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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Ganoksin Project






The Ganoksin Project is now 12 years old, born in Bangkok and Calgary in 1995-96. In Thai Ganok means pure gold, Sin means art, and together they can be thought of as meaning 'The Art of Gold'.

The Ganoksin logo was designed by Eran Shakine, an Israeli artist whose work is on Ganoksin, a childhood friend of Hanuman, who says "The logo represents human culture and existence. It is almost a blending of the selves. It represents nature and the universe. You will find a stylized tree, human figure, fresh leaves, moon and the sun. It also might be looked as the connection between an individual and his culture."

The Ganoksin Project and The Orchid Community
By Charles Lewton-Brain 2004

Well, the Ganoksin Project is now 14 years old and is the largest online resource for tutorials, whitepages, opinions and industry links serving the Jewelry, Gemology & Metals Industries!

The resource library has grown by leaps and bounds from the original 500 pages provided by co-founder Charles Lewton Brain which started the project, the addition of an interactive community Orchid list, the bench exchanges, beautifully presented galleries of Orchid contributors, and now the newest feature - the Members Blogs!

From the Beginning...

Dr. E. Aspler (Hanuman) built a first web site in 1996, but it lacked content...Charles Lewton Brain was looking for a place to publish his voluminous writing..."destiny" intervened. Charles was the first person to click on the 'submit an article' link and Hanuman leapt at the offer! Both men had the idealistic vision of spreading information and helping others.

Hanuman's Journey

(The majority of this post was excerpted from:The Ganoksin Project and The Orchid Community By Charles Lewton-Brain 2004 - http://www.ganoksin.com/borisat/nenam/ganoksin-and-orchid.htm)

Dr. E. Aspler, known to Orchidians as Hanuman, was born in Jerusalem in 1962, trav

els on a French passport, is a son to a holocaust survivor from Romania and a Tunisian mother, the grandson of an Italian wine merchant who had 14 wives through his long life. He speaks Hebrew, Thai and English,. He has lived in Thailand for the last 18 years.

Hanuman was trained as a Doctor in Israel . He writes: "I was fortunate to get my medical education in what at the time was considered to be a revolutionary new institute, a community oriented medical center in the Negev , the southern desert area of Israel . We were educated in medical sociology, a new science at the time, and where encouraged to do community work. We trained to see the patient in his whole environment, rather than concentrating on the illness itself. The use of cartoon drawings to convey information, medical drama (imitating illnesses) and body language made us better physicians with a better understanding of the human being."

"We where designed to be culturally sensitive doctors, who approached any treatment with respect of the patient's beliefs. Being only 18 at the time, this was a major influence on my attitude as a grown up. With the years of not practicing medicine, I forgot many of the drugs names, but not the essence of human nature I learned about. I am still using a lot of my knowledge gained at this community oriented medical school to moderate orchid."

He worked with a mobile care unit with Bedouin, performed General Surgery, Pediatric Surgery and as a young Doctor at 24 was in charge of the Trauma Emergency Room at his hospital, one of the busiest in Israel .

From what I can see he cared a lot for his patients, more than is perhaps wise or bearable. He says "At the time I felt just too young to deal with such pain and sorrow everyday. I was a good, fast and gifted surgeon. I was not able at times to be detached, as required by the profession. Some cases really touched me, leaving me sharing the patent's miseries. It became clear to me that I needed a change. Hanuman lost his father at this time at age 48 to heart disease, with many of his dreams unfulfilled. His understanding that time is limited and the difficulties of medical responsibility combined to bring him to reevaluate his life, and to visit Asia and its cultures, something he had yearned to do for years.

He continues: "I was dreaming of a tropical climate, palm trees and fresh open air. I decided to go Far East , to Thailand . Soon, what was lost in long years at the university and hospitals was gained back on the exotic beaches of South East Asia . I was happy and suntanned, but as usual I was looking for new things to do. On the road, traveling, I started dealing with silver Jewelry. I found myself increasingly involved in the Jewelry trade, and decided it was time to set up a small workshop." "Jewelry was the prefect profession for me, it had so many similarities to medicine, the interaction with humans, the art and the science behind it. It was a natural transition."

"In Thailand , It is a tradition to get a monks blessing before starting a new business. I thought that it would be a good idea. When I told the monk that I was born on Saturday, the year of the tiger, he closed his eyes in deep concentration and made me wait for long twenty minutes. He was mysteriously calculating my destiny. Than he looked at me and said, "Your company name should be Ganoksin, and by the way, you might not become rich, but you will be famous". That is how Ganoksin was born in 1993.

While he maintained his jewelry company he later worked as a buyer for the French company Societe Francoise, and dealt in silver jewelry and antique clothing. As the Ganoksin site grew his workshop could not produce enough income to pay for the site. Hanuman rented his services and his internet skills. He worked for a large jewelry company as production and product manager and eventually became managing director.

Thailand was a powerhouse in the early nineties. The economy was great and foreigners from around the world arrived looking for opportunities. Hanuman writes "cultural differences kept many of us, the foreigners, isolated. In Bangkok in those days, the infamous chaotic traffic made it very difficult for people to socialize. For example, I could talk with my friends everyday on the telephone, but I would meet them only twice a year. I could lose hair, gain weight, even have my eyelids pierced with weird body Jewelry and they would not know about it." In 1994 "All that changed with the arrival of the most important peripheral of the decade - the modem." Hanuman got his first modem and shortly after joined a local BBS (bulletin Board).

Hanuman says "The need for communication explains why the first virtual community in Bangkok , The SalaThai BBS, was an immediate success. With the opening of SalaThai suddenly we had News groups, Chat rooms, everybody was having fun using fake identities and 'out_of_this_world' screen names, but the most important thing was that it was a major source of information for us. Members would post information about new visa regulations, New drinking holes and cultural events in town."

"I noticed though that the most powerful thing about it was that people were more then willing to share and exchange information online. For some reason, more then they would do in real life!! Everyone felt that they are on stage, and every one else was listening to their words of wisdom. This was a fundamental observation. Actually this was, and still is the seed, the concept that made Ganoksin what it has become today. "

By 1995 he had decided to start Ganoksin. He was experimenting with the new medium and wanted to find ways of promoting his business. The first name for the site was Ganoksin Online. The site was scheduled to open in January 1996, but because of delays at the domain name registration body it was launched in April. Our conversation with the Orchid and the discussion group's birth was in May and June of 1996.

Hanuman writes: "We started as an online Catalogue. Let us be frank. Catalogues are boring. I tried to spice it up with bits and pieces of interesting professional information. Basic alloys data, charts and stories from the gem trade in south East Asia, were put together to create the 'Tip's from the jeweler's bench' Website.

We opened our site to local jewelers and designers. Content was the magic word that was driven us these early days. We were fortunate. We did not have to wait long. One morning two months after starting I received an email from Canada . Charles Lewton-Brain a writer, a man with vast knowledge and experience was offering us what I was dreaming of. Professional, valuable content, and for free. Over the years Charles became a guide, a friend, an advisor, the mentor."

In 1996 Hanuman wrote "I am dedicating all my efforts, time and resources to make it work" and "I took a leave from my daily job and until October 1997. I was building the site, and publishing Charles's articles. By October 1997, a few months into running Orchid, I realized that the snowball was rolling. Input to the list was steady and the community, yet young, was actually born.

Orchid in its first months was not moderated. Spam was not an issue. Our main issue was infinite loops, where "Out of the office" vacation messages were sent to the list and in one case generated 5000 emails to every user within an hour. This incident made me close the list and start the moderation process. Moderation solved other issues we were struggling with, especially repeating quotes within posts, the visual feeling of the text formatting and maintaining the correct noise to content ratio."

In 1997 - 1998 there was a major Hardware Upgrade. For 6 months the digest version was off line because Hanuman did not have the time to create it by hand. He writes "A second major achievement was that we installed the first version of the Orchid archives, under the name "The orange pages".

In 1999 Ton joined the Ganoksin team as a part time volunteer. He wrote a script to convert the mail box to a digest format and the digest was back on line. Orchid doubled its users overnight, by offering an alternative to the open forums.

In 2000 there was another Hardware Upgrade. Ton joined us full time, and was now on a payroll. Hanuman and Ton upgraded the archives into daily auto-generated static pages, index and thread sorted. The same scripts are used for this today.

In 2001 the search engine was upgraded. The site had no income from 1996-1999. In 2000 and 2001 donations and banner ads paid a little of the bills.

By 2002 the mass of spam was growing. Email harvesters and other leeches hit Ganoksin badly on a daily basis. For example a company might send in a spider program to sample our entire site for comments about them. Every time one of the larger companies did this to us it could cost us some $200 extra in server fees for the bandwidth they used up in scanning us.

In response to this clear privacy terms were applied and scripts written in 2002 to mask and encrypt all email addresses in the archives. The server rules were configured with the aid of few scripts to automatically deny access to Bad-bots. In 2003 there was another Hardware upgrade.

There was a redesign and rewrite of the Library directory, and an addition of the shopping site script.

Although during the last few years other internet forums have emerged Hanuman decided to keep the original engine that runs orchid instead of the new technologies.

In 2005 The Ganoksin project has finally got it's own dedicated server with the power of broadcasting up to 1,500Gb of jewelry content monthly.

Hanuman believes that "the simplicity of the system helps to keep the forum sprit alive, it has the correct balance between anonymity and user interface that generate the correct dose of content rich postings versus chit chat."

Charles' Journey
I grew up till the age of 12 in Tanzania , then lived in New Paltz, New York , went off to Halifax , Nova Scotia for Art school. I spent some time in Germany studying and working, and have lived in Calgary , Alberta since 1986.

My journey began as a workshop teacher and writer. Starting in 1987 I was translating the German Theory and Practice of Goldsmithing into English and bought a Mac SE for this labor - an improvement over yellow legal pads. I assembled a set of eclectic teaching notes, information for the field, on stonesetting, critique of work, gemology, good sources for tools and equipment and the like. I would permit people to copy these when I taught workshops and the handout ended up at about 180 pages. One day in 1992 I asked a group of people in Los Angeles who amongst them would like a disc instead of paying to have the handout copied. Half the class, some 14 people said 'Yes', and I knew something had changed in my world. In 1995 I got onto the internet, and after looking around for six months or so realized that there were a lot of jewelry sites, but almost no content. There were one or two places, like the Society of American Silversmiths and the ArtMetal project which did have information, but in general there was lots of 'front end', with nothing behind it, just emptiness: no content of note.

I felt I was a perfect fit for the net. I was used to giving information away widely, was interested in an idealistic position on sharing information, and I had hundreds of pages of my writing and technical drawings already on my computer ready to go. When I searched the net and found a site I thought educational, and open minded I would offer my writing,, tons of it, for free to publish, with the only stipulation being a byline and an email link as well as a rule that readers were free to read, print out and share my information, but were not permitted to duplicate it or publish it for commercial gain. My thought was that I wanted to build such a strong and widespread web presence that any question about jewelry making would find me, and near the top of the results at that. This goal has, through my partnership with Hanuman, been fulfilled exactly as planned. I hoped as well that the articles and increased profile would sell my books. I am not sure whether putting up so many extracts from them has had a positive or negative effect on sales. But there has definitely been an increased profile for myself and my writing as a result.

The occasional site would accept my offer of free content, but only to the extent of a cautious article or two. None wanted to really go for it. It was as if they distrusted the offer of all my writing, as if they thought I was scamming them, tricking them. All the North American sites I offered this to rejected the offer. I came across Ahmed Shareek at Jewelrycombine.com in Sri Lanka whose site was starting and he welcomed the idea. It was early 1996.

Then I found the Ganoksin site. It had just started and I liked the statement on the site, the feeling that it was altruistic and wanting to help goldsmiths. I offered Dr. Aspler all my writing, for free, he said "Great!' and I began to send him articles, which he installed in the Tips from the Jewelers Bench section. He had taken a year off work to build the site. With the new content Ganoksin now began to grow, and to attract visitors. Our partnership, friendship and collaboration developed as well. It was six months of working together before I thought about and even figured out that Hanuman lived in Bangkok . I remember saying "you live where?!!"

I often wondered why I had such a hard time getting a North American site, even a public education one, to take me up on the offer. At one point I realized that the two people who had really welcomed the idea were Buddhist. Coincidence? Maybe.

Its worth mentioning what Ganoksin taps into in terms of the field, why people are so committed to the site. There is a sisterhood and brotherhood of metalsmiths. I found this out when at age 21 I traveled around the world on a ship for four months, visiting goldsmiths and jewelers in every country we went to, dressed politely, carrying my camera, notebook and a handful of my pieces, my chasing hammer and a selection of tools. These served to validate me a fellow goldsmith, and I was universally accepted and welcomed, fed in people's homes, taken care of, treated with respect and my questions about life as a jeweler answered in depth. Ganoksin taps into this place, a place where our tactile understanding of the material, our intimate understanding of this stuff we work with and the important role that jewelers play in rites of passage and in everyday life come together.

Jewelry is important: anthropologists claim that ornamentation of the body was one of the earliest acts that define humanity, and came before organized tool use. And as a jeweler you share understandings with others in the field, no matter what the culture or language you live in.

Other factors include the sense of belonging to a group, access to information otherwise unattainable and the practical demonstration of the old adage "If you want to make a friend ask someone for advice". One of the effects has been innumerable friendships and activities between members in their everyday lives off the computer.

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