Writing – whether a new song or a bit of fiction – is very often like walking along a thin wire over an abyss. The abyss isn’t death but the loss of the idea – if you look down too long, or think too hard about the almost intangible thing you are running through your brain then it’ll go, just like that, and it’ll never come back.

That crucial moment when an idea is just forming is the most precious, fragile thing – you’re a matter of seconds away from falling off the edge. All it takes is one of your kids to ask you a question, for the phone to go, a text to arrive.. and your idea has gone, tumbling down over the edge into nothing.

This is why I find rapid, easy to use tools are absolutely key to the creative process. For music, it’s either Audio Memos on my phone or a piece of paper on the piano (and a totally non-stavelike and slightly quirky musical notation system I seem to use in preference to writing down real notes..). For writing, it’s a paper notebook or Simple Note. When I’ve caught it with one of these, the fear of losing an idea subsides – and that’s when I can turn to more serious tools like Ableton Live or Scrivener to shape and hone.

What’s interesting though is how many times I tend to come back to the original rough-edged bits – a terrible, static-laden recording of a guitar or a half nonsense scribbled down in the middle of the night. These snippets start off as the most fragile thing but further down the line they quite often turn out to be the most important part of the whole idea…

That was…BathCamp 2008

Going away to a land without any internet access (rural Devon, in a valley with no mobile coverage..) immediately after organising something like BathCamp feels a bit odd. On the one hand it’s great to run away and escape the stress, build-up and excitement that comes with running an event like that. On the other, it’s often the few days following an event that really help to mark whether something was a success or not, and missing out on the buzz feels a bit like missing out on the good bit of a party 🙂

It’s now more than a week ago, but I still wanted to chuck out a brief blog post with some thanks and thoughts.

First off, massive thanks to our amazing sponsors – without you, nothing at all would have happened. We ate, venued (?) and drank extremely well, and I think we wanted for nothing. Except maybe space-themed savoury snacks, that is (noted – we’ll sort it out for next time 🙂 ).

I’d particularly like to thank.. Darren Beale of Siftware who went waaay beyond the call of duty by not only sponsoring but also helping us shift baths and drapes, not to mention running an excellent quiz; Peter Gradwell, who – again – not only sponsored, but also provided us with technical support (thanks Gavin!) to help bolster the wifi network in the venue; JR from Invention who helped in so many ways – and under really rather…difficult..circumstances – I can’t possibly mention them all here; Matt Jukes for the multi-function bath / duck habitat / beer cooler (not to mention the ducks themselves…); the awesome Lisa P for organisational skills extraordinaire; Tim B for being amazing and knowing – well, everyone; the other co-organisers for all your hard work; Oh, and the sponsors (again!) – particularly for their flexibility and patience dealing with someone like me who knows NOTHING about sponsorship..; my mum…and…look – you know who you are – thanks…!

Without the people who turned up and did talks, of course, BathCamp would have been a pizza n beer fest without any reason or meaning: fattening, tasty, but ultimately unsatisfying. As it happens, the talks were extraordinary in their range and interestingness, and I’d like to thank everyone who contributed – and everyone who listened and questioned too. One of my core personal aims of BathCamp was to try to create an event where ideas of all kinds – deep tech, light tech, non-tech – were surfaced and shared by people who cared passionately about those ideas. I think it worked.

I’ll leave commentary on sessions to everyone else. Over the coming week, I’ll find some time to try and link stuff together a bit better from the main BathCamp website. For now, you can get a pretty good idea of what people have been saying about the event by checking out this OneTag view. Once again, thanks everyone. You rocked.

Newton vs Einstein

Perfection geneIf you spend any time at all reading this blog (of course you do..) then you’ll know that I have a recurring theme about perfection, ideas, freedom and “justdoit-ness”. I sum it all up on a previous post where I talk about my OPG – Overactive Perfection Gene – which works hard to prevent me from doing stuff rather than just thinking and talking about it. On the left is the “time vs perfection” graph I chucked into that post.

Yesterday there was a superb programme on Radio 4’s “In Our Time” about Newton’s Principia and the Laws of Motion, and about the philosophical as well as physical meaning behind these axioms. It’s well worth a listen. I’m not sure if this is the direct link but it’s somewhere round there…

I’m a geophysicist by training (don’t tell anyone) and so the three laws aren’t new to me, and probably aren’t to you either. What struck me about this programme in particular however was the last five minutes where the guests began to focus in the apparent displacement of Newton’s laws by Einstein a couple of hundred years later. Einstein showed that the Newtonian model of the world was simplistic, that the laws of motion hid something deeper and darker: mass-energy equivalence being the most striking example.

It appears (as far as we can tell right now..) that Einstein is “right”. But like A-level students completing our exams, going to university and then discovering that actually what we’d spent years learning was all an approximation, one of the first questions we naturally ask is “does it actually matter?”.

It would appear not, for the most part. Einstein’s brilliance – his “rightness” – matters a huge amount when we’re nearing the speed of light. But down here as we plod about our normal daily lives, we can cope with the innacuracies. Relativity matters not a jot; actions do have an equal and opposite reaction; gravity acts downwards and relativity is merely a philosophy. As Melvin Bragg said on the program:

…we didn’t need Einstein to put Armstrong on the moon

Like some bad vicar trying desperately hard to relate OK magazine with a verse from the bible, it’s time for me to get to the point. It is this: just as we accept Newton over Einstein even though we know he is essentially “wrong”, if we (and by this I mean me, museums or anyone with ideas) want to shine, we too need to accept imperfection. In fact, I believe we need to learn to actively embrace it. Again calling back to the programme: a mechanistic universe is not by any definition a deterministic one: if we worry and continue to worry about the “what if’s” then we will never grow.

I’m of course always prompted by the discussions around Web2 and museums, which flared again last week on the MCG mailing list (#34). As Nick Poole pointed out, we do have a tendancy to take to our corners and thus risk polarisation, but essentially it boils down to “we should think more” vs “we should do more”.

One of the other speakers on the Radio 4 programme came out with this, which really resonates with me:

the perfect truth is perhaps not to be had, and certainly isn’t necessary for startling and brilliant success

If we can learn to accept a level of chaos, embrace the prevailing direction of travel without actually knowing where we are going to end up, then we stand a chance of actually getting somewhere. If we carry on worrying, we’re going nowhere but backwards…