Urban Adventure in Rotterdam

Urban Adventure in Rotterdam

Not that I’m bored today at work or anything, as you can see: not posting for a month, then here I am warbling on about urban exploration! But then I would really rather be out charting the course of a drain, or sketching the rust scars on a strange unknowable lump of concrete, then sitting here at my desk being a good little IBM sysadmin.

Which I’m not, by the way. I’m not a very good sysadmin: I get annoyed, and wish there were more scope in I.T. for letting things get old and ignored. But there isn’t. You can’t just leave a programme and expect it to develop some mysterious patina (which word, incidentally, means only that green of copper, and Age in general; strictly speaking, of course) that will evoke some imagined, fictional, past time. They just don’t change. They’re boring.

Reading the above website, and I wish now to have

  1. time;
  2. a camera;
  3. my website hosted on an old box under the stairs;
  4. a city with more scope for UE; and
  5. the appropriate bag.

Oddly enough.

How CGDNs might help build a sense of belonging.

My brain is feeling pretty groggy at the moment, so excuse any pointlessness in this post. Not that there’s ever any point to my posts, but that’s beside the point. I’m at work, almost thinking that the afternoon’s nearly half-gone and so, well, what’s the point of doing any more work…

There are, in Australia, these new things called Community Geographic Domain Names, or CGDNs. They are domain names like ‘lyneham.act.au’ — that is, they are domain names in which every component is geographically localising. This is fantastic! I think that having a place online for one’s locality, a place that is easily discernable for new people or new places, has got great potential to act as repository for local stories, knowledge, history, and whatever else people want to use it for. Imagine moving to a new town, and finding the town’s entire history (well, a bit of it anyway) available for browsing, and writen by the very people in it. Like a hiking hut’s register (the book that hikers leave messages in on tracks like the Bibbulmun) but for a whole suburb, town, or region.

I am vaguely thinking about seeing what sort of support there is in the food co-op community for us registering acton.act.au. But maybe I should wait until I feel a little more dedicated to a place — which is actually what I find so interesting about this idea: that it might help people feel more attached to where they live and the people around them. That’s got to be a good thing.

Homeward Bound

Every evening as I head home on the intertown, the view west from the bridge reminds me of all that I love most about Canberra. The sun setting behind Black Mountain, with the ANU tucked in amongst the trees and the lake there, all still and calm, and I wonder what more I could ask for. It’s a pretty unique place, this, and sometimes I forget it, and forget too to notice that lovely feeling of order and belonging that I used to get (quite often) in my first year here; it’s still there, sometimes.

What could be better than a quiet beer at University House, or a food co-op meeting with chapatti and dahl?

Sigh… and still I want to rub my feet in the sand at south beach…

Facebook vs. WordPress

The last few weeks have seen a great number of my friends turn to Facebook (and, of course, I know exactly how many). It’s great, it’s exciting, it’s suddenly become so easy to organise things and we can now all talk about Facebookwhen we meet for a coffee at the Front; however, all is not as funky as one might seem…

Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m all in favour of using Facebook — I just don’t think it should be used for everything. It’s great as a procrastination tool, for example, or for stumbling across long-lost friends, or being sent lovely pictures like this:

Picture: Sam got tapes for 35c.

But Facebook is, despite their oh-so-wonderful API, a closed system. We’re all piling our (desperately interesting, I’m sure) personal information into it, and giving no thought to what will happen to that information in the future. I don’t neccessarilly mean the usual conspiracy theories of governmental data-harvesting or derranged stalkers (they probably apply to wherever one is one the web), but what about ideas of cultural artifact preservation? (I know, I know, no one cares…)

Much of Facebook replicates systems that we’ve been using for years. Why, for example, did they have to build their own private messaging system? What’s wrong with email? Could they not have made it all work together — maybe someone will build an IMAP webmail application for Facebook, and prove my objections aimless.

But that’s all beside the point: I’m a geek, and prefer to build my own. An article in Wired started me off thinking about this, and since then I’ve been doing a bit of reading (eg. SNIX), and here’s my skeleton thus far of a distributed, home-grown, open-source, social networking system:

  • Start with a blog. I prefer WordPress, but the point of all this is that by using open standards it really doesn’t matter what software we use. Post whatever you want (images, movies, audio, anything) and enable comments on everything.
  • Collect feeds. Most blogging tools come with in-built support for news feeds of some kind, usually at least RSS and Atom. Create a page on your blog and aggregate all of your friends’ feeds there.
  • Post coming events. With a plugin like Event Calendar you can post future events, and produce a iCalendar feed to which your friends can subscribe. Add another page, to aggregate your friends’ events.

Unfortunately, that’s about where it ends. How does one have ‘Friends’ on a system that doesn’t mandate common software — or common anything save interchange formats?! I don’t know. Maybe Facebook does rock after all…

But I do know that I’d rather be using my own software, with all content remaining under my control at all times; the methods for sharing this with the world are maturing, and before long will be widespread and useable.

A Walk to the Shops

A journey to 35.25223° South, 149.124475° East.

Before I left the house it occured to me, as an act of recognition of Place (and how people conceptualise it), to find out the global latitude/longitude coordinates of my destination. I promptly forgot to do so, and strode on up the drive, but it was the sort of thing that might go with a mission to know a place. Not that I’m only — or even primarilly — interested in the ‘Facts’, but it also doesn’t matter very much where one starts with learning about a place: anywhere will do, and from there the place will lead us. So I start at the driveway.

I walked up the pitted bitumen, over worn grass and compacted damp clay, and within a dozen paces of the house, leant against an oak to write. MacKennal Street is lined with oak trees, planted all those years ago when (it would seem) Canberra’s planners were still aiming at some European ideal of a nations Capital: nice, neat, wide avenues, lovely for cars. I knealt down by the tree to lean my notebook on my knee, my face close to the green and white lichen covering the old bark. Also thrust to my attention was the long grass at my feet, it’s thick green fringe showing through the sparse covering of fallen leaves. Cars drove past every minute or so, their noise covering the echoing whistles and wobbly warbles of the birds. Their’s was a grey noise, growing slowly as they approached, the actual crunch of tires and roar of engines only being discernible in the instant they passed me. What they thought of me squatting there writing I do not know. I got up and walked on.

The footpath was old and cracked, most chunks being a hand’s span in size, and lots of blue-metal showed in the cement. Canberra footpaths, the older ones at any rate, have the odd feature of a date stamped in one corner of each poured section; this one had none. I stopped to take some notes of what I saw, but my hands were too numb to write more than three lines of messy scribble. I had travelled maybe one hundred meters in all, and was beginning to wonder whether the cold would put a stop to this little experiment in hyperlocal noticing; I blew hot air into my fingers and stomped onward.

I was approaching what some have said to be a thing recognisably Canberran: a round concrete bus stop. I’ve always quite liked these odd, orange, bunkers. There are no advertisements on them, for one thing (for now: damned fools want to change that however), and they feel nice and protective in bad weather. I would’ve sat inside, where I could have written a bit more comfortably, but then no doubt a bus would have stopped for me, so I hid behind the shelter amongst the long grass and acorns. A cat appeared, seeking company and a knee to headbutt, and swished my pen with its tail as I tried to write. Walking on, the cat followed me for ten meters, but I strode on towards the corner.

By the time I came to the worn dirt shortcut across the corner the cat had gone, and my thoughts were turning to the time I was taking for this walk; I was meeting someone at the shops, at some random non-organised time, and I didn’t have a clock. But one shouldn’t let these things get in the way of meaningless investigation!

Turning the corner everything changed: the light was different, the trees less leafy, the whole vibe calmer, neater, smaller. Sill an oak avenue, but the front gardens were less casual (although I hesitate to say ‘more formal’) and with more brick demarkation pillars. The grass covered the clay a bit better, and I felt closer to the shops just in the way people kept their houses.

The leaves had fallen in greater volume in this street, covering everything and blurring the boundary between garden and footpath. Even so, there was here some greater suburbanism (I was, for example, able to sit and write on a low brick wall; luxury indeed!). There was even something of an urbanism, radiating from the shops perhaps, and manifesting itself as stencil art on a concrete pylon — but it didn’t quite have any real grittiness to it.

The brick expanse of the Mormon church was opposite, carefully clipped lawns, satellite dish and vast car-park (for the ‘welcome visitors’ no doubt) all sending me elsewhere for inspiration or interest…

After which, I was all of a sudden There. Crossing the final road on my journey to the shops, waiting for the diesel tanker to pass, it still all seemed like a jolly good way to think about a place. The smallest, slowest journey, carefully made, can yield so much to the inquirer. What a way to build this place-connection! A connection that may, in fact, be something we have to work on. It may not be enough, after all, just to spend time in a place; even long, uninterrupted time mightn’t do it. We must get out, walk a place, read it, actively think about it and explore everything. So much can emerge if we listen: every place must talk to us, if we but listen, and the stories it tells are vital to our own stories.


I learnt a new word today: placeblog. (By saying that, I may be showing myself up to be rather behind the times; if that’s the case, then I guess I am behind the times. Oh well.)

Placeblogging is blogging about place (suprisingly), and generally about a place to which one feels a particular connection. It’s hyperlocal blogging: not going far, but going deep. Exploring where one lives. Blogging about a place to which one has a connection, yes, and also blogging in order to build that connection. In so many ways, each of us building a better relationship with where we live is of vital importance.

A few links: