Tuesday Jan 12, 2010

Food Envy - a short silent comedy

This weekend I went to a birthday party in Berlin, where one of the guests presented this very short (5 min) Laurel and Hardy style movie he shot on super 8 film a couple of years ago with his friends. I convinced him to put it up on youtube. Here it is for your enjoyment:

As it happens the day before I had been discussing the relation between jealousy and envy, two emotions that are often confused. The Wikipedia article on Envy, confirms the widespread nature of this misunderstanding. Whereas envy is an emotion relating two or more people and an object, jealousy involves three people and a shifting relationship between them. In this film the object of envy is the food, and this film very clearly illustrates what envy is. We all remember such episodes from our childhood I bet. It would be fun to do a film like this on jealousy, and all the other emotions...

Saturday Jan 09, 2010

Mr Security: patrolling public spaces

Mr Security is a brilliant piece of performance art exploring with seriousness and humor the fast encroaching surveillance society growing in our midst and in our souls. The product of their work consists in realistically crafted PDF security marketing material (in German and English), in which they describes the team's security performances, which consist in watching public spaces and documenting the reactions to it.

A very telling example is the very short surveillance of the street around the American Embassy in Berlin. After taking a few pictures of the street a few police officers arrive. The dialog is noted as:

POLICE OFFICER 1
Excuse me, please put your camera away. Hello young man, did you hear me?
POLICE OFFICER 2
Hello. Do you have some identification?
MISTER SECURITY
Yes!
PO 1
Why are you taking pictures of us here?
MS
I'm observing
PO 1
Who?
MS
The street.
PO 1
Why?
MS
For Security.
PO 1
Oh!? Where are you from?
MS
Private security service.
PO 1
Where are you from? Your badge doesn’t help us at all. Where are you from?
MS
What do you mean, where am I from?
PO 1
Well, where from? A security service? Who?
MS
Here, Mister Security!
PO 2
Young man, please take your hands out of your pockets! I feel happier that way. What security company do you work for?
MS
Mister Security, private security service!
PO 2
Yes, and your area of operation is the American embassy, or what?
MS
Private security reinforcement.
PO 2
Oh!
PO 1
For what? For who?
MS
For public safety.
PO 2
Who hired you?
MS
The public itself!
PO 1
Oh! Let’s get this straight, it’s not entirely clear what you’re saying here. Let me tell you what I think. I don’t buy this private security service story – look at your shoes. They look like my last pair of work shoes, to be honest. I don’t believe you’d be dressed like that if you were working for the public.
MS
There’s not that much money in the private sector anymore!
PO 1
Well, I’d have thought your employer would provide you with what you need.
MS
I have to see to my clothes myself.
PO 1
No, really, this is not okay!... What’s on your film? What kind of a camera is that?
MS
It’s not switched on. It’s a digital camera, but as you can see, it’s not turned on, look – nothing!
PO 1
Okay! Well I do want to get clearance here. We’ll have to inform the sector. And I’m going to ask you to wait so that we can be sure about your identity. You can stand under the shelter here, that way you’ll stay dry. This’ll take a few minutes.
PO 2
Are you a one-man business?
MS
Well, it’s not that big yet – but I’m trying to grow.
PO 2
How did you get this commission and who gave it to you? What assignment are you working on?
MS
I am not at liberty to say!
PO 2
Oh, you’re not at liberty to say?!
MS
I think it’d be a good thing if there were more surveillance.
PO 2
You do?
MS
You need reinforcements here. It’s not enough that you’re here with just three people on this side.
PO 2
Oh! And where do you see the security problem?
MS
Yes, well you could have twenty well-prepared guys come and run right past you here!
PO 2
Right, and what do you want to do about that, if I may ask? Perhaps we could exchange some ideas?
MS
Yes, that’s exactly the issue. We’re working for several embassies right now. We’re revising the security concept, which we’ll then introduce personally.
PO 2
Right! Great! And the private sector will deal with it then?
MS
Exactly! It’s cheap and effective!

You can read about the continuation of this conversation, and others involving a number of different actors (including anti-fascist demonstrators, for example) in their PDF.

Mr Security presented his work in detail at the 26th Chaos Computer Congress "Here be Dragons" in Berlin on 27 December 2009. There he revealed how the camera's sound had in fact continued to function during the whole conversation. What does not appear in this PDF is his later experience going to the US, where he received a stipend at a New York art institute. On appearance of the FBI to the studio he was promptly ejected by his artist colleagues who clearly lacked the courage (see my recent article on "After Virtue") to support him. Not that surprising perhaps given the extraordinary high amount of people in US jails, with 3.2% under direct police surveillance at any one time.

Can one still have a democracy in such an atmosphere of fear? If yes, then for how long?

Friday Jul 24, 2009

How to write a simple foaf+ssl authentication servlet

After having set up a web server so that it listens to an https socket that accepts certificates signed by any Certification Authority (CA) (see the Tomcat post), we can write a servlet that uses these retrieved certificates to authenticate the user. I will detail one simple way of doing this here.

Retrieving the certificate from the servlet

In Tomcat compatible servlets it is possible to retrieve the certificates used in a connection with the following code:

import java.security.cert.X509Certificate;
protected void doGet(HttpServletRequest request, HttpServletResponse response)
             throws ServletException, IOException {
       //...
       X509Certificate[] certificates = (X509Certificate[]) request
                       .getAttribute("javax.servlet.request.X509Certificate");
       //...
 }

Verifying the WebId

This can be done very easily by using a class such as DereferencingFoafSslVerifier (see source), available as a maven project from so(m)mer repository (in the foafssl/ directory).

Use it like this:

  Collection<? extends FoafSslPrincipal> verifiedWebIDs = null;

  try {
     FoafSslVerifier FOAF_SSL_VERIFIER = new DereferencingFoafSslVerifier();
     verifiedWebIDs = FOAF_SSL_VERIFIER.verifyFoafSslCertificate(foafSslCertificate);
  } catch (Exception e) {
     redirect(response,...); //redirect appropriately
     return;
  }

If the certificate is authenticated by the WebId, you will then end up with a collection of FoafSslPrincipals, which can be used for as an identifier for the user who just logged in. Otherwise you should redirect the user to a page enabling him to login with either OpenId, or the usual username/password pair, or point him to a page such as this one where he can get a foaf+ssl certificate.

For a complete example application that uses this code, have a look at the Identity Provider Servlet, which is running at https://foafssl.org/srv/idp (note this servlet was trying to create a workaround for an iPhone bug. Ignore that code for the moment).

Todo

The current library is too simple and has a few gaping usability holes. Some of the most evident are:

  • No support for rdfa or turtle formats.
  • The Sesame RDF framework/database should be run as a service, so that it can be queried directly by the servlet. Currently the data gathered by the foaf file is lost as soon as the FOAF_SSL_VERIFIER.verifyFoafSslCertificate(foafSslCertificate); method returns. This is ok for a Identity Provider Servlet, but not for most other servers. A Java/RDF mapper such as the So(m)mer mapper would then make it easy for Java programmers to use the information in the database to personalize the site with the information given by the foaf file.
  • develop an access control library that makes it easy to specify which resources can be accessed by which groups of users, specified declaratively. It would be useful for example to be able to specify that a number of resources can be accessed by friends of someone, or friends of friends of someone, or family members, ....

But this is good enough to get going. If you have suggestions on the best way to architect some of these improvements so that we have a more flexible and powerful library, please contact me. I welcome all contributions. :-)

Wednesday May 20, 2009

You are a Terrorist!

Every country in Europe seems to be on the verge of introducing extremely powerful legislation for state monitoring of the internet, bringing us a lot closer to the dystopia described in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty Four. Under the guise of laws to help combat terrorism or pedophilia - emotional subjects that immediately get everybody's unthinking assent - massive powers are to be given to the state, which could very easily be misused. As internauts we all need to make it our duty to follow very closely these debates, and participate actively in them, if we do not want to find ourselves waking up one morning in a world that is the exact opposite of what we have been dreaming of.

Germany

In Germany a new Data Retention law passed already it seems in 2008, allows the state (quote)

to trace who has contacted whom via telephone, mobile phone or e-mail for a period of six months. In the case of mobile calls or text messages via mobile phone, the user's location is also logged. Anonymising services will be prohibited as of 2009.

To increase awareness of this law Alexander Lehmann put together this excellent presentation, with English subtitles, Du bist Terrorist!:

Du bist Terrorist (You are a Terrorist) english subtitles from lexela on Vimeo.

France

The passage of the hadopi law in France, will create a strong incentive for citizens to place state built snooper software on each their computers in order to make it possible to defend themselves against accusations of copyright infringement. But that is nothing compared to the incredibly broad powers the state wishes to give itself with Loppsi 2 law (detailed article in Le Monde, and Ars Technica) which would give the president the power to insert spyware onto users computers (which could record anything being done of course), create a very large database of people's activities, help link information from various databases, and much more... The recent case of the sacking of the web site director of the once national, now private, TF1 television channel for having communicated his doubts on Hadopi privately to his Member of Parliament - as reported on Slashdot recently - does not give one much faith in the way privacy is being handled currently by the government.

The United Kingdom

In the UK the Home Secretary Jaqui Smith had proposed to create a database dubbed Big Brother to log every single activity of every one of it's citizens - in order of course to root out the very 21 century crimes of pedophilia and terrorism (did the IRA not operate before the internet? Are pedophile rings something that only emerged with the internet, or is it that they just became more visible?). She had to pull back somewhat from the initial proposal, and now wishes all that information still to be tracked, but only to be kept on the service provider's databases as reported by the Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Independent...

Conclusion

So are we now all suspected terrorists, pornographers, pedophiles, murderers, subversives, ... that the governments must know all about us? We may have voted for the current government and have complete faith in their use of these tools. But what when the opposition comes in, and takes hold of those same powers? Will we be as comfortable then? The excellent 2006 film The Lives of Others shows just how intrusive the East German state was on its own citizens during the cold war - and that with the very limited tools they had available. With modern computing tools, that type of spy operation could be done at much much lower cost and so perhaps even be viable for the state.

If you feel things just can't go this wrong, then I would also recommend watching Julie Taymor's adaptation of Shakespear's Titus Andronicus. It really is important to realize that things can go badly, very very badly wrong. Ignoring a problem, not taking responsibilities in fighting them will lead to disaster, as the current economic crisis - predicted years before it occurred, but without any action being taken - should have amply proven by now. Sadly for people who predict danger, if people do act on the danger and avoid it, nobody may even notice how close to danger they really were. So our actions may remain unsung. But at least we may put some chances on our side not to wake up in a new form of dictatorship, worse than any ever dreamed of by our those who helped forge our democracies.

Thursday Apr 30, 2009

JVoteContreHadopi

Pour que les députes Francais entendent les voix des internautes il faut se faire entendre. Je suggere ici une facon trés simple de le faire, qui utilise l'internet a son avantage, et qui de plus est tres distribuée. Simplement ecrivez un blog (ou un tweet) contenant la chaine de characteres "JVoteContreHadopi". Vous pouvez aussi expliquer vos raison pour votre vote en détail. (Moi je l'ai fait ici). Nous pourrons aprés utiliser Google pour compter les votes en utilisant cette requete. Ca peut prendre un peut de temps pour que Google index votre blog - si vous avez des trucs pour que ca ce fasse plus vite, ajoutez les dans les commentaires en bas. Vous aurez une partie des réponses, mais vous les aurez plus rapidement en cherchant sur twitter search.

Certains internautes utilisent le service twitition. Mais je n'aime pas l'idée qu'il faille leur donner mon password.

Nous avons fait quelque chose de similaire pour un vote beaucoup moins important portant sur Java 6 et OSX leopard.

The anti-privacy/liberty law named Hadopi

The Hadopi law(en) being voted now in France, constitutes an incredible attack on Freedom of expression and Privacy. It is fascinating to see how a law that gives the state an easy route to invade people's every digital thought is being pushed through, and will very likely be accepted by the French parliament on Monday May 4, 2009.

Parliamentary Maneuverings

The maneuvers of the French parliament here take some work to understand. A few weeks ago Hadopi was rejected in the Assembly by 21 votes against, 15 for. For an Assembly containing well over 300 deputies, and for a law of such importance, it may seem odd that so few people were part of the discussion. The best understanding I have of this is that President Sarkozy, has made this a very personal issue, having promised to a lot of big media friends, with which he is very close, to put in place a system to break the problem of "piracy" on the internet. Anyone in the majority who may have been tepidly against the law, may not have wished making such a powerful enemy. Others may have thought the law was a done deal given the backing. And sadly I think most of the deputies don't really understand the issue at all, as reveled by this video asking deputies what p2p is.

The Anti-Piracy law

Having lost the first vote, Sarkozi ordered his troops together to make his majority in parliament felt by having them massively vote for the law. The problem is that the majority voting now have very little understanding of the technical issues in front of them. Their view of the issue is the one a large part of the French population have: this is simply an issue of being for or against the Pirates; being for or against the artists. "Piracy is theft" is the simplifying drumbeat which organises their thoughts.

Coming to the defence of artists is of course a very noble thing to do. I myself try to stay as clean as possible in that regard, favoring works that are clearly licensed openly. Most work I publish under very free licences, that make it close to impossible to pirate my work. This article for example is published under a Creativce Commons attribution licence. In any case I find it much easier to buy or rent DVDs than to search for content that may be broken on some other p2p network.

What the best way to defend artists is, and how to find ways of rewarding their work is a complex issue. For the past 50 years people have mostly accepted electronic work to be freely available via the radio or the television -- if interspersed with advertising. I don't want to look into this problem here. For some good ideas one should read and listen to Lawrence Lessig speak on the issue of copyright and the future of the network, or the French economist Jaques Attali write about 10 steps to solve this problem.

The Anti-Privacy/Liberty Law

However noble the issue of saving artists is, the real problem is how this law intends to go about doing what it set out to do. And if one looks at it this way, one soon gets a bad feeling of having entered a Orwellian 1984 like world! (See the public letter "Sci-Fi Against Hadopi") The law is not just anti-piracy, it is also anti-privacy, anti-freedom of expression, anti-freedom of all sorts. It is like a super DDT, a chemical that gets rid of all insects, but is so powerful that it also starts killing humans too.

The Hadopi law (pdf) will enable a newly established administrative higher authority to receive ip addresses from content owners, and ask telecommunication companies to reveal the owners of that ip address, to whom they will send 2 warning e-mails, telling them that something illegal is being downloaded or uploaded from their network, and asking them to secure this network. It seems that this warning will not even mention the work that is thought to have been illegally transmitted. After the third postal warning the internet connection will be cut off. At that point the citizen whose connection will be cut off, will be placed on a black list, making it impossible for him to seek any other telephone connection. As it will be extremly difficult for him to defend himself, he will then have to accept putting a yet undefined piece of software on his network that will snoop everything he is doing. One motion required this software to also sniff the email communications [ I am not absolutely clear this went through though.]

So in short, private companies will be able to anonymously denounce French citizens, leading their internet connection to be cut off, and then forcing them to install snooping software on their network to prove their innocence! If this is not an extreem invasion of privacy I do not know what is.

To help citizens who want to stay legal find their way around the internet, the Hadopi institution will distribute special labels for clean content. Good citizens will be safe if they don't stray too far from officially approved sites. If this is not an attack on freedom of information I don't know what is!

Where is the resistance?

So over the past few weeks as my concern grew I tried discussing this with a number of people. My initial thought was that an issue such as this would not get through in a country that demonstrates on nearly every issue that comes up. What stunned me was the silence, or the lack of interest in these issues by most people. It is instructive in my view to look at various types of responses I got.

The law cannot be implemented view

A lot of people are convinced that this law cannot be implemented. It is too crazy to be workable. Let us hope and pray that it is! The previous DADVSI law wich had set punishments of €300 000 and 3 years in prison, was so extreemly overwhelmingly powerful, that it indeed was not useable.

But that argument is very dangerous. The DADVSI may not yet have been used, but it may one day be. It is certainly what is spurring the current law, Hadopi, which comparatively seems innocuously kind. It only will ask you to install snooping software on your network. And since it is big brother the State asking this, and most people have no idea of what this implies, a lot of people may very well be frightened into accepting this. In any case it does not matter if it is not immediately applicable. It need only slowly with time work itself into people's lives. If enough people have this working, even if it is widely bypassed, then you can bet that in 10 years time, a movement will start where people who do have this installed will complain that some of their fellow citizens don't have it, and so push for harsher laws, perhaps going so far as to install this automatically on all networks.

We can bypass it

A lot of technically savvy people have convinced themselves they can bypass this easily.

So what if they do? The law need only frighten the majority into behaving a certain way. With time, and with the majority on their side, they can add other laws to make the undesirable behavior a lot more difficult. For example for those who think that anonymising software is going to be an easy way out, then they should look at the next law on the table: Llopsi which will give the State the power to block any IP address they need to. Now perhaps a good use case for Llopsi will be large anonymiser services.

Not fighting a law because one decides one will not follow it, is a very selfish and short term way of thinking. Sadly it seems to have grown in a large portion of the population that allowed itself to be tagged as Pirates. And for that selfishness we will all pay (yes, this is not just a French phenomenon, it seems to be a globally orchestrated movement - see for example blackout europe.)

It will be blocked by the constitution

It may be. But then it may not be. In any case it is extreemly worrying that a law should have to go so far as to require blocking by the constitution. Remember how Lawrence Lessig's attempt to get the Supreme court to change the provisions on copyright? It failed.

It will be blocked by the European Union

The EU is a Union of States, where the states have an overwhelming power. The EU does not have an army and cannot enforce much. France has the "cultural exception" it can use quite easily, and it may also be that similar problems are brewing in the rest of europe. Don't count on the EU. The parliament have done a great job there, but they don't have the final say, and they can be pressured. They have just watered down the telecom bill for example. The EU is not the USA.

The people will rise

This is unlikely given what I have seen. Many people don't yet really feel the power of the internet. They work with the internet via the expensive and limited cell phone networks, if at all. For them the Internet is cool, but not essential. Furthermore traditional media are still extremely powerful, and they can direct the message the way they wish. If they were not so powerful, laws such as this would not ever be able to go so far. I don't watch enough television to be able to tell if both sides of the debate here have been aired equally. My guess is not. [ Update: the major French television channel TF1 - the first french TV channel to be created, now privatised - was found to have sacked the head of their innovation center, for having sent privately a critical message on Hadopi to his Member of Parliament as reported by Libération. Thereby confirming the suspicion that other sides of this debate are not getting equal airing time]

But in the long term the people may very well rise. If the law were applied equally and without discrimination then businesses may very well be the first to rise up -- and leave. Later as the internet does become more and more part of every day life, the people themselves may rise. Most likely the younger generation will feel most strongly the difference between what is being asked and what is reasonable. They may feel these new chains most forcefully. Mass movements though are worrying, because when masses move, they can end up being very difficult to control, and can easily go the wrong direction.

All in all I think it would be much better for people in France to call their deputies before the law passes and urge them to change their mind, than to wait and fight this out on the streets.

Vote

There are a number of ways people can get their voice heard. One is the twitition petition. But I don't like the way it requires your password. Better I think to add the string JVoteContreHadopi to a blog post or tweet of yours. After a little time the vote should appear on this Google query where the votes can be counted. (We did this for when voting for Java 6 on OSX leopard.)

Thursday Jan 01, 2009

waking up from 2008

one second before awakening, by Dali

Are the tigers jumping out of the fish's mouth or is the fish about to swalow them?

Sunday Nov 30, 2008

Independent Artists in Paris, 2008

On Saturday I went to "Salon des Artistes Independants" in the Grand Palais in Paris. In a huge space one could find a mish mash of paintings and sculptures from thousands of artists. The majority I did not find interesting at all. But that may just reflect on me more that on the artists. The ones that caught my eye as I walked quickly through the vast corridors of this space I took pictures of, and put them on flickr. So here are my favorites:

In another section of the Grand Palais they were simultaneously holding a retrospective of the works of Emil Nolde (wikipedia), a painter whose work was inspired by Vincent Van Gogh and who was member of the german expressionist group "Die Brucke". The color of the Emil Nolde's pictures is as strong as Van Gogh's. Irreproducible. If you are in Paris, go and see the exhibition.

Thursday Aug 28, 2008

picture of my blog

picture from wordle.net

Wordle is a fun little Java applet that analyses your blog and builds any number of beautiful word clouds from the content. It has started a movement I think.

Just a pity that one cannot embed the applet in one's own web page. That would make it dynamic and a lot more interesting. Perhaps that will come. At present it seems the author is not sure what the IBM lawyers have decided.

This is somewhat similar to the graphic app I mentioned previously though with somewhat more content, clearly. Long term readers of my blog may find the picture of my blog to not be such a good reflection of my interests though. Statistic analysis of words does not get you that far.

Monday Aug 25, 2008

The interpretation of fairy tales

Over the holidays I accidentally picked up a book by Marie-Louise von Franz, "The interpretation of fairy tales", and could not put it down until I reached the last page. I then ordered five other book of hers. If you have ever found fairy tales interesting but puzzling, you don't know how much you have missed. Seen from Marie-Louise's perspective, one of the closest students of Carl Gustav Jung, each of these are nuggets of deep knowledge of the human soul. Here is my translation of the first paragraph of my French translation of "The feminine in Fairy tales":

At the origin, and until approximately the XVIIth century, fairy tales were not so much meant for children as for the adult population. This situation was kept alive in the rural areas where until a relatively recently, story tellers would animate traditional vigils. Progressively though the development of the rational current and its refusal of the irrational, led these tales to be seen as just absurd old woman's stories, just good enough to amuse the children.

My guess is that a lot of this still holds true today, though a lot of her thoughts must have been integrated in one way or another by now. Once one starts learning to read fairy tales like this - though I keep being surprised at how deep her reading goes, and it will not be an easy task to get even close to it - one can start seeing how this can be applied to other arts such as film. I recently saw Jim Jarmush's "Dead Man" which is full of such interesting symbolism for example.

Tuesday Aug 05, 2008

Outlines of Love in a Functional Garden

My mother's sculptures have always been about movement, dance, love and life. Life in the sense of the pleasure one can have being alive, the passing fleeting moments that can be given no exchange value, because they cannot be exchanged.
Her latest work, a series of human sized wire sculptures exhibited recently in the gardens of the INSEAD business school, express close to 40 years of research of this artistic space. The formal backdrop of the school, designed in a functionalist lego like architectural style of the 1970ies, reflects at every turn these transparent outlines of movement. When the wind blows across the campus, the leaves rattle in the sunshine, and their light reflected in the mirrory surface of the glass construct shines through a couple embracing on the grass, ever changing with the surrounding environment, yet timelessly there holding together the growing hope.

Flight

Walk around the garden and you will find the outline of a person playing hide and seek.

dancing

Or you may find a couple dancing on the grass.

playing in the garden

My pictures of these sculptures does not really do them justice, not just because photography is an art whose complexity lies hidden deeply behind the simplicity of the mechanical click, but especially in this case because it hides the third dimension for which these sculptures are built and freezes the movement which these works are vibrating and pulsating through and through. This tension between movement and permanence, captured in a few metallic lines, is what shines through these constructions that took a lifetime of experience to build.

Still the exhibition at INSEAD is now at an end, and so the following slide show (click here) may have some role to play in bringing it back to life somewhere else.

Sunday Sep 30, 2007

A Glass Cage in New York


Joseph Holmes takes some absolutely stunning photos of New York. One a day. All licenced under a generous Creative Commons licence. Check it out.

For absolute pleasure browse his photos by listening to Glass Cage - Music for Piano by Philip Glass and John Cage.

Sunday Sep 09, 2007

Language is a Virus

That is key to understanding the development of the Semantic Web. Open the door and listen to this classic 1986 song by Laurie Anderson, "Language is a Virus" (lyrics):

VIDEO CLIP -- you may be using a browser that does not display the flash shockwave content. You can test this by trying to view it directly on youtube. If you can watch other videos there with this browser, then let me know, it may be that the link is dead. Thanks.

Then if you wish to explore this in more detail you can read the philosophical papers of Ruth G. Millikan.

authentic paranoid fantasies

On 1 July 1936 Salvador Dali gave a fantastic presentation at the New Burlington Galleries in London. He arrived carrying a billiard queue in one hand , accompanied by 2 large dogs and determined to present his talk "Authentic Paranoid Fantasies" in a diving suite.

I read this story a year ago in Berlin whilst browsing the philosophy section of a large bookstore. On page 156 of "Spheres III: Foam", Peter Sloterdijk - a famous contemporary German philosopher, who now teaches in Vienna - quotes the following passage from Dali's Memoirs "Comment on Devient Dali", which in turn I have translated for your enjoyment below:

I had determined to give a talk during the exhibition in a diving suite as a representation of the subconscious. I was placed in the armor and even fitted with heavy lead shoes, making it completely impossible for me to move my legs. I had to be carried onto the stage. Then they placed the helmet on my head and screwed it tightly shut. I started my talk behind the thick glass in front of a microphone that clearly could not record anything. Nevertheless my mimicry fascinated the public. Soon though I ran out of air, my face turned red, then blue, and my eyes turned upwards. Clearly they had forgotten to provide me with access to air, and I was close to asphyxiation. I signaled to my friends through desperate gestures that my situation was becoming critical. One of them ran for some scissors and tried without success to puncture the costume; another one tried to unscrew the helmet, and as that did not succeed he started banging on the screws with a hammer... Two men tried to tear off the helmet and a third one continued whacking the metal so hard that I nearly lost consciousness.
On the stage one could only see a mass of wildly moving hands, from which I emerged now and again like a dismembered puppet, and my helmet sounded like a gong. The public applauded heavily to this successful Daliesque melodrama, which in their eyes clearly represented how consciousness was trying to communicate with the unconscious. I though nearly died during this triumph. As they finally ripped off my helmet I was as white as Jesus as he returned after his forty days of fasting from the desert.

Saturday Sep 08, 2007

the limits of a free flickr account

I took some time, but I just hit one of the limits of my free flickr account. Here is the message I am seeing at the top of my account:

You've run into one of the limits of a free account. Your free account will only display the most recent 200 photos you've uploaded. All of your photos beyond 200 will remain hidden from view until you either delete newer photos, or upgrade to a Pro account.

None of your photos have been deleted, and if you upgrade, they'll all come back unharmed.

To get a pro account I need to shell out $24.95 per year. This is not unreasonable, but it is making me pause and think how much I want to continue with this service...

What are the alternatives? Well I have my own server at bblfish.net. I am already paying for that service, so I might as well use it more fully, and upload my pictures there. But pictures take up quite a lot of space so this is not going to end up being cheaper, as it will use up more space and force me at some time to either increase the space on my rented server or even buy my own server. What would I get for that price? I would certainly get more control over my work, but at the cost of more work on my part. Publishing photos could be done simply with an improved BlogEd, which can push those photos to the file system. This would make publishing easy, but would not give me the interactive collaborative features of flickr, where people can directly add notes to the pictures, tag them, etc... Adding that functionality is not a huge amount of work, but it makes maintenance of the service more difficult, which means costs in developer time, which has to be paid somehow too...

What is the price of freedom? Owning your content at URLs you control may long term be worth quite a lot, a bet Tim Bray clearly is making, by hosting everything on his own server...

Thursday Aug 16, 2007

Ratatouille

Last week I saw the new Pixar/Disney animation Ratatouille in French. I was a bit reluctant going in as I like to see a film in the original version. As it turned out this cartoon worked perfectly in French, as it takes place in a beautifully rendered Paris. As I came out of the film I could think of no other way to describe it than as a masterpiece.

It is the story of a genius rat who dreams of cooking great dishes, following the advice of his hero chef whose motto is "Everyone can cook". After a near death experience in the house of a granny as he glimpses the news of the recent suicide of his hero after the vicious attack of a soulless critic makes him loose a couple of stars in the famous Michelin Guide - this really happened btw - he ends up unexpectedly in Paris in front of the restaurant of his recently deceased chef...

I don't want to say more than this, other than "go and see it". The recent reverse takeover by Pixar of Disney (a Steve Jobs signature move), has clearly breathed some amazingly fresh air in that old institution. This must be the first Disney Movie in decades that reaches the heights of creativity of the founding father. The characters are beautifully drawn and close to life. The story is clever at every level. I am told that a huge amount of research went into the cooking scenes of the great restaurant: it certainly shows. There is a new intellectual vigor for a Disney movie. And the message behind it is not schmalzy but deep. As the critic says at the end of the film: everyone can be a cook, that is true, even if not everyone will have a talent for it - but talent and genius can spring from anywhere.

This film has probably done more than any head of state could ever do for improving Franco American relations.

Sunday Jul 29, 2007

Zaleucus: symbol of Justice

I went to the Louvre in Paris yesterday.

On the right is a picture of a sculpture depicting Zaluceus, the symbol of Justice. Having decreed a law condemning to blindness those found guilty of adultery, he forced his son to take one eye on his conviction, then removed one of his own.

The Louvre is one of the biggest museums in the world. One can spend months walking through it learning new things at every step. I wandered around for 3 hours or so, taking some pictures of those pieces that cought my eye. I was most taken back by the sheer quality of the sculptures done by the Greeks and Romans 2000 years ago. The lightness of the movements in those sculptures, the attention to the details of hair and cloth seem to mock the marble they were carved from.

Even the metro (underground) is beautiful.

There is a never ending flow of photos of it on flickr, and you can find some of mine here.

Monday Jul 23, 2007

Persepolis

Persepolis is a an animated version of the 4 volume graphic novel of the same name covering the life of a young Iranian girl. I found it yesterday evening hanging around my parents house, and finished reading in the early morning hours. As the film was playing tonight in Fontainebleau, I immediately ran out to see it. It is a shorter but extremely beautiful version of the graphic novel, and very clearly deserves the Grand Prix at this year's Cannes film festival.

Persepolis is an autobiography of an Iranian girl, Marjane Satrapi, as she grows up in a liberal family in the 1970ies and 1980ies. It is both a bildungsroman, and a fascinating recent history of Iran. It shows her witnessing as a child the fall of the Shah, the short period of hope and freedom before the process was taken over by the Islamic Revolution, which brought in purges and the brutal war with Irak which cost over a million lives. To save her from herself, her well off parents manage to send her to Austria to finish her education at a French college there... I won't reveal more about the harsh reality and deep beauty of the plot. One thing is clear. This is a seriously beautiful and intelligent cartoon that will turn any skeptic of this art form mum.

Watch the movie if you can, but otherwise read the novel. They compliment each other nicely. The novel goes into a lot more detail than the film has time for, and those details are really worth it.

External Links

Wednesday Jun 20, 2007

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching

On Saturday, I walked into a bookstore in Boston, and decided to read something different for a change (I had been reading some very interesting popular science books). I decided on poetry. One of the books I picked up was Tao Te Ching. I walked out of the store down to the Boston public garden lagoon, sat down and started reading.
I did not stop until I was well through one third of the poems. No wonder this book has survived over 2600 years! It is as youthful as ever, as readable as the best dialogs by Plato, though perhaps at the opposite spectrum of philosophy. Where Plato or Confucius are Yang, Lao Tze is Yin. They are complimentary.

Here is the first poem:

The Tao that can be followed is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The namelesss is the origin of heaven and earth
While naming is the origin of the myriad things .
Therefore, always desireless, you see the mystery
Ever desiring, you see the manifestations.
These two are the same --
When they appear they are named differently.

This sameness is the mystery,
Mystery within mystery;

The door to all marvels.

Why did this book jump out at me now? I have read it twice by now.

Update Sept 2008: Another very interesting version of the Tao, with a long introduction on the huge difference between the translations, is the French Philosophes Taoistes, vol I in the luxurious La Pleiade edition. Just compare the 170 translations of the first poem to get an idea of the scope of the differences.

Tuesday Jun 19, 2007

Paprika

Today I saw the most amazingly original film I have seen in a long time, certainly the most original cartoon: Paprika, a Japanese anime that goes so far beyond what I ever imagined could be the limits of the genre. Astounding. A daring science fiction trip into the psychology of dreams. It is less realistic and humane that Wim Wenders classic Until the End of the World which also deals with dream machines, but as a cartoon it beats most records of weirdness, and I have seen a few, such as Naked Lunch or Being John Malkovich or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Very much worth watching, if you feel in control enough to rock your psychological boat.

A film that can easily be seen twice.

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