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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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Lost scents

2020-03-27

Now, I am going to risk what might be a too-broad generalization, without huge penalty if I get it wrong. I will say this: I'll bet a dollar/franc that perfumists, or scentists, whatever perfume creators are called, are not really erudite computer users. One can understand this, of course, as their universe is one of magical, etheric mysteries, where the nose and sensory discernment apparatus stand first and foremost, with computer banalities lost somewhere in the distant background.

When I treated myself to a fresh bottle of my usual cologne, a month or two ago (a bi- or tri-annual thing at most as I use scents quite sparingly), the friendly saleswoman slipped a handful of testers into my shopping bag, while we were talking. I have no idea at all how she made her selection for me but thanks to her, I spent a few minutes when I returned home sampling and testing and sniffing the air in circles. Great fun.

One of those samplers was for a cologne created by the illustrious Mont-Blanc fountain-pen manufacturer. If Aston-Martin made writing desks, they would be equipped with Mont-Blanc pens: gorgeous, classy implements for decent, deserving scribes. I have no idea why they added eau-de-perfume and cologne to their product line but I admit that the little tester I received is quite a success. Light and joyful as a spring morning, yet serious enough to stand firm at a meeting full of dark suits. Not unlike another scent I wore a years ago, a surprising and praiseworthy revelation from (brace yourself) a famous pricey cigar manufacturer.

This Mont-Blanc eau-de-whatever deserves much success. The only iffy thing about it is its ill-chosen product name. Unawares maybe, some gilded and maybe famous scent assembler has just rejected a hefty community of computer connoisseurs, even before they had tipped a single nostril his way. They called their new perfume "Explorer"...

Windows 95 Explorer

Internal Combustion, External Conflict, Global Warming

2020-02-20

Talking with a friend yesterday, who shares my deep interest in technical things, from fine German engineering to Italian motorcycling achievements, the subject of solar panels came up. We were on our way back from the 2020 Zurich Motorcycle Show and next to gorgeous, handcrafted and race-tuned sportbikes, we had spotted a handful of electric motorcycles, all of them pretty ugly but politically correct.

There is still a fair amount of market activity, all around the world, over solar energy and renewables in general, but it seems odd that, somehow, there are solar panel companies going out of business, including some here in Europe. There has been an increase in political noise over the issue of global warming, Woodstock-style young demonstrations with thousands of people attending, but it seems a bit like the party and "let's belong to something" culture is not following through. The lifestyle changes that are needed are bigger than what most people are truly willing to face, when you ask some hard questions, as you try to catch them between EasyJet weekends in Prague, Madrid or London.

The transition is not going to be easy. And I will keep this news item short, as the latest figures suggest that all this web stuff, all those servers, all those Instagram, Tiktok, Facebook (yawn) and other "social network" posts are generating more greenhouse gases than the entire global airline industry. Who'd have thought that, when they turned on that first Apple SE or NEC Multisync in the 1980s? Now the tech giants are hoping to get us not only talking nonsense with just about everyone else, but also making conversation with our fridges, hairdriers and toasters. My own toaster is a Grundig, and my kettle is a Bosch. I am really going to have to brush up my German.

GT cars and glow-ball warming

Spotty Spots and Symphonifying

2020-01-02

Back in the day when I worked at an agency, one of my colleagues, a smart young guy who had grown up surrounded by Atari, Commodore and early Playstation devices, used to get a little flustered when I occasionally doused our collective workspace with classical music. At the time, I and a seasoned Polish graphic designer there, gladly brought our classical or gentler modern jazz (of the Garbarek, Brahem and Jarrett variety) recordings to the atelier as a side-dish to our color, form and code experiments for clients. On one occasion, our gaming coworker was open and daring enough to confide to us that the classical music sounded to him "like a sea of confusion or just a mishmash of noise" that somehow, got lost on his otherwise sensitive ear. At the time, I had simply said, "It's a matter of exposure, give it a little time."

Over the years, since then, as many of us went from early streaming services such as Last.fm over to Spotify, I often thought back on that little exchange of ideas with our colleague, regarding "classical" music. Individual attention-spans have been dwindling fast in recent decades, thanks to shorter and shorter sound bites and abbreviated ideas and opinions on the web, and I wonder what hope there might still be for full-length thematic works, not only in classical music, but in any other genre. People once bought vinyls with forty minutes or more of music meticulously assembled by visionary composers, from Bach to Mahler to Peter Gabriel, in creative acts not altogether different from the wholistic and longwinded efforts of a full symphony or a large-scale fresco painting. Designers, photographers and printers got the opportunity to work on gorgeous record sleeves in decades past, that often ended up in picture frames or pinned to some kid's best bedroom wall. Vinyl records are considered fashionable again, but is anyone still producing "concept" albums? And are the guy's friends so impressed that they aren't getting bored already, after just a few songs from the first side? And "What? There's two sides to this?"

While having lunch today, listening to the Swiss public broadcasting company's classical music service, I noticed how a wonderful clarinet concerto by Mercadante had been abbreviated to just its slow, saccharine movement, maybe selected by artificial intelligence software for its predominantly unchallenging qualities, guaranteed not to offend those unable to get their head around a concept longer than just a few minutes. I heard them broadcast only the slow movement of another one, by Carl Maria von Weber a while ago, and most sacrilegious of all, just the slow movement of Beethoven's Op. 61 Violin Concerto, played by Anne-Sophie Mutter, one of its very best recordings, chopped down for fast-food buffs. I guess it all began when magnificent, full-length operas cruelly got reduced to a famous three or four minute solo by a legendary tenor or another. Sure, even without any idea of what the story is about, the "mad scene" from Lucia di Lammermoor is a delightful aria, but all that emotion is driven by the remainder of the story.

Without wishing to bellyache or reminisce over an era that is unlikely ever to come again, I am attempting to find the good in all this. Fewer plastic CDs to recycle, maybe, less energy spent making them, maybe, the ability to live a full life without ever doing anything with any depth or without the stress of having too much of a global view?... Maybe. Maybe not.

Fragments of music 1
Fragments of music 2
Fragments of music 3
Fragments of music 4
Fragments of music 5

Your Smartphone's Backseat Dummies

2019-12-17

Congratulations. You are now the proud owner of one of the latest smartphone offerings on the market. Bright, shiny, pricey, smooth as a velvet glove in the palm of your hand and, well, already half-full of software you are never (ever) going to use. How in frigg did product purchasing ever come to this, in the "free" world?

Well, it has. Yet, how many of you are EVER going to edit a Word document on your phone, or be foolish enough to attempt the viewing of a massive corporate spreadsheet on that tiny device, no matter how fabulous its screen resolution? Not many. OK, maybe in an emergency, sitting across the table from Warren Buffett, you want to show him your promising corporate numbers. Maybe. But what if you have no plans for any of this, nor any use for those massive programs on a phone, should you NOT at least have the option to erase them, and reclaim all that space for your music, videos, whatever you like? What if you don't use Facebook, don't like being tracked by Google, don't appreciate the brash-and-trash Twitter ecosystem, and want to clean out that phone? No, dude.

I went searching the web yesterday, under "Linux mobile" and similar options. Hesitant and still-sluggish possibilities for doing away with restrictive, oppressive, invasive telephone operating systems (that mostly copied the cleverness of Linux/Unix anyway) but I couldn't find much. Yet. Still an excess of that numb-dumb consumer complacency that says OK to corporate anything, in exchange for convenience. Slowly though, ever-so-slowly, Linux is finding its way over there, as it should. Other people are seriously thinking outside the box that was pretending to be outside the box. Operating systems must become like plain, safe drinking water to the world, accessible resources with minimal risk, available to everyone in the name of decency.

Think about it, why should you or I buy (or rent) a car on the condition that we also carry the seller's grandma, son or house pet, as unremovable, unpleasant, bulky or sometimes smelly passengers? Why am I not allowed to uninstall all that Office-ey software from my phone, unless I root the device and lose my warranty? Food for thought in this Holiday Season, full of shiny smartphone purchasing. While you are driving around, do pass that phone over to that grandma in the back. And keep your hands on the wheel, for now. Soon, Google will be driving that too.

Uninteresting passengers 3
Unsollicited passengers 2
Unwanted passengers 1

Small business, big flavour

2019-11-27

Today's lunch was as close as it gets to having one's own little wood-fired smokehouse in paradise. Upstream, not far from where I live, a small family business raise exceptionally tasty trout in pristeen, river-fed ponds where any sane fish must wax poetic, from time to time. A gorgeous setting framed by sandstone cliffs dating back tens of millennia, riddled with forests, drama and danger. It's hardhat country during spring-thaw, and remain-all-ears the rest of the year. People inside the Gotteron Valley have seen some harsh, even deadly events, as long as they have chosen to call it home.

All that danger doesn't keep a delicate, inspired fish from growing up any less tender, I must say. Today's lunch, the very simplest that hurried and lazy folks like me often prepare, is a fitting reflection of this magnificent landscape and courage. Two fillets on a pretty porcelain plate, a raw carrot, the juice of half an organic lemon and 10-15 minutes of absolute bliss, accompanied by thinly-sliced toast prepared by a home baker with his own wood-fired oven, also in the same impressive valley.

It's got nothing to do with computing, design, coding or my bizarre musical experiments, but I think it belongs here. In many ways, it's the future of business: small, attentive, harmonious, gorgeous and, yes, like all small business ventures, with its share of dangers.

For a closer look - Pisciculture du Gottéron

Small business, big flavour
Feeding time, by hand, of course!
Buy it smoked, or grill it in the great outdoors!
The future of business, family-sized and in harmony with nature

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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