Sunday, April 30, 2006

2006-04-30 Self Portrait

2006-04-30 Self Portrait
Originally uploaded by royblumenthal.
I'm sitting at Codes in Rosebank playing with my new easel. It's mounted on a camera tripod that I got from a junk shop.

Hans at the Rosebank Flea Market makes a brilliant tabletop easel. He modified one to fit my tripod. This means I've got something sturdy enough to keep my Toshiba Tecra M4 Tablet PC safely mounted.

All of which is a neat way of saying that I'm having great fun drawing in this coffee shop.

I've downloaded Corel Painter 9, and I'm finding it vastly more powerful than Alias Sketchbook Pro 2.

Now if Painter could get their brush resize tool to match Sketchbook's, that would be perfect.

My reference for this self portrait is a pic Eran Tahor took of me last night. I was visiting him and Jade at their new spot in Melville.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

2006-04-29 Illustration Friday - Life Under the Sea

I thought this pun might be rather too obvious, but when I started sketching, an idea or two formed which made it quite a load of fun for me. So, I hope you dig my Illustration Friday 'Life Under the 'C'.'

(I'm sitting at Mugg & Bean, Killarney, Johannesburg, South Africa, drawing this on my Toshiba Tecra M4 Tablet PC, using Alias Sketchbook Pro 2.)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Illustration Friday: Robot -- 2006-04-22 Robothand

This week's topic for the Illustration Friday group is 'Robot'.

So I flipped the screen into the 'down' position on my Toshiba Tecra M4 tablet pc, fired up Procreate Painter Classic, held my right hand up in front of me, and, using my left hand, copied it faithfully. (It helps that I'm left-handed.)

Then I started screwing around with converting it into robotic segments.

Hey presto... my very own godlike hand! (Not very useful for delicate operations though, I reckon.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Brett Goldin murdered

I'm feeling really low about Brett Goldin's murder. He grew up with my girlfriend S and her brothers. She's gutted. It's just so damned senseless. Five guys have been arrested for the killings (Brett and a buddy of his, Richard Bloom, were both killed).

I dunno. My emotions tell me that this country is really screwed. My head tells me that all countries are pretty much the same.

But I reckon South Africa has a long apartheid-legacy to undo. My understanding is that apartheid was a system that systematised the cheapening of human life. Black South Africans were educated to be underlings. And they were forced to obey the rules. Under apartheid, it was a good thing, the correct-rebellious-thing-to-do was to disobey the law. And when revolution was happening, life was cheap. People were killed.

So now we sit in a society that still remembers lawlessness and death as things that helped liberate.

What are we going to do? How do we shift these things? How do we re-value life in a society gone mad? How do we re-value life in a world gone mad?

Brett was an actor. From what I understand, he was one of South Africa's rising stars. He was making a goddamn difference in the work he was doing.

What work can I do? What work can YOU do? Something has to change. Things can't go on like this.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Virgin Active removed the pulse-rate stats from their reporting system, and reckon they'll look at public demand in order to include this again

I'm a member of the Virgin Active group of gyms. About a year or so ago, they changed the interface on their touch screens, and my gender mysteriously changed from male to female. A couple of weeks ago, the interface changed again, and now when I log on, a big picture of a shapely female appears on screen with my name attached.

Very flattering. If I were in the business of gender-switching.

Over the past year, I've asked staff members of Virgin to investigate this sex-change phenomenon, and to fix it. They've admitted to being baffled, and have promised to get their IT department onto it.

One of the other things that changed with the first interface redesign is that they decided for some unknown reason to remove the pulse-rate statistics from the data they show to their users.

For me, my pulse at rest is a major indicator of my fitness, and of my levels of stress. Here's the thing. Their machine does in fact measure my pulse rate, cos it tells me what it is when I sit at the blood-pressure machine. They simply don't report it as a statistic anymore.

So two nights ago, after seeing my shapely, curvaceous, delectable female-impersonator icon appear on the touchscreen, I thought I'd do something about it. So I came home, logged on, and found the helpline number of Virgin Life Care. I left a long, detailed message on it, and kinda expected the same treatment I've gotten for a year.

I was pleasantly surprised the next morning to get a call from someone at Virgin. They were sorting out the gender issue forthwith, and they would investigate the pulse-rate issue and let me know what the verdict was.

Maylene from Virgin just sent me this email:

Thanks for your request to include the Heart Rate data onto the Healthzone machine.

Our product development team will consider your request based on the public demand for this function to be included.

Should you have any further queries please don’t hesitate to contact us on 0800 543 322 or

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

And I decided I'd blog about this to let other people into this debate. Here's my email response to her:

This feature was on the system before your redesign. Why did you drop it in the first place? And why should public demand deetermine your approach to this issue? It's a matter of health, not of public demand.

I'll be blogging about your response. I don't feel that it is adequate.

What are your feelings about democratising the features of a health-care system? Do you believe the average consumer even knows what features to ask for? Or, for that matter, do you think we even know what features they COULD add to the system but are simply waiting for us to ask about?

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Terrible, surly service and cold eggs -- Woolworth's Coffee-Shop, Campus Square, Melville

Friday, April 07, 2006

Service: *
Food: * *
Ambience: * * *
Babe Count: * * *

This is my second visit to this branch, and it's my last.

The first time was okay-ish. Long, long, long waits. And some trivial details of orders gotten wrong.

Today's session iss just plain awful. I order scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and two slices of seed loaf. And a decaff cappuccino.

My instructions for the food are simple: 1) Scrambled eggs, very well done. No runny bits. 2) Bacon, extremely well done, VERY crispy, NO soft bits. 3) Toast, VERY well done.

Now in many establishments, the waiter will repeat the order to demonstrate that they've understood. In this case, blankness.

About twenty minutes in, my coffee arrives. I ask the standard, anxious, 'Are you sure this is decaff?' and get a surly stare for three seconds, and a curt, 'Ya.'

Another ten minutes later, my food arrives. The egg looks great. But the bacon's pasty and soft. The toast is hardly even singed, let alone well done. And there's only one slice of it.

I send it back, with the same instructions.

The food comes back ten minutes later. Bacon ultra crispy, the way I like it. The toast is like a very thin biscuit. And the egg. Hmmmm. The egg... Ice cold. They hadn't even bothered to keep it warm.

I ask for some Worcestershire sauce. Five minutes later someone brings me some tomato sauce. 'I asked for Worcestershire sauce,' I say.

'We don't have any,' the waitress says, as ultra surly as my bacon was crisp second time round.

I say, 'This is a Woolworth's food store. Have you checked the shelves?'

The three-second glare. 'Someone's looking now.'

Twenty minutes later, I finish eating. And noone comes to offer me the elusive Worcestershire sauce.

But that's not ALL!

Normally, I tip 20%. In this case, I decide that I will tip 0%, with an explanation directly to my waitress as to why I'm giving her nothing. My explanation will include my impressions, such as, 'You took ages for every piece of service I got. You didn't check on me. You didn't give me what I wanted. You got my order wrong. You let my eggs go cold. You didn't bring me Worcestershire sauce.'

Instead, it takes ten minutes to get my bill.

When the bill arrives, she's very cheerful. For the first time all day. So I kinda think, 'Ag, I don't need to be mingy. I'll give her 10%. Doesn't matter too much.' And anyway, I'm not really interested in educating her in customer service right now.

So I mark the tip on the bill, give her my credit card. Wait ten more minutes for it to come back. And find that she hasn't added the tip to the card.

And then I remember... the last time I was here, the waiter told me that they don't put tips on the credit card. What the hell????

So hey... I'm not going to the Melville Woolworth's coffee-shop again soon.

[Update:] This post originally appeared as my comment on Clive Simpkins's blog. It's since turned into a conversation in the comments field, and has been forwarded by Clive to the management of Woolies. We hold our breaths. Read Clive's post and the conversation at: Prepping for Problems.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

A lulu on the list of 101 Dumbest Moments in Business -- an advertising dude takes sexism to the next level

Oh Jeeeez. This list is too much. It's a list of 2005's 101 Dumbest Moments in Business. And I reckon this one takes the cake...

29. Men, on the other hand, have a charming self-destructive quality.
Speaking at an ad industry event in Toronto, WPP Group's worldwide
creative director, Neil French, says there aren't more female creative
directors "because they're crap" and they eventually "wimp out" and "go
off and suckle something." French speaks from a stage decorated as a
hunting lodge while being served drinks by a woman in a skimpy maid's
outfit, of whom he asks, "Could you lean over a bit more?" Two weeks
later WPP accepts French's resignation.

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An amazing retreat in Montagu in the Cape, South Africa, for poets, writers, artists, and people who want to inspire themselves

Phil McCumskey sent me an email letting me know about weekend workshops he and his wife are organising at their retreat centre in the Cape. It looks absolutely awesome. They've still got slots open for their workshops on writing poetry and writing novels.

Here is the info Phil sent me...

Karoo Weekend Poetry Workshop - Friday 5th May - Sunday 7th May 2006

Join us at Studio Karoo for a series of ongoing creative weekend workshops. Writing, art, music, poetry, theatre and crafts. Set in the stunning Langeberg mountains only 15 kilometres from the village of Montagu, Studio Karoo is a converted 1909 Cape cottage adjoining Phil and Moira McCumskey's house built in 1899.

Finuala Dowling, best known for her poetry collection, "I flying," which won her the Ingrid Jonker prize, will host the "Approach to Poetry" weekend workshop. Her second poetry collection, "Doo-wop girls of the universe," has just been published. She taught English at Unisa before becoming a freelance writer. Finuala read at the international poetry festival curated by Antjie Krog at Spier earlier this year and will be reading at the 2006 Aldeburgh International Poetry Festival. Her first novel, "What Poets Need," was published by Penguin in 2005. Finuala lives in a large green house in Kalk Bay daughter, three dogs, mother, no husband and no cat. People sometimes ask about the cat.

The poetry workshop has been inspired by the words of Miroslav Holub: "I prefer to write for people untouched by poetry. ... I would like them to read poems in such a matter-of-fact manner as when they are reading the newspaper or go to football matches. I would like people not to regard poetry as something more difficult, more effeminate or more praiseworthy."

This fun weekend is open to only ten participants and kicks off on Friday evening with a welcoming braai under Karoo stars and finishes lunchtime Sunday. Your hosts Moira and Phil will serve up terrific food and uncork a few bottles of lekker local wine. Accommodation on neighbouring farms is rustic but very comfortable.

Karoo Weekend "Writing a Novel" Workshop - Friday 12th May 2006

Join us at Studio Karoo for a series of ongoing creative weekend workshops. Writing, art, music, poetry, theatre and crafts. Set in the stunning Langeberg mountains only 15 kilometres from the village of Montagu, Studio Karoo is a converted 1909 Cape cottage adjoining Phil and Moira McCumskey's house built in 1899.

Mike Nicol will host the "Writing a Novel" workshop. Mike is the author of four novels, "The Powers That Be," "This Day and Age," "Horseman" and "The Ibis Tapestry," and a crime novel, "Out to Score," co-authored with Joanne Hichens and published in March 2006 by Random House's new imprint, Umuzi. He has also written works of non-fiction and published two volumes of poetry. Mike teaches a course on constructing a novel at UCT's Centre for Creative Writing and recently ran a crime writing course at the university's Summer School. He works as a journalist and lives in Cape Town.

This fun weekend workshop kicks off on Friday evening 12th May with a welcoming braai under Karoo stars and an opening address by Mike Nicol. Moira and Phil - the almost-naked chef - will serve up marinated Karoo lamb chops, tender chicken breasts, herb-caressed green salads, and home-baked bread. They'll also prepare delicious vegetarian dishes for those of you who prefer. A few bottles of superb local wine are bound to go down well… then it's straight to bed! Accommodation on neighbouring farms is rustic but very comfortable and you each have your own room.

On Saturday, after a full English breakfast, the workshop begins. Mike will earn his keep and make better writers of you all. Learn how to improve your dialogue, get to know your characters, write a synopsis, and construct a plot. There will be written exercises and you will all get to read your own work to the group. Of course, during all this, Phil and Moira will be hard at it in the kitchen preparing a terrific lunch and gourmet dinner. Later in the afternoon you can take a walk in the mountains or just chill. Dinner will be a relaxed event where you can enjoy the company of your fellow writers and unwind. Who knows, you may even spot one of the many orbiting satellites or catch sight of a shooting star. Don't forget to make a wish!

Enjoy a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast on the verandah gazing across at our own, "Klein Tafelberg." The workshop continues and Mike will wrap things up at lunchtime when, once again, Phil and Moira present a final, scrumptious meal. You're then free to walk in the vineyards or swing in the hammock under the hundred-year old Karoo acacia before making your way home.

How Much?

The total cost of each of these weekends, which includes two nights accommodation, the very best food through to Sunday lunch, teas and coffees (all other drinks for your own account) and the workshop itself, is ONLY R1 650 per person. 50% deposit payable on date of booking - balance payable 14 days prior to date of workshop.

Your Hosts

Phil and Moira escaped from Johannesburg in 1996 and spent the next seven years in the midlands of Natal. In 2003, they discovered Montagu and a lovely smallholding tucked in the mountains. Moira "knits' copper wire bags and dabbles in fabric painting and beading. Phil has been a professional actor and director and before leaving Jo'burg ran his own video production company. He now freelances as a writer of video scripts, corporate communications, radio ads and website copy. He also writes travel articles - many of which have been published... and he's working on a novel. Phil recently co-wrote the script and was the on-camera presenter for an exciting DVD promoting Route 62.

To book phone Phil on +27 23 614 2901 or e-mail at

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Illustration Friday: Spring -- 2003 flower thing

2003 flower thing
Originally uploaded by royblumenthal.
This is my contribution to Illustration Friday: Spring. (You can head for the Illustration Friday website, or check out the Flickr Gallery.)

This pic came straight out of my subconscious back in 2003, when I was first experimenting with my iPAQ 2210 Pocket PC, running Mobile Atelier drawing software.

I was really just doodling. I have three plants in my flat. Minimal maintenance ones that require water every week or two. More like two. One of them, a massive fern, lives outside my front door.

A neighbour of mine noticed my neglect of the thing, and offered to water it for me. So he's been doing that for the past two or three years.

One day I got home to find that he'd tied the fern up with black cotton. Which I removed. The next day, the cotton was back. I removed it again.

When I finally bumped into him and asked what was happening, he explained, 'There's a lot of wind, and your fern's fronds are snapping off. So I just wanted to tie it so the wind wouldn't damage it.'

I almost asked him to stop watering the thing, but I knew that would be immeasureably more cruel to the plant than a bit of light bondage.

Anyway, he stopped tying it up, and it's flourishing, wind or no wind.