The author at work in Nepal
copyright 1998, james waldron design,
photos and text copyright 1998, James Waldron Design,
all rights reserved
4/29/98 Phuket, Thailand
How Magazine intervied me by e-mail about the basic details about my trip. Here are the answers:
My job this year is to travel around the world, take pictures with my Agfa digital camera, and write stories about design at the turn of the century. These stories and pictures are available for co-publication on the Agfa and ID Magazine web sites. I upload the images to a storage server in San Francisco and the clients pick what they like. ID picks up some of my stories for their printed magazine, and Agfa may publish the design stories in a book they will digitally print on their presses when I return. Agfa gave me a contract, ID pays me freelance if they like the stories.
Unfortunately for me, most of my stories end up being quirky tales of cheap exchange rates, harrowing bus rides, or late night stargazing sessions. Lately I've tried to be a little more adult, the Painting and Bottle Boat stories are the result.
1. My Background
While at Burns, Connacher & Waldron I started lecturing to designers about using the computer to do design. That process led us into the electronic presentation market, and eventually into multimedia. Our first big project was a Hypercard Stack for Agfa Electronic Prepress Products. We made 50,000 diskettes for distribution at trade shows throughout the world. We ended up doing presentations and kiosks for a bunch of corporate and government clients. One of our installations is still active on Ellis Island in New York Harbor.
I left Burns, Connacher in 1992 and began independent consulting in multimedia development. I did interactive television prototypes with Bell Atlantic, financial services software for JP Morgan, and a bunch of demos for advertising agencies. About the time the web kicked in, I teamed up with Anderson & Lembke business-to-business advertising and produced a number of large corporate web sites including Agfa (www.agfahome.com) and Torget (www.torget.se) the publishing experiment for the Swedish Postal Service. We did the entire agfa site with a staff of ten, but the Swedish site had 200 consultants involved and took one year to finish. By the way, it came out much uglier than we wanted, but is to this day, claim the clients, it is the most visited site in Europe every day.
In 1992, as practice for developing web sites, I made a web site for an inline skate wheel company named fr Progressors (www.frprogressors.com), the first in the Action Sports industry. At that time there were no good web development tools and I wrote the code in Microsoft Word and previewed the results in Navigator. I think that helped me become a little fearless about building sites when I left the US. I can always fall back to writing code cold. Burning to a crisp on the Net in 1996, I took a year off to run fr Progressors finances, moving them from 45K in sales to 750K in ten months. Then my partner burned me for 45,000 dollars. Time for a break.
2. Round the World
I never traveled much as a youth, but got used to living in a foreign-speaking country when I commuted to Stockholm 25 times in eight months for the Torget project. I'd always been afraid of strange food, and getting lost in the woods. But all that travel kinda sparked something in me and I began thinking about visiting Thailand, where all my Swedish pals went diving in the winter. I'd saved up a chunk of money and thought, "Well, if I'm going all the way over there, why not go all the way around the world?"
Then I thought, "How nice would it be if I found a sponsor?" Agfa announced their second digital still camera, the ePhoto 1280, in September. I put together a one page proposal and sent it to my longtime client Peter Broderick. It outlined my expected route, schedule, and story ideas. I proposed that they could use the photographs I made as test images, and as content associated with the web pages of the camera. We negotiated a price and they supplied me with the camera and software.
I tried to get a computer company to sponsor me, but ran out of time. I found a satellite telephone sponsor, but the equipment was too heavy and bulky to carry. Finally, I had a few introductory conversations with a global cellular telephone provider, but once again ran out of time. I'd suggest at least 7 months lead time for anyone looking for sponsors. I had 2.
The camera has no viewfinder, relying instead on a 2 inch color LCD screen on the back. Because the lens and camera body swivel, the screen is visible at just about any camera angle. This is a cool thing cause people don't often know you are pointing the camera at them, and don't freeze up or pose for you when you're shooting candids.
The camera comes with a serial cable to connect the camera to Mac or PC compatible computers. The software, Photowise, imports the images (JPEG format) into the computer and enhances the JPEG files to give them a little more clarity and definition. It seems to do a good job.
1. Size and Weight
Finally looking into the Apple Newton, I found a machine that weighed less than two pounds, had a full-sized keyboard, and is really cool looking to boot.
2. Electrical consumption
The Agfa camera also uses AA sized rechargeable batteries, and I have
three sets, and two wall outlet adapters. The rechargeables all died within
four months, and I have resorted to using Duracells, which last about one
hour before emptying out.
I read that the software works really well, but they never delivered the product to me before my departure. Instead, I bring the camera into a Internet Cafe, beg them to let me install the Agfa Photowise software into their machine, download all the pictures to the hard drive, and then use Cute FTP to send the images to a server in San Francisco. Agfa and ID Magazine are supposed to pick up the images from that server.
Now, I only use the Newton to write the stories and send via it's internal modem.
Last month, of course, Apple killed the Newton line, so if something unsavory happens to mine I'll have to find a new toy along the way.
All told I have about 15 pounds of gadgets, and there are many days I would like to throw the whole bag in the sea just to make my back feel better.
4. Balinese Art Story
Most of the stories I write are simple, linear tales of the road, and might have a single reference to a photograph on the web (check out www.frprogressors.com/agfaimages/MORE.htm and read the Bottle Boat story). The Balinese Painting story broke itself up in a way that would be enhanced by presenting it as a web site, instead of a single text story. I also wanted to show examples of the painting styles I described, because they are beautiful and interesting.
The story started with pen and paper, my little green notebook and I hopped on my Honda scooter and drove off to meet some aging painters. I interviewed them and scribbled notes for transcription later. Lots of fun, and very interesting conversations filled with insight from guys over 80.
Then the "expatriate-cool-techno-virtual-office" part. I sat on the front porch of my elephant grass thatched-roof cottage ($1.62 US per day including breakfast) in a bamboo chair, looking over the bananna and coconut trees with my little computer tucked onto my knees. As the Geckos ate mosquitos around me, and between breaks to shoo away clucking chickens, I tapped away at my keyboard and wrote the story, lighting a candle to see the keyboard as the sun went down. I sat there for two days downing sweet tea and sucking down packs of cigarettes for sustinance, finally finishing a somewhat coherrent story.
Now the pain-in-the-ass part. I went to an internet cafe to do image research. Indonesia does not have the fastest internet backbone in the world, and the servers that contained the information I wanted were also very slow, and the access speed at the Net cafe was plodding along. Before I got everything I wanted, 12 hours passed. My butt hurt. But at least the Cafe had good food, no walls, and a view of two Balinese temples across the street. I had lots of time to look around. I also had an audience, because the cafe had only opened two weeks earlier and the manager had no computer experience. I trades some guidance for free online time.
I carry along a few pieces of software with me on a trio of CD-ROMs. Unfortunetly this cafe did not have a CD-ROM player. Instead, I had the joy of downloading two pieces of software off the web. To get Netscape Navigator Gold and Cute FTP took two hours, fourty-five minutes. Luckily, the cafe already had Adobe Photoshop, so I could manipulate the size and format of the images at will.
Lack of a CD player also complicated the text entry. In order to get the story from my Newton to the computer at the Cafe, I e-mailed the story from my Newton to myself, and then used the Cafe machine to read my e-mail from my ISP in New York, and copied the text into Navigator. So the rest of the Balinese Painting site was built with Netscape Navigator, and put up on my server with Cute FTP.
The web pages took about three days to completely finish and edit. I think there are still tons of typos and the like, but I think someone will edit it eventually. I look at it as a draft. But I'm pretty proud of the work, as acedemic as it is.
5. ISP on trip
The telephone numbers aren't the biggest problem for connecting. I'm staying mostly at guest houses, and they are run by local families, few having telephone service. So I tried to go the the telephone Wartels that dot all the tourist areas. They are happy to let you hook up your computer, but their phone lines go through their billing computers. Everytime the billing computer makes a notation of another billing segment, it tends to damage the modem connection between the Newton and the ISP. And because there is only limited access to telephones at home, people are wary of you rearranging cables on the back of their fax machine. Explaining that my little computer is just like a fax machine rarely helps.
The fastest connection at any location on my trip has been an ISDN connection in Cairns Australia. Most all of the other ISPs I encountered were 28.8 or 33K access. We, in the states are blessed by speedy connections.
7. Random Stuff
I have found that going back to the earliest software for the Internet, Telnet and Pine, let me do most things I want with e-mail. And nearly every PC has it pre-installed. The only problem is I don't get to sit somewhere wonderful and compose witty notes, I have to sit in some steamy box-like room and pay between 2 and 32 dollars an hour while I type. (Indonesia was the cheapest at $2 hr., but at a first class hotel in Bali they had six gorgeous terminals, all empty, available at $7.50 US for each 15 minutes. An outrage!)
Its getting easier to be wired out here. Most of these guys are just
starting up, and many don't have any experience, just a computer and modem.
Today I got connected at little non-descript restaurant, kinda a lunch
line on some random street in Phuket Thailand. A local kid had got a phone
line installed and hooked up a PC next to the Coke cooler, put a sign out
front and offered the service. Kinda like the turn of the century version
of a Lemonade stand. They're growing up everywhere.
8. Part of my original Agfa Spec
The story lines so far:
Design around the world
The trip schedule:
27-Nov Depart New York City
Estimated trip distance: 37000 miles by air