My Alan Turing Feature Is Up At Vanity Fair

WWII British codebreaker mathematician Alan Turing, subject of the Benedict Cumberbatch movie 'The Imitation Game'

The Imitation Game, the biopic about British WWII codebreaker Alan Turing (starring Benedict Cumberbatch) just came out in the UK; it will be released in the US on Friday. It didn’t take the movie to bolster the auction market for all things Turing-related, but I’m sure it will give it that extra push.

Here’s a teaser of my Vanity Fair article on this, currently one of the feature stories gracing VF.com’s landing page today:

The machine referred to in The Imitation Game as “the crooked hand of death itself,” and simply as “beautiful” by Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing, still exists—but you’ll have to fight the competition to get your hands on one.

The auction market for the Enigma machines, the notorious World War II encryption devices used by the Nazis, whose codes Turing cracked, has soared in recent years, along with a surge of interest in anything associated with the British code-breaking mathematician himself. Last year, two signed offprints of one of Turing’s scientific papers fetched a mammoth $321,800 at auction, partly because, as Christie’s scientific specialist James Hyslop explains, “to find something that has a direct personal connection to Turing is extraordinarily rare.”

Convicted of gross indency (homosexuality was a crime in Britain in 1952), Turing agreed to be chemically castrated as an alternative to prison; he was treated with hormone therapy meant to suppress his sexual urges. When he died of cyanide poisoning of 1954, the death was ruled a suicide. Even before this tragic end, much of his career and related written work was shrouded in mystery by the Official Secrets Act and didn’t come to light until the 70s. Hyslop says that the rare pieces that have made it onto the market had been guarded closely by his family and close friends. “The declassification of his wartime work and recent anniversaries [of his birth and death], by increasing public awareness of his astonishing achievements, have seen the upsurge in market demand for his works,” he adds.

Read the rest of the article on VanityFair.com

De-Vicing

grass-phone

After much prolonged bitching and moaning about the ubiquitous state of technology, I’m finally doing it: De-Vicing. To be clear I’m talking about a sensible digital diet, not a full-scale Luddite hunger strike. Obviously, I’m writing about this in my blog so I can’t completely rebuff tech — nor would I want to as I have a love/hate relationship with it.

I was the first of my friends to tote around a digital diary in the Naughty Nineties and wrote about QR for Wired magazine before the ugly-looking Mondrian-esque bar codes were cropping up all over town.

So my De-Vicing is to involve a simple, reasonably balanced plan to reconnect me with my creative, innovative self and creativity DOES come in a vacuum (i.e. sans constant distractions and abrasive digital assaults on one’s nervous system).

I want to return to my intuition and to really being in the present moment with my surroundings and other humans. I want to be alert to opportunity and till the soil for serendipity and the miraculous. In my mind, I’m setting a modest period of one week as a tester (so as not to dive in over my tech-addicted head).

The precursor to this De-Vicing occurred in two phases of my life — years ago when I deleted my Facebook account (never looked back, best thing I ever did); and again months ago when I decided to remove my iPhone from my bedroom during sleeping hours. After all, there’s something disturbing about the all-seeing eye of Cupertino watching over you as you slumber. This would have had a greater impact had I thought of a ‘no laptop in bed rule’ but I digress.

Day 1 of the official reasonably balanced De-Vicing:

Knowing that I was going to need to be out and about for about a four hour block largely in one location, and that I didn’t have to meet anyone at the end of that period, I left the ‘Evil i’ at home.

Certainly, there were moments when that old familiar reflex jolted me into attempting to check the phone that wasn’t there — even if just to read earlier emails in the Wi-Fi-less Underground. Most of the time when I wasn’t otherwise occupied I found myself staring into space. With no other option, I let my subsconscious have free reign.

Some interesting thoughts popped up related to issues I’d been having — no definitive solutions but ideas at least. And I definitely noted that the real world ‘up there’ seemed to pop more — in a Technicolor way — than usual. I had also made the conscious decision at some point not to listen to music (I had brought a non-phone MP3 player) so perhaps this played into the mindfullness I experienced.

Ultimately, I felt more real. I know that sounds bizarre but I am getting the sense that the world I experienced on a quotidian basis as real (constant device-checking and info-seeking) is NOT real. Of course that’s intellectually a given but seeing as this was more of an experiential, existential feeling, I’m going to see it as progress — a nice first step.

For starters, I am giving myself at least a couple of iPhone-free blocks of time during my week (when I know I won’t have to meet anyone or go way far out of my usual stomping grounds). Then we’ll see where we’re at…

Gene Therapy: Lessons From the Entrepreneurial Kiss Frontman (MP3 Talk)

Gene-Simmons-by-Alberto-Cabello

When I was a little girl, my favourite toys weren’t Barbie Dolls (although I did own a few and they promptly got punk rock makeovers at my little rebellious hands). I adored my precious Kiss T-shirt and most of all my Kiss transistor radio. I was so young and naive that I thought that the low-tech device only played Kiss songs. I’m sure — had that been possible at the time — that Gene Simmons would have manufactured the musical accessory to do just that.

Kiss Transistor Radio

Simmons will forever be etched into my four-year-old mind as the scary rock n’ roll ogre who spat blood (residing in my subconscious alongside other terrifying figures like Medusa and the Creature From the Black Lagoon), However, today, as an adult, on a conscious level, I can appreciate his business sense and entertaining way of delivering motivating messages — an unlikely muse!

Gene Simmons and Shana Ting Lipton, April 2014

Gene Simmons and Shana Ting Lipton, April 2014

Over a month ago, I met the man, the myth, the legend when on assignment for British Airways’ High Life magazine, covering his Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp. Apart from a previously hidden passion for pelting out punk metal vocals, the other surprise of my sojourn, was getting inspired by his talk. I only listened to a recording of it today and am getting even more milage out of it now.

The previously mentioned Kiss kiddie-friendly memorabilia notwithstanding I was never a huge Kiss fan. But I am a self-help addict. And, I can resolutely say that, from Paul McKenna to Jack Canfield — helpful as they have been — none of my motivational cheerleaders struck a chord (pun intended) to the degree Simmons has.

He spoke of course of merchandising Kiss — a feat which has been celebrated in business magazines like Forbes (‘What Gene Simmons Teaches Us About Entrepreneurship’ by Gene Marks). He also celebrated the art of listening and of embracing one’s one personal style — not particularly complex ideas, yet delivered with his ‘old Jewish dad’-meets-Dad’s-worst-nightmare’ humour, something clicked. His jokey wisdom doesn’t only apply to careers in rock — but to just about any field.

So, I’m sharing an abridged (20 minute) edit of Gene Simmons’ funny and poignant talk to put a bit of a fire in your belly. Warning: said fire may produce flame-spitting and other hard-rockin’ side effects.

Gene Simmons’ Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp Talk (abridged mp3, 1 minute load time)
Note: the interviewer was Rudy Sarzo (Whitesnake, Quiet Riot); Lita Ford also chimed in from the audience

See Through You

offline

So far, 2014 has been a very big year for Neo and his gang — the proverbial Matrix freedom fighters.

Google, the company—whose now quaint and retro-sounding catchphrase was ‘don’t be evil’—recently lost its battle with Spanish detractors via the European Court of Justice (CJEU), and ‘the right to be forgotten‘ finally became more than just a catchy concept.

The cyber-snooping against Miss Teen USA prompted a realisation amongst mainstreamers that people (like myself) who have been covering up their webcams for years are not tinfoil hat wearing crazies who pin up old newspaper clippings in our basements, but actually intuitives who sensed the very real possibility that such tech could easily be abused by anyone — even some hard-up teen loser.

And, next month, Blackphone — apparently the world’s first encrypted ‘spy-proof’ consumer smartphone — will ship its first pre-orders. This is my dream phone, so if this blog post perchance ever reaches anyone at Silent Circle, I wouldn’t scoff at a review copy (hint hint).

In any case, the media posits that this zeitgeist (a word that Google has robbed the intellegentsia of) is merely a backlash regarding the Edward Snowden NSA spying revelations. I think not. Albeit massive, those revelations were part of something much bigger. In simple terms, this tech-policing wave is more akin to whiplash—the causally linked result of being driven by technology at literally breakneck speeds.

This is, folks, the turn of events I’ve been waiting for for many years: the moment of consciousness—when humans get to rediscover our humanity and seemingly lost values, rather than being led like eyes-cast-down  smartphone zombies by an endless cycle of novelty-driven ‘advancement’ into who knows what, at the cost of being, well, human.

The documentary 2009 We Live in Public demonstrated how being under constant scrutiny and having no sense of intimacy with oneself achieves the opposite of a transparent, open, connected community. Why? Because humans are not machines—we’re not the web, so the ideology of links and connections only works when there is an element of intimacy involved.

What is intimacy? I don’t have the answer. I have my answer but I think that’s the point, everyone has to pause for a moment, break away from their screens and devices and ponder what intimacy means to them.

For me it’s having thoughts that I cherish and share with myself alone, not the whole www.orld. The purity of a thought or idea changes when we believe (if even falsely) that we’re being watched or listened to. Right now, even though there’s probably only one person reading this (I love you, Mum!), the process of writing feels tainted, less real than it might feel if I was scribbling something in an old-school offline notebook.

I, like all Londoners, live under the constant watchful eye of CCTV. There are moments, for instance waiting for a train in an underground station, when I try to find a spot on the Tube platform, which isn’t privy to this cold machine gaze. But I can’t.

Surely, there are positives of such constant surveillance: the protection of the innocent (and provision of evidence0 when a crime is taking place. the Metropolitan Police force has apparently instituted a partial programme involving waist-level video cameras to monitor arrests (surely to ensure that civil liberties and process prevail).

However, the flip side is just too dark and ugly to contemplate. So, instead of steeping myself in such gloomy Orwellian thoughts (is anyone in doubt of how ahead of his time this scribe was?!) I turn instead to more uplifting developments. I take momentarily solace in the fact that I have a right to be forgotten, that I can still run with the times and have a smartphone but ensure that my privacy is protected, and that I have a Band-Aid over my webcam.

 Note: I co-wrote and sang on a metal-punk track about privacy incursions with Oz Fox of Stryper and Mark Pontz which is headbanger version of the above :) Listen to ‘See Through You.’

My Richard Branson Interview Cover Story

Richard Branson Interview by Shana Ting Lipton

 

Back in February, I had the ‘lightning strikes’ chance to interview Richard Branson for a second time. I first met with him on-board Virgin America at the time of the then-new airline’s inaugural LA/New York flight. This go around,  on the precipice of his Virgin Galactic commercial launches, I chatted with him for a cover story for Delta Airlines’ Sky Magazine’s April 2014 issue, which is now out… Check it out below…

Richard Branson has the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he carries it as if it’s draped casually over one shoulder—befitting a man whose workday is punctuated by tennis and kite surfing on Necker, his private Caribbean island. And he will temporarily shrug off that weight when he and his children, Holly and Sam, are thrust into zero gravity at the edge of space during the inaugural launch of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo this year—making them the first private space-bound passengers in history.

After a series of delays, the press-fueled pressure is on. Such are the unpleasant side effects of trying to conquer this world and the next—from climate change to banking monopolies. “The program has taken longer than we’d expected,” the Virgin Group CEO admits dryly, “but it is rocket science, and rocket science, as we’ve discovered, is difficult.” It’s a challenge Branson is happy to take on—even for a mere 30 seconds of bobbing around in 4.5 g loads—as the long-term ramifications are vast.

Clearly, others are willing to do whatever it takes to hitch the ultimate ride as well—wheelchair-confined physicist Stephen Hawking chief among them. “[The space flight] is going to be challenging for him and for the people who go up with him,” says Branson. Environmental scientist and author James Lovelock will face his own set of hurdles going into space at 95. “He’s keeping himself as fit as he can to make sure he can enjoy it.” The list of luminaries who’ve paid the extravagant $250,000 ticket price for a chance to follow in Branson’s free-floating footsteps reads like the table of contents of an issue of Vanity Fair, which has added to the media scrutiny.

The British entrepreneur dismisses the notion that Virgin Galactic’s flights will merely be joy rides for billionaires, citing the history of the first transatlantic flights. “It cost the equivalent of $250,000 in the 1920s to fly across the Atlantic,” he says, “It was those people who could afford it who were the pioneers and enabled hundreds of millions of people to fly across the Atlantic in the years since.” The roughly 800 individuals who have bought Virgin Galactic tickets so far, concedes Branson, are “all wealthy people, but without them our program would never have gotten off the ground.” Besides which, he is already brainstorming a way in which thousands of everyday people, “cleaners, dustbin drivers, coal miners or whatever, will have a chance to go to space.” The modest goal: “to democratize space travel.”

For decades, space tourism has been positioned as the next big thing in travel—from journeys to the moon to space station hotels. Although Branson doesn’t yet have any plans to launch a trendy five star in the stars, Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico, designed by British starchitect Norman Foster and his team, certainly looks the part. And that’s not all: “We will be building a very sexy spaceport hotel in New Mexico next to our spaceport,” Branson divulges.

In the meantime,  a bit closer to home, Virgin will launch…
Read My Full Richard Branson Article on Delta Airlines’ Sky Magazine Website

Is the Web Still World Wide or Just a Local Loop?

Mahir ("I Kiss You") the Turkish weblebrity from Web 2.0

Photo: Mahir (“I Kiss You”) the Turkish weblebrity from Web 2.0

I recently read a Wired article about Tim Berners-Lee, a.k.a. the WWW’s Daddy in which he said “I want a web that’s open, works internationally, works as well as possible and is not nation-based.”

He was largely talking about the balkanization of the web  in places like Iran – who have their own versions of it (intranets). So I probably shouldn’t take his quote out of context. But, I couldn’t help but see it as a stand-alone mandate to return to a borderless web.

I don’t want to sound like a cantankerous old Web 2.0 relic, but I miss the days when the web was indeed worldwide, when serendipity reigned and when, if you later happened upon something related to something you had been researching, it represented a sort of magic – rather than yet another search engine privacy incursion masked as user-friendly customization.

This was a web of Mahirs — genuine fluke sensations that represented the people’s will and a true sense of zeitgeist (not Google Zeitgeist). The aforementioned meme (which took place before the general public was calling them memes) bridged cultures worldwide: a Turkish man calling out into the void and the world listening. Could a Mahir situation take place on today’s web with its regionalized sub-divisions and digital borders? I think not.

But the search engines call this progress: they’re fine-tuning responses so you don’t just get ‘everything on the web,’ but rather what you’re seeking  in your region or country. That assumes that you want to live in Main Street WWW. I personally do not.

Of course, as one friend of mine who works for a major Valley company points out, you do have choices. You don’t have to be relegated to the top three Big Boy search engines. There are services like Duck Duck Go, which offer searhc sans those pesky jurisdictional velvet ropes. But, let’s be honest, these often humble enterprises are otherwise lacking in features that we have come to appreciate and expect from biggies like Google, Bing and Yahoo!

At best, the worldwide web is a placeless place of virtually infinite options and possibilities; at worst, it’s a cyber-ghetto. My plea is not for the big search engines to completely go back in time and return absolutely to the borderless period circa Web 2.0.  But, I’d love to have options — the option to occasionally conduct Old School searches that do actually span the globe (which so far hasn’t been offered by these search engines — at least not in an overt and easily accessible way). Other times, geotargeting will certainly be useful.

If this return to a sophisticated international web is not possible, might I suggest that a name change is in order? Instead of the world wide web; it should more appropriately be re-christened the (rather dumpy and low-rent sounding) localized loop.

Breaking the Cycle

mayan calendar

There’s a line of thinking in the world of self-help that we constantly face the same issues throughout our lives but that they are cloaked by the faces of different people or different situations at different times.

The most obvious of these situations is someone who perpetually chooses abusive partners who have a way at eroding their self-esteem. A simple pattern exists there: new partner, same issue. Then there’s the person who frequently moves to a new town hoping to ‘start fresh’ only to find him or herself falling prey to the same travails that plagued them in their previous locale.

Perhaps the core repeatable issue is a childhood one, or if you’re inclined to think more spiritually, its origins are in the vast realm of past lives. The thorn in continues to relodge itself in yoru side so  you can behave differently once and for all.

We’ve all heard the Albert Einstein quote ad nauseum to the point at which it’s become a cliché, but like it’s subject, it bears repeating (for insanity’s sake): “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The idea of such unending cycles is scary enough but what of the moment when one such cycle actually does ultimately come to an end? There’s something equally terrifying about such a quantum leap into the unknown. It’s like being on a hamster wheel and knowing which (albeit repetitive and tiresome) actions to take and then suddenly having no wheel and having to start anew.

What this state feels like — and I can only say so having recently experienced the stark realisation that I was in it — is something akin to looking in the mirror and beholding a stranger’s face. In certain facets of my life I quite simply don’t recognise myself anymore. I feel like a completely different person. Whether these are the passages of age (as described by pop psychology scribe Gail Sheehy in her books) or something far more profound is debatable. Certainly there’s something to that old saying that had you flashed forward as a teenager to where you are today, you’d probably loathe yourself.

As an aside, the subconscious mind has a way of storing memory and feeling in a visual location (we’ve all heard this from memory and mind experts like Derren Brown). If you start to notice where you’re holding such sentiments in a given period in your life it’s fascinating and tells a whole story of its own. 

My ‘locations’ are usually transitional ones: a tunnel near my old flat or more recently I’ve seen the gates of my old university from the inside. Perhaps this connects to what I was saying about personal cycles before. I rarely see myself in a start point coming out of the proverbial tunnel. There’s something comfortably stagnant about the remaining in a transitional holding pattern.

And so, the release from this holding pattern presents an uncomfortable space, however one that I believe is necessary for growth. The cage door opens and we find we’ve become quite comfortable in the cage. We’re meant to fly the coop but to where. I think this sensation is perhaps best cinematically described in the last scene in The Graduate when Benjamin and Elaine have caused major upheaval in the church and find themselves sitting on the back of the bus, on the road to… ?

In the case of that 1967 classic which in so many ways embodied a building feeling of dissatisfaction in the ’60s, the ‘what now’ was about to be transformed into an affirmative statement with an exclamation mark. Here’s to such future personal and societal revolutions!