Category Archives: stoking the creative fire

movie one

I’ve spent most of this afternoon working on creating a small video of my Mum. Here’s a teeny tiny excerpt – the the video is still something of a work in progress. But, as usual, Mum’s got an opinion, and advice. She’s a happening thing. Here’s the information I wrote at Ruth Gedye (recorded 5 May 2007) is 90 years old. She’s learnt a thing or two raising six children while working as a farmer’s wife and later as a cooking demonstrator. In this video Ruth shares some advice on raising good kids, good pigs, and good gardens. At 90 Ruth still drives her own car and runs a small and profitable business on the side. She’s a great role model.


2 minute poseA week or so ago I noticed one of my colleagues drawing during a meeting. Who doesn’t draw at meetings – for some time I thought their sole purpose was to engage people in a reflective drawing interlude. Back to my colleague – he wasn’t doodling, he was drawing. Interesting.

I asked him if he’d had any training, and no, he was a natural – i.e. self taught artist. We spent some time talking about drawing (he was interested because I’d noticed the drawing vs doodling thing).

15 minute poseHe, like I, often spends longer at work while we wait for our respective wives to finish their working day. I mentioned to him that I was thinking of going along to do some life drawing and he, like me, thought that spending a quiet couple of hours starting at a nude woman was not a bad idea, and may even be good for our health. And if we made some drawings, well, so much the better.

25 minute poseWe headed off – me with my roll of aquarelles and a sketchbook, he with some pencils, pens and some paper hooked from the photocopier – desperate times call for desperate measures. Going to life drawing for the first time is quite a daunting prospect.

40 minute poseFortunately my colleague was more than able to manage the situation. The model was also quite daunting in herself, storming in, taking the pose, and generally working at being a model, quite irrespective of us – the artists.

I had a great time – my drawings weren’t overly hot, but I haven’t drawn from life for about five years so you get a bit rusty. I used to have no problems with hands and feet – unfortunately our model appears to have had transplants from an eagle. Or silly putty. Or something. My colleague’s drawings were rather impressive – for someone who’s never drawn from a model before he did (annoyingly) well. *Sigh* I’m still working on creating drawings that actually bear a passing resemblance to the person – drawing is one thing, likenesses are something else.

We’ll try again next week – we booked the session into our calendars, and our workmates – well, we’ve managed to supply them with hours of entertainment although sadly for us, a singular lack of interest in becoming models themselves. In some cases, however, this may be a good thing…

true colours, 2007

Loving long weekends lots. I noted that this time last year I wrote about sorting the colours for this space – and Dr. Max Lûscher said, ‘Your Existing Situation – Is seeking a solution to existing problems or anxieties, but is liable to find it difficult to decide on a right course to follow.’

Today, the good doctor had this to say about me and my situation…

Your Existing Situation: Imaginative and sensitive; seeking an outlet for these qualities–especially in the company of someone equally sensitive. Interest and enthusiasm are readily aroused by the unusual or the adventurous.
Your Stress Sources: Resilience and tenacity have become weakened. Feels overtaxed, worn out, and getting nowhere, but continues to stand his ground. He feels this adverse situation as an actual tangible pressure which is intolerable to him and from which he wants to escape, but he feels unable to make the necessary decision.
Your Restrained Characteristics: Feels cut off and unhappy because of the difficulty in achieving the essential degree of cooperation and harmony which he desires. Able to achieve satisfaction through sexual activity.
Your Desired Objective: Considers the existing circumstances disagreeable and over-demanding.
Your Actual Problem: Refuses to allow anything to influence his point of view.
Your Actual Problem #2: The fear that he might be prevented from achieving the things he wants drives him to the exploitation of all types of experience, so that he may categorically deny that any of them has any value. This destructive denigration becomes his method of concealing hopelessness and a profound sense of futility.

How rude. Hmmm, perhaps if the good doctor was to offer an expanded range of this season’s colours… Check out what he has to say about you

By the way, on a more pleasantly colourful note, you can see Danny Gregory demonstrating how to watercolour al fresco in LA in a rather good video – or perhaps dream up your own colours. I’ve started to make inroads on the bulb planting under the roses – in Spring, as with all of my recent garden design work, the colour will be ‘slut’ – i.e. the more colur the better. Who needs a riot of colour? A frenzy of colour? A carnival, a cornucopia, a crescendo of colour? I just want MORE colour, and, gentle reader, let me assure you, in the miserable grey Spring days, more IS more.

words on lips…

I wrote recently about happiness at work. It’s quite interesting as there seems to be a number of New Zealanders, or at least people using New Zealand based domains coming to these pages to investigate further. Apparently a number of New Zealanders are interested in happiness at work.

We have heard a great deal about skill shortages – ‘desperate’ – is word used, and yet from my observation (as in, no quantifiable research, merely looking through the various sits vac options), skill shortage in the Wellington catchment seems restricted to words like ‘Java Developer’, ‘Test Project Manager’, and ‘Contract’. Sure, these roles are well paid, but they’re often short term contracts – under a year. I do think a way to make a fortune in Wellington is to be able to communicate to both mortals and machines, particularly machines running databases. Most organisations I know or have heard of have dodgy data systems, and databases costing six figures.

But what’s this got to do with happiness? Today as I was taking my daily work I overheard people talking while waiting for the cross lights. They were commenting about how shattering they were finding their jobs. I’m putting words into their mouths, but the dialog went along the lines of ‘I’m a capable, competent, well educated person. I’ve got 15 years experience in the workforce, I’ve got a degree. I’m well organised, I work well with others. I’m a good person. So how come I feel so utterly incompetent and so miserable in my job?’

To which the other person responded, ‘I know how you feel – I’m much the same – I feel completely worthless – at least that’s how my manager makes me feel.’ And the first person agrees.

As I said, I’m putting words in their mouths, but I was surprised – not because they’d said it, everyone has an off day – a gripe between workmates – but because it’s something I seem to hear a lot of lately, reinforced by people find the writing here. What seems to be evident is that if there is a skill shortage it’s not only meaning ‘we’ve got a job vacancy we can’t fill’, but that middle management seems short of skills. I’m sure it’s a complex task – managing your own job and managing people into doing their jobs too. I’m equally sure, however, that it’s learnable, and teachable. I’m confident the military wouldn’t be happy if morale was so low amongst their troops.

I’ve read lately about how New Zealand needs to increase its productivity. Translated from press release talk, this means I need to work harder, more effectively, with less resources. I don’t have any problem with that – if we all had good working tools (see also databases), meaningful and comprehensive manuals, complete training programmes, and effective management I’m sure we’d all be better at what we do. But this still doesn’t address the third corner – the motivation. It’s like the crime scene programmes on tv – you have to have the opportunity, your have to have to tools, and you have to have the motivation. Oh, and then you have to act on it.

I’m unsure why management has to be so demotivating – so negative. Perhaps they also lack the opportunity, the tools, and the motivation – I have no idea. But I do know this is not a good way of doing business – it’s wasteful and it’s stupid, and hardly any way to turn New Zealand into some kind of sustainable powerhouse of productivity into the second decade.

bloom, unseen

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act ii. Sc. 1.), William Shakespeare wrote a few lines that, from the first time I read them have always painted a picture in my mind – this is somewhere I’d like to spend some time. Shakespeare notes some of the most beautiful and fragrant flowers – back then probably more wildflowers than in a garden as we would know it today.

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.

Marica is working through her Project 365 – she wrote about the flowering of our ‘Queen of the Night’ cacti. Marica wrote – This plant will bloom when it is ready whether anyone notices it or not. I am so glad I got to see it and smell it. I wonder how many things in life we miss out on because we are not observant or even aware or worse still, we just don’t care.

I am also reminded that we all have different gifts; different things we can do or offer. The difference between us and this plant is that we are able to choose whether or not we will bloom, when we will do it, and how long for.

View The Five People You Meet in Heaven product details at AmazonOver the Christmas/New Year break I re-read Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven. On reflecting about the story, and Marica’s writing, I realised we might also bloom unknown to ourselves. Thomas Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard (Stanza 14) is perhaps talking more about how a person might go to their grave with their song unsung, but it begins to capture the idea –

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Only begins, however, because it is possible that the sweetness is not wasted. It is possible to be hugely influential in another person’s life without being aware of it. There are two men who have had an influence in my life, they both shared the same first name, in my mind they look somewhat alike, they shared the same interests, and I doubt that they ever heard of each other, let alone met each other.

Alf King was my biology teacher at high school. He’s one of the few teachers I can remember, and yet I can’t actually think of anything exceptional that he taught me, from a biology perspective. What he did do was teach what was his passion in life – to me he was, and is, the epitomy of what a teacher should be – someone who is, in the twilight of their career, still as enthusiastic about the subject as they were straight out of university.

Mr King’s lab was the real McKoy – worthy of the Herbology lab frequented by Harry Potter. There were plants (Bryophyllums – of course) growing on the windowsills, along with a selection of other experiments. Mice – the labs smelled of mice. Cockroaches (in the range). Jars with preserved sharks and other specimens, including snakes, collected during the years spent in Kenya. I can recall him saying how he thought he’d discovered new species of plants – and if memory served me correctly he’d sent them off to the Linnean Society, only to find the plant had been documented decades before. He laughed about that – and I realised that biology could be more than some lessons in a classroom, rather a network of past, present, and future discovery. As an aside, I found in a recent Linnean Society newsletter some advice that I believe, even taken out of context, summarises Alf King:

  • Recognise the likely benefits of following the rules.
  • Optimise your use of the single side of A4.
  • Include a budget.
  • Avoid appearing greedy.
  • Predict the ultimate outputs.
  • Partition large projects into fundable portions.
  • Look forward more than backward.
  • Stand out from the crowd.
  • Consider the broader impact of your outputs.
  • Keep your feet on the ground.

So, although I was a good biology student (loved it), it wasn’t the biology lessons that I really took away, rather it was the collection of attitudes, values, and techniques that have influenced me and my practice, both in class and out, ever since. The blooming on my part, unseen and unknown by my old teacher.

image of Alfred Bryd Graf from http://www.roehrsco.comThe second influence came from Dr Alfred Bryd Graf. Dr Graf would never have heard of me, but he’s had quite an influence on me. He died aged 100 in 2002, after a long and successful career as a plant hunter and world authority on tropical and subtropical plants. He added at least 120 ‘new’ plants to the range of known varieties. He found new species of aglaonema, dracaena, sansevieria, begonia, and even the first white African violet. Dr Graf was no armchair horticulturalist – the New York Times noted in his obituary that his trips had their close calls, from unforgiving terrain to tribes who resented his intrusion in New Guinea. He visited the giant lobelias of Mount Kilimanjaro, the azaleas and rhododendrons of Sikkim and the bamboos of China, where he savored the country’s ornamental horticulture.

Dr Graf’s contact with me has been through his books ‘Tropica’, and the huge two volume encyclopaedia, ‘Exotica’. When Marica was working through her writing about the cacti she wanted to know more about them, and the correct name. Searches on the web showed a confusion of names and muddled information. I said to Marica, ‘The internet is -at best – an opinion, Exotica is the law.’ When I was more actively involved with growing and selling house plants, Dr Graf’s books were the final word in terms of identifying plants, quite apart from the astounding range of other information relating to the culture and origin of the plants. Seeing photos of the plants in their natural context was so amazing – often clarifying some of the other questions, for example what mix to grow the plants in or if the leaves change shape as the plant matures.

Apart from the obvious reference advantages, Dr Graf’s books have always been an inspiration to me – we didn’t make very much money working with plants, but I loved it. Here was someone who had somehow managed to take things that were interesting to me – travel with his wife to the far corners of the planet, explore, look at plants, take photos, learn new things, discover new species, and come home and write books that are cherished around the world. It doesn’t get better than that – I’m still motivated by that idea.

wokfi for beginners

In the best drunk monkey stumble around the net tradition, I found something near and dear to my heart today – people reframing technology for their own purposes – in particular, reinventing low tech for high tech purposes.

It all started when I was loading some books into boxes – I should do an inventory – as if I can be bothered with writing down the details of several box loads of books. I figure someone must’ve solved this before, and remembered someone had come up with some Mac software that you could load your book titles in and it’d search for the bibliographic details. I tried to find the software to see if it was available for xp yet. (Note: still looking for the software.) [No boxes packed]

In my searching found LibraryThing was able to read from CueCats, and they had some for sale. But do I actually want to order one from the USA and then they don’t work and on and on and on…

So I did a search for USB hand bar scanners at Dick Smith’s – they might have that kind of do-dah.

No such luck – well apparently not cheaply, but what I did find, is a bunch of lo-tec/high-tec hackers bent of turning innocent (‘THERE ARE NO BYSTANDERS!’) chinese cookware into wifi hardware. Very cool. From the web site:

Make 2.4GHz parabolic mesh dishes from cheap but sturdy Chinese cookware scoops & a USB WiFi adaptor ! The largest (300mm diam) shows 12-15dB gain (enough for a LOS range extension to 3-5km), costs ~US$5 & comes with a user friendly bamboo handle that suits WLAN fieldwork- if you can handle the curious stares! (Neater boutique versions may better appeal).

I still haven’t solved the bar code scanner issue, but I’m about to stop writing and start packing. I just need to read a couple more pages from the wokfi team… I may be some time…

I did eventually find a freeware eLibrary program stashed away in tucows, Songstech, the program developer’s site has later versions (now eLibPro), but I’m unsure if they’re still freeware. eLibrary is apparently also able to accept input from CueCats. I might be closer to getting a bar code scanner than I thought.

Have a great new year folks, see you in 2007.

spring cleaning

It has been our tradition that we spend the time between xmas and new year working on our web sites and this year has been no exception. If the reading here is a little changeable I do apologise. I’m taking the marginalia template from the 2006 lapsang souchong colours into the colours for 2007. This year the colours will be silver, blue, charcoal, and rust – I’ll come back with the final palette once I’ve done all the final checking. One of the things I love about web work is being able to fine tune the colours until I get them how I want them. The colours for this year have been inspired some of the retired marine equipment to be found on the Wellington waterfront.

Tales from the Tao

View Tales from the Tao: Inspirational Teachings from the Great Taoist Masters product details at AmazonLurking in Dymocks a few weeks ago I was attracted to Tales by the graphic design work – beautifully set type, black and white photos, complemented by cinnabar red. I love that colour combination.

While reading the book – the stories are traditional or inspired by traditional tales – I wanted more pictures. Which is slightly crazy, because there are plenty of images. When I’d finished reading, I wanted fewer photos, and more stories. Ah – that Tao works in mysterious ways. I’ll be cherishing this book, and dipping into it for inspiration for a good long time to come.

In the world of knowledge;
Every day something new is added.
In pursuit of the Tao,
Every day something is let go.
Lao Tsu

we are not a mused

Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television - view product details at AmazonA few years ago I used to teach video production. Mid way through the courses I read Four Arguments, and my world changed. I’d never been a big fan of tv, but I was a big fan of the making of video. I knew crap tv was – uh – crap, but Mander’s writing turned my long-held vision that documentaries were valuable into a premise demanding more scrutiny. There are few things more annoying than a cogent, convincing argument that turns a well reinforced opinion on its head. And few things more useful.

It’s seemed that for years I’ve moaned about tv – my wife tells me I’m always on about it – and I’ve always felt slightly guilty about it – I have no compunction about not watching tv, however, the trouble is, with video production a distribution vehicle is required, and that vehicle, until relatively recently, is tv. So my position has been one of those snappy, yappy, bite the hand that feeds you; except that because I’m not involved there any more, tv is not even the hand that feeds me. So here I am, this solitary, whining voice who doesn’t watch tv, bleating alone in the wilderness about not watching tv, to people who watch tv. Truly pathetic. Curse you, Gerry Mander!

Time has continued to move from the future to the past, and today producing technically high quality moving images has never been simpler, easier, or cheaper. The laptop I write this on has significantly more fire power in every respect than the Fairlight CVI I used to use in the late 80s, early 90s.
image from an aside, the Fairlight was never quite broadcast quality, but one thing that was superb about the Fairlight was the fact that the essential control was the square orange button on the front of the box. No other do-dah. Click – it booted – it genlocked – you were in business. Just yummy. A much missed approach to computing.

Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money - view product details at AmazonI found ‘Thou Shall Prosper’ in the library, and having just written about the changing values of money and work I grabbed it for a read, top lip pre-curled with horror at the somewhat cheesy title. Rabbi Lapin’s book transcends the title – I’ve found it well worth the read and very thought provoking. Lapin lays about him on the subject of tv (See? You knew I’d love him.) from a perspective I’d never thought about. His concept is that the purpose of television is to amuse us. He deconstructs amuse into – muse – the source of an artist’s inspiration; and ‘a’ as in ‘keeping away from’. Think ‘aseptic’ (free of or using methods to keep free of pathological microorganisms), ‘amoral’ (without moral standards or principles), and ‘avoid’ (refrain from doing something). Lapin makes the jump that ‘amuse’ then is to be free of or away from inspiration and creativity. Interesting. I’d never thought about it like that before and I’m inclined to agree.

Me and about 10 million others. According to an article in the UK’s Daily Express, ‘The golden age of television is over as millions of viewers switch off because of poor quality shows.’

The Sunday Express survey by ICM has revealed people are turning to new forms of entertainment, such as the internet and DVDs, because they feel let down by the programme makers.

Fifty-three per cent of viewers believe TV is getting worse and only 10 per cent that it is getting better.

Apparently, one in four people watches less television now than five years ago. There’s 42 million television households in Britain, the results mean about 10 million of them are switching off their TV sets because of substandard programmes. Ten years ago, when I used to buy advertising, one of the big issues then was – where are the audiences? Even then the audience was fragmenting – obscure magazines, fickle readers/viewers/listeners, special interest groups – it was genuinely difficult to track down a meaningful, i.e. congruent, audience in our target market; almost at any price. People turning off tv is a marketer’s nightmare.

Counter pointing, perhaps complementing, Lapin’s ten commandments for prosperity, there are the Cluetrain Manifesto’s 95 theses – number 95 ‘We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.’ And number 90, ‘Even at its worst, our newfound conversation is more interesting than most trade shows, more entertaining than any TV sitcom, and certainly more true-to-life than the corporate web sites we’ve been seeing.’