Friday, 12 June 2009


Any new posts for The Cloud Factory have now moved to a new place.

Check it out:

The Cloud Factory

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Why Play is Important

I was reading a wonderful blog by @blameras which reminded me of living in the woods.

I was dirty that weekend, leaves and twigs in my hat and dirt under my fingernails. I'm sure there were slug trails on the sleeping bag too!

I'll leave it up to The Grass Stain Guru to explain more fully why kids (and big kids!) need to play.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Blogging is 21st Century Cave Art

Cave art represents possibly the earliest form of pictorial communication. Cave paintings may have been narrated by sounds, vocalisations and movement. Maybe it was bringing back the tale of the hunt to the community, maybe it was to teach the next generation the essential information to survive.

Cave art was quite possibly the first pictorial way of telling our personal story to the community; a way of sharing knowledge. But that knowledge, the information represented by the cave art could only travel as fast as the community’s fastest runner... until someone jumped on a horse; then things seemed to speed up a little.

Some of the earliest known examples of Palaeolithic cave art are pieces of ochre from the Blombus Cave in South Africa. Estimated to be around 70,000 years old they are decorated with geometric patterns in the form of criss-crossing diagonal, horizontal and vertical lines in parallel. A bit difficult to even guess at the meaning of the message these lines represented to the maker. But the fact is the marks are intentional, there is meaning in them, even if we can’t read it.

Maybe the markings represented some form of financial accounting or to understand the passing of time like the Ishango Bone, a notched tally stick from the Congo, dated to around 25,000 years ago. Who knows? But these examples of visual communication are amongst the earliest known that represent the human need to better understand and integrate with one another and with the world we live in.

Now we are bombarded with communication from every sector of industry every day. And just as each line on the pieces of ochre had a meaning for the maker, every image we see today has shades and rhymes of meaning in them; from the colour of a girl’s lips or the whiteness of her teeth in an advert for lipstick, to the determination in the face of a footballer frozen in time on the back page of the nationals. But how did we get here?

From Caves to Pigeons

Until the advent of writing and a convenient form of conveying the writing from place to place the only tools humans had to rely upon for communication over distances were aural and visual.

Shouting could get so far! town criers the world over have proved, about 100 metres. Other tools, such as the Aboriginal “Bullroarer”, could transmit sounds across greater distances but they weren’t exactly private. Signalling with fire and smoke provided an efficient form of communicating over greater distances from the hill tops, but they were very limited in vocabulary. Smoke signals relied on preset meanings, eg. victory or defeat. They too weren’t private.

The ruler who was able to send private messages faster than his rivals prevailed. This was readily displayed across the Persian Empire and the largest and most efficient postal system of the ancient world. Set up by Cyrus in around 540BCE it was better exploited by Darius a little later. He extended the road network to move messages and troops faster, essentially the information superhighways of the day. Darius had posting stations at intervals of a day’s ride to enable a message to travel 200 miles in 10 days.

I could bring the Romans in here too but still our message is only travelling as fast as the fastest horse; or the quickest bird if you happen to be a fancier, like Genghis Khan. Pigeons were exploited by Khan for fast deployment of orders to troops but this was only a one-way system as the pigeons went back to base.

Printing Presses to the Telegraph

As communities continued to increase in size so too did the need to get information to more people. Whether for story, history, education, or propaganda this remained difficult until the arrival of Gutenburg and his press in the mid 1400’s. Such a long time to wait from those cave paintings and pieces of red ochre, but by 1500 around 15 million volumes had been printed by 1700 presses in 300 towns across Europe.

During the 1600’s pamphlet and single sheet printing took over as the main occupation of the presses quickly springing up. People eager for information about the latest events in the Thirty Years War truly created the newspaper industry. This brought information to a mass audience even if the delivery time is still relative to the fastest series of horses.

It was the industrial revolution and the invention of the first electric motor in 1831 that led to the electric telegraph a few years later. That really kicked things off. As the transport industry began to speed up with steam engines for transporting mass communications from place to place it was the 1’s and 0’s of the on/off electric telegraph that really changed the face of life on earth. We wired our world and messages flew from telegraph station to telegraph station virtually instantaneously.

Democratizing Communication – The Blogosphere

Things happened fast after this. It had taken around 69,830 years to get from cave paintings and the fastest runners to instant messages being sent between telegraphing stations. The next 170 years have seen us virtually fly through major developments in very quick succession; the telephone, photography, radio, television, satellites, internet.

We’ve gone hunting with Hubble and come back with images from the depths of the universe to help us understand our place in this world; we share these images to say “see, this is what we found out there”; we educate our children about our planets position in the cosmos. But there is still a yearning: an individual need to communicate our own personal story to our own community through whichever means available.

When I was first asked to do a talk for a Probus meeting I had no idea what Probus was. When I looked it up and realized Probus’ intentions are about a need to “maintain a social network with others who have similar interests” it made me think about this need we have to share our stories with our own communities, to maintain a social network.

I have recently moved into the blogosphere, which is a way of communicating through the internet whatever you want, from wherever, whenever you want...for free. Anyone can do it.

The Open Source programming that allows this to happen, the gubbins of the virtual printing press if you like, has truly democratized communication. Anyone can blog about anything they want. Anyone can read that blog and share it with their friends immediately with just a click of a button, and their friends to their friends, and so on. In this way a message created by Joe Bloggs from his computer on the dining room table can be communicated to millions of people in the space of a day, something that before the introduction of the internet was effectively under the control of the privileged few.

Blogging for Businesses

I’m finding basing a web presence – our cave art if you like – on Open Source blogging platforms to be a more useful business tool for my clients than a simple company website; the main difference being this ability to share company information with millions of people without the cost of worldwide advertising.

By becoming a member of a variety of social networks on the internet I am communicating with more people by one click of the button than I could do with 10 solid hours on the phone; and they come from all over the world. The key is finding the right social network just like Probus’ community of people with similar interests.

My cave art can travel as fast as the speed of light and my need to gain more information is satiated in seconds by a simple Google search. In my hunt for information I might want to share what I find with my community. Instead of taking the fastest runner and sending him all over the world to my community base a few clicks is all it takes. And there are millions more people out there who do the same. Our Joe Bloggs can become the Shakespeare or the Einstein or the Edgar Allan Poe of his readers for free.

Cave Art to the Blogosphere – Just How Far Have We Come?

Thinking about the cave art that is still evident today in the world may be our best way of understanding the rapid growth in social networking and blogging on the internet. Even after thousands of years of evolution we are still trying to tell our story to our community, share interests and information with other people and make sense of the world we live in.

A lot of people would refute the fact that sitting at a computer and “talking” to people around the world isn’t really an integrated approach to social interaction. But without it I wouldn’t be here today sharing my message with this community and integrating into your social world.

This article came about because I was asked to do a talk for a Probus luncheon at short notice. I have taken some liberty in my choice of communication history elements to highlight the initial premise that Blogging is 21C Cave Art. Not knowing anything about the history of communication I had no idea what to expect when I first began searching for information.

Really, it was thinking about the possible intentions of a person making a cave painting that led me to the premise. When I made the connection between cave art and blogging it didn’t take too long to find the rest of the information on which to base this talk. But it would have been impossible to get the facts that I did without good old Google.


An insight into the meaning of Cave Art

History of Communication

After the talk, which only lasted about 15 minutes, the Q&A went on for about 30 minutes, apparently an unprecedented event. I had no idea how a talk about the internet would go down with a social luncheon group for retired businessmen. I was very surprised by their obvious interest and appreciation; and I do hope the gentleman who wanted to know about model railway bloggers finds what he is searching for.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Adult Tap Dance Class - An Absolute Beginner's Story

Tap dancing...not something any of my friends and family would expect me to be doing on a Thursday night.

But I did!

And it was a blast!

Read the full story about my first adult tap dance class here.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Cats - Superior beings?

...or just stick chewing, paper chasing bundles of purring fur?
You decide.
These are Harry Potter, Lefty, Righty, Tamba and Bagpuss. They were 1 week old in the box - darn cute!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Frankland Islands and Mossman Gorge, Australia 2007

Took a trip out to the Frankland Islands in August 2007 while staying in Cairns. But the highlight for me was taking a dip in one of the pools at Mossman Gorge. So peaceful to lie on my back and let the current carry me along. A perfectly wonderful time to visit the area, no box jellyfish or salt water crocs about.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Light Trail Photography

Scanning the negatives in to be able to upload these light trails reminded me of a great night playing with photography. Do you remember PN, light trails to learn about exposure? I dropped out and you went on to do a degree in photography...I wasn't jealous...honest!
Thanks PN for a great night exploring light trails and for the snow in Haworth and the many hours in the dark room...perfecting.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Sustainable Living: Do we have to live in the woods?

Thinking about living sustainably reminded me of the lack of waste on a survival weekend in Kent. It wasn't really a lack of waste it was more imagination in use, therefore, needs less. Everything had a purpose; every strip of nettle, every drop of water, every sinew, every leaf; oak twigs became toothbrushs. Nothing was wasted as we got back to nature in the civilised October woodland.

Inspired? Certainly, I came back and read a good chunk of survival expert and woodsman Tom Brown. It put my mind in a new location and highly influenced my current writing project. All because I lived in the woods for a weekend.

It wasn't too hard a drive - M6, M1, M25, M20, M2, A2 - in my tiny banana car. Weather was good, expectations high. I'd packed everything I'd need for a weekend in the woods, keeping everything to an absolute minimum. The biggest thing was the water container.

Being self-employed it can be difficult to get any time away so the build up to the weekend had been immense; previous adventures has been confined to a few trips to see delightful friends in Oz. Not the most sustainable way of having a holiday - flying half way round the world. That's another reason why I was so excited about going to Kent for the weekend. I was searching...I was searching for an Oz that was Oz.

As a child I spent most of my time outdoors but as an adult paying the mortgage by sitting in front of the computer had taken up too much of my time...I wanted to rekindle that love of outdoors remembered from the heights of Kanangra Walls (see profile pic) and the freedom of childhood. So the little yellow bee flew through the Kent countryside with October crawling at the leaves and blue skies all around.

The weekend was outstanding - no tent. I hadn't taken one on purpose but the sleeping bag was brand new and toasty warm if a little restrictive. Good job really because if I'd turned over in bed I might have knocked the shelter down.

All went to plan; the entrance faced the fire, there where no cracks or holes anywhere and I'd picked out the prickly chestnut husks from my crunchy bed. That was it really, the rest of the weekend was one big kid-fest for me...there is no way I was 37 at any point during the weekend.

I made string and remembered the 70's classic "basket-weaving class" in the community centre. Back then for hippies and bored mothers - but really just keeping us connected to our ancient roots.

I realise now how gnome-like I looked with the leafy hat perched atop my head and ears sticking out. I ran through the woods like a demented giant pixie catching leaves. Who Does That!?! When was the last time you chased falling leaves?

We foraged for food, although all meals were provided, and plucked a pheasant, not a pleasant job. I was the last to finish...the smell! Gak! But cooked by Lief later, well...outstanding. I tried to soak up as much knowledge from her as possible but one brief weekend was never going to be enough.

And we "played" some interesting games that increased our awareness of the landscape around us, which I've used since and will continue to use and spread to anyone else who dares to go for a walk in the woods with me. Reminding me to connect with the vast amounts of energy around us.

Each morning we were sent away to find our "sit spot". A meditation place if you like. I chose the same place each time, where the broad leaf woods met the "Christmas Tree farm". Stumps of older trees outlined the area, the sky was blue, the sun warm. I've never felt like I can do the meditation thing, mind wanders and to drag it back takes some going. But I enjoyed the quiet time, listening.

The instructors down at Natural Pathways were fantastic; Hannah, Lief and Sal and dared me to keep the various leaves I'd caught falling from the trees in my hat on the journey home. They wanted proof... So here it is!

Services on the A2 - got some very funny looks off a French couple who had probably just got off the ferry!

I laughed, most of the way home infact. Sang my heart out to Supertramp and Seal, The Stones and any other song I knew. The laughter bubbled away for days and infected everything I did.

To recapture, even for a moment, that freedom and lightness of existence that being responsible with no responsibilities (think about it) brings. The moment I arrived I turned off the iPhone and revelled in the connected unconnectedness of everything.

At Natural Pathways all water was graded and used according to how grey it was, saving a huge amount (no figures - too darn child-like to think about how much until after the fact); all except modern packaging (brought in by us, the trainees) was recycled within the camp and the fire pit was covered as we left. It reminded me of a sign I saw on a beach in Australia - leave only footprints, take only memories.

Now that's the most sustainable way of living.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

First fumblings into the depths of Web 2.0

This late starter is surprised and delightfully amused by the vastness of humanity. It feels like standing in a cavernous hall, the ceiling deep in shadows.

You know someone is there, listening, hidden. You make no noise at first, afraid of what is lurking in the gloom. Senses hightened, pupils wide, heart racing.

You see a light, faint, low down, deepening the darkness around it. You stop scanning the shadows around you and strain to focus on the light. You feel other eyes turn. They no longer look at you.

You run.

As fast as your cotton-picking legs can carry you and end up staying on the computer until way past bed-time thinking of things to say to the world.

See here and here too.
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