Wednesday, 24 March 2010

ALD10 Lucy Suchman

Lucy Suchman is an anthropologist of science and technology. She used to hold the position of Principal Scientist and manager of the Work Practice and Technology area at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). Nowadays, she is the Professor of Professor of Anthropology of Science and Technology at Lancaster University, and the Co-Director of the Centre for Science Studies. Her home page is here.

Lucy's work has had a big influence on both my PhD, and the way I try to work with clients. When I was starting out in IT, everybody wanted to get down and build stuff, but compared to me, it seemed they didn't want to sit with the business people, "the users", and talk to them, and listen and observe, and find out what they do all day before they started designing stuff. That's what anthroplogists of technology do, and my journey has been all about finding out what I'm comfortable with, and what I'm good at, and how I can add value.

Lucy's most famous book (still, I think, though I'm no expert) is called 'Plans and Situated Actions'. It explores the differences between they way people talk when people ask us what we're doing ('Plans') and what we do when we are actually trying to get the job done (the Situated Action part.) This is a very important distinction for feminists, because a lot of the talk about work has been done by bosses who are male, and not by the people who actually do the work. It's also very important for knowledge workers in general, and anyone who has ever struggled to explain to an asshat bureaucrat - *cough*, sorry, to a manager, what is that's going on and why it matters. And of course, it is incredibly important for designers, who need to understand people's working practices well enough to create technology that serves its users, rather than slowing us down and getting in our way.

In a profession where most of the geeks are men who fancy themselves as engineers, I'm happy to be known as an anthropologist and an aspiring feminist.

Lucy is a real hero of mine. I'd like her to be your hero too.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

September Gurls

This is the tune that all the Alex Chilton fans seem to be playing this weekend. It's so utterly pubescent: "I loved you... well, never mind".

September gurls do so much
I was your butch and you were touched
I loved you well never mind
I've been crying all the time
December boys got it bad.
December boys got it bad.

September gurls I don't know why
How can I deny what's inside
Even thought I keep away
Maybe we'll love all our days.
December boys got it bad
December boys got it bad

When I get to bed
Late at night
That's the time
She makes things right
Ooh when she makes luv to me..

September gurls do so much
I was your butch and you were touched
I loved you well never mind
I've been crying all the time
December boys got it bad.
December boys got it bad
December boys got it bad

Alex Chilton

“Children by the million / sing for Alex Chilton
When he comes ’round

They sing “I’m in love. What’s that song?
I’m in love with that song.“
('Alex Chilton' by The Replacements)

Alex Chilton sang about teenage love in ways that no other man managed before or since. He sang about a teenage boy's love. Songs like 'Thirteen', 'September Gurls', ''I'm In Love With A Girl" (all 1 minute 48 seconds of it!)

About a year ago, I posted the lyrics to Thirteen,
Won't you let me
Walk you home from school?

Won't you let me
meet you at the pool?
a song that perfectly expresses that astonishing season when you suddenly discover that girls are interesting (what do you mean? well... just... interesting) in a way that they have never been before. A season when you know nothing about girls, but you suddenly decide that you would quite to be with one of them.

(Be with? What the hell are you going on about?
What kind of wanting is that, wanting to be with someone?)

Alex Chilton died in New Orleans on Wednesday night. He was fifty-nine. Old for a teenager; young for a man. He was a year older than my dad when he died. (Nowadays I know, that is young.) And that song, Thirteen... that's the song about the year I discovered girls, which was also the year I discovered my dad was dying

Important stuff. A great many questions,
and no-one to answer them.

The Alex Chilton aong everybody seems to be turning to right now is 'September Gurls' (love that spelling.) I'll go and find the words, and post them here later today.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

My Decade

Ten years ago, I was working for my second Internet startup. had just floated, and we were worried that the bubble was going to burst before we launched.

The bubble did burst. But it's not like we deserved any better. Ten years on, the most important events haven't been about work.

  • The loss of a marriage
  • The death of a child
  • Helping a friend off heroin
  • Bringing a paedophile to justice.

And now it's spring again, I'm starting to feel my way around.

I'm wounded, but healing.

Just so you know what all the song lyrics and cryptic references are about.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Alone With My Monsters

(picture posed by models)

Slow down: Don't fuck with my high
I want be left alone here with my monsters
And say: now it's time
To ride to see lonely girls
And to not put the moves on them

All them tremendous brunettes around
All them tremendous brunettes
All them tremendous brunettes around

Praise now the baby genius
She skips in the shade
Of the lonely sour apple tree
While she snaps on her gum
Her gleaming teeth bared
And the shine that she shows to me

Tremendous brunettes around
All them tremendous brunttes around
Tremendous brunettes around
All them tremendous brunttes around

All of your ill-gotten games
That you have wipped up to a rich, foamy lather, girl
Nameless gnaw off my pains
Like three hundred trumpets and just one is out of tune

All them tremendous brunettes around
All them tremendous brunettes
All them tremendous brunettes around

Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.

Once I was a sentimental thing,
Threw my heart away each spring;
Now a spring romance hasn't got a chance
Promised my first dance to winter;
All I've got to shows a splinter for my little fling!

Spring is here there's no mistaking
Robins building nests from coast to coast
My heart tries to sing
so they won't hear it breaking
Spring can really hang you up the most!

Mornings kiss wakes trees and flowers,
And to them I'd like to drink a toast;
I walk in the park just to kill lonely hours,
Spring can really hang you up the most.

Love came my way, I hope it would last;
We had our day, now that's all in the past!
Spring came along a season of song,
Full of sweet promise but something went wrong!

Doctors once prescribed a tonic,
Sulphur and molasses was the dose;
Didn't help a bit, my condition must be chronic,
Spring can really hang you up the most!

All alone, the party's over,
Old man winter was a gracious host;
But when you keep praying for snow to hide the clover
Spring can really hang you up the most!


Saturday, 13 March 2010

Too Much Caffeine

Video on YouTube

Hangin' round
Downtown by myself
And I had too much time
To sit and think about myself

And then there she was
Like double cherry pie
Yeah there she was
Like disco superfly

I smell sex and candy here
Who's that lounging in my chair
Who's that casting
Devious stares in my direction
Mama this surely is a dream
Yeah mama this surely is a dream

Hangin' round
Downtown by myself
And I had too much caffeine
And I was thinkin' 'bout myself

And then there she was
In platform double suede
Yeah there she was
Like disco lemonade

I smell sex and candy here
Who's that lounging in my chair
Who's that casting
Devious stares in my direction
Mama this surely is a dream
Yeah mama this surely is a dream
Yeah mama this must be my dream.

Words and Music: JOHN WOZNIAK

Video on YouTube

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Just When You Thought It Was Safe

The ink wasn't even dry on that last post when I hard that Mark Linkous was dead.

Mark was the leader of a band called Sparklehorse. I didn't know him, I just bought his records. He'd try to kill himself before. His family released the news. They didn't give details.

So I got out my copy of
( yes, that is the title of the album; yes, it is all one word)
and I had a little cry.

Suicide is still an alarmingly common form of death among men. Especially young men. Me? I prefer the crying.

Spring In My Heart

It's spring in my heart.
Time to begin again.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Keep The Wrong Ones Out

I know. I've been neglecting the blog again.
(I've been in France. It's not an excuse. Sorry.)

When I was a child, I learned to be very good at getting people to leave me alone. Especially predatory paedophiles.
(Are there non-predatory paedophiles?)

Unfortunately persuading people to stay away from me is probably my most sophisticated social skill.

I think it's time I developed some others.

Thursday, 11 February 2010


Oh, it's all fun and games until someone loses their faith.

Teaching the Cat About Mornings

I woke up; it was only fifteen minutes before the alarm went off, so my frustration at being awake in the night immediately changed to "cool! I'm alert, and I can face the day!".

Then, my cat came into the bedroom and decided to sit on my chest. So I talked to her, and stroked her, until I realised that I was trapped, and couldn't do a thing without pushing her off me. So, I gently explained what I was about to do:
"Sorry, baby, but I have to put the kettle on.."

"And now I have to put the heating on..."

"And now I have to put some trousers on..."
It's all about putting stuff on isn't it? I never realised before quite how much.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Tennage Dreams, Pt. 2

Once again. XKCD says it better than I could. It's true. I was a legend in my own mind! Everybody thought I was... a bit odd.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Friday, 5 February 2010

The Long Now

The highlight of my week (in fact, the high light of my year so far) was seeing Brian Eno, one of my all-time heroes, speak at a conference on the reform of the financial system.

The Long Now Foundation has started a Long Finance project to look at long range planning and investment. Someone who is twenty years old today, can expect to live until they are 95. So at the very least, we need a financial system that looks seventy-five years ahead. And that's only one generation.

I was very encouraged that 400 people, mostly from banking and investment, turned up for the day, and took the ideas very seriously.

Brian Eno managed to make U2 interesting. Compared to that, reforming the banking system should not be especially difficult.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Daryl Hall: Sacred Songs

Daryl Hall was best known for being in Hall and Oates, a classic eighties pop'n'soul duo that contained one man who looked like Freddie Mercury and another man who looked Princess Diana.

Relatively few people know about his collaborations with Robert Fripp. the guitarist best known as the leader of King Crimson, and whose particularly English weirdness is almost impossible to describe, but summed up very well by the phrase "happily married to Toyah Wilcox", which indeed he is.

I used to have this album on cassette; I wore the tape out, but then I found it on CD when I went to San Francisco. It stands the test of time, as they say.

I'm a bit disappointed to have found out that the idea for 'Without Tears' was actually taken from a book called 'Magick Without Tears' by Aleister Crowley. I'm not a fan of the occult. I liked the song because it was all about emotions, and being articulate about emotions. Even today, when I cry about all kinds of things, I care very much about being able to talk.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Without Tears

Too much time is wasted on the world
Too much time is wasted on you, girl
Indifferent or cold
A dragged-up scene from an old dream
Does it surprise you where those feelings can go?

Too much power is wasted on the wrong words
Too much power is wasted on the words
And if there's one thing I've learned through the years
It's how to pour my heart out without tears
Without tears.

Earth magic

Looking for the lines
But never knowing that stream
Ley line the spring that's always flowing
Spirals up and down then reverse direction
Don't you wonder where the energy goes?

Too many secrets have been told this way
Too many secrets have been given away
But if there's one thing I've learned through the years
It's how to pour my heart out without tears
Without tears

Earth magic


Thursday, 28 January 2010


Hugh McLeod, the cartoonist who drew "Love Begets Love" just sent me a wonderful quote about Jeff Buckley.

I remember the late, great Jeff Buckley describing "Grace" as "the idea of your own mortality not being that bad, once you've found True Love."

I thought that was worth passing on.

Hugh sells prints of his cartoons from his website at Pay him a visit and spend a little money.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Monday, 25 January 2010

Twenty Ten

I took a long holiday over Christmas and New Year, and went to stay with friends. It was the right thing to do, because I was physically and emotionally tired, and as soon as I got on the train to London I began to feel myself unfolding.

2009 was a moderately good year for me, but I feel very glad the first decade of the century is over. (Apologies to anyone who counts from one and not zero.) It was a hard decade for me, including the death of a child, the end of a marriage and, very nearly, the loss of my whole self.

We live and learn. And we love one another, the best we can.

Happy New Current Year, everybody.

Writ by his own hand this day,
St. Dwynwen's Day,

in the Year of Our Lord Ten Past Eight