The vinyl of the skies

242 is the new 78

London gave him a feeling of pleasant anonymity, of a measured and timeless courtesy, a feeling that if he had been able to walk on his hands, he would attract very little additional attention. It is, he thought, an older and more complex culture, larded with a certain smugness, shot through with little social nuances and distinctions we never catch, vastly more tolerant of eccentricity.

John D. MacDonald - I Could Go On Singing (Fawcett: 1963)

Peregrine falcons live rent-free in my head thanks to a children’s book about ‘fastest animals’. These crazy bastards can hit 242 mph on a dive. TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY TWO MILES PER HOUR. The landspeed of a dashing cheetah is basically a rounding error when it comes to the dive speed of a Peregrine.

Peregrine falcons also live rent-free in London. There are forty breeding pairs in the city, which is, undeniably, awesome. I used to walk by the occasional urban falconer in the early morning, and even brushed up against Eldan, the famously (Twitter-)screamy Hachette Hawk.

There’s something eccentric (thanks, JDM) about the fact that there exist problems solved by the application of birds of prey. More than that, there’s something graceful: the best solution in this particular instance is the application of a bird of prey. There’s that famous story about NASA spending a billion dollars to develop a Pen That Could Write in Space while the Russians just used a pencil. Peregrines are the pencils of pigeon removal.

(FYI, the NASA story is not only a total fabrication, but the reality is, in fact, the opposite: the best solution was a complicated pen.)

In the case of the Peregrine falcons, they’re a technology that’s somehow, wonderfully, never gone obsolete. For all the more ‘practical’ or ‘cost-efficient’ methods of dealing with the pigeon population, the most effective is still the original: the hand (or claw) that nature dealt us.

Do you have a favourite London newsletter, blog, or writer? Let me know. I get a little twitchy when my newsletter inbox slips below under 500 unreads.

Events [Past]

26 - 28 May at MCM Expo. Amongst other hijinks, I did a panel with Anne - something that hasn’t happened since … well.. the last I think of was both pre-Covid and an actual disaster. This panel was about the debut author experience, and the three authors were absolutely fabulous. They all came into publishing in different ways, and had different - but all inspirational - stories. We spoke about role models and support networks, the importance of good advice, taking your time, never being scared to ask questions, and celebrating good news. Highly recommend Ravena Guron’s This Book Kills and Ayaan Mohamud’s You Think You Know Me, and keeping your eyes open for the release of Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson’s The Principle of Moments (London).

Events [Future]

This week! The Bradford Literature Festival. With the exception of a few days in Belfast (see below), I’ll be all over this. BLF remains my favourite event of the year, and I plan to spend as much time there as possible. (Bradford)

I’ll be chatting with Damian Bradfield, co-founder of WeTransfer, author, and massive champion of the role of creativity. I’m also doing a session with the great Josh Akapo, founder of Archtype and one of the great strategists of our time. We’ll be doing a bit of a ‘Desert Island Discs’ type session, but with ads (and lessons learned), which promises to be good fun.

These are both part of the Creative Economic Conference. As with all of BLF’s activities, this is under the ethical ticketing programme. For the CEC, charity organisations, early career graduates, start-up entrepreneurs, students, creative practitioners, filmmakers, performers, and councillors get free tickets as well. Basically, this is not a wanky pay-for-access session, and I love it.

We’re also celebrating The Kitschies, of course. Tickets (free ones) here.

28-29 June at SPRITE+. The network for researchers and practitioners in the fields of Security, Privacy, Identity, Trust and Engagement. Definitely a ‘worlds colliding’ sort of event, as I’ll be giving a presentation on the lessons that security and trust practitioners can learn from cyberpunk literature. (Belfast)

Vinyl is now outselling CDs. This is one of those facts that is like ‘ZOMG WHAT IS HAPPENING’ and then ‘wait, who still buys CDs’.

CDs might be one of the first substantive technologies where I lived, as an ‘adult’, through the tech’s entire life cycle. CDs weren’t a one-off or a craze: they came, embedded, thrived, and - now - left.

I was working at a Software Etc. when the transition from disk to CD for software first became a thing. The hardware boom (2x, 4x, even 8x!), and also the retail decisions. How many do we order of the 3.5” version versus the CD-ROM version?

At Software Etc., one of the perks was that you were tacitly allowed to ‘check out’ software, play with it, and return it. It would be cleaned, shrinkwrapped and put back on shelf. The advent of CDs meant that our casual and endemic piracy came to an end. However, there was one guy in the metropolitan Kansas City area Software Etc., employee ecosystem that had spent the truly bewildering sum of $4,000 on a CD burner. Let’s call him ‘Scott’. For one shining moment, Scott was the King of the Geeks: technology-enabled social clout. Scott was like the high schooler with the fake ID. Scott sat the Iron Throne. He ruled us all.

Anyway, I think about that guy way too much. Was $4k worth it? When I finally last bought a CD burner, it was at $79. We know, objectively, that tech becomes obsolete. But Scott at least made the most of it. Here’s to Scott: he burned brightly.

When I was in Manchester a few months ago, I stumbled across a cassette tape shop (inside Afflecks, which is the most amazing constellation of subcultures). It reminded me that, although my own CDs are long-gone, I still have a box of mixtapes.

I’m not sure if cassettes-as-album has much appeal. Although cassettes have a certain audio vibe, it isn’t exactly a quality one: so vinyl will have captured the ‘authentic’ soundscape market. But mixtapes can, and should, still keep a cultural place as static, curated objects. It is easy enough to create a playlist with Spotify or YouTube, but a mixtape requires both labour and conviction. You’re not only moving the blocks around, you’ve committed - permanently - to the final formation. Mandatory High Fidelity reference here.

Lavanya Lakshminarayan on how cyberpunk is back, relevant and - most importantly - global. Among the many joys of assembling The Big Book of Cyberpunk was learning about all the spectacular new voices in the genre. The book also tries to provide a platform for global voices that have always been there.

Cyberpunk was a global genre from its inception in the early 1980s: appropriately enough, as some of its underpinning tenets are around the impacts of globalisation and the way culture spreads. Which is a long-winded and slightly self-indulgent way of saying ‘I can’t wait for you to see the table of contents’.

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