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And I do not know how to say Thank You yet

At some point while I was in mid air, Cameron and Salmond signed a referendum agreement. It seemed appropriate somehow, as a yes vote would make me as much as a foreigner in Scotland as I am in Budapest. And if Britain were to leave Europe, as one of the crazy cabinet had just suggested, I might have to get myself out fast, before my fair home dies from the cold.

I worked thru a copy of the New Scientist on the plane. It was classic New Scientist – cover story announces that the grand unified answer has finally been found. The article turns out to be an interesting exploration of a branch of physics, finishing with the ‘possibly this could lead to a new way of unifying the four laws of physics with quantum theory’. It was about thermodynamics and the second law which as a youngster I felt sure must be wrong. Indignantly I cried – but a brick is more ordered than a swamp, a house more ordered than a brick, a book more ordered than a million conversations that led to it. But growing up, like a man accepting at last that he grows old, I can fight the second law no more.

The article suggested time was just a unit of entropy, a marker to designate the ever increase complexity, again like an aged brain filled with more thoughts and regrets than a young one. Maybe that’s why we yearn to stay young, and why as soon as their child is grown up a parent wants grandchildren from them, so they can hang out with such a low-entropy being once more. Maybe not. For when the sun shines – as it did on day 3 – I remember that the second law refers to closed systems. The earth is far from closed, and as the sun pounds us with her power every second, when the clouds are parted, there’s no risk of heat death for a few billion more years. Keep it grey and cloudy for a month, and it feels like there’s only so much juice to go round, and what there is must be conserved. So if I must live somewhere as an expat, not a native, maybe one with a steady supply of sunshine.

I’ve chosen to explore a new kind of life, after a year or two of alarm bells regularly ringing as I slip into an aging, balding, widening monotone of tech support peppered with occasional speaking engagements and tempered by bouts of excess. Instead I want to try out one where I work and travel at the same time. I want to see more of the world and – except for a meeting every once in a while – I work only from my laptop. AirBNB makes it cost not much more to rent an appartment than I was paying for my flat and office in Glasgow. And I get to see the world and taste a bit of that ek-stasis – movement – ecstasy.

It’s an experiment. That’s why I’m blogging it.

So I got off the plane, lost in thoughts about entropy, dopey from too little sleep and suddenly aware that I didn’t know a single word of Hungarian, not even ‘thank you’. I’d downloaded two free aps earlier – Lingapol Lite and En-Hu Free and while I stood in the wait for baggage I took a look. En-Hu Free was a dictionary, useful, but not the phrases I needed. Lingapol gave me ‘essentials’ for free and I could upgrade with more complex phrases if I needed. The interface was straightforward – and soon, with relief, I learnt that Helló means Hello and that goodbye sounds like ‘see ya’. But there’s no numbers or how to ask for a coffee so I paid 69p for the upgrade. All those other aps that asked for me to pay up-front may have been better, but I got to taste enough of the developers’ skills to not think twice about it.

Still, I spent my first 24 hours speaking little, ashamed to be so lingually lacking. But then I noticed that a lot of the people speaking in English weren’t Brits and Americans – they were Europeans too. It’s far more likely that a Croatian and a Dutch woman will both speak English together and – I’m not sure why I’d never noticed this before on all my travels – I realised how lucky I was to speak that language. It’s a bit like carrying travellers cheques. The music in the shops, from Queen to any number of obscure indie bands – even the (amazing) Hungarian band I saw on my second night, mixed Hungarian rapping with soulful verses in English. We have such an inferiority complex us Brits that some tend to compensate with bravado swagger, but we don’t need to. People here seem to like that I am from England, which is quite a novel experience.

I did have a bit of a moment tho, as I tried to find my way to the flat. I get on the bus OK. Spent a while at the bus station trying to find the metro station, and find only a ticket machine which takes coins. I return to a shopping centre to break my 1000f note, go back to the machine, seem to have lost the coins, and go thru my pockets a dozen times to try and find them. I listen to the conversations like they will start to make sense to me but they are indecipherable. I try to read the signs and notices like I might guess how to pronounce them but I’m lost. I realise I am quite a stranger here. So I go back to the shopping centre to change another note and – tho I’ve avoided Tesco’s for some years – fall into the superstore like it was home. George Michael plays and even that is welcome. It’s remarkable – there’s Tesco’s Finest and Value and tortelini packs and ready meals with english names. I wonder around now, so tired and my brain so exhausted from having taken too much in, that I zombie around the aisles with my wheely suitcase. There’s Kettle crisps and Warbuttons and Lurpack Organic, and never have I felt so happy to see brands I know.

The irony that a year to the day after the start of the European Occupy movement, I’m finding brands as the one common language that helps me connect with this foreign world. It made me think what my great-uncle Ernest, had pointed out the day before. In reference to the Nobel price he put it simply – “after centuries of fighting, European countries were getting better and better at having wars with each other, and in the last one 60 million people died [2.5% of the world population]. So the European project was just to make absolutely sure that we were all so connected thru trade that it could never happen again.”

Maybe Milliband was right, and capitalism is the ‘least worse’ system we have, in that it encourages countries separated by traumatic history and language, to work with each other. And maybe it’s changing into something different now, a kind of networked capitalism that is much less hierarchical and more-decentralised – because that’s how the web works, both culturally and technically, and the web’s the only growth area left.

I make it to the flat – which also speaks the international language of Ikea, tho thankfully with a local accent. It’s perfect, this is what I need. A place to write, a city to walk in, and few excuses to go home. Very grateful, even if running out of cash.


My life as a game: notes from the tenth Nordic Game Conference

Nordic Game Developers Conference at 10I arrived for once a little early, as the last gold balloons were being lifted into place. I decided to walk the block, attempting to hide my game industry noobiness with some assertive power walking. Ah a river. I will gaze across it with a sense of confidence, a metaphorical eye on the future. All is fine.

So as I was scribbling this blog in a cafe in Bristol, the guy opposite told me "I never play video games, not since Duke Nukem in university". And then a few miutes later he mentions playing something on his phone: Words with Friends. He's got four games on the go and plays all the time, but it's not a video game or a copmuter game in his mind, and suddenly it hits me that most of the world with smart phones are playing games - be it Solitaire or Suduko, but many might not even know it. It was a big wake up for me (and I recommend him Ruzzle - a kind of Scrabble meets Candy Crush that I played at the conference from a stand that gave me much needed free socks).

Anyway, back to Malmö, home to the Nordic Game Conference. I was not quite sure how I'd ended up with my pass. I'd been tipped off by a game developer about a free Unity for Storytellers session from Nordic Transmedia that afternoon and after sprinkling the signup form with a few words it had somehow grown into a conference badge, and here I was (thanks Hans and Cecilie!). With the gold balloons bobbing as I returned to the main hall I saw it was the conference's tenth year, just like it was ten years since I was last in Sweden, an experience I've still not quite got over.

Occulus, lucid dreams & the Zuck

So I wonder inside and the first big stand I see is for Oculus, and I watch a man inside what looks like a simulation of a living room with two kids playing a sword fight in front of him. It's a virtual family and in the middle of this slightly cold exhibition space, he's able to pretend he's in a nice home, surrounded by his virtual kids. The guy pulls his headset off looking flustered. 'Try it without headphones on' he's told, but he looks uncomfortable and pulls away. Something about the sight of it all puts me off wanting to have a play. I just want to find him and ask what it was like - but I never get a chance.

This game looked really interesting and moody - like an 8bit Wong Kar WaiI instead go and play with some nice big Wacom pads as I think about it all. Like many a nerd I've of course been following the Oculus Rift since the initial Kickstarter, and after reading about how players of Oculus were getting lucid and very vivid dreams - even in people who hadn't remembered a dream in years - I became fascinated how this insanely powerful and immersive piece of technology could impact our neurology.

I remember a short film I saw at IDFA a few years back about how virtual reality was being used to treat chronic pain with a form of mindfulness training using virtual environments that responded to breathing. As the 'player' wondered around a virtual space, trees would blow and blossom as their breath slowed, and they calmed down, helping to reinforce the neural pathways that associated being calm and mindful with the 'reward' of a pleasant, blissful environment. VR has also been used quite a lot with post-traumatic stress disorder apparently pretty successfully.


French Letter: Paris Gare de Lyon, May 16

Flickr CC shot by La Petite Gourmande 'Stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you'

Ray Bradbury


Dear Tom,

It has been a while. I forget whose turn it is, but for sake of ease I shall both ask and answer my own question - a simple one.

Where am I?

It is a device, more than a question, to uncork my tongue as I sit here, in Paris's Gare De Lyon. Life shakes its stuff around me, and I shudder inside with the weariness of one who didn't sleep before he left, who has been travelling for 12 hours and is a good half a country away from where he should be right now, and a further city of soho-istas between him and a warm, if not comfy, bed.

You missed the man with the roses.


Edinburgh in August is one of my favourite places in the world

 edThe first time. I can never forget that. Shunted to the outskirts of town to watch Robert LePage juggle love and war in his heartstopping multimedia devised play the Seven Streams of the River Ota, which would eventually run at 7 hours by the time I last saw it at the National, years later. Stuart Lee and Richard Herring in pre Jerry Springer the Opera days chumming with Jenny Eclair. The street theatre. The train ride back home. Next time was a step further with the theatre company formed at school on the wave of inspiration that followed me back from that first visit in 95. This was Simon Armitage's first play, Eclipse, about the meeting of the sun and moon one afternoon in 1999, and the effect it had on the teenagers who witnessed it thereafter. Our venue seated 20, sold out some days, and convinced us eager bunch of 18 year olds that anything, really, was possible if you set your mind to it.

That time I had my first glimpse of the film festival too. A brutal innocence smashing group trip to watch Cronenberg's Crash. A day's workshop with Daniel Batsek and Richard Jones and an insurance salesman-like man from Winchester Films, talking through the process of making and marketing a film. There was the time we blagged our way onto BBC2's Edinburgh Nights to promote our play, and spent the day clogging the Royal Mile with a circle of leaflets covering our bodies, and the evenings after the show bouncing off the walls like Daleks as we discovered DJ Shadow and Portishead and cheap resin out of the watchful eye of our parents.