2013: The Year in Review

Dec 30 2013

2013 was a chain of islands in a rough and inky sea.

A gathering together of network-enabled weirdos: in a listed former town hall, an empty office block in Manchester, a Brighton coffee shop, a Dutch art gallery, on an East German fishing boat, at a synthetic biology conference at a London university.

A four-thousand word essay on the open hardware efforts of a Polish-American physics graduate. Twenty-thousand words of MSc thesis, written at speed. A preliminary PhD research proposal. A fast-talking, gin-fuelled podcast on science, technology and innovation. A blog post for The Guardian. A series of slightly-too-long talks on 3D printing, design futures, and philanthropy & appropriate technology.

A day lost in Harvard’s Arnold arboretum. A compendium of surreal Japanese ghost stories, translated by a Greek-Irish journalist a hundred year prior, read from the Kindle in an American burger restaurant as the Snowden saga unwound, in real-time, on satellite TV. A feather from a dead turkey found while walking in the New Hampshire woods.

Sensible questions asked of physicists at the Large Hadron Collider. A day spent pretending to be an African subsistence farmer. A day spent trying to convince people I wasn’t a Cylon.

A Sunday morning in Eno River State Park with a university friend, his wife, their dog, and my hangover. Terrible country music, North Carolina barbecue, and Bomberman on the Wii.

A lidar elephant. The bar-tailed godwit. Drones and solar panels and shipping containers and ramps and data-sniffing bins and Google Glass.

2×2 matrices, sketched out with masking tape on an auditorium wall. A tower of smartphones, stacked face-down. Golden rice.

Coffee with a sound artist, with an urbanist, with any number of self-consciously grumpy PhD students. Beer with my brother, my father, former lecturers, and friends. Wine on the roof of a seafront apartment block, after an academic conference, shared with friends on a train. Honest conversations about the future, about family, responsibility, and adulthood in an absence of ready-made scripts.

Private security on campus, and friends on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Skype lag, power outages, and the weight of national borders.

A desk of my own.

The eldritch peaks and troughs of a theremin in the old police cells beneath Brighton town hall, and again, later, layered over field recordings of Arctic wind in the museum’s ice age gallery. A moment of clarity in the middle of an otherwise utterly overwhelming homecoming gig. Mallorcan bagpipes at an ethnomusicology conference. The thrumming of a flatmate’s electric guitar.

Digital photos of Google Maps, postal addresses, and Twitter DMs. Brunch in a diner in Dalston, then a walk along Regent’s canal. A live reading of Jose Luis Borges in a library conference room for Día de Muertos. Birdwatching at Birling Gap.

A stuffed bluejay and a squirrel with an ear trumpetA fictional court case. The drawing of a fly in the men’s urinals at Amsterdam-Schiphol airport, both in itself, as something real, and again, later, as an illustration of ‘nudge’ theory.

 The effervescent froth of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, watched, with colleagues, in a North Carolina movie theatre. One hundred episodes of The Good Wife. The second season of Enlightened; the fourth season of Arrested Development. The second episode of the second series of Black Mirror. Borrowed graphic novels. Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight BehaviourWelcome to Night Vale. YouTube videos of someone else playing The Last Of Us. Bruce Sterling’s Distraction, read in a half-hearted attempt to ignore the turbulence on a night flight from North Carolina to London Heathrow, as the flight crew talked about David Bowie and danced in the aisle.

The reedy voice of David Willetts, UK Minister for Science and Universities. An incorrect bet on the outcome of the German elections. The ever-present ghost of climate change.

A crowdfunded adventure game about a non-existent Kentucky highway.

Misgivings, judgements, anxiety, stress and exhaustion. Grumpy emails sent and received. Procrastination. Insomnia. Failure to leave the house. Friends, new and old, who caught me as I fell.

28 American teenagers wandering, baffled, through a $1.2 million smart home. An Indian tourist visa. Christmas carols, e-cigarettes, and the internet-of-things. The sketchbook of a friendly Angeleno graffiti artist encountered at RDU.

Bitcoin sent to the wrong address, a dead mobile phone, and love for a standard issue Zimbabwe bush pump. An improvised Chinese hornet-killing flame thrower. The invisible, propositional contours of an anarchist innovation studies.

A photoshopped image of the author as Winston Churchill, pasted by an unknown student into a collaborative, live-authored spreadsheet. A pulvarised jet engine, spread upon the floor.

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