Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sideways, Miss Jane

Today we spent a little time (and I do mean a little time – we have two small boys) wandering through the National Gallery of Australia.

The objects of our interest were the works of Turner, Monet, and a bunch of other dead French-Dutch-American-Australian landscape artists.

I’d love to talk about the art, but my ignorance would show rather badly. Anyone heard of a guy called Van-goff?

Moving on, I leave you instead with this photo taken outside in the Sculpture Garden near Bert Flugelman's Cones. I call it ‘Sideways, Miss Jane’.

It reveals the deep landscape of the human face, Picasso-fied by my camera angle. I was struck by the realism of the piece, especially the careful placement of the lingua. The artist is unknown.

Here endeth the art lesson.

Friday, May 30, 2008

What makes a classic?

This is my dad's 1960 J1 Bedford, and there's no other truck like it on the road. He's had it since around 1966.

It is a classic. Wherever he drives it (it's his work truck), people stop to look and admire.

So what makes a classic? Is it just age and condition? Or is it something about those flowing lines, speaking to us of a bygone (?) era of cars with personality?

Do you own a 'classic' of anything? What is it, and what makes it classic?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A little more drivel on straight lines ...

My post on telegraph poles and concepts of 'straightness' provoked some further thoughts when I was travelling yesterday and today.

When it's something produced by human hands, it seems we subconsciously apply criteria that we don't apply to the natural order.

To illustrate, if the line of telegraph poles I photographed in Bathurst was a line of naturally spaced trees, we would immediately overlook the slight abberation, and comment on the stunning straightness of the line.

But when it's a manmade line, our first remark might be: "That's not real straight."

Your thoughts? Why do we subconsciously apply different criteria to different designs / designers?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Every block has its home

I was in Newcastle today for meetings with clients, and happened to find myself in Tyrell St, where I took some time to admire the skill employed in putting together this wall.

Even though the stone is hewn, there's still a really nice balance of small and large, dark and light, coarse and more refined. Every block has its home. Even the cracks in the wall had become a refuge for small plants.

As in my earlier post on 'buckets of solutions', I see in these blocks a parable of everyday life, of the contours of human relationships, of the challenge of people working together, creatively seeking solutions. Sometimes the problems are complex, and sometimes the solutions may even involve 'pieces' that we least suspected would fit well. But we don't know until we try.

And that's the risk with any great enterprise that harnesses the best of each person's unique gifting and creatively; you often won't know whether it will work until you venture out, and bring a few disparate pieces together. Who knows? The end result might even become a haven for some wayward seed which grows into a cool little plant.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Straight-ish? Sort of not.

What is it about the human brain (okay, my brain anyway), when we perceive something that's clearly meant to be a straight line, but just doesn't quite get there?

I dropped in to Bathurst briefly this afternoon - as you do - and was compelled to capture this line of telegraph poles alongside Morse Park.

I know this bugs some people immensely, while others are pretty 'blah' about it. In any case, let's just be clear: this is not a straight line.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Not Chance

My firm conviction is that the things people often dismiss as “lucky” or “co-incidental” are evidence that the Designer who is in control of the universe is working in our lives. Let me give you a few examples from my life:

I have never had to work hard at getting employed – jobs have just kind of fallen in my lap when I needed them (sound familiar, Adriaan?). I have had part time jobs just crop up when I needed money, and many of the jobs I have had have been from word of mouth, from people just mentioning things when I wasn’t even actively looking. God has always provided for me financially, especially when I needed it most.

Another example is our children. The gap we have between our children was never meant to be that large, but for some reason unknown to medical science, it took a long time for us to be able to have Sebastian. This, however, has worked out for the best, financially and socially for us. The timing could not have been better if we had planned it ourselves. Obviously, our plan was wrong, which was why God took things into his own hands.

The most recent example, which may be familiar to those who read my blog, is the job I am applying for at the moment. I had given up reading the Seek e-mails because I had decided not to apply for any more uni jobs at the moment – I hadn’t read them for a few months, when one day I decided just to have a look, for no particular reason. I found a job that so suited my interests and abilities at the moment that it was almost as if it had been designed for me! Lo and behold, I now have an interview. More evidence that the Designer is at work in my life.

There are too many of these instances for me to count and it would be a far greater stretch of the imagination for me to write these off as chance than to see them as the work of God in my life. My life, itself is clear evidence of design. In many cases, had I got my own way, I would be a lot worse off now than I actually am. I am glad that such a great Designer is shaping my life and not leaving it totally up to me.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Curiosity climbed the ladder

Many thanks to those who have indicated their interest in putting their thoughts up here for our consideration. The offer remains open at all times. So if you stumble across something in three weeks' or three months' time, I'd still love to see your thoughts take form here.

In other news, Caelan and I were taken on more than a Cook's tour of the house of a good mate. He took us up the winding staircase (which punches through the ceiling of the fantabulous loungeroom) and into the giddy heights of the second-level rooms, the attic and, finally, the roof.

It was a marvellous journey, and Caelan was enraptured with the whole expedition.

This house is kind to the exploratory minds of children. What's not to love about a winding staircase, especially the first time you go up it? Who knows what lies at the end of that ladder leading up into the attic?

Curiosity is aroused; and isn't that perhaps an effect (or at least side-effect) of good design?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Would you join me on the journey?

This blog's been kicking on for close to a month now, working with the principle of design. I see evidence of design everywhere I look - from computer programmes to cabbages, kids to conversations.

I've been blessed to have some great people come into my life who've helped me to appreciate the function and beauty of good design - from architects to skilled strategic conversationalists to farmers to retired grandmas.

And I think it'd be great to hear from some of them, instead of just listening to the sound of my own voice each day (I already have a hard enough time trying to make sense of the other voices in my head).

To make this a richer place to be, I'd love to haul in some other people on this blog. Whether you're a gardener, an architect, a teacher, a barista, a software dork, a consultant, a zookeeper, a bus / orchestra conductor or just someone trying to find order among the nappies (hint, hint), feel free to express your interest. (Please note this list is not exhaustive; chimney sweeps are also welcome.)

I don't know a whole lot about sharing blogs, but I think with Blogger I need to send you an invitation to blog on here, and then you respond and we get you registered as a writer here. Or something like that.

Please don't feel like you've got to pour hours into your entry; a few lines will suffice if it makes us think or laugh or cry. And please allow your mind to wander around the concept of 'design' as freely as you please.

If you're prepared to write even just one entry for this blog, drop a comment on the end of this entry, or just ping me an email (use Cara's or my work address), and we'll get it sorted. If you express interest, that's good enough for me.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Your grandpa was way ahead of his time

In 2001, I bought my first pair of Emporio Armani prescription specs. They have these wonderfully thick, dark blue frames, and have caused me to be confused with this guy and this guy several times over the last few years.

In a short Q&A session with Georgio Armani, the master designer states, "I love things that age well - things that don't date, that stand the test of time and that become living examples of the absolute best."

It's nice to know I've invested in a pair of glasses which will still work for me in 2030 when I'm 55.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Little boys with little lists

Two-year-olds are interesting people.

The biggest of our little men (Caelan) is a curious mix of his mother and father. He likes closing drawers after he opens them, and he obsesses about picking the fluff out of his toes after he takes his socks off. (You can work out which trait matches which parent.)

One of his more recent behaviours, which has accompanied his interest in counting, is the creation and recitation of lists.

He often recites lists as he lies in bed early in the morning, or after lunchtime or dinner. "One, two ... four" might be heard, or "Thos (Thomas), James, Harr-ey (Harvey)" as he verbalises his passion for Thomas the Tank Engine.

This morning it was "Jum (Jim), Bruce, Jesh (Jeff)" - some of our friends from house church.

It's incredible to watch the way his malleable young mind is developing. He has a real penchant for patterns and things in series - what a wonder the human brain is.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

From Geneva, with coolness

Three years ago I embarked on the quest to find a new watch.

It couldn't be all that hard, right? Dead wrong.

Up to that point I had been a faithful user of Casio watches. I had a long-term thing for Casio - heck, they had made the calculator that nearly allowed me to scrape through my high school maths exams.

All my Casio watches had been digital, and extremely reliable. They'd been scratched to death, smacked on bricks and road surfaces, and one was even buried alive for four months before being exhumed - fully functional.

But when my last Casio expired in 2005, my heart turned away from digital and towards analogue; away from Tokyo and towards Geneva; away from sushi and towards cheese and banks.

As my interest in analogue watches grew, I remembered that my dad used to have one that required neither batteries nor manual winding. I thought that was uber-cool, and decided to find out what I could about a watch like this.

It didn't take too long to discover that this sort of self-winding watch is called, surprisingly, an automatic. My dad bought his automatic in Switzerland in 1974 (along with a cardigan which appears in every family photo album since that time), but automatic watches had already been around a long time even by then.

Variations on the automatic have been in existence since 1770, with the modern rotor system emerging from the Rolex stable in 1931 in their Oyster Perpetual.

Once I had discovered the world of automatics, there was no going back. But there was only one problem: price. Automatics were and are typically exxy. And none more so than Swiss autos.

It was then I discovered, to my great delight, that the Swatch watch company had manufactured a line of automatic watches powered by the Swiss-made ETA 2842 movement. And the watch was enjoying some pretty darned good reviews - this one kind of says it all.

I perused the Swatch range and settled on their 'Poisson Rouge' (French for 'gold fish') Irony automatic. Then it was off to eBay. $US33 later, I had myself a brand new Swiss automatic watch (plus $12 shipping).

After 29 years, I'd graduated from digital. I could finally cash in on those lessons we'd had in Year One involving a fake clock with "a big hand and a little hand" that the teacher manipulated around.

I've had this watch for three years now and still love it. From the rock-solid stainless steel case, to the sweeping second hand (a little red fish), to the solid blue leather band, it's a cool bit of gear. The back of the watch is also see-through, so you can swing the pendulum around, or just watch the constant smooth back-and-forthing of the balance.

I doubt I'll ever buy another battery-powered watch. This one doesn't keep perfect time, but it's got charm in spades. Any other automatic-watch-lovers out there?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Not such a bad place to be detained ...

Sometimes you don't care too much if a meeting begins late and you're made to wait.

Sometimes. Okay, rarely.

This morning was one of those rare times. I turned up to the Civic Centre at Penrith for a meeting with a client of ours.

I strode up to the reception desk, showed my card, and stated my appointment. The receptionist rang it through, but was informed on the other end that my client was unavoidably detained in another field meeting.

"Go and get yourself a coffee, if you like. You'll be waiting at least 15 minutes."

"No," I replied, "I think I'll just sit here and wait."

I sat down and began to go back over my notes, putting the fine-toothed comb through my questions. I looked at my watch. I did some more fine-tuning. I looked at my watch again, and began to add decorative flourishes to my scribbles.

As I began to contemplate the ostentation of question marks, sanity laid hold of me and I did the best thing I could think of: nothing. I just sat back in my chair and looked around.

And the view was very cool. As I ran my eyes up to the ceiling, I had a sense of being in a space both open yet embracing. There is a delicate balance of curves and straight lines. There are some sweet little pecularities which add charm to the space by their cautious intrusion. It feels clean without being minimalist. On a day like this, it was a really nice space to just sit in and appreciate. On a really sunny day, it would be sheer delight.

The building is the work of architect Feiko Bouman. As I look at his other designs, I get the same sense about them too. I also love his use of colour; it makes his buildings fit so naturally into the surrounding environs.

All too soon, I heard the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps and looked up to see a smiling middle-aged lady approaching me.

"I'm sorry for being so late" she said to me, extending her hand and looking genuinely apologetic.

"Not a problem," I said, smiling back and feeling quite relaxed. "Please don't apologise."

Monday, May 19, 2008

A short history of a font with a short history

Love it or hate it, you see it everywhere on the internet.

Along with the ubiquitous Verdana, bloggers the world over have succumbed to the charm of this late-bloomer font.

We're talking Georgia, okay?

Though the name might imply southern homestyle cooking, there's nothing homestyle about this sassy little font. Check out its sweet serifs, and the cool way it does numbers: especially 5, 2 and 3 (note the almost lyrical variation in the string 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

It reads nicely too, don't you think? So much nicer than this, or this. And infinitely nicer than this. (Do I hear even one dissenting voice on that last one?)

Georgia is a font born to be loved by computers. Created at the behest of a certain software company back in 1996, this font was a concession to the reality many of us live with: hours and hours each day behind a computer screen.

We need fonts that read well on the screen - because the screen is not the printed page. That was the charge given to a font designer in 1996: to come up with two sans serif fonts and one serif font for on-screen use. Matthew Carter, we thank thee.

For those who don't like it: relax. Go and bury your head in a book; at least you'll be safe from Georgia there.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dreams, and the reality of unpacking boxes

A bit over four months ago we moved house.

When you first walk into a [prospective] new house at inspection time, you begin to visualise what certain spaces might look like: the television cabinet can go here, the antique dresser will go there, the freezer would work well in that tight space.

Moving all your earthly belongings into that same new house provides its share of challenges to those dreams and ideals. The television cabinet won't go where you want it to, so it ends up in the 'wrong' corner. The antique dresser takes up too much space in the bedroom, so it's now in the hallway. The top of the freezer becomes the household workspace, occasionally moonlighting as a dining table when the dining table is covered in baskets of washing.

Over the months that follow, two things happen. Firstly, your dreams of grand but elegant design meet with reality. Secondly, you begin to unpack boxes, ever so slowly. You shift things around and begin to see what might be possible.

A litte bit of both happened in our home this weekend. I finally unpacked two small boxes which had been clogging up our vestibule area since January. Then we shifted some lounges around, and got rid of the coffee table. Okay, we still have the tumble dryer sitting on the loungeroom floor, but this is progress.

The difference is incredible. A few changes have made the loungeroom a really nice place to be in (now add some small, screaming children to complete the picture).

We loved this loungeroom when we first saw the place. We saw it as a space loaded with potential; a great room to share with friends, a welcoming place. Slowly, piece-by-piece, that 'welcome' is being unlocked.

Has anyone out there got a story to share about a space that you're slowly shaping, as your vision for it unfolds? (Thanks to my darling one for tonight's blogging inspiration.)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

If the shoe fits, thank Charles

These are just barely broken in, right?

Okay, so shoes are only supposed to have one entry hole. I guess it probably is time for a new pair.

But how will I ever find another pair of shoes that fits with the precision of these seven-year-old beauties?

Not without the help of Charles F. Brannock. Charlie gave us that fandangled device that the shoe store clamps onto the feet of screaming five-year-olds to give an accurate indication of the shoe size required. You can read all about it here.

It's been 82 years since this device first saw the light of day, but it's hard to imagine a shoe store without it. How has it survived so long? Perhaps, as the article suggests, some things are so simply perfect in design that they can't be improved on.

For pointing out this article, I dips me lid to Jordan, friend from Christchurch (across the dutch). Well spotted, mate.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Only one frame at a time, please

Observe the male of the species: deliberate, focused, and completely oblivious to cries of "Caelan! Look at the camera! Look at daddy!"

I guess I could hardly expect any other response; he is his father's son, after all.

I never did get the multi-tasking thing. I never could succeed at keeping several balls in the air at once; one on the ground was enough to absorb all my energies.

Then along comes Dr Michael Gurian asserting, "The male brain (like the female brain) is multifaceted and is capable of doing and being many things at many times."

It's a nice sentiment, but it's not my personal experience. One of my goals in the present Dale Carnegie course I'm doing (lamented in a previous post) is learning to be fully present to the conversations I find myself in. History records the sad fact that the slightest distraction renders me incapable of intelligent engagement.

Being able to do only one task well at any one time has its benefits. For all the things I don't like about the way my brain works, I do know I am capable of homing-in on a particular task and giving it all my energy to deliver an outcome. In some ways, the male brain is an aggravating design; in other ways, it does work well for so many of the tasks we blokes seem to end up doing.

But not all males of the species are afflicted with this 'single-mindedness'. And not all women are capable of a level of multitasking that Bill Gates can only dream of achieving with Windows. There's some give-and-take in the middle; it's nice to be reminded of this sometimes.

Maybe I'm more down the Governator-end of the spectrum (if only in the brain and speech departments!). But it's reassuring to know there are some women out there who can read maps (meet one of them), and some men out there who can chew gum and wash the car at the same time (perhaps you can provide the name of one to verify this bold assertion).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fail to plan and you plant to fail

Tree planting is not a good industry to be in if you're myopic.

Trees are one of those classic images of endurance. In ancient cultures, they symbolise wisdom, integrity.

One of the greatest joys of my work is meeting people of wisdom and integrity. They're not just wondering what the impact of their work will be in 6 weeks, 6 months or even 6 years. They're thinking 60 years down the track. They plant today with a long view.

I visited a site this morning which reflected this beautifully. In this particular Sydney council you have some people who really care about the long-term outcomes of their work. And the way they plant reflects that. Every tree is carefully located, goes in with care, and receives the appropriate follow-up treatment.

And the results show: nearly 100% survival, vibrant growth, and, over time, transformation of the local environment.

Alongside this careful, wise work, was the work of another group of planters. The difference was stark: trees were thrown into the ground everywhere, poorly planted, and slow to perform. Losses, I was told, have been of the order of 60-70%. Ouch.

When we plant what has the potential to grow into something majestic (which our grandchildren will climb in), our work calls for nothing less than the wisdom and integrity of good planning.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I'm pooped. And the origin of disposable nappies.

Yes, the pun was intended, and yes, I am exhausted.

Too tired to blog, perhaps. Well, almost.

In keeping with our series begun the other night on the cool invention of tears, tonight's installation features the incredible story of disposable nappies.

Marion Donovan, the woman who invented these, must be regarded as a hero all over the western world.

Marion has been gone for 10 years now, but barely an hour ago I carried four plastic bags full of her legacy out to the Otto bin.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tasty simplicity

It's hard not to love a good pizza.

But what is it that makes a good pizza?

I would suggest that, for the most part, good pizzas rely on simple combinations of distinct flavours.

Forget your pizza crust stuffed with 5 different fat-laden cheeses.

Forget your pizza topping piled high with a compendium of ingredients to rival Aunt Mary's Christmas shopping list.

Forget it all and THINK SIMPLE.

Basil. Oregano. Tomato. Garlic. Prawns. Calamari. Fish. Dough. Cheese.

Yum. Sometimes less is more - agreed?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Winning my heart one click at a time ...

Some pieces of stationery are very personal - like staplers. Mechanical pencils couldn't be far behind.

My relationship with mechanical pencils (simply called 'Pacers' when I was growing up) has not been a long and joyful one. My [miserable] high school years were silently witnessed by a red 0.5mm red Pacer, exposed only to use when plied to the drudgeries of MIS (maths in the sandpit).

Following my exit from that august institution (which apparently provided an education for countless happy children), mechanical pencils dropped out of my life.

Until this year. A new job opened the door for our reacquaintance.

Our work involves a lot of writing. I began the year with some nice pens, most notably an X-Pen Matrix 250b - a gift from my friends at Kogarah Presbyterian. I was just beginning to lay the foundations for a lifelong friendship with this pen, when an alternative suitor arrived.

One afternoon my boss dumped a small pile of stationery on my desk. "What's this?" I asked. Dumb question. It was pretty obvious: tools of the trade. Conspicuous by its striking presence was a new Faber-Castell TK Fine 9717 (0.7mm). I groaned; just when the X-Pen and I had been getting along so well.

It's been 3 months since this pencil came into my life. It's now my constant companion. I love the thick lead in it - beautiful to write and draw with. It's pleasing to look at as well; with clean, precise lines. This is one sweet writing-stick. Click, click.

Glad to know I'm not alone in my feelings about nice mechanical pencils.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tears: read it and weep

You are a parent. You have small children. You know about poo, dribble and tears.

Fascinating things, tears.

And a wonderful thing, the internet. When I grew up, our home was blessed with the presence of the expansive Everyman's Encyclopaedia (6 slim volumes, with Einstein's life, career, philanthropic work, and the theory of relativity, all in about 2 paragraphs). Herein lay the answer to all our family's questions.

Now it's Wikipedia. Where better could you hope to be schooled in the science of tears? Did you know there are 3 different kinds of tears, and that not all tears share the same chemical composition?

As a bonus, you'll love the picture with the caption, "A child producing tears due to emotional stress or pain." The picture says far more than the words.

One might also wonder what emotional stress or pain that particular child's parents just went through as well!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Perception among the lettuces

The perception of the human eye is a stunning thing.

Today's project was putting together a herb and vegie garden in the backyard. In the morning, I headed out into the yard with string, pegs and tape measure. I marked out, as well as I could, the dimensions for our new garden bed.

Cara came outside and looked. And looked some more. And squatted down and looked. "It's not square," she said emphatically, noting a discrepancy in the trapezoid layout I had slaved over.

"Well, square's not exactly what I mean - I don't know the word - but it's not right."

Why would I rely on a human eye over the trusty old tape measure? The measure does not lie. But she was insistent. So I remeasured. Bummer. I was out by a full 7 centimetres, just trying to find centre on the baseline against the fence! I'd made a simple mess of some simple maths.

When that mistake became the basis on which I pegged out point 'A', my error was extrapolated over the whole length of the triangle that I had laid out to provide two sides for the garden. Not good.

Cara had no want for tape measures by this stage. She eyeballed it from a distance, moving peg 'A' until she was pretty sure she'd found centre. The distance from the baseline to point 'A' was somewhere over 3 metres.

When she was happy with her eye judgement, we handed the case over to the jury (the tape measure) for deliberation. I can't remember the exact measurements, but if one long side of the triangle measured 312cms, the other side measured 313cms.

In other words, just by eyeballing it, Ol' Hawkeye got an accuracy of within 10mm over 3000mm! Impressive.

I've heard some great woodworkers say that with time and experience they learn to trust their eyes more and gadgets less. I think today's little exercise served to illustrate the point nicely.

Friday, May 9, 2008

100 acres - and not a park bench in sight

We took this photo on our 2004 visit to the amazing land of China.

It was taken from the balcony of the Tiananmen Gate, just in front of the Forbidden City. In the distance you can see the Mausoleum of Mao Tse Tung, and in front of it, the Monument to the People's Heroes.

A trip to China is hard to imagine without a visit to Tiananmen Square. It's 100 acres (40.5 ha) of serious open space - making it the largest open-urban square in the world.

And there's not a tree or a park bench on any of it.

With nowhere to settle, and nothing to break up the scenery (except thousands of people, some of them trying to extract a couple of yuan from you for a map or a guidebook), you really do feel like an ant with a universe laid bare before him.

It's amazing what feelings a space like this arouses in people. On one's own; you feel tiny. As a foreigner, perhaps over-awed and lost.

But what if you were standing in the square in 1949, as Mao stood before a crowd of 1 million Chinese and announced, "The central government of the People's republic of China is established. The Chinese people have stood up."?

Or what if you were one of the demonstrators here in April 1989?

The images of some of the more noteworthy happenings in this square do not merely record human interactions; they record the engagement of people with diverse interests with the largest bare urban square in the world.

I wonder what the square's original architects set out to achieve with a space like this, unparalleled by any other on earth?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Which would you choose?

Behold my stunning artistic ability! (Proudly sponsored by MS Paint)

The people who devise food packaging aren't just looking for ways to creatively use reams of stockpiled coloured paper. There's some madness in the method, as you probably already expected.

So next time you pass through the confectionary aisle, keep your eyes peeled: that chocolate with the purple wrapper just might be looking straight back at you, luring another hapless victim towards a glass and a half of full-cream dairy goodness (combined with perhaps another glass and a half of sugar and cocoa mass).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

When the family tree comes apart ...

Is necessity the mother of invention?

Brooke Hindle (1918-2001), in an article now 26 years' old, believed not. History - or at least the part of it he cites - appears to agree with his conclusions.

It's an interesting read on the role of 'design' in innovation, and it closes with a firm assertion: "The solution can come first, and it invariably comes in mental images."

So was this guy right? Or was he off his rocker on this one?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

It's not quite right; but why?

Yes, you can probably spot the obvious problem too - if you've sat through Wine 101 (i.e. if you drank a glass at a dinner party once).

You don't drink white wine out of red wine glasses!

But why is it 'not quite right'?

Or, perhaps for you, it is.

For me, however, there's only two ways to drink wine: out of the right glass, or straight out of the bottle, shared with your loved one, and wrapped in a brown paper bag.

P.S. Don't worry; I didn't pour any of this beautiful wine into these glasses. This was merely a hypothetical exercise; no actual Sauv Blanc was harmed.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dale and Design

As part of my professional development, my boss has enrolled me in a Dale Carnegie Course, Effective Communication and Human Relations (affectionately known by me as 'the Amway course').

I was somewhat skeptical of this Carnegie stuff and probably still am (can you tell?).

Words like 'influence', 'leadership', 'sincerity' don't enter my ears easily when I hear them used as means to achieve certain ends.

Nevertheless, Carnegie was onto something: we can be deliberate about who we are in relationships. We can make conscious choices to be deeply interested in people, to listen actively, to express genuine appreciation - or not. These things can profoundly affect the trajectory of our relationships, whether personal or commercial or both.

We don't have to exist in relationships as hapless bystanders waiting for serendipitous moments. There are decisions we can make about ourselves that stand to [potentially] reposition our relationships into much richer places for all concerned.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Books and spaces

Have you ever noticed how certain books and certain spaces seem to be made for each other?

If you had the privilege of growing up in a family that read books, then you probably have memories of books and spaces that just knit together in the most remarkable way. Even if you didn't you may still know the experience.

Sometimes books and spaces meet, and the child who gets sucked into that powerful vortex is in for quite a ride - possibly one that will survive into adulthood, provided the adult has the maturity to not crush his childlike ability to dream.

My childhood bedroom was the most fantastic place to lie down and listen to Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.

The room was on the dark side of the house, with these marvellous jungle-themed curtains.

It was the 'wild' side of the house; the one room where you'd be woken if cats were fighting in the backyard, or if a possum was getting into the dog food. Long after the lights had gone out, I could lie there, staring at the flourescent stars on the ceiling, and imagine myself with Max and his monstrous friends.

As an adult, it can be hard to keep alive that ability to find a space and a book and say, 'These two belong together.' It helps to keep your wits about you.

We were in the company of some friends this evening, relishing some good food and wine in their delightful abode. As the evening wound to a close, I found myself in conversation with Jim in the loungeroom. Jim was cuddling my baby son, Elisha, as we chatted.

At one stage I looked around this large room with its leadlight windows, small bookshelves packed with ancient tomes and teddies and trinkets, the old upright piano, wide timber skirting and a winding staircase disappearing up into the aging ceiling.

The fire was burning low, and I said to Jim, 'This would be a fantastic place to read The Chronicles of Narnia.'

Jim gave a gentle chuckle and a knowing nod; he understands.

So which book and which space is it for you?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Renewing acquaintances

One of those marvellous buckets, filled with magical solutions (see below 'The sweetness of design').
P.S. It was also nice to see my parents and other family members as well. Thanks for a really cool time, everyone!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Our clever Japanese friends

From design and use perspectives, I love Japanese tools.

Japanese tools are clever because they mate design to material properties.

Japanese saws are a case in point. Even though my Japanese saws are not 'high end', they still reflect the wisdom of the Japanese toolmaker.

Most of you (?) will probably have some familiarity with the standard Western handsaw. Have you ever noticed which way the teeth face? The saw cuts on the 'push' stroke. Have you ever thought about what this does to the metal in the saw blade? It compresses it. In other words, the steel is put under pressure, and, if you happen to get the stroke wrong, you can bend the blade and even put a kink in it. This means you need a fairly solid blade to avoid the problem.

Japanese saws, on the other hand, cut on the pull stroke; the teeth face backwards. How does this work on the metal? It tensions it. What does this mean for the blade? You can have a super-thin blade because it's under tension, not being compressed.


It would be wrong to conclude from this that Japanese tools should be the only way to work. Truth is, I have a mix of Japanese and Western tools and love both for different reasons. But when it comes to mating the inherent properties of a material with the task required of it, the Japanese have creative design talent in spades.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Design known through pain

Today was not an easy day: a series of meetings with clients fell through, some ran late, and some just didn't run very well.

In the heat of it all - appointments disintegrating, screaming through roundabouts in the car, getting lost out the back of a golf course - the only thing you feel is the 'pain'.

You're thinking about face lost with clients, about the cost the businesses wear (theirs and ours) when appointments don't work out, about your inability to be fully present to your clients because your mind is already out in the carpark and heading for the next [rescheduled] meeting.

I don't have too many days like these. And when I do, they remind me of why most days on the job are pretty enjoyable. They help me appreciate why we work the way we do in our particular business.

But in even the thick of days like these, 'design' moments can emerge. Pieces come together. The last two meetings of the day, followed by a 4 o'clock lunch at Nando's with their famous Peri Peri sauce, redeemed some of the train wreck. Some good stuff 'clicked' in the last three hours of the day.

To reframe the old C.S. Lewis aphorism, pain is not always a bad thing; sometimes it is a megaphone reminding us of design - whether that design is our own, or the design of another ...