Monday, August 10, 2009 

A walk down Mombasa's memory lane

My dad recently found himself in a spirit of nostalgia following the passing away of a schoolmate and teacher that both had an impact on his early life.

The full account paints a lively portrait of what it was like growing up in the Goan community 50 years ago. Hard to think of a time/place so removed from the current western world where, for instance, not everyone has ready access to learn music and play in a brass band.

In thinking of former friends and teachers who have moved on, my dad issues a poignant call to remember that yes, this life is short, and so we must be wise in what we spend our time on. Amongst those pursuits, how about keeping track of those who have helped shape your life, wherever they may be.

Stirring stuff. Dad, thanks for bearing your soul!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 

Picasso and the bull

if you are looking for a cheap masterclass on how to create the kind of subliminal artforms for which picasso is legendary, then look no further.

this post from artyfactory pulls together a collection of lithographs that detail the transformation from highly stylized to heavily abstracted. the pic to the left is from about half way through the process.

that there is a link between between geometry and the inner, true substance of an object is an interesting concept. i can't exactly pin why this link should occur, but at the risk of sounding pretentious, perhaps the answer lies in the art and not in reason.

so, if you're feeling brave, go ahead and abstract at will. in the process you may discover the hidden meaning in things. and on top of that work out the unanswered question: why did picasso paint so many bulls?

Sunday, July 06, 2008 

A rare glimpse of the Bay from above

Given that not so many years ago, every time I'd touch foot in a plane the one vital accessory I'd need would be a sick bag, it was with some trepidation that I took up the offer from my old boss to share his lunchtime hobby - a quick jaunt around the Bay Area in a propeller-driven single-engine plane.

I've never been in an airport that small and informal. No check-ins, no passport control, no duty free. No nothing beyond the whiteness of the planes standing out on the slightly dishevelled tarmac.

Dave had got there earlier and handled the initial preparations, so we were pretty much ready to go. I clamber up onto the wing and hoisted myself into the cockpit. Once inside, I'm struck by the resemblance with a regular car. There are obviously a lot more controls, but in terms of the cabin space I'm sure I've seen much bigger vehicles hurtling down Highway 280. Dave completes the final preparations while I adjust my headset and make sure my legs are well clear of the peddles below (planes this size have dual controls).

Negotiations with the diminutive air traffic control tower are made and we take our position awaiting take-off. Dave has always struck me as one of the most composed individuals I've ever had the pleasure of meeting, so his calm, measured conversation with the guys on the ground goes someway to assuage the butterflies humming around my stomach and throat.

And then it happens. Our time is up and we move onto the runway. The moment before the acceleration reminds me of that peace you feel staring at a solitary pool moments before you plunge in. As we start moving down the runway, again I have more the feeling of being in a car picking up speed after a stop signal (not even necessarily a sports car - the cockpit is too high up for that). But suddenly, at a speed much lower than I expect, our nose points upwards and we leave the ground. Now, the feeling of being in a car passes. We climb, we climb and then we tip to the right. The tipping is pretty severe, and I feel like the plane is slipping away from under me but as we approach the waterline of the bay, Dave rights the plane again. We curl upwards into the sky until finally we meet our cruising altitude.

There's a peace and serenity up there that I never really expected. I can see the clear line of the 280 Highway snaking through parched hills - my daily commute looking no more than an ant track up the bark of a tree. The beautiful pine-covered landscape dotted with small azure squares of dot com mansion swimming pools. There's a fade across the landscape: starting with dense vegetation near the temperate coast giving way to the bronze dust-colored hills of the more arid interior.

We make our way towards Half Moon Bay - but as always it wears its tight shroad of puffy white fog. Such a distinguished (distinguishable) weather line. This same fog continues north up the coast as far as the city and so scotches any plans to sneak a bird's-eye-view of our home in the city.

As this pic reveals, at this point things were pretty relaxed. No other traffic around us and clement weather conditions meant there was little to do other than keep us floating. And at this point Dave offered the controls over to me for a few instants.

Thoughts of sending the plane into an irreversible downward spiral play on my mind and I realize things aren't quite as effortless as Dave makes them appear. Still, I can hold the plane steady and even take us over to the right at one point. A small Cessna appears on the horizon and Dave takes the plane back under his expert control.

Having foresaken the idea of heading to the city, we veer inland. The most imposing structures on the peninsula tract linking San Francisco to Silicon Valley are an Ikea and red-bricked Stanford University, facing off like a metaphor for the interplay between academic and business life that is so prominent here in the Bay Area.

We head across the bay - the salt plains rimming the bay producing the most striking rust-coloured glow - and track through the Sunol Grade, where the conurbation gives way to cracked beige hills sparingly dotted with hardy vegetation. The towering Mount Diablo comes into view as we pass over the East Bay towns of Dublin and Pleasanton.

We file off to the South and Dave makes small talk with air control at Livermore airport before veering back along the path we came. As we cross the bay one last time, Dave makes preparations for the descent. We have clearance and find our place in the queue. We circle and get in line with the runway. We drop the flaps which in turn drops our speed and altitude. I marvel at Dave's technical ability to keep our plane on course, as with precision we lurch downwards and there's a final adjustment before the tires paw at the tarmac once more. All too quickly this Friday lunchtime joyride comes to an end.

The plane is duly parked and put to bed under its covers, ready for the next adventure. I make the journey back to work down 101, and I can't help picturing what this journey looks like from above. I am also slightly amazed how far I've come since my childhood penchant for in-flight sick bags - I'd happily take another journey over the bay, a serene distance from the melee below.

More pics

Saturday, June 28, 2008 

Made to Stick

I blame Magali for sucking me into 'Made to Stick' by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. What's the premise? Certain ideas stick and others, well, just drift away like smoke from a candle. They back this up by pitting CEO's mission statements against urban myths and asking which has more staying power. Erm, you can probably guess the answer.

They distill this effect into six principles:

If you have ten points to make, beware, no one will remember. "Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound."

Use surprise to trigger alertness. Open gaps in knowledge and then fill them.

Give ideas some meat. Use concrete images rather than abstract principles.

Put forward ideas that people can test for themselves. "Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials."


We feel for people - play on this. Find what your audience care about, and then tap into this.

Story-telling is the oldest human form of communication. Build stories, parables if you like, that will help ideas stick. There's a story at the base of most urban legends.

The book goes into more details on each of these, but definitely check it out if you're interested in making yourself heard and remembered.

As a postscript, I couldn't help thinking how close these tenets are to the principles of news (what makes a story newsworthy) that are usually covered in Journalism 101 classes.

Saturday, March 15, 2008 

fadel lives!

so, we're here in sf. months of planning. and the whole journey. but i think i need time to go over that. thankfully what's behind us isn't gone. thanks to those lovely people at skype, i can again see fadel and the inimitable ruby.

he's off to work, but i might be back to bed for a saturday morning siesta. i sign that on friday night we did a bit too much 'discovering' around the city. i blame the cosmos at the wish bar.

Saturday, February 09, 2008 

Laugh? I almost died

oh, i really shouldn't encourage this kind of juvenality on the web. i should be out there soaking in the glorious sunshine on my last day in france.

sorry, i'm regressing back to that bedroom-ridden state my mum detested so much in my teens.

no wonder i've chosen to return to the land of the krispy kreme.

oops, i almost forgot to mention this image came from the excellent a great collection of mixtapes. but then i would be biased about this sort of thing, wouldn't i?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008 

Aliester Crowley on thinking and exercise

it's getting stressy. it could be that natalie's gone and so i've lost my life jacket (a very poor description for somebody, especially somebody so close and so far). it's all down to me. still, the hours are limited and i can only do what can be done. there's some consolation in that.

the other thing that's helping at the moment is Aleister Crowley's strange view of the condition of man in 1920's europe: 'The Diary of a Drug Fiend'. Funny to see what you might consider 'modern thought' isn't actually so. And beyond that, the plain fact that much foresight in this world comes from the margins. i feel i must tender an example:

"People think that talking is a sign of thinking. It isn't for the most part; on the contrary, it's a mechanical dodge of the body to relieve oneself of the strain of thinking, just as excercising the muscles helps the body to become temporarily unconscious of its weigh, its pain, its weariness, and the foreknowledge of its doom."

Nice, huh? One thing - I'm only a few pages in but this definitely isn't a weighty tome. There's already been a pretty violent bar brawl. Somehow I feel I may have a gentler time of it in the UK and then So Cal. I'll try and keep in touch.

Monday, January 21, 2008 

giacometti and the pompidou

so, on what could well be the final sojourn into paris for a little while for me i took the time to pay a visit to the pompidou centre.

thankfully no strike by the toilet cleaners on this visit (esp. as i got caught short after some excellent sushi i'd ventured on in saint germain).

nobody had told me that the pompidou centre enjoys one of the most astounding views of paris. i discovered that for myself as i floated up the glass elevator draped across the spiny exterior. the skyline's wondrous, especially if you hanker for the time when big-city architecture was all about domes and spires.

having said that, there was an excellent exhibition on the work of richard rogers - one of the architects of the pompidou. aside from his curvy environmental designs, it was funny to hear how some of the problems posed by the pompidou were solved through collective arguing!

not much collective arguing on the top floor exhibition of the work of giacometti. you could feel the solitude under which the artist generally worked. i was familiar with the stick men sculptures but wasn't quite aware of how many of them he actually created. kind of like matisse and his blue cut-outs. something to do with the modernists when they hit later life?

giacometti's paintings are lesser-known but achieve an arresting intensity, primarily due to his manipulation of perspective. globulous eyes pop out from shrunken heads sitting on inflated torsos. rough paint strokes and ghostly sombre backdrops oddly create a strong sense of humanity.

au revoir paris.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007 

Girl blog from Iraq

I haven't been on this site in a while. It could be that I'm getting ready to move - looking through past postings I realised that most of them came from the times of major upheaval - generally when I moved somewhere.

Still, it's not that nothing has been going on. Work is always there, and I talk about that in other places. As many have pointed out, we're also doing the rounds trying to take in as much as possible from the South of France before we move on. So far that means a night in the Hi Hotel and a visit to the Matisse museum (definitely unexpectedly worth it), and a trip to the top of Mount Vinaigre (the highest point in the Esterel). That was quite a trip (well, it only took about an hour in total) but the views were reminiscent of what I saw in the Grand Canyon some years ago. Actually, the reason I think of the Grand Canyon is because I've been revisiting some old college photos.

And then there's media - top films recently include Last Days by Gus Van Sant and I did find Minority Report interesting (although everyone had been going on about the virtual interface that I didn't find that amazing, and the product placement was kind of annoying). That's all that springs to mind. Although there have been some interesting books recently. Wilt by Tom Sharpe made me think of Henry Fielding. I finally finished the Dalai Llama's 'The Universe in a Single Atom'. Main points here:
- Meditation is about focus and insight and balancing the two.
- Karma gets interesting when you think about where consciousness first came from on our planet. Karma doesn't exist in non-sentient beings. Things just happen. With the introduction of consciousness comes the introduction of karma. But what brought this about and why?
- The idea that we are going to die is not that unfamiliar to most of us. However, we spend a lot of time living our lives like they'll go on forever. That's one of our greatest self-delusions.

And then there was 'The Little Prince' by Saint-Exupery. Quite a book. From the explanation of the drawing of the boa constrictor I was completely entranced and even shed a tear at completion. I'm not quite sure why - I think it could be something to do with it's intricate tale of innocence and that much of what concerns us in our lives is largely futile. Step back, fools.

... and read the girl blog from Iraq: