Category Archives: Uncategorized

Blocking contactless payment – or, make your bank card a tinfoil hat

How to protect your bank card and still use your Oyster

Contactless payment cards, touch-for-access ID cards, and prepay travelcards all use the same technology – RFID. This is great in principle, but it means that you can’t keep more than one of them together without either confusing the readers, or accidentally using the wrong one. I wanted to be able to touch my wallet on the London Underground Oyster pads, with my bank card in there too, and have it Just Work.

So, I made some shielding! Metal blocks the radio waves that make RFID work. There are a lot of technical or expensive proprietary solutions out there, some of them intensely cool, some actually practical to carry around with you, but here’s mine.

Take a roll of kitchen foil, and cut a piece 200mm (or 8″) square. Fold it in four, and glue it that way. Leave it to dry, trim it a bit if you need to, and hey presto, that’s your RFID shielding card. I like to glue a piece of heavy paper on either side for strength and interestingness – you could always use it to write medical info on, or use a photo of the five-year-old in your life, or an inspirational poem, or a photographer’s rights card.

Tuck it into your wallet, between your bank card and your travel card, as far away from the travel card as possible – this is because if it’s too close behind the travel card when it’s being read, the reflections can bounce back and confuse a relatively low-power reader.

I’ve been using this design more or less daily for the last few months, so I can guarantee it works. It should also make sure that nobody can read your bank card remotely and clone it, but obviously I haven’t tested this. Knowingly, at least. It does mean I can’t make contactless payments without taking the bank card out of my wallet, which is the way I like it.

I’m going to be selling durable versions, with unique art on each, but please don’t let that stop you making your own! In fact, please do, and please show me your designs.

Valentine’s Day

Two-layer card I’m not a fan of the consumption-and-expectation culture, nor of the idea that love is best expressed by garish red heart-shaped dustcatchers from a High Street shop. But there are a lot of other ways to express love, and even when I don’t mark a celebration myself it’s a very rewarding thing to help others do it.

So: here’s one of the designs I’m selling this year. It’s lasercut from Gmund bierpaper (recycled using beer labels and brewery waste) and layered onto an absolutely gorgeous Japanese unryu-textured metallic brass paper. There will be a couple of others too, but I wanted to show off the luxury cards first.

I’ll also be offering package deals – card & envelope, up to three matching gift tags, and a sheet of complementary wrapping paper, all at a very competitive price.

Lighting next week

Next week, I’m lighting “Dinner”, by Moira Buffini, at the Network Theatre underneath Waterloo Station in London. That’s Tuesday 16th October to Friday 19th October – doors open at 19:00 for 19:30, and tickets are £11 from Ticketsource. Click here to download the flyer in PDF.

The lighting won’t be anything particularly fancy, but then this really isn’t the play for it – so if you were thinking of going to this play to see the lighting, wait till my next one! Instead, go to this one for the acting. And the lobsters.

Design & Branding

A couple of extremely talented musician friends asked me to do some graphic design & branding for them recently – here’s the results.
Her Name Means Wolf logo

Her Name Means Wolf is a music project by singer Claudia “Clouds” Guastella which draws many of its influence from British Isles folk. New videos around once a week, or whenever Clouds can get all their computer bits to work.”

Business cards (not mine) These were my birthday present to my partner – last year’s was a studio session to get this recording of trad folk song “Young Hunting” (Child 68) done. Listen, admire, ask for more!

Faux-rosewood finish

Faux-rosewood finish, varnished (first coat) I’m rather pleased with this paint job, so I wanted to post a tutorial on how to do it. It’s done on artist’s mountboard (I’m making a display case for jewellery, for me to use when selling my work) but any smooth surface will work.

The first thing to do is to paint it black, paint it black again, and then drybrush red over it. I use System 3 Mars Black acrylic – any black will work, but you’ll probably want to use acrylic rather than anything that might be picked up, redissolved, or smeared around by the next layer, like poster paint (gouache) or watercolour. You’ll want a medium-smooth finish on the black, finding a compromise between roughness (to hold specks of the red) and smoothness (so that the red beads interestingly rather than coating it evenly) but that’s easy to get.

Dry-brushing brushThe red I use is Winsor & Newton Galeria Cadmium Red Hue, but any warmish medium red will do. Dry-brushing is just what it sounds like: painting with practically nothing on your brush. It helps to have a crap brush here – that’s mine on the right, after something like six years of generalised abuse. I use it for dry-brushing because it’s not much good for anything else, and because the accumulated crap in the body of the bristles means it can’t hold much paint at all. I like to think of this technique as polishing the red on, rather than painting with it. You’ll want to brush mostly along one axis, to keep the “grain direction”, but a bit of messing around is entirely encouraged. If you get actual deep-red spots, take a bit more black and dry-brush over the red with that. You can’t really ruin the finish by doing that – if you get too much black, put more red on!

When it’s done, varnish it as usual – I use matte Mod Podge as an all-purpose sealant & to bring out the colours & highlights. The picture at the top shows it after the first coat, but I’ll normally do three or so, for strength and water resistance.

Transforming Spaces

I went to this conference on Saturday, at Firstsite in Colchester – it was a really good, inspiring day.

Since a lot of you won’t be familiar with the empty shops movement, here’s a short executive summary. There are a lot of disused commercial & retail spaces in the UK, and that’s only set to increase. There are also a great many creative people who don’t have, and can’t get, the capital & guaranteed income stream to make use of them at market rents. (Not to mention: the requirement for that sort of income stream rules out a lot of really good & innovative uses for these sites which just wouldn’t generate enough to pay a market rent, business rates, and running costs.) There are some legal & organisational tools which remove a lot of the barriers, both for landlords and for tenants.

The day opened, of course, with a bit of coffee & networking. As Eva said, artists hate that word but can’t stop doing it. When you reframe it as just chatting to each other about your practice & experiences, swapping useful contacts & tips for getting things done, artists look at you oddly and start wondering whether there are really people who don’t do that instinctively.
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The myth of farming

I’ve seen a quotation go around Twitter lately:

“Liberals think the poor need jobs, when really the poor need to not need jobs: but land, skills & tools to provide their own necessities.”


It’s attractive on the face of it (who doesn’t want a cottage, a garden, a pig, and a workshop?), but when unpacked a bit gets incredibly problematic. First up, we have “Liberals think”—that’s a red flag right there. It’s a polarizing political argument, and it’s an Americanized one, fairly uncritically buying into the Liberal/Conservative dichotomy consensus.

Second, we have someone telling us what “the poor” really need, and in specific opposition to what [X other non-poor group] think they need. If you need me to explain why that’s a bad thing, please leave your name & postal address in the comments.

Now, as for “jobs” balanced against “land, skills & tools to provide their own necessities”—really, this is comparing apples to porridge oats and telling us we can only have one of them. [Editorial note: I’m going to be using “us” fairly freely in this post, because I’m both one of the first-world-poor and one of the privileged trying to find solutions. I’m deliberately not talking about the global poor, because I don’t have any personal experience there.]

When I was grumbling about this on Twitter, Farah Mendlesohn summed it up: “The history of the world can be written as people trying to escape the land.”

Land is important, there’s no way to contest that. It’s almost the only place food comes from, and it’s pretty much the only form of capital you can immediately put to work and make some sort of subsistence from. On the other hand, not all land is created equal; all land requires specialist knowledge to profit from; all land requires near-constant hard physical work; and most of it is in really inconvenient locations. In addition, all land requires external inputs for sustainability: not only does your first batch of seed have to come from somewhere, but simple mathematics mean that no matter how religiously you compost you’ll need to add in some fertilizer too, to compensate for all the delicious tasty biomass you’re extracting from it. For that matter, where did your garden fork come from, and what about the next one when it breaks? We can do more than we think on a smallholding, but we can’t do everything, especially in the crucial first two years. (NB: I’m talking about arable farming here, and there’s a great deal of marginal land that isn’t suitable for that, but pastoral farming has almost all the same problems, with a larger initial investment and a longer gap between profit phases.)

So therefore, nobody will ever be free of the cash economy, and we don’t want to be—we installed it for a reason, and that reason is because it gets us useful stuff. It’s nice to think that we’ll be able to make enough money selling crops at the farmer’s market, but that’s difficult enough as it is with few-enough people trying to do it that it achieves niche-market/specialty-product status. It wouldn’t be able to compete with supermarkets. We all have crafts & hobbies that are potentially slightly monetizable, but as for fitting those in around subsistence farming… no.

In addition, land is one of the most inflexible forms of capital there is. Most of it is only fit for a few particular purposes (even discounting planning laws) and at least in the UK all of it is difficult to sell to someone who isn’t going to cover it in concrete & incomers.

So, yes: people have always wanted to escape the land, to get someone else to do the work of primary resource extraction and leverage economies of scale, whilst they get on with providing other services and having fun adventures. Which isn’t to say that farming can’t be fun… if you’re young & not disabled, or if you’re sitting pretty managing a floating workforce of young people to go out in the rain before dawn for you or shovel three hundredweight of shite. (And yes, I’ve done those, and more.)

There’s a flipside, though, which is that a particular class of people have always wanted to keep other, poorer people on the land. This isn’t just to ensure that the food (and timber, and wool, and coal, and so forth) supply keeps coming; it’s to keep society quiet, too. A more mobile society is a more informed, more restless, less deferential society—especially because mobility tends towards cities, and towards either skilled trades or crime. (Cf. Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down.)

So one way to translate the original quotation would be something like this.

“The poor shouldn’t aspire to flexible lives or portfolio careers—smallholding and subsistence farming is good enough for them. I couldn’t do it myself, of course.”

Another, more generous way would be something like this.

Everyone should have access both to employment and to resources, and to the training & support they need to make the most of each. Nobody should be barred from either, or forced to remain in either.

That sounds idealistic, but it’s not; doing that would be pragmatically good for everyone. Encouraging fluidity means that the market will signal more efficiently, and fulfilling the hierarchy of needs removes a lot of the drag and friction from economic life.

A (short & incomplete) pragmatics of feminism

Problem: the world is largely run by muppets.
Observation: the world is largely run by privileged straight cis men (SCM). [Disclaimer: this also includes race, class, disability, &c. issues. Intersectionality applies, so ticking one box doesn’t give you a free pass on the rest.]
Observation: there are many fewer SCM than there are of Everyone Else.
Assumption: the ratio of muppetry to non-muppetry is more or less constant across different demographics, ie. if 15% of SCM are muppets then about 15% of Jewish lesbians are also muppets.
Corollary: a nontrivial number of SCM achieve leadership positions despite being muppets.
Corollary: a nontrivial number of Everyone Else are barred from leadership positions despite competence.
Therefore: opening up leadership positions to people who are not SCM is an easy win, expanding the pool of non-muppets available for leadership positions.
However: some SCM do not want to see the pool expanded, because that reduces their chances of a leadership position if they are muppets.
Also: many SCM do not care very much about the inclusion of Everyone Else in the potential leadership pool, for reasons including (but not limited to): because they do not see it as their problem; because they would actively rather things were run by groups of “proven competence”; or because they believe in pure meritocracy.
Also also: it’s a self-perpetuating problem, because SCM are generally bad at listening to people who are not perceived to be in the potential leadership pool.
Therefore: the SCM who Get It must deal with the other SCM, and need to be responsible themselves for promoting Everybody Else. It is not only, or even mostly, their job, but it isn’t Somebody Else’s Problem, and the results won’t be Somebody Else’s Win.

Truth and Beauty – The Future We Deserve, Part 3

Or, Heuristics for History. You know the drill; italics are my own editorial comments or summaries. Everything else is Vinay Gupta’s, and he wishes me to say that he likes being contradicted and argued with.

From the last couple of talks in this series: we understand the system and its limitations. Now, what can we do?

The formation of a political identity in a post-democratic age.

It’s blatantly obvious that democracy has failed, because there are serious problems that aren’t being solved. We have threats on two scales – civilisational and ontological.

About half of the people in the room grew up in the shadow of global nuclear war, the age of false rationality, game theory, death cults and MAD. And those death cults never went away. This is the forbidden history of Western Civilisation.

But there’s rational hope! We can fix the world in the small gap—20 years at the outside—between nuclear death and open-source bioweapons.

The military think of this as “increasing small group lethality” – how many people can two dozen competent, dedicated, well equipped people kill? The answer is in the billions.

The population of Israel is 5.5 million.

“We are within sight of the end of the causes of human conflict”. That is, the (socio)technology for fixing the big problems mostly exists; it needs to be properly tested and scaled up.

What we need is a combined socio-technical system WITH psychological transformation (“not a New Age but a New Us”), ie. a combination of government + engineers. Bad civil engineering is killing the world. We build what we want to, so the trick will be to want something else.

[We do, in fact, have everything we need to bribe the bad actors into not being bad actors—good food, good music, art, comfort, happy people around them. We just have to teach them to want it.]

The four causes of conflict: too little, too much, philosophical beliefs, and psychological traumas, eg. feuding. Poverty can be alleviated; resources can be rationally shared (violence inhibits rational sharing & polarizes people); and the harmful cultural associations that go along with religion can be unpicked from the religion itself. In fact, religions have been doing that a lot already. [I am not convinced about that part. That might be my Quaker background showing, though.]

“Star Trek is like Thelema for everyone.”

PTSD and cultural analogues are substantially curable by therapy, drugs (MDMA), and critical theory. (The Israeli military is dosing their troops up on Ecstasy to make sure they don’t get PTSD from everything they see & do. Israel also has a very thriving rave scene.)

Is the plan of eliminating the causes of conflict impossible, or just unreasonable? Islands of progress are very real.

The energy problem is looking much more solvable than it was 20 years ago. Nanosolar, Konarka, algal turf scrubbers. Renewable energy costs are going down by 7% a year, and by 2019 they’ll be cheaper than coal. [Not convinced all the externalities are included in that price estimate. The energy sector is the worst non-black entity there is for fudging prices and distorting markets.]

The Technological Abyss: that which saves, destroys. There’s almost no global technological regulation. Can we get out of it? – yes!

Recap: inequitable resource distribution, ineffective governance. So, it’s not worth engaging in democracy any longer except as a maintenance activity – 15 minutes every 4 years and that’s it.

Fixing organisations: use a FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) model. Let a thousand flowers bloom, prune where needed, compost the dead. The classic capital-investment/directed-labour model of building assets is manifestly inadequate, because there is no possible way that any amount of money could ever have been turned into Wikipedia.

These organisations use non-scarce resources; they’re organic, evolutionary, and bottom-up. They’re labour-intensive, using many minds, with layers of open-source oversight, and inherently resistant to screwups.

How do we apply the FOSS/WP model to governance? – it’ll probably only work for non-scarce resources.

Can we fix scarcity problems with non-scarce resources? History says yes, because there are a lot of occasions where it’s been done—eg. the horse collar, the plough.

Ingenuity is not scarce. (However, the ability to manage it is.)

Imagine a global policy wiki – a global intellectual commons in which smart people work for free, collecting and showcasing best practice in legislation and policymaking for everyone’s use. When lazy policymakers, or their assistants, want a solution to a problem? – check the wiki, cut and paste. Make it easy and obvious and it will get used.

A coordinated sustainable development commons: a roadmap for lifting people out of poverty, governance strategies for very big planetary assets.

The world is full of working solutions and best practices. Most of them aren’t documented. [Known problem: people who Do Stuff generally hate documenting Stuff, and are not very good at it. Also, the kind of things that get documented on the internet are the kind of things that the people who document stuff on the internet like.]

Doing what Governments can’t.
– Pathological incentives exist at every level.
– Every funding stream is contaminated.
– There is no state which is charged with solving global problems. The total UN budget is one-third of what Indians send home to India.

Commons-based peer production.

“If you want to save the world, be prepared to work for free” – because there is no entity whose job it is to pay you to do it.

Complexity control: the people who are good at this are generally engineers. Sciences, arts, and that’s it.

“Richard Stallman is the old white man in a beard that makes the world work.” GNU/Linux is more than free.

Governments are not malicious—they are incompetent. It’s at least a scale problem – there are a number of different pathologies involved. And most people within governments know this, and will grab at any branch they’re offered.

Superempowerment, or, How to become an Actor in History.
1. Focus on the problem.
2. Do not expect to get paid.
3. Work until it is solved. [And we all know what the reward for a job well done is…]

Also: don’t fart around solving local problems. We need you at the global level. [Hm. Not sure about this one. Some people are better suited to local problems… but then a lot of local solutions are scalable and/or generalisable. Think globally, prototype locally?]

Individual responsibility:
– Our power and agency are inalienable, despite having historically delegated them to governments.
– Our current forms of collective social organisation are inadequate to the challenges of now.
– Diabolical new technology requires new forms of management.

Radical new identity:
– build a platform on top of the state. Rebuild collectives as individuals.

Fighting the thing that caused the problem—or the thing that is failing to solve the problem—is not the same as solving the problem.

Wikiocracy. A governance model which clearly gets decision-making right will outperform lawmakers.

The social relationship online favours (and makes easy) collaboration: it’s a positively biased medium. “Nobody’s ever died in a flame war.” [Wrong. The internet has directly enabled many deaths, eg. from cyber-bullying, and a great deal of dangerous harassment. See “highly gendered internet” debate, passim.]

Cooperate with your enemies. Take individual responsibility. Guide the lost. Preserve and protect (eg. from enclosure – CC or GFDL, &c.) Wait for rollover, and keep working. (Rollover: something dramatic is going to happen to the concept & constitution of the state within the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years.)

Post-political identity.
– We’re going to solve the problem, rather than make other people solve the problem.
– Who cares about people who are wrong? Stop arguing with them.
– Embrace and extend old mediums.
– Only individuals can reconstitute.

Practical things: correct language (define every we, so we know who is talking); correct thought (stop waiting for the government to fix things); correct action (work out who can solve the problem, and help them).

If the answer to the last question is “nobody”: then it’s your turn.

Learn to unsee the State and the Organisations.

A few interesting & miscellaneous things that came up in conversation afterwards: