Category Archives: USA

b o l i n a s

[ 20:38 sunday 12 march – bolinas, california ]

traveling from san diego to san francisco last friday i felt a powerful urge to get away somewhere remote for a day or two. warren said he knew just the place. yesterday he and ann brought me here to bolinas. it’s exactly what i needed.

san francisco is less than twenty miles away down the coast, but it might as well be another planet. bolinas consists of fifteen hundred independent-minded people scattered around the tip of a peninsular; a lagoon on one side, the pacific on the other. the town centre boasts a bar, a general store, an organic co-op and a tiny museum. most of the buildings are wooden. many have hippy murals painted on their flanks.

i’m sitting now in my room in the “grand hotel”. in point of fact the hotel comprises two rooms above a bric-a-brac shop. the room itself is delightful, all sloping floors, odd nooks and crannies, mismatched antique furniture and mid-century prints. there’s a kitchen downstairs in much the same vein (an ancient stove with flues coming off in all directions), a freezing bathroom and an overgrown garden at the back. i adore it. the proprietor is a twinkle-eyed old fellow called vic who’s lived here thirty years.

this morning it was pouring with rain but i went out walking anyway. filaments of cloud curled mysteriously through the trees on the surrounding hillsides. the sea was like hammered pewter. on the beach i came across a raven sitting on a tree trunk, tearing at the remains of some animal. he let me creep up really close, just a few metres, and watch him as he dined. after a while he flapped away so i carried on walking and just continued with no hurry and no objective.

eventually the rain eased off and the sky got brighter. a bit later the sun came out so i took off my coat and shirt and lay down on the sand for a while. there was nobody around, just the trickle of rainwater draining off the cliffs, the chatter of sea birds and the rumble of surf on the reef. some time later the sky clouded over and it started feeling chilly so i turned round and made my way back again.

the vegetables here are phenomenal, especially the kale. all the farms round here are devoutly organic. apparently prince charles visited a couple of weeks ago to swap notes. the locals emphasise that he spent three days here and just one in san francisco.

there’s a kind of vibrant town democracy here i’ve never encountered before. a lot of people seem to care about the community enough to participate in regular committees and ballots. amongst other things they’ve managed to sustain a moratorium on new houses for thirty years, for which they had to win the supoort of the supreme court, and successfully opposed a state decision to spray pesticide over the area. these are big achievements amongst many more quotidian matters. this is probably the closest thing i’ve encountered to a greek city state and it’s made a big impression on me. i’ll be fascinated to learn more.

tomorrow morning at quarter past six i’ll get on a bus that will deposit me in marin an hour and a half later. being here in bolinas has refreshed my spirit and given me space to reflect on everything that happened in san diego. i’m ready to return to the fray.

: c :

e t e c h

[ 17:00 thursday 9 march – fir & india, san diego, usa ]

nine metal mesh chairs are strewn around a concrete fountain topped with a mosaic globe. this is the centre of san diego’s “little italy”. pastel coloured wooden boutiques with self-consciously italian names rise up fir street to my left. dark clouds mass ominously overhead. soon it will rain. the bay is flat and leaden to my right. i feel monochrome myself, hollow with anti-climax.

i arrived here on sunday to give a presentation at the o’reilly emerging technology conference. this meant a lot to me, really a lot. it’s the world’s most important forum for upcoming technologies and we were given a forty minute slot in the main hall. my session took place yesterday afternoon. it’s the first time i’ve talked about my project in the isles of scilly and explained how trampoline grew out of it. i’ve been preparing for weeks. last saturday i was more nervous than i can ever remember feeling.

well, the presentation couldn’t have gone better. all day today people have been coming up to me with questions and friendly comments, even people who didn’t hear the talk. yesterday evening i felt a wild euphoria but this afternoon as the final sessions wrapped up and delegates started drifting away my spirits grew flat and heavy.

by nature i think i’m a good communicator but i’m very shy. the prospect of standing up in front of people terrifies me, as did musical performances in earlier days. once i’m started it’s fine. the apprehension is always the bad part.

other than my stupid nerves the conference has been a wonderful experience. i’ve met so many thinkers and technologists whom i admire and trampoline has taken a step onto a much larger stage. there’s a lot of emotion tangled up in me. i feel like it wouldn’t take much to make me cry. i suppose this is the state one would call “over-wrought”.

i’ll be back in balance tomorrow.

: c :

a m e r i k a

[ 15:00 sunday 24 november – track 19, union station, washington dc ]

a textbook autumn afternoon here in the, er, capital of the free world. the beech and maple glow red and gold in the slanting sunlight, their branches splattering a subversive tracery of shadows over washington’s unamused classical facades. any moment the doors of my train will hiss closed and we will begin our journey up the coast to new york. by the peculiar logic of the american market it would have been cheaper to make this journey by air, but having flown every other leg of this tour i really wanted to do this one over land and achieve a more tangible sensation of traveling.

it’s only three weeks since i was hammering away on the keys of fofo’s computer in milan, completing all the documents for trampoline. it seems like another age.

[ 21:35 saturday 30 november – christopher street, greenwich village, new york ]

an espresso bar populated by persons of an alternative chic demeanour. the cranberry orange muffins are good.

when i embarked on this journey i expected i would be tracing every step through this email journal, sharing my experiences and feelings as they happened. it was not to be. mainly i’ve just been wildly focused on trampoline. since arriving in america i’ve met with a succession of people in four cities (san francisco, seattle, washington, new york) to talk about the project. each person made a different input to what we are trying to do. some were commercial investors, some were social investors, some had started up technology businesses, some were running non-profit organisations, some were consultants or analysts. it’s been intense.

the main objective was to learn, and learn i have. it’ll take some time to digest everything. the input from all these different sources has been pretty consistent. on one hand, the response to the central idea has been “yes, this is really interesting, there’s great potential here and there’s nothing quite like it in the market”. on the other hand, i’ve been ripped to shreds on my lack of convincing answers about how we are going to get customers to buy the product and how we prevent larger firms stealing our ideas once we are in the market.

americans are not known for pulling their punches, and the directness with which my thinking has been challenged left me slightly shell-shocked by the end of the first week. but piece by piece i absorbed what i was hearing and began to see solutions. by the time i got to washington i found i was able to respond with gusto to questions which had left me floundering in san francisco. after three years submerged in trampoline with a product-focused outlook, i’ve started a transition to seeing it from a market-focused perspective. the question “how can we make this technology work” has to take second place in my mind to “how can we make this venture work”.

bearing in mind my main objectives are to do with social change, this seems like a bizarre point at which to arrive. but the logic is inescapable. realising the technology is going to take a lot of labour. mobilising that labour will require a good deal of capital. this capital is most likely to come from commercial investors. and these investors will only put resources into the venture if it is capable of generating a strong financial return.

a month ago i think my perspective was: we have to develop this technology at all costs, i’ll take resources from any source i can find and i’ll say whatever i need to say to get those resources. i didn’t really have any interest in what investors would get out of it. i just wanted to develop the system. two years ago i could probably have raised the necessary capital on this shaky basis and built the system. but the lack of commercial rigour would have revealed itself as the market grew tougher and the business would almost certainly have unravelled.

from this i draw two conclusions. first, in order to achieve my social objectives i have to think like a capitalist. second, the venture will benefit from the fact that it is starting out at a time when the capital market is extremely tight.

[ 08:30 monday 2 december – terminal 7, kennedy airport, new york ]

right about now a united airlines boeing 777 is rising from the tarmac. i expected to be on it. however it seems the sky is full of new yorkers returning to london after their thanksgiving turkeyfest. when i arrived to check in there weren’t any seats left. having got up at quarter past five this was a little tiresome. united offered me in a seat in business class on the 7pm departure and $400 of ticket vouchers. since i have no meetings arranged for this evening that seemed like an arrangement i could live with so i didn’t make too much fuss. of course the utility of those vouchers will depend on how long united manages to stave off bankruptcy.

so this gives me ten hours to kill. i’ve located some nice mies van der roehe chairs in a secluded part of the british airways check-in area where i aim on catching up with some sleep. last night i went to hear my friends read poetry in a williamsburg cafe and then accompanied them to a luridly festive bar where my intentions for an early night grew hazy after several whiskeys.

[ 05:55 tuesday 3 december – united airlines flight 958, western approaches ]

looking down at clusters of gloomy orange lights far below. this is britain. in contrast to my window-seat views of recent weeks these lights don’t fall into rectilinear grids. the first contrast of many i shall doubtless observe.

this has been an extraordinary tour. i am left with much to digest and to recount.

the instruction comes to turn off electronic equipment. we’ll be landing in half an hour.

: caro * * *