February 25, 2014

Here’s Looking at You...From the Middle East

Photo: Douglas Wills

I was perusing through the hundreds of photos from our journey through the Middle East that took us from Egypt through Jordan to Syria and finally Turkey when I realized I needed to express and share how we felt during that epic journey.

I figured looking into the eyes of the beholder might best convey the feelings the Middle East evoked in us during the journey. 

So, I am hoping you will see the journey reflected in Lyra...

Photo: Douglas Wills

From day one, we were out of our element...and constantly being eyed.

Above, Lyra is in an restricted tomb under the Great Pyramids that is “off limits” to tourists...However, the guard eyed us and with a little backsheesh we were in. Not sure this wasn’t a scam, but what the hell...we were traveling off the beaten path.

Photo: Douglas Wills

Lyra, resting at the base of one of the Great Pyramids.

Photo: Douglas Wills

Lyra is a great subject, but she is an even better photographer...this must have been a great shot!

Photo: Douglas Wills

Often, people just watched us from afar. Were we friend or foe? Were we weak or strong? Did we have something to hide or take? Were we willing to risk opening up or were we afraid? Were we Americans or Europeans; Jews or Christians?

Back in Cairo, we never got used to being on display. In Seoul, we seldom felt like outsiders as we did in Egypt, even though the roots of our own culture come from the Middle East. You would think we would feel a little more at home.

I figure that the Middle East has had so many invaders throughout the ages, that everyone here must be descended from outsiders...

Photo: Douglas Wills

Later, we took some time to relax at the El Fishawy Café (shisha bar).

At the time, Cairo was a city that was on edge...Especially in the hot mid day sun during Ramadan...And I can not fathom being without food or water since previous night, covered from head to toe in a black berka, baking in the desert sun while haggling for life’s necessities in the local bazaar...

...Like clock work, squabbles broke out each day around 3:00 pm between cranky merchants and hungry housewives. I was cranky too in that heat! And I was well fed and watered.

Photo: Douglas Wills

Soon, we escaped the city heat and found ourselves in Wadi Rum, which was simply “spectacumous”! Wadi Rum gave rise to epic landscapes with warm blue skis that I struggle to find words to express.

Photo: Douglas Wills

Maybe Lyra can...

Photo: Douglas Wills

On our way through Jordan, we stayed in Petra. Carved out of sandstone, the ruins of Petra are astonishingly beautiful and more ancient than I imagined with the earliest inhabitants dating back to 7,000 BC.

Photo: Douglas Wills

After gliding through Jordan, crossing the Syrian border was a much bigger challenge than we expected. Even though we had all of our paper work and visas in order, it took over 4 hours of standing in lines to pass the first checkpoint. That’s because nefarious individuals kept cutting in line and paying off the clerk. I started to get a little irritated since there where only a few people front of us! We just waited and waited as the line never moved, but somehow others got instant service.  >:(

Then, once we got through the first check point, we had to drive to a second check point a few miles down the road. There, we were promptly stopped and sent back to the first check point because one of our party members had gotten the wrong date stamp from the first corrupt clerk! Argh!

But eventually, we straightened it out and we were on our way to Palmyra...

Photo: Douglas Wills

Palmyra is ancient Roman ruin trapped by the blowing sands of time. You can almost hear the voices of Roman Antiquity on the breezy desert winds as they whisper through the classical archways and timeless Corinthian columns of the ruined city.

Photo: Douglas Wills

Even though Palmyra is deserted, the related tourism supports a nearby community of local Syrian Arabs who sell tons of tasty dates to unsuspecting tourists who just can’t resist the sugary delights!

Photo: Douglas Wills

Yes! Dates are definitely the happy fruit and in a land so harsh and violent, anything so sweet is a welcomed comfort food.

Photo: Douglas Wills

After Palmyra, we were on to Damascus...quite a contrast to the ruins we had been touring along the journey. Damascus was ancient, but very much alive! Just like most of Syria...what a delight.

Built upon layers and layers of history...Greek, Roman, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Modern, Medieval, Ancient, Etc. all crammed together, Damascus was a melting pot of humanity...maybe more like a boiling cauldron...depending on your perspective.

Photo: Douglas Wills

A beautifully dangerous patchwork of people, culture and religion all competing for the city’s love and resources: Damascus.

Photo: Douglas Wills

Aleppo did not disappoint either. Like Damascus, Aleppo hid a beauty behind the walls of the city. Something we never expected could exist while looking at the crumbling walls of Aleppo’s exterior.

Photo: Douglas Wills

BTW...The above hammer scene with Lyra and the blacksmith created a huge traffic jam as men coming from all directions slammed on their brakes and pulled out their cell phones to record the risque, hot iron demo.

Photo: Douglas Wills

The people of Aleppo, just like the rest of Syria are truly an enigma of genius mixed with brute force that underscore the ability of humanity to thrive in the face of calamity. I wonder what would happen to its people if they ever got out of this environment...

Oh...BTW...Steve Jobs’ biological father is from Homs, Syria.

Photo: Douglas Wills

Like I said, we were constantly being eyed. Here, by Bashar Al Assad’s decal proxy on the back window of a pick-up truck.

If you like digging into enigmas, have a look at the Charlie Rose interview with Bashar Al Assad.  You definitely have to be cunning to survive in a land such as Syria.

Photo: Douglas Wills

If the tension in Syria is too much for you, the alternative is knocking back a few shots of Arak. Then everything will be just fine...

As we said our good-byes to Syria, we left the Arab culture behind and found ourselves being watched by a different set of eyes...the Turks.

Photo: Douglas Wills

Above: Jesus looked on from a previous era as he stands in the walls of the Hagia Sophia. Originally, a cathedral, Ottoman Muslims retrofitted this magnificent church into a mosque upon their invasion in 1453. It’s now a museum...

Photo: Douglas Wills

Being at the cross roads of civilization, Istanbul was even more layered with successive civilizations than Damascus, Aleppo or the other cities we journeyed through.

Above, the head of Medusa stairs coldly into the distance while holding up a marble column in the great Basilica Cistern below the streets of Istanbul. There are two Medusa heads in the Basilica Cistern that were once part of an ancient Roman temple...once a god to the Greeks and Romans...now a slave to the Islamic streets above her.

Photo: Douglas Wills

But, it is those very layers of history, culture, religion and humanity packed together in a tangled mess that make Istanbul so wonderful. Just like the layers of history throughout the Middle East, the mess can never be untangled.

And why would you try? It is well proven that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

And if you have intentions of gaining the upper hand by feeding the hatred found between layers of cultures and civilizations...Well...that too my friend, will lead to darkness and despair while creating more enemies for you.

I would humbly suggest, that contrary to the popular opinion of killing our way to peace, embracing the tangled mess and reveling in its glory will give us the next fertile layers of civilization we can build on...

...And apparently, the clashing of cultures makes for really great food...Enjoy!...

February 5, 2014

Creativity Never Fades...

Photo: Lyra Jakabházy |

Lyra and I recently had a chance to visit our good friends Jane Gittings Robert and François Robert in Tucson, AZ. They are true rock stars of design who never lose their passion for finding, creating and sharing that which is beautiful and moving. It is quite a contrast to go from people who communicate through words to people who communicate through their visual creations.

Jane and François communicate through their work:

Image: François Robert from his series Stop the Violence
This image speaks for François...

Images: Jane Gittings Robert Book 7, Man of the Century from her koobcube project

Jane’s koobcube project is a backwards book and design adventure. Jane reads a cube of books from her library, one at a time. After she finishes each book, Jane redesigns the book jacket and posts the original and redesigned cover. Jane redesigns the cover to challenge herself, but I would say it’s a graphic designer's version of a book review...only better. Inspiring!

Jane and François are really a dynamic duo who collaborate together on many creative endeavors from commercial photography to children's books...such as “Find a Face” that you can find on Amazon.

So...Our travels with Jane and François took us from Sabino Canyon to “The Boneyard” to the Mt. Lemmon Observatory. It was a non-stop roller coaster of compelling image hunting and gathering.

Photo: Sabino Canyon, Jane Gittings Robert
Hiking through Sabino Canyon was breathtaking, but stay away from the cholla plants!

 Photo: Lyra Jakabházy

The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group of the US military, otherwise known as “The Boneyard”, was colossal!

Image: Google Earth 
These are just the a few of the aircraft...

Photo: Douglas Wills
...And François never misses a pretty face!

In addition to the thousands of dormant military aircraft, inside “The Boneyard” there was an extra visual treat...

Photo: Jane Gittings Robert

...The Boneyard Projects, conceived in 2010 by Eric Firestone, and organized by curator Carlo McCormick, resurrects the disused airplanes from “The Boneyard” by turning them into three dimensional airplane canvasses...a compelling use of military assets.

But the fun didn't stop there...

Photo: Douglas Wills
As I was saying...our travels with Jane and François were an image hunting and gathering extravaganza...

Photo: Mt. Lemmon Observatory, Douglas Wills
One night, we ended up at the Mt. Lemmon Observatory. I got to see Jupiter with my own eyes and could actually see its gaseous surface and orbiting moons. Another first for me...Quite cool!

Photo: Biosphere2, Lyra Jakabházy
Biosphere 2 was something else... However, the story behind it is too lengthy for this post. You can get that from Jane Poynter from her TED talk, who is also friends with Jane and François.

However, I think the real treat came at the end of our trip when we got to meet and chat with Irving Olson. He is a self-made man who created his fortune back in the day as a pioneer in electronics, despite describing himself as a simple “peddler”.

Photo: Lyra Jakabházy
You can look up Olson Electronics on your own, but suffice it to say Radio Shack and Best Buy copied Irving’s business model.

Image: 1968 Olson Electronics Catalog eBay

Irving will be the last person that I ever meet who was older than I am today when I was born. Get it? Irving just turned 100 years old! He actually retired before I was born. You do the math! You might guess he is in his 70’s if you met him, but that is not the point. Irving is not a man defined by his age, he is defined by his humanity, creativity and love for life.

Photo: Lyra Jakabházy

Since his retirement in the 1960’s, Irving has been traveling the world...150+ countries...and nurturing his creativity through his passion for photography. Of course, he and François hit it off immediately.

Photo: Lyra Jakabházy

François came bearing a few gifts including his book Faces, which Irving loved and prompted him to show off his own latest guilty pleasure...Recently, Irving has been taking photos of people eating or rather “stuffing their faces.” Maybe a creative reaction to the increase in American obesity as seen through the lens of his camera.

I believe creativity and humor are linked. Irving’s innate sense of humor was boundless as he told all sorts of jokes and bantered with François. In my opinion, his playful nature fueled his creativity. When you play, you are not afraid to make mistakes. Irving did not seem to be afraid of making mistakes. 

Photo: Lyra Jakabházy

His “face stuffing” photos are both humorous and tell it like it is...but I’ll leave it to Irving to publish those later.

However, even more stunning are his water droplet images...

Photo: Irving Olson

In his kitchen, Irving has engineered a unique technique of photographing colored water droplets. Through hours and hours of trial and error, Irving comes up with stunning results.

Photo: Irving Olson

Irving never finished college, but he never finished learning either.

Photo: Irving Olson

He does lament that the people in his retirement community do not share any of his interests or passions. According to Irving, most do nothing at all and just fade away into a “cocktail of medications” that are too liberally prescribed to them.While not practical for everyone, Irving is medication free.

Photo: Lyra Jakabházy

Irving is definitely a man of action with many admirable qualities. His photography is just the tip of the iceberg.

Photo: Irving Olson

Photo: Irving Olson

Like many self-made people, Irving feels education numbs perfectly good people. He had enough of formal education after a couple semesters at the University of Akron, but he never had enough of learning. 

Another self-made creative comes to mind, Frank Lloyd Wright, who also ended up in Arizona, felt the same and was quoted: “Harvard takes perfectly good plums as students, and turns them into prunes.”

Irving is definitely not a prune.

FYI...The University of Akron awarded Irving an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters upon his 100th birthday...
I believe a formal apology would have been better.

Photo: Lyra Jakabházy
So, hats off to Jane and François, who are always finding compelling aesthetics and creative people. Because of their mission in life, we were able to meet such an extraordinary person and share in his love of life and revel with him in the beauty that surrounds us all.

Thank you, Jane and François. We were truly inspired...

November 11, 2013

Creativity Wants Boundaries


It is teenagers and college students who seem to be most apt to challenge rules and push social boundaries, especially those we consider to be creative types. Creatives seem to be on the outside of the boundaries their whole lives…And, why not? Creativity should know no boundaries? Right?

However, if you take a closer look, creativity thrives on what might be considered boundaries. And I believe that the reason youth and creatives seem to always be pushing boundaries is because they are actually trying to explore the "boundaries" they find themselves in. Metaphorically speaking, it’s as though they are in a dark room and have to feel their way around to find where everything is...Only finding the boundaries or obstacles when they bump up against them. And often, they push and expand these boundaries. They may even find a doorway to new way of thinking.

This is not a ground-breaking insight. Just do a little Googling and you’ll see that creativity might be described in terms of boundaries…the stage for an actor, the canvas for a painter, guitar for a musician, tempo, genre, etc. Defining boundaries reduces choices and allows an artist, designer, musician, actor, etc. to focus on their craft and embellish what they do well.

Recently, I have been guest lecturing at the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology...to creative types. This semester the students happen to be studying furniture design. FYI...Architects like to design chairs when they are not designing skyscrapers. In this class, they are required to design and construct a “functional object." In other words, furniture and most likely a chair, but they get to decide the final object.

So, in the first lecture I told them the story about Amos Winter. An MIT PhD., Amos Winter re-designed the wheelchair for the disabled in developing countries.

I should note that in developing countries, most people live in rural and rugged terrain. They do not have many resources (i.e. money). It is difficult to get repairs and spare parts for anything, let alone wheelchairs. Often, people must travel 5 km for work. Do you see where I am going with this? These are the boundaries or, as Amos Winter calls them, constraints for the re-design of the wheelchair.

These constraints do not render it impossible to design a wheelchair. To the contrary, the constraints inspired Amos’s come up with innovative solutions. And here is where I want to digress and take you back to the Architecture Class. I want to take issue with the term constraint or boundary as a basis for creativity.

What happens when you give anyone a constraint? They resist. And as you can imagine, the Architecture Class has been resistant to defining their design constraints or boundaries. Many have been skirting around the issue and falling behind. Those who have defined their design "constraints" or "boundaries" are now on to sketching their “functional objects,” but those who have not are starting to become frustrated.

And the clock is ticking!

For those who lack constraints, what they don’t consciously understand is that they are still creating a constraint…Time. A deadline is the easiest constraint to create. This is often the “constraint of choice” because the closer a deadline, the more panic is felt. The panic is then turned into inspiration and…voila!  Creativity.

Over and over again, I see this happen. I have thoroughly explained the need for constraints or boundaries to the class just as I have to many professional colleagues over the years. However, here is where I want to make a change in direction… or more specifically, language. The word constraint or boundary brings up negative feelings of imprisonment. People want to feel free and inspired...especially, creatives. And they certainly do not want to “build their own prison, fence themselves in or paint themselves into a corner”, so to speak.

Upon talking to a few students outside class, I realized what the correct nomenclature should be. Boundaries or constraints are not the right words to use when asking people to create. Creativity is an emotional endeavor. We need to speak to emotions when dealing with creativity and, for that matter, innovation. This is where leadership should be inspirational and not directive. Creatives naturally want to explore and, through that exploration, find inspiration for their creativity.

Only in retrospect and after “connecting the dots,” do we see that the exploration resulted in a series of [design] constraints or boundaries for the final concept or business model.

So, don’t “fence in” your innovation teams by telling people to develop their design constraints. Enable them to explore and find inspiration; inspiration for what can be, not constraints for what cannot be.

To correct the misinformation I intentionally gave above, the stage, canvas, guitar, tempo, and genre are actually mediums for creativity, not boundaries; think of them as doorways that enable artists to create another reality.

Remember, it is actually inspiration that fuels creativity because without it, there would be no great play, beautiful painting or emotional music.

November 8, 2013

“Life is extraordinary. Embrace it...”

Holi from Variable on Vimeo.

Produced by: Variable - WeAreVariable.com
Post Production/Editorial: The Mill - TheMill.com
Directors/Cinematographers: Jonathan Bregel & Khalid Mohtaseb @ Variable
Executive Producers: John Rule & Mike Sutton
Producer: Tyler Ginter @ Variable
Line Producer: Viraj Velinker

November 5, 2013

Korrugami: The Art of Box Making

Korea has a great baseball tradition and with it, goes a tradition of making great baseball gloves. Really, Koreans make some of the best baseball gloves in the world. So, for my son, Adam’s birthday, I decided to send him a top notch infielder’s glove.

I knew this awesome glove maker who sold me a beautifully crafted black and red 3rd baseman’s glove. However, boxes are not his thing...just gloves.

So, how was I going to package this up and send it to the US?

Not a problem...I also knew that there was a crew of master box makers at the Post Office. Now, I know what you are thinking when it comes to the Post Office...long lines and lots of cranky post office clerks…not in Korea. They are all congenial with a very “can do” attitude. And there is no boxing problem that the post office can’t solve...In less than 5 minutes!

Bubble wrap!

Hmmm...how big to make it?

Measure twice...Cut once.

Score the box for folding...Zip...zip...zip...

Cut the corners...

Place the glove...


Voilà, a rock solid, custom made box for my precious cargo in less than 5 minutes. I was impressed and told him so. He seemed to like his work and was very happy to be appreciated for his craft abilities. I think he charged me the equivalent of $5.00.

And it is still Adam’s favorite glove!

In case you’re interested someone posted a Korean Post Office box maker on Wimp.com