I'm Christian Payne @Documentally
A freelance mobile media maker who specialises in Photography and Social/Multi Media.
While documenting trucks of aid passing through the border into Syria we get a call and permission had been granted to visit Killis Camp. This kind of access is rare so instead of heading straight into Syria we travelled back a few hundred yards to the camps front gates. We are guided in and told to stick together. Me and Phil feel safe enough and duck away from the observers to explore for ourselves.
Killis camp is the Hilton of refugee camps as far as Syrians go. Built by the Turkish, on their side of the border, it has bright white metal housing units, not tents, boxes with windows, each with a kitchen and a bathroom. Concrete roads and paths have been laid. It is clean, there is electricity. Satellite dishes all face home.
There might be a dozen people crammed into these small, two-room cabins, but no one there seems to complain. They know it’s worse in the squalid tent camps across the border and they are safe here. The cabins are boiling in the summer heat, and people get less than a dollar a day to live on – but all of them say they are grateful to be there, not stranded on the other side of the frontier.
Yusif, a Syrian pharmacist who trained in Russia, lives in a cabin with 11 other family members. He invites us in to look around. It’s hard to see how so many people could sleep in there, but they manage. At the end of each day he and his wife put a mattress down in the tiny kitchen and sleep there.
“We have some problems, but it’s not too much. If you go to the Syrian side of the border there are so many people in the tents, it’s so bad, we are here, we say, thanks God, it’s nice for us,” he says.
“My life is okay here. It’s safer than Syria. There it’s dangerous.”
His house in Azaz has been looted, his family torn from their homes and their future is unclear. However he knows that, compared to many other Syrians, they are lucky. In the other camps they dream of getting to Killis.
It was prayer time and we follow a group down to where people were congregating. Outside a large mosque, a line of stalls sold bits and pieces – phone batteries, plastic shoes, a few household goods. Simple stuff. It’s a refugee camp and there isn’t much money for luxuries.
One of the shops is actually a small cafe. Really a makeshift tent, not much more than bits of blue plastic for a roof, giving some shade from the bright spring sunshine and, probably in the winter, a bit of relief from the rain.
He’s from Jisr Shughour, not far over the border. It was one of the first areas to fight against Bashar Al Assad’s forces, when the early protests were met with a hail of gunfire from security forces. A lot of people in Killis are from there.
Over coffee we chat a bit about things inside Syria. Philip speaks a similar ‘street’ Arabic, I place a recorder on the table and Khalid smokes. We drink the coffee he brought over in small plastic cups. So hot the cup flex’s dangerously but it’s without a doubt the best coffee I have tasted in days.
He talks about the Free Syrian Army, saying they’re still short on weapons and money, that they have enough supplies to keep going, but not enough to achieve a quick victory over the regime.
“It’s street by street, they are fighting and winning street by street,” he says of the rebels. “A little bit at a time they are gaining but it is very slow”.
The question of Islamic extremists crops up. Jabhat Al Nusra are strong in northern Syria – they’re one of the most effective rebel fighting groups in the country. They are also allied to Al Qaeda and considered a terrorist group both by Washington and Damascus – a rare point of agreement between the Americans and the Assad regime.
Nusra’s leader recently posted an online audio message saying the group pledged allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, the man who, crudely put, took over as leader of Al Qaeda after Osama Bin Laden was killed.
That admission put the Syrian opposition in a tricky position politically and they are still trying to tip-toe along the narrowest of tightropes; Al Qaeda is bad, they say, but most of Nusra are not really Al Qaeda, they’re ordinary Syrians pushed into an alliance of convince with extremists by the demands of a dirty war.
Syria is a complex place, and a desperately complicated war is unfolding there, with so many different factions and competing interests involved, and so much happening in the shadows.
At the beginning of the uprising, it was in its essence simple. There were peaceful protests and demands for political reform in a corrupt police state that has choked the country for more than four decades, and jailed, tortured or killed those who dared to dissent.
Those protests were met with a savage torrent of violence by the security services and, rather than keep walking unarmed into the bullets, the opposition eventually picked up its own weapons.
Now, everyone’s involved; the Arab states, Turkey, Iran, Hizbollah, Al Qaeda, Europe, the UN, the Americans, the Russians. It’s a mess. Syria has become a playground for international politics, intelligence agencies and terrorist organisations.
It was a straight-forward revolution which has been derailed by, well, almost everything you can think of.
Nusra seems to be trying to win hearts and minds in Syria, rather than the old kill ‘em all mentality of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which eventually angered even their local tribal allies so much they turned on them.
Nusra distributes food and gas and, unlike some units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), they, don’t steal or loot. They have earned a fairly good reputation – although many Syrians are wary of those Al Qaeda connections and don’t relish the prospect of an intolerant form of Islam taking root in their country. Syrian Islam has a long tradition of tolerance totally at odds with the fundamentalist ideas of Al Qaeda.
Sitting in his coffee tent, Kahlid says most of Nusra are Syrians and not Al Qaeda – they’re just ordinary Syrians fighting against the regime and they want to be in the best rebel unit. But the rest of Nusra are foreign fighters – Muslims from places like Chechnya, Libya, Lebanon, Turkey and the Gulf who have come to fight jihad.
“Al Nusra are clean, they’re good,” he says. Khalid is smoking and waves his cigarette in the air. “Smoking isn’t allowed,” he says. “If I smoke a cigarette in front of Nusra – well, its forbidden”.
A glimpse there, some insight perhaps, of problems that lay in store for Syria if the hardliners in the opposition keep getting stronger while the more moderate, nationalist fighters remained disorganised, ill-coordinated and poorly supplied.
I ask Khalid the name of his coffee shop. He looks puzzeled so Phil translates my question. He initially says “it’s just a normal coffee shop” as though the matter of a name has never come up before.
Then he changes his mind. It’s the Free Coffee Shop, he says.
As we leave I try to pay him. “It’s free” he repeats.
My trip into Syria was an independent self funded project.
Many thanks to Phil Sands for the use of his interview notes used in this blog post.
I gained access with assistance from the Hayat Convoy for Syria
Up and out by 6:30am. Heading to the airport. Once out of Gaziantep the roads were empty. For the first time in a week I dipped into the feeds. The more I read the more the refugee crisis in Syria felt like a bad dream.
On Twitter It seems everyone back home is going crazy for Google Glass. I wondered how I would feel if I’d worn them in the refugee camps in Syria. Or if soon the aid workers might.
I cant see it happening for a long time. You’d be a fool to wear them here. Even for safety reasons.
Kidnap is not unusual in Syria these days. Not because these people are ‘evil fundamentalists’. It’s because they are desperate. Aid workers have been kidnapped and fear of abduction is one of the barriers preventing more emergency relief supplies getting in. The Syrian refugees feel the world has left them to rot in makeshift camps.
While the west carry on regardless.
I’m really quite attracted to the benefits of wearable technology. Navigation, communication, all of it. But recently I felt uncomfortable just having my phone to hand. Not because I felt threatened. because I felt obscenely privileged.
The poor here don’t have enough to eat. Parents have to watch their kids slowly starve in between watching the skies for air strikes.
With every leap forward we make technologically, we seem to be leaving some people further behind.
I’m sure wearable technology like Google Glass can be used for real good. It’s just that the gap between the ‘haves and have nots’ is an increasing chasm and our technological advancements don’t seem to be doing little more than highlighting this.
I’m trying to imagine what the naked kid in the picture might think when approached by a foreigner wearing both a concerned smile and a networked ‘heads up display’ on their face.
For some, It’s all getting very science fiction, very fast.
And with all this communication to hand.. to face.. help still isn’t getting through.
The service taxi – a kind of small minibus used throughout Syria in place of public transport – was not being driven in a way its designers intended. The dirt road through Aleppo provence in northern Syria was, itself, dangerous enough for me to look at my white knuckles on the back of the driver’s seat and let out a barely stifled scream.
I had already trusted the driver with my life while being illegally smuggled into the country. Now I felt my life was once again in his hands as he drove as if escaping an invisible threat – too quickly for the road, too quickly for the vehicle, driving like a man afraid.
Perhaps the threat was invisible only to my stranger’s eyes. I’m told attacks in this area are commonplace, so too are kidnappings and there is are occasionally firefights between rebel factions. Hence the stunt-man driving style.
It was more than a mild relief when we pulled up at what looked like school gates. A well groomed Free Syrian Army fighter kept guard. I can’t imagine he could stop an attack from the regime single handedly and, anyway, government troops are miles away. He may be there to deter kidnappers or looters. There might have been more fighters nearby, sat somewhere more sensibly shaded from the sun’s heat.
He slid back a bolt on the metal door and let us in. We entered The Freedom Generation school.
Since the official government education system is in tatters, and non existent in rebel held areas, the opposition activists have set up their own schools, desperate that a generation of Syrian children should not lose out on their chance at learning.
It’s mend-and-make-do stuff, using volunteer staff and scrounging materials where they can.
I walked into a sparse concrete playground baked in the sun, a handful of kids were running around, playing, chasing one another. The rusted stands for basketball ball hoops stood like sentinels, hoopless and skeletal. In the distance the Qah refugee camp overlooked us from a hill. Home for many of these pupils.
I was told that the 1100 pupils age 6 to 15 years attend the school, mentored by 30 members of staff. I didn’t see any toys, equipment or even a ball. They had stones and plastic bottles.
Following the sound of singing, I arrived in a classroom filled beyond capacity. It was a simple room with a large chalk board at one end, packed with colourful kids. It was obviously overcrowded. Five children were squeezed onto a bench where two would be comfortable.
I told the teacher I was from England and asked if I could take some photos to share their school with people back home. The teacher relayed something to the kids and I was hit with a yelled chorus of ‘GOOD MORNING!”
I took that as a yes and they giggled as I moved about the classroom, taking photos and sometimes giving them a glimpse of the image. I felt less like a thief here. This was play and I was something interesting. Different. These kids looked smart, full of hope and I fed off their energy. I had no idea what they had seen and experienced. They looked really pleased to be getting an education.
The volunteer teachers attempt to deliver as normal a curriculum as possible. This means the ordinary Syrian set up with revolutionary messages replacing the old Baathist, Assad-as -president-for-eternity propaganda.
“We try to make them think of other things than the war. But it’s hard. They sing protest songs as soon as they can talk. If the oldest boy in the family dies fighting the next oldest boy takes his place. I fear many of these children will end up armed. They have forgotten about their childhood,” she said.
There was a shout from outside that we had to leave. I have learned not to question these commands.
As I left the compound filled with screaming playful children. I could see the goodie-verses-baddie war games and knew I was looking at real life reenacted.
I have no idea how many of these kids will be able to enjoy any kind of childhood. Or how many will survive the revolution.These are children born into protest, born into a war. But they are also inquisitive, hopeful children, no longer indoctrinated and suffocated by the old police state system as their fathers and mothers were.
I hope that’s enough.
My trip into Syria was an independent self funded project.
I gained access with assistance from the Hayat Convoy for Syria
We had just watched the Hayat Convoy for Syria successfully pass through, laden with aid not bound for Damacus, but heading to be distributed from Azaz. We were in Free Syria now – as opposed to regime controlled Syria – and this unofficial entry would keep the aid, and us, well out of the government’s reach.
Aid supplies are fraught in Syria, caught up in a Catch-22. The big international aid agencies – the United Nations and so on – which can really bring massive resources to bear, are only operating through the regime in Damascus. All of their supplies enter Syria and are distributed with the regime’s permission. Predictably enough, that means rebel held areas like northern Syria do not get their share, while places more loyal to the Bashar Al Assad do get supplies.
It’s absurd on many levels. The US and EU, for example, have economic sanctions levied against the regime but, at the same time, pay for aid to be funnelled in with the regime’s permission; in effect, they’re picking up the Syrian government’s bills when it comes to basic humanitarian supplies.
Some people – including some high ranking aid workers and certainly the rebels – say this is effectively propping the regime up. The argument for doing it is that were the aid cut, more people would have no food in their bellies. It’s a sort of equation of suffering, a grim question of balance. Does sending in aid via the regime really help people or really just prop up the regime and therefore prolong a bloody conflict? The decision seems to have been made that the former outweighs the latter.
An alternative would be to send aid in through rebel held areas, which is in effect what the Hayat convoy did. It went in without regime permission and, therefore, the regime could not take a cut of the aid or exert any leverage on who gets it.
For the UN it seems to be largely a technical matter – they can’t just run a convoy over the border from Turkey without the Syrian regime’s permission because that violates international rules governing state sovereignty. That is as close to holy in the concept of modern nation states as its possible to get .
A UN security council decision would be needed for massive UN sponsored aid to by-pass the regime, and Russia won’t back that because it is backing Assad. Politics, in other words. Syria is rife with it, in the ugliest of forms and the Syrian people are the ones who suffer.
That’s why little bits of aid trickling over the border from the north area all that the civilians in those rebel held zones can hope for. Assad has allowed a few UN convoys up, for the sake of PR, but not the sustained supply needed to deal with the problem of tens of thousands of refugees.
Plus, of course, if the UN does go up there, it might find its workers getting blown up by regime air strikes and ballistic missiles or, these days, possibly targeted by the kidnappers, criminal gangs and, even the much talked about, Islamic extremists. Complicated issues, all mixed in there.
It consisted of 20 trucks carrying 10,000 food packages, 10 tonnes of medicine, baby kits, bedding and 2,000 mattresses. All this accompanied by 11 ambulances.
After walking through to the Syrian side, myself and journalist Phil Sands crammed ourselves into a vehicle and headed east.
The countryside in this part of Northern Syria is stunning. Our ‘service taxi’, a small cramped bus bounced along the raised road and an open window kept our sweating to a minimum while framing Syrians working the fields and kids playing with stones. It looked oddly normal. Farmlands sown with crops, old tractors parked next to cinderblock houses, kids playing marbles by the side of the road, families sitting outside in the shade with tea.
Our destination was a small secret field hospital, secret because the last time its location was revealed it was attacked by government forces.
There is no state healthcare system in rebel areas of Syria and even in government held areas it is collapsing. For people in rebel-held Syria, these small medical posts supported by NGO’s are all there is.
We met with Dr Hassan Shateri, a neurosurgeon and one of more than a dozen Egyptian specialists who volunteer at the Arab Medical Union hospital in Aleppo province.
In the last month he has performed brain surgery on 30 patients, a third of whom he said would have serious disabilities for the rest of their lives as a result of their injuries.
This small hospital, the best equipped for miles around, typically treats between 20 and 50 casualties a day, the majority are serious blast and gunshot wounds from Aleppo city where heavy fighting continues.
While the number of killed in Syria’s conflict is loosely tracked by human rights groups, figures for the seriously wounded remain opaque.
The official death toll from the UN, logged late 2012 is at least 70,000. But with between one and two hundred people getting killed every day, this is no doubt a conservative estimate.
The volunteer doctors here really have their work cut out. On top of the wounded it’s easy to forget in a time of war that normal everyday emergencies occur. Car accidents, heart attacks, burns and falls.
In the courtyard a five year old boy was being wheeled around by his father. They had both survived a rocket attack in Aleppo. But there are varying levels of survival. They both live with the loss of Sultan’s mother and sister. Sultan has the added loss of his left leg and genitalia.
I felt so weak in front of him. His story is one of thousands. Yet I feel the suffering of a child is impossible to dilute. I’m embarrassed to say I turned away to cry; I didn’t want him to see me with tears in my eyes.
His father sat with him and, later on in the corner, picked his son up and sat him in his lap. He smiled and seemed calmer, and said, “God is generous” when asked about the situation they were now facing. He struck me as incredibly courageous, able to keep going in the face of all of that. He said he was happy that at least his son had not been taken from him.
The hospital is struggling to source some important equipment. They are missing a CT scanner which would save them having to transport severely wounded people across the border to help diagnose injuries. Costing half a million dollars new it may seem like an impossible ask. The doctors that volunteer their skills don’t agree: ‘We’ll take anything, an old second hand one will do.’
These doctors are saving lives, no doubt about it. But they can’t save everyone.
In the small room that serves as the hospital reception, a crude triage system is scrawled on the wall, prioritising cases so the surgeons know who to operate on first. Some need to be seen within two hours, others within four or six or 12.
On the stretchers placed to the right of the line are the hopeless cases. For them, it’s over.
The writing on the wall over that section says: “Expected to die.”
My trip into Syria was an independent self funded project.
I gained access with assistance from the Hayat Convoy for Syria
While the world’s news is again preoccupied with North Korea, confirmation is seeping out of Washington that Assad has in fact used sarin gas on suburbs of Damascus and elsewhere, in what it calls a “small scale” chemical weapons attack.
I’m not sure if 20+ people killed by chemical weapons would be considered “small” if located inside US borders. What I am sure about is this can only exacerbate the current refugee crisis here.
Today we attempt to enter Syria and see some of those issues ourselves.
I’m @Documentally on twitter But as a safety precaution I won’t be sharing much in real time unless I’m sure it does not pose a threat to those around me.
Since the early 90′s I have always carried some form of water purification when travelling. This stems from nearly dying of Amoebic Dysentery in India. Not long after that adventure I found myself responsible for 18 travellers and myself as I would tour around Lake Victoria in Africa. The route would take us from Kenya, through Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire.
The prolific waterborne parasites and diseases where a constant reminder of how dangerous contaminated water can be. Needless to say, I got comfortably paranoid about ensuring myself and those around me had decent drinking water. Especially as contaminated water kills millions of people yearly. Many don’t even have access to drinking water. Let alone the means to safely purify it.
I remember in India some travel guides used to warn against drinking bottled water as it was so easy to ‘fake’ so I’d carry purifying tablets, iodine drops and a ceramic filter. It was hard to calculate dosage with tablets,iodine tasted disgusting and I have found that ceramic filters easily broke.
If only things were as simple as what I’ve now found from Lifesaver Systems. Once unboxed it was a simple matter of priming the filter it and it was ready to go.
It’s a little bulkier than my normal water bottle but this is a water container and filtration system all in one. And no ordinary filtration system at that. The nanotechnology it incorporates ensures that the holes in the membrane are too small to let bacteria or even viruses through. This same bottle can be found being used across a broad spectrum of people from the military, humanitarian organisations and like myself, bushcrafters and lovers of the outdoors.
Lifesaver Systems invent, design and manufacture their products in Great Britain and are winning awards all over the place. After my short time with the 6000UF I can see why.
Be warned though. Don’t pump it up loads of times when empty and then take off the bottom. It’s a pressurised container and the bottom will fly off if unscrewed. You should not have to worry about this if unlike me you have some common sense.
Apparently you get an idea when the filter needs changing as it gets harder and harder to pump the water through. A rinse of the filter may get you a little more usage but it’s good to know you are not going to find it just stops working when you really need it.
I hope to continue to test systems like this as and when I can. There’s more info at LifesaverSystems.com
Here’s an Amazon affiliate Link should you choose to invest and don’t mind Amazon kicking back some pennies to me at no cost to you.
Personally.. I like to be ready for all eventualities.
[Disclosure] I received this unit for use in an imminent overseas project where I plan to pass it on to those that need this system in order to survive.. I have not entered into any kind of financial arrangement with Lifesaver Systems and these opinions are my own.
I’m @Documentally on Twitter
The future of Audioboo is uncertain. Like most online spaces.
But Audioboo isn’t like most online spaces.
This page of blurted sentiment and opinion will probably seem a bit much to some. Perhaps I’m over reacting because something I deeply care about is threatened.
I first blogged about Audioboo four years ago, not long after it’s launch.
I embraced it immediately, wholeheartedly, and have been passionately singing it’s praises ever since. Mainly in my talks and workshops around the globe.
Audioboo, it’s simplicity and why audio is important in today’s connected world has been a major part of my talks. To the foreign office, all the political parties, the British Council, The Open University, Reuters, Aljazeera, the BBC.. Journalists the world over.
I fell in love with the way it just worked. It’s intertwining of geographic data, text, photos and audio. It has been my main digital storymaking tool for the last four years.
I have laughed, cried and shared more via audio than any other medium. All because of this one app.
And this app exists because of one person’s passion and drive. An erratic, spontaneous, unusual man. A boat rocker, a captain of inovation who is no longer at the helm. He’s been thrown overboard.
I’m not here to martyr Mark Rock. He rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way. He has been known to explode in meetings. He’s upset me more than once, mainly on the phone and not long ago, even though it didn’t last long, I promised myself i’d never speak to him again. I soon realised how much he believed in what he was doing and this made me look at him in a different light.
You need unconventional people to build out of the ordinary things.
You have to admire what he has built, the community that’s been nurtured, the fact that he wasn’t your conventional CEO. And lets not forget his small team. That did so much on so little funding. Of all the platforms out there sharing audio, only one feels like a living breathing organism. A community made of stories.
I thought.. “With people this passionate about what they’re doing.. what could possibly go wrong?”
When I recently caught wind of what was happening inside the company, I genuinely felt queazy as I thought of possible outcomes.
This is the press release that Audioboo have sent out:
Mark Rock, the founder and President of Audioboo, has announced he is handing over all executive responsibilities to Rob Proctor, who has been CEO since October 2012.
Audioboo – a web platform & series of mobile apps focussed on socialising the spoken word through simple record, upload and social interfaces, launched in 2009 with backing from UK broadcaster Channel 4, who still remain an active shareholder. Early success with radio & news groups such as The Guardian have blossomed into key global partnerships with the BBC, Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph, UK Radioplayer and the British Library.
Investors that Rock brought on board to fund the company include Imagination Technologies plc (whose graphics technology powers mobile devices such as the iPhone & iPad), AudioGo (the company that bought BBC Audiobooks), Simon Fuller’s XiX group and a key group of angel investors including Sir Don Cruickshank.
Rob Proctor, current CEO of Audioboo, said: “Mark has done a remarkable job of creating such a unique concept and bringing it to market. I feel genuinely privileged to be involved with such a great company and amazing team and look forward to helping the company realise it’s tremendous potential.”
“I was born with itchy fingers, “said Rock, “And a stupidity to believe anything can be achieved if you click your heels together 3 times. Now that Audioboo is stable and thriving, I have the urge to click those heels again in a few new areas.”
In a personal note sent to staff, Rock wrote: “I’ve spent 4 years crafting this vessel with many of you, piloting it away from the inhospitable shores from which it launched. We’ve nearly hit open seas. A time for a captain to take over. I have, after all, other ships to give shape to that are waiting for me.”
Rock will continue as a Board Director at Audioboo and remain a significant shareholder. Relaxing with a week of diving in Malta after leaving, he so far has no firm plans on what’s next. “Let’s see. I’ve weathered taking an idea with absolutely zero spending cash, no business plan and what sometimes seemed like an odd proposition. Nurtured, sculpted and grown into a solid platform that is now attracting key visibility – not only in the UK but internationally. I’m proud of that and knowledge learnt I’m keen to embed in other ventures and partnerships.
It’s another carefully crafted document to smooth the transition of another comfortably conventional suit into his cash focused role.
I hear you say.. “What are they here for if not to make money?”
Is it only about the money? Do we invest our time, words, ideas and feelings wrapped in stories just to make the other investors rich?
When I first visited the Audioboo offices, a speaker on the wall would play people’s uploads as they hit the server. The team coding and creating below were as much a part of the community as those sharing their lives around the world.
Mark Rock and the team managed to create something really special. An ecosystem now hanging in the balance.
What kind of community are you building when money is your only focus?
If the shoddy so called update to the Audioboo app is anything to go by, the company is going to need more than a CEO who knows his way around the boardroom. It’s going to need to reconnect with those truly passionate about social audio. Those who live, eat breath and share audio stories.
Idealistic I know.
We have seen too many unsustainable platforms fall by the wayside. Seesmic, 12 seconds, Phreadz. Some so desperate for growth that a pulling of the plug appeared to be the only option in a bid to cut losses.
I said it not long ago..
“As we invest so much of our cultural, conversational histories and stories, is it too much to ask that the companies hosting and archiving them guarantee that they will not only be there for future generations, but they will maintain the connections and metadata?…”
I can’t say my heart is no longer in audioboo because that’s exactly the problem. I have shared so much into this digital space that a chunk of my heart and soul hangs in there, strung out in the noughts and ones.
There is value being generated daily, by countless individuals living richer lives because Audioboo exists.
I hope the new Audioboo listens to the real investors.
I have a selection of supports for my camera gear. All shapes and sizes, for all kinds of uses. Tripods that rarely see the light of day, monopods that for some reason have three legs but are still called monopods and those overpriced pocketable types with the flexible legs that flex to pieces.
I wanted to get back to basics and find a simple aluminium monopod that suited my uses. I feel the Velbon Ultra Stick L50 is the very thing.
Compact, light and stable. At 370mm collapsed and 1550mm fully extended (without a head) I was more than happy with it’s portability. I don’t like having my gear strapped to the outside of a bag as it tends to advertise what’s in the bag. This is small and light enough at 280g to slide in most camera bags or satchels.
As light as it is, the specs state it will happily hold 2.5KG (that’s 5.52ibs in old money).
I’m currently using it with a Panasonic Lumix GH1 with mic and have no doubt it will happily cope with the newer larger Panasonic Lumix GH3 with battery grip, lighting and mic… when I can afford it.
I paid less than £25 on Amazon and am including affiliate links in this blog should you feel like treating yourself. (It costs nothing extra to you if you purchase via the link but Amazon may send me a voucher for a few pennies if lots of people use it).
Personally I think it’s a bargain. Although If I find it breaking in a few weeks or suddenly deemed an offensive weapon, i’ll be sure to pop back here and add that info to my blog.
The internet doesn’t really have a beginning or an end. It’s a system. Still, I liked the title and parking my motorbike on a beach in New Zealand last week, I saw a sign that reminded me that many communication cables do in fact stop at New Zealand.
It takes a lot for me to sit on a plane for 25 hours. Cash helps. Plus the promise of adventures with people I have not yet met, in a country I have never visited and a project that I know will test me.
All that aside, I have wanted to visit New Zealand for many years, and now I’ve been, i’m hooked.
I had been asked by Hyper Island to assist in a project with Hyundai New Zealand. I’d love to tell you more but an NDA permits me from getting too excited with my sharing. That’s cool. If you live in New Zealand all will become clear soon enough. And if you don’t there could well be ripples lapping against your feeds as #HYNZ’s disruptions trickle into conversations world wide. It may be Top Gear that breaks the news for me.
Over my two weeks in Auckland and the surrounding areas I worked and played with some of the most amazing people I’ve met in a long time.
Egoless, eccentric, excitable, professional. It was a time of constant learning for me and those kind of environments are hard to leave.
People sometimes fail to see the opportunities that exist within their work. When you work with a great team, within a passionate company, the opportunities come thick and fast. The key is, whether these opportunities dress in suits or overalls, keep seeing them.
During my time with Hyundai, work and play seemed to fuse into one and as I look back on my diary I struggle to select any one day to share here.
When asked if I wanted a car to borrow so I could explore the area, I half joking asked if I could have a motorbike. Within the hour I had four to choose from.
Meeting Hyundai employee Mike Andrews gave me a glimpse of the local biker coffeeshop scene. Not the gangland patched up chapters. This was all about the classic and custom Triumphs of Shed Five, the restaurant workshop of York street Mechanics and the repurposed Japanese bikes of @RepublicMoto.
Amazing spaces that attracted a group of bike lovers embracing the last throws of a New Zealand summer.
And we did the same. On my first day out we rode a route from the city through Ponsonby, Westmere, Point Chevelier, Waterview, Avondale, New Lynn, stopping for a quick coffee in the hometown of @JJProjects Titirangi, before heading up and over the Waitakere Ranges and onto the amazing beach at Piha.
We rehydrated and grabbed sunscreen. The sun beat down on smooth empty roads, winding through rainforest and coastline. I could not have hoped for a better introduction to the North Island.
We even had time to drop in on Kim Dotcom at his $30,000,000 mansion at Coatsville.
The ride through Albany introduced me to farming country before a final stop at Northcote point to take a look at Aucklands ever so slightly Sci Fi cityscape.
Finally we cut through Ponsonby, the Central Business District, Auckland domain and finished in Newmarket and York street Mechanics.
Freedom, adventure and a good old fashioned road trip. This was just one amazing day of many in New Zealand. Just a taste according to some. Locals play down the North extolling the virtues of the South. I was impressed enough with what I saw. It’s the people I travel for. Everything else is a bonus.
I met and worked with a great team. I made new friends and had adventures with them. I got to share ideas in a passionate company evolving the way it thinks and operates.
Confucius said.. “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day of your life.”
I think he was on to something.
I’m @Documentally on Twitter. Here are some audio snippets from my trip.
I’ve been trying to smooth my transition through airport security recently and in these couple of months I feel like I have it cracked. The time before the liquid restrictions came in seems like a different world. In many ways it was.
Recently I’ve been to Austria, Turkey for a week, Sweden for four separate occations and a couple of days in Paris. Yes I know.. trees will be planted to alleviate the eco-impact. For all these trips I have packed my Tom Bihn Tri-Star and wore my Scottevest 7.0.
On average, my Tom Bihn Tri-Star packed with all I needed still had space to spare and weighed in at just under 13 lb. The bulk of my baggage is tech. I’m even packing the small and light Tom Bihn Co-pilot (below) in Dyneema inside for an every day carry.As well as my clothes etc.. I normally have with me a Macbook Air 11″, an iPad mini, a kindle, a Zoom digital recorder with external mic, kindle, a harmonica, and all the cables, chargers, adapters, spare batteries and paraphernalia that follows my tech around.
Even with all this packed I still have one of the three Tri-Star compartments empty. (Handy for duty free on the way home.) And as you can see in the photo below this misleadingly spacious bag slots in nicely to the Ryan Air how-much-can-we-tax-you measuring cage.
While travelling Turkey during the European Wine Bloggers Conference I was reluctant to leave two amazing Lebanese wines in Izmir and packed them in my Tri-Star where they traveled in the hold to Ankara, to Elazig in the east, back to Ankara before Istanbul and then finally back to the UK. I was very happy indeed when on returning to London I found both the bottles arrived intact.
For the most of it though I mainly travel hand luggage. It really helps that I have managed to get my washkit down to solids alone. No more liquids in a plastic bag. Solid ‘crystal’ deodorant and tiny toothpaste and creams that never seem to raise an eyebrow on the x-Ray.
The key to smooth passage on these recent trips lay in the choice of smaller computing devices and of course wearing my Scottevest.
When passing through security, in an ideal world, you want no liquids, no tech and no metal objects of any kind. This of course would be super suspicious and no doubt attract enough attention to warrant a body cavity search. In Turkey I did have to show my Harmonica as apparently it looks like a clip of bullets to the half asleep Xray operator.
To keep things simple I have the majority of my mobile devices and suspicious metal objects secreted around my Scottevest pockets. Xray operators don’t like objects obscuring other objects. As I’m queuing to get through the metal detector I chuck everything into my pockets and zip them up. There are more than enough pockets to go round.
As well as this, another time suck when crossing is having to remove your belt or shoes. Since wearing the Tom Bihn nylon belt (with secret compartment) I’ve not been asked to remove it once. The same goes for my Vivobarefoot boots. They are virtually flat with 5mm soles and the border guards and customs officers are always looking for soles.
So with watch, wallet documents and coins in my Fleece 7.0 I sling my jacket in a tray and my Tri-Star in another with both my iPad and Mac Air next to it but still in the Tom Bihn protective sleeves. I also slide my passport into an RFID blocking pouch and that sits in my red zipped document pocket inside my Scottevest.
I still have my belt, Yubikey and FitBit on my person but they have never set off the metal detector yet. I do know that the detector is also set to go of randomly but as yet that hasn’t happened and it has become a game to pass through without a sound.
Finally, arm yourself with a smile and some good manners and remember you are the 10,000th person to pass through there today and those guys are sick of asking if you have any liquids or sharp objects etc etc.
Once through and looking smug, providing you do not fall foul of a random swabbing stick, you only have to slide your laptop back in your bag, your ipad into your jacket and you are free to head in and purchase some over priced food and drink. Or in my case.. Sample the free whisky.
And when finally on the plane, you have all you need in your jacket and its the simple matter of stowing your bag in the overhead locker and taking your seat. Comfortable in the knowledge you have kindle, ipad, phone, mifi etc stashed in your pockets and close to hand.
Please let me know of your border crossing and travelling light tips and tricks.
Thanks for reading.
[Disclaimer: Some of the tech I have listed above has been sent to me free of charge for review. Most of what you see has been bought with cold hard cash. All thoughts are my own.]
@jamesvasile Save yourself!
Sat on a coach. Escorting @Minimentally on a farm visit. Just been buzzed by a military helicopter. They must be expecting the same trouble.
@MrsMill_Art there will be more.. but not in Cardiff.
Coming to Cardiff on the 3rd of June? http://t.co/wvHlHK3jhp It's a free mobile @StorymakingWalk #ou_msw
RT @janematthews: Few places left on the next free @OpenUniversity Multimedia Storymaking Workshop, Cardiff 3 June with @Documentally http:…
@eramirez good work thanks.
@petecarr thanks. I might wait for an open system that will import the data.
@psigrist At a time when the competition is really hotting up for @fitbit you'd think they would offer the user more access.
@ppiixx I hadn't spotted the 'Your data belongs to you.." bit first time round.
@simonhowes I imagine the api would reveal all to those in the know.
@aleksk I have learned a shed load about our behaviour in these spaces too. Hoping there will be more #DigitalHuman to come.
@petecarr @iconfessimageek it pees me off that #FitBit hold your data to ransom too.. http://t.co/Yd0TOLt2uO
@aleksk Another great series. Thanks. For me they have continually seemed to trigger realisations to current ponderings. #digitalhuman
@stunt_penguin I enjoyed that film.
@dannyn7 Less than i thought actually. 276.