I went out with my son onto the water and did the things I always did. I lasted about half an hour and things got worse if anything.

Frankly, I was terrified, I became afraid that I was doing things (or rather not doing things) that meant I was gonna die sooner rather than later.

A friend suggested that I go for a long walk every morning. So I started getting up an hour earlier and doing just that for about three weeks now. Also been listening to useful stuff from Audible while I wander, which helps me think and focus.

I’ve lost about 10Kg and I have energy during the day.

I’m also having a dry month because I was getting to the end of the 9-5 and saying fuck this, let’s have a gin and then not getting anything done.

Been good so far.

Reading and writing

I’ve recently been reading Ursula K Le Guin’s book Steering the Craft.

The format is she discusses a point about writing and then gets you, the reader, to attempt writing something that illustrates the theme she’s addressed in that chapter or section.

The chapter on sentences really made me think about some things that have always bothered me.

She gave an example various forms of sentence with examples taken from various classic works. I personally (as you may gather here) tend towards writing short ones. I often play with words though, so you don’t always get a straight meaning.

She quoted from Dickens, and other writers I’ve always had trouble with. One of the quotes began by naming something, and then spending a lot of time talking about how it affected all the different people in the story and their surroundings. In essence a very long sentence, or group of related sentences. She also says things like Jane Austen writes beautiful sentences that pay being read aloud.

I realised that the reason I have so much trouble with literary fiction and works is that I read for the plot and want to know what happens next.

My years of reading and writing corporate style documents, short sentences, bullet points, constructing easy to grasp breakdowns of complex ideas, has left me wanting to be able to get to the guts of the thing I’m reading rapidly. (See what I did there?)

So I skim. I’ve trained myself to read the first few words of a long paragraph and then dip in and out.

Badly written, repetitive corporate doublespeak is easy to read if you do this. Usually the signal to noise ratio is such that you can get the gist of most things pretty quickly. Literary, proper, writing does not repay this reading style. In fact it’s hard to make out what’s going on at all, which is what makes it so unrewarding for me.

So, I’ve set myself some homework. I’m going to vary my reading style depending on what I’m trying to read. I’m going to make myself work at what I read.

By the way – if you are writing a corporate document or how to guide or something of that style. Assume a reading age of about 12. Use pictures of before and after states rather than words. More than four sentences in a paragraph is putting cognitive load on your readers.

But now I will work harder, and enjoy reading more.

Have fun, people.