Gathan Beaga

a personal take on webstock 14

After each Webstock I return with the idea that I should be doing something better; starting of course with writing up my experiences there. It doesn’t happen (with my passive phrasing right there pretty much symptomatic).

This year I won a free ticket, which was very nice indeed. I resolved that because of this I should really really make the effort this year to write it up. Unfortunately good intentions didn’t really result in an epic write-up for each talk. I got partway through this and gave up.

Scott Berkun

The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com & The Future of Work

First up was Scott Berkun. I had not heard of him before. He’s spent a year working for famous blog software company Wordpress, and was asking the question: what value does Management have when all the creative challenges belong to the workers?

Good question, if you are in a narrow range of jobs for which that applies. The answer sounded like: workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your trousers!

You see, I get a feeling of dissonance about the whole pants-free thing. I don’t know about you, but when I think of pants I think of trousers and underpants. So pants-free working therefore implies some pretty horrific mental imagery when thinking about others taking up the practice, as well as a frisson of danger when applied to oneself (after all, laptops can get quite hot).

And sadly (as in, I am a very sad person) I haven’t quite yet put down my pitchfork after that time in 2005 when Matt Mullenweg stuffed the Wordpress site full of spam links for money. So I had a slightly unfair and cynical take on his talk. I started writing some random phrases down and they came out like a haiku:

Trousers optional
For privileged screen jockeys
Then blog ping chat skype

Well, I thought, that worked out quite good. I might do that again!

Josh Clark

Mind the Gap: Designing in the Space Between Devices

I should have heard of Josh Clark. I would have had I done any due diligence on the speakers. My bad: I’ve been busy. He seemed like a really nice chap though.

His issue was that our gadgets just don’t work together too well. Which is true; but the film of cynicism on my glasses had carried over from the last speaker and I couldn’t help feeling like this was a classic First World Problem.

It brings us sadness
Our gadgets don’t kōrero.
Bodge up with more tech!

A First World Problem that of course, people will make billions of dollars from.

Erika Hall

Beyond Measure

Aha! A speaker I had heard of - I knew that she is part of the same design firm as last year’s quite good speaker (but not really the star of the after-party) Mike Monteiro. Her talk was pretty cool: we have lots of data; we think it explains everything… but it doesn’t.

Meaning is tricky.
Stories have power. Data
Explains partially.

I was struck with the thought that we seem to have replaced our reliance on reductionist approaches to explaining the world with the opposite: a big-data statistical prediction of it. Neither tell human stories.

Aarron Walter

Connected UX

This chap came from MailChimp, which seems like another nice internet company. Carrying echoes of the other speakers he spoke of “designing for emotion”, and turning data into information into knowledge into wisdom. All good stuff.

Stories for business
Connect those points, cross those streams
Work your interns hard

Yeah, he lost me right when he mentioned his fantastic intern looking at 10,000 customer emails in a week, a performance that Got Him That Job! I wondered if he was a paid intern. I hoped so. And I hoped like hell that that unpaid intern cultural thing does not make it to New Zealand.

Dan Saffer

Designing with Details At my current place of work we’re building an app, so I was pretty interested in what Dan had to say.

Little things matter
Imbue feeling, quality
Humanise your work

This was the most conventionally useful talk for me. I’m now waiting for his book to arrive.

Liza Kindred

The Future of Commerce

Shopping is awesome
The revolution will be
Live on Kickstarter

I was not a fan of this talk at all - but others seemed to get more out of it.

Nelly Ben Hayoun

Crafting the impossible

Ben Hayoun was an incredibly charming French person who seems to have blagged her way into the most amazing jobs. Once again, it’s clear that talent gets you part way there; but self-confidence and risk-taking will take you to the end.

Discover futures
Extreme experiences
Hammer ooh la la

I have this feeling that she’d make the most amazing star of a documentary. But given that she had instructed that no recording be made of her talk I am guessing that it probably won’t happen.

Jen Bekman

Stick around and fix it - there’s no video of this one either.

Made Art a habit.
Business blew up. Held through with
Doge and the Right Thing.

Persist and fix your mistakes. This was an interesting contrast to a later talk about the value of quitting.

Anne-Helen Petersen

What we talk about when we talk about Brangelina

Through celebrity
Ideologies battle.
Mindfully read it.

I really liked this talk despite the apparently frothy title. Now, when stuck in the doctor’s waiting room, you can parse that stack of Women’s Weeklys in front of you. It’s OK.

Peterson has been popping up everywhere lately, even at my favourite magazine, The Baffler. This is great.

Jessica Hagy

New Zealanders explain the Internet

“…fleas of deception…”
“…you were never just yourself…”
“…culture is about you…”

Charlie Todd

Causing a Scene

In public spaces
People will be creative
Let them have a crack

Andy Baio

The Indiepocalypse

Keep Portland weird, by
Staying independent. It’s
Easy when famous.

Yeah, yeah. We can all be sustainably living indie techno-hipsters. But it helps if you’ve been struck by the lightning of techno-fame already, I thought.

Tom Loosemore

Institutions: An internet survival guide

Fixing government.
Civil Servants attending
Are envy-swooning.

A very genial chap whose talk was eagerly attended by the many government web people in the audience.

Spoek Mathambo

Internet Culture and the South African Electronic Music Scene

When the artists own
Their means of production then
A scene will explode

Later that evening he put on a pretty storming set as DJ. And you should really check out his version of Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control.

Liz Danzico

The Fringe Benefits of quitting

Your project can change
Flexibility trumps plans
It’s ok to quit

Hannah Donovan

Sometimes You Need to Draw Animals

I was looking forward to this - I had heard of her before in a number of connections; most recently as a friend and collaborator of my favourite comic book duo, Gillen & McKelvie.

Yes, you keep making
Care for your abilities
Diversity good

Maciej Ceglowski

Our Comrade the Electron

This is going on
Your permanent record. You
Did this to yourself.

I think of this talk as We’re all going to die (pt. I).

Ceglowski is a wonderful writer. You should check out his blog right now.

Sha Hwang

The Future Happens So Much

Sha Hwang attended Webstock last year; this year he spoke at it! One Of Us.

Ask: are you building
Infrastructures for new crimes?
This is the System.

And this talk is We’re all going to die (pt. II).

This and the previous talk were my two favourites and reflected the slightly more down zeitgeist of Webstock lately. We have designed a monster, maybe by accident, but perhaps we can fix it.

Or not.

Paula Scher

All design is social

A voice of wisdom.
Taking the long perspective:
Be optimistic

Clive Thompson

The new literacies

Cheap ubiquity
Leads to weird usage. Then you
Use to talk to you.

Derek Sivers

The Meaning of Life

In a clown costume.
It’s as good as anyone’s,
This life’s meaning.

I didn’t really get this one.

Lame summation

So that was Webstock 2014. There’s always too much to think about at these events - which is no bad thing - but it does mean that a summary will never do it justice.

If there was one thing which this and recently past Webstocks have hammered home is that we have to be a bit more conscious of our actions as technologists. We’ve built great things, but also some very anti-human things too.

So THINK.

damp and discarded

This year it’s been all upheaval around the house as we had to rebuild the deck, and at the same time, put in some nice double-glazed windows and a new burner to make future winters better.

So at the moment, instead of a clear view of our beloved (but increasingly out-of-control) cherry tree we have a large pile of building debris.

None of this stops the blossom though.

A petal lies on our new deck

Previous springtimes:

As the seas rise, so shall the hills uplift

After the passing of the mower, a tiny clump of grass emerged with ends frayed but still standing proud.

Clump

He stopped and knelt. A memory, and an identification. It looked like a small tussock.

Flood recall:

… afternoons of lying on his back sheltered between them and staring at the sky. Sounds of wind soughing through and the occasional skylark.

… their giant cousins, the snowgrasses, that when unburnt were taller than people. Playing hide and seek between them. Getting the four-wheeler at speed bellied on them.

… their dry smell. Cool air. Windburn. Long days in the sun.

He missed them. But here they were, more scattered through the lawn as he looked.

Maybe they’d come to bring him home.

colour

I’m always a bit of a sucker for colourful animals of various kinds. It’s a failing. But not an uncommon human one.

Hacking away at our Bay tree the other day I came across two I hadn’t seen before: both visually quite colourful (as opposed to merely behaviourally colourful, like say a jumping spider).

The first was a tiny false scorpion: even smaller than the 5mm long and usually dark brown ones that I sometimes catch in our bathroom, this one was green with red pedipalps (their nippers). It had fallen onto my shirt and from there I was able to put it onto the deck railing for a shot or two:

false scorpion

Luckily it was so extremely slow moving. At about 3mm long it was at the limits of what I could capture with my current setup.

false scorpion

I suppose the colours would be good camouflage for an arboreal hunter. Apparently they wander about probing with their pedipalps for prey; and when they find it seize it and poison it before ripping it to bits and feeding themselves. Charming.

Not long afterwards I spotted a really quite pretty green spider running around on a branch. It proved hard to catch but I managed to get it into a plastic container and into the fridge overnight in the hope of slowing it down sufficiently for photography. (I have heard this is a common cheat amongst photographers of small beasts.)

The next day I spent five minutes trying to photograph it before it inevitably escaped:

Paradictyna spider

As you can see, this spider too, is very small, its body probably no more than 5mm long. According to Forster & Forster, the main reference book I use when checking out what spider I’ve caught, this would appear to be a spider of the Paradictyna genus, “undoubtably one of our most handsome spiders”1.

Paradictyna spider

Why yes, it is very handsome.

But also very sadly delicate, as I found out when it escaped from my hand and fell onto the sun-warmed barbecue, instantly dying.

I am not to be trusted with animals, it seems.


1 While looking for more information on these spiders I came across David Winter’s post on them, and from there, Ray Forster’s obituary. Forster was a guy so dedicated to his science that when he was stationed in the tropics in WW2 he built a still, not to to get boozed, but to have alcohol for preserving all the specimens he was catching!

rūpahu

This has turned into a bit of a twitchery bird-nerd posting.

I love the sound of bellbirds. They remind me of two places that I don’t get to as often as I’d like these days: the family farm, where three or four bellbirds pass by many times each day on their circuits of the area; and around Lake Hawea, where outside of the Christmas and Easter holiday periods they’re just about the noisiest things in the whole sleepy township.

Bellbird in a beech tree, Central Otago, April 2011

For me bellbird song has come to represent holidays and relaxation. Every time I hear one my mood lightens and I just feel that little bit cheerier.

Each bird has a different call pattern. When staying on the farm I eventually learned to recognise each individual there when they called; and in one case, I captured some audio on my phone:

This is the sound of the male in the photo above; and a very handsome beast he was too (here’s some more pictures of him from April 2011).

So you can imagine how happy I am to hear any in the neighbourhood here in Wellington. They’ve come and gone in the last few years - they are not overly common but as Zealandia’s breeding programme continues, and the Council keeps trapping rats and possums, they are increasing in numbers a bit.

There’s been one around for much of the last month… or so I thought. My happy reveries were interrupted when I noticed that what I thought was a bellbird singing was, once I spotted the singer, actually a gangly juvenile tui, much like this one:

Juvenile Tui at flax, Wellington, December 2008

I was a bit unreasonably annoyed. Now, every time I heard the “bellbird”, I’d feel a little flash of dissonance. Was it a real bellbird? Or a fake? So I named the tui Rūpahu.

Clearly I wasn’t thinking straight. Tui are great imitators, and juveniles in particular will pick some environmental sound, copy it and repeat it every minute or two for all the daylight hours (and more) - sometimes even car alarms and other, odder noises. Which meant that Rūpahu had to have learnt the song from somewhere.

And so it turned out. The other morning I thought I heard two bellbirds. I crept outside to have a look… and there they were. Rūpahu in the cherry tree; a bellbird in the kowhai tree about eight metres away from its copyist. Both making the self-same song, note-complete with the same whirrs and buzzes too, and often at the exact same instant as if in stereo. It was slightly surreal.

I managed to record them, though sadly the phone’s mic is mono so the full effect is lost:

But if you listen carefully you can just about detect that one of the calls is a slightly different pitch. I couldn’t distinguish between them at the time.

Since then I’ve seen the pair of them around a few more times. I suspect that young Rūpahu is a bit confused hanging about the bellbird like that… but I’m happy that it has had such a good singing teacher, and happier still that we have a bellbird around.

Long may they both remain in the neighbourhood.

the admiral

The forecast did not prepare us for this morning. We had expected showers and grey… but what eventuated, at least for some of the day, was far nicer.

The unexpected sunshine, and unexpected lack of wind made for a warm, humid atmosphere. Breakfast on the deck for me then, overlooking the cherry tree in full blossom.

Breakfast on the deck

The only sounds were those of the birds (several tui flouncing about the trees, and high above, a falcon) and the bees (the neighbour’s hive is just over the fence and their bees were out in force, loving the blossom).

Until someone’s chainsaw started up. I’m not sure what it is about some people and their compulsive need to use their chainsaws on a Sunday morning.

Oh well. I didn’t let it destroy the mood. In fact I was so relaxed I forgot I was still in my pyjamas when our nice neighbour delivered our paper.

At the time, I was lurking on the lawn taking more photos. I had spotted a Red Admiral among the blossoms:

Red Admiral on Cherry Blossom

There are a few of them about all through the winter, even on the hilltops I ride.

Red Admiral on Cherry Blossom

You have to be quick to catch them with their wings spread - they’re open only for a couple seconds after the butterfly lands on a new flower. After that, they often close up their wings and show only the wings’ dull grey camouflaged undersides.

Later, the weather held and we had a little family group photoshoot among the blossoms (easier now, while the kids are yet young enough that their reluctance at such things has not hardened into the inevitable refusal).

Soon afterwards though, the clouds closed in, and with them came the rain. Typical spring day!

Previous springtimes:

at El Matador

It’s Awesome August in Wellington. Though we are in the depths of winter, there’s usually quite a bit going on: the Film Festival, for example, and in latter years the rather good Wellington on a Plate festival. We don’t typically overdo either event, choosing only the one or two most interesting looking things from each.

For this year’s food choice, we went for Cooking Over Fire, The Argentine Way, to be held at El Matador, a new “Café, Asador Grill & Bar” as yet unfinished at the time I made the booking (ever the risk-taker!).

Asador is the Argentine national dish, a way of slow-cooking whole animals over an open fire. This is supposed to result in a beautifully tender and juicy meat, with hints of smoke. The idea with the event was to show us how to setup and start barbequing a lamb in the morning, and then come back and eat it in the evening.

This sounded totally outstanding, so I decided to make a day of it and bail from work. That’s how R. and I, having dropped the kids off at school, ended up wandering along Cuba Street at 9am on a Monday morning.

in the clear

This weekend past, due to a slight scheduling mishap, the Film Festival film we were to take the kids to turned out to practically clash with a film I was quite keen to see. So Rebecca took the girls to their film, and I thought I’d ride my bike over to Penthouse in Brooklyn to see mine.

I think it’s quite good to use my bike for such mundane city transportational activities - I feel strongly that I should be using it more on a day to day basis rather than just off-road as a weekend hobby - but I’m generally too chicken (though gaining in confidence a little) to go up against Wellington’s traffic and roads.

A Sunday afternoon though? That’s doable… especially as I could avoid dropping down to the centre of town by riding up alongside the Zealandia fence to where there’s a track down to the top of Brooklyn.

Anyway, getting to the theatre took less time that I thought, and it felt great.

The film was In the Fog, a really quite beautifully shot and formally constructed story about three people, their personalities and the choices they make in the face of a series of terrible situations. It was very Russian, and I liked it a lot.

Back out, and after some lunch I had a little more time to look about. It was such a nice day for August:

Wellington Harbour from Pol Hill, August 2012

There was not a breath of wind, even at the top of Polhill at about 300m above sea level. And also up here was something left behind by the ubiquitous Luna:

L is for Luna, Pol Hill gun emplacements, August 2012

Nice detail work in there.

The one-way downhill back along the Zealandia fence is called the Rollercoaster, and has lots of jumps which I took care to avoid. Luckily there was no-one behind me to be held up by my cautious descent. But going slow had benefits: over the fence I saw a saddleback in full sun on a bare branch.

Did I have my good camera with me? Of course not. But I suspect I’ll be back again before long - there are tracks in them thar hills leading all the way down to the South Coast…

two birds

Back in May I took a day off for my birthday, and amongst other things I went for another look around Zealandia. There was not much new to report: deeper into late autumn there seemed a little less life around. It was cooler, and overcast, and the light made it even harder to snap the locals.

But all the usual suspects were in force, like this robin that came along while I was eating lunch:

A North Island Robin, at Zealandia; May 2012

The more I rucked up the leaves on the path, the more it hung about. Eventually I had to carry on as I wanted to walk up to the wind turbine to have a look from up there (also: I like climbing hills).

Turned out there was not much of a view from inside the fence, so back down I came, returning to photography.

This wasn’t hugely productive either. I had a better time just quietly waiting and observing. Down a dark gully there was a stitchbird, streaking from branch to branch below the path. Sometimes it would alight on a branch illuminated by a shaft of light from a break in the canopy. But I was never quite quick enough - this was the best I could do as it braced to take off:

Stitchbird, at Zealandia; May 2012

Well, that was that. Time to walk out to the café to meet Rebecca and continue the rest of the day.

the summer that was

This awful weather we’re having. Well, it’s winter I suppose… but it makes me want to look back at this summer past.

And I remember now that I posted nothing here over that period. Clearly time to do something about that then. Lots of photos to follow…