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No Cash? Advertise In This Space
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Howdy. I'm Justin Hall, a freelance writer living in Oakland California. I spent much of the last two years living in Japan, researching the social impact of new technologies and electronic entertainment. Now I write articles, contribute to Chanpon, Game Girl Advance and TheFeature.
Thanks for stopping by this old web site.
Photo by: Robin Hunicke
July 31, 2004
A Terrific Miscalculation
I made a terrific miscalculation - forced by time pressure, four days to in May move out of a five year residence, I decided to pack everything. I'll sort it out when I get there, I figured. And maybe I'll need all this furniture, or at least certain pieces of it. Packing it all, moving it all - that way I don't have to find new stuff.
That was foolishness! I should have realized that finding furniture is fine adventure. Having furniture delivered is a pain in the butt - 900 square feet of furniture delivered to a 600 square foot home. I have over two weeks until Cor-O-Van has agreed to deposit my possessions in California - I'm looking forward to the books, the media, the technology hardware. But not the furniture.
I need a bed. I have no chairs. I have no bowls. I don't need that stuff delivered. I want to go buy some nice cheap workable items! I had nothing so classic I needed to preserve it - at least not in terms of my ordinary bowls and things.
Some of this attitude is bread by the internet - I've been made soft by Craig's List. Post an item on Craig's List, with a low price and maybe a photo, and someone will come by your home within 12 hours to pick it up. It's frankly astonishing, and a relieving way to think about your possessions: "Well, I may not need this, but I know that at any moment, I can get someone over here to take it off my hands. And even give me money for that priviledge!"
I should have seized on Craig's List, gotten rid of everything I had. Then, trusted in Craig's List again, and enjoyed the hunt for new stuff there. But I didn't know I'd have this scale problem - I think I pictured LA as a large urban landscape, so somehow I'd end up with a larger house, where my old furniture would usefully fill space. Instead, I've ended up in a terrifically compact little casita with a large yard. So I have to mostly get rid of my old furniture, which I paid to ship and store, or make my living room outside.
As it is, I can only imagine I'll sell my two too-large couches, ditch my old door-based desk, get some larger bookshelves and ditch my plain wood ones. Maybe buy a new, smaller bed for my new smaller bedroom, and fashion some kind of platform around it. I'll keep some of the TVs, and TV carts. And, I'll keep my cheapo Salvation Army asiantique dining table. I've got this idea that I can paint is with heavy sealer, and put it outside as a dark wood formal garden dining table. The only question I have - how can I treat, and seal its thinly upholstered chairs?
July 30, 2004
Ryan's RNC Video Project Needs You!
Ryan Junell is a dedicated provocateur. He researches extensively, makes brilliant video art, he hosts great shows and conferences, and collaborates with many brilliant artists. His interests tend towards the pop culture, with an unflinching eye for politics and ethics. And always a striking sense of humor.
Ryan is planning something amazing surrounding the upcoming Republican National Convention in New York City. He's going to be filming in the streets, in the convention, making video art out of activism.
He's looking for help - and he's throwing a party.
Ryan Junell's FILM PREMIERE & DANCE PARTY!!!
You can participate - you can dance, you can debate, you can donate. I did!
July 29, 2004
I come careening down Washington Boulevard, eager to make a 9am appointment. Men with barrels of toxic air were coming to kill insects who had made their nests in my four walls. I make it by 9.15am; they had been there and left already - there was too much foliage surrounding the building. Plants adhered to the sides like a self-destructive friend who might be slowly taking pieces of the house down with them. I like these plants, I was loathe to cut them. Their green envelope seduced me - maybe I didn't need this much counter-termite terrorism.
But poking around out back, I pulled a board away from a building and a score of tiny white insects backed furtively from the light, mocking me with their wriggling thoraxes. They had chewed through boards, through shelves, through walls. Gas them, I declared, gas them all.
They were going to tent it like the circus was in town, and fill my home with vikane. This at least if I could clear a space around the place - cutting back bamboo and bougainvillea. I was going to be sleeping in this place Saturday, even without furniture, because my summer sublet was up. If I couldn't get these guys working today, Wednesday, I would be sucking the remnants of bug-killer my first snooze in the place.
With help from Jamie, musician, real estate agent and grade school friend, we tag-team called landscaping companies until two showed up at about the same time. I set them to work on either side of the house. One of the companies yammered about an exclusive deal to handle the property. I was hard on a 2pm deadline and I wasn't believing promises. Hard negotiations with a middle-aged Asian man I suspected of picking up random Central American workers at Home Depot and dropping them off at my house with tools - they didn't seem to have much of an established crew mentality, no relationship to the boss, and I never saw that hard bargainer again, not even to pick up the money. He asked for more cash than the other bloke - Jose. Jose owns his own company, Kojack's Landscaping, hires friends and family, quoted me less money, and had a bunch of ideas for how I could improve the garden which was being swiftly denuded under his ready electric shears.
Jamie found me a carpenter to dismantle part of the roof, and so by 12.30pm, three hours after the shit hit the fan, I had four guys cranking to create a foot of space around the whole house. I was moving plants and remaindered tchochkes from the previous owner out of the way of the professional destruction. Then I went and bought everybody Paco's Tacos. As they ate, I sat down on the toilet. Lid down, pants up, I snoozed on the only seat in the house.
Bamboo was flying, out of an eight inch crack alongside the house where it was growing and wending its way into the foundation. A beautiful pile of jasmine growing over a trellis was revealed to be little more than a thin layer of young green growing over and choking its dense, dead ancestor vines. Shears, electric saws, leaf blowers made swift work of the overgrowth. Gone gone gone. Privacy provided by plants, gone. The backyard pushed from being a sanctuary into a stage. A naked yard.
I hate change as much as the next guy. My last home was perhaps a testament to that - peeling seventies wallpaper, aging gnarled evergreen bushes and browned hydrangeas. Here I decided to push myself a bit, to embrace the purge. Time for a stripping, let new growth occur. Emptiness begets inspiration. I have seed for no-thing!
The hours dragged on, the work finished, the workers peeled off. I was left in the empty house, powerless with my Powerbook. No electricity to write, waiting for the return of the termite guys, I laid down on the tile floor, feeling the cool of tiles under my arms folded under my head, I practiced deep breathing.
July 26, 2004
Meaning Mobile Entertainment
Two new articles give some sense of what I trumpet as a freelance writer. I cover technology, digital culture, and electronic entertainment. What I get most excited about professionally these days is mobile multiplayer - I have the feeling like mobile phones have terrific potential for play, for poking fun, for horsing around. So I keep my eye out for signs that these devices are becoming less productive.
I found one of those signs recently, and finished an article about it this morning: Mobile Play by Mail - The future of wireless entertainment may well lie in some of the oldest modern games. Soon, your buddy list may light up with game moves as well as messages.
This was a fun article to write, because I had a chance to research some of the history of games played through the post. That's some dedicated gameplay! Filling out 3x5 cards and mailing them around - cards filled with orders and movements and even intrigue. Play by Mail games were an early way to enjoy social, multiplayer gaming before the internet. And I saw a company in Hong Kong that has instituted Play by Mail gaming for mobile devices and so this article is working to spell out some of the best potential for that technology.
For a broader view of the positive potential for mobile entertainment, check out my last article before that: Mobile Entertainment: The Power of Play. In that piece I argue that mobile entertainment serves a critical social function -- it will teach us how to be connected citizens.
Both of these articles were written for TheFeature.com, a Nokia-sponsored research publication about the mobile internet. I've been a contributing editor there since August 2003; moving and going to school has me scaled back to a sort of regular contributor. I look forward to continuing to write, and play in this area!
July 24, 2004
a home for bloody nipples
Today, the summer sun outside inspires me to think of my work on the computer as play. Truth be told, I skipped ComicCon today (perhaps stupidly), to stay inside and catch up. Processing my finances, researching articles for TheFeature.com. I updated the backlog of mobile notes and mobile poems.
This summer I've been using videos at Lynda.com to teach myself Flash, in preparation for my next semester at school. Setting up my new computer, learning about the Macintosh. And making iMovies - working to learn the basics of multimedia so I can move faster through my pending education.
Last night I went out to a party, a nightclub, here in Los Angeles. New to town, new to the scene, I went around introducing myself to people and making chit-chat. People were not very friendly to me! It was kind of disheartening. I didn't lie or drink enough, I suspect. Shades of poeticizing with punky, perhaps. I took notes -
Perpetual social curiosity, I explained to a friend in the small hours as we headed to a strip club - that's what drives me into these situations where I might spend much of the time feeling unwelcome or disconnected. I had a sort of emotional hangover this morning - light, brusque interactions with too-cool people left me feeling lost. The emotional hangover is part of unrestrained curiousity, I guess, at least that's how I explained it to Cody at breakfast this morning.
Also physical side effects - curious and pushing myself to try things, I went surfing with my roommate Scott a few days back. He's been my roommate for weeks now, he goes surfing almost every day, and it took me this long to get out there with him. Baka! What a great time I had - floating on the water, taking my time instead of being tossed around. It was my first time wrestling a surfboard in five years, and I was under-dressed in a t-shirt - I ended up chafing my nipples so bad! They're scabbed over bloody now. Ouch.
But my real work has been finding a home. Establishing a home!
And my experimentation all mostly seems like desperation because I don't have a home -
I don't know how I could have let myself feel this deeply about it, but I've been largely obsessed - Singletasking! home-making for the last few weeks. I guess it's pretty natural - I work to enjoy the moment, the place I am at any given time. But I've allowed myself to become pretty fixated on the place I'm going to be living.
That fixation seems to have manifested - I'm taking possession of a new place to live on Monday. Wednesday and Thursday, I'll be kicking out the termites. Friday, I might start sleeping there. Holy Hossanah!
That's been a long time coming. A few months I guess - since I packed up my belongings, and began working here and there, living out of my car or short-term sublets. I've lived for months on the road, in Japan, Honduras, these United States. But even then I think I remember feeling anxious - the adventure of the road hits the craving for a settled place to work and think and have relationships.
Not having a settled place changes my relationship to myself and others! Do you want to hear this? I think about this stuff constantly, these days, when I'm not counting how many electrical outlets I want to stick in the living room. Or imagining how I can save money on a new long-draw toilet. I think about how I'll invite my friends over, how I will wake up in the morning, walk through the kitchen, stopping for yogurt and blueberries and granola, which I'll have in stock because it will be my kitchen and I'll stock it, and then I'll go to my desk and I'll turn on three computers and check my email and my overnight video compression and my white board to-do list and look out at the sunshine and make a plan to have some friends come by before walking outside to maybe stretch my limbs
you fool! rented a beautiful home with a big yard for the summer and all you do is go to Sears and measure washing machines and sit on your computer taking notes on telephone conversations with plumbers. shouldn't I be outside? yes! I'm outside, in my mind. So looking forward to developing my interior.
July 23, 2004
I lay sleeping. I hear:
the front door opens. Heavy footfalls. Male voice. Music starts on the kitchen stereo. Bottle tops pop open. Someone goes to the bathroom. Then, an action movie starts - loud gunfire starts over the music. And then, over it all, the sounds of soft female moaning, and maybe a bit of slapping. Another night -
July 18, 2004
My chest hurts if I breathe too hard. My neck and shoulders are stiff to bend or turn. My left wrist has been pretty thoroughly scraped, raw to the touch. Same with my left shoulder. There are raw patches on my chest as well - patterns like a starburst surrounding the scrape. Red refractions. Elbows, back, chest. Searing when I turn or stretch. Hearing is still partial in my left ear - a bit of water remains.
This is evidence of my fun! Yesterday -
Actually that was just me - Lars and Ethan went into the water more slowly, and Alexis and Kate made it in later. I had this feeling like I had to push myself. Maybe it was the pace of the waves. I had been swimming in the Pacific Ocean twice in the two weeks prior. It wasn't like I was saltwater starved. But the Atlantic seemed choppier. More restive, more aggressive. The waves came more frequently that what I saw on Venice beach, and these waves promised more pitching. They came fast and hard. Breaking close to shore.
I had first touched them the night before. Nearer to midnight, the water and sky and sand dark. I stripped and strode into the surf as my friends stood further up the beach. They weren't interested, but they became alarmed. My head disappeared under the surface and I rose for air a few paces into the water. I could always stand - I figured that was a good policy in a dark churning ocean. But they couldn't see. They began yelling and approached the water. I strode out naked to see what all the fuss was about. It was me - they needed to hear me yelling to know that I was alive, within reach, hearing them.
This day I ran into the water because I wanted to feel it - I wanted to match the intensity of the waves - I hurled myself into the surf, whirling my shoulder and back to hit the water fast and hard. Water squirted into my right ear; I was immediately off-balance from this hearing distortion. But I was wet. And I was being carried by the water -
All that sensation lasted for hours. I remembered time when I was a shorter boy - fighting the waves, or rolling with them, just playing in the water, feeling it all around me, rising and falling with it, against it - reveling in the endless series of play partners. Each pile of oncoming water like an amusement ride, a primal force, unstoppable. Learning to work within the wave and then forgetting and being punished. And then standing up to make gestures at the broad blue surface, before riding it again back to land.
So many kinds of fun you can have in pounding surf! And these were waves not much taller than me, just propulsive. So I swam fast when I saw one coming, working to match its momentum. Maybe it would catch me, and carry me, and then pitch me into the sand. The best moments were my chest up on the top of a crest, arms stretched out to the side, face wide, mouth open, shouting joy as the wall of white churn behind me pushed just under me, up and forward.
But this was increasingly rare, as I caught more waves too late or in the wrong twisted posture, and I was churned hard. Some times I was just hammered down! Pushed into the sand by a finishing wave, and then rolled onto shells and small rocks. Human spin cycle - my bag of flesh tested by these surfaces, sandpaper to the skin.
And then I would get up, ready to charge back in. If I had been floating for a while, waiting for the right big moment, then I would find myself chasing a rapid series of large waves. If I rose up quick and ran back into the water, I might position myself right, and find myself flying again quick.
But the longer the day wore on, the hours of this rolling and tumbling, the harder it got to get up. I might make it back to the second wave, but I was out of synch, out of breath, and I would get tossed. Hours into this play, I was dizzy, staggered by the waves. And then the pace of the following waves, coming again, taking me out at the knees, knocking me back down, rolling me further. I was slowly losing my bearings, and I liked it.
But the saltwater was most insidious - filling every orifice as I was submerged. My ears plugged, my throat clenched tight around the salt. My nose running. Eyes beginning to squint and burn. I loved the feeling so much of being in the water, but it was slowly becoming untenable. My taste for romping near the shore was gradually eliminating my ability to stand, to see, to think clearly.
I took a break from my search for altered states in the surf. I went up to our little encampment. I drank a fantastic cold Pabst Blue Ribbon. Ethan fixed Pimm's cups. He had cucumber for the drinks, but no lemons. I was offered five dollars to find a lemon on the beach; I left to find one just to please my friend. So I walked for fifteen minutes, untrained calves straining against the sand, asking each human settlement along the sand if they had citrus fruit. And none did. I returned fruitless. Ethan served me a fluffer-nutter sandwich. We ate slowly warming St. Andre's cheese on bread (Ethan later renamed to "Sand Andre"), with fresh tomato and a soft boiled egg. And then I laid around for a time.
And then back to the water. I was really losing my edge now - my calves tightened into painful cramps, I was routinely tossed such that my ankles came over my head, my shoulders and back pushed hard across the sand. Ethan and Lars joined me, and I didn't see any reason to stop. There were a few places I could see where the beach had pushed through my skin, but these are just flesh wounds, small abrasions, scrapes. Our bags of skin are remarkably resilient, I reasoned. Besides, floating in the ocean, waiting for a wave, I felt totally stimulated. More than three TVs in the living stimulated. Watching the water, pulled by current, paddling and floating, sunshine and saltwater. I loved it, to the pain.
And when I finally couldn't stand up enough to make it fun, when I was going facedown on too many waves and sailing on too few, when my friends were putting on their clothes and folding up towels, I walked up back to the beach. I picked up the last cold Pabst and cracked it into my thirsty maw, sitting on the beach elbows on knees where the surf could still touch my ankles. I sucked down the glorious cold fluid. My knees were shaking, my arms trembling. I poured the beer over my head, to cool and invigorate me. It stung the small cuts on my head and shoulders. Ethan came up behind me, to take my picture - I was stunned, surprised, and as I rose, saltwater snot leaked freely out my nose. He took pictures. And, it turns out, he shot some video of me floundering about:
July 17, 2004
my first one hundred dollar book
I first learned about Ikkyu from a cash register book. Hey! A raunchy old time Japanese poet. That sounds fun.
That little book, eight years old at least, is now well thumbed and my favorite pages flapped over. I've read from it, aloud and to myself, carried as a sort of momentary reminder of the sacred as profane.
When I was at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, I was delighted to see that they had an Ikkyu book on their shelves - Ikkyuu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology: A Zen Poet of Medieval Japan Translation - a slender academic publication fashioned from ragged-edged rice paper and packed with expert translations of hundreds of Ikkyu's haiku. Sonja Arntzen not only translated the poems though, she footnoted them. It was a dream - the chance to delve deeper into this inspiring figure and understand his background, his allusions, metaphors, and connections between his works. Plus, she included the original Chinese characters he used to write his poems, and I was able to recognize about one in every one hundred, which felt pretty gratifying.
I checked the volume out of the FCCJ library and carried it with me for the summer of 2002, reading and reciting the poems, and pouring over the notes. I took extensive notes based on my reading. It had last been checked out in 1987 - I thought briefly about appropriating it. But I didn't want to deny someone else the chance to have a great discovery as I did, you know?
When I got back to the States, I began searching online for a copy. Turns out the only copies of the book I could find online were at least $120. Holy smokes! That's a lot to pay for a book. Especially not a book bigger than my chest and filled with pictures.
Still the power of the reading experience stuck with me - the volume so filled with information and insight, alongside Ikkyu's ever-entertaining and provocative lines. And heck, I spend $120 on computer parts or clothes shopping. A memorable important book is worth that price, or maybe a little less. I negotiated with one online seller, got them down to $100, and as soon as I scored a mailing address last month, I ordered my copy.
It arrived this week, and I've brought it with my on my travels. Reading through this book, I find it serves the same functions for me that a Bible might serve for other people. Stories and insight, using good humor to endorse hard work, celebrating the sensual pleasure of living and loving, preaching moderation and failing sometimes. Humanity and insight. I've been thinking of what kind of digital works I can render from the text. And wondering if I could track down Sonja Arntzen for a meeting or interview! Or at least to say thanks.
July 13, 2004
attraction gives us the opportunity to pout and preen - to fix up and make ourselves the most of what we are - maybe one aspect, jockeying up the toughness for example, or just smelling nicer than normal.
And then if we have a chance to strut a bit and show our stuff, and we don't find the mate-rial attraction we maybe haven't quite admitted we're looking for we have another excuse
Refused in my desires, I drive with the windows rolled down, cold San Francisco night leaking in through the Creatures and the heat blasting from my dashboard. I take a turn fast and hold my car under control. I don't want to make the cops think I'm worth pulling off the road. But I do want to claim some tiny sense of power.
I imagine myself in the first quiet moment after the crash - so desparate to have speed and eager to keep pushing forward, now in my car where I can make it happen, not like the bar where conversation limited by ambient television and other patrons keeps me from depth charging as I prefer - in my car I can accelerate, and find myself ahead of some cars until I meet cars still faster and maybe take them on. And maybe someday I'll find myself wrapped around a concrete barrier, my hands can't move to turn off the music if the CD hasn't skipped that song might become even more poignant as I feel blood leaking out around my legs and my hair plastered to my face in front of my eyes unable to move maybe paralyzed or just pinned down by my machinery distorted by stupidity, driving hunger
All for the sake of some drama, I would feel dumb afterwards. But still I seek the night.
You have to get up early to drive, don't you? She mentioned after our two drinks had each been drained. Hard to push the dawn and hold all the other life aspects in constellation. I'll put it another way. I have no home, my active belongings are mostly in my car. Some wanderers find affection on the road. I've been working to minimize my impact as a guest, working overtime to land again in my own situation, to have a home I can control for human commerce. Not like a bluesman I remembered who would stay with friends and sleep with them too. That might be easier for meeting some of my needs -
Most of my physical affection in the last week has come from a 15 month old, I told her. All the sense memories came flooding back then, peering up at the jackalope head mounted on the wall of this watering hole. Cradling her diapered bum in my arm as she pointed up the street into Chinatown. Hoisting her above my head cackling as I tried to keep her from crying. Clasping her wriggling body against my chest as she screamed for her departing mother. These are my recent intimate human moments.
Some people seem attracted to me but I don't feel I could take responsibility for them as I feel I should after anything involving fertile fluids. So I tend not to get too physical with those folks. I told her that too. Why are we talking about this? she laughed defensively, though still continuing the topic of living single. I slouched lower and lower in our vinyl bench. I had a giant pimple that had grown on my upper lip. A friend counseled me to pop it. I didn't, I wouldn't. Well, he laughed, that will be a sort of test. She didn't even notice it, she said. I switched barstools to give her the zit-free side of my face.
There wasn't much leaning forward into the unlimited night, into the ice water in her eyes or mine. It was steady conversation, shared life phases, experiences in common and questioning motivation. I wondered if we had divergent ethics. I was looking for a reason that I didn't want to manifest all my desire in her in that moment. Or maybe that I couldn't. I tried to be honest. But I didn't have any goal. As our wandering conversation with little context drew to a close I still wanted something. Sex might have been nice - something taught in my pants under her hand hot flesh against my neck sigh and hand in her hair pulling her towards something eagerly unanticipated.
But instead, I had myself, driving too fast towards no home and someone else's sleeping baby.
July 11, 2004
lifting my head
Regarding my arms, slightly darkened by a day at the Alameda County Fair. I looked long into the eyes of cows, pigs and chickens - I apologized and considered my meat eating. This amidst 4-H displays by children proving they know the value of animal byproducts for human evolution.
On the way there, I sang a song I remembered from school, striving for the same strong quality of breath from Wolgamot's belly I remembered staring at as he sang that song. But my rendition isn't worthy; the driver complains.
Today I catch myself smelling like her baby. I sat next to her, helping her start a web page. We drank a beer. Chris played with Clementine. Slow Sunday. A welcome, slow, Sunday!
We're a bit into July; that means about halfway through this year. I can't remember how one chronological moment passed into another; where was I? Only recent holidays stand out in my mind. Like Howard's birthday last Wednesday. I followed him with a videocamera, gently invading his space and recording his day. I've since spent hours and hours afterwards in iMovie editing 40 minutes of footage down to five minutes of memory. I like composing video - it's very dense - layers of sound and pictures, text on top, what comes in between. The challenge is the same as writing - what's your point? And are you capable of sacrificing your favorite parts if those parts don't support that point?
Fortunately, I'm making a video with no point other than personal amusement, and celebrating a friend. Both of which come easy. I'm taking this summer to practice the skills I'll need for school next semester - tools like Flash and iMovie and Final Cut Pro. Exercising non-linear multimedia visual composition. Hoo-ah!
That's my steady backdrop amidst more travel. I drove from LA to Oakland Monday, to celebrate birthdays and friends and close out some Bay Area business. Soon I drive back to Los Angeles, for just a night to sleep before I fly away. I took some of my time and money and decided to splurge - visiting a friend who inherited a historic inn in Nantucket.
I'll still have my laptop with me then, working on these media. Each day I wake up, I have a new method - wherever I am, when my morning eyes greet the light, I think about what project I want to finish that day. Reading a friend's screenplay, updating some web templates, writing a letter. Something done each day, amidst the summer sonerie.
I'll be pitching some freelance writing pieces and working to get paid, but I'm also going to spend some time this summer contemplating this small hole that I found towards the lower part of my stomach.
July 03, 2004
I've been fortunate to have some ready social scene action here in Los Angeles - invited by friends and associates to some immediate media community. I celebrated one instance thereof on Game Girl Advance:
July 01, 2004
this about sums it up
"What is this part of me that lingers to overhear my own conversation? I lie rigid in the rigid circle. It regards me from diametric points, without sex, and wise. We lie in a rigid city, anticipating winds. It circles me, intimating only by position that it knows more than I want to. There, it makes a gesture too masculine before ecstatic scenery. Here, it suggests femininity, pausing at gore and bone. It dithers and stammers, confronted by love. It bows a blunt, mumbling head before injustice, rage, or even its like ignorance. Still, I am convinced that at the proper shock, it would turn and call me, using those hermetic syllables I have abandoned on the crags of a broken conscience, on the planes of charred consciousness, at the entrance to the ganglial city. And I would raise my head."
volunteers of the eveningAs my eyes came into focus this morning on my computer screen the late evening came back to me - at about 2.30am I sent out an email volunteering to go to Chad to interview Sudanese refugees. I snorted. Hah! Proof that email is a viable medium for man's quiet desperation.