Category Archives: technology

Lockdown meeting

For several years I’ve often worked from home, but of course this year most of my colleagues at work have had little choice but to begin to do the same. As a consequence of the coronavirus lockdown, like so many others, I suddenly found I was taking part in a lot more online meetings, both for work, and with friends.

It’s great that these technologies allow us see each other when we are talking. The experience is not as good as being with, but there does seem to be a stronger feeling of presence than is the case with just a phone call. Of course the shiny newness of this sensation soon wears off as the technology quickly grows more familiar. It already seems quite odd to imagine now, that meeting people using remote video was for a long time an idea largely in the realm of science fiction, or James Bond movies, something with a glamour that bordered almost on thrilling …

Lockdown meeting

Is anybody there?
Can you hear me?
UN-MUTE! They are shouting,
a small informal ensemble pew,
like a University Challenge choir,
feedback buzzers primed.

It’s right there, just CLICK IT!
My mouse-palmed ouija
sweeps and taps the table,
rendering both more and less remote
the possibility of presence.

And what does it mean
in Microsoft Teams,
if only one has camera off?
Is their webcam broken?
Did they forget to shave?
Are they still undressed?

Or is the house just too much mess
for morning discretion.
A late-night party gone just too far
to find absolution in the gaussian
caress of background blur.

Those present gaze down,
or top-left, or anywhere else,
speaking to an invisible presence,
a congregation unsure
of the exact location in the room,
of an obscure lurking god.

Absent Charlie on intercom,
commissioning the Angels,
while – who knows? –
observing in sight unseen,
that this episode seems
far less glamorous,
than once-upon-a-time.



The coffin road to Kilfinnan

Last month for Book Week Scotland, Stanza International Poetry Festival made postcards with short poems responding to work by a favourite poet. It was really nice to be asked to contribute. I enjoyed writing a poem for this so much, I made three. This is the one that ended up on a Stanzacard…




Turing true

Turing true

Chatting to tech support
I glibly key: Are you a bot?
remote assistance returns:
That’d be quite something!

Some day will that question
define an instance of class:
substratist[human, foolish, old].

I hesitate some cycles,
query not quite resolved.
Has he just passed the test,
have I already failed?

Call 0337

An odd source of inspiration. A one line help desk call made the first line of this poem. Just a wee bit o nonsense…

Call 0337:
About the printer on the first floor

The printer on the first floor in the main open space has no yellow.

It just doesn’t know how to quit.

The printer on the first floor in the main open space has no blue.

It’s always got a good word to say.

The printer on the first floor in the main open space has no red.

It’s true, I’ve never seen it lose the rag.

The printer on the first floor in the main open space has no black.

Really, I mean, doesn’t everyone have a dark side?

The printer on the first floor in the main open space has no paper.

Sorry – was this the last sheet?




This poem was my contribution to a collection made by the Wyvern Poets with Dundee University as part of this year’s ‘Being Human’ programme in Dundee. The collection took the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a starting point to think about how the story still resonates.

Mary Shelley had probably either seen or was very aware of the showmanship of a character called Giovanni Aldini, who was the nephew of Luigi Galvani [that’s the famous electrical pioneer and zapper of frogs’ legs]. His nephew Aldini went one better and presented spectacles involving electrifying the (human) dead. In the preface to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley wrote:

“Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth.”

As a novel bound up with the question of what it means to be human, Frankenstein remains very much relevant to now. Today there is a collection of real and often troubling ideas involving topics like gene-splicing, bio-hacking, body augmentation, digital consciousness, and no less than the reanimation of cryogenically frozen heads … all enterprises that find their ground somewhere around the idea and under the the banner of “transhumanism”.

This poem came (perhaps from a slightly tongue-in-cheek perspective) from thoughts about Frankenstein, transhumanism, identity and ‘being human’ …


Transhuman™ [some assembly required]

Six million dollars doesn’t buy the dream team of once-upon-a-time,
the future’s DIY, blister packed, bubble wrapped, and shipped by UPS.

… check the manifest of better-than-you-were-before;
better, stronger, faster, custom body parts …

They say deluxe membership guarantees personality upload,
your destiny securely backed-up in the eternal cloud.
They just have to work out how to do it, and how,
when, where and if, you might finally come back to life.

… fix cryo-preserved head to brass neck collet
with twin 15mm chromed boris-karloff bolts …

I wonder if bionic organs will harbour residual bodily charms,
some gene squeezed vestigial glamour, post bio-hack-and-splice?
Could you courie in to perfect bliss, a bench-grown better embrace,
cosily snuggle up to a pale cyborg, un-sun-kissed but so sublime?

… kneel and carefully tighten the jesus nut, but note:
improper fitting may fatally void warranty …

Reborn as carbon composite, I discover built-in lingering doubts,
has something (maybe still in the flat-pack?) somehow been left out?