w a s h i n g t o n

[ 18:16 monday 13 november – washington dulles airport gate b32 ]

i’m used to arriving at airports at the last moment but today i heeded jodie’s warnings of impossible traffic on the freeway and hour-long queues at security and set out far in advance of my flight. however i evidently over-compensated and consequently my experience of the airport has been unusually relaxed. i had time to take some photographs of the beautiful swooping architecture of the main terminal (eero saarinen’s work?). now i’m sitting in the cavernous “concourse b” complex with its polished floor stretching off into the distance and a pervasive hush. my flight will start boarding any moment.

this has been an exciting week to be in the united states. many people, myself included, had a sense of foreboding that the democrats would not do as well as anticipated in the mid-term elections. there was an awful prospect that they might fail to gain a majority in the house, even against such an unpopular administration. but as i went to sleep in my hotel on tuesday night it was clear such anxieties were misplaced. virginia itself turned out to be one of the crucial contests in the senate elections but there was little excitement on the streets of charlottesville beyond a few balloons in the webb office on main street.

speaking with people in the days following the election i sensed a subtle shift, a new optimism. people are sanguine about the democrats’ capacity to screw things up royally over the next couple of years but more widely the election is seen as a symbol of momentum towards the centre. extreme candidates from both parties were rejected. the successful democrats were those who spoke like moderate republicans. in a polity that has been characterised by acute polarisation this, at least, is encouraging.

: c :

v i r g i n i a

[ 21:12 tuesday 7 november – charlottesville, virginia ]

a vietnamese restaurant in an old garage by the railway tracks. there’s me and one other diner. outside the tarmac sparkles in the incessant rain.

i’ve been in washington dc for the last few days, staying with jodie in her flat above the firework explosions of the autumn trees in rock creek park. the congressional elections are today so i was a little sad to leave washington and travel to charlottesville. last night i walked around the white house at midnight. everything was silent and deserted.

charlottesville is home to the university of virginia. students are much in evidence. this afternoon i was stopped by a gaggle of them who wished to know if i had voted. good for them, i thought, and explained that as one of her majesty’s subjects i was sadly ineligible to vote. they smiled, looking a little uncertain.

: c :

e n r o n : c o n t i n u e d

[ 23:07 thursday 26 october – shipton street, london ]

19,156 people have visited the enron explorer in the two days since my last despatch. nineteen thousand people! when i got home from the airport on tuesday night and turned on my computer i discovered that during the flight cory doctorow had posted my message from vienna onto his popular weblog “boingboing” and several thousand people had already been to the site. since then it’s been mentioned on eighty other weblogs around the world along with some items in traditional media. the financial times had a sweet little piece. the wall street journal’s was somewhat drier. forbes magazine interviewed me yesterday and there’ll be an article in their next issue.

i expect the hubbub will die down over the next couple of days. but this foray has brought us a good deal of attention and appears to have given pleasure to a large number of people. for me and my friends in trampoline it’s been an exciting and slightly surreal couple of days.

: c :

e n r o n

[ 20:28 tuesday 24 october – austrian airlines flight 457, vienna to london ]

this afternoon i left a meeting in the middle of vienna and walked into a metro station. on the platform a video screen was announcing that jeffrey skilling, former boss of enron, had been sentenced by the houston courts to twenty-four years in prison. this was a moment i’d been waiting for. i quickly found a cafe with a wireless internet connection, got a link to trampoline hq in london and started putting wheels in motion.

over the last few weeks all of us in trampoline have been getting to know mr skilling and his colleagues via two hundred thousand of enron’s internal emails dating from 1999 to 2002. the archive was released into the public domain during the fraud investigation. earlier this year we needed a large body of data to test the analytic technologies we were developing and jan hit on the idea of using the enron material.

that’s how it started. but there was something hypnotic about the contents of the archive and it gradually took on a life beyond its testbed role. it’s an extraordinary snapshot of a large corporation going about its daily life, with you the viewer able to peek in voyeuristically at every level from the highest executives to the lowest clerical workers. the same mix of the mundane and the bizarre probably exists in any large corporate email system, but normally you don’t get to see it. what strikes one is not so much the pettiness, machismo and cynicism of day to day business; but the way outside life presses in from every side. endless mails organising tickets for baseball matches, fraught messages from kenneth lay’s daughter about arrangements for her marriage, travelogues from mark skilling (jeff’s brother) in istanbul, office romances of varying degrees of sordidness (one couple organised liaisons in a car park). all life is represented.

in the end we decided to put the whole test system on our website so anyone could explore it. we knew skilling’s sentencing was coming up and this seemed likely to be the point when most people would be interested. hence my reaction to this afternoon’s news report. after getting a green light from the team in london i spent the next three hours in the cafe pinging off emails telling people about “enron explorer”. who knows whether anything will come of it. for the next couple of hours i’m cut off from the world.

for anyone interested, you’ll find all the enron emails at http://enron.trampolinesystems.com

: c :

f o t o s : j u n e – a u g u s t

[ 01:14 thursday 19 october – shipton street, london ]

in the summer apple kindly gave me a new speedy laptop to replace mine, which was suffering a crazy succession of hardware failures. big smiles all round, until i discovered the new machine wasn’t compatible with my nikon film scanner. cue a massive backlog of slides. finally i lugged another computer back from the office, scanned the slides with that, transfered them onto the office network then downloaded them onto my laptop. it’s been a bit of a palaver but here are four new sets of photos.

in cornwall with anna and adam, june
odds and ends from london, june to august
the last days of dexter’s shop on brick lane, july
the green man festival, august

: c :

l u x e m b o u r g

[ 10:10 friday 6 october 2006 – luxembourg airport ]

sitting in the airport cafe with a sour and expensive capuccino, looking out at the windwsept tarmac whilst “delayed” signs creep flickeringly across the information board. thus my first visit to luxembourg draws to a close.

i arrived twenty-four hours ago to the minute, one of fifteen technology entrepreneurs from across europe invited to the european investment bank to discuss innovation finance with policy bigwigs from the bank, the european commission and the european investment fund. it was an intriguing experience, if mildly depressing.

luxembourg itself seemed like an amalgam of middle-european cliches, constructed from film set architecture and populated by central casting. even my voracious photographic appetite was thwarted. i wandered about with my camera in increasing desperation, taking precisely one photo. by the end i felt quite shaken. the two high points were a shop with lighting made from upturned cement buckets and the taxi ride to the airport, during which the driver babbled away incomprehensibly about sherlock holmes and napoleon in a freeform mix of french, german, italian and heaven knows what heathen tongues.

: c :

s a n f r a n c i s c o

[ 00:18 wednesday 20 september – shipton street ]

my feet have scarcely touched ground the last few weeks. after my travels in calabria, sicily and stromboli i had one (stressful) day in london before flying out on a trampoline mission to san francisco. i only got back to london this afternoon so i’m feeling a little dazed right now.

this was my third visit to northern california. initially i found its jumbled self-invented culture too escapist and unconcerned with worldly problems. but with more exposure i’m warming to it.

bolinas showed me that the vapid zen aphorisms could be accompanied by a frenetic engagement in village-level issues. it is somehow surprising to find such stubborn localism in a landscape where everything is so very large.

sergio accompanied me for the california trip which made it much more fun than it would otherwise have been. thursday was my birthday so we went out to dinner and ate a pile of oysters. on saturday night a covey of drag queens roped sergio into joining in an extraordinary performance in the castro. it’s the first time i’ve actually seen him blush. on sunday we took the bus up the coast from marin city to bolinas and spent an idyllic day walking through the tall hushed redwoods and watching pelicans from the beach. i wish we could have stayed longer.

: c :

c r a t e r i

[ 19:33 friday 8 september – stromboli ]

i’m on top of the volcano with irena, angelo and their two dogs niki and tano. we got here half an hour ago after a brisk ascent. the sun melted into the sea ten minutes ago but it’s still just about possible to see the islands of salina, filicudi and alicudi stretching away to the horizon.

we’re perched on the edge of the escarpment where it falls away to the craters below. the volcano’s more active than i’ve ever seen it. the westernmost crater has built up a lava cone with a constant glow of magma inside. every ten minutes or so there’s a blast of gas followed by a deafening roar as a jet of magma shoots vertically upward. thirty seconds later we’re dusted by a shower of fine grit falling from the sky. a second crater ejects a more typical fan-shaped eruption every twenty minutes and a third wide-mouthed crater makes a deep explosive boom, scattering lava in all diirections.

i don’t stand a chance of describing what it’s like to be here so i’d better shut up.

: c :