Freesteel Blog » Day 2, Day 3, and Away

Day 2, Day 3, and Away

Thursday, December 7th, 2006 at 10:57 am Written by:

I had another wander around Prague on foot while Joshua was at his classes. The Museum of Technology on the hill on the other side of the river was closed for two years of refurbishment. The giant metronome on the former site of Stalin’s statute wasn’t swinging. And the government offices were taking delivery of a giant Xmas tree through their front door. I changed money and bought my ticket at the real main train station, not Holesovice. It was larger and much less grey and grim.

The food supply was a little erratic. Josh eats at irregular hours. When I try to get food myself, it’s awful, and it’s always best to wait till he takes me to one of the places he knows. That evening we went some distance away from the centre by tram to a small+busy microbrewery/pub down an abandoned street. I phoned the Therion guy to tell him where we were, and he came immediately. I can’t remember what we discussed — I had quite a few beers — so I probably rambled across a lot of the stuff I usually talk BS about. Nobody could remember if Czech Republic was part of Rumsfeld’s Coalition of the Willing (they are, and they have contributed 300 troops, which means they are part of New Europe, and a willing part of this great adventure in Iraq). Topics included the WMD in Iraq (so easy to make, so it’s irrelevant that they bought the factories and materials from Germany), and Polonium (how could they drop this otherwise safe material all over the place if it was properly contained in a sealed bag). Apparently a handful of this stuff could wipe out the whole of Prague if it was put into the water-supply, so we have to take this kind of terrorism seriously. It’s one of those easy-to-visualize ideas that tossing a packet of powder into the corner of a water reservoir means that it is perfectly mixed to the theoretical dilution within minutes. Meanwhile, in the small village of Camelford it took 20 tonnes of aluminium sulfate and a cover-up to do the damage it did. In my opinion it’s the industrial accidents that are far more likely to do it in for us, because those responsible are the rich and powerful and are much more able to protect themselves from justice.

I’m also trying to press the idea of a default cave data repository which all cave surveyors can have at their disposal, in the way that sourceforge is the default place for open source software. It’s possible Hong Megui caving club will use it, and it would be cool if some Eastern Europeans got to grips with it too. It sets an example. Unfortunately it’s common for cave surveyors to guard their data jealously. It’s just as common for that data to get lost. In the former Communist countries where everything was regulated there were professional cavers who were hated because you needed their permission to go caving, even in the caves which you discovered, mapped and explored yourself. They then earned money and made reports based on your data without mentioning your name. Obviously, if they don’t get the data, they can’t use it to their own ends.

This plagiarism can only have to do with the restricted control of publication. There are these official journals and respected publications which only the few know how to get material into. It’s to keep the quality high, you see. If you report the finding of your cave in your generally unavailable local club news-sheet, and the professional scientist later places his scientific looking study in a proper journal, it’s clear who gets the credit. The original explorers were the kids who uncovered it when they chased their dog into the entrance; then the real investigator heard about the incident and followed it up. You’ve seen this story often enough. Thanks kids. We have forgotten who you are.

There is a considerable history of amateur cave surveying, which far outstrips the professional work, because it’s not stuff that anyone is going to pay for, and it’s crucial part of the process of exploring and discovering caves. If there was a fully open, accessible public repository for this data, it would be a new thing. You could ask anyone, and they know that for them it would displace the proper professional cave journals as the primary record of what has been happening. A good, well-written journal article is a view and interpretation of the original data. Now we would see the original data itself, transcribed from the time it was edited and made. It would be trivial to tell if the professional journal articles were being faithful to it, and it was in fact the kids themselves who did the work standing beneath the waterfalls as they read their compass bearings and drew the only cave map that we have. Open documentation in a place without any editorial controls whatsoever is the best defence the primary producers have for claiming their due credit.

I left my bag behind in the pub and we had to catch the tram all the way back to get it. I was very hung-over the next day and choked down two pastries on the way into town. Then I had a pot of tea in Cafe Ebel, followed by an hour sleeping on the bench just outside Cafe Ebel, and then in the square with the NYU building waiting for Josh to come out. I followed the students’ afternoon field trip to a Jewish publisher whose offices are in the Jewish cemetery where Franz Kafka is buried. All those ornate tombstones for wealthy bankers and lawyers in vast numbers: nobody gives a toss about them. There is nothing the living knows to be thankful to them for. All the well-trodden paths lead to the grave of the writer whose treasures still mean something to us today. We are just a bunch of ignorant tourists who follow the fashion like sheep, and don’t understand that the bankers, by maximizing their own income, have done more for progress in the world than all the impoverished economically irrational writers who died when they should have been working as tax accountants for said bankers where they could have applied their talents to writing fiendish legal arguments justifying why their clients were entitled to keep all of the money and power which they had gained. This is a fact that professional writers will tell you — writers who are of greater value because they get paid. By bankers. Who have the money to pay them.

The visit was disappointing. The person there gave away a few copies of the one book they’ve printed in english about Jewish cemeteries throughout Bohemia, which wasn’t selling as well as expected. Since the advent of computerization, the romance in publishing has gone. There is no printing technology, typesetting, or underground Czech writers reproducing their books by smashing their typewriter keys trying to type through a wad of ten sheets of carbon paper that they have somehow managed to jam into the roll. I think they should finish the job properly, and put the guidebook of Jewish cemeteries into an interactive google map system, where others can add pictures and other information that they happen to know of about some of the people who are buried in the graves. There’s too little room on the stone, and maybe some of these bankers have done something we can be thankful for, but since it’s not literature we don’t know of it in and of itself as a primary act that we can experience directly today, because the very real consequences of their life are uncredited by the editorial constraints of the medium.

Who knows? Publishers are going to keep printing this stuff on dead wood where it doesn’t belong for years to come, because interactive web-pages are just not serious enough. We went back to Cafe Montmarte for a coffee and so Josh could finish reading “Brighton Rock”, while I just sat and enjoyed the sensation of not having such a sore head for a change. The train was at 9:46pm after a foolish Goulash dumplings — the only thing that was hot and savoury — and I shared a compartment with a Russian man. We each slept across the seats under the arm-rests. A properly done-up Russian grandmother with a hat, large brooch and about five suitcases appeared in Plzen at around midnight with the lights full on like a nightmare that was never going to sleep. I do not know how he drove her out. I got into Frankfurt feeling okay. Then hopped to Cologne and Brussels, waiting two hours at each stop due to inflexible tickets that would not let me on board an earlier train.

And just to round the journey off, I got kicked off the half-empty 5:17pm Virgin train to Liverpool from London which would have got there in time for octopush, because I had only paid £57 for my ticket, rather than £189 for the privilege of travelling on the nation’s railways. Peak time fares are unregulated, and so are optimized by the private company to maximize the value of (fare)x(number of passengers), rather than any other factor. The 6:17pm train was heaving, except for the 60% of the carriages that are First Class, overpriced and overspecified and obtained by many passengers only because they have the have made the Second Class seating so unnecessarily over-crowded and miserable. But that’s business for you. It’s the way of the world. Now it’s time to get back to work.

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