Category Archives: Austria

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 :

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t e e

[ 12:30 thursday 19 february – “nice rice” cafe, mariahilfer strasse, vienna ]

back again for a pot of green tea.

this visit to vienna has been the first time i’ve used the combination of bluetooth (a radio link from my powerbook to my mobile phone) and gprs (mobile phone to the internet) to maintain a connection whilst traveling. it works well. without any new configurations i can connect from other countries using my uk orange account. unlike the infra-red link i was using on stromboli, with bluetooth it doesn’t matter where the phone is so i can connect even if the phone is in my pocket or my backpack.

right at the end of the lunch break in yesterday’s renewable energy conference, a lady from the austrian foreign ministry came up to me and asked if i could give her a quick demonstration of trampoline. i was able to plonk my computer on a table, connect to the internet at once, and give her a whisk round the system before the next seminar commenced. i am becoming some kind of glorified traveling salesman, ready to trot out my wares at any opportunity.

in the evening i had a yen to search out some off-mainstream entertainment, so i connected and found a site providing information about underground parties and events here in vienna. having chosen one that looked promising i set off around ten for the periphery of the city armed with vague address details garnered from the site. for over an hour i wandered up and down streets trying to find the place amongst the strip clubs and run-down bars. i was close to giving up when i had the inspiration that “U-Bahnbögen” might mean railway arches and turned my attention to the railway running down the centre of the street rather than the buildings lining its sides. sure enough i found my goal, a bar called “chelsea”, occupying four successive arches. going in i found it packed and lively, low lights, the walls packed with enamel signs advertising beverages. pushing through the crowd from one arch to the next i got to the final one just in time to catch the last set of a band called “jellybeat”. the line-up comprised a lead vocalist who appeared to be pregnant, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboard player with a 1980s oberheim synthesizer, roland digital piano and de-rigeur ibook running a drum sequencer. the music was the kind of rock-plus-deranged-electronics that i have encountered and enjoyed so much in london in the past couple of years. i took some photos, danced a bit and chatted with a couple of the friendly people.

the one sad thing is that now i have finally made it to vienna and my friends gustl and valerie, who live here, are in india of all places. it’s hard to catch up with people who travel so much.

in a couple of hours i will set out for the airport and thence london. i will be sad to leave this city.

: c*

v i e n n e s e w h i r l

[ 00:45 tuesday 3 february – shipton street, london ]

a quick glance round my desk. 1 steel tape measure. thirty or forty business cards associated with sustainable enterprise, renewable energy and venture capital. aphex twin’s “classics” album, freshly sucked into my powerbook. the thick wadge of guidelines for a government r&d grant programme. a big brown elastic band. “the augmented social network” by jordan, hauser and foster, printed from the internet.

things feel more settled. i adapt. i worry about adapting too much.

last wednesday afternoon the sky went dark and snow began to tumble and flurry around the windows. snow divides london into two tribes. there are those who shuffle grimly along the streets filled with resentment at this unwelcome element that disrupts meticulous timetables and makes the daily walk from the underground an effort. there are those seized with childlike excitement and glee, for whom every white-capped car is ripe for scooping snowballs and every icy pathway begs to be slid along.

as the snow began to fall, a retired irish judge sat in a tall red chair and pronounced his verdict (deliberately, word by word, without excitement) on the future of journalism in britain. by the evening the chairman of the bbc had resigned. during events it deems important the bbc streams its 24 hour news channel on the web. whilst i worked i followed the news presenters and journalists struggling to report objectively as their institution crumbled before the hutton-blown whirlwind. occasionally an emotion peeked through, an edge of desperation discernible in an interviewer’s questioning or urgency-seized reporters interrupting one another pell-mell. somehow these moments of cracking sang-froid conveyed the significance of what had happened more eloquently than the slew of reportage.

at two o’clock last thursday the director general of the bbc resigned. greg dyke is not a man about whom i have ever given a thought in the past. his reputation in the television industry was based on bringing a talking rat on board a moribund programme and thereby reviving its fortunes. however during these days he has become a sort of hero to me, a martyr to journalistic freedom and integrity where i least expected to see one.

in the past the bbc has inspired ambivalence in me. compared with other mainstream current affairs broadcasters it does seem to sustain more balanced reporting of events, but that is like saying “compared with other junk food a big whopper is not too bad”. a big whopper is still revolting and the bbc still reflects paternalistic establishment values, just a shade more liberal and less grotesquely partial than cnn. however faced with the likelihood that the bbc will now be shorn of what little critical freedom it has exercised i realise how much i will miss it, and how much worse off the world will be without it.

the bbc has been around for eighty years and its castration is a moment of some historical import. a couple of hours after mr dyke’s resignation the photographer couldn’t resist the chance to be among the group of disconsolate bbc employees who had left their work and were hovering in front of broadcasting house. so around four o’clock, at a convenient break in my work, i took to my bike and sped through the snow-covered streets to central london. to my disappointment the truculent employees had already gone back to their warm desks and all that remained in front of broadcasting house were a gaggle of film crews and cameramen. i wandered about, looking for something interesting to photograph. suddenly there was a commotion. people started grabbing their equipment and a lady trotted past nervous muttering at me “he’s coming out, he’ll get into this car” gesturing to the large lexus beside which i was standing. and sure enough at that moment greg dyke came out of the door and up to the side of the car, just a metre and a half from me from me. the next thirty seconds were chaos, a barrage of questions and flashes and people pushing to get a good view. it’s hard to say why, but i felt a strong liking for mr dyke. he seemed extraordinarily relaxed and there was a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. when asked if he had anything to say to tony blair, he paused, looked at the journalist who’d fielded the question, smiled and said “no”. then he got into the car. i got about a dozen photos.

[ 21:05 wednesday 18 february – “nice rice” cafe, mariahilfer strasse, vienna ]

here’s what i do. i write these things, then i don’t send them because i want to add to them or rewrite them or whatever. my “drafts” folder is a graveyard of half-baked jottings that never made it to the outbox. almost daily i have an urge to write something new, yet nine times out of ten i do not. this is all very frustrating. surely i can develop less dysfunctional writing habits. i look back with a kind of nostalgia to 1999 and my time on st agnes when unselfconsciously i’d record every change in the sea state or my mood and broadcast it without a second thought. now i seem to be much more self-conscious.

it also seems that i spend less of my time documenting things. between 1999 and 2002 i was constantly carrying a computer, two cameras (slides and digital) and my diary. several hours each day were devoted to recording what i was doing and seeing. between 1997 and 1999 i was also recording what i was hearing, carrying a minidisc recorder and microphone at all times. my friends got used to me sitting on the floor in a club and scribbling for half an hour in my diary, or pulling out my computer on the beach at night to write about the starlight reflected on the water. in the past year my behaviour in this regard has become slightly less narcissistic. this is probably a good thing, but there was something exhilarating about my hyper-documentation which i miss.

now i am sitting here in a tiny and rather magical vegetarian cafe on a cobbled alleyway in vienna. the walls are yellow and there is a big blue painting on one wall depicting snooty diners sitting along a table with curled-up noses. the tea and food (vegetarian) are excellent. i’m in vienna for a couple of meetings with partners in the foreign office’s renewable energy partnership, discussing trampoline and introducing the directors from south america, eastern europe and the united states to working with the system.

i like the city much more than i expected. the people are gentle and wry. the architecture is absurd, it makes me feel that i am in a fairy tale and have stumbled into a city built by giants. it never occurred to me before that the baroque style would be an appropriate vehicle for inspiring imperial awe amongst citizens.

on tuesday afternoon i went through a door in a courtyard and found myself in the augustenkirche. this is an enormous old church, long and narrow with a pitched roof that goes up and up and up, stylistically much more sober than the others i have seen here. as my eyes adjusted to the gloom and i walked through the building, my footsteps echoing, it became clear that i was the only person in there. no sign even of a priest. as i reached the centre of the church i stopped and stood there for many minutes looking up at the evening light reflecting in the huge chandeliers, the rumble of traffic infinitely distant. there was something magical about being there, tiny and alone in this massive space, i felt a great sense of wonderment and privilege.

: c*