Ten years ago (wow) I published some pictures of the Balloon Man of Kovalam that caused an amazing comment thread in which families and old friends were reunited and I learned a little of the life and death of Buck Wray, the Balloon Man.
I was digging though a couple of his books – he gave me a copy of Book #3. Here are the dedication and copyright pages.
31 December 1994
Ask .. Receive!
You did … so … you will!
Too easy, huh?
Go Bruce Go!
Best – loving + Lightning
You may: Xerox, photocopy, print, Re-publish, distribute “FREELY”
Notice: This book has absolutely positively NO copywrites. All materials, ideas, concepts expressions, words are stolen, from the source of ALL THAT IS. If any one claims to be the creator of originals of any of tese items listed above (with the exception of the THE WORD “lunagloriusmaxipiss”, which actually is a totally 100% New Word – However – inspired by another Source, the only Source, and I claim no exclusivity of this newly created word, since my “i” merely channeled this new big powerful word into the 3rd Dimension of Earth School for use Today), they are total fucking jerks and self-deluded liars. They did not. Could not. Can not, Did not. Copywrite laws are Bullshit, if what is created or written or created actually express Truth. If, it is Truth, it should be SHARED – FREELY. You many SHARE the contents of this book and all other books Freely with ALL THAT IS.
Enjoy, learn, have fun, SHARE Shit.
“Enjoy, learn, have fun, SHARE Shit.” Words to live by.
For some reason, I’ve talked about this to a few people lately, even though I’m no longer a veggie and was never a vegan (my farts are bad enough as it is).
Anyway, most Thais are buddhist, but love eating meat and seasoning otherwise veg dishes with nam plaa (fish sauce), which is the local equivalent of salt. Their perhaps-spurious rationale is that they didn’t actually kill the animal, and not eating it would be a waste. I regard this as playing somewhat fast-and-loose with the conventional theories of supply and demand, but I am not an economist.
At some point, most Thai people will become extra-buddhist for buddhist lent, or joining the monkhood to make merit for a dead parent or some such (assuming they’re not in the small muslim or christian minorities). So every Thai person understands the idea of vegan food. This will always be respected; to give meat to a monk or someone who has requested “religious” food would be a grievous sin.
The magic words to unlock a world of vegan cuisine in Thailand are “Pom [for a male]/ Dee-chan [for a female] kin ahaan jair”. “Jair” is the key; it rhymes with “air” but has a slightly shorter vowel.
Any meaty-looking stuff in your resulting meal will be tofu (the smegma of Beelzebub, in my opinion) or mushroom. Soy sauce will be used for seasoning instead of fish sauce. If you want to avoid MSG, say “mai sai churot”. “Spicy” is “pet”, not spicy is “mai pet”.
There you are. Job’s a good ‘un. Of course, watch out for refreshing beers, most of which are clarified with isinglass like everywhere else in the world (and which would be strictly off-limits to monks, anyway).
I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at Content Strategy Forum 2012 which was previously in Paris and London, and this year went to Cape Town. I used to be a content bloke; in fact, I now realise that at The Law Society I was a Content Strategist, there just wasn’t a name for it in 2008.
The conference was headlined by Kristina Halvorson, and Luke Wroblewski, both of whom seemed to disagree with each other. I’m not well-versed in Content Strategy schisms to have an opinion either way, although Luke’s assertion that we now have a write-read web rang true. Kristina is the godmother of Content Strategy, so her talk was a “state of the nation” speech from paper notes (she’d lost her laptop), largely about how she’d grown her agency to 28 people and then laid off all but five.
Great thanks to the organisers: Kerry-Anne Gilowey, Rian van der Merwe, Nathan Blows and Irene Walker. Organisation was perfect; they even managed to get a Cheetah!
I’m no Content Strategist, so I might be entirely wrong, but it felt that this conference was somehow a pivotal event in the solidifying a community. It reminded me of the @media conference of 2005, in which loads of UK web developers first met each other and realised that there is actually a community of UK front-enders and we’re not just a collection of lonely weirdos who read A List Apart. Friendships began; businesses were formed, networks opened and a community came of age. I wonder if Content people in Africa will look back at CSForum 2012 like that.
I stuck around in Cape Town for a while, hobnobbing with the great and the good, doing five press interviews, giving some tech talks for developers and business people at Saatchi and Saatchi and the workplace of an old friend Allan Kent who’s Head of Digital at South Africa’s leading media group, Primedia.
An impromptu meet-up was arranged by a Sean O’Connell, a front-end dev, and hosted by Paul Cartmel at New Media Labs (thanks chaps). It was over-subscribed, and too many pizzas and beers were bought; we soldiered on, drinking too much beer and eating too much pizza. (Banana on pizza is wrong, by the way).
In amongst meet-ups and press interviews I did some sight-seeing, mostly under the kindly protection of Allan and saintly Wendy who drove me round to look at Cape Point, Simons Town, Kommetjie, Boulders and other gorgeous places. Their hospitality meant I saw so much I wouldn’t otherwise have done. Thanks so much to both of them.
On my last day, I skived emails after the last press interview and went to Robben Island where the apartheid-era political prisoners were kept. Having been to Auschwitz and Cambodia’s killing fields this year, I didn’t need another reminder of how vile people can be to each other. One redemptive thing about Robben Island, though, is that there are still ex-prisoners and ex-guards living on the island, giving tours around the prison.
On my last night, South Africa’s leading pointillist painter, Gavin Rain, picked me up in his posh car and we drove to Camps Bay where all the beautiful people go. Unfortunately, I was so affected by some twilight Death Pollen that I had to wear my shades all night (not uncommon in Camps Bay). But it did mean my attempts at mild flirtation with the gorgeous Kenyan waitress came to naught, as she doubtless thought Gavin and I were a gay couple splitting up and that I was crying in grief.
My guidebook – which should be renamed “The Alarmist Guide to Cape Town” – had cautioned me never to step out of my hotel or I’d have my kidneys removed. I never felt at all threatened in Cape Town’s CBD. In fact, just the opposite; it was vibrant, friendly and fun.
I don’t know what I expected of South Africa. I suppose I imagined lots of grumpy Afrikaanas trying to pretend they’d never been racist, and desperately poor black people. There certainly are many desperately poor black people; white South African households’ income is six times higher than black ones according to the latest census. And it seems to me that the elder statesmen like Mandela, Sisulu etc are gone, leaving a outrageously corrupt group governing the country.
But it felt to me (from my admittedly brief visit, cocooned in nice hotels in a prosperous city) that South Africa is on its way up, rather than down to Zimbabwe-like failed statehood. The workplaces I visited were highly multi-racial, as you’d expect given the demographics but as you might not expect given the recent history of the country.
Cape Town is probably the most beautifully situated city I’ve visited, with excellent cuisine (mmm, ostrich steaks and Bunnychow). All that, plus I got to talk to interesting people about cool stuff meant that I had a splendid time. Thanks so much to all those I met who made it so memorable.
“Cambodia’s great”, enthuses the twenty-something gap-year Italian woman in the air-conditioned internet cafe where they bake great croissants. “It’s just that there are too many tourists.”
That’s the trouble with being a tourist: all the other tourists. Whereas *I* am a sensitive seeker after knowledge, a traveller, everyone else is a mere tourist. A particularly twisted manifestation of “I am a traveller NOT a tourist”-itis is to be found by the resentment that many Western tourists feel towards Asian tourists in places like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or Wat Pho in Thailand. There’s a particular type of Western tourist I call the “I’m not religious but I’m really spiritual” genus (that is, I like joss sticks and New Age music but am too lazy for philosophy or reading). They resent the bus loads of Taiwanese/ Vietnamese/ Korean/ Japanese tourists who come to the temples by the aircon busload and walk around talking excitedly and taking photos of each other in Asian poses. How dare they come by bus instead of tuk-tuk? How dare they obviously enjoy themselves instead of walking around reverently?
We rode off when the tour groups started to come with busloads of loud Japanese and Chinese tourists, most of whom didn’t even bother to look at the temples, preferring to carry on their noisy conversations instead. Where we had spent almost four hours most of the tours were in and out in 15 minutes.
Disgraceful! Asian Buddhists walk around enjoying Asian Buddhist sites, and in a manner not exactly the same as how I do? They should be instantly banned, as only white people have feelings delicate and sensitive enough to enjoy Angkor.
This can lead to a syndrome I’ve noticed in Nepal and Thailand I call “My Personal Yellow People Theme Park”, in which unimaginably wealthy young white people travel thousands of miles to get drunk at full moon parties with other unimaginably wealthy young white people, or go white water rafting, or trekking, or to gawp at long-necked hill tribe people, while their only interaction with the locals is to order food from them, be driven to the next theme park ride by them, or to fuck them (depending on the type of tourist they are).
Of course, I have no high horse to ride. I bargained people down by 30 cents, perhaps depriving them of some food to save me less money than the price of a watery draft beer on Pub Street.
And I had an attack of “I’m not religious but I’m really spiritual”-itis. It’s easy to do in temples as vast as Angkor where it’s possible to find quiet places – or whole temples that are empty – and to sit and reflect. The gigantic temples being overtaken by the jungle can’t help but put you in mind of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, and the fact that we were there as a family to scatter my grandmother’s ashes leads to inevitable introspection about mortality.
It’s been suggested that I’m a boorish idiot without a spiritual bone in my body. I’m not given to flights of fancy or purple prose, but from my vantage point on a ledge at the twelfth century Angkor Wat, I was thinking of how time destroys all and the only constant is change – just as Buddha said – and was moved to write this rap song. Hopefully it communicates something of the beauty and the mystery of Angkor Wat.
When I was a young man in the late 80s, for reasons to convoluted to go into, I was a regular drinker at a local social club for Polish people who’d come over to the UK in the war. I got to know several colourful characters; one was Jan, an old man with highly idiosyncratic English and smile lines etched deep into his face, who carried in his wallet a photograph of his handsome younger self in Polish millitary uniform and who had stabbed several SS officers to death. Another was an elderly lady whose name was Marta who had her Auschwitz number tattooed on her arm.
Both of them are almost certainly dead now, but I was thinking of them as I’m in Krakow, Poland with a free day before a meet-up tonight, I decided to visit Aushwitz. (I went with Krakow Shuttle, who picked me up and dropped me at my hotel for 120PLN (about £25), including all admission fees, a very knowledgeable English-speaking guide and a simple packed lunch).
As a site, Auschwitz 1 is unremarkable – almost banal. It was built originally by the Poles as a military barracks, and that’s what it looks like: nothing sinister except for the famous Arbeit Macht Frei sign over the entrance, the electrified barbed wire and the gas chamber.
The banality of the exterior makes exhibits in the blocks even more shocking. The mountain of human hair (7000 tonnes were found, apparently) that the SS were selling to industry for 50 pfennigs a kilo for stuffing sofas and making socks made several of our party cry. The mountain of prosthetic limbs, shoes, cooking pots, toothbrushes and childrens’ toys are almost too hard to look at.
Even after that, nothing prepares you for the gas chamber – much larger than I’d expected – and the crematoria. To stand in a place where hundreds of thousands were murdered, to look up at daylight coming through the vents through which the Zyklon B was poured is …. well, I don’t know what it is. Such unimaginable horror took place in that room, and you can feel it.
Auschwitz 2, Birkenau, is a 5 minute drive away. It must be the bleakest place on Earth – flat, featureless, cold, muddy, windswept, just a train track through the middle where the cattle trucks rolled in, surrounded by barracks. We stood where the selections took place, and then walked the same route that countless disabled, elderly, sick people, children and pregnant women walked, directly from selection to destruction.
There’s a bleak monument in between the ruins of the two gas chambers and crematoria (the Germans blew them up to try to hide their crimes as the Red Army advanced). Surrounding the monument are plaques, with a central message translated into multiple languages: “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and warning to humanity, where the nazis murdered about one and a half million men women and children, mainly Jews, from various countries of Europe”.
That’s the terrible thing – “a warning to humanity”. As we drove around Krakow, I saw at least three crossed-out stars of David sprayed on to walls. And, in my lifetime, we’ve seen the killing fields of Cambodia, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the genocide in Rwanda and Darfur.
Next week saw me jetting off to Amsterdam for Fronteers 2011. This has, I think, become the best conference in Europe; the level of talks is high (the audience has a disproportionate number of working group members, high-profile developers and all-round smart people, never mind the speakers!) and the fact that Fronteers is not allowed to make a profit means that they can keep it cheap. I confess to being a bit nervous for my talk — the topic they gave me of “HTML5 semantics” doesn’t exactly cause your average web developer to moisten his seat with enthusiasm, but it was a single-track conference so I didn’t find myself alone in a hall while eveyone went to hear Lea Verou on gradient sexiness instead.
By clever planning, I flew home from Amsterdam on Saturday in order to fly to Norway on Sunday (via Amsterdam). I was there to MC the Frontend conference where the organisers used large stand-up cartoons of me to entice the Oslo ladies in.
Frontend had one of the weirdest conference parties I’ve been to; we sat in an ex-church, drinking red wine and beer and listened to Oslo’s leading Norwegian-language Calypso band.
From the conference, I went by taxi an Opera event for journalists where I was tasked with stopping the journos becoming mutinous or falling into jetlag slumber during a 20 minute bus ride from their hotel to a restaurant. Rather than sing the Web Standards Hoedown without Ukelele or hippie, I was able to finally realise a long-held ambition of doing a completely fictional bus tour. On our way to downtown Oslo, I was therefore able to point out to my increasingly incredulous fellow-travellers the summer palace of King Gustav The Mad, the high school that was long believed to be the only Norwegian building visible from space and the very tree in which John Lennon wrote Norwegian Wood.
A full three days elapsed before I travelled down to Lahndahn to do a guest Q&A talk at a Kazing HTML5 training course (lots of questions about DART, privacy on the Web and Web vs Native) and then the next day, an overview of HTML5 at HTML5 Live where I pissed on a few bonfires by pointing out
HTML5 is nothing to do with mobiles
a website that is ugly and full of nonsensical jargon remains so even if sprinkled with HTML5 fairydust
a site that fulfills an organisational need rather than user need remains a vanity turd even if sprinkled with HTML5 fairydust
Narrowly avoiding a lynch party, I escaped up the M11 with Jake Archibald where we boarded a RyanAir flight to Krakow in Poland to speak at the inaugural Frontrow conference. Poland is super country, and Krakow seems a delightful city from my brief walks around its pretty centre.
I was also thrilled, on learning that it’s pronounced “Crack Off”, to find this mini-guide to the city in my room:
Full marks to Mariusz, Olga and the rest of the organising committee for a really great line-up mixing Polish and foreign speakers. Congratulations to my old chum Patrick Lauke on his first conference keynote The once and future web. I spoke about HTML5 Multimedia to a small group of people at 9 am on the second day (the day after the conference party, which went on til 6 am!).
After an eventful return flight which arrived 4 hours late (and meant at least that RyanAir couldn’t play their stupid arrival fanfare), I spoke at a conference of 148 venture capitalists and other investors organised by UBS – and I wasn’t even wearing cuff-links!
I’m very much enjoying Aus. It feels like England done right: good weather, laid-back attitude and fabulous hot-pants (not me, obviously). The only downside is the vast pantheon of comically venomous creatures that lurk round every corner. In Canberra I was even warned about evil swooping magpies.
The tour so far has been great; sell-out crowds and really, really clued-up (“cluey”) attendees and great people like Russ Weakley, Ruth Ellison who I’ve long admired but never met.
The flight from Canberra to Melbourne yesterday was somewhat fraught; we took off two hours late due to what was variously reported as “mechanical trouble”, “bad weather in Melbourne” and “a catering mishap that was particularly unpleasant”. (At least it wasn’t exploding engines.) On arrival the doors wouldn’t open and the fuselage rocked as the ground staff attempted to bash the doors open with the airbridge. We arrived at the venue with only minutes to spare.
Now I’m having a weekend (shifted forward by a day as I fly to Perth on Sunday morning) in Melbourne with my old and dear friend Pippa. We’ve already seen a park full of flying foxes and are off to see Kangawallabats at the zoo tomorrow. Tonight I’m cooking us pork stirfry noodles and gyoza and there is a case of beer to drink.
There are times when even as a seasoned traveller you can feel pretty vulnerable. For example, breakfast: I’m happy to tuck into raw mackeral as an evening meal, but there’s something about it for breakfast that is so unexpected that it takes you aback.
I’ve had similar double-takes with Japanese toilets. I went to Satoshi and Akane’s house for a lovely meal and, as you do after lots of soup and beer, felt the natural urge to micturate. Although they have a lavish toilet control panel (all of them do) I couldn’t work out how to flush.
After asking my gracious hosts, I learned that it was activated by a sensor: just wave your hand near it and it’s flush. This is in contrast with the toilet in my hotel room, whose control panel had English language controls, and squirted water up my bum and around my bum at user-selectable strength (below), but didn’t seem to have a flush button.
I eventually located a traditional manual flush on the opposite side of the toilet bowl, and satisfactorily dismissed my ablutions.
Most Japanese toilets have heated seats, which is pleaant but odd when alone in a hotel room as you can’t help but wonder who has snuck in to poo while you were cleaning your teeth. Many flush for an inordinately long time automatically the instant you sit down; I’m told so that this means that people outside the door can’t to hear the sound of ladies urinating, as it’s masked by the flushing sound. I suppose that if you’re bashful about exposing the fact that ladies pee (they do, you know!) this would be a useful solution in a traditional thin-walled Japanese house in which sound would travel easily.
This theory might be borne out by the testimony of a lady attendee of the Web Directions East conference who told me that each ladies’ loo in the conference venue (consequent apologies for lack of photo) has a button marked “flushing sound” that played a loud recording of the sound of flushing, presumably to preserve ladies’ modesty but also conserve water.
Talking of water conservation, the apotheosis of lavatorial environmental responsibility was witnessed in my colleague Daniel’s apartment. On flushing the toilet (a laudably easily accomplished action, I might add), the tap on a small sink mounted above the cistern started automatically. I washed my hands and wondered how to turn the tap off. Then the brilliance of the design hit me: instead of re-filling a closed cistern, the washbasin drained the soapy water into the reservoir below, thereby flushing the toilet with the grey water that the previous visitor had washed his/ her hands in while simultaneously saving space in the compact Tokyo dwelling.
Genius. If I could work out a way to import them and sell them in the UK I’d make a million.
As I wearily stepped off a plane in which I’d been sandwiched between the two fattest Germans since Goering for ten chuckle-filled hours, my first sight outside the airport was the smiling visage of Web Directions organizer and all-round nice guy John Allsopp, who assisted me on the 70kms journey to my posh Ginza hotel.
Like two years ago when I travelled to Jakarta for the first time, I was weirded out by how familiar it felt: the elevated roads, skyscrapers and purposeful crowds reminded me of the four years in spent in Bangkok.
Just like two years ago, it was extra-strange when I realized that I had no language. I’m fluent in Thai, so it’s immensely frustrating not to be able to speak to people here.
Of course, after the superficial feeling of familiarity, the differences became apparent. The streets aren’t full of pot holes. The food is very different. There are ten bajilion vending machines where n Thailand there would be noodle vendors. The toilet in my hotel has more controls than the bridge of the starship enterprise. It’s not all different though: the women are, like Thai and Indonesian women, jaw-droppingly gorgeous.
The Japan-resident HTML5 Doctor, Oli, picked me up and we rode a pleasantly non-crowded train to Satoshi’s house, where I’m drinking a very welcome cold Kirin beer before dinner and writing this on John’s iPad.
I’ve wanted to visit Tokyo for twenty years and now I’m finally here. Yay!
I’ve also done an interview with Remy (the editors have edited me to call him “Sharp” throughout, as though we were both pupils at Eton or something) in which we say crazy things like “you don’t have to use canvas, and you don’t have to immediately switch to HTML5″. It’s called HTML5: The 900-Page Gorilla with a Wide Ensemble.
A nice review of our book was published by Peter Steen Høgenhaug, noting that we “relate every part of HTML5 to accessibility”, which is great as that’s exactly what we set out to do.