Monday, January 29, 2007

The Agreeability of Pseudonymity

Ever since someone who went by the name of "my black ass" (complete with associated animated gif) pointed out that my alias on "loubrown" wasn't too inventive, I've been wondering about the relative strengths of having an online pseudonym and the relative weakness of having my identity so clearly strewn across the internet superhighways.

I "came out" in terms of my online persona in response to a lot of soul searching about the fact I worked for a new media department and so might have vested interests or biased opinions that I should be open about.

It wasn't like I was planning some Belle de Jour type revelations (those were the days my friend) or a grand whistle blowing (over a year in, and no evidence of a need for it), but I didn't fancy sneaking around wondering if people knew who I was or could work it out. OK, so I also realised I was less likely to write anything too offensive or incriminating (small lapse in judgment notwithstanding).

However, I now find myself actually embarassed by how much I'm shouting my real name from the virtual rooftops especially as numerous colleagues are now coming out as bloggers and social networkers under various guises. It's a bit like my user names are ALL CAPS and spoken v-e-r-y d-e-l-i-b-e-r-a-t-e-l-y. Loubrown, louby, louisebrown... Yes that's me! Yoo-hoo! Here I am!

There is something so much cooler about having a pseudonym. It's like being the Scarlet Pimpernel or Superman; only a select few know the real you, and everyone else is dying to find out.

My time-suckingly dreadful forays into Second Life as "Thora Turk" (you are forced to choose a first and last name for your character) gave me a flavour of what it might be like to have a pseudonym and associated virtual image. Unfortunately my poor Second Life programming skills meant that rather than the Lara Croft-like Amazon astride the virtual world of my fantasies, Thora/I ended up as a plumpish Japanese schoolgirl with quite big boobs and a ragged, slightly gothic wardrobe and a tendency to accidentally end up sitting on top of road signs.

I blame age. I come from the days of the Internet when to get your real name in hotmail was to have kudos. I leapt at the chance to get a (on my terms) cool gmail address but soon found out the downside having since been saddled with a stream of incorrectly addressed email meant for my numerous dopplegangers (one of them having issues with insurance, another a big skiing fan). If you've sent anything dreadfully personal to me that I haven't responded to, watch out, you might end up in The Metro if the email was incorrectly addressed.

I now have the additional worry that I'll end up giving away enough information here to steal my identity without having to rifle through my bin or glue together my shredded bank statements. There are photos, reading materials, bound to be a biography up there somewhere. People should realise that the idea of your porn name (Name of first pet + Mother's maiden name) was probably cooked up by a really smart identity thief ("How on earth can I get people to reveal the answers to their security questions?).

In fact, my only comfort is that, rather like the owner of a rashly requested tattoo, the likes of "my black ass" will wake up one of these days to find himself saddled with a once-cool but now plain embarassing pseudonym that it's just too hard to change. In the meantime, I'll just have to relax back into my relative lack of obscurity.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Enough Geekery, Back to the Literary

Bukowski's The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills was resurrected from my storage boxes a month or so ago.

When I first pulled it out I marvelled at how the publishers had aged the cover as if it had been left to mellow amongst the emptied bottles of wine and discarded betting slips on the floor of "a 6 dollar a week/room/in Chinatown".

On second inspection I noted the wine stains and candle wax were mine from when I was living not that far from London's Chinatown and my books (and I) lived in piles on my living room floor (mind you, rent was a bit higher). Let's just say I was no Emily Dickinson.

Same as a lot of others, mostly male, I am attracted to tales of his experiences and such a life lived. The poems smack of "loving, fucking, eating, shitting" with additional high- and low-lights provided by drinking and gambling.

Some poems burst with bravado, like when "My Boy Bobby" came in and then a "beautiful whore" showed him "all the tricks of wonderland" whilst they listened to Carmen, although he confesses "days and nights like that just don't happen too often". Most others paint a bleaker picture, shot through with wild energy and cadaverous lethargy.

I recommend reading a whole volume like this. Taken as a whole, you embrace the world of extremes, drunken memories recounted as if covered by a film of dirt suddenly pierced by bright, sinuous flashes of nature. I loved the energy of the verse and palpable longing of "18 cars full of men thinking of what could have been":
"I saw a woman in green
all rump and breast and dizziness running across the street.
she was as sexy as a green and drunken antelope..."
There is nastiness and violence to be stomached here, same as in the house of any hardcore drunk. He prowls and pads catlike through his poems and life, lolling with one evil eye open and watchful, then exploding into vicious hissing action. Although I confess I laughed out loud at the scenario he describes in "what seems to be the trouble, gentlemen?" when the police break into a hotel room where:

"I had the sofa in front of the door
and the chain on,
the 2nd movement of Brahms' First Symphony
and my hand halfway up the ass of a broad old enough to be my
Saving the best 'til last, the absolute highlight are those mourning for his dead lover Jane. I was moved to tears by "With All the Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough" which I would encourage you to read (hence link), the last image of the forlorn, child-like lover gently sobbing "but/they will not/give her back to me" killed me.

Yeah, so I love it - some of you will, some of you won't. Oh, and I also saw Factotum recently which is another film based on one of Bukowski's works (first film like this was Barfly) and it was pretty good. So also a DVD recommendation for those of you who can't be bothered to read the book. And for the rest of you, I'll leave you with some online footage (it's a documentary cut into parts) that I just spent way too long watching.

Note on formatting: I now find that line spacing weirdness after block quotes is a bug. If you've got this far, you can forgive me, I'm sure.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Tagging, Labelling, Categorization

One of my criticisms of Gmail in my last post was the labelling system which is basically a version of tagging common to a lot of new web sites and services.

For those of you uninitiated and who can’t be bothered to read Wikipedia, it’s a sort of indexing by readers/users/viewers of content whereby articles, pictures, videos, even people can be associated with any word or phrase that an individual user chooses to – for either their personal use (e.g. an email in gmail) and/or the use of other people on the site (e.g. public photos on flickr). This allows for faster, more flexible ways of finding content giving dimensions of relevancy that a search engine can't compete with e.g. until last week, Leo Sayer would not have been tagged “big brother” but would be now and could have been the second he moved into the Big Brother house.

For an insight into my own crazed mind, I thought I'd review the tags I've created:

  • I tag on mainly about work - it's a bit messy and inconsistent, but I like the fact I might help someone else find an interesting or useful article that I’ve stumbled upon and one of these days I will get around to tidying up the tags. I use other people's tags a lot here, so there's a lot of give and take going on.
  • I tag on quite selfishly, as by tagging music here I can create virtual radio stations by tag for each of my moods - I very rarely use others' tags, occasionally music genres. On reviewing these, I'm not entirely happy that I can't edit them, as you can all find out that I find "An Old Whore's Diet" a "sexy" song.
  • I’ve even had tag anxiety, worrying that my recent additions to Flickr may have been tagged with an incorrectly identified bridge. You can see here that I love looking at Rome as much as I do Robert.

So why, you’re dying to know, haven’t I started to tag my emails? Actually, to contradict my cynicism yesterday, I think it comes down to Gmail's great, prominent and trustworthy search. Rather like when you leave a coat on indoors before you go back into the cold, I've never felt the benefit. What each of the above tagging systems do is improve or enable existing or new services which is why I've persisted in using them.

The reason I've been thinking about this stuff is because we're currently working on a new site, and I've been considering potential features and thinking about how users would actually benefit from each of them. Would I, for example, want to tag myself, and if so - how? "Essex", "Anxious", "Ego", "Laugh", "Big" is about as good as I've come up with for now without getting into an all-too-revealing self analysis. I suppose the location and mental state might be handy for some, but possibly in order to avoid me rather than make a connection.

In fact, the other place where I find it a bit unrewarding to tag is actually the categories that I can assign to each blog post here. Tagging something “Saddam Hussein” or “Google” seems to rather overblow the importance of this blog. But I've started to do it, I have used it on occasion to find a past post, it's just a little depressing when the real thrust of each post could be much more neatly tagged as “me” “myself” and “I”.

Monday, January 08, 2007

On the Rebound: The Truth about Me and Google

Google’s emergence in search neatly coincided with when I first got a job at Microsoft as the business manager of the newly launched MSN Search UK. When I left Microsoft five years later, I went through a manic phase from which I’m only just emerging.

It was somewhat akin to throwing oneself into a passionate love affair with someone I’d flirted with through a doomed, dull marriage. Shamelessly, I switched to gmail, telling everyone at Microsoft when I left that was how they would contact me rather than good old hotmail despite it matching the kind of disk space that anyone would want.

Then the amount I googled everyone, everything and anything bordered on the obscene (even I had succumbed to internal best practice which was at least to try MSN Search first).

Finally I reignited my blogger flame, which has brought us together here today.

One of the last hang ups I carried with me was my use of Start, one of the only products – apart from MSN Messenger – that I really believed in, and was at the very least developed genuinely apace with small start ups in a nascent 2.0 world.

It’s a dead simple start page with inbuilt RSS reader that became my default as soon as I found about it and the agile development team behind it. It very quickly even got Scoble’s seal of approval, so it had to be cool, right?

I was probably the last person using it. I started to get embarrassed when people noticed me using Start and hated explaining it, thinking that people might think of me as being deliberately obtuse (“I am Queen Geek, hear me roar!”) or a bit dumb (“You can take the girl out of Microsoft…”).

It felt quite cleansing to finally move to Google reader last week, like I’d thrown away the final photos of me and an old partner – you know, the ones you really want to throw away last – the ones where you both look really nice and quite sexy.

After I’d imported my OPML file I have to tell you, I felt pretty smug about how close Google and I had now become.

Sadly, it took a matter of days for me to realise that me and Google wasn't the answer I'd been looking for. It’s not that easy to organise your feeds, and it can be quite slow both to render and navigate about. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. But so is … Word. And Excel. They are you know, they’re quite good.

Then everything came crashing round my ears. Gmail is a bit annoying, it’s not as pretty as Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail and the much vaunted labelling system is the only tagging system of a web product that I don’t actually use. And I’ve been left with way too many emails in my inbox. I don’t need to delete any emails because of the stonking storage system but - whisper -I actually would quite like to get rid of some crap.

But I couldn’t see it. I’d just moved from one overly controlling, co-dependent relationship to another. Looking back, since university all I’d done was move from Marxist to Microserf to Google-dependent. It’s never a good feeling when you realise you’re in a rebound relationship, and especially not one it’s really hard to leave.

So yeah it was a rebound, ok? I can’t help it if I’m attracted to big strong multinationals who promise the answer to everything with their tidy packages. I just have to come to terms with the fact it’s all a fairy tale that was never going to work.

Or I could just buy a Mac…

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Outsider: Saddam Hussein

An existentialist classic I sadly didn't read when studying existentialism, Camus' The Outsider grips you like a cold hand on your heart - your own hand, finally feeling the blood pumping and oozing through and around the organ, the crude nature of that symbol of your loves and passions palpable in its offal nature.

I finally read it for the first time last week when, at the same time, I kept feeling a similar pall of reality observing the brief scenes and frozen shots of Saddam Hussein (about to be) executed that declared all media outlets open for business in 2007.

When I'd seen him in court during the trial, he was visibly shaken, confused and angry, pathetically attempting to disrupt proceedings with his shouts and slogans. The thought kept coming back to me that this was a man who was finally being confronted with the fact that he was just a man, having did what he did because he did and it was wrong; all reasonings, justfications and grand plans whether ideological, spiritual or material, were a nonsense.

Read the book. Watch the footage if you must. Both have enforced some of my increasingly entrenched views. I do not believe in the death penalty. I do not believe in the right of one person to take another's life. I do not believe in the death penalty as a/n effective punishment.

A friend bought me The Outsider a relatively short while ago. I would recommend it to anyone who feels the disquiet of the current cultural atmosphere (whatever is post- post-modern vs. fundamentalism) and especially anyone affected by the brutal execution of this misguided world leader.

Coming soon: how I learnt to forget about world worries and love Google's RSS reader.