30 December 2012

Tumblr and I

A wise person said to me recently: "You have a product, but you don't have a business." What she meant was that I might be making cool stuff and know cool stuff, and have mad cool skillz, but unless I do the nitty-gritty of the business side - the marketing, the accounting, the strategic planning - no-one will know about my coolness and ask me to do stuff for them.

So in a tiny teensy first step I am making an effort to promote myself more. In that spirit, a small announcement: I now have a Tumblr blog. If you want to see my drawing efforts (I promise I will only post the good stuff), go here.

In related news, you can still find the best of my film work on YouTube, my still photography on Flickr, and an overview of my other work, including writing samples, on my website

21 December 2012

16 December 2012

What I love: New Zealand

Puhutekawa trees in flower, stinging red against shady green leaves, lining the streets and filling the parks. New Zealand's unlikely symbol of Christmas (yes, they're red like poinsettias, but where is the snow?)

Caravan (caramel/vanilla) milkshakes at Fidel's, a heady mix of indulgence and cool hipsterdom at the top of Cuba Street. Watching the trendy boys skateboarding down the street, the op-shop-dressed girls flaunting their tattoos and piercings.

Flat Whites at Felix, and any of the other cafes sprinkled liberally across a town where Starbucks thankfully can't get a grip. There always seems to be a fern leaf cocoa-ed onto the milk foam, and sometimes there is a chocolate fish (or fush).

Blue sky, blue water, the promise of penguins and dolphins in the bay, a stretch of sea put to good use: swimming, sailing, canoeing, and a matchless view to the far mountains thrown in. You can't beat Wellington on a good day.

Hobbit obsession taken to another level: an overused Gandalf welcoming visitors to the cinema, dwarves scrambling across the roof of the post office headquarters, hobbits plastered on placards, an invitation to orcs, trolls and wizards at the local bank.

Corn fritters, all hot and chewy, with sweet chilli sauce and a pile of fresh green salad. Only one amongst many superb New Zealand Sunday brunch choices, with pancakes, eggs Benedict, full English, burritos - the best breakfast ideas from around the world, handily collected in one menu.

The Tui - a bird with a song like a broken gramophone, a beautiful tune ending in a horrid screech.

Christmas in summer; I am a grinch, but Christmas on the beach, with barbies and sun, swimming and ice cream, that's a Christmas idea I can get behind.

Three degrees of separation - Everyone seems to know everyone else, or is friends with a mate of a cousin of a colleague of everyone else. It makes for easy connections, for mutual help, a common purpose. It makes for nosy neighbours, too, I expect.

09 December 2012

02 December 2012


Dogs barking, car horns tooting, horses' hooves clip-clopping on tarmac, the whistle of the traffic police. 

Cairo is Cairo, ever noisy, ever hazy, ever warm. Underneath the easily distinguished high notes lies the bass line: the steady stream of car engines, the wailing of traditional music, the bumpy beat of Arab-pop from the brightly lit barges on the Nile below our hotel window. Cutting though the haze over the water the orange streetlights, decorative strings of fairy lights in blue, red, white, purple and green pulse with an inner rhythm. Reflections of hotel up-lighters shimmer on the rippled water surface below concrete facades topped by the names of hotel chains (Sofitel, Novotel, Four Seasons) and iconic penthouse restaurants. 

It is a pleasure to be stepping out of the air-conditioned airport arrivals hall into the sewage scented, heavy air, into my spiritual home - as Stuart calls it. "What is it about Arab countries that you like so much?" he asks me as the taxi weaves drunkenly between motorbikes, trucks and bashed-up cars through the dark streets. It's dark, yes, it's 9pm already, but wherever there is a flash of light there is colour: neon strips lighting fruit piled high on low tables, lurid packets of cheap goods teetering by the side of a tiny shop, car mechanic workshops, magazine and cold drink sellers. There are people talking by the side of the road, women walking arm in arm, some with and some without headscarves; there are broken down cars in the middle lane, some blokes gathered around peering into the engine bay, hazard lights flashing; there is washing hanging from rickety lines below high windows set into crumbling walls; heroic wall paintings depicting pharaohs marching with revolutionaries, a spray painted slogan: No to SCAF (the dictator-era military council); a medieval citadel rubs up next to a 60s brutalist housing development, ancient walls looming over water-stained wrecks. There is chaos and there is life. 

I have been feeling dull, leaving first Brighton yesterday and today London.  But then the plane descended into Cairo, the city laid out in orange lights under a misty night sky. Busy and calm at the same time, there is so far no indication of unrest, of demonstrations, of protest. I am suddenly gripped by a great interest in finding out how people here feel, how they think of what is going on in their country, how they see the future. 

07 November 2012

Hyde Park

A wash of cloud has been gathering all day.
Occasionally the sun elbows its way through their bulk, shimmering the yellow-leaved trees, sparkling the lake surface. By now the grey has dimmed the afternoon, reflecting in the water, matching the pales of swans, ducks and herons. It's late afternoon, the park is populated with joggers in fluorescent jackets, Arab families - black-wrapped women, baseball-capped guys and fidgety children feeding the ducks. Gulls and pigeons vie for scraps of bread, teenage cygnets aiming for dignity while bullying their ungainly bodies through the flittery birds.
Hyde Park has been the centre of our world this summer. We walked here, watched the Olympics here, cycled Barclay's bikes criss-cross on our way to the West End or the V&A. Catching art, as ephemeral as the Serpentine pavilion and as permanent as the Peter Pan sculpture, we discovered new corners, made connections along new paths, tested every cafe, every tea stand, every snack hut. It's not been much of a summer, but there have been enough sunny days to make the exorbitant rent that puts us near the park, worthwhile.

02 November 2012

Fiver's Mac Tip of the Day - How to check the battery condition in OS X

read more here

via http://reviews.cnet.com/8300-13727_7-.html

31 October 2012

Tim Walker - Storyteller

Currently at Somerset House is Tim Walker - Storyteller, a show of dream-like fashion photography, using large-scale props in intricate settings. I am not normally a fan of fashion photography, of impossibly thin women in unfeasible clothes, but this is different. This show is like walking into someone else's inner imagination. The photos depict impossible situations, fairytale scenarios, horror story events. In a country house living room, a large doll is pushing through the door as a dishevelled woman helplessly tries to shut the door. A fighter plane takes off in smoke and dust, all within a high-ceilinged room complete with chandelier. A re-imagination of the Yellow Brick road, made from actual, rough yellow bricks rather than the golden variety of the movies, passes through a tinted countryside. A boy lies asleep in a swan-shaped boat, dreaming of rescue.
Entering the exhibition through a narrow door it is stunning to see the props used in the photos in the room, as if the picture has come to life: There is the spitfire bomber from the image, here crashed through the fireplace, tail-fin stuck out at a skewed angle. There the oversized doll lolls menacingly in the corner, looming over us like the vaguely scary skeleton in that doorway, a reflection of the photo where its bony arms awkwardly hug a woman in a red evening dress. On a podium a group of insects play classical instruments alongside the pictures of gowned women faintly menaced by those giant bees and dung beetles.
The photos show the use of the props, but it is the objects themselves, incongruously placed on the walls and set next to the photos, that create the disconcerting illusion that what we are seeing in the photos is real, that the dreams of spaceships manoeuvred through an English hunt by melancholy aliens, that Humpty Dumpty lying broken in a field as a panic-stricken woman looks on, that the oversized sketches pinned to the wall with plate-sized pins, the sand spilling from a photo of the desert across the floor of the gallery, are photojournalism of the strange kind, rather than a meticulously planned setup.
Walker describes the photographic process as a childish daydream: he walks up a hidden staircase into a black-clad room, a window in the far corner falling shut with a loud clap (like a camera shutter) as he looks out at an amazing view; a day dream he only occasionally has access to, to his deep regret.
Walking through the interlocking rooms of the show I am glad that the few times he has managed to walk into that dream, that room, he has come away with images of such strange beauty and mystery.

25 October 2012

Much ado in Delhi

Much Ado about Nothing, at the Noel Coward theatre now until the 27th, is one of those fun comedies that can be played for laughs even though we don't really subscribe to its outdated notions of marriage and gender relationship anymore. It's popular, but even though it's the RSC I wouldn't rush out to see yet another version. But this production is different. The transfer of the court of Messina to modern day Delhi is inspired. Great music, fantastic costumes, amazing accents and mannerisms, spot-on characterisation, all of that really made the theme of the play sing.
Don Pedro's soldiers are UN peacekeeping groups returned from an ambiguously described venture, some wearing medic badges on their blue berets. Carrying khaki duffel bags, they are full of spirit when they arrive, variously optimistic and cynical, but all of them raring for a party.
The women consist of a full range of modern Indian types, from the dutiful daughter happy to have her marriage arranged; the glamour-puss fashion victim flashing bling handbags and a gem-encrusted smartphone; the intellectual thinker and wit, a woman of many words, most of them brilliant. The caste system with its master-servant relationship fits spot-on into Shakespeare's cultural system. The floor sweeper and the simpleton housekeeper are perfect representations from Bollywood movies, making the clown scenes sing. In these characters, as in many of the Hindi outbursts and asides, I felt that as Europeans we were only scratching the surface of the performance. I felt as if we were missing some of the subtleties, something borne out by the laughs coming from the large Indian audience.
The set was very serviceable, with a lot of balconies and a tree used for the wedding decorations and a swing. The red drapes ran into the lighting rig, which resulted in an unprecedented theatrical event in the second half: The show was interrupted by the stage manager, who came on to tell us that the drape was stuck and needed to be unhooked manually. A rigger climbed into the grid and unspooled the clip wires so that the drape could be undone from the stage. It was quite the shock to see the fourth wall broken like this. The actors did very well, carrying on until stopped, and the actress taking down the drapes silently communicated panic without interrupting the dialogue on stage.
The climax of the actual play came with the supposed burial of Hiero, re-designed into a burning platform under a dark sky pouring with rain. As everyone was wearing white, the segue into the happy conclusion of weddings, dancing and merriment was easily accomplished.
This play is part of the RSC's Olympic year series of Shakespeare interpretations from every corner of the planet. I wish I had seen more of them now. It's still on for a few days in London, but I hope that it will tour and be revived many times. It is one of the best Shakespeare productions I have seen in a long time.

21 August 2012

03 August 2012

Fiver's Mac Tip of the Day - Rename files from the title bar

read more here

via http://hints.macworld.com

My fading Olympic dream


I love the Olympics. I really do. I grew up believing in its dream of humanity coming together to celebrate sporting achievement. I am steeped in its tenet of 'taking part is more important than winning'. Throughout my youth I was watching the games from Mexico, Munich, Moscow sitting cross-legged on the carpet, many times in my pyjamas due to the late or early hour. I never dreamt that I would be able to actually visit an Olympic event, that I would actually live in the city where the Olympics take place. It just seemed too far fetched, the logistics impossible to my mind. The idea of the transcendence of human strife through a common activity has dominated my life. The Olympics have always made me feel like a World citizen. Until now. The games we all about amateurism, about the achievements of the determined against all the odds. Keeping out professional athletes made it an event of individuality. Now it seems to be down to whoever has access to the biggest money pot.

Don't get me wrong, London is a great host city for the games, just the right amount of ingenious organisation (a pedestrian bridge across the super-busy Hyde Park corner, a comprehensive and easy to use website for all events) with a bit of hilarious shambles mixed in (the culture secretary whose bell flew off the handle during the ringing in of the opening ceremony, athlete ferry bus drivers from Yorkshire lost in the Big Smoke). It's not that, it's my current proximity to the greedy, shameless, corrupt and amoral Olympic Organising Committee and its ever-reaching tentacles that have destroyed the Olympic dream for me. A few examples:

1. For a while there was the possibility that no-one would be able to sell chips with their meals in the Olympic village other than the exclusive sponsor MacDonald's. Yes, because it was such a good idea in the first place to sell sponsorship of the biggest sports event on the planet to a fast food company known for the low nutritional value of their offering.

2. Threatening visitors who may want to upload their own videos or photos of the opening ceremony. I am all for getting a grip on the incessant camera phone photography getting out of hand all around us, but in the name of copyright and exclusivity?

3. Cadbury's, the British chocolate maker, is our 'Official Treat Provider'. A big purple tent with a Joyville Tasting Zone and a Chocolatrium (really!) in the Hyde Park screen area reminds everyone that corporate might can buy anything nowadays, even children's entertainment. Oh, and what athlete eats chocolate as part of their diet?

4. Trying to nab some last-minute tickets I discover that there is no way to buy tickets for events without a VISA card - the official payment services sponsor of the Olympics. I have one, but what are we doing when we allow a company to buy this kind of monopoly? It's not as if VISA was super-benevolent with its Wikileaks ban recently.

5. The incessant bombardment with advertisement around the Olympics is driving me crazy. I wish companies would use their imagination. But the draconian crackdowns on the use of the terms 'Olympia', '2012', even plain 'Games' in advertising, regardless of whether it's a Greek cafe or Nike shoes, feels just greedy.

So my quest for the rest of these games is to see how much of the Olympics I can take in for free, without feeding the maw of commercialism, and whether I can recapture some of my fast-dissolving dream along the way. Wish me luck.

19 July 2012

Fiver's Mac Tip of the Day - TMO Quick Tip: iOS: Bring Back an Email Draft—Quickly

Read more here: TMO Quick Tip: iOS: Bring Back an Email Draft—Quickly

via The Mac Observer http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/ios_bring_back_a_draftquickly/?utm_source=macobserver&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rss_everything

12 July 2012

Fiver's Mac Tip of the Day - Hello Tutorials for Mac gets new users up and running in a jiffy

Read more here: Hello Tutorials for Mac gets new users up and running in a jiffy

via TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog http://www.tuaw.com/2012/07/10/hello-tutorials-for-mac-gets-new-users-up-and-running-in-a-jiffy/

11 July 2012

Cork and water

One of my favourite summer event in London is the Serpentine pavilion. In its 12th year, the surprisingly permanent-looking structures are erected in the spring and dismantled in the autumn. They are variously strange and awe-inspiring. This year's is a reference to the pavilions that have come before. An archaeological dig of sorts, the 12 pillars represent the past structures, while geometric cork blocks wrap around the remnants: leftover cables, plinths, foundation pieces. All is covered by a flat metal disk collecting rain water, making visible the ground water that normally remains underground. How appropriate in this deluge of a summer!

Best of all, stools shaped as champagne corks. A hint?


03 July 2012

Boris Bikes

Ready to go
Boris Bikes ready to go at Hyde Park

At last- a day without rain. For weeks it seemed as if spending the summer in London was a really bad idea for someone who eshews socks and umbrellas. I am not a fan of weather in general, preferring the bland simplicity of Dubai's perma-sunshine to the chopping and changing of London days, where rain is followed by blinding sun by lowering grey clouds by howling winds. It's July, and finally I am confident that I can go out and not catch a cold. A perfect day to take a Boris bike for a spin.

What is a Boris bike?

Barclay's Bikes, as they are properly called, are clunky upright bikes, built like tanks (23 kg, chain and mud guards, puncture-proof tyres, built-in dynamo, brakes and gears courtesy of Shimano) and liberally labelled with the blue and white logos of Barclay's sponsorship. Boris bikes are named after the London mayor who introduced them in 2010. They are niftily designed to withstand daily punishment by tourists as well as commuters and casual users, with hiring prices cleverly planned to encourage short trips over day-long tours. As an addition to the tube/train/bus network of central London it is to the designer's credit that they are so popular that on a sunny day they are impossible to come by.

Find a station

So how do you use one of these chunky bikes? Where do you pick one up? How do you pay for the ride? As with many activities lately, it all starts with an app. Barclays themselves have designed a very functional iPhone and Android app that looks for docking stations in the vicinity, tells me how many bikes and spaces are available, even lets me plan a ride. At a docking station I can pay for a bike, check the map and dock my bike when I'm finished with my trip.
Barely a bike left...

Card or key?

I am an annual member for £45 per year, so I have a key to quickly free a bike. Before I joined the scheme, I slipped a debit or credit card into the payment point to print out a 5 digit keycode to use on the bike rack's keypad. Having a key has made grabbing a bike so much faster, rather than having to click through the multiple choice screens, accepting terms and conditions, choosing the number of bikes, and receiving the I can be on the bike in seconds.

Planning where to go

The iPhone app lets me plan my trip. I can choose from speedy, steady or quiet route types, and Google map will show me the way. A nifty built-in timer will tell me when my free 30 minutes are up. It would be nice to have turn-by-turn speech instructions, so that I wouldn't have to stop at junctions to check the map or try to memorise the route, and a phone holder in the handlebar would also stop me from getting lost, but built-in GPS units on each bike may be too much to ask for.

Set it up

The bike, for all it's clunkiness, can be adjusted to fit. I set the bike to my preferred height by the numbers on the saddle stalk. There is a holder for a bag welded to the handlebars. No back wheel rack means I can't carry heavy shopping or multiple bags, so I have started to travel light - and avoid wearing trailing scarves or bulky jackets lest I garrotte myself in transit. I check the brakes, pedals and bell and off I go.

The welded bag rack
The welded bag carrier

Join the Maelstrom

I am ready to join London's crazy traffic. Londoners are more competitive than most other city dwellers I have encountered. While in other countries road traffic can be a free-for-all, a mess of different driving styles like Dubai, hindered by a complete lack of signage like Addis Ababa or just a general flouting of the rules like Nairobi, London has an air of repressed anger funneled into intense competition between the different classes of travellers. Everyone uses and abuses the rules to their own benefit: taxis dash down bus lanes, cyclists run red lights to get the jump on motorised transport, buses squeeze their huge bulks into gaps in the traffic flow. Pedestrians are hyper-alert to any movement around them, as neither the cyclists nor the motorised faction take any prisoners. None of the dreamy jaywalkers of Joburg CBD, if you are walking in London you better have your wits about you.

Throwing a group of amateur cyclists into the mix has interesting results, specially since - unlike other first world cities - London has barely any dedicated bike lanes. Marking yourself out as a Boris biker means labelling yourself ignorant of the unwritten rules of London traffic: every second counts and there is always someone who is willing to overtake you. Don't hope for mercy, because getting there fast is serious business. Boris bikers often dawdle, they may be lost, or vague as to their direction, they are inexperienced cyclists. Their bikes are heavy and unwieldy, so they are slow to react. And the stigma of the Boris biker can not be hidden, it is a blue flag of shame.

The blue label of shame
The blue flag of shame
One thing I have learnt from the Boris bike scheme is that Londoners are desperate for a new, easier way to get around town. Taxis are expensive, buses slow and the Tube crowded and hot. Commuting by bike is not an option for most Londoners, the distance from their home to the office is just too great and traffic on the main trunk roads into town too dangerous. But for getting round the city you can't beat the bike. I would be reluctant to lock up my bike in public in London, lest it is stolen or removed, but the Boris bikes are designed to be placed in racks rather than used all day. The first thirty minutes of each trip are free, with prices rising steeply for longer journeys, thus discouraging bike hogging. No daytrips along the canal with this scheme, or leaving the bike outside while dashing into a shop, but definitely a quick dash from Oxford Street to Hyde Park for lunch. For casual travellers, or non-Londoners who just want to go for a spin, the system is perfect.


The bike scheme was intoduced in July 2010. To begin with the fully automated system of hiring and replacing bikes was flaky. The scheme is run by Transport for London, who control all local public transport aspects. But the actual operation of the scheme is outsourced to a private company, and the setup costs heavily sponsored by Barclays. The various layers of management initially resulted in an unreliable process, with people complaining of not being able to hire bikes and being charged random amounts if they did manage to get one. Two years later, and running 8.300 bikes and 15.000 docking stations with a recent expansion eastwards, most complaints relate to the incredible success of the scheme, which regularly results in bikes being unavailable, specially in the West End where pressure comes from Hyde Park tourers and West End party people heading out of Zone 1.

The logistics of the scheme are dazzling: broken bikes need to be identified and fixed (bikes get an inspection on average every two weeks, and numbers of destroyed or stolen bikes barely reach double-digits after two years); bikes need to be relocated to busy areas when a wave of customers have left them stranded in the wrong part of town (the company uses electric vehicles for this so as not to negate the carbon savings from all the cycling); vast numbers of payments have to be processed properly with custom hardware (keys, docking stations) and unreliable humans in the mix.

The future

London's bike scheme is not the first in the world. Many other cities have offered impromptu hire bikes to their population, from Amsterdam to Montreal, many with much superior biking infrastructure, prioritising human-powered traffic over cars. Such is the pressure on transport options in London that any new choice was going to be taken up enthusiastically, by commuters as well as casual users and visitors. The London scheme is simple and effective, now it just needs to bring about a shift in priority towards cycling versus driving. London has shown that this can be done with the success of the congestion charge, gently but firmly forcing car traffic out of the centre of London. If the next step is to pedestrianise the city and focus on good bike routes, London could amost become pleasant to navigate. I am certainly a fan, alreay regretting that I brought my own bike to London with me.

22 June 2012

Fiver's Mac Tip of the Day - Sign your PDFs electronically using Preview

Sign your PDFs electronically using Preview Instead of mailing paper or sending faxes, these days we can email important documents. But for many people, the biggest hurdle to going all-digital is signatures: How do you sign a PDF document? In this week’s Macworld video, we show you how to electronically sign your PDF document using tools you’ve already got on your Mac.

via Macworld http://www.pheedcontent.com/click.phdo

02 May 2012

A Walk in the Forest


Meanwhile, back in Germany spring has sprung. Crossing continents and seasons, we get a chance to wander from autumn in the South African Karoo, with its freezing starry nights and clear still days, to the fresh green of suburban German parks, tame and organised for the enjoyment of dog walkers and weekend cyclists.

I take a walk through the strips of forest and fields bordering Recklinghausen, a medieval town turned mining centre in the industrial heartland of the Ruhrgebiet. Here slag heaps and steels mills rub up against horse paddocks and wheat fields, the old heavy industry threaded through with recovering wilderness and neat parks.

Mark, my walking companion, has lived here all his life, jogging, dog walking and mountain biking from Düsseldorf to Dortmund. When I ask how he knows where the nice walking is and how he doesn't end up in the grotty industrial estate by accident, he explains that there are regional hiking organisations ensuring the quality of the walking paths all across the country. A 'Wegwart' (path orderly) regularly hikes all the routes to check the signage, looks for fallen trees after rains or storms, controls the cleanliness of the path, marks unruly plant growth. This person is responsible for renewing the complex routing signs, which distinguishes between loops, A to B routes and long-distance tracks. They also record any maintenance work and damage for the local council to rectify.

Mark tells me that to become a Wegwart one as to attend seminars where one learns the correct way to attach a route sign to a lamp post, the appropriate paint to use for marking potholes, the minimum requirements for safe passage to avoid lawsuits from injured hikers. An up and coming Wegwart has to pass an exam or two to show their competence. It they conduct themselves properly they are eventually given expanded route networks and may even be allowed to train other wannabe Wegwarts. It strikes me that the German hiking groups have managed to turn a mildly enjoyable hobby - going for a walk - into an unpleasant chore, complete with studying for exams and the stress of having to work at what was once relaxation. How very German.


Since it's Mayday I have discovered another strange German tradition: troops of friends (mostly youngsters) drag a wheeled trolley around with them while drinking beer and listening to the loud music blaring from the stereo on the trolley. Apparently it's entertaining to walk around the neighbourhood and parks all day while drinking.

And last but not least we shop at the local farm store for freshly cut asparagus and new potatoes for our dinner. Asparagus season is taken very seriously here, with recipes traded as treasures, asparagus festivals and wines that match the most popular recipe of asparagus, new potatoes, slices of ham and Hollandaise sauce. A perfect combination, I think. And asparagus season is over far too soon, so we stuff ourselves at dinner time.


02 April 2012

George's Gym

Last week I had the chance to film at a gym in Hillbrow, a notoriously not very safe suburb just down the road from us. My friend Heather boxes there and needed some photos for her blog. I jumped at the chance.
There are a load of photos on her blog, and here is the film I knocked up in the form of a trailer:

A short film about George's boxing gym in Hillbrow, Johannesburg