Following the massive popularity of my prior “Six Weeks in the Life of Oxebridge” post, I thought I’d follow up with another slice-of-life entry, but this time look at what I do when not traveling the US serving clients there.
As some of you may know, I live in Lima Peru now, but conduct work in the US. In order to do this, it takes a lot of careful scheduling. I would never make my US clients pay international airfare for a guy who — from their perspective — has an office in Tampa FL, so instead I arrange my schedule to serve clients in batches, performing a “US tour” every other month or so. In between I come back to Lima (flying on my dime) and settle in.
But life here isn’t just relaxation, even during holiday season, as you will see.
Week 1 – Paris in Peru
The first week of this Peru stay begins right after we left off in the first “Six Weeks” article. Coming back from an AS9100 implementation in Denver CO, I hit Jorge Chavez International Airport late at night, because for some reason all the flights into or out of Lima occur only at insanely late hours. Worse, the Lima airport is playing with a new “improved” immigration system, capturing fingerprints and digital data from everyone who arrives. That, of course, means the system doesn’t work, and the line to get through immigration took about two hours. Not fun.
Eventually I was through the airport and on the way home, to the district of San Juan de Lurigancho, which sits on the outskirts of Lima proper — a suburb, if you will, but with less picket fences and more iron bars on the windows and motorcycles driving on the sidewalk while carrying tanks of propane.
Without getting too much into sociopolitical theories, my personal view is that the main problem facing third world countries in both Asia and South America is overpopulation. Religions in these areas are far more aggressive in pushing for large families — something that made sense thousands of years ago when the world population was low, and fetal mortality rates were high. But culture hasn’t adapted, and so places like Lima are teeming with people, who all have to scrap for food, jobs, resources, and space. The result is a barely controlled chaos. Lima’s situation has worsened in the past two years, with a flood of nearly 1,000,000 Venezolanos fleeing the crisis in their country, seeking raw survival in Lima. It’s a powder keg.
As a result, any trip “downtown” is something you plan for, having to account for nearly no place to park, and the huge crowds. Fortunately, my connections with the Peruvian National Police allowed me access to a parking lot reserved for retired officers and their families, so we were able to get relatively close to the shopping area. The rest, as you can see from the photo, was like a scene out of Soylent Green, right before they send in the giant “scoops” to shovel people en masse. It’s nothing you are prepared for, unless you’re used to it.
Week 2 – The Auditor Emerges
With most of the Christmas shopping done, my next week was dedicated largely to family matters and launching a key Oxebridge website feature. My daughter had her first Communion, which in a Catholic nation is a huge deal, so we planned and celebrated that. Then it was a matter of decorating the house with lights and putting up Christmas trees (yes, plural), etc.
On the Oxebridge front, this was finally a time to get to a project which had been cooked up as far back as 2013, but never launched. I’m speaking, of course, about The Auditor comic strip. I originally planned the thing some seven years ago, then shelved it, then worked on character designs again in 2016, only to never feel particularly inspired to pursue it. This time, in December 2019, I decided I would get going in earnest.
The original artwork was all scuttled (it was garbage), so I set to work making a new design for the titular character. Using a combination of Autodesk Sketchbook on a Samsung NotePro tablet, alongside “post processing” using various desktop PC programs, a new model came forth which immediately clicked. This time, rather than dream up the character from scratch, I based him on a composite of real life auditors I knew, and generally loathed. The main inspiration came from a former Honeywell auditor who I had the misfortune of sitting in on two audits with in Phoenix. He was fat, slovenly, perpetually angry, self-congratulatory, and wore a green sweater that he could never button properly. He was also shockingly racist, insulting the client’s Vietnamese workers at every turn, assuming they couldn’t speak English (they could.) In short, he was perfect for a comic strip!
So “Ray Battlesbee” was born. Some seven years after I planned the strip, I knew I hit gold with the character design. With him in the box, the creative juices began bubbling, and the strip began to write itself.
Physically creating The Auditor is not easy. First, I’m not an artist. Even when I wrote comic books back in the 1990’s, I was doing the writing. I did some art for small press, self-published zines, but that was it; never for any paying gigs. Drawing is not something that comes particularly naturally to me, and I hadn’t done it in nearly two decades, so getting back the rhythm was hard.
The process goes something like this. First, I have to make character “models”, sketching them in Autodesk Sketchbook, and adding various poses. The poses are kept to a minimum because (a) it’s a static strip, not an animated cartoon, and (b) did I mention that I’m not an artist?
The models are built using the same method I used when drawing comics: blue pencil rough sketches are done first, followed by black inks, followed by a layer of colors underneath. A second set of highlight/shadow colors is added, and the blue pencil layer deleted. Done. Bodies are drawn first, with heads drawn separately at higher resolution to allow for a bit more detail. Everything is done digitally now.
What I found with The Auditor is that I was generating characters with surprising speed. “Ray” took about three days to perfect, but after that the characters took about a two hours each. This included “The Client,” Alex, his two fellow employees “Big John” and “Jack Murphy,” the handpuppet for “Auditor Timmy,” boss lady Roslyn Kraft, and others.
Then it was a matter of building “sets” and “props,” roughly equating to backgrounds and any furniture or objects that might appear in the strip as well. Background details are kept to a minimum, so those go pretty fast. Finally, all of this is put together into single frames, with word balloons added. Then four panels are collected to make a single strip; master hi-res files are saved, then reduced copies used for publication. For the content, I follow the basic joke timing of classic strips like Peanuts or Doonesbury, with the last panel being the punchline, and a beat often beforehand.
Even though at heart I am a writer, the strips aren’t actually scripted. Instead, I have a rough written set of basic plot points I intend to hit over time (“Alex meets Ray,” “Alex goes to ISO 9001 Conference,” “ASQ cultists appear out of thin air”) and work to those. The four-panel strips come naturally, otherwise, as do the jokes. These are not hard people and concepts to find humor in.
Very few of the strips are scuttled before publishing, I find. A few simply aren’t funny, so I delete them outright (no outtakes book later, sorry). But so far all of the raunchy humor has been published, nothing was stopped last minute by my own filters (unlike some of the really nasty jokes I had in the earliest drafts of Surviving ISO 9001 or Surviving AS9100… LOL.)
There’s also the legal angle. Real life ISO folks are notoriously thin-skinned, so everything has to be done in compliance with various US laws to avoid a lawsuit. Parody and satire are protected forms of free speech, but there are limits. I can’t, for example, do a strip about what really happened in the hotel shuttle bus during that one AAQG meeting.
Oops, I’ve said too much, but trust me… it’s gross.
Week 3 – Haters Gonna Hate
Still working on The Auditor, I decided that before I would launch the strips themselves, I should have a good backlog of strips to publish all at once. I wanted to have at least 20 in hand before publishing, so I kept cranking.
At the same time, however, I needed to build the website to present the strips. I decided early on this would be another free feature on the site (even though I will probably sell a collected book of strips later). So the task was to simply build the page that would house The Auditor strips, using a photo gallery presentation. Using a WordPress template with some custom CSS, I was able to create the page in about three hours, and uploaded the first set of strips. Then I tweaked the page’s code a few hundred times to get it “just so” (I’m fussy), and hit publish.
Finally, all that was left was to promote it. The usual tools were used: the Oxebridge Report email newsletter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. Within about 24 hours the traffic to the page was huge. I knew I had a hit.
With Christmas closing in and The Auditor underway, everything was great, right?
Not quite. At the same time as all of this was going on, a lot of nasty stuff was brewing and bubbling, as usual. The “Oxebridge Quality Lawsuits” defamation website was still updating the publication of false claims about Oxebridge (no, we don’t own anyone any legal fees for anything; no, the Elsmar case wasn’t closed because of that settlement agreement; no, I didn’t delete over 1100 tweets to settle a lawsuit). This meant ramping up the attorney yet again to get this stuff handled.
Meanwhile, the other defamation case launched by Oxebridge against the certificate mill operators Daryl Guberman and Don LaBelle was getting cranking, too. Multiple motions were filed, counterfiled, and the two now face arrest and “coercive incarceration“ for refusing multiple Federal Court orders. (I’m being circumspect out of respect for the legal process.)
While that was rolling, I still had the ISO Whistleblower filings to pursue. The case against NQA — who threatened an Oxebridge client for hiring me — was supposed to be escalated to the regional accreditation body IAAC, but they weren’t budging. So I was busy drafting lots of scary emails, which finally got IAAC to move a bit, and at least claim they were working on it. (Still no evidence they are, but whatever.)
Ditto for the case against Quality Austria, for which their accreditation body simply wasn’t even acknowledging receipt of the complaint levied against them. This meant researching Austrian law and EU regulations for angles of attack. More scary emails were sent, but the parties still haven’t budged on that one. Now I’m in talks with regulatory officials in Austria to pursue possible sanctions against the accreditation body, as well as to launch potential criminal investigations to see if bribery was involved. Can’t say much more on that.
And ditto for the case regarding IAS, which seems stalled at the regional body APAC. Graeme Drake at APAC has made it really, really clear that he’d rather have medieval dentistry than do his job and enforce accreditation rules on IAS, but he’s stuck with it. Still, they are not sending updates, so who knows where that’s at. More scary emails!
Week 4 – Holiday Death Threats
Continuing more publishing of The Auditor strips, I got into the whole ASQ cult storyline, and then deep into the AQI ISO 9001 Conference storyline, too. These ones practically write themselves. Nigel Croft — the inventor of “risk-based thinking” — is pictured as a guy terrified to get out of the shower, so he walks around inside his bathtub. The IAF’s Elva Nilsen, who is paranoid about her social media presence and role at the top accreditation overseer, is shown wrapped up like the Invisible Man. AS9100 author Tim Lee is shown wearing a Boeing jetpack that keeps bursting into flames because, you know, … Boeing. And everyone explodes when someone says the word “Oxebridge”!
But this was also the week of Christmas, so there wouldn’t’ be too much to do, right?
Wrong. More legal filings, more evidence gathering for court, more scary emails to accreditation bodies. And to top it off, I got a death threat from someone about the Quality Austria thing!
This latest threat (yes, it’s not the only one) clearly came from someone irked about our reporting on Quality Austria and its Qatar consulting wing, and had an Austrian IP address. But the IP address matched that of a private VPN service, so was intentionally spoofed. Meaning, this could have come from anywhere, but someone wanted us to think it came from Austria. My money goes on Qatar, and one of Linda Ross’ goons, but I’m just guessing.
Is it weird that I’m inured to this sort of thing? For me, it’s just another day at work.
(This, by the way, is why you won’t see any photos of humans in this post. I can’t risk publishing their images, names or information because, you know, some ISO people want to kill them. If you think that sucks — because it does — consider a legal fund donation so I can fight these bastards.)
Knowing I missed the US holiday of Thanksgiving, which isn’t celebrated in Peru, the family here decided to do turkey for a pre-Christmas dinner. They made the turkey, and I did my best to whip up some American-style stuffing, which came out insanely well.
Next it was on to get more decorations for the house for a planned family party on Christmas Day itself. This meant a trip to the huge Mercado de Flores in Acho, a famous flower market outside of Lima. Here we bought a centerpiece and other arrangements for the house.
Week 5 – Jesus Christ, It’s Christmas Already?
Christmas week! More The Auditor strips, and I began working on an ISO 27001 implementation project which requires me to draft documentation first, allowing me to work from home. This will be only my second ISO 27001 implementation, and the first running the project solo (my last was part of a client team). Right up until Christmas Day I was working on the ISMS Manual and ISMS Procedures Manual for the client, and getting more and more intimidated by just how much documentation ISO 27001 really wants (no matter what they say.) It’s a beast, but hopefully I’ll be able to eventually tame it the way I did with ISO 9001, ISO 17025 and AS9100.
(If you’re looking for ISO 27001 implementation and have patience, I’m doing those as pilot projects at reduced rates. Give me a shout.)
Christmas this year was fun. The various nieces and nephews in the family are all of the perfect Christmas age, and I introduced them to the custom of hanging stockings and waking up the next day to find them filled. The kids freaked out, and were ecstatic.
The only thing is that Peru — like other Catholic countries — celebrates Christmas on Christmas Day, waiting until midnight to uncover the Baby Jesus from the creche and then inviting Santa to come and bring gifts. It’s highly proceduralized. The kids are usually exhausted by then — they are opening presents at 1 AM — but it works. We hired a local guy to come dressed as Santa and hand out the presents, and — again — the little ones went nuts.
Before that, though, we held the family Christmas party in the afternoon. We opted to have a charcuterie table catered for the day — it cost all of $200 for a party of 25! — and it was amazing. The flowers were set up, decorations finished, and champagne at the ready. That led into another turkey dinner, which we prepared slightly differently; the other traditional option was whole pig, but the family wanted to try and eat healthier this year.
The day was spent largely relaxing and eating, and corralling “los chukis,” a nickname for the little kids, based on Chucky from the Child’s Play movies. The evening came and Santa arrived, gifts were handed out, and everyone headed for bed.
Did I mention we bought a gingerbread house? I’m serious, I never had one in my entire life, so this was a first for me. And it was as good as I hoped. Los chukis enjoyed destroying it.
Week 6 – Potato Pancakes, Bitches
The week after Christmas saw me return to pure work mode. A few more strips of The Auditor were published, but mostly it was nonstop work on the ISO 27001 documentation project. This was turning into everything I hate: mountains of procedures. The procedure manual alone was over 50 pages at this point, even after trying to keep the procedures to 1-2 pages each. And I hadn’t even started the critical Information Asset Registry yet! Ugh.
My thinking was — and still is — that I will keep writing everything possible, and trim later. It’s easier to delete stuff than find out later you missed it. The client knows this is a new standard for me, so has patience. We will likely have to go through a pre-assessment with their selected registrar just to be sure. I normally advise clients to skip that, but in this case, we will likely need it.
More scary emails to accreditation bodies and oversight authorities. More articles on the Oxebridge site. But the best thing of all: German potato pancakes!
My mother had been found abandoned on the street as a baby in New York City. She was then raised in a foster home owned by a German couple who had escaped the Nazi concentration camps; these became my grandparents, of course. Even though my mother was not German by blood (they had no record for her heritage, in fact), she grew up knowing German recipes. As a result, I grew up eating a lot of German food without even knowing it.
My mission these days have been to try and replicate some of those dishes, all without anything other than my memory of how they tasted and some memories of how my mother made them. I already failed at replicating her ham salad, potato salad and corn fritters. For two years I had been trying to make my favorite dish — German potato pancakes — and despite how easy they are supposed to be, they kept coming out terribly.
Finally, this week I mastered it! The secret was not frying them (as some recipes call for) but cooking them in a pan with a light layer of butter (not oil). That, and pressing the shit out of the potatoes to get the starchy water out. For three days straight I was making potato pancakes and applesauce for myself and the family. My grandparents would be proud, I hope.
Unfortunately, this week saw a lot more activity in the Guberman lawsuit, which required a lot of attention on some very nasty stuff. But we got some news, too. The “Industry 4.0” client from Phoenix I mentioned in my last “Six Weeks” article passed their AS9100 audit, proving yet again that 40-Day Rapid Implementation can work. We’re all thrilled.
Weeks 7 and Beyond
The weeks through New Year’s and after were filled largely with ISO 27001 work, more The Auditor strips, more Oxebridge articles, and various ISO Whistleblower investigations. I’m working with my Europe helpers on a case involving a registrar in that region who is suspected of accepting bribes, but struggling to get the whistleblower to provide any actionable evidence. At the same time, I’m developing a massive story about the US aerospace auditor who lost his Probitas certification under shady circumstances, and tracking down some leads which suggest his former CB set him up. It’s a very tough story, since much of it is being kept under wraps by the various parties, so it’s taking forever to crack. It might not see print of I can’t get the facts together properly; a slip-up on that story, and someone’s getting sued.
New Year’s Eve is insane in Peru. Fireworks are largely legal, so your neighbors are likely to have full-on Grucci-style displays launching five feet from your car. It’s a dangerous, crazy, fire-filled screamshow, one of which I am only partially used to. Frankly, it still freaks me out a bit, and this year one batch didn’t go off as planned, and the things started firing off horizontally, skittering along the ground, exploding under people’s cars. Did I mention it’s insane?
Coming up next week, I will be back in the US, resuming my normal work. First off is a firearms manufacturer in Florida, for the final phase of their ISO 9001 implementation. Then it’s off to Pensacola for the final phase of an ISO 17034 reference material manufacturing implementation. The week after that, I’m attending various court hearings, including one that will decide if the Guberman operators get fined or jailed for contempt of court. In between all of that, I’ll keep working on the ISO 27001 stuff for a client in Sarasota, and planning my February.
Happy New Year!