Sir Peter's taste for swan

Speaking of Scotland: I came across a reference to Udal law and feudal tenure in Scotland in an article in the University of Edinburgh Journal. This led me to this rather amusing article about Sir Peter's alleged felony to partake of the remains of a deceased swan (Monty Python, anyone?). I guess I'll never know whether Sir Peter actually did time in the Tower, but it certainly was enlightening to read about it. 

Exit Music

So then, this is it, allegedly - the last in the Inspector Rebus series. I am presently struggling with myself whether or not I should reveal any spoilers, since it doesn't really matter anymore. But then again, it does, so I won't. Suffice it to say that I am sad to see him go as he kept my relationship to Edinburgh alive - not that I'd had any to its underworld, mind you. I wonder whether Rankin will do a Reichenbach twist some time, or whether we will treated to a different angle maybe? But until then, let's give Rebus some space.


Playing around

Who the heck needs Photoshop when they can have Gimp (the free GNU Image Manipulation Program)? 

Granted, it takes a bit of getting used to when you use X11 for the first time, especially since it needed a bit of tweaking to run under Leopard, but everything seems to run just fine now. 


My phone

To my considerable regret and shame, I have to notify the world (or at least those parts that care), that I have resolved to change my mobile phone. From the introduction, you can safely deduct that my new phone is not an iPhone, at least not yet. I have reverted from the broken Nokia to an ancient Sony Ericsson T610. Amazingly, the difference in features& usability  between the T610 and the rather current 6280 is not as big as the T610's age would suggest. But you don't care about that, do you.

The reason why I didn't get an iPhone to hack was that I couldn't get my mitts on a $ priced item. The € priced ones are just not attractive enough, given the fact that firmware 1.1.2 is still tough to deal with. Then the French unlocked version is just priced to kill, especially considering hoping that there will be an updated version available for the Swiss market early next year. Yes, I know, hope springs eternal ...


London action

My recent short trip to London is already history, but I haven't recorded its proceedings for posterity, yet. So, here goes nothing ...

Seeing how the tickets for The First Emperor are sold out weeks in advance, I didn't expect to get one on the day, especially as I didn't exactly show up at 0900. But surprisingly, there were still some left! Thus I made sure to succumb to the current craze about everything Chinese. The exhibition is rather small, but very packed. What's most fascinating about it is what you don't get, i.e. the first emperor himself, who probably still rests undisturbed in his colossal monument to vanity.  

The other exhibition I saw deals with far more contemporary issues: Breaking the Rules in the British Library has for subject the highly creative period in European art before WWII. Unfortunately, this extraordinarily interesting period has been overwhelmed almost entirely by subsequent events and is hardly accessible to us anymore. It's a pity! The exhibition demonstrates in great detail how the movements of that period were not only relevant in places like Paris, Berlin and London, but also in more remote corners such as Belgrade or Wroçlav. Talk about globalisation. 

The night before that exhibition expedition, I indulged myself in some truly seasonal Musicke, i.e. Händel's Messiah with The Sixteen at the Barbican. While the execution was certainly flawless, and the Sixteen actually numbered eighteen, the evening somehow wasn't as exciting for me as it usually is. Sure, the hall rose to their feet during the Hallelujah (an endearingly insular habit), and there was much clapping at the end. Still - maybe it was just insufficient accoustic pressure due to the somewhat remote seating I got. 


Seeing Red

It is an exceptionally slim book, and a beautifully made one, too. But despite of its tiny format, its ambition is quite monumental: Seeing Red proposes a non-technical operational model of consciousness. Humphrey answers Joe King's emailed question: "Hello, my name is Joe King. I am severly disabled, 20 years old. I am 33 inches tall, 40 lbs, 47 broken bones and 6 surgeries. I have been concerned lately that when I die this crippled body might be all I have. My question is. Do u believe consciousness can survive the death of the brain? Is there good scientific evidence for this?" I am not going to be a spoilsport, but suffice it to say that Humphrey's answer is sufficiently clear.



There are not many smart commercials of which you will remember what they actually advertise. This is one of them - enjoy!


Quantum astronomy kills the cat!

Fascinating story, that! The naïve reader might even be forgiven for being reminded of the tree of knowledge and other biblical metaphores ...

Fear, engagement, transcendence

On a US trip a few years back, I read a text about Abraham Lincoln's clinical depression. This text occasionally still resonates today with me because of its empathetic description of a complex man who paradoxically depended on his clinical condition for superhuman strength. The article was published in The Atlantic, and it is now available online.


The best funeral in London

Weird! One is tempted to say, Only in England will you find an article about funeral directors in a leisure magazine like Time Out ...



On my recent London trip, I also went to see the Weapons of Mass Communication exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. This is a chronological display of propaganda posters from different countries for WW I & II, interwar Europe as well as for the cold war and the new world order. It is fascinating to compare the different countries' different approaches to the same thing, using an eerily appealing visual language. In fact, it's so fascinating that I got the book, too!

Speaking of books: walking past Waterstone's, I noticed that Ian Rankin's latest book, Exit Music, is already on half price sale there. So I bought it also. 

I ..... .. phone

Seriously! I didn't do it on purpose, but I broke my phone! Well, it's not entirely broken, yet. It just has a huge crack across the display, which gets bigger all the time. Nevertheless, I definitely need that iPhone now, although it's not even known when it comes to this peripheral market that is Switzerland. Probably I'll just get one during my next trip to the UK on 13 December, unless one of my resourceful readers happens to travel from the US to Switzerland before then, as the US version is considerably cheaper than the European edition ...


Enlightened romantics

That was fun! I am just coming back from The Night Shift, a concert of classical music with a difference, performed at the Royal Festival Hall. One of the key differences was that I felt distinctly old, seeing how the average age of the audience was probably below 30, and that with a programme of Schubert and Brahms! I am usually not that much into romantic music, but I was curious to hear the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment play. It was quite the experience. Nothing of the usual Germanic heavy-handedness and pathos, but transparent, precise and dynamic action that still transports the melancholy of Schubert's unfinished 8th symphony flawlessly. This is how I could find my way back to grand orchestral works, especially in such an informal setting as tonight. That'd be worth trying at home!


Intelligent Life no more

I am known to have advocated for Intelligent Life to become a regular periodical. That's why I have taken out a subscription when it did without double checking. Now that the first regular issue has been sitting around for some weeks (it's a quarterly magazine), I'm afraid I'll have to give it a serious thumbs down, especially in comparison with what it is deemed to be its direct competition, i.e. Monocle.

Whence the bad marks, you wonder? First, the layout is not particularly user-friendly. The following is probably not objectively true if you run the numbers, but the editorial content is somehow subjugated by advertisements. Then the typeface is overly artistic, with some of the titles written in a compressed font that is plain ugly. I think that even I could do better than that, and that's saying a lot! But what's worst is that the imaginative, novel content that I've been so fond of in the first two issues is simply no more. What happened to that, Mr Editor in Chief?? Admittedly, there's some good stuff, too. I was rather surprised at not having heard before of the great classical paino swindle perpetrated by the late Joyce Hatto in complicity with her husband William Barrington-Coupe. I could easily imagine this material to be turned into an entertaining feature film from the well written article alone. Also well done is the article about experimental cuisine I referred to earlier, even though you only realise what it's really about when you're already well into it - which is quite unfortunate when you're used to browsing. 

So, what to do? I'll give it a second chance, if only for the motto hedonism with its head on.


Panthera pardus

This is the first post written on my new iMac, running on Mac OS X 10.5, a.k.a. Leopard! I can happily report that it's a great experience - the new machine is extremely racy, and I certainly won't go back to the previous cat, either. Although the fact that I am already using Leopard is not exactly Apple's merit, as the Mac came with Tiger preinstalled. Ordering Leopard via the Up to date programme resulted in an ETA of 3 (three!) weeks! But luckily I have extremely understanding and helpful alternative sources to bridge over the transitory gap between felines ...


Experimental cuisine

I'm just back from watching Ratatouille, the latest Pixar chef-d'oeuvre with S & M, and we enjoyed it no end! I know I've been gushing about The Incredibles when it was hitting the screens, and I still am. But what's so amazing is how perfectly Pixar adapts its productions' style and general demeanour to the respective story line. Looking at the end titles, this does not come without an immense effort, of course. Yet, it's worth every minute of it - go see yourself! I particularly liked the creepily anemic food critic Anton Ego, who really comes to life thanks to Peter O'Toole's voice. Or the rather clever way in which synaesthesia is used to approximate flavour, and how it is replicated in demonstrating flavour to the little chef's dimwit rat brother. Probably too clever by half for those hacks who condescendingly deem this movie a rather touching children's film ...

So, while a Parisian high-end restaurant operated by a bunch of rats will certainly outdo every competition in terms of its experimental nature, I've been coming across experimental cuisine (a.k.a. molecular cuisine) time and again lately, not least in an excellent article in Intelligent Life. I haven't tried that way of preparing food, yet, but I certainly will. Often times, people argue against it because the highly sophisticated ways in which the culinary experiences are prepared arguably destroy the "natural form of the food". The best counter-argument to date comes from the article I linked to above: "What is cooking if not the craft of «destroying the natural form» of foods, and turning them into something better, tastier and safer?" Next time I hear someone argue against "molecular" food, I'll ask how they like their raw meat etc ...


Fruit matters

Yay! I just ordered a top of the range iMac (think 24", 2.8 GHz, 4 GB RAM, 750 GB HD) yesterday, and now I am auctioning my good old Cinema Display. How disloyal is that! No bids taken for the MacBook btw, I'll keep that around for my mobile computing needs.


Wise evolution

Here is an intuitively convincing essay which is meant to demonstrate the possibility of evolutionary systems despite of their counter-intuitivity. I like the style and the ambition (via /.).

Tales from the Emerald Isle

It's true, my blogging is getting lazy: It's over ten days that we've returned from the family trip to Ireland, the 1600+ pics have been distilled down to half that, about 250 of which have ended up in an iPhoto photo book (highly commendable!) which is already here, but I still haven't blogged about the trip in any detail. Given that I don't approve of the no time excuse as a matter of principle (it's always a question of priorities), I have nothing to hide behind other than that. Yet, here's Ireland redux in pictures.

Anyways, onwards to greener pastures, literally: Ireland is a fabulous destination for a family round trip. Here's the approximate route we took during our eight days. A word of caution is in order at this point: Don't be ambitious about the mileage you can do, many of the cross country roads are still charmingly scenic, which is a euphemism for narrow and somewhat bumpy, and don't rely to heavily on any one map. I brought my trusty TomTom, and yet we had to rely not only on C's navigational skills, but also on the occasionally rather epic directions of extremely helpful and friendly publicans. So, give yourself time - travelling Ireland is not a rushing matter. Also, make sure that you're fit: one of our drivers currently suffers from a herniation apparently contracted on the drive.

Our night quarters were, in order of sequence: Cabra Castle for one night, Dromoland Castle and Park Hotel Kenmare for two nights each, Waterford Castle and finally, Kilkea Castle. So, plenty of old stones, and yet, the experience was quite fresh everywhere. We were particularly surprised about the consistently high quality of the food everywhere - not to speak of the quantities. Obviously, the chefs cater mostly to Americans rather than French guests, even though the latter would hardly find anything to complain about, except for the over-priced wine list maybe. But then again, we were travelling with a wine expert, and Ireland is certainly not grape country. The altogether most outstanding experiences were to be had at Dromoland and Kenmare. Waterford shone with its Victorian infrastructure (sic!) and its high potential (meaning it has a bit of catching up to do), whereas Kilkea appeared a bit, erm, rustic?

Thus, we had a great impression of the spectacular beauty of the Irish countryside and its heritage. We did not get much exposure to modern Ireland and its contemporary culture, but that was not the purpose of the trip anyway. So there's something for next time, right?


How does it feel?

The New Scientist answers a question that probably everyone wonders about: How does it feel to die? Interesting!


Hello from Ireland!

Did I mention that I am currently staying in Ireland for a few days with a bunch of family? I can already recommend to stay here and here! At Cabra, do not forget to meet Oscar, the Irish Wolfhound castle dog - an impressive appearance!


William Hayes

After an all day strategy session yesterday, I went to the debut of Capriccio Basel's new CD with recordings of William Hayes, an English baroque composer and devotee of Händel. His music is radiant and imaginative, and yet, he does not have an English language Wikipedia entry! What gives?


Asia pics

Thanks to iPhoto '08, check out my new web gallery with the pictures from my recent trip to Singapore and Seoul! The things you can do with web gallery are neat, but it's a bit of a bandwidth hog ...


Interesting! Swiss / Lufthansa have started a partnership to offset carbon emissions from air travel. To offset the 342 kg of CO2 produced by my forthcoming trip to Ireland will cost CHF 11, for instance. A trip to London is CHF 9. Good stuff - never since the days of indulgences was a clear conscience attainable for less! Too bad that the indulgence cannot be added at the point of sales directly - that is going to be the next step in the sales cooperation, I guess.

Therefore, in the spirit of Sir Charles Napier's immortal pun, let's keep sining!


Welcome, Anna!

I'm still working on clearing the backlog from my recent trip. So, here's a big one - or, a small one, as the case may be: A big welcome to Anna Elenie! My nephew R.'s and his partner A's little girl has entered the stage on 29 August already. More pictures of her are available in my flickr account (check out the sidebar), and hopefully soon on a blog of her own.



Abbreviations are fun, are they not, and this mouthful, beyond all doubt, is the mother of all abbreviations! According to this, it stands for (translated) Laboratory for Shuttering, Reinforcement, Concrete and Ferroconcrete Operations for Composite-monolithic and Monolithic Constructions of the Department of Technology of Building Assembly Operations of the Scientific Research Institute of the Organization for Building Mechanization and Technical Aid of the Academy of Building and Architecture of the USSR. So, despite of being 56 characters long, it still entails a fairly decent abbreviation ratio of 5.54, which is better than NOPAT's 5.2, but worse than USSR with 7.75. Come to think, Russian words tend to be longer than English ones, so the homoglot ratio probably would be even better. (Thanks, RB!)

Rankings galore

If you are competitively minded, you will certainly be interested in the Economist's rankings repository. There you'll find a number of interesting rankings, from MBAs to operational risk. Eminently quotable ...


File Vault trouble?

I'm a bit paranoid about security, that's why I use File Vault on my laptop to protect sensitive (client) information. However, that might have nasty side effects, as I think I've uncovered. Let me quote my posting on Apple's discussion forums:
When travelling abroad, I've repeatedly encountered very serious system instabilities, involving the loss of application preferences, keychains and other vital system information. This was always easily recovered by restoring the backup back home. But naturally, the home backup is not really handy on the move ...
I think I've narrowed the cause of these instabilities now down to a combination of using File Vault and changing the time zone from the account that is protected by File Vault. Is anyone unfortunate enough to be able to confirm this, and might any expert out there have an idea about a plausible explanation and fix for this? Thank you very much!
Incidentally, the workaround (short of not changing the time zone) is changing the time zone in a user account that is not protected by File Vault.
I hope someone can comment on that. Meanwhile, don't try to replicate this on the move, and be sure to have a working backup!


A rising star?

Definitely! Having just touched down at Bangkok after a very pleasant flight from Seoul, I must say that Asiana is going to give the Singapore Airlines etc a run for their (much more) money! The A330-300 is very well laid out, the staff extremely polite & friendly (expect the experience to begin with a coordinated "all hands" reception bow while taxiing) and the food is good. So it's a thumbs up all around, followed by the pleasant surprise of being expected by two ground staff who whisked yours truly to the Thai Orchid Lounge on one of those obnoxious scooters to wait for the connecting flight.


First things first

The first thing to get in Singapore is an umbrella. Remember - it'll be cheaper when the sun shines! The first thing in Seoul is to make sure your mobile phone works with CDMA. You'll need it because apparently, they don't really have addresses in Korea. If you get a little local map together with your appointment message, then that's not just a nice gesture, but a bare essential!


Cheers from Seoul

So, my short trip to Singapore is history. The first impression of the place is one of a more formal version of California - which I like a lot! The formality certainly has to do with the echoes reverberating from British rule. I actually stayed in one of them - very recommendable! Being able to do your laps before breakfast in an olympic size outdoors pool in the heart of downtown Singapore is just great. Funny how the locals think you're crazy if you're swimming when it rains because they think it's "chilly": at about 30 degrees!

People seem to be extremely ambitious and business-minded. And when they're working in service, they're incredibly efficient and friendly. Smiles left, right and centre, which is a great change from Europe. Singapore, I'll be back. With less rain next time, hopefully! And maybe a bit better comprehension of Singlish, which I was occasionally struggling with.

My first trip on hallowed SIA turned out to be a little bit of a disappointment. Sure, the staff were just perfect, fully in line with what I said before, even in the eye candy department. But taken altogether, I think SIA Business doesn't deserve the premium it commands. Admittedly, my expectations were set by the trip down to Singapore on Swiss First, which may be considered as unfair. But somehow I got the impression that many people feel that SIA's business class is better than many firsts. That's far from true for Swiss' - I slept like a log!



It's a sad day. Just hours before my departure to the hitherto longest trip of my life, we had to decide to put down Bobby, our 16 years old dog. An open ulcer was just too much for her - and us. You were a great dog, Bobby, and you've instructed your successor well!

And now, I'll leave for Singapore until 30 August, and onwards to Seoul, for presentations in each city. I'll return on 7 September. Until then, my mobile phone gets diverted to the voicemail directly, which gets forwarded to my email, so don't worry if you cannot catch me immediately. More later ...


The best things in life ...

are free, they say. And they are probably right, as I am glad to confirm while listening to the second compilation of the Colonious Monk Collective. This is German rap at its best - full of funk, jazz and soul, just the way we like it.


Complete satisfaction at Stucki's

It's been almost three years that I've been there last, but apparently I need to go again very soon! Especially now that the best chef that I've ever encountered has received a glowing review in the Financial Times ("faultless"), which alludes to the rumour that the restaurant will soon obtain its second Michelin star. This will invariably hike the price tag, so ...


Anarchist!!! ... Cleaner!!!

This is cool! Katharina Zaugg, my former cleaner is becoming an outright star! She is an ethnology graduate and has her own operation, complete with cleaning school, publishing house (she has already published three books) and performances (where she is known to dance with brooms!). Today, she's had a big show on national public radio DRS 2 - you can listen in on it here. I guess I should have taken an equity stake in the early days ...



All is calm, all is Swiss

It would be a pity if you missed this unexcited travel essay about Switzerland in Saturday's Financial Times. Granted, it's stereotypical, but there's a grain of truth in it nonetheless.


Blogging against music taxes

The Swiss Supreme Court has upheld a decision to introduce a hefty levy on digital music players and HD recorders. The proceeds go to collecting societies, which then redistribute the leftovers (after admin) to artists. The levy will be substantial, and consumers will start paying it on 1 September, irrespective of whether they use the player for music they bought legally. This is grossly inappropriate.

The Swiss Consumer Protection is requesting your support to mount a political campaign in the Swiss Federal Parliament to change the law which allows for this nonsense. Please give your support by sending an email - just click here!

This blog campaign has been started at freilich. If you want to support it, just use the following code in your own blog to encourage your readers to protest:
<a href="mailto:mp3@konsumentenschutz.ch?subject=freilich.ch gegen Musiksteuer!&body=Sehr geehrter Herr Parteipräsident%0ASehr geehrte Frau Parteipräsidentin%0A%0AHiermit fordere ich Sie auf, das Urheberrechtsgesetz so zu ändern, dass Abgaben auf digitalen Abspielgeräten und Festplatten-Recordern nicht mehr möglich sind. Es liegt in Ihrer Hand, die Abgabe zu verhindern, die vom Bundesgericht aufgrund unklarer Gesetzeslage beschlossen wurde. %0a%0aBesten Dank für Ihr Engagement!%0aDer Absender" rel="nofollow">Mit zwei Clicks ist es schon getan!</a>


Drumming as martial art

Been to Basel Tattoo with C. yesterday night. What a splendid night it was! Especially the incredible performance of Basel natives Top Secret blew me away. Those guys truly redefine drumming as a martial art - see the video of their Edinburgh performance last year (mine wouldn't do it justice).

The only odd thing about the event was its closing, what with people standing up to sing the national anthem &c. To me, somehow that just doesn't feel right - our patriotism (or mine?) as a non-nation is not of the pathetic sort, it's more of the constitutional type, sans constitution for some ...


Quatorze juillet

What better way to while away a sweltering Sunday afternoon than going to the nicely air conditioned Fondation Beyeler to see the special exhibition about Edvard Munch which is on display for just another week? The exhibition assembles a great selection of works spanning all his life. And what an angst-ridden life that must have been - speak about inner demons. I was not aware that love, angst, death can be seen as a unity, but Edvard Munch clearly achieved that.

The previous evening was spent more unequivocally pleasantly. I've had C&R over for a nice barbecue that was started with a beautiful 1990 millésime and concluded with a much older Scotch to go with the fireworks to celebrate the French national holiday from the neighbouring French communities. A great evening that we vowed to repeat in following years.


Local news

Go check out local.ch! It's a very useful site if you're in Switzerland for it gives you a map based access to yellow and white pages as well as to events and classifieds. It's really useful and it works. Yesterday I was looking for a dental technician that I could visit on the way to the train station, and today I was looking for an unlisted hairdresser in Rheinfelden on behalf of my sister. Both worked perfectly smoothly. Oh, and it also displays blog posts from geotagged blogs from the map area. This is the Web 2.0 stuff that's really useful!

In other local news: My mom is currently in hospital to have both her knees replaced. She's had her second operation yesterday, and I am glad to report that everything went well. She's well on the path to recovery, which includes a few more weeks of hospital and rehab stays away from home. In order to make that easier on her, I gave her a digital picture frame today. It's a little TFT monitor that displays a slide show of all pics, movies & sound files that are on the memory card you plug into it. She's enjoying it a lot, especially since it contains literally hundreds of conversation starters. I tested a cheaper one before, but that was a bad experience: apparently buggy software, bad physical quality &c. I spent quite some time trying to get it running, whereas the Kodak one was just plug & play.


Urbi & orbi

One of the smaller things I took home from London was the July / August issue of Monocle, which is dedicated to an evaluation of the world's most liveable cities. The ranking of the 20 most liveable cities not published on the public site is as follows: Munich, Copenhagen, Zürich, Tokyo, Vienna, Helsinki, Sydney, Stockholm, Honolulu, Madrid, Melbourne, Montreal, Barcelona, Kyoto, Vancouver, Auckland, Singapore, Hamburg, Paris, Geneva.

While I am certainly glad to note that 2 Swiss cities made the cut, I am surprised at the bile expressed against Berne, the nation's capital. I am not exactly saying that Berne is a global metropolis - quite on the contrary. But if easy access to a long haul hub is such an important criterion as it is made out to be, then the metropolitan area of all of Switzerland should actually enter the competition, thanks to the country's small size. After all, Singapore is there, too, and some people are beginning to think of Switzerland as one big metropolitan area with a really huge natural park (the alps) in the middle. At any rate, I think I am not going to buy another issue of Monocle, because I am going to take out a subscription.

Speaking of cities & the world at large, I also stocked up on those new Wallpaper* Guides of the cities that I currently have an active interest in: Bangkok, Basel, London, Singapore. Great concept!

Obama for president? Yes, please.

In a recent conversation, I reserved judgment over whether I would support Mr Obama's candidacy until after having read his recent Foreign Affairs essay - as if anyone cared. I can now say that indeed I would. Mr Obama's foreign policy programme seems to be a well considered mix of hard action items while not forgetting about the softer repair operations in international trust & confidence necessitated by the current administration's dilettantism. Unfortunately he doesn't mention how this policy is supposed to be financed - it probably won't come cheaper than the unsustainable ongoing Iraq operation, which he proposes to conclude.

Live hypocrisy

There's really nothing much favourable I can say about spin events such as Live Earth. Not only were most participants quite hypocritical in their own answer to the call, other than jumping on a well prepared PR bandwaggon. What's more, the message promulgated by Messrs Gore et al is one of pathetic over-dramatisation. The planet needs no saving, nor does mankind as such. I don't contend that "we" are likely to run into quite a lot of trouble and pain in adapting to the changing environment, and that it may be reasonable to take mitigating measures now, but the missionary zeal in evidence does little to alleviate my suspicion that there is more to it than meets the eye: Politicians will jump at every opportunity to expand their own sphere of influence, even though the single most effective strategy would be one of a government-neutral increase of the relative price of fossil fuels. Politicians however are loath to hear the bit about government-neutral, of course ... they are part of the problem rather than of the solution.

In fact, I am wondering whether we're on the way to a carbon standard economy. This refers to the world currency system, as in gold standard, or the Bretton Woods system. Already today, the influence of one form of carbon (i.e. oil) on the global economy is very strong and may be seen as an alternative currency.

Anyway, arcane considerations such as that apart, I've come across a good evaluation of voluntary carbon offset programmes by Tufts University. I am glad to see that one of the recommended companies is Swiss MyClimate. Amazing that my forthcoming trip to Singapore for instance will release about 10 tons of CO2, the offset of which would set me back some €260. I need to consider my policy options.


Parallel worlds

Check out the rest of these excellent commercials for Parallel's virtualisation software, which I can highly recommend. The Coherence mode is kind of eerie, though!


Home for now

Now that I've returned from London before some stupid people seem to have tried in vain to start some fireworks in the central London neighbourhood that I usually stay in, I'll be grounded here for the next few weeks until my next big trip to the far east. Meanwhile, I am glad to relate that a picture of a Fortnum & Mason's shop window that I took on an earlier trip has been selected for an online travel guide. I'll be a photographer after all!

In other news, there has been a lot of talk about great change in London. At least, that's what a well established politician claims to put into place after having moved next door ... well, we'll see. A classic line by the Bard crosses one's mind, one admits.

Meanwhile, no signs of premature ihype have been spotted at the Regent Street Apple Store, even though it was as full as always. Nevertheless, I took advantage of the beginning end of season sales to indulge myself in some retail therapy. Among other things, I've upgraded my decrepit old Samsonite carry-on to a much better designed Tumi one. I've been enjoying the smart design of one of their backpacks for years now, and despite of the heavy use, it still looks almost as good as new thanks to the sturdy material it's made off. The new carry-on is just the same, and it's in silver grey, so I'll never be at risk again for grabbing any of the perfectly uniform black Samsonites from the conveyor belt. Simple pleasures ... just like the new jacket from Holland Esquire that I picked up at Liberty. I've never gotten my hands on garment that is as perfectly tailored as this for such a reasonable price.


My dog is nuts

Laika has taken to chasing jets lately. Whenever she sees (!) an aeroplane taking off from the nearby airport, she takes off like a rocket herself, racing at full speed towards the corn field which blocks her view across the meadow, then she turns left towards the brook where she catches another glimpse between the trees. After that, she comes back up again, completely exasperated & quite breathless. Now I'm worried that she might get lucky one day ...

Rebus and his Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh Journal has a great article about Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series of novels by Rod Johnson. Neither the Journal nor the article appear to be available online, which is a pity. But if you are into Rebus or Edinburgh, then you should have a look at this three pages piece since it offers a knowledgeable insight into the linkage between the novels and the city. Also, it made me think that it might be fun to bring Rebus into an episode of House M.D. ...


The final word

With the arrival of my lost luggage tonight, I can close the book on my 48 hours power trip to Washington on Lufthansa. The verdict is not favourable.

As I mentioned previously, the service is ok, but it lacks the certain panache that is required in a truely first class service. Just a few examples: They fill up wine glasses, of which there is only one size btw. Also, you may get champagne in a wine glass, even though the proper glassware is clearly available. Announcements are annoyingly loud, but the occasional background music is inappropriately muted so that you only get the faint din of the percussion. Not even the nice Van Laack gift polo and track suit will make up for that.

But all that is still bearable. Where it gets quite bad is where it really counts. My final connection on the way home was booked rather daringly, so when we run into the inevitable departure delay at Dulles, things became critical. From my earlier experience with Swiss, I expected at least the same level of service when it became apparent that it might just work in the final approach. However - nothing! Not only did I have to ask what was happening (there were only 3 FC passengers) rather than the crew would inform us proäctively. They virtually didn't know anything.

Eventually I was told that I was re-booked to a later machine, and that they didn't wait for connections. But nevertheless, I was told to ask the ground personnel, so obviously they weren't sure what was happening. Upon landing, there was no ground personnel at hand, and the transfer desk was helplessly clogged. So I decided to try and make it to the rather distant departure gate on my own devices in order to avoid an unplanned five hours interlude at Frankfurt airport. 'Lo and behold, I was lucky! The gate staff asked jokingly whether I had flown in, so evidently they knew about the delayed connection, and that's how I made it to Basle in time, without much help from Lufthansa - quite on the contrary, in fact. Naturally, my checked luggage only arrived tonight, but that's another story.

So, my experience travelling with the crane was well below expectations. I am looking forward to my forthcoming trip to Singapore on Swiss in late August. The trip to London on Tuesday (for three days) will be more of a commuting experience, compared to that.

Update (25.6.): I thought the book was closed on this, but it wasn't really. This morning, 24 hours after the fact, I received an SMS notification that my booking had been changed to flight LH 3812, departing from gate NULL. I might just have to review my German stereotypes ...


Across the pond

Thanks to a weekend meeting in Washington D.C., I had the opportunity of testing Lufthansa's First Class service today - on a miles upgrade, mind you. As you can see from the picture, the Frankfurt lounge is really great: stylish, spacious, quiet - everything the discerning traveller looks for.

But the key part is the flight, of course. This was the first time I flew on the upper deck of a 747-400. With its 16 seats and the secluded cabin impression, it creates a very clubby atmosphere. There's also a big difference in noise to the usual front seats in single deck planes. So, the travelling experience is very comfortable indeed. The staff was very attentive and friendly, but they weren't quite as smooth as the only other FC experience I've had to date - Swiss. Definitely not up to Swiss standards was the very Haute Cuisine (36000 feet). The fish was slightly overdone, the rest quite uninspired. I've had better. But let's see how they'll perform on the overnight flight back - I'll have the same crew apparently. Oh, and someone send the copilot to an English course! He's obviously able to handle an aircraft, but I am not so sure about polite English.



Looking for a suitable folder to hold my corporate accounts 2007 (yes, I know ...), I stumbled across a huge batch of comics that I carefully tore out of the Independent on Sunday back when I was living in Scotland in the early nineties. Considering whether I should scan them or throw them out (which I probably won't anyway), I looked for the stuff online and - bingo! Enjoy Peter Blegvad's Leviathan, an immensely dark humoured, weird & witty set starring a toddler who despairs of the world. Wonderful!



Arabs by Mark Allen is a concise (just 142 pages!), yet comprehensive & respectful portrait of the Arab people. Ostensibly, it is a very difficult task to paint a portrait of a group of people, let alone of an entire nation without falling prey to the temptation satisfying stereotypes. In this case, the deep personal involvement of the author during decades prevented that.

The book is structured in ten short chapters: In Search of Arabs - Blood - Religion - Community - Women - The Problem of Power - Politics - Modernity - Language and Signals - Outlook. Most interesting & enlightening are the chapters on Blood, Power, Politics and Language. The latter has been outright intriguing for me - or do you know the optative aorist? Thought so ... well, I am afraid that's about all I can say about the book, because to further summarise it is a futile attempt. The book appears to be quite irreducible. However, I wonder what people more knowledgeable than me about the subject matter think of it.


iPhone to come with GPS?

Have you already seen the new iPhone advertisements with which the launch date of 29 June is finally confirmed?

One of them promotes the hottest feature in my view, namely Google Maps. This is not new in itself, since it was part of the initial demo, but now the iPhone is advertised with it specifically, so it's for real, not just a feature preview. Now the only thing I am wondering about is: Does the iPhone know where it is, and if so, how? The obvious answer is that it has a GPS chip built in, but why hasn't that been mentioned anywhere? Or does it rely on GSM cell triangulation? I hope not, because that method's precision is inferior to GPS and depends on the topology of the network the phone is in just now. Thoughts, anyone?


Diary of a Greenhorn, Ch. 2

Here's another installment of nephew T.'s Playmobil western. It gets better from chapter to chapter! It's weird to recognise most of the voiceovers ...


Scientology & me

Well, not me personally, as I do not have any business with the devious & dangerous cult of Scientology myself, other than having lost a member of my extended family to its following. But you'll have to see the BBC's excellent eponymous documentary which tracks the unpleasant experience of the Beeb's John Sweeney when approaching Scientology critically. Up until now, I thought that, surely, urban lore about the cult's nature is overdone, but now I think it's even worse! Have a look at the list of celebrities associated with Scientology - I'll avoid their work going forward.

You can also watch the documentary in three installments on Youtube.


Quidquid agis

Quidquid agis, prudenter agas et respice finem.

This pearl of ancient wisdom was contained in the inconspicuous shell of an article about taxation. Thank you, Mr Frenkel!


Lest I forget ...

how I spent my birthday this year! On the way back from Moscow, I realised that I hadn't even blogged about it - shame! My blogging becomes too patchy these days!

Anyways, I was in New York for some business on the day itself. The evening was spent in pleasant company at the Jazzgallery, a tiny downtown Manhatten place which I picked for the programme (a local trumpet player with band whose name escapes me now). It turned out that their style was a bit too - shall we say - experimental for my liking, but then again, this is East Coast stuff, I really should have known. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of the place fully made up for the lack of swing, or at least for my inability to recognise it. The gallery is located in a benignly neglected, quiet neighbourhood on the first floor above a bar. It seats maybe 60 people, most of whom appeared to be from the local conservatory, and there seems to be an occupied flat in a cubicle just inside the gallery - very homely.

My birthday did not go uncelebrated, though. It was made up for with a few good friends on the Friday following my return from NY. There's only a rare selection of pictures available of the occasion on my flickr account.



Looking for Committology, I found this great collection of pretty serious committee work related laws - or not. Just don't ask why I was looking for committology ...


The Naming of the Dead

[no spoilers] I just finished Ian Rankin's latest Inspector Rebus story. I think this is probably Rankin's best Rebus, yet: Set during the 2005 G8 summit in Edinburgh, it feels entirely authentic and credible. We get to meet plenty of old acquaintances who have advanced in their respective lives in interesting and sometimes surprising ways. Even DI Rebus is not far from retirement, but he still has what it takes - to keep us captured. Exceptionally, and aptly keeping in tone with the title, this story has a certain depth to it without ever lacking in humour. There is even a literary side to it, what with the central rôle that my dearly beloved Ozymandias plays in the whole setup, incidentally without ever being fully quoted:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Perhaps you can imagine what Rebus' paraphrasing looks like - better still, read it up yourself. I am not sure Rebus did: he thought Ozymandias hailed from Australia.



Or rather GNOL - Grandnephews online! This is the latest addition to the tribe - Loris Emanuel, and he's already got his own blog - welcome, and way to go!!!


Genius in smalltown

Tonight's concert of the Charles Lloyd Quartett was a great preparation to get in the mood for my trip to New York tomorrow. Charles Lloyd almost paled in the presence of his incredible band, though. So, I need to check whether there are some more gigs after I come back - just glancing at the site, I see E.S.T. on 1 May!! Thanks to DRS 2 Kulturclub for the free ticket, anyway.


Fix this!

Check out this week's installment of the BBC's StoryFix, a weekly videocast. The bit about Imagine, a world where there is no news is fabulous!

Political analyses

Mr Fukuyama seems to have found his way out of the end of history quite well. Prospect has a great article about Identity & Migration which gives a lot of food for thought. So, he refers to Olivier Roy's Globalized Islam which seems to imply that radical islamism can actually be interpreted as akin to the Reformation. That's a tantalising thought, especially since many think that Islam's fundamentalist tendencies are due to its lack of something like an Age of Enlightenment - which followed the Reformation.

But that's not all - Mr Fukuyama also addresses the need for liberal European societies to strengthen their identity:
The civilisation of the European Enlightenment, of which contemporary liberal democracy is the heir, cannot be culturally neutral, since liberal societies have their own values regarding the equal worth and dignity of individuals. Cultures that do not accept these premises do not deserve equal protection in a liberal democracy. Members of immigrant communities and their offspring deserve to be treated equally as individuals, not as members of cultural communities. There is no reason for a Muslim girl to be treated differently under the law from a Christian or Jewish one, whatever the feelings of her relatives.
I fully subscribe to that, as to most of the rest of the article.

Secondly, I'd like to refer you to a great piece of contemporary Realpolitik, namely Containing Russia, by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko. Ms Tymoshenko seems to have a pretty level-headed, fair view of her country's titanic North-Eastern neighbour. Let's hope she will be in a position to put it into practical policy again soon ...


A Parisian in America?

Here's a rare thing: a useful review of one of French presidential candidate Sarkozy's (who would get my vote, for lack of a more reformist candidate) books in an American online magazine. American.com is quite good, btw!


To Russia, with doubts

I am glad to say that the preparations for my forthcoming trips seem to be coming to an end. In terms of effort, the trip to Moscow in mid May was certainly more strenuous to prepare than the trip to New York next week. I was not prepared for the paperwork required to get a visum to Russia: you need an invitation, proof of medical insurance, a physical slip as proof of payment of the visum fee ... what a hassle! Nevertheless, I hope that the Consulate will revert in time for the NY trip next week, ere immigration without a passport might turn out to be a bit difficult. Otherwise, NY is much easier to deal with: you only need to find a seat on a plane and a hotel that is not fully booked - both are equally difficult, it seems.


Nephews online

Not only has nephew #1 just published the first installment of his latest Playmobil western, but nephew #2 has also entered the blogosphere a few days ago already, and has dared to only tell me about it yesterday. The cheek of the boy! At least his motive is transparent: There shall be a vessel for the forthcoming addition to his little family. Good luck for that!

Laika Watch

Here's a two minute clip of Laika saving a stick from drowning.



That is the number of mail messages that Mail Scripts has identified as duplicates in my busiest mailboxes over the last 24 hours of hard work. They're all gone now. But there's still 23'309 left - the earliest message dating from 13 November 1997. I am guessing those duplicates were a direct result of diverse migrations of legacy mailboxes to new email clients, restored backups and other such sources of confusion. But I definitely prefer it that way round ...


Bunnies rule!

Tiki Bar TV gives us just enough time until Easter to study the intricate set of rules that is the drinking game of Bunnies. For a flawless, yet necessarily superficial documentary of the game's enactment, see the reel referred to above. But beware, some of the bunny related action is rather rude - watch only if of legal age! That disclaimer is provided for the benefit of our transpondal clientèle, which the Royal League of Bunnies (RLB) also refers to, somewhat disrespectfully - surely the same will apply to all non-English lookers-on:
"A competent game of bunnies should be played at such a pace that the casual observer is rendered mesmerised by the velocity of the action. Most commonly, American observers will be overheard expressing bemusement and disbelief at what they are seeing. As with cricket, the finer points of bunnies will forever remain mysterious to those from over the pond, due to their innate inability to comprehend such complex goings on."


No jerk policy

Appearances (and stereotypes!) can be deceiving: Here's a great piece from the McKinsey Quarterly about building the civilised workplace by enforcing a strict No Jerks-Rule. I am sure that lots of people who had exposure to McK would be surprised.

Old sins

One's not supposed to be ashamed of one's past, but the pictured proof of my juvenile poor taste, I am having a hard time being proud of. I admit to having been a fan of Peter, Sue & Marc, probably when they were in their Eurovision song contest heydays. Yes, that sort of thing that DJ Bobo is now doing his controversial vampire thing for ...


April Fool

Here's to the 50th return of the BBC's classic april fool's contribution. Apparently it worked very well back in 1957 - not anymore, I hope. Enjoy, particularly the accent!


From egghood to personhood

Somewhere on that journey, consciousness happens, according to Paul Broks' excellent review of Seeing Red. This is the best book review (in the format of a standalone essay) that I've read in a long time, and it's even got a cliffhanger! Have a go at it, and then I am sure you'll be in for its object, too (via virtual philosopher).

Btw, when did you order your first book online? My first traceable Amazon order happened on 11 August 1998: Paul Krugman's Accidental Theorist and Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma.


One more thing ...

If you like computer fruit, then you'll know the phrase: It's the sentence used by Apple CEO Steve Jobs to introduce a product surprise at the end of one of his keynote presentations. I think we might hear the following variation on the theme from Mr Jobs later this year: Oh, and one more thing - here's my successor!

Whence that outrageous allegation, now that we know about Mr Jobs' value to the firm? That's exactly the point. If Mr Jobs were to resign from Apple just like that, this would likely cause a considerable drop in the share price, ceteris paribus.

But I have a feeling that Mr Jobs his character is not one to allow for that assumption that everything else remains the same: he'll just change it thanks to his famous RDF. That's what's happening now at One Infinity Drive IMHO: Apple is being preened for an important change in the near future. The technology leadership in the No 1 strategic asset (OS X) is affirmed with Leopard, and its installable base is multiplied by the introduction of the iPhone, Apple TV and another thing that we don't know of, yet. Market demand for all these items will easily beat expectations and the Mac market share will expand, too, pushing the stock price through the roof. And then ... then we'll get that ominous announcement in a carefully orchestrated fashion so as to minimise the damage. I have a feeling that this is Mr Jobs' Grand Plan that goes well together with his dramatic persona. Remember, you've read it here first.



I am quite the sucker for new journals & magazines. That's why on my last London trip, I made sure to get a copy of the first issue of Monocle, Mr Brûlé's latest addition to the refined forrests market. At Waterstone's I was told that everybody was looking for it, but nobody had it since it was already sold out. Then I struck gold at Borders' ...

Monocle has a smart structure and caters to a like audience. Its contents is divided up under headings A B C D E. The design is surprisingly, yet sophisticatedly low key to the extent of appearing boring at first blush, and it comes in a handy, soft-cover bookish format. But it'll work its magic over time, I think. For the contents is definitely out of the ordinary with a wealth of unusual material spanning the globe. Let me just quote the instances where Switzerland is referred to, since that's what I know best. It starts with a small article about Porta Alpina, a project for a rather exotic type of train station in the alps. Then I just have to mention the article about the Ahmadinejacket, the first in a "series decoding power dressing [by looking] at the semiotics of Iranian President Ahmadinejad's man of the people look". When's the last time you saw semiotics used (without explanation) in a street journal?

Ok, next. Next is a portrait of the relevant components of the Coop chain of retail stores in Zürich. The Monoclists also did some shopping: they actually talk about underwear and Calanda aqua. But it gets weirder: There is a 12 page photo report about La Chaux-de-Fonds, a tiny Swiss town best known for its watch industry, Le Corbusier and Lenin's stay during the Russian revolution. Finally, the website also contains a small guide to Geneva. All in all, the selection of topics, items and locations is always a bit quirky, but interesting, and everything is well researched. I'll take out a subscription, I think.

P.S. Don't forget to check out the video section. Priceless.


Turkish delights

It's already a few days that I've returned from my second trip to Istanbul within a couple of weeks, but I've been kept from blogging about it. While in the Istanbul Hilton, I had an inexplicable (or so it seemed) corruption of all my system preferences on the laptop. Thanks to the trusted backup, that could later be restored without difficulties. But then I remembered that the same thing had happened earlier in Athens where I also stayed at a Hilton. The common factor most likely is the fact that I left the machine running overnight while connected to the web via Swisscom Eurospot, a disgustingly expensive hotel ISP which apparently somehow messes with my machine's preferences. Rest assured that I am not going to take that risk again.

Speaking of risk taking - I have a funny little story to tell about my close encounter with the Istanbul underworld. I spent the Sunday evening walking the town before meeting up with friends later. So, this regular looking guy asks me something in Turkish, to which I respond in English. Turns out he wanted to know the time, and he's a stranger, but frequent visitor to Istanbul by the name of Ali. We strike up a conversation during which he shows me around. A bit later, we decide to have a drink at a place he knows. Hmm, funny, I think, but ok, let's go.

Not long after sitting down at a table at this place "friend" Ali knows, we were being joined by two very blond, very curvy Russian ladies who developed a healthy appetite for the local bubbly. At that point, all my remaining warning lights went off and I asked for the bill. Not really surprisingly, the tab already stood at 2'340 Lira (EUR 1'270). What came next really took me by surprise though, and that was my reaction: I remained rather cool and asked for the police because there was no way I was going to pay. Naturally, our friendly ladies quickly cleared away, and the room's atmosphere turned distinctly unfriendly. Equally naturally, the manager was disinclined to call the police, nor did I have the local emergency number. Thus, the negotiations commenced.

I offered to pay 400 for the wine and firmly stuck to that offer, knowing full well that I didn't have more than 70 with me. That wasn't satisfactory of course, especially since "my friend" Ali offered to take half the bill. When I still wouldn't budge, he finally switched sides and started boasting his boxing prowess and mafia relations, to which I responded in kind (karate & bankers!). After about half an hour of this back and forth haggling, the manager became increasingly nervous and finally took me up on my offer. When I disclosed that I only had 50 in cash, he suggested to escort me to the next ATM as he wouldn't take credit cards for the remainder (why's that, I wonder ...). But once we were outside (he all by himself), I decided that I'd had enough and bade him farewell, not without shaking hands, and swiftly made it to the next cab.

In the end, that little adventure only cost me 50 Lira, and I learned a lesson or two along the way. On the one hand, I am rather pleased with the brazen way I negotiated myself out of that mess, on the other, I am not very happy about having gotten myself into it in the first place - it could have ended much less satisfactorily. I'll be more careful next time. There will be a next time for sure, as this could have happened everywhere, and Istanbul really is a fascinating place, you can take my word for it!



Fun! I just discovered this newish gossipy blog about Schönenbuch, the place where I happen to live. The blog is called ant after an old nickname of the village used by our neighbours - must have been the villagers' proverbial industriousness ... I wonder who the blog belongs to, and how long he will be able to maintain his anonymity. Good luck, and keep up the good work!


Global warming

What with the raging debate about man made global warming and all its derivative industry pro & con, I am still trying to get my head around it, although I must admit that I am growing increasingly weary about the blatantly partisan direction that the debate is taking. Channel 4's The Great Global Warming Swindle takes a refreshingly contrarian position: it not just questions the economics of counter measures (it barely does, in fact), but it goes so far as to question the received wisdom that global warming is scientifically proven (yes, yes ...) to be man made. It offers alternative explanations for unquestioned climatic variability (unsurprisingly, the sun), plus a set of more or less obvious conspiracy theories. Well worth watching for every open minded contrarian.


Cracking the Oyster

Perfectly in line with Mr Butt's advice that the oyster is unseasonable in all months that do not have a letter R in their name, I have used my new Oystercard for the first time this morning. By which information you can safely deduct that I am in London again - until Thursday.

P.S. What's really great about it is that it's available without a UK address, thus for tourists and other London travellers. And that's a good thing seeing how the rates for individual trips have been hiked. It's not completely thought through, though, in that you do need a UK address to register the card to protect it against loss and top it up online.


An iPhone for Smaran!

The buzz is on again! Probably recycling contact information from the WSJ article, the Times has its own article featuring Smaran, this time placing him as an opinion leader on all things Apple. If he plays his cards right, he might just be one of the first people to get a (free) iPhone on the subcontinent!


My first video blogpost

... would invariably be starring Laika. This dog is beginning to mimick its master's liking for water.

Peter Doig

I came across this striking picture by Peter Doig in a newspaper article, and it seems to be stuck behind my retina ... in German, we have the expression Ohrwurm (earwig) which refers to a catchy tune, but includes an annoying quality. I wonder whether there is a similar term for the comparable visual effect - I know now that it exists! You get the impression of an almost naturalistic quality of the picture (with a bit of Monet's clarity thrown in), but it is not, of course, because of what almost seems like a chromatic shift - which again, it's not. Very annoying, and fascinating!


Macs are cheaper!

Stuff like that makes the economist's heart rate go faster - great work! Apple Matters has an interesting piece about Mac resale values which shows the actual fair value depreciation on Mac laptops, based on ebay prices. For a three years old laptop, you still get to recoup some 40% of its purchase price. This is exceptional, seeing how our tax depreciation allows for up to 80% in the first year!

This should be proof enough that the old stereotype that Macs are expensive couldn't be further from the truth. And I am not talking total cost of ownership (which, if done right, would actually include resale value unlike in this example), although that would be the proper metric, but only cash out/in when you buy and sell your machine. Given that Macs cost about the same as your garden variety PC for comparable configurations nowadays, it's safe to say that Macs are cheaper.


Ian Richardson

I only just heard about the sudden death of Ian Richardson this morning. What a pity! He was one fabulous actor, capable of out-acting his fellow stars with the merest nudge of an eyebrow, as Philip G comments so appropriately. He will be most fondly remembered for his rendition of Sherlock Holmes, and for giving live to the modern day Machiavelli, Sir Francis Urquhart in the BBC production House Of Cards - one of the most prized pieces in my DVD collection.

A new Cold War?

Mr Putin's recent speech at the Munich Security Conference seems to have caused a bit of unrest in the corridors of power worldwide. Talk of a new cold war abounds. Is it justified? Only time will tell, of course. Meanwhile, have a go at the speech - it is very oddly disparate in my view, so much so that some substance must have been lost in translation, I suppose.


Buzz wizzards

The Wall Street Journal offers an interesting insight into how social bookmarking sites work. The article came to my attention thanks to Smaran, an online friend and frequent commentator on this blog who is justly proud to be featured as an influencer in that article. Congratulations - way to go!!


The right attitude to rain

What's a crime story where the only crimes committed are theft (a sausage & cheese stolen by the fox in residence), suspected arson and - almost, but not quite - murder by failure to render assistance? Why, the latest masterpiece in the Isabel Dalhousie series, of course!



Of all the Get a Mac ads, the Vista security one is the best one yet! It pokes fun at what is allegedly the most annoying "feature" of Vista, namely its hallowed security. Perhaps, Mac fanboys and -girls will start saying allow now rather than ok. At any rate, I am sure Mr Gates will be livid.


Free the classics

On the occasion of its 50th anniversary, my classical radio station of choice DRS 2 offers a full album's worth of fine chamber music by Schubert, Schumann, Mozart & Dorati for free legal download. Get it while the offer lasts!


Collective autism

Just back from watching Babel with A. If you're not familiar with the biblical background of the tower of Babel (near Baghdad, as it happens), then you need to familiarise yourself with it before seeing the movie. It's an allegorical piece about the current state of the world with its globalised acts of collective autism and unnecessary hysteria. While an irrelevant news item randomly spreads around the world like wildfire, those who suffer from it lastingly are the innocent small people.

Babel is an annoyingly well crafted, politically correct conversation piece for your next penthouse dinner party. 'nuf said.


His last journey

Reading obituaries for the late Ryszard Kapuściński reminded me of the one book of his that I've read: Meine Reisen mit Herodot (Travels with Herodotus, which is not yet available in English, it seems).

Kapuściński tells stories of his many trips to Asia and Africa as a foreign correspondent, starting in the 1950s. In a wonderful illustration for the synchrony of the asynchronous (Ernst Bloch), he juxtaposes those stories with his reading of the reports of the first known "modern" historian, namely Herodotus. His colleague's method of 24 centuries back was to collect stories and memories of past times on his long journeys all over the known world, and to record them faithfully - just the way Kapuściński does. In both streams of narrative, there is at least one common denominator: humanity.

Writing this, I note that I seem to have taken to travel literature of sorts lately. While Pamuk's Istanbul admittedly stays in one place, it recalls that place's journey through time. The Art of Travel on the other hand may be categorised quite unequivocally. But there is even more in the To Read pile of books ... so I guess that commits my travelling firmly to the armchair variety. Which is of course much more environmentally friendly than any other kind of trip.


Imperial melancholy

Ironically, it was on the way home from Athens that I finished reading Orhan Pamuk's (*1952) celebrated book Istanbul - Memories of a City. I can tell you without exaggerating that this is the most absorbing book I've read in some time. It is an autobiographical record of the author's youth & coming of age in a city torn between the memories of past imperial grandeur and its somewhat dingy & peripheral present. The pervasive mood is that of hüzün, or melancholy, that is a consequence of this contrasting experience, combined with modern Turkey's thrust towards westernisation.

If the English translation (Maureen Freely) comes even close to the original, then the language alone truly deserves of the Nobel Prize. Pamuk's prose is rich, dense & precise, yet descriptive to the point of being voluble. Unfortunately, careless editing disturbs that favourable picture too often.

For me, this book offers important insights into modern Turkey's Befindlichkeit, at least so far as that of its urban, westernised elite is concerned. Anatolia is virtually absent from Pamuk's book, whereas predominantly French authors & artists appear to have had a downright formative influence. It is a revelation to observe the apparent impact of the decline of the Ottoman empire on everyday life, even half a century after the fact. My theory is that this may be due to the relatively early & painful loss of an old empire following WWI, which evidently was an extraordinarily traumatic experience compared to that of other European "competitors".

Highly recommended reading! I am looking forward to seeing Istanbul again with new eyes in March.


Here's me in an early display of heroic gallantry, protecting my little niece Lili against the fearsome beast that was our first dog Prinzli.


To Hydra by hydrofoil

Following a friend's recommendation, my first conference-free day in Athens was spent out of town: I took the hydrofoil to get to the Aegean Mirtoan island of Hydra. That was two firsts rolled in one: I never rode a hydrofoil before, and I never was on a Greek island either. Hydra is very scenic, but the claim that there are no cars there is a sham - I saw them! All three of them ... nevertheless, apart from garbage disposal, everything else is transported on donkey's backs. Not that anything else would be possible, given the extreme narrowness of the "streets". So, I just spent a pleasant few hours walking about, taking pictures and having an excellent lunch of freshly caught squid & greek salad (what else?) at the Ostria Café. My new Shuffle was providing the soundtrack all along, and still is after more than 12 hours on a single charge!

Tomorrow will be dedicated to sightseeing (Akropolis, here we come!) / shopping, and on Sunday, the Monastiraki flea market will have caught my attention before I have to leave this great place again.


Pappenheimers Propaganda

Ein Gespräch mit bedrohten Wörtern

In den stillen Winkel eines antiquierten Buches hatten sich Pappenheimer und Pfennigfuchser verdrückt, als ich sie zuletzt traf. Gleich beim ersten Lesen machten sie einen niedergeschlagenen Eindruck; gaben ihre Depression auch sofort zu. «Traun!», riefen sie unisono, und da ich verständnislos guckte, schob Pappenheimer vorsorglich eine Übersetzung nach: «Fürwahr!» Meinen Kommentar, auch diese Wortwahl töne ziemlich altertümlich, quittierte er mit einem Seufzer. Er wies hinüber in die Abteilung G, wo die Kollegen Grisette, Galan und Gendarm aschgrau auf dem Boden hockten. Irgendwie angestaubt sahen sie aus. «Das ist ja unser Problem», meinte Pappenheimer. Kaum jemand benutze sie noch. Zwar seien sie viel distinguierter im Munde zu führen als die neudeutschen Äquivalente, doch dürfe man sich nichts vormachen: Sprachsoziologisch betrachtet, seien sie schlimmer dran als das abgehängte Prekariat. Ein Dasein ohne Perspektive. Wiederbelebung ausgeschlossen.

Mein aufmunternder Hinweis auf die jüngste Initiative des Sprachdenkmalpflegers Bodo Mrozek verfing nicht. Seit Mrozek in zwei Bänden sein «Lexikon der bedrohten Wörter» vorgelegt habe, fühle er sich wie endgültig eingesargt, knurrte Pappenheimer. Und dann noch dieser öffentliche Wettbewerb im Internet, bei welchem bis Ende Februar jeder hergelaufene Naseweis einen unmassgeblichen Vorschlag für ein bedrohtes Lieblingswort einreichen könne. Ihm sei ganz blümerant zumute, wenn er sich auf jener Liste stehen sehe, eingezwängt zwischen Pantoffelheld und Pappenstiel, und im weiteren Umfeld gesäumt von ephemeren Szene-Ausdrücken wie «Pogo» und «Popper», die doch, mit Verlaub, in eine ganz andere Liga gehörten. Einen Redaktor der «Süddeutschen Zeitung» habe er kürzlich auf diese Missverhältnisse hingewiesen, fuhr Pappenheimer, ein Grinsen unterdrückend, fort, und dieser sei denn auch entschieden kritisch mit der Website www.bedrohte-Woerter.de ins Gericht gegangen, habe die Betreiber ob ihrer Taubheit für Nuancen gerüffelt und Falschmeldungen wie das zwar in seiner Bedeutung veränderte, aber gewiss nicht gefährdete Allerweltswort «geil» angeprangert.

Ob er derlei nun auch von mir verlange, wollte ich wissen. Pappenheimer blickte verschmitzt. Die NZZ gelte doch als gebildetes Blatt, meinte er mit einer Wendung ins Vertrauliche. Was ein Ceterum censeo sei, wisse ich dann ja wohl. Sollte mir wirklich daran gelegen sein, ihn nachhaltig aufzumuntern, dann müsse ich eben künftig im Feuilleton den Cato geben. Nein, nicht um zur Vernichtung der Neologismen aufzurufen, welche heuer die alten Wörter von ihren Plätzen verdrängten. Das sei völlig zwecklos, denn die Wörter änderten sich ja auch deswegen, weil sich die Welt verändere. Andere Dinge, andere Namen. Aber jemanden wie ihn gebe es immer. Wenn ich nun jeden meiner Artikel mit dem Ausruf «Ich kenne meine Pappenheimer!» beschlösse, sei das für mich völlig ungefährlich, für ihn aber eine grosse Hilfe. Er sah mich drängend an. Ich schlug das Buch eilig zu.

Joachim Güntner in der NZZ.


Karl Kraus on the web

"... das beabsichtigte Einspinnen des Erdballs in ein Netz elektrischer Wellen ist ein so verlockendes Phantasma, daß es, zur Wahrheit geworden, als eine Großthat überquellenden Erfindergeistes bezeichnet werden müßte."
Professor Victor Loos in Fackel #130, p. 10f., 1903; login using bla_bla / p5JPV6Pri


The wait is over ...

Wait, no, it's only just begun! Apple has just presented The Phone 2.0, or rather the iPhone (roll over, Cisco!). This is the phone to end all phones - Apple has truly reïnvented this ancient device. It may be a bit on the large side, but it's all screen, no keys / buttons. Everything touchscreen, and it runs OS X! Oh wow - stop me gushing. The thing has 5 hours talk time, is a widescreen iPod with 8GB (music, video, photos), sports GSM Quadband, EDGE, WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0 and it kills every Blackberry within shooting range. Did I mention that it runs OS X, a multitasking desktop UNIX OS? And it costs next to nothing, especially seeing how I stocked up on AAPL options last week ... the only bad thing? It's going to be available in Europe in Q4. So, the wait has only just begun.


Lumberjack h.c.

For some inexplicable reason, chopping wood is one of my preferred manual activities, so I chopped away this afternoon. Aye, this was all my doing!


A classless society ...

Lufthansa certainly ain't! In fact, they have a myriad of booking classes that reminds one of the Indian caste system, and it's equally despicable. If you buy a deep discount ticket from Swiss, which is now part of Lufthansa, then you're akin to a jet set dalit: there's no way to get an upgrade.

For my future reference, here are the booking classes that do not allow Miles & More upgrades within Europe: X / T / E / L / I. For intercontinental flights, the same applies to classes X / W / E / T / I. Incidentally, these are subcategories of economy class. The eco ticket in V class that I booked yesterday for my trip to Athens in two weeks' time fortunately allows for miles upgrades.

Quirky pleasures

Food posts are anathema to blog critics, but I don't care much about them, so I keep them coming occasionally. Also, there's the food tag introduced with this post. Speaking of tags: you may have noticed those creeping up here lately - the reason for that is that I finally was allowed to switch over to the new version of Blogger. This was a bit of an issue because my blog is not hosted on blogspot, but that works now. Since blogger now offers custom domains, I have another decision to make.

But back to the food post: I've extended my foray into English wines, hence the title. We've tasted the Chapel Down Pinot Noir 2003 in combination with a raclette. To everybody's surprise, it turned out to be a rather pleasant, light wine! Obviously expectations were not exactly excessive, but they were matched. Nonetheless, I don't think I'll go through the pain of buying it at Fortnum & Mason's & bringing it back home again ... it was just a quixotic experiment that earned a few good laughs. There's still another bottle of white Chapel Down in the fridge, waiting for the next occasion. Maybe I'll play this album that I just downloaded from Magnatune.

Oh yes, before I forget: Happy New Year!