Saturday, December 3, 2016

Desirable transition

One of my sisters lives in Coogee. She has been writing a curious blog, housed by a rough-and-ready crowd who live a little further down the street. I've been trying to persuade her, with little success, to drop her current address and move in with more honorable folk, capable of looking after her well.

Don't say I didn't try.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Google software improves its own translation process

                                                                           [photo Manuel Burgos/Getty]

Click here to read a New Scientist article about an improved approach to automatic translation... invented spontaneously by the AI system itself [artificial intelligence] that had been handling this activity. That’s a fascinating idea. An AI designs its own approach enabling it to do a better job.

Lampe de bureau fabriquée en Chine

Cette jolie petite lampe de bureau, fabriquée en Chine, se vend pour 18 euros chez Bricorama. Mardi dernier, j'en ai acheté un. Ce matin, à Gamone, l'électricité a sauté. J'ai constaté tout de suite que la panne s'était produite au niveau de la prise où la petite lampe chinoise était branchée. Je l'ai déplacée sur une autre prise, mais la lampe ne s'allumait toujours pas. Après avoir changé l'emplacement de la lampe plusieurs fois, j'ai vu qu'aucune prise ne marchait. Tout le panneau électrique de la maison avait disjoncté. Avec l'aide de Martine, j'ai demandé à un électricien de venir inspecter ma maison. J'ai donc attendu dans le noir toute la journée. Finalement, il est venu vers 5 heures de l'après-midi, et il a remis en marche mon système électrique. Il m'a demandé si j'avais branché un nouvel appareil juste avant la panne. Un four ? Un appareil plutôt lourd ? Non, je ne me souvenais pas d'un gros appareil qui aurait pu provoquer la panne...

Après le départ de l'électricien, j'ai remarqué que la petite lampe chinoise ne s'allumait toujours pas. J'ai tout de suite compris. C'était donc elle qui avait fait disjoncter tout mon système électrique. Bravo !

Website names don't attract visitors

People imagine that it's a good idea to give a new website a name that's likely to attract visitors. In fact, search engines don't gravitate towards such-and-such a website because of its name. They do so because of complex algorithms that remain trade secrets.

In the old world, before the Internet,  the founders of a new company usually adopted a name for subtle reasons. That's to say, they didn't simply choose a name at random. Let's look at a few examples.

• A celebrated case of a name with no obvious meaning whatsoever is Kodak. It came to be associated onomatopoeically with the sound "click clack" made by the shutter of an old camera. But that wasn't the reason for choosing that name.

• In France, the communications agency named Australia has never had anything whatsoever to do with my land of birth. That kind of situation is quite rare.

• Talking about Australia, a celebrated hat-manufacturer chose a delightful name for his product: Akubra. As far as I know, this name has no known meaning whatsoever.

• In the Internet world, the name Facebook was chosen because the founder was thinking of yearly school albums. But the company's present preoccupations extend well beyond that small world.

• The celebrated IBM name was chosen back in the old days when it designated "International Business Machines".

• The well-known IKEA name has its origins in the Nazi era. The store was created in 1943 by a Swedish Nazi sympathizer, Ingvar Kamprad. The last two letters stand for the farm where he grew up, Elmtaryd, and the town where the farm was located, Agunnaryd.

• What about Google? I was persuaded that it was a pure nonsense word. Not at all. It's a mathematical term that designates a very big number : 1 followed by a hundred zeros.

• And Amazon? Founder Jeff Bezos wanted a word that started with an "a", so that it would appear at the top.  Besides, since the river of that name was the longest in the world, he hoped that his new company would also become one of the biggest.

• The term Skype was surely nonsensical. Not at all. It once meant "Sky-peer-to-peer".

In other words, it's quite difficult to find a successful name that means strictly nothing at all.

Well, here's an item of personal news. I intend to keep Antipodes for what it is: an essentially English-language blog of my personal jottings. On the other hand, I'm thinking of starting a new blog for French-language jottings of a similar kind. You'll see it shortly. I promise you that its crazy name has absolutely no meaning whatsoever!

Base jumps can go wrong

Tineke Bot sent me a photo of land at Châtelus, taken from their house in Choranche.

                                                                         [photo by Tineke Bot]

Click the photo to enlarge it slightly.

A base jumper had taken off from the cliff above Rochemuse : Tineke's property, located behind the photographer. He was blown onto the top of a tree in Châtelus. A rescue helicopter arrived on the spot. It was a complicated and risky affair, and it took many people several hours. The fellow's life was at stake, as he could have slipped to his death at any instant. Happily, the base-jumper finally managed to get down safely out of the tree by his own means. All's well that ends well.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Plantu says goodbye

What exactly is that white object that the president is waving?
Is it a handkerchief... or maybe some kind of female garment?
The barrister's past-tense words are hard to understand:
"You know, he was a good fellow."
Good for whom?

François Hollande will NOT seek election

A courageous decision.

Sewage power to handle drinkable water

A city in Denmark will be the first place in the world to use domestic wastewater and sewage to handle their system of drinkable water. Now, don’t get me wrong. Danes are not going to be asked to consume technologically-improved shit! The dirty muck is to be used solely to create electrical energy to drive the machinery that pumps pure crystalline-clear water into Danish homes in the city of Marselisborg.

Energy generator (photo from Aarhus Water)

Comparable approaches to electricity generation could be imagined to drive desalinization factories. The principal source of power and energy is, not human sewage, but rather... human imagination.

Looking for something to do in Paris?

Drawings in every imaginable state
by Plantu

Meditating and thinking for quite some time

In the Marais of Paris, I used to eat often in a small couscous restaurant in the Rue des Archives, just up from the BHV department store. An entire wall was occupied by a marvelous comic-strip painting that presented years in the life of an old desert-dweller who did nothing other than meditate. In the beginning, as he started his meditation, the desert was totally bare. Then a few people started to appear in the vicinity… but they did not obstruct the fellow’s intense meditation. Soon, there were nomadic camps around him, but he paid no attention. Neither did they. LIttle by little, the perpetual meditator was surrounded by villages, which were transformed into huge cities. The meditator, as usual, did not notice these changes. Finally, the cities started to crumble, and turn back into dust. The desert recovered its original forms… and the meditator finally stopped meditating, stood up, and greeted us with a smile and a summary of events: “That was one of the richest meditation sessions I’ve ever experienced.

In the city of Yehud near Tel-Aviv in Israel, archeologists recently unearthed a Bronze Age sculpture of a little seated man. Deeply engaged in meditation, he has one hand holding his head in the pose of the Thinker of Rodin.

                                                              [photo Menahem Kahana / AFP]

Those three mythical individuals—the Meditator in the Marais, the Penseur of Rodin and the Thinker of Yehud—symbolize my existence at Gamone. True enough, I've been that way for quite some time.

New chemical elements

 Dmitri Mendeleev [1834-1907]

While the world at large is preoccupied by ridiculous or uninteresting themes, I’m impressed to find that the Inorganic Chemistry Division of the IUPAC inserted officially, yesterday, four new elements into Mendeleev’s table:

          • Nihonium and symbol Nh, for the element 113,
          • Moscovium and symbol Mc, for the element 115,
          • Tennessine and symbol Ts, for the element 117, and
          • Oganesson and symbol Og, for the element 118.

When I started my studies of chemistry at Grafton High School in 1952, this table terminated down in the vicinity of neptunium, symbol Np, whose atomic number was 93. Named after the planet Neptune, it came just after uranium, symbol U, number 92, named after Uranus.

A lot of radioactive water has flowed under the bridges of inorganic chemistry since then.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Humans are fascinated by outlandish crimes committed by celebrities

My friend Jean Sendy [1910-1978] said that society’s most murderous criminals were in fact interesting specimens who had harmed no more than the victims they happened to assassinate, while fascinating most observers. So, instead of being condemned to death, such criminals should be treated with respect. Sendy suggested that bicycle thieves, on the other hand, annoy so many citizens constantly that they deserve to be shot at dawn.

The attempted assassination of Arthur Rimbaud, 18, by his lover Paul Verlaine, 29, in Brussels in July 1873, has always fascinated enthusiasts of out-of-the-way crimes. Rimbaud had been upset by Verlaine’s intention of returning to his heterosexual marriage, and they got into a violent squabble. Verlaine fired two shots, one of which wounded the young poet in the wrist. Verlaine was arrested, and went to jail for 555 days.

The arm of the crime was a commonplace six-bullet revolver of the Lefaucheux brand. Its current owner put the old weapon up for sale, expecting some 55,000 euros. The dull revolver was auctioned off today at Christie's in Paris for eight times that amount: 434,500 euros.

Stuffed friends

My friend M drives me into town regularly for shopping. Today I had a few extra tasks: ordering reading glasses and buying lamps and an electric kettle for the bathroom. Here’s the third item, which will enable me to make tea of an evening without having to go down to the kitchen.

The splash-resistant bathroom lamps are particularly elegant. My future glasses, too, will be perfect for work at the computer, and I’ll keep my old ones as a backup.

An unexpected high point of our excursion was a drive through a nearby village whose name evokes a world-famous local cheese. I said to M : “I remember the time when the owner of that upper-level flat used to have the windows filled with an assortment of stuffed animals that could be seen by people down in the street. The beasts were of several kinds and the flat-owner changed them often, as if she wanted to impress passers-by.

As usual, I didn’t have an opportunity of telling M anything whatsoever about local folk, because she seems to know everybody. So, I listened to M’s delightful explanations : “Yes, I remember the lady’s amusing assortment of stuffed animals, which were positioned in her three windows in such a way that they were clearly visible from the street. The local council ordered the lady to remove them, and they gave her those pots of geraniums that you see today.” William : “Why did the council want to remove the lady’s charming zoo ?” M, who knows about everything that happens in our delightful corner of the civilized world : “I’ve only heard this on hearsay from a local fellow, but it’s surely true. For many years, the owner has been working from her flat as a prostitute. Well, she used her stuffed animals as coded publicity and technical information for clients. I don’t know the details of her code, but it's familiar to customers in that domain. The lion indicated that prospective clients should stay away, because she was busy, and didn’t want to be interrupted. Then the long neck of stuffed giraffe meant that the lady was prepared to receive an eager client…

Never, in my wildest imagination, would I have looked upon that menagery of stuffed beasts as sentinels for horny locals looking forward to stuffing the lady. For all I know, her potted plants might be used today to convey comparable coded messages.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Chernobyl enclosed in a French sarcophagus

Chernobyl saw the inauguration today of a big sarcophagus that hides the notorious reactor destroyed in 1986.

Designed and built by the French companies Bouygues and Vinci, the sarcophagus was mainly financed by European nations and the BERD : Banque européenne pour la reconstruction et le développement.

Will computers and the Internet improve people?

When specialized stores for art supplies sprang up in cities throughout the world, optimistic thinkers might have imagined that hordes of new Michelangelos would soon be appearing on suburban streets. But that was as silly as thinking that the existence of cheap typewriters would have given rise to many new Shakespeares.

A few years ago, I imagined naively that the presence of powerful computers and rich Internet facilities would improve society. Over the last decade or so, these devices have become as popular as TV, and people had the impression that this technology was enabling them to become smarter and indeed happier. Like would-be novelists, they could write anything that interested them, and show it instantly to readers. Alas, they failed to realize that they still had nothing much to say. Today, I’m starting to have my doubts. I feel at times that more and more ordinary people will move away from alleged “tools of the mind” and simply become run-of-the-mill users of gadgets for dummies.

A close-to-home affair convinced me that computers and the Internet would encounter problems when trying to get accepted in popular contexts. A friend told me she was looking into the problem of getting her domestic Internet installation improved. When she called upon a local specialist to look into the situation, she was shocked to find that he expected to be paid the same tarif as a local doctor called in to take care of a child with a cough. The lady found it outrageous that a computer fellow might imagine that he was dealing with more serious problems than the sickness of a child. In fact, her two sons were doctors, so she asked one of them to “fix up” her computer system… which he promptly did. In this way, her expenses were reduced to a minimum.

As far as I know, her computer is still working well… which proves that a good general practitioner can cure almost anything. Computers must never be thought of as more complicated than sick children.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Democracy seems to have the hiccups

A few days ago, the former Ecology candidate Jill Stein claimed that votes should be recounted in three states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. To obtain the necessary funds, she awaits the outcome of a national subscription appeal.

Far away, in the UK, former PMs Tony Blair and John Major are looking into the possibility of a second Brexit referendum, which is still vaguely thinkable.

Are such projects a mere expression of wishful thinking ? Or is the possibility of life after democratic death a real possibility?

Who’ll be the major icon of 20th-century "socialistas" revolutionaries?

 [photo d’Alberto Korda]

[photo Prensa Latina / Reuters]

Friday, November 25, 2016

New verb in a French website : “binge watcher”

If I understand correctly the title, there are three good reasons why you should binge-watch the Netflix series of the Gilmore Girls. I hope you understand what I’ve just said. Now, I’ll make an effort to teach you the pronunciation of the French verb “binge watcher”.

binge is pronounced like barn-jeuh

watcher is pronounced like wot-chay

The only information you’ll have to discover for yourselves is the actual meaning of this exotic French verb.

Serious examination of the English slang “binge”

The word “binge” (rhyming with “hinge”) probably comes from a 19th-century Lincolnshire dialect term meaning “to soak”. Example: Water that splashed onto the table was binged by means of a sponge. A heavy drinker might be thought of as soaking up alcohol. So, she/he might be described as a binge drinker. More recently, instead of being applied to alcohol consumption, the slang term “binge” has been applied to watching videos of a soap-opera variety. In other words, the verb “binge” now designates excessive indulgence in anything whatsoever. And last but not least: It has acquired linguistic honors by being moved into French, as if it were an ordinary verb of the category ending in -er, like "donner".

Alpha Jetman – Human Flight And Beyond

Skip the ad, then click on the YouTube icon

Extraordinary video. The Patrol of France and the three Jetmen—Yves Rossy, Vincent Reffet and Fred Fugen–fly together in an amazing aerial choreography.

Nice survival

Today, in the USA, is known as Black Friday. But I see that the Big Red Fellow is still alive and kicking. The dumb bastard is fitter than I'd imagined. But his time in office won't necessarily last long. I hope he's enjoying his existence, be it short or long.

I wish him all that jumps into the minds of good American Christians: health, wealth and prosperity. As for the rest, I have nothing to say.


Geneviève Delaisi de Parseval, a French psychanalyst, has written an amusing article (here) on the curious role of distinctive colors in certain political contexts. For example, the abominable American Donald Trump seems to be linked to red, whereas our gentle Frenchman François Fillon is often accompanied by blue. Are such associations (if indeed they are true) purely arbitrary? Or do they convey some kind of hidden meaning?

Bearing the unbearable

The verb “to bear” involves a minimum of understanding and acceptance. If a happening that concerns us is so removed from our normal existence that we cannot understand it, let along accept it, then it might be said that are faced with an absurd challenge: that of bearing the unbearable. In such circumstances, something has to break… often in the mind of the victim.

The common cause of this nasty situation is death. Animals—human animals in particular—have never understood death, and never will... particularly when it hits loved ones: a husband, a wife, a close and intimate friend, parents or, above all, innocent children. In such cases, the mind “explodes”, as it were.

In former times, individuals who were suffering from an unbearable happening might have sought comfort in religion or traditional social circles. Even the danse macabre was, in a way, a “solution” for bearing the unbearable.

But remedies of that kind have disappeared to a large extent. These days, strangely enough, the Internet can become an outlet for such an explosion of the mind. It serves as a hitherto unknown means of naming the unnameable.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

How did giraffes come to have long necks?

I’m always thrilled whenever I rediscover by chance a typical Richard Dawkins gem like this one.

A nice old-fashioned answer is that God, knowing that He had cunningly placed the most tasty leaves at the top of tall trees, designed giraffes with extra long necks so that they would have no trouble in reaching this good food.

A less religious answer is that, over a certain period of time, Nature caused the necks of giraffes to grow longer and longer, because Nature was smart enough to realize that hungry giraffes would be needing bigger necks to attain leaves that were moving higher and higher.

Well, that god-free answer is closer to the truth, but we still need to improve the wording. We merely have to introduce a pair of freak events. So, let’s go. At a certain point in time, most giraffes had medium-sized necks, whereas a minority of freaky giraffes were born with slightly longer necks. At about the same time, during a few freak seasons, leaves happened to grow so high that all normal giraffes with shorter necks couldn’t reach them. These poor animals gradually died of starvation. Only the freaky longer-necked giraffes survived and bred children who, like their parents, had long necks. Longer necks had started out as just a random happening… but they soon became a matter of life or death.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Homeopathy is rubbish

No matter what science says, modern societies (including France and England) will always include a sufficient number of uneducated folk, fools and princes in order to believe that homeopathy is credible. And they keep this industry going by spending much money on quackery.

I was thrilled to learn this morning that efforts to fight homeopathy in the UK, headed by the Richard Dawkins Foundation [here] and the Center for Inquiry [here], appear to be bearing fruit.

City of Mosul is totally encircled

Iraqi soldiers hold a Daesh flag captured in Mosul

Islamic jihadists in Mosul—estimated at between 3,000 and 5,000—are now totally encircled by Iraqi forces, who cut the last Daesh link with Syria. Iraqi troops now control 40% of the eastern sector of the city of Mosul. The end of Daesh at Mosul is near.

My childhood newspaper amuses me

If I drop in periodically on The Daily Examiner in Grafton, it's merely on the off chance of coming across an item that's less boring than usual. Like today. The driver of a giant truck, carrying a load of authentic shit, hit the brakes... and his cargo, as they say in the classics, promptly "hit the fan". This story made me split my sides laughing.

Click to enlarge slightly

Marvelous photo. I have the impression that the fellow on the left is praying for divine help. Police asked the driver why it hadn't occurred to him that it might be a good idea to cover up his load with a batch. I can imagine his likely reaction: "A truck driver never thinks of taking precautions on such a short trip. And then suddenly, shit happens." Here's another photo, with different colors:

Final thought. [Australian readers will say, once again, that I'm knocking my native land... and that's perfectly true, because it's really a most knockable country.] I'm intrigued by the fact that Aussie journalism is so shitty, these days, that the editing staff didn't appear to realize that the technical specifications of the above photos are so different. Don't the editorial staff have access to run-of-the-mill photo-editing software that could have corrected those two images in such a way that they look at least as if it's the same truck in the same place on the same day?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Drop a ping-pong ball in the clown’s mouth

I've always looked upon Nigel Farage as an English amusement.

He reminds me of rows of fair-ground clowns that amused me greatly as a child in Australia. The heads swivelled constantly to the left and the right, and the trick consisted of guessing the exact moment to drop your ping-pong ball down the clown's throat, so that it ended up falling into the right spot and winning something.

Today, I don't think the prize would justify my efforts.
On the other hand, the ping-pong ball might shut up Farage.