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The kind giants: Historic photos of New Zealand’s Kauri wood bloom

When I was living in New Zealand, one of my favourite walks was just up the road, to one of Auckland’s many natural reserves. You only needed ten or fifteen minutes to get to the top of a small hill. On it, a beautiful Kauri tree solemnly awaited. The sight was impressive, a giant among its normal-sized fellow trees.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many Kauris left in New Zealand, at least compared to last century. Kauri trees were systematically cut down due to their amazing dark, uniform wood… and their impressive size. By 1920, for example, only 0,3% of the original Kauri forests in the North Island remained. You can still find some of the trunks when hiking around the country, they make for huge platforms.

I am a tree hugger, and I mean literally. I like spreading my arms around their gigantic waists and resting my cheek on their cold bark. Kauris are especially good for hugging, because their bark is quite soft, but I would have needed three meter arms to reach across, because these trees are HUGE. One of the biggest Kauris still standing has a girth of 16 metres, and is believed to be between 2000 and 3000 years old.

Kauris are a little difficult to photograph, because they are so big. The chopping of these beautiful giants was extremely sad, but the lengths these cutters had to go to were impressive. The majesty of the Kauri trees still shines through, and with some luck, we are finally beginning to learn how to respect nature and its many wonders.

Here be Dragons

Here be Dragons

The Borgia map (c. 1430)

The Borgia map (c. 1430)

You have probably heard the expression, and most likely associate it with images of old maps covered in drawings of sea serpents and other mythological creatures. But what are exactly those creatures living on the margins, and how did they get there? Pack your bags and jump on board. But aware, though, for Here be Dragons.

Despite its popularity, there are only two references to the phrase, both from the XVI Century. An inscription reading “hic sunt draconesfloats above Asia in the Hunt-Lenox Globe (c. 1510), the oldest one known to show the New World. It‘s thought however that the Hunt-Lenox globe is a cast of a globe engraved on two conjoined halves of ostrich eggs that dates back to around 1504. The ostrich globe, not bigger than a grapefruit and of unknown origins, is labeled in Latin and includes what were considered exotic territories at the time, such as Japan, Brazil and Arabia. Stefaan Missinne, the Austrian collector who last bought it, speculates that the egg could have loose connections to the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci (but most experts dissent).

There is a similar expression observed in many medieval maps, and used for depicting dangerous or unexplored areas. It reads “Here are lions“. Could the dragons just be an early typo? Why did the artist choose this word and not another? Some argue the phrase is simply a reference to Komodo dragons and monitor lizards, not uncommon in Asia. I dissent.

Back when the world seemed so much smaller, mystery filled the darkest corners of the oceans, yes, but also those of existence. The uncharted is out there as much as in here, filled with dragons, serpents or lions. For who doesn’t also have dangerous and unexplored territories within themselves?

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Yisela’s book – the anatomy of doodles

I write this blog together with Yisela (and Vincent). I have never met either, but Yisela was such a dear that I figured she deserved a gift. So in the tradition of Sofie’s book and Adam’s book, I made Yisela’s book. But you have to be supersupernice to me to get one; well over and beyond the call of duty. Conveniently, I just started the sketchbook, she will have to finish it herself :)

The Korowai

The tree house dwellers of Papua

The Korowai people, inhabitants of Guinea, have become famous for three reasons. First, there are no records of the group having contact with Westeners until 1974, when anthropologist Peter Van Arsdale and a group of researchers led and expedition to the south bank of the Upper Eilanden River. Second, the Korowai have been reported to practice ritual cannibalism, although there are suspicions this is nowadays not more than a way of encouraging tourism. And third, the Korowai live up in the air. Up to 35 meters up. 

Their tree houses are built well above flood-water levels, mainly for defensive purposes: The height and girth of the ironwood stilts protect them from arson attacks (nuts set alight and inhabitants smoked out – not a nice way to go), and disrupting rival clans from kidnapping women and children. They are also an excellent protection against mosquitos and evil spirits.

The architecture of the Korowai houses is unique. They are built using existing Banyan or Wanbom trees, that become the main pole as well as a ladder to gain access. Small poles are later added to the corners of the house for additional support. The floor is built first (each house is normally inhabited by around twelve people plus pets), and then everything is binded together with raffia. Once finished, the house is blessed by smearing animal fat, and small holes are cut into the roof to symbolically give access to tasty animals like pigs. The houses are so well planned that not even fire is a threat to them, because the floors have cut away sections.

Despite being  historically isolationist, the Korowai are a small group (3.000 to 4.000 tribe members), and more and more people are moving to nearby towns. It’s possible there will be just one more generation of tree-house dwellers, before they get integrated with the rest of the island.

Image credit: My Modern Met

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Equil smartpen2: phenomenal tool or novelty toy?

I am not into gadgets. The very word implies something useless; perhaps fun for IMG_5001aW1a week, but quickly discarded. A pet hate of mine is the insane amount of electronics made, for stuff that do not need electronics. Waste of resources, batteries, minerals, human costs and filling up insane landfills with rubbish.

Enter the Equil Smartpen2. I got really excited. Being the tactile, old-school doodling sort of person; this might be what I have been looking for. Getting handwritten notes, doodles, meeting notes etc. over into digital has always been a hassle.

The idea is basic:

it is a normal(ish) ballpoint writing on any paper and talks to a receiver and stores the input. It connects to device via bluetooth and the transfer isthesis_Page3 instantaneous. Very cool to see my doodles live. You can choose pen colours, thickness of lines, markers; and digitally add text and images. It should also work with handwriting recognition, but we shall see.

Getting it to work was easy peasy, but I am struggling with connecting it to Evernote/Dropbox/iCloud. Another problem: it does not seem I can trust it when I set the paper format, there are always bigger margins. May not sound like a big deal, but the point is that I should be able to use it without also having a screen. If I cannot trust the margins, I cannot trust it without the connection to mac or phone. Ah yes.. and it makes a faint buzzing noise when writing. That could become incredibly annoying, but as of now I reckon I will listen to music as I write.

..and what I really want to avoid, is that using this becomes being about the technology and not the writing. I need it to be invisible – it must disappear into my workflow, not add more techno-fiddling to it.