Who Am I isn't a question I spend much time thinking about, but it's sufficiently complicated that when I do, I can't quite get a handle on it.

My dad was from north London. My mum's Indian, and what we'd call now a first generation economic migrant -- she moved from Kenya to the UK at 18, for work. Met my dad, married, etc. She was born middle-class in Kenya, until relatively recently she'd never been to India: Technically her ethnic group is "East African Indian."

So her family was part of the Indian diaspora. Her dad - my grandfather - my Nanabapa - was himself a migrant, albeit he was three years old when he was brought by his family to Mombasa from the Indian subcontinent.

What does being a migrant mean to your sense of identity? To be Indian in east Africa; to be ethnically Indian in London... but not part of the larger, more cohesive British Asian community? Displaced over generations. What does it feel like? What's passed on? Apart from the obvious empathies I mean. What subtle, secret gifts have I been given? I don't know. Food is love. The family is Ismaili, it's a pretty liberal branch of Islam, and I have a pretty liberal family.

I'm mixed race, but I don't look it. I look white. I grew up in a particularly white part of the UK, I speak only English, I've never set foot in a mosque. I've been to India on work, and to watch the cricket. Every so often white-appearing people say mildly racist things to me, or mildly Islamophobic things, expecting I'm like them. I'm not.

(Nairobi: Sitting at the back of my grandparents' house eating fried egg and chips and buttered chapatis. The smell of the red soil after the rain.)

Being half Indian and not looking it. I'm met with scepticism when I tell people, white, Indian, and mixed. It's another kind of displacement. What I'm allowed to claim and what I'm not. It can feel like I have a tenuous grip on my background, on my ability to honour my origins.

Sometimes when I imagine my identity, I feel instead an allegiance to the people of the future -- 22nd century people of tangled roots and chai skin.

But we were on holiday in Sicily the last couple of weeks, and we got talking to a few young Sicilians. The culture of Sicily is incredible, Greece, Carthage and Rome all on top of one another; Norman castles with Arabic interiors; halfway between Africa and Europe, a powerful centre to the Mediterranean. People there have light hair and dark hair, brown eyes and blue eyes, all shades. Italian. We were chatting to one light-haired girl and her dark boyfriend: I'm Norman, she said, He's Arab.

The Normans were Vikings who settled in France. They invaded England (and won). They came to Sicily a decade or two short of a thousand years ago. A thousand. The Arabs: Twelve hundred years ago. I'm Norman, he's Arab.

I have a thousand hedged affiliations. Half-caste, is what we used to call ourselves when we were little, watching out for the shocked look in response when we said those crude words. I'm proud, is what I am.

Tough on procrastination, tough on the causes of procrastination

Between one thing and another I've not been posting much here recently. I'd like to say it's because I've been busy, but I think that's insufficient cause. Rather, there are three factors:

  1. Too much busyness of the wrong kind. I've been busy with travel, client work, formally and informally advising startups, coffee meetings, email to arrange coffee meetings, life admin... all of which feels good and helpful, and generating of opportunities. But I've been neglecting my own projects (I include writing here in that category). Which means I've both lost momentum and acclimatised to that loss of momentum. Not only have I deprived myself of the energy that comes from personal creative activity, but this is compounded by:
  2. Procrastination. For me, procrastination often comes from being disconnected from my feelings -- it's fine to not want to do something, the killer is not knowing whether I want to do something or not. Procrastination is an emotional strategy. My capacity to do even unrelated tasks reduces, as I slow down on the task at hand. Recently I've been doing a lot of figuring out what I want out of the future, and I'm not familiar with listening to that part of myself. Between busyness and procrastination, I've been hit by:
  3. Thrashing, where I spend more time moving between things than doing the things themselves. Which further reduces my capacity for productive endeavour, which strengthens the conditions that lead to thrashing, which... Etc.

How to break the loop?

I don't know, but here's a possible strategy: Re-build a habit of personal creative output by climbing the ladder from whatever I'm doing now. I tweet and post photos on Instagram quite happily, and the next level up is writing here.

So, move my fingers, attempt not to think too much about quality, the objective is to start with a blank document and end up publishing it. Repeat.

Repeating might be difficult because I'm imminently off on my summer hols. I'll start when I get back...

Third eye

I started The Martian on the tube -- it's survival sci-fi, told as a diary. I'm a few in-story days in. Also, because my commute is long, I started playing the text-adventure-interactive-fiction Photopia after a tweet by @tomstuart and it's all fast cuts - cinematic really - and my train pulled into my station just as I was typing, reacting to [redacted urgent scene].

Then two minutes later, walking on the street, my phone buzzed: It's a notification for a fictional voicemail on the fictional phone belonging to a fictional person from The Thick of It. @losowsky turned me onto this app, Malcolm Tucker: The Missing Phone. I thought I'd played all the way through yesterday, but it turns out I'm still inside the drama.

Suddenly I'm intermezzo in three narratives simultaneously - all urgent in a time dimension that is moving forward only sporadically - plus IRL -- I feel like an eye has opened in the back of my head and this is the feeling of looking into a dimension where I couldn't even see blackness before, in a direction sideways to space, sideways to time.

Now here I am, on Mars, in London, with a lost phone, in London, under the hot sun by the pool with a drowning girl, in London, on a street now in a cafe now in an office at a desk, typing

San Francisco hardware-ish coffee morning

Last week's coffee morning was awesome -- 20 people, a bunch of demos: music-box software, razor handles (not all hardware is internet-connected), battery monitoring tech for sub-Saharan Africa. Tons of chitter chatter. I promised to send an email with a list of who was there, I'll do that soon.

But first! Next week I'm in San Francisco, so I figured, well, we could have one there. Let's try this...

Thursday 6th August, 9am-ish for a couple of hours. Sightglass Coffee, Soma district (270 7th Street, San Francisco.)

Here's what happens. It's so informal, no introductions. We just find a table and talk about the weather and the cricket. It's nice-not-compulsory to be interested in the hardware world... do bring a demo if you are, I'm always curious to see what's going on.

I've never been to Sightglass before. It might be terrible. I'll try to make the world's tiniest sign on a post-it.

Anyway ALSO I'll be at Foo Camp which is this coming weekend, so do say hi if you'll be there too.

It'd be lovely to hang out. Londoners, normal service will be resumed soon. Keep your eyes on the announce list.

What's new on Machine Supply

Okay! So since I first tweeted about Machine Supply 48 hours ago, there have been 46 books recommended by people-who-aren't-me! In case you missed it, here's where I explain what Machine Supply is.

And, for example, here's my recommendation for Wild Life.

I have also earned Amazon affiliate fees totalling - drumroll - $3.30.


To celebrate I've added a simple way to see new recommendations -- once you're signed in, there's a "What's new" page which lists the 15 most recent.

tbh I'm not totally happy with the functionality, but it'll do as a start.

Machine Supply

I read a bunch of books -- here are the books I read in 2008 which was a particularly good year. Some books are comfort blankets (Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson), some are like the best hikes: a steady workout on the muscles accompanied by epiphany after epiphany after epiphany (Philosophy & Simulation, Manuel DeLanda). Ursula le Guin makes me forget where I am. Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome) makes me laugh out loud, and was the first book recommended to me by Angela. We're now married. So.

Last week I was having a beer with Ben and Tom (literally everyone in this industry is called Ben or Tom or Matt), swapping sci-fi recommendations. It wasn't for finding new books, or at least not exclusively -- knowing what books someone loves is to know a person. I read 104 books in 2008, that was tough going. In the maybe 70 reading years I have available - mod a life-extending singularity cascading its way into reality - I could read a maximum 7,280 books. At all, ever. There are 6,000 books published every day. Knowing what books someone loves is to know their perspective and their journey, to have something special in common, to share a language.

I heard once that geeks come in two flavours: those who read A Thousand Plateaus; those who read Godel, Escher, Bach.

I'm ATP through and through. It changed my life. Here's chapter 1 as a PDF, I used to keep it printed by the door to give out to Jehovah's Witnesses. It's a philosophy roller coaster, a call to arms. Didn't get on with GEB.

I'm Starship Troopers not Dune, The Beatles not the Stones.


Anyway, I like to collect book recommendations. Sometimes I even read the books. At conferences, for years, I've asked people for their 3 recommendations.

Not favourites. Not the books they think I ought to read. Just 3 recommendations, whatever's on their mind. I try to find a board and some post-its and get people to share. Here are some recommendations from Design Engaged in 2004 where I met so many friends for the first time. Here's Matt Jones' version of the same question from Foo in 2014 -- I wasn't there, but touchingly the board is titled "The Matt Webb question: What 3 books should I read this year?" Thank you! I'll be at Foo in a couple of weeks, let's do the same session.

I love to share my recommendations with other people. Here are the books I read in April and May 2015.

So I made a website.

Machine Supply

At Machine Supply I can make a book recommendation by pasting in an Amazon link and writing a short paragraph. Then when I share a link to that (on my blog or on Twitter), my reason comes joined together with two Amazon links... one to the US site and one to the UK site. That's always been a niggle for me, to bundle those things together, to make a recommendation which is easy to share.

I'm classing this as a hobby, which means I'm trying to make the kind of website that I'd use. I'm not a hugely early adopter generally. I don't spend much time kicking the tyres of online services, I need encouragement to keep using things because I'm enormously forgetful, and I'm hugely sceptical about putting words I write into other people's databases rather than plain text on my own laptop.

All of which means -- that's what I'm making. A website to make it easy for me to share book recommendations. Here's my recommendation for The Peripheral (William Gibson), and here it is again as it appears on Twitter.

What was amazing -- and honestly what I hoped would happen, and what I'll make sure the site encourages to happen, but didn't know whether it would happen or not - what was amazing is that a few friends tried out Machine Supply when I tweeted about it yesterday.

And already I've seen @blech recommended Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo. (Now bought on Amazon.) And @chrbutler recommended The Book of Strange New Things - which I also love - and by the way mentioned four other books, one of which is a deeply loved favourite of mine, and the other three I hadn't heard of. So those are now on my books-to-check-out list.

What next?

As it says on the front page, Current status: Pre-pre-alpha, hobby. Links will break. Cities will fall.

I've got a hobby! Haven't had one of those in a while.

Have a play. Let me know if anything breaks. My aim is to make a handy, finely-tuned little crystal. Any and all ideas welcome.

Machine Supply is over here.

Filtered for unknown lands


Two utterly gorgeous Twitter bots:

  1. @infinitedeserts, an infinity of deserts, each more infinite than the last. ASCII-art endless horizons and open sky. I can see the mesas, I can see the desert sun.
  2. @mothgenerator, every few hours a new, random, computer-generated moth, with picture and name. lepidoptera automata.

The last couple hundred years have been anomalous, historically: we've run out of frontiers. Now humanity is pushing on two, outer space and phase space -- the space of all possibilities, explored with algorithm probes. Who can say what we'll find.


List of our dwarf planets, closest to the Sun first:

  • Ceres
  • Pluto
  • Haumea
  • Makemake
  • Eris

But Pluto shouldn't be categorised as a dwarf planet -- we've found out that it's a binary planet with four chaotically orbiting moons. What do we even call that?


Aquaterra, the various lands now under the ocean previously populated by humans, roughly the size of North America.

"When scientists do mention aquaterra, they often call it a 'land bridge' as if ancient people only used it to get from one place we know today to another place we know today. This was not just a bridge. When sea level was low, aquaterra was a vast coastal plain with population densities at least as great as those in the lands above. There were houses, roads, villages and possibly cities. It was all coastal, all flat, and mostly tropical - clearly the best place to live during the ice ages."


an area of land, now lying beneath the southern North Sea, that connected Great Britain to mainland Europe during and after the last Ice Age. It was then gradually flooded by rising sea levels around 6,500 or 6,200 BC. ... It was probably a rich habitat with human habitation in the Mesolithic period, although rising sea levels gradually reduced it to low-lying islands before its final destruction, perhaps following a tsunami caused by the Storegga Slide.


Radio Aporee, found via Warren Ellis' newsletter Orbital Operations where he describes it as a constant stream of field recordings from all over the world. More radio. Continuous synthetic rain.

At the core of, a stochastic audio engine generates a realistic rain shower by randomly drawing sounds from different categories such as light rain, heavier rain, thunder, and water sounds.

Short story. The Library of Babel, by Jorge Luis Borges.

The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors.

The books in the library are infinite, and the text - of 25 letters - appears to be random - the formless and chaotic nature of almost all the books - no two identical.

One which my father saw in a hexagon on circuit fifteen ninety-four was made up of the letters MCV, perversely repeated from the first line to the last. Another (very much consulted in this area) is a mere labyrinth of letters, but the next-to-last page says Oh time thy pyramids.

Coffee morning next week

It's been super ages since the last hardware-ish coffee morning. I'll be hanging out in Old St next week if anyone wants to join...

Thursday 23rd July, 9.30am for a couple of hours, at the Book Club (100 Leonard St).

Here's what happens. i.e. v informal; just chatter; it's nice if you're interested in the hardware world but not mandatory; it might just be me doing my email all morning or it might be a few of us.

Anyway it would be lovely to hang out so do come along. See you next Thursday!

Two other things

  1. Email. You can subscribe to get infrequent coffee morning reminders to your inbox, join the coffee morning announce list here.
  2. San Francisco. I'm going to be in the Bay Area in a couple of weeks, so I'd be up for doing a hardware-ish coffee morning in San Francisco if there's any interest... say Thursday 6 August. What do you reckon? Would you come? Where would we find coffee and a table or two?

Filtered for coherent narratives


The Phantom Time Hypothesis suggests that the early Middle Ages (614-911 A.D.) never happened the implication of which is that Charlemagne was a fictional character and that the year is not 2015, but actually 1718. Somebody jumped the calendar forward; documents were forged.

Mixtape of the Lost Decade: evidence is mounting that points to a 'lost decade' between what we now remember as the 1970s and 1980s. Art, toys and music are all rediscovered -- a distinct era, the 19A0s.

The Internet was better during the 19A0s.


The city of Guntrum at OpenGeofiction, a Google Maps-style collaborative fictional world...

This world is set in modern times, so it doesn't have orcs or elves, but rather power plants, motorways and housing projects. But also picturesque old towns, beautiful national parks and lonely beaches.

(About.), founded 1999, was a web search engine that mapped results to a virtual reality representation of the continent of the same name. More:

The display of search results was a 3D landscape, complete with clusters of structures (related topics) and multilevel buildings (important sites).


The impetus for the Visual Net is Mr. Bray's long-held belief that users find a shared landscape a comfortable, intuitive way to explore various types of information ... a "shared landscape" makes complex arrangements of data usable by the human mind.


A timeline of events in the history of the Pokemon world.

Transformers: A History.


Surkov is one of President Putin's advisers, and has helped him maintain his power for 15 years.

Adam Curtis on Vladislav Surkov and non-linear warfare [video]:

[Surkov] came originally from the avant-garde art world ... what Surkov has done is to import ideas from conceptual art into the very heart of politics. His aim is to undermine peoples' perceptions of the world, so they never know what is really happening.

[creating a politics where] no-one was sure what was real or fake ... A ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it is undefinable

A war where you never know what the enemy are really up to, or even who they are.

[using] the conflict to create a constant state of destabilized perception, in order to manage and control.

We live with a constant vaudeville of contradictory stories that makes it impossible for any real opposition to emerge, because they can't counter it with any coherent narrative of their own.


Surkov published a short story in 2014, just before the Russian invasion of Crimea, Without Sky, set in the future, after the 'fifth world war.' Review in the LRB:

It was the first non-linear war. In the primitive wars of the 19th and 20th centuries it was common for just two sides to fight. Two countries. Two groups of allies. Now four coalitions collided. Not two against two, or three against one. No. All against all.

Surkov: The only things that interest me in the US are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg and Jackson Pollock. I don't need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.

Russia. Pollock. Modern art was a CIA weapon -- The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art - including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko - as a weapon in the Cold War. Why?

Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.


The centrepiece of the CIA campaign became the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a vast jamboree of intellectuals, writers, historians, poets, and artists which was set up with CIA funds in 1950 and run by a CIA agent.

Several inches were cut from Jackson Pollock's Mural by Marcel Duchamp in 1943, so it would fit in Peggy Guggenheim's apartment.

Those inches of canvas have never been found.

Filtered for bad things


Mountains that talk about bad things.

It's weird:

two friendly mountains loudly reciting tweets from around the world. ... [a tweet using the word 'bad'] is picked up and converted by a text-to-speech engine, then loudly recited by the mountains in realtime.

You can also visit this world by using a smartphone to have a 360 degree VR experience as one of the villagers living below the mountains.

Bit shonky in that sometimes the voice of the mountains disappears for me, or the tweets doesn't come through. Reload and retry.


Osper is mobile banking - and a credit card - for kids. Jeez, I'd happily use this.

There's a new mobile-only bank coming to the UK, called Atom.

I'm into this. Unbundle the banks. Experiment with different interfaces for consumer banking.


Hey, so what if the dinosaurs were raptured? Like they were all good Christians and they all ascended and the mammals and birds are the Left Behind and it wasn't a meteor after all.

That's what I thought this book was about, but it turns out Rapture of the Raptor is dinosaur erotica instead.

See also: Taken by the T-Rex.


Crystal shows you the best way to communicate with any coworker, prospect, or customer based on their unique personality.

It's an email plug-in that tells you what phrases to change.

Crystal analyzes public data to tell you how you can expect any given person to behave, how he or she wants to be spoken to, and perhaps more importantly, what you can expect your relationship to be like.