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The news articles shown here touch a wide range of subjects. Sometimes just an interesting news item, something that caught our eye, sometimes a technically important thing (such as a virus or security alert) to keep our customers' machines humming smoothly, sometimes an artsy bit of news from an exhibition, a trip, a sunset, a joke or just about anything. Not too many rules here. Thanks for passing through.

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AI, fuzzy logic and vanilla

2019-11-06

When I first read about so-called "Artificial Intelligence", I wondered how anyone could ever imagine that one day, it might take into account all the extraordinary facets of human neurology. Yes, computers ARE faster than we are at spitting out conclusions, coming up with hard-wired outcomes based on a given set of circumstances. Those of us who played around with AND, OR, NAND, NOR and other logic "gates" as youngsters interested in electronics, remember well how computers started, and that they are indeed, just glorified (because they are massively extended) arrays of electrical switches connected together, not much more than that. They impress us to bits (or bytes) because, of course, they can flick their multiple combinations of logical switches at phenomenal speeds, but yes, under all that binary pizzazz and apparent magic, they are just doing logical things in a logical way, but doing them VERY fast. Even the concept of so-called "fuzzy logic" is simply a series of strict calculations done on either side of a given parameter, to make it look "soft" or "fuzzy", to ensure that one strand of hair or a single eyelash out of place, won't obstruct the intended functioning of your phone's facial recognition system or fingerprint reader. Calculations are made in all sorts of directions, to allow "fuzziness" but ultimately, behind it all, yes ma'am, it's just zeroes and ones.

There are unusual and very original things that human brains do, however, that are not quite so predictable, and which have fascinated me for years. One of them is a thing called "synesthesia", the joining of two or more perceptions (of often very different natures) so that they relate to each other, enriching the creative, perceptive, constructive experience in a person. Many of us know this peculiar thing, without necessarily being able to pin a name on it, taking it in stride when it happens, without much attention. Having read about it years ago, I am happy to have a word for this weird feeling which turns up from time to time, in unexpected places. It's always comforting to pin a label on something bizarre.

As you may or may not have read elsewhere on this website, I participate in a small academic-style life-drawing group here. We meet a few times a month, and draw from a live model. Nothing particularly unusual, in an art-friendly city such as this one, with its share of medieval buildings and other ancient urban finery. Last night though, one swoopy part of one of the model's shoulders said "vanilla" somewhere in my head, so strongly that I could almost taste it. I was tempted to point to that part on my drawing and show it to the artist working silently next to me, "You see this? That's vanilla." At best, he would have imagined a friendly metaphor, or just a mental association maybe, but it was a lot more than that. At worst, he might have voted me out at our next assembly. I didn't say anything, though, and just continued working, glimpsing elsewhere, to the model's knee or hands or neck, the word and flavour weren't there. When I returned to the shoulder bit, however, "vanilla!" again. Strange thing.

I am very curious as to HOW any sort of "artificial intelligence" could come up with that vanilla moment.

From the artist's toolbox 1
From the artist's toolbox 2

Stillness on Baker Street

2019-11-01

A few people have asked what I am alluding to, exactly, with the words "Stillness as a Resource" and "Reflection, Mindfulness" that glide past, on the homepage slider. I agree that at first glance, these concepts, more often connected with Eastern philosophy, Zen or meditational practices, might seem a bit quirky on an artsy-codey-copywritey website. Truth is, most creative work finds great nourishment in such practices. And although the idea of silence, immobilisation or "inner stillness" can make some people pretty uncomfortable (or feel downright threatened, in some cases), there is nothing "elitist" or "special" with simply going back to "tabula rasa", wiping the blackboard clean on occasion, to see WHAT and WHO we are without all the noise, ego layers, fancy clothing and make-up.

While having lunch today at a friend's restaurant, a very tiny book I was reading put that state-of-mind into magically clear words. The author is not particularly well-known in the English-speaking world (although you will find him on Amazon), but he is widely published in French, and often translated into other languages. The little book, "Le plâtrier siffleur" (The Whistling Plasterer) by Christian Bobin, is an undersized treasure of wisdom, despite its modest size. Everything about it inspires stillness, contemplation, and that extremely elusive "reality" that we all totally miss while running around like fools. Bobin describes small everyday gestures, tiny events full of momentous significance, each one indeed overflowing with Truth. The sorts of normally-unseen events that become revelations of almost astronomic proportions, seen from a place of quiet and peace. Stillness, as a resource for such moments. Mindfulness as a way of ACTUALLY seeing what is before us, every day, every second of every day. That special, blessed but so-fragile place that opens up to bring gorgeous ideas forward.

There is an absolutely delightful description of how the simple gesture of a mother tucking in her beloved sleeping child carries echoes of love and care for an entire galaxy of stars. It reads like a reminder of something which many of the world's great faiths have often told us, that even the smallest gestures have impact, karma, consequence, that "when a single drop shifts in the ocean, all the others must adjust slightly a little bit as well." I am totally paraphrasing here, but you get the gist.

So now, you too also know why those terms glide past, on the homepage slider. A modest explanation, anyway.

(P) Stillness on Baker Street

Keeping a straight face

2019-10-29

I was sharing stories with a security specialist the other day. We came to the conclusion that there are few situations more delicate than sitting at a client's desk, with them sitting beside you, and your first diagnostics being greeted by a full assortment of various porn sites, on their browser opening splash page. It doesn't happen too often, but when it does, keeping a straight face and a professional tone is really not easy.

It usually happens on a call when a client wants help because their machine is infected, sluggish, doing strange things or partially locked by ransomware, the intruder having locked all the files but had the residual kindness to leave the browser favourites still showing, in case the victim might want a reminder of HOW the intruder got in.

A word of caution, for those wandering eyes and browsing hands: DON'T (EVER) use your office or professional computer to dig around the net for your next five-minute online thrill or affair. If you really must, keep an old laptop on hand (so to speak) or pass by your local internet cafe, if you can still find one. Nothing is absolutely safe, nowadays, so follow your grandmother's advice, on matters relating to the surfing of Internet porn sites. You will also save your IT support folks unnecessary diplomatic tight spots. So to speak.

Keeping a straight face...
Just a dream.

Forbidden Musics Vol. I

2019-10-21

Today, I had the wonderfully good fortune to come across a superb documentary broadcast on the ARTE television chain. I don't watch much TV but there were important issues being voted on here today in Switzerland, so I wanted to see the results. My attention was totally taken away by the ARTE feature, however, on one of my all-time favourite works of music, Beethoven's op. 61 Violin Concerto in D major. I have many recordings of the same work, each with its own colours and strengths, but only one which I can share with almost no one.

I brought the various other recordings I have to the life-drawing group (Atelier de Dessin Libre) I am involved in, as I often bring different musics to share with our artists who span a couple of generations. I have never, however, brought the one by the Berliner Philharmonic, which unites the joint musical genius of Herbert Von Karajan and Anne-Sophie Mutter. The piece has such extraordinary power over me, such intimacy, that I have no idea how I would handle the kind of vulnerability it conjures up, in the stillness of that artistic space, finely tracing and whispering lines and shapes and contours of one of our models onto a delicate sheet of paper. Listening to it at home is hard enough, and takes me right back to a documentary I saw when I was around ten or eleven years-old, about Beethoven going deaf, which made me weep like the baby that I was. That musical memory still blurs my eyes, decades later.

Most people reading this will wander over to YouTube, to see what the fuss is about. The audio quality is not likely to carry much of the near-sacredness of this phenomenal work, one of Beethoven's greatest, but you are welcome to try. If somehow, some of the magic nonetheless transpires through the background noise and poor audio dynamics, and you are eager to know more, get your hands on the recording, available on Deutsche Grammophon 413 818-2.

Beethoven op.61 news img-1
Beethoven op.61 news img-2

Gmail catch: Gee, no mail.

2019-10-20

It's pretty widely known that Silicon Valley megacorp algorithms are anything but neutral in their preferences. The companies not only boast that their services "will always be" free, while WE are the product they sell, and they continue to drill down to subatomic levels into your personal information, to know who your friends are, what you are buying, doing, feeling, eating, visiting, thinking, and how often. I have nothing whatsoever against wealth, as an indicator of hard work, long days and sustained effort over a long period, bringing back solid rewards for those willing to make sacrifices. On the other hand, the idea of people's privacy (kids included) being marketed to the highest click-through bidders, and all that, makes me wonder how those folks sleep at night.

Along related lines, I had harbored an unsettling impression in the past 18 months or so, that anytime I wrote from ANY of my non-Gmail addresses TO a friend's/client's/relative's own Gmail address, the messages MUCH MORE READILY ended up in their spam/unwanted mail folder. Most e-mail "spam" filtering is done on the basis of a demerit-point system. I would bet a pretty long arm, and maybe a leg as well, that NON-GMAIL communications are pre-set to trip the filtering system more easily. If YOU are writing to Gmail addresses from an "outside" address, make sure to remind (by phone or texto) the recipient to check their spam folder. That business proposal or final inheritance statement might just be over there.

Gee, no mail!

IT Security - No Laughing Matter

2019-10-15

These guys (Groucho and Chico here, two or the famous four-plus Marx Brothers) were GIANTS of American cinema. Witty, spontaneous (most of their work was ad-libbed) and tremendous masters of dramatic stage placement, camera angle, facial expressions, etc. This famous snippet (from their film "Horse Feathers") was irresistible, in this context. But now, on a more serious note, to clients and non-clients alike, PLEASE update your passwords regularly, and use a password-manager application to handle all your different choices. Resist ALL temptation to use the same one everywhere, unless you want to make a hacker's life, very easy and happy indeed. Every password should be unique, and (of course) include special characters, numbers, and upper and lowercase letters. Aim to have it at least a dozen characters long.

Groucho and Chico

True and Workable Diversity

2019-10-09

Riding the train back in from Geneva the other day, I saw spray-painted in bold affirmative letters on the side of a building, the words "Diversity is Power". Sitting in the restaurant car, sipping the last of my coffee, I thought "Yeah, of course. But isn't that obvious? Without needing to deface a building to say it? Is the person trying to convince us, or themselves?"

Walking home from the train station, I reflected loosely on things. The problem isn't with diversity, I thought, it is with trying to make separate little mobs out of each little community, sometimes resulting in some pretty despicable alliances, if we think back over the past century. Mobs are not a good way of getting one's own "diversity" out there. That's just the old (and fairly genetic) 'wish to belong' pushed to extremes. Nothing will ever replace genuine, sincere, mature discussion, even with our worst opponents.

Bravo Ellen. You are a gift to the world. Thanks for standing up for True Kindness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSZtjol7mJA

Ellen and George W. Bush - Oct 2019
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