A Commonplace

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30/9/2017

Towards a Mildly Sentient Shed

It's the end of January - we're already one month into 2015. The day before yesterday I read stories about this guy who blogged non-stop for fifteen years - and it inspired me to start writing more regularly - after yesterday's ranting effort, some people might wish that I hadn't, but there you go.

I write a lot, but most of it isn't for publication. What do I write about when I'm writing in private? Neurotic shit. I have an ache, I have a pain, I'm think I'm going to die, I should go to the doctors and on and on. Other neurotic shit - I should do more exercise, I should do more yoga, I should sort my finances out. Apparently there's research that shows that sitting down and writing exactly what you feel makes you feel better, so maybe it isn't such a dumb idea after all. What would be a dumb idea would be sharing it with other people.

The other thing that I do when I'm writing my diary, or whatever it's called is "play" with ideas. I can't think of a better word for it, even though in England, the word has certain negative connotations. But that's what I'm doing. I have this mental shed[1] - I go in it. Instead of hammering things or sanding things or painting models of spitfires and then sticking stickers on them, I kick ideas about. Just like in real sheds most of my enthusiasms are laying about half-finished, unpainted. If people were to ask me about them, I'd be slightly embarrassed and do that little dance people do when you pick up their unfinished projects and say "Oh yes, that? Verbal Self-defence, yes, I really must get back to that one day." Or "The effects of tempo and timing on project management - yes I should really have another look at that."

It would be easy to get depressed about all these projects lying (laying? Fuck, I always need to look that up - I've just checked, it's "lying") about my mental shed, but I remember reading Steven Johnson's book "Where Good Ideas Come From". He was firmly of the opinion that good ideas come from chaotic thinking, messy laboratories, disordered reading, not from ordered thinking. The metaphor he used (which I think is from Shakespeare) is a "tangled bank" - a bit of land where all sorts of different plants are growing, not a neat, manicured garden.

So maybe it's time to dust off some of those old projects and see if I can get them to some sort of completion - on the other hand...

[1] Reminds me of this story. I used to work in this weird part of computer science called "ubiquitous computing". And at the time most of the people in the field were getting really excited about filling people's houses with all sorts of gadgets that would track your movements through the house - turn the lights on in a morning when it was time to get up, that sort of stuff (they all turned out to be uninhabitable). Pretty much what people are now calling the internet of things. Basically you know that Looney Tunes cartoon from the 30's were the house of the future gets out of control - they thought that would be a good thing.

And I was talking to this ambitious research who was clearly on the way to becoming a professor and asked him what his next project was going to be.

"Oh, we're going to fill this house with lots of technology that tracks you as you move around it and senses your every need - we're going to call it the Aware Home - how about you?" "Yeah - I don't think we've got that kind of budget. I think we might manage a mildly sentient shed." See that look he gave me? That's why English people think Americans don't have a sense of humour.