Photography Writing

In my other life

Woman does not live by writing, photography, and passionate crusades, alone. I also like to keep my hands in the tech that’s been my bread and butter for two decades. However, since I now write for a (small) living, I restrict my tech activites to working with interesting people doing interesting things – with a little art, food, and adventure thrown in.

For the past few months, I’ve been helping a friend, or should I say cobber, Allan Moult (aka G’day Cobbers), as he opens up a gateway to Tasmania with an online publication called Leatherwood Online. This is the online version of a magazine that Allan was publisher/editor for years back, but has now found new life among the bytes.

The site doesn’t go online officially until Tuesday, but Allan is letting me release a sneak peek at it. I’ll have more to talk about the publication tomorrow, including our approach to only using open source and shareware technologies. For now, though, let me just point out a couple of tidbits I have a feeling you’re going to like.

First, there’s the photography. That hits you right off, as soon as you open the site. Leatherwood Online has some of the most beautiful photography I’ve seen, from all over Tasmania. For instance, one of the featured artists included with the premier of the magazine is Alan Moyle, with works from his Comic Series – photographs of stand up comics who have visited Tasmania. Following is just one of the photos from this amazing series (comic act known as Tripod):


But Leatherwood isn’t just photos – it’s also writing about Tasmania, the people, and the places. Another article titled Taking on the Giant features Shipstern, a rugged, beautiful surfing spot that isn’t for the amateur. Included with the personal recountings of the author Dustin Hollick is photos of Shipstern, and a video taken by Stuart Gibson, who is currently making a documentary of this very impressive surfing spot.

You really have to see this video. And unlike every other site in the world – you don’t have to fill out a subscription form, first.


I’ve found out while working with Allan on this project that Tasmanians like food. They really like food, and it shows not only in their cooking but also in their pride of presentation of the food. Included in the magazine is a tasty article on the mushrooms grown and devoured in Tasmania, again with photos, which I can’t look at because they make me hungry.

Did I happen to mention that one of my most favorite foods in the world is sauteed mushrooms?


There’s a whole lot more, but I have to, out of vanity, point out a few items courtesy of yours truly. Oh, not photographs – I haven’t been to Tasmania, yet. Darn it. However, I do have an official title of Technology Architect, and an unofficial title of “the strange woman who comes by now and again”.

I’ve also been given title of Honorary Tasmanian, which made me eligible to contribute a section of this three author, three section story about the Giant Squid, a subject that’s been of interest to me for years.

And the words looks so grand with the photo of the star of the series:

Lovely, eh?

Allan’s done a terrific job of pulling together the best of Tasmania, and promises lots to come. More than that, though, he’s put together an online magazine the looks and acts the way online magazines should look and act.

There’s nary a popup ad in sight.

More tomorrow. And the rest of my own scanned in archived photos. No, not the following. I wish.

Photo by Geoff Murray

People Political

Share the Wealth

Outsourcing, legal visitor worker programs, and immigration – these are issues that will hopefully become part of the political campaigns this year in the US. They should be issues talked about in every country; this world is getting smaller, and we have to start thinking globally. Time to share the wealth. Unfortunately, when it comes to sharing, it tends to be those who can least afford it who are required to give the most.

There was a tragedy in the news today–19 Chinese die collecting cockles (a shellfish) in a dangerous bay in England. Gangs had bussed the workers in, most if not all assumed to be illegal aliens, and then left them to die when the tides cut them off from shore.

Imagine paying someone all that you own to flee to a new country for a better life for your children, a country where you can’t speak the language, and don’t know the customs. Then, once you arrive, you’re coerced into backbreaking work in order to get enough money to feed your family. Rather than the ultimate prize you hope to get – citizenship for your children if not for yourself, safety, enough to eat–you get death.

And now we see that it happens in England, too.

In come the heroes on horses. The conservatives will say, “Let’s legalize the worker’s status so that they can come into the country and do jobs our people won’t do. They’ll have a better life, and our companies will prosper.”

What happens though is that a new underclass of worker is created and formalized; where before people could hope to break out of the status of being an illegal alien into being a citizen, now they’re boxed into that status forever. Yes, it may be safer, and they may live longer – but they’ll be consigned to a dreamless existence as a member of the worker Class. Paid enough to survive but not enough to hope. Living longer, but not living better. That’s what conservatives promise.

But the liberals are not much better when it comes to steedmanship as stewardship.

Protectionism doesn’t work, they say. Let jobs go overseas to help people in other countries. Open our borders. Help create new jobs in other countries. Spread the wealth.

So we create factories in Mexico through NAFTA, to provide jobs for the many people who need it and to funnel needed money into the Mexican infrastructure. And jobs are created, and there is some prosperity. But rather than the equalizing effect that was hoped for by NAFTA, we now have two countries whose people have been tossed from jobs: those in the United States because of jobs going to Mexico; and now those in Mexico, when these same jobs have moved to other countries such as China, because the sudden affluence and competition for workers in certain areas in Mexico have suddenly made them too expensive for corporations seeking a quick buck. What’s left is more colonias, empty factories, and broken promises.

Of course, Mexico’s loss is other countries gain. Countries such as China, Nicaragua, and Indonesia.

But no one has embraced outsourcing more than India. The people of India have prospered with outsourcing, especially in the IT field, and this has pissed some people off. They talk about how sloppy the work is from offshore efforts, but contrary to these disparaging viewpoints, the people from India I have worked with have been intelligent, well trained, capable, dedicated, and with terrific senses of humor. There is nothing wrong with the quality of the work, and, as a confirmed liberal, no, as a member of humanity, I don’t want to deny them work. I don’t want to see their country harmed.

Besides, you have to admire the sheer energy of the Indian people in their determination to not only embrace their new role in world economics, but to expand on it. Indian universities now include computer training for all degrees, and much of the college system has been regeared to this new economy, with a new emphasis on training engineers. Out of the two million graduates this year from colleges, over 200,000 will have engineering degrees.

The “Teching” of India is so pervasive, that it has even impacted on the culture of gender in the country. For instance, rather than more traditional beauty contests, the Miss High Tech Bangalore contest is opened to women in the IT industry, to show that women in IT can be feminine as well as competent. Instead of questions about world peace, the women have to demonstrate IT knowledge. And poise, and beauty, and look good in a bathing suit, that sort of thing. Well, it is a beauty contest.

There’s even a term for the new woman CEO: sheEOs.

And this new embracing role in India won’t stop with just call centers or IT jobs. Business process analysis has moved, as is accounting, some medical analysis, and upcoming biotech work. As Chris Anderson at Wired writes:

Today’s Indian call centers, programming shops, and help desks are just the beginning. Tomorrow it will be financial analysis, research, design, graphics – potentially any job that does not require physical proximity. The American cubicle farm is the new textile mill, just another sunset industry.

Chris thinks this is a good thing, freeing American workers to take on new roles of innovation and enterprise, leaving the debugging work, and spreadsheet calculations to others. Leaving aside the implications to the people in India, in actuality, what is happening in the US is that there is an erosion of the middle class, with a few escaping into the rarified atmosphere of those who make it, the rest slipping down into an ever increasing number of lower paid Wal-mart workers, literally creating and then eating themselves by only making enough money working at Wal-Mart to shop at stores like Wal-Mart.

The conservative heros say, but moving jobs to cheaper places is good because more profits mean more jobs and more taxes in this country, or other Western countries. The liberal heros say, well we’ve had our time in the sun, now its time to share the wealth. And look at how much it improves the situation for women in countries like India? Both groups jump up on their steeds and race away from what they see in an inevitable fact of life, each knowing that they have done good.

Both groups couldn’t be more wrong, because both see the workers having to be the ones to adapt, to pay the price. To share the wealth.

Just as with Mexico, as prosperity increases the costs of outsourcing to India over time, the same jobs that fueled that economy will begin to, have begun to, drift to other countries promising yet more cheap labor. What happens when a country the size of India stakes its future on the outsourcing needs of other countries?

In another article in Wired, this was addressed specifically:

“Someday,” Janish says, “another nation will take business from India.” Perhaps China or the Philippines, which are already competing for IT work.

“When that happens, how will you respond?” I ask.

“I think you must have read Who Moved My Cheese?” Aparna says to my surprise.

Janish gets up from the couch, and to my still greater surprise, pulls a copy from the bookshelf.

Who Moved My Cheese? is, of course, one of the best-selling books of the past decade. It’s a simpleminded – and, yes, cheesy – parable about the inevitability of change. The book (booklet is more like it – the $20 hardcover is roughly the length of this article) is a fable about two mouselike critters, Hem and Haw, who live in a maze and love cheese. After years of finding their cheese in the same place every day, they arrive one morning to discover that it’s gone. Hem, feeling victimized, wants to wait until somebody puts the cheese back. Haw, anxious but realistic, wants to find new cheese. The moral: Be like Haw.

Janish gave Aparna a copy of the book for their wedding anniversary last year. (He inscribed it, “I am one cheese which won’t move.”) She read it on a Hexaware commuter bus one morning and calls it “superb.”

The lesson for Aparna was clear: The good times for Indian IT workers won’t last forever. And when those darker days arrive, “We should just keep moving with the times and not be cocooned in our little world. That’s the way life is.” Or as Haw more chirpily explains to his partner, “Sometimes, Hem, things change and they are never the same. This looks like one of those times. That’s life! Life moves on. And so should we.”

If you’re among the pissed off, such advice – especially coming from talking rodents chasing cheddar around a maze – may sound annoying. But it’s not entirely wrong. So if Hem and Haw make you hurl, return to where Aparna began when I met her that first day – the sacred text of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita, whose 700 verses many Indians know by heart.

The Gita opens with two armies facing each other across a field of battle. One of the warriors is Prince Arjuna, who discovers that his charioteer is the Hindu god Krishna. The book relates the dialog between the god and the warrior – about how to survive and, more important, how to live. One stanza seems apt in this moment of fear and discontent. “Your very nature will drive you to fight,” Lord Krishna tells Arjuna. “The only choice is what to fight against.”

How to survive. That is the question of the new century, isn’t it?

According to the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSC) in India, this won’t be a problem because by the year 2010, there will be a population shortage in the United States, leading to a shortfall of 5.6 million workers:

The National Association of Software and Services Companies, India’s premier IT lobby, said in a recent report about 1.3 million US jobs will move offshore between 2003 and 2010.

The US, it added, would face a domestic labor shortfall of approximately 5. 6 million workers by 2010 due to slow population growth and an aging population.

“If the labor shortfall is not met, the US economy will lose out on growth opportunities resulting in an estimated cumulative loss of two trillion dollars by 2010. Global sourcing in the form of immigration, temporary workers and offshoring can overcome this shortfall,” it said.

Not only the US – according to the reports the NASSC is putting out, every Western country, from the Italy to New Zealand, will also be suffering labor shortages. The impact will be felt elsewhere, too. China will be undergoing its own labor shortage by the year 2020

This leads me to a recent article that came out in Business Source today. In it, the author, Paran Balakrishnan, talks about how India looks towards the future and its role in the world:

It was a Nasscom executive who put the New World Order in perspective. Yes, he said, in the coming decades India will face competition in fields like software services and business process outsourcing (BPO).

But by 2020 we will be the only country in the world left with enough manpower to meet global needs. ‘We have a sustained competitive advantage to 2020 because of sheer demographics. In terms of working age population India will be the only people-surplus country,’ he said.

But consider the fact that by 2020 the even the world-beating Chinese will be facing the unimaginable – a tiny population shortage. That will impair their efforts to compete in fields like high technology where India has a competitive advantage currently.

Other reports support this assessment based on the average retirement age of the existing working force, but with a caveat: human behavior tends to have a habit of screwing of labor projections.

For instance, some tasks will be automated to increase the productivity of workers, as has happened with our own timber industry in this country. Additionally, many of those who have left the job force now due to unemployment can return to it, and many older Americans are choosing to work past the retirement age. Shortages in specific types of work, such as the current ones in education and the health care industry will be met by retraining existing work force members – as is happening now. In other words, people adapt to meet the demand.

And hopefully what happens is that traditionally low paying jobs like teaching and nursing get a much needed and deserved boost in pay scales. That is, unless there’s a source of disposable workers that can be tapped in order to deliberately keep wages down.

This leads to the another option, which Balakrishnan writes about:

For as long as anyone can remember the Government’s slogan has been: Hum do, hamare do (ed: One couple, two kids). Is it time to take a re-look at that slogan? Should we still be campaigning to persuade poorer people in this country to have fewer children?

Or, is it time to look at the entire issue once again in the light of what’s happening in other parts of the world. Once upon a time these might have seemed like futuristic problems for the next century. But now in 2004 we are well and truly into the next century and its problems are racing to catch up with us.

Should we still be campaigning to persuade poorer people in this country to have fewer children?

These are words to chill your soul if you were to hear them spoken in a country like the US, much less the most heavily populated country on Earth. My dear Reader, meet the Disposable Worker Class.

Round and round and round we go and where it stops, nobody knows. This game of musical workers doesn’t end with the workers; it ends with the people playing the music, and pulling out the chairs.

Rather than thinking of a ‘decreasing labor pool’, we should be looking more positively to a decreasing world population with less stress on the resources of a badly overextended planet. Where now a child is a commodity to plug into a factory, or the window of a drive-in McDonald’s, in the future a child should return to being a gift.

Share the wealth. Yeah.

Where employers – from work gangs to major corporations – now shift jobs, or workers, around at the whim of a dollar, they should be the ones made to share the wealth, not to strip it from the skin, and the dignity, of the workers.


We don’t need no stinken’ white knights

Sheila Lennon points to Jimmy Carter’s new weblog and specifically his current travels to Africa to help eradicate the Guinea worm. I’m afraid my reaction was less than positive. As I wrote in an email to Sheila:

I did a bit of reading in the weblog. I am not being deliberately contrary – truly I’m not– when I say this, but I thought that Carter’s recital of his good works that day was appalling. It was condescending, and the trip seemed more an effort to make rich white Americans feel good than to work with the people of that country to solve this problem, within the culture of the country.

Rows of children were lined up and instructed in what to do and then permitted to return home. Classes disrupted. Leaders lectured.

Listen to this:

” There was considerable consternation among all of us about the basic cause of their failure and a lot of embarrassment among officials when confronted with Ghana’s poor performance, but obvious dedication to their duties. After a long series of speeches, I was anointed as an honorary king, clothed in a robe and hat, given a long hair whisk as a symbol of authority, and urged to dance around the arena accompanied by a chorus of drums. After this performance we went to a nearby club for a brief lunch, detailed visual assessments of Ghana’s lack of progress, and another series of speeches.

It became increasingly obvious to me that a basic problem was that Ghana’s officials, from field workers to the president, considered the drilling of deep borehole wells as the primary solution to the Guinea worm problem. The common theme was “a deep well will eradicate our Guinea worms.” Although highly desirable and much needed in every village, this is not the way to eradicate the disease. Extremely expensive and time-consuming, with no assurance of finding potable water in many areas, the borehole dream had become a substitute for simple filtering of each drink and keeping people with emerging worms out of the ponds.

Most communities throughout the world have eradicated Guinea worm without drilling a well, and many people are still infected even when blessed with a good underground source of water. Just stopping by the local pond for one drink is all it takes. I explained this to them in very strong terms, had the ministers adopt the same sermon for our joint press conference, and we continued this explanation during our very pleasant visit with President Kufuor when we returned to Accra.”

Now imagine me as a visiting dignitary, a former leader from another country. First, I have been assured that the President will drop everything in order to meet with me later, at my convenience – after all, I am only in the country for a few days. Following, I head into a town – let’s say New York, shall we – and have the adults and children line up so that we may examine them, ask them questions. We also break into your country’s classrooms to tell your children how your fast food is killing them, forcing the children’s parents to show off their obesity, and then sternly lecturning the mayor and city council about how food nutrition labels aren’t working, and that the children must be prevented from eating at these places. They should go on more hikes, too.

And then, “… when all our meetings had been completed, we felt that a new day may have come to the US in its effort to eliminate unhealthy fast food. The president pledged full personal support to us and to the assembled news media, and there is little doubt that his ministers and key health workers will now join in a proper effort with a renewed sense of dedication.”

By the way, dig this jacket I picked up on 5th.

Tomorrow, I head to Canada.

What the world does not need right now, is more American Presidents swooping into their worlds uninvited and telling them how to live.

I know that Sheila’s probably disappointed in my reaction, and most (all?) my readers will be also. But there is a very real difference between a commitment to spend time with the people of Ghana, or any other country for that matter, and work through change, then to ride in on a white horse, line the people up for a photo op, and then move on smug in the assertion that you’ve shown the world a better way to live.

If Mr. Carter wanted to raise awareness of the Guinea worm because there was something we in the West could do to help, I could see his actions. But from what I can read, the solution to the problem is very simple and there’s nothing we can do to help. Rather it is the people of the country themselves that will have to make changes in their lifestyle to meet this problem and a former American President coming in for one day, lecturing the leaders on how to do things better, and then leaving with the almighty smug feeling that things will now be better because of his benevolent, but stern, sermon – isn’t going to make a bit of difference.

There is a very real hypocrisy by our actions such as these. We have become very good at telling other people how to live, a trait shared equally between conservatives and liberals in the United States. Frankly, in the Western world.

We demand change in others, but we can’t even effect humanitarian change in our own countries – how can we possibly think to impose our standards on others, when we are noticeably lacking in same ourselves?

More than not cleaning our own house before telling others to clean their’s, when we charge in like the heros of yore, we do so without careful regard for the consequences. The impact of our actions, whether good intentioned or not, can leave things worse then if we had done nothing at all. Our own experiences in Iraq demonstrates this.

Iraq is better, we say, because Saddam is no longer in control. The world is safer, we say, because Saddam is no longer in control of Iraq. But people are dying in Iraq, women are being raped all too frequently in Iraq, minorities are being oppressed in Iraq, and our country is even more afraid then it was two years ago. Exactly how can any of this be considered ‘better’?

I don’t know that I have enough understanding of what’s happening in Iraq to make the claim that it’s ‘better’. I don’t know that any of us outside of Iraq does. All I know is I’m seeing a country heading into bloody civil and religious war, started by one faction in this country making things ‘better’ by invading the country without UN support, and another faction in this country making things ‘better’ by getting us to pull out now.

But this is about Jimmy Carter and him trying to work to eradicate the Guinea Worm, not Iraq. No one can deny that eradicating the Guinea Worm would be a good thing. And no one can deny that Mr. Carter has the best intentions in the world, and that his approach most likely is the better one for the people of Ghana.

But frankly, the world doesn’t need any more knights in white armor, charging in to save the day.


Hiding from the Unknown

Earlier today, I noticed movement in the Bird Tree on the corner – a female Harrier Hawk was flying in among the branches chasing finches. Considering how closely packed the branches were, I was amazed at her agility.

I was saddened too, a little, because the tree is normally a sanctuary for the smaller birds. Now, they’ll have to scramble for a new shelter and I’ll lose some of the company that perches on my office window sill when the sun is out.

But the finches weren’t the only creature around frightened out of their normal habitat. This afternoon my roommate received a package containing a new down vest, and promptly started wearing it (it is a cold day). Whether it was the box or the smell of the feathers or what, but it scared Zoe, my cat, and she took off upstairs, refusing to come down all evening.

Instead of her usual evening lap time with my roommate (I have days), she stayed in my room, as close to me as she could, helping me work with my photos.


It was nice having her company, but a bit much when I had to escort her downstairs to use her cat box.