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I fell about laughing at a recent catch-up with colleagues, as one of our party came to the realisation that I am not, in fact writing pornography! but rather, I am writing a graphic novel and graphic novels are not synonymous with porn.

In lay terms, a graphic novel is like a comic book for grown-ups. The one I am reading at the moment is 344 pages long. Entitled Persepolis, it is the autobiographical account of Marjane Satrapi, growing up in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. The one I am writing is going to be at least as long as this, and I hope it doesn’t take 13 years to finish. This is how long it took Art Spiegelman’s to complete his memoir, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale.

In terms of sales, the graphic novel category is the fastest growing book category¬† today, yet it is still relatively unknown to most people. I am sure that the film, ‘The Watchmen’ will do much to raise the profile of graphic novels. The movie is based on Alan Moore’s book, by the same name which made it to the Time magazine list of the top 100 novels. The category is growing rapidly online, the webcomic list alone provides a daily listing of over 13,000 updated web comics.

Overview of the untitled graphic novel

There are 5 main characters in my as yet untitled graphic novel… Slyder, Jon, Amelia, Helena and Isaac.

Slyder and Jon are from alternative realities at the same point in the future (circa 2800).

Slyder’s people have rejected the creation of new things and are defined by their opportunism and the way they assimilate technology into, and with the natural.

In the year 2800 cities as we know them, have long since disappeared. Slyder’s people live in underground spaces such as Derinkuyu in Turkey, a vast underground city. The oldest parts of Derinkuyu have been around for 10,000 years, it is some 18 storeys deep, houses thousands of people and is so complex that it has vented kitchens, a winery and even a stable. There are many cities in the area joined by underground tunnels a couple of kilometers long and wide enough for people to walk three abreast. Slyders people also live in the large salt domes under Houston, 500 of them, each 1 – 2 kilometers wide. In 2009 we store some of the most volatile substances on the planet in these salt domes, ethylene for example is stored here under 1,500 pounds of pressure until we are ready to turn it into plastic. Slyder’s people also live in nuclear waste facilities in Southern California and many other such sites.

In the first installment, Slyder gathers the crew together. Through an appropriated technology (we don’t know from whom), Slyder has the ability to ‘slide’ people through time in different ways and to fold places and time together.

In Slyder’s time… one of the salt domes is full, Slyder’s people break the shell, it explodes, sets off a chain reaction and people die. The people in the nuclear waste facilities become sick, and die. Slyder needs help preventing these disasters from happening. Jon will help… up to a point, he’s happy for Slyder to stop these things from happening, but Jon is going to make sure that nothing occurs that will place his own present, an alternative reality to Slyders in jeopardy.

The novel looks at possible future scenarios based on current real world situations. I hope reach a different audience from those that would, for example read ‘The World without Us.’

I am happy to entertain all ideas for a title, shame the Watchmen is taken!

I’ll post progress and pages as I go, the latter will be of far superior quality when I add a scanner to my technology suite (some way off unfortunately).

NB: The images are still very much a work in progress, they have yet to be coloured (slight colour only) and the lettering is only ‘penciled’ at this stage.

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cimg2467My partner has taken to telling me that my mobile phone belongs in a museum. Friends suggest that when I have forgotten my phone it is because even I, am now embarrassed to be seen with it. My son thinks I should, and I quote, “kill it quickly!” Colleagues spy it sitting on the table and eye it quizzically. And as for me? Well I love my phone, it’s a Sony Ericsson P900 and it’s been with me for 6 years. It’s certainly beat up and it is kinda big and heavy, but it does everything I need it to. It takes photos and stores all my numbers and as an extra special little thing it lets me scribble on the screen with a stylus instead of using the key pad to send text messages. In short, even though my phone is out of date and ugly and war-weary, I see no need to replace it with another.

I love sparkles, fashion, design and all gorgeous things new and old. I am a hedonist, and a recovering shopaholic. I am easily seduced by all that our consumer society offers and my credit card is bent from the weight of all the glitz and glamour. It is thus that I have arrived as principles for a new consumerism:

  • only buy that what I need (it therefore follows that if it’s not broken, don’t replace it)
  • buy second-hand wherever possible
  • avoid plastic at all costs

I recently read, and recommend ‘The World Without Us’ in which the author, Alan Weisman looks at what the world would be like were humans to mysteriously vanish off the face of the earth: what would be left behind? for how long? what would our legacy be?

cimg2469Polymers, it seems, are forever. During the early 20th century, marine biologist Alistair Hardy developed an apparatus that could be towed on an Antarctic mission boat 10 meters below the surface to sample (ant-sized) krill. In the 1930s he modified it to measure even smaller plankton. It employed a band of silk, and each band had a sampling capacity of 500 nautical miles. Hardy convinced English merchant vessels using commercial lanes throughout the North Atlantic to drag his Continuous Plankton Recorder for several decades….. fast forward, and what have we learnt? Richard Thompson realised that the material was a time capsule and set about making sense of it. Thompson’s team understood that not only was the amount of the plastic in the ocean increasing, even smaller pieces of it were appearing. Slow mechanical action, like the waves wearing down the rocks into sand, there were no signs that plastics were biodegrading, only that the pieces were slowly getting smaller and smaller. “We imagined that it was being ground down smaller and smaller, into a kind of powder. And we realized [sic] that smaller and smaller could lead to bigger and bigger problems.” “There are the terrible stories of sea otters choking on polyethylene rings from beer six-packs; of gulls and swans and gulls strangled by nylon nets and fishing lines… His personal worst was a study on fulmar carcasses washed ashore on North Sea coastlines. Ninety five percent had plastic in their stomachs¬† – an average of 44 pieces per bird.” As these plastics break down, who else is consuming them? As they break down into smaller and smaller particles they are appetising throughout the food chain, to barnacles, sand fleas. “When particles lodged in their intestines, the resulting constipation was terminal.” If they were small enough they passed right through. “All he knew was that soon everything alive would be eating them. When they get as small as powder, even zoo plankton will swallow them.” The painting, as yet untitled is about this.

Thompson learned that it is not as it is in the ocean as it is on land. Thompson’s team tied biodegradable plastic bags to moorings and discovered that after a year you could still carry groceries in them.

PhD student, Mark Browne discovered that we are giving all this a helping hand. Shower massage creams, body scrubs, hand cleansers, all full of exfoliants, little granules that massage as you go, and all use plastic. Ingredients are listed as ‘micro-fine polyethylene granules or with polyethylene -spheres or beads.’ Whatever, they’re selling plastic meant to go right down the drain, into the sewers, into the rivers, right into the ocean.” If all human activity were to stop today, organisms will be dealing with our plastics for thousands of years… at least…. possibly more.

A.R.R.R. and not just for plastic! Avoid. Reduce. Reuse and as a last resort Recycle. A friend is starting a new blog and inviting people to contribute their ideas on being frugal (not to be confused with being miserly), frugal is about prioritising needs and desires, it is about engaging a mindfulness when it comes to consumerism and behaviours. I’ll let you know when it’s up and running.

Call me the Dr

Here I am at the Brightstar 8th Annual Intranet and Portals Conference in Wellington, New Zealand.
Nearing the end of day 1 of the conference. I have given a presentation on Modelling Collaboration using the current work for the World Wide Fund for Nature, facilitated a 1-day workshop on the Intranet Hive and have only one round table this afternoon before my work is done.

Michael Sampson is speaking, largely off the cuff (as he says this is the way he now likes to present).

The title slide has 4 big circles with a number in each: 2013.

2 moving to one, the internet as a place to read versus the internet as a place to work
0 Zero tolerance for cool stuff: Business outcomes
1 bright future: all of that maligned cool stuff
3 ideas for making use of the things you already have

Michael is currently using the movie The Dark Knight to bring intranet concepts to life.

Capability, Possibility, Applicability, Changeability. The Dark Knight (Batman) drives his car, the car blows up… a few more steps along the way… and he turns this all into a motorbike (changeability) and off he goes. Michael is so smart!

Michael says, “people hate change being done to them, but they like to take it on themselves. People like to improve as they go.” This is a concept that I can relate to, yet people continue to ‘do change’ to others. I wonder if this is just human nature? And for those of us who are lucky enough to live in a peaceful corner of the earth is this how we play out those tribal instincts, swapping fisticuffs for a big change stick?

As I tidy up my notes the room flares up into GrUps talking about the online interactions of their kids, ironically bemoaning their use of the very tools which they are evangelising in their online practices They talk about mode of it, the language and how locked out they (the grown-ups) are from this. As my own son nears his teenage years I wonder if I will forget what it was like to be a teenager, and how important it was to connect to other teenagers, as much as possible, hanging on the phone in the study all night, saying nothing of consequence… just feeling connected. And as much as possible being connected without the grown-ups putting the glass against the wall of our lives, which of course these things, instant messaging et al are great for!

According to Michael, we can only collaborate when we have shared mental models, cognition, working practices. While our parents grew up with a small group of common experiences, 1 TV channel etc, etc, today we have a myriad of opportunities: 100 TV channels, many movies and dvds, the internet, you tube etc. This has created great opportunity for each of us to pursue our own particular interests and at the same time it has made it more difficult, or has isolated us from others with common experiences. The internet moves the field allowing us to find people from the farther reaches of the planet.

And call Mr Sampson the Dr (fingers crossed) very soon as he has completed his thesis.

I’ve recently returned from a work trip to Kenya, and in doing so have faced the inevitable question: ‘what was Africa like?’ I struggled to answer this question. I couldn’t neatly package an answer up.

Of course it was great seeing herds of zebra and elan and wilder beast roaming outside the office in Kenya, but it was kind of weird seeing them beneath the pylons. I am sure that the armed guard who patrolled the floor of my hotel room was put in place to keep me safe and make me feel safe however it had the opposite effect. And the armed guards at the entrance to shopping malls, hotels, car parks and at road blocks (check points) had me more curious than anything else.

The difference between poverty and wealth was, as expected extreme. I drove past some of the most impressive houses with beautiful manicured lawns and exotic flowering gardens. These contrasted with the shanty towns where everything was brown, the rusting corrugated iron houses, the brown earth around them and there was not a tree in sight.

Everyone I spoke to at length expressed a real desire for peace and democracy and were working hard to eke out a good, honest living. Most people had been affected in some way by AIDS and knew a friend, father, mother, brother, sister, uncle or aunt who had died from AIDS. I was surprised at the capacity of people to forgive and move one, from everything from colonial rule to rioting, everyone is looking forward. People worked out of buildings with dirt floors and no electricity, windows or doors, but they wore suit pants and jackets and a tie.

The language Kiswahili was easy and fun: Jambo means hello, asante is thank you, carribo is welcome. I arrived with no local language and had the essentials for greetings, exchanging pleasantries, shopping and eating under control by the time I alighted my first cab. There are many tribes in Kenya all with their own languages and Kiswahili was created as a language common to all.

Recycling was taken to a new level, market stalls full of second-hand clothes, newspaper vendors selling newspapers and magazines from this week, last week and the week before, plastic bags, tarpaulins and all other manner of odds and ends giving new meaning to the term ‘second life.’ Nothing is thrown out, nothing goes to waste.

The food in Kenya was amazing, although people found the concept of vegetarianism extremely odd, to say the least, the menu was well set-up for me. Meat on the left as the main dish (choose your meat first), and vegetables and staples (rice, chapati etc) on the right, (chosen as an accompaniment). It’s also great for kids as if you want cutlery you have to ask for it, otherwise everything you need is (in most cases) on the far end of your arm. Market gardens abound, the food is fresh and mostly organic and overall it is yummy, yummy. I ate in local places, drank bottled water and came Out of Africa (pun intentional) fatter and happier than when I went in.

One of the other strange things of note (as a kiwi) is that there is kiwi boot polish in every store, everywhere you go. John said simply, this is because it’s the best (go figure).

Big John or Fat John as John proudly refers to himself as, is without a doubt the best thing about the Silver Springs Hotel in Nairobi. I accidentally, or serendipitously found John here and he was my guardian angel throughout my trip, driving me around and providing me with insights into the city, people, history, culture and food. If you are in the neighbourhood send him a text (+254720701271) or rock up at the Silver Springs Hotel (I’m not sure I’d recommend staying there and I would definitely not eat there) and find him.

I am quite sure that without John, the big bad Nairobi would have had a few less than pleasant surprises in store for me, instead I came home to far more danger and drama in the mean streets of Erskineville than I experienced anywhere during my travels. Cops and robbers, literally at my front door, high speed chase, guns going off, lots of bad language (the police), recovery of money and arrest of robbers.

Police car at my front door

Police car at my front door

The getaway car, photographed from my bedroom window (the police car is onthe left)

The getaway car, photographed from my bedroom window (the police car is on the left)

This is my front door, look closely between the door and the television and you can see the grill of the police car almost coming inside the house.

This is my front door, look closely between the door and the television and you can see the grill of the police car almost coming inside the house.

Several things stopped this from being more serious for me: I’d moved my car 10 minutes before hand. Had I not it would’ve been pushed through the side of the house. Also, the planter box outside the house had been replaced the week before, from it’s old fragile state to a new, heavy duty one bolted into the asphalt. The ‘robber car’ ran aground atop it, rather than keeping on going, again straight into the house.

While it was kinda scary for a little while, the ‘baddies’ were face down and then shunted off in the paddy wagon pretty quickly.

This was a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny taste of what things are like for people elsewhere. Living here, tucked away from the rest of the world, it is difficult (impossible?) to imagine what it is like to spend weeks inside your house because it is too dangerous to go out. In Nairobi at the beginning of the year this is exactly what happened. Protests over the election spiralled out of control resulting in wide-scale rioting and looting through December, January and February. During this time people were confined to their houses and those I spoke to couldn’t even go out for food and by the end of it all were (almost) starving with their food supplies having run out.

More than any of the other places I’ve visited recently Kenyans seemed not so caught up in matters far from home. There was a keen interest in other, neighbouring countries, at the time I was visiting, the goings-on in Zimbabwe were often the topic of discussion. Travel desires stretched no further than Mombasa, and a mid-size, second-hand Toyota van in order to transport families is the dream for owner-operator taxi drivers. John sent me a text a couple of days ago, wishing me well and hoping I’d returned safely from travels, even Kenya Air called me last week to apologise for not providing a vegetarian meal. So maybe I’m not so far away?

Overall would I recommend a visit to Africa? Yes. I found it provocative and confusing, the people lovely and engaging and curious and although everyone is open and friendly it was difficult to get under the skin of Kenya when visited so fleetingly and from the particular perspective that one necessarily brings. I’m still trying to work out whether it got under my skin and I still don’t know how to answer the question, ‘how was Africa?’

A funny anecdote to finish and returning to the title of the post. I was asked by a woman “if those,” she said pointing at my numerous, freckles “hurt.” I laughed, apparently they were thought to be some kind of allergy.

Online interview

Century of booksA little while ago, Ryan Witte contacted me, made a few comments on my blog and asked if he could interview me. Due to travel (mine) and extended sickness (also mine) it’s been a long time between conversations, however after some recent to-ing and fro-ing online to carry out the interview, it’s now live on Ryan’s blog. You can read the full interview entitled Time Travel on his blog here http://rwarchitextures.blogspot.com/2008/07/time-travels.html

The process was an interesting one for me in which Ryan carried out his own research by looking at my art work and the various online sites I have and by using his own knowledge of art. From there Ryan posed some questions for me to answer. It was an iterative process, each time the questions went deeper into the areas that Ryan chose to pursue.

I was afforded a level of introspection at an angle than I would not usually have taken.

I didn’t feel like Ryan was on the other side of the world and wonder if the technique can be used by others? I’ve suggested that a colleague try it out and am hoping that I will have the opportunity to do likewise with a global customer. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks to Ryan for the opportunity. Ryan’s site has some fantastic commentary on and imagery of art. Enjoy!

Image: ‘Great Pillars of the Library’, Oil, charcoal and acrylic on canvas, 2008. I finished this painting after India and before leaving again for the US, Switzerland and Kenya. My son named the work and also wrote a fantastic post about it during a crazy night in the studio, but to our annoyance, he didn’t save it! I’ve not really wanted to write about the ‘Great pillars of the Library,’ as the words T wrote are better than anything I could put together.

A couple of weeks ago I attended an Enterprise Content Management conference in San Francisco. The buzz on the floor was Nicholas Carr’s article in the Atlantic: Is Google making us stupid? According to Carr “foraging through the Web’s info-thickets” is leaving him barren of concentration, he says that as “the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.”

Whilst, I too have felt this in the not too distant past, I link the effect not to how I consume but rather how I produce.

It’s over two years ago that I joined the team at Step Two Designs, my most painful first memories relate to the process of writing articles, reports, white papers and blog entries. As I struggled with the difficult task at hand I realised that this was a muscle I had not been flexing for some time, in all honesty, probably not since university! In previous roles inside the belly of a corporate I worked with the prevailing culture of constant interruption. If someone wasn’t knocking on my door or ringing me, then I could always interrupt any weighty tasks in front of me myself by checking my email or doing some research online.

Back then I realised that my atrophied attention span was not limited to work, it had spilled over into my creative life. I could no longer spend many, many long hours in front of the easel without finding some way to distract myself.

In the last couple of years, I’ve been working out and the worm has indeed turned. Writing is mostly a happy pursuit; hours in front of the easel are spent fly past uninterrupted and I have read more books for work and for pleasure lately than ever before.

My current M.O. necessitates more time than ever “foraging through the Web’s info-thickets.” I can therefore only contribute this increase of attention-span to how I produce, not to how I consume.

Image: The image is from the Maharajah’s palace in Jaipur, India. This is the queen’s fragrant garden at the bottom the palace. You can see how global warming has affected things here, when the last queen was in residence the area around the garden was a lake.

I’ve recently been travelling through Malaysia, India and Nepal, carrying out work for WWF. In my travels it seems I’ve been one week ahead of tragedy. I left Malaysia a week before the cyclone hit Burma not too far from where I was and I left Jaipur in India less than a week before seven bombs went off almost simultaneously in and around the city. 80 people were killed and over 150 people injured. Most of the bombs went off in areas that I had been to, including the Monkey Temple, where a 10 year old boy was killed. There are many reports on the bombing online, including this one in the Sydney Morning Herald.

As if life isn’t difficult enough already in Jaipur! Here wealth means you have a change of clothes and a concrete floor under you. In India it is estimated that there are 44 million child labourers and two in five people live in poverty. The cast system and lack of education makes it difficult for many to escape these conditions and find a well-paying job. This forces many children to work to help to support their families. Children often work in dangerous conditions and are forced out of an education and out of a childhood by taking on adult responsibilities, duties and working hours.

Whilst I did enjoy the history and rich cultures and colours of the areas I travelled through I was aware of the conditions the local people were living under. I’ve arrived home with a renewed sense of wanting to put my position of privilege to good use. I have a few ideas on where to start and I’ll be enlisting the help of all my friends to brainstorm ideas and to bring them into being. If you know of anyone that is doing good work in the area or have some ideas that you would like to see put into play please let me know.