5 Minutes with a 500mm Mirror Lens

My Pentax K200D with a 500mm Samyang mirror lens attached
Last year when I went to India I enlisted the aid of a cousin who was coming in from the States to bring me a bunch of photo equipment — most of which I subsequently never used, except for the M42 mount adapter ring that allowed me to use my old 58mm manual F2 Zenit lens on my Pentax K200D digital SLR.

Because the Zenit has sat on my camera for the past six months (I love it!), I have not really given much thought to using the other lens I got, a 500mm mirror lens. Mirror lenses are odd beasts, behaving like reflector telescopes rather than straightforward lenses. The upshot is they’re a shorter size for more zoom, and give you odd donut shaped bokeh.

The downside is that this one, a Samyang 500mm F6.3, is heavy, super-sensitive to focus, and has a very steep learning curve. Also, since I live in Dubai I’ve been too afraid to take it out with me and try it, mostly because I don’t want someone to think I’m wielding some strange super-weapon and toss me in jail.

So, I basically haven’t touched the thing in ages, but thought I’d at least see what I could get around the house in 5 minutes.

I got, um, one.

Photo taken with a Pentax K200D with a 500mm Samyang mirror lens attached

Not that I was trying very hard, and oh man do my hands ever shake. Need to fix that. Deep breaths, cut down on coff–naw.

Photo of donut bokeh from a Pentax K200D with a 500mm Samyang mirror lens attached

Truth be told, I bought this thing mostly for the donut bokeh, which I think looks quite pretty.

My Pentax K200D with a 500mm Samyang mirror lens attached

And here’s another shot of the beast, to close this post out.


Choosing the Right Camera Travel Bag

Any photographer, be they professional or photo-enthusiast, will tell you that taking care of your equipment is one of the major concerns of the hobby. After all, it just wouldn’t do to show up and be in the position to take a great photo, and discover that your camera’s broken.

The delicate nature of cameras is something that has only been magnified in the move to digital. Where earlier light-proofing the film chamber was the biggest deal, now it’s keeping all the little electronics and tiny moving parts dust free and safe. Even the most rugged of SLRs is not something you want to toss around like a stuffed toy.

And so having a good camera bag is essential. I’ve just picked up one, and after tweeting about it (as one naturally does in this day and age) some people expressed interest in finding out more about it. After all, though there are a raft of products available to house your camera, it’s actually quite rare to find something that covers all your needs.

And my needs were more than just a padded box to house my Pentax K200D DSLR. I don’t consider myself one of those photographers who has tons of kit, but over the years I have amassed a fair amount. There is, of course, a camera (or in my case, cameras, as in addition to my DSLR I also carry around a Kodak C875 compact camera). Then there’s extra lenses for the DSLR, all of which need padded, secure casing for transport. After that, accessories such as battery chargers and extra batteries, extra storage such as SD or CF cards. There’s even stuff I don’t have yet that I plan on getting in the future, such as a tripod, external flashes, and supplementary accessories such as diffusers, gel packs and whatnot. All of these things add up.

And then of course, there’s the new technology, the reason I’ve been searching for just the right bag for ages now: a laptop computer. I first saw a camera bag that also had a sleeve for a laptop a year ago, but it was a prohibitively expensive Kata. I’ve seen cheaper ones since by Lowepro and Case Logic, but in each case they lacked something; either the laptop sleeve was not padded enough, or the placement of the compartments in the camera area just weren’t adequate or placed to my liking, or it just wasn’t comfortable to wear (a major consideration when buying a bag).

Today I picked up this one, a bag that seems to tick all the boxes for what I need. It’s small enough, first of all; smaller than a lot of the others I’ve seen, yet still able to take my bulky old 15 inch laptop. Then it’s black and therefore a bit more innocuous than some of the day-glo yellow and orange ones I’ve seen. It doesn’t scream “I HAVE A HUGE CAMERA AND LAPTOP INSIDE ME” to any would-be thieves, which is a good thing when travelling (the chief reason for getting one of these). It has several pockets on the outside , and all of them are secured under flaps or behind clasps — there are even ties for tripods and other oversize accessories.

Turning to the inside, and this is where the real action is. Each and every one of the black partitions in here are removable with strong velcro grips, which is a godsend for being able to arrange accessories and lenses. This, more than anything, is the reason I bought this unknown brand over other, fancier ones, all of which had limited flexibility (also it was cheap, about $50).

Once all the laptop chargers and extra hard drives and usb keys and general pocket lint are put in here, I can still imagine having space for expansion.

Now, I know most of you are probably thinking, “I still don’t want to carry around a large backpack with my laptop everywhere!” — and I know exactly what you’re talking about. I bought this laptop camera bag precisely for long transport. Overseas trips, weekend expeditions and the like. Instead of two or three pieces, I now have to deal with only one item of carry-on luggage at the airport. Of course, for day to day use, when you don’t need multiple lenses or chargers or other such things, I am still going to carry my trusty little shoulder-strap case. During afternoons out the big bag stays at home base.

All of this is fairly new to me, of course. If you’re careful then an ordinary messenger bag is adequate for securing your camera on an afternoon out (and in the case of smaller cameras, putting it in its softcase and dropping it in a handbag will do).

However, if you’re moving into the realm of DSLR photography, and going abroad or on a long trip, I’d definitely suggest getting a good, versatile, laptop camera bag.


My Awesome New Raygun Toy

I don’t mean for this journal to turn into just a documentation of whatever new toys I buy, but in this case I couldn’t resist putting up a video.

Like Fish for Parking Spaces

My mobile phone is a gadget that has many of its cool-circa-2005 features going unused in my hands. Hindsight tells me I shouldn’t have spent a small fortune on it — money that I could now be putting to better use (camera lenses and beer) — and that whenever I next buy a phone (i.e. whenever this current one conks off) it’ll be cheap, tough, and filled with features that were cool circa 1995. For I never use it for anything beyond the basics of mobile phone communication; voice calls and SMS text messages. I can’t update my facebook status, or twitter a tweet, make a scandalous desi MMS video that spreads like wildfire, or tell you how to get from one end of the mall to the other using GPS, and god knows when the massive tsunami that is the Google Wave eventually crashes into our always-on internet lives, it won’t be doing any waving whatsoever.

And I like this about it.

Every morning or so around eleven, just like today, I get a text message from my service provider. It’s always an ad for something, at least as far as I can tell, because it’s always in Arabic. I know it’s an ad because invariably there’s things like ‘25%’ and ‘sale’ written in English wedged inbetween the indecipherable Arabic words. It’s become something of a routine: hear the phone buzz, pick it up, delete the message after a cursory glance at the two English words in there, and get back to work.

I wonder if there’s some kind of database flag in the telco’s mainframe that can tell them I don’t really respond to cryptic Arabic ads, but given their usually stellar levels of customer service (look, sarcasm!) I don’t dare broach the subject lest I lose several hours of a day I could spend daydreaming about camera lenses and beer. And besides, what if they message me about an impending earthquake or extraterrestrial coup*? Surely they’ll put the relevant Richter scale measure in English? Or at least, ‘Dont Panic! Also the economy is just dandy!’?

* (Hey, I do live in Dubai. If anywhere, space aliens will land here first just to laugh at the awkward attempts at terraforming.)

An aside which brings me neatly to the half-deciphered subject of today’s ad burst. The one English word in the message was ‘mparking’ — and unless it’s a simple spelling error I’m guessing they’re going to introduce some way to pay for your hourly parking ticket with your mobile phone.

“Fantastic!” you’re probably saying. “It’s just what I’ve been waiting for! Soon I’ll be able to sync up my twitter with my GPS and get Google to wave at the parking meter to spit out a stub whenever I set my Facebook status to ‘finding parking’, my mood to ‘frustrated’ and my my latest blip.fm selection to Pentangle’s ‘Hunting Song’!”

And you may well do that, but alas, my phone is neither capable, nor am I, so the concept (as I understand it) of getting out of a car, walking up to one of those bright orange sentinels in 45 degree summer heat, hunting on its surface for a phone number to text to, then texting to that number and hoping to get a parking stub afterwards, doesn’t exactly fill me with joy.

Technology baffles me sometimes. It’s not just the mechanics of a given technology itself (though that occurs often enough), but the rationale. Some advancements don’t actually make sense. Sure, if you’re a thoroughly modern man then you have several credit cards (and therefore, credit card debt), and have little to no cash in your wallet. Any cash you do have is only in denominations normally used to buy camera lenses with (and not beer), so a way to pay for your parking ticket with your mobile phone must be a welcome new innovation.

On the other hand, I have a couple of technologies that serve me well. The first is a small pocket sown into the right leg of my jeans and most of my other trousers. It’s not a very old technology — it’s practically modern — and like most modern technologies its use is niche and limited to the carrying of small, flat things. Individual breath mints, perhaps, or maybe even a compact vole.

The second one is much older. Positively archaic. Sometimes the best technologies were invented first. They’re elementary and seem crude, but they work, and what can be a complicated process involving waving, tweeting phones, can be boiled down to something as simple as dropping a small metal disc into a slot and picking up your stub.

Cash: it’s why we don’t barter fish for parking spaces anymore.


Vishal Remembers a Lot of Cable TV

Nearly two years ago now we let the subscription on our cable TV lapse, and haven’t bothered to renew it since. In this age of DVD season sets, 24-hour streaming internet news and just plain frustration with the rubbish value for money that local cable bouquets offer, it made no sense to continue. Nowadays when I go to a friend’s place and see the TV on — inevitably tuned to some flavour of news — it feels like some kind of alien world. The last time I was on vacation in India I tried to spend some time flipping channels, seeing if I could recapture those feelings of discovery and entertainment that TV provided for a long time in my life, but it ended with me bored and angry, two hours later having not stayed on a channel for more than five seconds.

Strange things have happened since then. I find that the large chunk of space in my brain that used to be reserved for TV is shrinking. I remember TV, but not as well as I used to, and in a few years time I may not remember much of it at all. Hence this post, which is an infodump; a big steaming brick about TV and the way it was when I used to watch it. Because, though I loathe the way it is now, a lot of me has been shaped by TV, by that first viewing of Star Trek when was an infant, by entertainments factual and imaginary, by the rush of information and colour and sound.

TV was the internet of its time. And this is how I saw it.

Eight Whole Channels!

Back in the early nineties, when cable TV first stared to take a hold in South Asia, the content was not the latest episodes of the then-new American fare such as Friends or E.R.. Star, part of Newscorp (that runs Fox) was the big kahuna, and they had an English language channel called Star Plus (um, yes, kids, it started out as an English channel, and not K-Serial-ville) which showed a lot of primarily seventies and eighties American TV. This was a time when the only subscription channel was their newly launched Star Movies, so revenues were gained from advertising, and with a previous diet of Doordarshan (and the oh-so-classy DD Metro), we were about ready to accept anything that didn’t involve poverty-stricken melodrama families, crack detectives in tight jeans with tiger-skin seats on their bikes, and, er, Zimbo.

It was even worse in the Gulf, because local TV in Oman was 99% Arabic, save for the evening news (“And now, here’s a list of the pharmacies that will be open tonight…”) and the odd afternoon cartoon that would no doubt be cut in half and preempted by the prayers, never to be completed. Dubai had its English channel, Channel 33 (what happened to the other 32?), and obviously had some kind of budget and person with a brain running it*. because for the two short years in the late 80s that we lived in the city (No traffic jams! No road works! No malls!) we got to see fairly recent 80s fare from the west such as Knight Rider, Remington Steele and Centurions, not to mention a whole slew of British, Canadian and Australian shows, commercial-free.

( * – Since 33 was replaced by Dubai One a few years ago all that has gone out the window, and we get the same trash as fifteen other channels)

A lot of these same shows were what I tuned into on Star Plus eight years later, only now it was on a 24 hour channel so there were many more of them (Manimal! Automan! …er, Neighbours), repeats for things I’d miss, frequent commercials — that was a rude shock — and most importantly, no censorship (no kissy-kissy on gulf TV, even today for the most part). I was reintroduced to my old heroes Messrs. Steele & Knight, to new ones like The Fall Guy (who I was convinced was so named because he looked like he was going to keel over any minute from old age and a loss of circulation caused by his tight jeans). There were oddly compelling pre-Reality TV game shows like The Crystal Maze, and even new fledgling Fox-derived shows like The X-Files and Third Rock from the Sun.

The thing that secretly swayed many people to invest in a satellite dish and receiver, however, was Baywatch. Back then, unused as we were to seeing anything not wearing a saree or burka, Baywatch was tantamount to pornography, and there wasn’t a kid in school (or his dad) who didn’t discreetly tape it for convenient viewing later. My uncle’s excuse was, “I like the way they shoot the rescues.”


Believe it or not, the show never really held my attention; perhaps it was because I didn’t find any of the women attractive, or that the show was so pedestrian in its writing and execution. Maybe it was because I still identified David Hasselhoff with Knight Rider, and I expected him to patrol the beach in a cool robot car or something. Regardless, I didn’t rearrange my life to watch it, much to the disbelief and derision of my peers. Scully was sexier, anyway.

Speaking of her: it got really annoying when every few months they’d run out of X-Files and just start showing repeats. Sure, I liked watching that episode with ‘Dr. Bambi’ as much as the next man, but after the fifteenth time it got a little frustrating. I had no idea what ‘seasons’ were back then, and assumed, that like Indian TV, people just made episodes of something every week until nobody watched anymore and the shows died (which was about three years after they all should have ended).

There was one show, however, that never seemed to run out of episodes despite the fact that they aired it five times a week, and that was M*A*S*H (this had something to do with their being over 200 of them). I don’t quite remember the first episode I ever saw, but it hooked me instantly. I’d watch the same episode twice in a day when it repeated. It wasn’t that I was obsessed, simply that I was entertained. There was something different about it, something that set it far apart from its other sitcom brethren, a genre which, as episodes went by, it distanced itself further and further from. The tautness of it impressed me, I suppose, years before I even knew what story writing was or gained any interest in the craft. The guarantee of nearly every single episode being entertaining was something I marveled at. Even back then, like The X-Files, M*A*S*H was something else. There was regular TV, and then there was that.

Doordarshan (State-run Indian TV, still the channel of choice for millions not hooked into cable in India) still held its own, though. Everyone, it seemed, tuned into Shanti (cable viewers included), and it featured a ‘Brought to you by’ bit almost as long as the show itself. It set the mould for many of the serials today, but now especially there’s nothing really like it anymore. Shanti was something of a transition point for Indian TV drama. On the one hand, a lot of its core DNA — the lone female protagonist, the cast of hundreds divided into dozens of factions, the power games of the rich and the richer — are things that are still evident, however greatly mutated, in the popular soaps today. On the other hand, it incorporated a lot of the pulp crime procedural tropes that had become a mainstay of DD drama since the eighties.

The Late 90s

As the Millennium grew from a lofty point in ‘The Future’ to an event just a few years away, satellite TV started to change. Several new channels started to pop up; some were welcome — The Cartoon Network! — and some were not (but I was 12 and would watch anything). If I knew that the then-NDTV-managed Star News would one day result in the glut of horrendous excuses for current affairs programming we have today (New Star News a.k.a. desi Fox News, Zee News, the Aaj Tak Omniplex and NDTV whatever etc. etc.) I wouldn’t have encouraged them and just tuned out.

Then came the subtle introduction of a few Hindi programs into the wholly English language Star Plus. I think that this was about the time that Zee — the all Hindi channel — was separating from Star (if they were every truly together). Zee had built a following around its flagship shows, the musical game show Antakshari**, the youth dramas Campus and Banegi Apni Baat (I seem to recall its big comedy hit, the Balaji-produced Hum Paanch, coming a little later). Their early focus had always been strangely young & urban — perhaps they were trying to get as far away from Doordarshan as they could. I say strangely because now nobody would associate Zee with ‘cool’ and ‘young’ but back then kids used to get very vocal when teachers gave them extra homework the same night that Campus was on.

(** – Antakshari is a popular party and road trip game that could only really work in India. The word very roughly translates to ‘final letter’ or ‘final syllable’, and it’s simple enough to play, and exploits a particular way in which Indian songs are structured. The main ‘hook’ or mukhda (literally, face) of a song is always at the beginning unlike western songs, and in the game you have to sing a song’s mukhda, and then the opposing team has to start a song with the last syllable or letter of the song you have just sung. So, if you sing ‘…I did it my way’ they have to counter with a song whose lyrics start with ‘y’ — ‘Your Winnebago stopped me in my tracks…’. Trust me, in a party these games can go on for hours.)

On Star Plus, we had the Neena Gupta vehicle Saans, which reintroduced melodramatic suffering into Indian TV that Shanti, for the most part, eschewed; only, it dialed it down to near European levels and had everyone living in posh houses (at the time. In today’s soaps, Neena’s home would probably be that of a slum dweller). In a strange twist of (probably unintentional) branding, the show’s logo featured the protagonist’s peculiar bindi, and that became as much a calling card for the show as the big ‘S’ on Superman.

There was a new entrant in the form of Sony, another all-hindi channel. Their station IDs were slick, miles ahead of anything Zee was doing, and much more interesting than Star’s comatose branding. The Zee Network started EL-TV, first as a five or six hour slot on its movie channel, and later as a channel proper. It was like Zee TV, only with more game shows, and I suppose that now it would be seen as an early attempt at a ‘Lifestyle’ channel, i.e. one where drama was not the mainstay. The shows were clunky at best: my favourite to laugh at was Peecha Karo!, a kind of cross-country cops & robbers deal featuring trench coat & fedora villains, hilariously out of place in India.

EL-TV’s big splash came with the Kirron Kher sari parade–sorry, Purush-Kshetra, which was an Oprah-style talk show apparently about men and how evil they are. I thought this was a foregone conclusion? Anyway, they milked about as many episodes out of it as Mrs. Kher had saris (i.e. a lot), none of which I watched, but which my parents were riveted to. There were a lot of talk shows that followed the mould of Purush-Kshetra on various channels. They all kind-of blur together now. Most of them were also about men being evil, except when they were about children being evil to their frail old parents (who had, no doubt, whipped them for getting two marks less than the neighbour’s kid all through childhood, but this was never brought up).

Spurred by this new direction into urban middle-class, middle-age friendly programming, the other Hindi channels started to fight back. Zee played down their game shows (EL-TV disappeared, I don’t remember when or what it morphed into, but there are a dozen Zee channels now) and staples like Banegi Apni Baat and Campus went tat-ta-bye-bye (all of them seem like they come from another universe now, and I’m not just talking about the clothes and the hair). For the longest while — even until the mid 2000s — they tried to keep the urban flag flying. There were office politics shows, I remember, and things like Kitty Party & Astitva. There was also Daastaan which was shot in Dubai and about Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), and while it was a pretty pedestrian soap, it probably sold a lot of air tickets and tourist packages in the days before Dubai was famous in the west for making big buildings and funny-looking islands.

Sony, meanwhile, decided to just take what Star Plus was doing and ramp up the angst to 11, so we got a bunch of super-suffering stuff like Heena and Thoda Hai, Thode Ki Zaroorat Hai. That one was another thing my parents watched that I couldn’t stand. I’d love to burst into the room whenever Alok Nath was going into his umpteenth angst binge and shout in unison with his character, “Vishal mar gaya, Beena-ji!!!” (“Vishal is DEAD, Beena!!”) Did Vishal (Sachin Khedekar, post-Teacher but pre career as sleazy bollywood villain) ever get cured of his amnesia and return home? Did Alok Nath continue to tell Beena-ji he was dead even after the show ended just ’cause it was the way he rolled now? Such questions still keep me up at night. Thank the gods all of them were only weeklies.

The effects of all this never-ending, insipid and unsexy melodrama was quick and staggering. Firstly, they became really popular. So popular, in fact, that Star Plus stopped being an English channel and they actually started making money. They switched to subscription, chucked all their old eighties content — including M*A*S*H — and started showing Friends a lot on the newly minted Star World.

Sigh… Friends. I first saw it in 1999, and had been hearing the hype for years. I must say, that first season was great. I mean, it was still a sitcom, but there was some terrific writing at play. How they went from that to one of the most inbred, maudlin 25 minutes on TV I’ll never know, but do that they did, and from now until the next millennium every single channel in this part of the world will play it day in and day out.

The K-Serial Virus

I had always been surprised in the 90s that nobody in India had successfully pulled off a ‘daily’ soap, but that was only because nobody had got the formula right. Western soaps are about large groups of somewhat inter-related characters who have sex with each other and marry each others’ parents, siblings and offspring. Someone in India was also paying attention to The Bold & the Beautiful, only it took seven or eight years for us to work the logistics out so we would successfully duplicate its five-days-a-week schedule. We couldn’t really lift the plot — no sex please, we’re Indians — but we could and did adapt the ridiculousness.

The answer to the plot problem was fairly simple and had been around for a few years, namely Neena Gupta’s Saans and, to a lesser extent, Shanti. While other late 90s soaps rolled with their template of the travails of angsty urban middle-class intelligentsia, Ekta Kapoor at Balaji Telefilms probably realised that a whole lot of people were tuning into Saans because it featured a strong but embattled female lead dealing with somewhat hackneyed but still engaging domestic issues such as infidelity and relationships. From Shanti came the cast of hundreds, the political intrigue and the high stakes corporate duelling, but without the social activist baggage.

Balaji, who had until then been known for producing the Zee comedy hit Hum Paanch and a couple of other dramas on Sony, gave birth to the soap that launched a million others, Kyuni Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. Whether or not it was helped by the spillover from the hundreds of millions of people who tuned into Kaun Banega Crorepati (the Indian Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?), the fact remains that it stuck and was still one of the top rated shows until its demise last year (due to falling ratings of all things!).

K-Serials are so called because Balaji produced dozens of them, all of which started with the letter K which they consider lucky (and why not? It worked!) and are now generally known by their first words (Kyunki…, Kahani…, Kasautii…, etc). They’re also called Saas-Bahu serials (‘mother-in-law – daughter-in-law’) because no matter how they begin (the world of doctors, or lawyers, or aspiring film directors) by around the twentieth episode the lead female is married, and they boil down to a large joint family situation and the various intrigues that supposedly go on in them. Balaji were at one time the only people who made this kind of soap, but since they were wildly popular every channel now has a few, and Zee TV has pretty-much done an about face on its urban lineup and embraced the form (and has met with success).

Of course, being Indians, we took Ridiculous to a whole new level. The glamour was ramped up, the houses got bigger, the families larger and their values more conservative. If only Neena Gupta knew that the simple bindi trend she started would snowball into the grotesques that were nightly painted on Sudha Chandran’s face years later in Kahin Kissi Roz (My favourite was the anatomically correct cobra, complete with silver glitter fangs). The soap vamps’ bindis became a national talking point, their saris are still influencing fashion, and the suits — oh god, why would anyone in a monsoonal climate wear so many suits, and why are all of them so bad?! — well, um, the suits are everywhere now. You can’t pass a wedding without seeing twenty mauve jackets with dhinchak trim.

Forget Bollywood. Balaji with its half dozen vaguely different takes on ‘young woman gets married into large family and shit happens’ routine influence Indian culture more on a daily basis than what state Aamir Khan’s abs are in. The only thing to rival them in the past few years has been Himesh Reshammiya, and I for one think that he’s pedaling the same melodrama, only in music videos and films. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari — it’s a strange coincidence — but India sways to the letter K.

The West Gets Real

In the west, meanwhile, Reality TV and the rise of the SUV happened. These two things formed a symbiosis of sorts, as the vehicle of choice for every reality show contestant was some flavour of black SUV.

Since the Newscorp-owned Fox was its champion over there, we got to see a lot of it on their channels here. Most of English programming now is either Reality TV or sitcoms, with the odd single season reject from America quickly making its was over (like Miss Match or Journeyman). You’d think that the older shows would be even cheaper now to broadcast, but instead we still get that episode of Friends where somebody’s marrying the other one while another pair are secretly sleeping together. People still seem to look to Star to set the trend, so the half dozen English channels that have been started by local (Middle East) media groups all seem to follow the trend of Reality TV, a couple of reheated shockporn dramas (Law & Order: SVU, but I’ll save that rant for another time), and Friends.

Star World is perhaps the most comically misnamed. They have a couple of non-American shows going on at any time (British sitcoms), but is that really all there is to say about the English speaking world? Hell, there aren’t even any Australian or Canadian shows on TV anymore, and most of those I’ve seen are pretty decent, and frequently great (Traders!). It would be a real miracle if somebody actually came up with some original English programming. Where is the Singaporean cop drama I’ve always wanted? Where is the Indian rom-com? Is there nobody out there who can pull one together for about the same cash as the syndication fee of Race to the Altar?

The Ghost of EL-TV

I shouldn’t be the one to talk about original content, however. A couple of years ago a friend of mine, my brother and I tried to put together a Hindi sitcom the likes of which had never been seen in India. We fleshed things out, wrote a few scripts and that was about it. The plans, as they say, are still afoot. Back when we started there was Star Plus — bonded to the K-Serial — and Zee and Sony, all of whom were trying to be Star Plus. Getting anything other than a five day soap on TV was probably impossible, but there were rumblings of new, urban, modern channels launching soon.

When Zoom showed up with its super-swanky station ID — the best since mid-90s Sony — I was one of those people who thought that there might be light at the end of the tunnel. Star was going to launch one of its own too (Star One) and NDTV was probably not far behind. They didn’t have anything as cutting-edge as I would have liked, but they were trying to break out of the mould. Three years later, however, Zoom has degenerated into a E! clone, Star One is Star Plus-lite, playing old shows and quasi-K-Serial mutations of their starting lineup. Though I haven’t seen it yet, I hear the NDTV one is similarly disappointing.

Today I think TV in India is a toss-up between News channels and dance/comedy variety shows that follow the American Idol/Dancing with the Stars template. The serials are still around, but nearly all the flagship soaps have died (sometimes suddenly), and even the news channels show stand up comedy (because they’re crap when it comes to news, but that’s a rant for another day). Is there hope for Indian TV? Will it have some kind of renaissance the way that American serials have gone through in the noughties? I have no idea, and all signs point to more dance variety shows.

TV But Not TV

Despite having no access to cable or local television, I still watch a lot of TV. I just don’t bother with cliffhangers or interminable ad breaks, or worry about keeping my schedule free to catch my favourite show, or to remember to set my VCR to tape it. TV is no longer restricted to cable and satellite broadcasts. In the 90s a two or three episodes of a show might be squeezed onto a single VHS cassette, but today you can get a whole season’s worth of shows in a pack of DVDs that take up roughly the same space. Yes, so some of the thrill of speculating for a week or months as to what would happen in the next episode is gone, but that was an artificial thrill anyway. The shows themselves have changed too, having large overarching plotlines, dozens of characters and histories; This sort of thing has even crept into procedurals.

In a given year I’ll see a season’s worth of LOST, Mad Men, 30 Rock, House, Entourage, Friday Night Lights, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, Brothers & Sisters and several more I can’t think of offhand, and catch up with shows I’ve seen on TV back in the day but can now watch the entirety of. I’ve seen all of M*A*S*H, and am currently almost at the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and just that statement would have sounded completely unbelievable to me 10 years ago. Today it’s as simple as popping down to the local DVD store, or even just downloading a torrent. If I want to watch a particular episode of She-Ra, it’s a simple Google search away.

I don’t miss TV. The medium still has several strengths, but it’s just not compatible with the kind of person who has free time almost whenever they want it. If I had a steady 9-5 job and more structure in my life, then maybe I’d still have that cable subscription. But as someone who spends almost an entire weekend each year devouring the latest season of LOST, that type of — I’ll admit it — antiquated lifestyle just seems wrong. It helps that I never had a palate for the way news is presented, and abhor it now; that I don’t feel a frisson of excitement when this week’s American Idol elimination is about to be announced; that watching sports does nothing for me beyond marveling at the odd skillful play.

I never liked TV, I just liked the stories that were being told on it. I like examining it as a facet of culture, like opening up the case and seeing how all the gears and strings of it fit together, but the medium is mine no longer, if it ever was. I can’t, on the other hand, say that I’m a child of the internet. I only joined facebook a few weeks ago, and I still don’t know how to actually use it or a dozen other internet staples. I just see the net for what it is to me; another way to get at the information I’ve always filtered though, only with a mouse instead of a steady thumb on the ‘channel ’ button.

I like the way it tells me stories.

Spoiler-free, of course.


Electrical Shenanigans

Illustration from a 1933 German book on the dangers of electricity, featuring a drunk youth peeing on a power line from a bridge

Right, so usually I’d just link to this in my Google Reader Shared Items blog, but one particular picture in this set was too good not to highlight. Just look at it. I want it blown up and put on my wall.

The rest of the set is here


Prince of Persia Revisited

screenshot of the original Prince of Persia
At the cusp of the 1990s, every home PC had to have one killer app installed. When you’d go round to a friend’s place and they’d show off their new Amstrad or IBM beige behemoth, the first question out of your mouth would be, “How did you convince your parents?” The second would be, “Do you have Prince of Persia?”

Jordan Mechner’s seminal 1989 game (published by Brøderbund) was the high watermark for computer games at the time, a title that combined fluid graphics, exquisite music and challenging gameplay into an astonishing final product. I remember the first time I saw it in 1990, on the PC of one of my parents’ friends. He fired it up for us, to keep us kids busy, I suppose, but I don’t think even he would understand quite the impact the next hour or so of play had on me.


Here was a computer game, until then just a kid’s thing with colourful graphics and tinny bips and bleeps for sound, only it was strangely adult-oriented. The character was humanoid and moved in a lifelike way (thanks to the rotoscoping animation process), the environments were grey and moody — unsettling, even — and there were no guns, no quick-trigger projectiles with which to fell waves of enemies. Come to think of it, there weren’t many enemies either, and the your character started with no weapons. Deadly spike traps, floor switches and a labyrinthine maze of a dungeon was all that lay between you and destiny. If only you could complete it in one single hour.

It’s amazing how well the original Prince of Persia holds up nearly two decades after its initial release. Sure, later versions cleaned up the graphics and gave our hero a makeover (out went the white pyjamas, and in came the turban and vest combo), but the essence of the game has remained intact in every version. The prince is still a tireless acrobat, leaping over pits and scampering up and down ledges. His swordplay is not the quickest — can’t expect much else from a street urchin — but there is an inherent pace and rhythm to the combat that was (and still is) uncommon among games, favouring position and timing over mindless button mashing. Many a heartbeat was skipped in the split-second that both his and the enemy guard’s swords arced through the air and I hoped that I was just that minuscule bit quicker.

I must admit that I never did finish the original Prince. My nascent curiosity about all things design was just forming (even though I wouldn’t realise it for another decade) and I spent most of the one hour of alloted time pootling around the first few levels, exploring every nook and cranny, seeing how it all fit together (I think I ran around the room telling all and sundry that I’d found the alternate way back to the intial starting point of the first level — you could never do that in Mario). I was fascinated by the spike pits that were perfectly harmless when you walked carefully past them — there’s more than one way to skin a cat — and by the mirror prince, by health replenishing and enhancing potions and the copy protection roadblock before level 2 (you had to drink a certain potion of a certain alphabet, a fact only knowable to people to had the game’s manual and had therefore purhcased the game properly).

Screenshot from the Opening sequence of Prince of Persia
Mostly I was enthralled by the cinematic nature of it; the sweeping opening music, the stark, simple gestures in the opening sequence. It was the first game I’d encountered that was trying to tell a story rather than a high score. It was the first time I’d seen blood in a game, and I recall with morbid fascination the first time I saw the prince chopped to bits by a steel-jawed door trap, his blood still oozing from its teeth. Looking back now, there was also that fantastic device of having the game played on non-scrolling individual screens; you never knew what was going to meet you on the next one!

Screenshot of Eric Chahi's Another WorldScreenshot of Delphine's Flashback
Prince of Persia spawned a whole genre of single-screen adventure games where the emphasis was on puzzle-solving and mood, and I was a huge fan of two of the most prominent Prince-inspired games, Delphine software’s 2D vector classics Another World (by Eric Chahi) and Flashback. As time passed and technology grew, the 2D side-scroller was rapidly losing its place in the world. It’s amazing to think that just five years after Prince of Persia was released, the original Sony Playstation debuted in 1994, ushering in the age of the 3D polygon videogame that is still with us. There was a 2D sequel to the game in 1994 (the lovely Shadow and the Flame), and in 1999 the flawed Prince of Persia 3D was released, but it wouldn’t be until late 2003 that the world would see a game worthy of the Prince of Persia name.

The orginial is still a classic well deserving of that status, and if you’ve never played it, you’re missing out.

Google Chrome & the Power of Comics

Over the next few days you will hear a lot about Google Chrome, the new web browser from the internet behemoth. I’ve tested it out and am happy to report that it’s quite nice. Of course, I’m a long-time Mozilla Firefox user, so the transition has not been very stark. But if you’re one of the poor people who still use Microsoft Internet Explorer (or worse, if until now you didn’t even know what a web browser is and that there are mutliple available ones), then Chrome will be a revelation.

Even for me, the new browser is an intriguing new beast. It’s very quick, intuitive to use and so far does things well. I can see myself using it for most tasks, at least those that don’t require certain firefox plug-ins that I’m used to (but there will no doubt be equivalents for them in Google Chrome eventually), and I’m very happy that there is now a new robust, polished open-source browser. Competition and choice can only lead to better products in this regard.

But as impressive as the browser is, it is not the thing that I really wanted to blog about here. For you see, the most impressive thing about Google Chrome for me today is the fantastic comic that serves as an introduction to it.

The name Scott McCloud should be familiar to most comic book geeks such as myself. The author of seminal works like Understanding Comics has carved a name for himself as true master and expert of the comics medium. Who better to explain a new web browser; an application that’s so simple to use it’s invisible, but is so complex underneath that entire careers can be dedicated to it? Scott McCloud, of course.

I love how he manages to represent even the most arcane programming concepts in a fun and exciting way (helped, of course, by the words from Google Chrome’s programming staff), how there’s a single narrative thread but multiple voices from members of the team — this is a feat you can’t really achieve as well in video, for instance, but as a comic it works great. Alan Moore has always maintained that comics as a medium are rich beyond measure, that there are things you can do in it that you can’t do in a movie or a book. I can think of several examples of Moore’s own work to support this, but Scott McCloud’s introduction to Google Chrome is a shining example too.

So even if you don’t give Google Chrome a spin (I highly recommend you do), please do check out the comic that goes with it. It’s simply superb.

Comic Konga 2 #5: Megalomania

-I wish I was fabulously intelligent. -You aren't?
-Then I'd program a kickass brew of linux and rule the world!! -I see.
-Geeks would love me. Children would respect me. Women would really love me! -Women love men who program operating systems?
-You're no fun anymore.


Finally, the fifth and final strip of the second Comic Konga!. Dunno why I dawdled do long on this. It didn’t take me long to do. I guess that’s because I had a bunch of other strips planned and never got around to doing them (sorry Dolly!). I’ll have to get around to those soon, or when we do the next comic knoga in a month or two. Come to think of it, I didn’t end up doing any of the strips I thought I would do this time. Most of the ideas were very long, multiple page ideas, and would have required a lot more drawing. Still, I’ve enjoyed all the strips I’ve done (not to mention the rest of the strips).


Earth Vs The Legion of Lightbulbs

Yesterday was Earth Hour in several places around the world, including here in Dubai. Not much happened, though a few buildings did turn their external lights off. One lovely radio jockey suggested that the best way to spend the hour was to turn off all the lights, fire up some candles, snuggle up with your significant other on the sofa… and watch a romantic movie on DVD (preferably on your big screen HDTV).

Take that, energy conservation!


Elsewhere people in India were complaining that cities like Mumbai were not on the bandwagon, and shame on them for not participating in this noble effort. Um, yeah, except that cities in India go through almost daily scheduled power cuts, most of which last for longer than an hour. There is a prevailing view from what I can gather, that by shutting off our light bulbs for an hour every year, we will all be directly saving the earth.

This, as far as I know, is not strictly true. Most power stations around the world run on fossil fuels; in them power is generated and thrown out onto the grid. If we aren’t using it, they do not actually store any unused energy in large batteries somewhere. If the power companies got together and said, “okay, in order to save the earth we’re going to shut down our power supply for a few hours,” everybody would be up in arms. But that’s really the only way the current electricity supply model is going to help.

Then there’s all the energy that went into publicising the Earth Hour event itself; multi-storey billboards, the energy to light them for days leading up to yesterday, t-shirts and caps, concerts and karaoke and whatnot. The Earth Hour site itself declares it a ‘carbon-neutral’ event in its faq (and also addresses the power issue with what amounts to an “Um, yeah, we know.”) but doesn’t say much else about it. Are they policing every floodlit billboard around the world?

I applaud the idea as a PR exercise, certainly, but I do feel that the execution is little more than a token gesture, and everyone around the world has just jumped on because it’s a lazy, easy way to think we’re making a difference. It’s like every Indian I’ve met who expects the government to solve all their problems personally, in the same way a 5 star hotel might, because, “they voted. (harrumph!)

Conservation and reduction of our energy usage is a vital thing, but we can’t pat ourselves on the back and get back to our wasteful lives just because we shut off the garden light for an hour.


The Ten Rupee Book Club 001

Stack of Ten Rupee Books 001
Over the past five years I’ve been amassing an eclectic collection of cheap used books on my trips to Bombay. At Rs.10 apiece (around $0.25 US) they aren’t expensive or significant (most of them are, in fact, the very opposite), but they are valuable to me, insomuch as they are weird — and I love weird. I have read very few of them; Of the hundreds (and by now, thousands), I have only finished a handful. There have been plans ever since I started blogging to talk about them, to read and review them, but this has so far not happened.

I was reminded of this recently when Dan blogged about his bookshelf, and in the comments I lamented that most of my books were in boxes (he suggested I just take a picture of the box). “That’s it,” I said to myself, “enough dawdling!” I looked through a small box of them and chose seven — none of which I have read — but which I think are interesting. Maybe this will give me the impetus to actually read some, but for now I will talk of their weird and wonderful subjects, their pretty and often breathtaking covers, and their all-round coolness. I hope you find them as fun as I do.

A Bit of Background

Used Booksellers 01Used Booksellers 02
India has a huge English-speaking population, especially in the cities. In a culture that values education and knowledge as much as we do, it stands to reason that books and reading are still a significant part of life (at least among the urban middle class). So nothing is thrown away, old books move from private collections into small neighbourhood libraries where they get read by thousands of people over dozens of years, and eventually when they’re tattered and worn, or riddled with worm holes, they end up in raddi.

‘Raddi’ literally means ‘scrap’ and raddi merchants deal in paper and other valuable things like copper and metals. They buy in bulk by weight, and pick and sort things by hand into various piles in their usually hole-in-the-wall shops. The loose paper ends up in things like newsprint, and single-side printed matter is cut and bound into cheap notepads, while some of it even ends up as sandwich wrapping from roadside vendors. It’s a fun game to read the scrap on which you get your sandwich; usually it’s some kind of internal documents from companies — memos and letters and photocopied invoices — and sometimes it’s even old school textbooks (which are crap anyway, so no big loss).


The books, however, are kept aside and resold. In raddi shops the price is not fixed and is negotiable; you choose a book, ask the vendor how much he wants for it; he inspects it and quotes something ridiculous (5-10 times what it’s worth) and then you haggle. In South Bombay where time is money and people just want to get from their office to the train station and vice-versa, things are a little more advanced, and in addition to the stack of negotiable old tomes, there will usually be a display of fixed price 10 Rupee books.

Remember, these people buy by weight, not title (and most of the hawkers don’t know English, but can read the words), so it’s quite common to find something you might pay a hundred rupees for just sitting in that pile because it’s too worn or the cover/author’s name is uninteresting. Many bargains are to be found. And below are just seven:

(Oh, and you can click on the front covers for larger versions)

1. Envoy to New Worlds/Flight From Yesterday

Envoy to New Worlds by Keith Laumer - Click to EmbiggenFlight From Yesterday by Robert Moore Williams - Click to Embiggen
Our first book is even greater value for money than the others, because it’s actually two books. Published by Ace Books’ ‘Ace Double’ imprint, this is two novels for the price of one. When you get to the end of one, just flip it over and continue reading! It’s a gorgeous format from a design point of view alone, and there were hundreds of these, including this which was published in 1963.

Of the two tales, Keith Laumer’s Envoy to New Worlds is significant because it marks the first appearance (in a novel) of Jame Retief, ‘The Machiavelli of Cosmic Diplomacy’ as it states on the cover. He’s apparently an intergalactic diplomat, a role modeled somewhat after the experiences of his author in the United States Foreign Service. Retief would go on to star in upwards of sixteen books. The absence of a back cover summary prevents me from making any guesses as to the plot of this first adventure (I’m guessing there will be diplomacy), but any cover that depicts a man who has descended from a ladder with a cape, a gun, and a cummerbund, has piqued my interest.

Not your average flip-bookOn the flip side (haw haw), the slightly less well-known Robert Moore Williams (his name is so plain he couldn’t have made it up) gives us Flight From Yesterday. ‘Yesterday in America, tomorrow in Atlantis’ the cover blurb reads. Surely, hey must be talking about lost airport luggage. No? Oh well. Keith Ard (‘es well ‘ard, I hope) is an unemployed test pilot who answers a mysterious classified ad and apparently meets up with vanishing men in togas (or is it vanishing togas?) and girls with literally flaming hair. If this is any kind of good SF, the man with the vanishing toga teaches him stuff, and he gets off with the truly hot hottie. If this is progressive SF, then the roles of the man and the girl are switched. Either way, Keith Ard!

The cover reminds me of The Phantom Tollbooth movie, which is one of the reasons this book caught my eye. Sadly, no artists are credited on either of the covers. The books themselves are slim (Flight From Yesterday is 120 small pages, 11 pages longer than its ‘book-mate’) and both have a certain charming brevity to the narrative. For instance:

“How’d you get this, Keith?” he asked.
“I was struck in the back by something that felt like a hot wind made in part of living electricity,” Keith said.
Dr. Riker made no comment.

I love old SF.

2. Mushrooms, Molds, and Miracles

Mushrooms, Molds and Miracles, by Lucy Kavaler - Click to EmbiggenMushrooms, Molds and Miracles, by Lucy Kavaler - Back Cover
To say that author Lucy Kavaler’s work is eclectic would be an understatement. Anybody who writes books called The Private World of High Society, The Artificial World Around Us and The Wonders of Algae deserves to be taken seriously, and by all accounts, Mushrooms, Molds, and Miracles is a very well received and regarded book. It covers everything from fungi as miracle foods and medicines to yes, even hallucinogens and extra terrestrial speculations. The writing style is a perfect mix of conversational and academic; not shying away from big words when it needs to, but eschewing them when something simpler will suffice.

Mushroom book interiorIf it still aren’t convinced, here’s the first section of the back cover copy:

Martinis and the secret of heredity, Penicillin and The Angel of Death, Truffles and L.S.D., the Irish Potato Famine and the Fall of the Roman Empire, Astronauts, Gourmets, Scientists, and Indian Medicine Men
What does this wildly assorted list have in common? The answer is Fungi.

How could I not pick this book up?

3. A Dictionary of Geography

A Dictionary of Geography by W.G. Moore - Front Cover - Click to EmbiggenA Dictionary of Geography by W.G. Moore - Back Cover
All this talk of mushrooms should get you in the mood for the great outdoors, yearning to fulfill that romantic ideal of going out into the nearest wood and poking around under a rotting tree bark. It might help, therefore, to have a handy guide to tell you the difference between a gryke and a gulch; to be able to properly interpret the hachures on your map and to watch out for precarious talus.

Geography book interiorAll these and more things can be found in the Revised an Enlarged edition of Penguin’s A Dictionary of Geography by W.H. Moore. This surprisingly weighty paperback does exactly what it says on the cover, and even has a bunch of pretty black and white pictures in the middle. It’s fun enough if you are a closet geography nerd like me, but is also useful as an idea mine (there are several terms I’m going to steal for story titles already). We’ve all been at a dinner party where we’ve needed to know the difference between a Mercator’s Projection and a Sanson-Flamsteed Sinusoidal one, haven’t we? Well now we can be ignorant no longer.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the top of that there drumlin to see if I can spot that dingle I’ve been trying to find all day.

4. Our Language

Our Language by Simeon Potter - Front Cover - Click to EmbiggenOur Language by Simeon Potter - Back Cover
Big words scare people. It’s the truth. But big words needn’t scare you any more after you’ve read (Prof.) Simeon Potter’s Our Language. The beautiful Romek Marber cover was enough to convince me to buy this book long before I opened it. Its ambition of telling the history, structure, dialectic branches, trends and future of the English Language (also known as ‘Merican’), and that too in only 200 pages, sealed the deal.

Our language book interiorThis is the kind of book that publishers seemed to just pop out on a lark back in the 1950s and 60s, and is now unjustly forgotten. They do not make them like this anymore. Here’s something that doesn’t claim to have the answer to everything, is not a trendy pop-culture phenomenon, the latest gee-whiz-ain’t-it-spiffy nonfiction breeze that gets blogged to death and launches a thousand speaking tours (even though I greatly respect and love things like Tipping Point and Freakonomics). It’s just a simple, well-researched, intelligent account of a subject, and we’re all busy reading about Britney’s navel grit.

Shame on you, human race.

5. Teen-Age Vice/Designs in Scarlet

Teen-Age Vice or Designs in Scarlet by Courtney Ryley Cooper - Front Cover - Click to EmbiggenTeen-Age Vice or Designs in Scarlet by Courtney Ryley Cooper - Back Cover
Speaking of the human race…

Oh, where do I begin? This 1939 (but 1957 edition) book is so deliciously cheesy. Told in a Bob-Woodward-channeling-Raymond-Chandler style, only bad, it apparently took Cooper eighteen months of “relentless, coast-to-coast personal investigation to ferret out the facts. If you are shocked by what he found, remember — he meant you to be.”(!) — this from the inside flap.

The entire book is like this. I should probably point out here that the author started his career as a clown, and at the time of his suicide in 1940 was the chief publicist for a circus. Of course, nothing I could say about this book could match the back cover copy, so I’ll just let it do the talking:

teen-age vice interiorWhat makes them do it?
Who is to blame?

They hold orgies in cellar clubs, go on juke-joint “honeymoons.” They get hopped up on liquor and dope, then rob and rape and murder. They are the young people under 21 who commit more than half the major crimes in the U.S.A.

Inspired by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Courtney Ryley Cooper gives you the grim and tragic answers in this brilliant and blistering exposé of TEEN-AGE VICE.

…To paraphrase Renée Zellwegger, “You had me at ‘Hoover.'”

6. Cool Kids with Hot Ideas

Cool Kids with Hot Ideas by Jules Archer - Front Cover - Click to EmbiggenCool Kids with Hot Ideas by Jules Archer - Back Cover
Likewise, this book had me the second I saw its cover. No, I’m not just talking about the naked girl on the bike (although it is a well-posed photo, and she isn’t bad either). The cover design is remarkable, though entirely uncredited (and in a rare instance, they paid attention to the back too. Cover, that is). I routinely pick up books I have no interest in if the cover is particularly good. Being a graphic designer (with the emphasis on graphic), strong stark covers like these have always appealed to me over today’s wispy, layered and overworked Photoshop monstrosities.

cool kids with hot ideas interiorThe text itself is a lot less sensationalist than the cover would have you believe; certainly, it’s not as SHOCKING(!) as Teen-Age Vice. A compilation of articles, Cool Girls… may have lost its edge when viewed from our media-saturated times. Perhaps, in 1968, this boook chronicled the kind of shocking behaviour people associated with fringe sorts like hippies and beatniks, not ordinary teenage daughters. Most stories deal with unplanned pregnancies, unwed mothers, and illegal abortions (remember, Roe Vs Wade only happened in 1973). The others deal with drugs and teenage prostitution, and none of them are made to look sexy.

It’s interesting that a book with such an unabashedly titillating cover disguises what is fairly straightforward, even depressing, content. I could go on and on about how news has always been latently pornographic, but that’s another story. This book is the perfect example of ‘Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover.’

But what a cover.

7. How to Build Your Cabin or Modern Vacation Home

How to Build Your Cabin or Modern Vacation Home, by Harry Walton - Front Cover - Click to EmbiggenHow to Build Your Cabin or Modern Vacation Home, by Harry Walton - Back Cover
“Enough!” I hear you say, “all this teenage vice is too much for anyone to take. Can’t we talk about those nice mushrooms or sexy dingles again?”

Well, sure, I’d love to, and if you do want to chuck it all and move to the farthest wood, it would be a good idea to have some place to live when you go there. The first thing that strikes you about this Popular Science Skill Book (other than the splendid Bauhaus cover by Frederick Charles) is the little note on the inside that says it’s printed on 100% recycled paper. Somehow I never imagined that people highlighted that fact before the 1980s.

How to Build a Cabin InteriorThis is an honest to goodness 160 page attempt to teach you how to build a cabin. It’s pretty successful too, and I have little doubt that a person of average intelligence might actually end up with a functioning home in the woods if he used it as a rough guide. The genius of the book lays in the fact that it doesn’t just show you ‘four methods of supporting rafters on top plates in gable-roof construction’, but also covers things like ‘how to develop a spring’ (as a reliable water source), how to choose a site for your home in the hills, and an overview of the tools you might use (of chainsaws it says: “Gas-powered chainsaw speeds log-cabin building. It is strictly for outdoor use.“).

My favourite part has to be an early chapter showcasing classic and avant-garde cabin designs to inspire you. I have half a mind to buy a plot of land and try one out, but I think I’ll start in miniature with ice-cream sticks. The fun doesn’t stop there, though; the back cover gives the names of several related titles, including How to Work with Concrete and Masonry (for my closet brutalist, of course) and How to Build Your Own Furniture (I’m also vaguely intrigued by How to Do Your Own Wood Finishing by Jackson Hand, but only so that I can giggle like a schoolboy).

How to Build Your Cabin or Modern Vacation Home is strange; it’s set up almost exactly like every book on drawing I have ever seen or purchased, only at the end of it you get a house. How cool is that?

In Conclusion

Used Booksellers
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short trip through a little corner of my book collection. Even though I didn’t look through the majority of them, there were enough good ones that I was spoilt for choice, and could even group them by theme. This first one was a pick-and-mix of strangeness to whet the appetite, an amuse-bouche for your bibiomaniacal palette.


Neat stack of books.

The Future of Human Transportation

Let's talk about the Future
Everybody talks about the future of cars...
Pfft! Let's talk about the future... of movement itself!
The Future (featuring Rockets, Observatories & Robot Apartments
Everyone is sexy in the future...


...except Indians, of course.
...Me? Oh, well there's and exception to every rule, y'know. (I'm a force of nature...)
Anyway; Shopping is still very popular in the future...

The Malls are bigger, but the people are more unfit. In the mid 21st century, the leading cause of human death was... Mall Fatigue.
Strangely enough, the solution to this problem had existed for decades!
The Baby Carrier!
22nd Century Robotics met 21st Century Laziness, with stunning results!


Behold... the Personal Transport Robot!
Peters are everywhere...
Peters playing in the park (holy alliteration!)
Two Peters at a urinal. Please wash your hands!

They literally build themselves...
...and get 8 miles to the gallon!
Road Rage is still all the rage...
Only now it's a little more exciting


All this 'Assisted Transportation' has made Humanity even more lazy and unfit!
In the 22nd century, the leading cause of death is... Attempted Fornication!
O, cruel Fate! People are sexier than they've ever been, but nobody's gettin' any sex!!!
...except Indians, of course.


Like most truly great ideas, this comic started off as idle chit-chat over the phone. A few months ago a friend and I were talking about the people who park on the sidewalk at the mall even though there’s plenty of parking nearby, and that, given the option, they would take their Range Rovers inside the mall itself and drive around the aisles of the Hypermarket. We talked about the rising number of five-to-ten year olds we see being carted around in prams (or strollers as some call them), and how we were never considered so delicate by our parents and had to walk around just like them (to no ill effects, I might add). My gears started turning, of course, considering the future of Human Laziness, and thus the idea of giant robot baby carriers for adults was born.

We’ve already seen people come up with personal transport; the Segway is probably the most famous and visible — indeed, one mall here in Dubai uses them to transport security guards (the same mall also has a golf-cart shuttle service to take people along its length). Recently at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, a couple of personal transport concepts (from Suzuki and Toyota) rekindled my robot transport idea, and figured it would make a good comic.

I didn’t really decide on a page count for this, figuring that perhaps like last time it would only take two pages. Indeed, had I stuck solely to the robots it may have been, but I think the other stuff about the consequences of Human Laziness are worth the extra page. I wondered if it might come out to two-and-half pages or some odd amount, but luck was on my side and it comes in at three pages even (of 8 panels each).

This time when pencilling the comic I put in more shading in the pencils themselves, but it’s still rough. I coloured it in inkscape but integrated those colours with the pencils in the GIMP (instead of vector-tracing the pencils or inking them seperately). I did it on the new laptop, mostly to see how the colours translate across monitors. On my net computer’s wonky monitor it looks very dark and some of the text isn’t well defined. It looked fine on the laptop which, I assume, is closer to most people’s experience, but if any of it doesn’t look right to you please tell via a comment below.

There are a couple more comic ideas floating around my head of a similar nature (i.e. with ‘me’ narrating) but I don’t know when that will be done. It depends on how fired up I am about them or if, like with this one, something shows up (the Tokyo Auto Show concepts) to remind me of it.