Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Painted myself into a genealogical corner

WARNING: This lengthy and rather austere article is intended for a limited readership of fellow genealogical researchers.

When I first started to explore my paternal genealogy, three decades ago, I envisaged my research according to the following schema:

At the top of the schema, the red arrow corresponds to the history of an ancient English family that came into existence, in the wake of the Norman Conquest, in a village of present-day Leicestershire. Around 1800, the celebrated English historian John Nichols spoke of this village and family in the following elogious terms:

This village gave name to the Skevingtons, an ancient and noble family, who have continued owners thereof for several centuries; and they have produced many men of note and abilities, who have repeatedly by their lives adorned the historic page. Few families in the kingdom can boast of more ancient and honourable descent, or have more eminently distinguished themselves on all occasions.

For the moment, we have no idea of the identity of the Conqueror's companion who became the progenitor of the people to be known in England, later on, as Skeffington (or a spelling variant on that term). It's quite likely that this Norman patriarch actually left older brothers on the family estates in Normandy… and it's thinkable that descendants of these older brothers exist today, maybe even in Normandy. As a longtime Francophile, I've always imagined that it would be a fabulous thrill to meet up, today, with genetic cousins in modern France… and DNA testing means that this possibility is becoming plausible.

Back in 1981, when I started my genealogical research into Skyvington ancestors, it was a rather bare-bones affair. My grandfather had even assured me that no records concerning his ancestors could possibly exist on the surface of the planet, and that the last traces of his background had been wiped out by the Blitz! This, of course, was sheer nonsense… but I now realize that he may have been intent upon avoiding embarrassing questions concerning his father, mentioned in my article of 3 May 2010 entitled Family-history shock [display]. In any case, my research soon led me back over half-a-dozen generations, ending up with a George Skivington [1670-1711] of Dorset. Throughout this research, I've been constantly on the lookout for events that might enable my backward-pointing green arrow to meet up with the mainstream red arrow. In other words, I've been trying to determine the exact point at which my Skivington/Skyvington branch might have broken away from the mainstream Skeffington line.

Let me summarize rapidly some of the major mileposts on that red arrow… which are presented in detail in my Skeffington monograph, whose chapters can be downloaded from this website. The earliest-known members of the English family were referred to as John de Skefynton [1188], Simon de Scheftinton [1193] and Odo de Scevington [1231].

In the first quarter of the 16th century, during the reigns of the Tudor kings Henry VII and Henry VIII, two knights appeared on the British historical scene: Sir William Skeffington [1460-1535] and his young brother Sir John Skeffington [1470-1525]. Artillery skills had launched William's career, and his nickname was the Gunner. His son Thomas, too, was a soldier.

Over two centuries later, another major Skeffington milestone was the London marriage in 1654 of Sir John Skeffington of Fisherwick [1629-1695] to Mary Clotworthy, which enabled him to obtain the Irish Massereene viscountcy. From that point on, alongside the identified offspring of the Massereene lords, various unidentified branches of folk named Skeffington started to appear, first in Ireland, and later in the New World. Personally, I've never succeeded in determining their exact time-place origins.

In a letter to me in 1980, the 13th Viscount Massereene referred flippantly to this proliferation of Irish Skeffingtons as "quite a varied bag", while admitting the possibility of cases of illegitimate children. In any case, to identify the patriarchs of such branches, their living descendants would need to work backwards… in the same routine manner that I've adopted for my Skyvington research. That would be their only hope of discovering possible links with the mainstream Skeffington line. For example, I've often heard of a certain Peter Skeffington, born in Ireland around 1785, whose sons emigrated to the New World. I see half-a-dozen Skeffington males who might have been the natural father of this Peter, at that troubled moment in the history of the Skeffingtons (when the lunatic 2nd Earl of Massereene was still lingering in a Paris prison for debtors). Maybe a Canadian or American descendant of this Peter should spend time searching for traces of their ancestor in the PRONI [Public Record Office of Northern Ireland] in Belfast, which apparently houses all the extant Skeffington/Massereene family archives.

Today, the tip of the red arrow is John Skeffington, the 14th Viscount Massereene. Concerning this 70-year-old gentleman (who doesn't give me the impression that he's particularly interested in family history), an important point must be made. There would be no point whatsoever in looking for Y-chromosome matches between the viscount and Normans who might be our genetic cousins. Why not? Well, the Skeffington male genetic line was broken through the marriage of Harriet Skeffington with Thomas Foster in 1810. Since then, the male progeny is indeed called Skeffington, but their Y-chromosomes are those of Thomas Foster. On the other hand, illegitimate Skeffington offspring who existed before the time of that marriage could well convey the original Y-chromosomes of the Norman patriarchs. Regardless, I advise all Skeffington males concerned by genealogy to get their DNA tested!

Now, what has been happening concerning my green arrow, and the likelihood of its running into the red arrow? Well, the discovery of the above-mentioned George Skivington in Dorset means that the tip of my green arrow has moved backwards to such an extent that my Ski(y)vington family history could not have been linked to the Massereene lords or Irish Skeffingtons. That's to say, the Massereene dynasty and the Irish Skeffingtons are simply not a part of my personal family history. So, I don't intend to carry on researching in this arena.

The separation between the green and red arrows extends still further back in time. Recently, I've encountered references to rural families and individuals whose name is written as Skevington, who are anterior to the Tudor lords. In other words, the time slot in which my little green arrow might join up with the mainstream red arrow can only be somewhere during the four centuries between 1066 and the Tudor lords. In other words, much of what I have written in my Skeffington monograph turns out to be totally irrelevant as far as my personal family history is concerned. And it's in that sense that I say, jokingly, that I've painted myself into a genealogical corner!

To put it bluntly, I now have every right to wonder who in fact, in this whole affair, is legitimately "mainstream": the noble dynasty that emanated from the Tudor lords, or my humble line of Ski(y)vingtons? On their side, the advantages are significant, primarily in numbers (all those folk named Skeffington), historical celebrity (but let us not exaggerate) and the quality of archives. An advantage on our side, however, is the regularity of generations of modest rural folk, devoid of the crimes, notoriety, legacy quarrels and sheer madness that have often characterized the noble Skeffingtons. And above all, on the Ski(y)vington side, there is still the very real possibility of our direct Y-chromosome descent from the anonymous Norman patriarch who reached England with the Conqueror.

Since I've been able to acquire a certain amount of experience in Skeffington history, I would like to tidy up my monograph so that it might be of use to researchers. That is, I don't intend to throw out the baby with the bath water. But, while continuing to advocate the potential of DNA testing, I'll have to make it clear to readers that it is beyond me (no longer within my personal domain of interest) to attempt to construct any kind of genealogical chart concerning the possible origins of Irish and New World Skeffingtons. Even the genealogy of such a major historical figure as Francis Sheehy-Skeffington remains, for me, a mystery. As I've been saying for years, I would hope that concerned researchers end up tackling the question of the history of Irish Skeffington families.

Meanwhile, I shall transfer the strictly Ski(y)vington fragments of my research to another monograph: in fact, to the document I recently started entitled They Sought the Last of Lands.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gamone garden staircase

As of this afternoon, my staircase is at last presentable… although I still have to finish all the joints with mortar. Besides, it will look better when the bare earth on each side is covered with thyme.

Those who know Gamone will recall that, previously, we would slide and stumble down into the garden with the help of a few strategically-placed rocks. The new staircase will make it easy to wander back and forth between the house and the rose pergola, which could even become a place for outdoor eating.

After the wet spring weather, there's not much color yet in the garden. And the staircase looks newly-made (as it is). But, compare the present situation with images that date from a year ago. In an article of 8 May 2009 entitled Future garden layout [display], I included a photo taken just after plowing the ground:

Three weeks later, my article of 1 June 2009 entitled Garden under construction [display] presented a photo of the first finished plot:

So, things have evolved satisfactorily since then, and I'm pleased with the results of my efforts.

ADDENDUM: My son François wants to examine at close range the texture of the slabs of artificial stone I've used for my staircase. Here's a closeup photo of the top step, which already has a bit of mortar:

Each slab is 40 x 40 cm, and 3 cm thick. They're quite heavy. I haven't had any cases of breakage yet, but they're probably not as mechanically resistant to blows as authentic stone. Above all, they're not expensive. The total cost of the 30 slabs required for my staircase: less than a hundred euros!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hot under the dog collar

Ratzi and his colleagues at Vatican City (a Mickey Mouse "state" created in 1929 under Benito Mussolini) are furious because Belgian police have "violated" a pair of episcopal tombs during a search for evidence in the crypt of the cathedral in the city of Mechelon, in the Flemish province of Antwerp. What a pity, retrospectively, that Benny and his friends never got quite so upset in recent times when the living bodies of innocent youth were being violated, in every corner of the globe, by predatory priests. Meanwhile, Vatican City needs to realize that it's unorthodox, indeed legally wrong, for aliens to attempt to intervene in judicial inquiries conducted within a sovereign state such as Belgium.

Having made that straightforward remark, I must admit that there's often a Tintin streak to certain happenings in Belgium. (As my readers surely know, the Tintin comic books were one of that nation's most famous creations.) Was it maybe a Belgian police dog akin to Milou (apparently called Snowy in English), sniffing around in the cathedral, that caused the inspectors to imagine that the current archbishop might have concealed secret documents in the tombs of his predecessors? But Ratzi wouldn't understand that point of view. Ah, the world would be a better and brighter place if popes had the habit of reading comics!

BREAKING NEWS: Yesterday (Monday), the US Supreme Court made a momentous move concerning the possible responsibility of the Vatican City in the context of cases of pedophile priests pursued in the USA. On the surface, the court's decision appears to be neutral, in that it has decided not to pronounce a ruling on the question of the Vatican's possible immunity. But this refusal to provide a ruling is the Supreme Court's way of confirming a recent decision of an appeals court, which had engaged explicitly the Vatican's responsibility. So, the anti-papist ball is surely starting to roll in God's Own Country.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Brutal political tactics

This morning, while browsing through an Australian media website, I encountered these two ads, side by side:

I'm shocked by the Australian process that enables faceless so-called "powerbrokers" (what an appalling archaic term!) to kill the chief. It's all very selfishly careerist, far removed from preoccupations concerning the good of the people. If that's supposed to be a demonstration of democracy, then I feel like borrowing the language of a professional soccer-player and concluding: "You can do what you like with your shitty system."

Within the Canberra workplace, it's hard to identify the real bullies. Was it the arrogant former prime minister, or rather the female Cassius who finally succeeded (with a little help from her henchmen) in stabbing him in the back? Meanwhile, some good might come out of this affair. I'm referring to the possible sacking of Stephen Conroy...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


In computer interfaces, hovering is the familiar behavior that consists of using your mouse to move the cursor to a certain button… but without actually clicking the button. The simple repositioning of your cursor (often referred to as rollover) can cause things to happen, such as the display of pull-down menus.

Funnily, while Steve Jobs has gone to great pains to explain why the Adobe Flash approach has no intrinsic right to be retained in the new iPad context, he has almost totally glossed over the fact that one of the major bugbears in getting websites to run on an iPad is the fact that, on this delightful new gadget, the entire hovering phenomenon is anathema. That's to say, on a touch screen, you can use your finger to simulate the click of a mouse, but there's no way of getting your finger to hover meaningfully over such-and-such a button on a touch screen.

To my mind, this shortcoming is a great pity, since hovering is a most useful technique. Why weren't Apple's design engineers capable of imagining some kind of device that can detect the presence of a hovering finger just above the screen? Even back in the days of Genesis, commentators imagined the Holy Spirit as hovering above the waters. Surely, today, a few millennia later (according to Creationists), it should be possible to invent a technique capable of detecting the presence of a finger hovering above the surface of an iPad.

In any case, it's high time to update Omar Khayyam:

The greasy finger hovers and, having clicked, drags on...

Fellow full of surprises

Steve Jobs (who's not the man designated by my title) often seems to be saying that, if only web developers were to get profoundly involved with HTML5, they would soon discover that they can achieve all the tricks they once performed using Adobe Flash. Clearly, this is not the case, and I fear that it will never be the case. Look at this comical Flash site that I created, years ago, for a local friend: the above-mentioned "fellow full of surprises", who seems to have polluted his webspace with pop-up windows and publicity, which you can disregard.

There's no way in the world that you can create anything like that in HTML5. Incidentally, I'm particularly proud of the trick I invented to get the plane (borrowed from another Flash creator) to fly behind the flat two-dimensional image of the mountain. Here's how I did it. I simply created a front layer (closer to the viewer than both the existing background and the plane), ready to receive a copy of the visible face of the mountain. As soon as the nose of the plane touches the left side of the mountain, I activate this front layer, which effectively hides the plane. Then I remove this foreground layer as soon as the plane has totally emerged on the right-hand side.

The friend for whom I created this little animation is truly a remarkable fellow, named Luc Kaufmann. He used to run a small rural restaurant just up the road, on the other side of the village of Choranche, named Mandrin's Farm. On the slopes behind the restaurant, he raised pigs in an old-fashioned style, and this provided the pork served up in his restaurant.

At the beginning of the excellent film shot in the Vercors entitled The Girl from Paris (with Mathilde Seigner and Michel Serrault), there's a bloody scene showing a pig being slaughtered in a farmyard. The fellow wielding the slaughterer's knife was Luc.

When Luc informed me that he had become a ULM pilot, and wanted to set up a business that proposed joyrides over the Vercors, he had already abandoned his restaurants and his pigs, and was contemplating the creation of a fancy cliff-face bar in Pont-en-Royans, with a glass floor through which you could look down into the river, far below. At the last moment, however, the authorities concluded that, if a fire were to break out in such a place, the only way of escaping would consist of jumping from the windows and diving some twenty meters into the Bourne. Unfortunately, that was hardly the kind of emergency exit that might be authorized. So, Luc's lovely project fell through.

The latest news is that Luc has turned to hypnotism in a healing context with overtones of Oriental medicine. His austere website (quite unlike the little red plane) is prefaced by an intriguing quote from Freud: "In the early days, words and magic were one and the same thing." Like Luc and his constant quest for exotic projects.

Roses emerge from the damp season

Named Lolita, this rose might be expected to bloom precociously:

On the contrary, it's the last rosebush to blossom in my garden. The following variety, Blush Rambler, sprouted a profusion of branches and leaves in all directions (even skywards at times), before calming down and producing clumps of small and delicate blushing blossoms:

This is another so-called rambler, Chevy Chase:

Its brilliant scarlet is likely to dominate my pergola for some time to come… unless the Blush Rambler decides to adopt a more offensive strategy.

Here's a curious image of two former flowers that I removed, this afternoon, from one of the bushes.

They are the carcasses of two drowned roses, which were unable to withstand the recent non-stop rain at Gamone. Like a forensic surgeon, I dissected one of them, to better understand the cause of death.

Inside, reminding me of figs, the delicate gold and pink petals are fetuses of flowers that would never be.

French swearing update

Readers wishing to brush up on their knowledge of crude French language can take advantage of front-page stories that have been appearing over the last few days in the prestigious and diplomatic sporting daily L'Equipe, which rarely resorts to sensationalism or even raises its voice.

If I maybe permitted to translate those two lines, I would settle for something along the following lines: "Go and get sodomized, you dirty offspring of a whore!" Nicolas Anelka, born near Versailles 31 years ago, certainly uses a colorful style of French. As far as I know, though, he has never studied literature in a French university.

Ever since I first set foot in France, at a time when I knew just enough poor French to book into a cheap Latin Quarter hotel, I've been amused by the way in which many English-speaking foreigners imagine that the French swear.

It's most unlikely that a gendarme, shit upon by a bird, would cry out the two words "sacré bleu" and reach for his pistol. The archaic interjection is a single term, "sacrebleu", and there's no accent on the final letter of "sacre". So, the three syllables are pronounced sah-creuh-bleuh, not sack-cray-blue. It's not the adjective "sacré" meaning "sacred", but rather the associated noun "sacre" meaning "consecration", akin to "coronation", as in the expression "consecration of a bishop". The original etymology of "sacrebleu" is "consecrated by God", and the term "Dieu" (God) was modified, no doubt intentionally, to the adjective for the color blue… in much the same way that "by our Lady" evolved into "bloody". But I insist upon the fact that no self-respecting French swearer, today, not even a gendarme or a soccer player, would use this old-fashioned interjection.

The equally archaic "sapristi" can only be found today in Tintin comics. It's a corruption of the term "sacristie" (sacristy or church vestry), which designates the room where priests and choir boys hang out together, before and after the mass.

My aged neighbor Madeleine assures me that she has never heard the terms "sacrebleu" and "sapristi"… but she may well be simply unwilling to acknowledge that she recognizes such blasphemous words. She told me that the only vulgar interjections she uses are "zut" (rhymes with the English word "boot") and "pétard" (firecracker), which are particularly mild ways of exclaiming "shit".

Getting back to the language employed in a soccer context, I must mention briefly a French attitude that has always intrigued me. People proclaim that top-level soccer players should be careful about what they do and say, because they've become role models for countless French boys. Now, if this were indeed true (which it probably isn't), then the educational authorities should step in with a view to eradicating any such unhealthy situation. The last thing in the world that wise and conscientious French parents would wish for is to see their sons acquiring moral principles, good manners and fine language from uncouth and uneducated fucking soccer players!

PRECISION: I've noticed that the French TV channel M6 has revealed that Anelka's words to Domenech might not in fact be those that appeared on the front page of L'Equipe.

Here's my translation of the revised version: "Go and get sodomized. You can do what you like with your shitty system." That's nicer than the first version, isn't it.

Sophia thinks it's hot

After an unusually snowy winter and a rainy spring, Sophia has a problem adjusting to the warm weather. No longer interested in her big wicker basket, she wanders around with a grim expression, looking for a cool spot, as if she were trying to escape from a heat wave.

Often, she decides that it's preferable to stay inside the house, which is generally fairly cool.

I've never understood what it is that attracts her regularly to that spot under the stairs. Then there is, of course, the dust bowl she recently scooped out for herself in a northern corner of the house.

A great advantage here is that the rim of the hole makes a nice firm pillow, softened by the presence of a paw, for a heavy drowsy head.

ANECDOTE: There are two amusing images that I've never yet succeeded in capturing on my Nikon. The first is that of my dog upright in the driver's seat of my Citroën, with her snout up against the steering wheel. Sophia gets into this lookout position as soon as I leave her on a parking lot. She scrutinizes every approaching human, awaiting my return. As soon as she spies me, even at a distance of a hundred meters, Sophia scrambles back down onto the floor. She surely recalls old incidents about the Master (that's me) getting upset when he found his dog lying on a sofa or a bed. So, to avoid a conflict, she considers that it's preferable to abandon the driver's seat immediately, before the Master gets back into the vicinity of the automobile. And I'm left with the task of using a brush to remove dog hairs from the driver's seat. The other difficult-to-obtain image is that of the donkeys stretched out on the ground at Gamone, or sitting upright on their rumps. Insofar as it takes them a few seconds and a lot of effort to get back up onto their hoofs, the recumbent position would have been dangerous for a donkey back in Africa, eons ago, when they would have been great fodder for rapid predators such as lions. So, surviving donkeys have a gene that instructs them to get back up onto their legs rapidly, as soon as they spot a large intruder… such as me and my Nikon. One of these days, I must remember to obtain both these images with a telephoto lens.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Once upon a time, I too was brainwashed

In the Melbourne press, an article by Leslie Cannold [display] draws attention to the fact that Australian school children are being brainwashed by religious marketeers, apparently with the approval or complicity of educational authorities and parents.

This alarming article has been reproduced on the website of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

I understand the substance of this cry of alarm. Back in the 1950s, I happened to be a pure specimen of the kind of mindless brainwashed individual that well-intentioned Australian scripture classes were trying to sculpt. I hardly need to say that, today, I'm embarrassed by the ridiculous tone of the following article:

The 5A mention after my name means that I wrote this tripe when I was in the A-class of the 5th grade at Grafton High School, in 1956, when I was about 15 years old. One might consider (along with me today) that I should have known better. But the truth of the matter was that I was a stupid country kid, in the desertic intellectual atmosphere of Grafton, molded by ugly forces such as the local Anglican church... not to mention the total absence of explicit parental guidance. I was a floating electron...

To understand the mundane context in which I penned such shit, you need to know that, at that time, the dean of the Anglican cathedral in Grafton, Arthur Warr, not so speak of the bishop, Kenneth Clements, probably imagined me as fine fodder for their future theological ranks. And I was indeed that kind of candidate, as an inquiring adolescent tuned to philosophical interrogations. Dean Warr, a kind but silly old Anglican fuddy-duddy who played chess regularly with my grandfather, gave me a brand-new copy of a book by an American evangelist (whose name I've momentarily forgotten) that promulgated all kinds of ridiculous US shit… which was decidedly new in Grafton. Fortunately, at the age of 15, I came upon a magnificent subversive book written by a great French doubter, Ernest Renan: The Life of Jesus. Between the dean, the bishop, Renan and Jesus, I had a marvelous opportunity of escaping permanently from the clutches of Christianity. So, I emerged rapidly and happily from this quagmire, and grew up quickly.

Today, I take pleasure in revisiting the Christian wastelands, from time to time, in my perusals of archaic phenomena such as Master Bruno and the Carthusian monks… who existed too early to know Renan.

New computing, new Internet

Clearly, the birth of the Apple iPad (which arrived recently in France) has shaken up considerably the world of personal computing. And I've been attempting arduously to pick up the threads (which explains incidentally why I've been spending less time contributing to Antipodes). In this context, I've decided to create a new website based upon the "promised land" of HTML5. For want of a more informative technical title, I call my website Gamone. You should be able to access it using modern browsers such as Firefox, Safari and Chrome (but not necessarily Internet Explorer):

I shall be happy to receive feedback concerning your reception of this website. Meanwhile, I promise you that, with time, it will become less skeletal, more meaty and hopefully more interesting.

POST SCRIPTUM: I knew, right from the start of this project, that I would run into problems when attempting to mix English and French (because of accented letters). For the moment, I'm aware of this obstacle, which mars my website, but I hope to overcome it rapidly.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kick out Conroy!

Yesterday and today

These two images are separated by some three quarters of a century:

Hippolyte Gerin has been dead for over half a century, but the overall look of his house hasn't evolved a lot. Worse, it has gone backwards, in that the pair of wooden shutters have disappeared from the kitchen window.. which remains just as vertically out-of-line today as it was in Hippolyte's time.

On a wet morning such as today, I can understand why Hippolyte would have appreciated being able to stroll around on a stony surface in front of his house. Besides, at that time, there weren't only humans in the old stone building. Those doors behind Hippolyte were the entrance to a large shed (my present living-room) that housed a herd of goats. In 1994, when my son François and I started to clean up the place I had just bought, we set out to remove a vast sloping pile of animal dung that filled that entire corner of the building. When our picks broke through the hard dry crust of the dung, a gush of escaping methane forced us to flee outside. Finally, to carry out the task, I called upon René Uzel with a small earth-moving machine.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Better buzz than die with an axe in your head

TV spectators of the World Cup have been alarmed by disturbing noises emitted by South Africa. Is the TV broken? Is there some strange transmission interference at the level of the TV signal? Is South Africa maybe inhabited by noisy wasps or cicadas? No, the answer is simple. South Africa is inhabited by South Africans who get a kick out of making a hell of a lot of audio pollution, when they're watching soccer matches, by blowing non-stop into a crude "musical" instrument known as a vuvuzela… which creates an ugly buzz.

I don't have statistics on hand, but I'm led to believe that South African soccer spectators, physically preoccupied by blowing into these contraptions, simply don't have enough determination and energy left to envisage taking out axes and knives with the intention of eliminating supporters of the opposite team. So, the vuvuzela is undoubtedly a life-saving instrument, whose presence and role in the stadiums must be respected, indeed encouraged. One might say that the noise is less obnoxious than blood and guts. Fair enough…

Meanwhile, my ears won't let me watch that shit for any length of time. The audio pollution drives me mad. I feel like assassinating a South African vuvuzela blower, or maybe even a whole fucking grandstand of such noisy vermin. Let me return calmly to my quiet computer...


In a landscape context, I like to apply the term "singularity" to any kind of more-or-less unique phenomenon that is either exceptional or indeed vaguely inexplicable. OK, my criteria for singularity are not exactly rigorous rocket science, but I like my word… so please don't knock it. For example, the ghostly appearance of the neighboring Mount Barret in a certain late-afternoon light (seen from my bedroom window) is a kind of singularity.

The other day, a specialist in local history dropped in at Gamone, to ask me for an article on the Royans for their journal, whose title includes a strange regional term: peuil. When I asked him the meaning of this word, he explained that a peuil is any kind of eye-catching singularity in the landscape. Since we were seated in front of my house, facing up towards the Cournouze, he pointed up in that direction and exclaimed: "There you have a perfect example of a peuil."

He was designating the curious little mound in the middle of the saddle-back crest between the Cournouze and the Barret. I've always said that its smooth tapering rounded shape reminds me of a young woman's mons pubis (pubic mound, often designated as her "mound of Venus"), particularly when it's covered in sparse early-Spring vegetation (I'm speaking of the landscape entity). I guess I must be imagining the Cournouze and the Barret as a pair of mountainous thighs. In any case, at last, I could associate that exotic and erotic tuft with a dialectical name. The personage Malte of Rilke exclaimed with joy, while reading Verlaine in the great library in Paris: "I have a poet!" As of yesterday, at Gamone, I could cry out: "I have a peuil!"

Long ago, when I first observed this most noticeable peuil at Châtelus, I wondered whether it might even be a man-made Roman earthwork… since the village was designated in 1260 as a "castrum" (evoking the possible existence of a Roman fortification). I once mentioned this hypothesis to a member of the farming family installed up there. A young guy, imbued with the oral culture of his birthplace, told me: "No, the mound's surely not a man-made construction. Our great-great-grandparents settled here in the early 19th century, when the entire area was deserted. If the mound had been a man-made thing, they would have noticed it." Fair enough. In the early decades of the 19th century, it's a fact that there were no longer any Ancient Romans strolling around on the slopes of Châtelus. To my mind, though, the question still remains open: Is my Châtelus peuil a virginal affair, resulting from Nature. Or was it fashioned by Man? Only an archeological dig could answer that interesting question…

Vicious web danger: tabnabbing

Most often, I use Firefox as my web browser, mainly because I've grown accustomed to it, and I've developed a big set of bookmarks. These days, I've been saying to myself regularly that I really must get into the habit of using Apple's Safari as my standard browser, because it's making an effort to start to integrate various HTML5 devices.

Meanwhile, no matter which browser we use, a new danger has arisen for web users who (like myself) have become accustomed to jumping between tabs. It's called tabnabbing, because an evil site you visit is capable, as it were, of stealing (or, more precisely, corrupting) a tab of your browser and leading you astray. Let me show you a demo of how it works. I strongly advise you to pay close attention to this demo (which is easy to follow), so that you'll be aware of the way in which tabnabbing does its dirty work.

For the moment, you're reading the Antipodes blog. Now, open another tab (I'm assuming you know how to do that) and open Google. Here's the new situation:

On the left, there's the tab associated with Antipodes. On the right, there's the newly-opened tab with Google, whose address appears at the top. Note the Blogger favicon in the left tab, and the multicolored Google favicon in the second (active) tab. Now, give Google the simple word "tabnabbing". Normally, at the top of the list of Google results, you'll find the following link:

Now, let me explain (so that you won't be worried) that this website belongs to a 26-year-old fellow named Aza Raskin (son of the late Macintosh pioneer Jeff Raskin).

Not only is Aza a "good guy". Above all, he's a brilliant interface guru who holds the current post of creative lead for Firefox at the Mozilla Corporation. And he's the fellow who actually unearthed the existence of the tabnabbing trap. Well, Aza has deliberately installed the evil tabnabbing bug in the above-mentioned website, so that we can see how it works. Now, there's no possibility whatsoever of your being harmed by pursuing this demo. On the contrary, you'll see how the evil strikes, and you'll be all the more capable of avoiding it in a potentially harmful web environment. So, let's pursue the demo.

If you click the reference supplied by Google, you'll see Aza Raskin's elegant website, in which he provides useful information about this problem, which belongs to the category of evil operations known as "phishing". Here's the current appearance of the tabs:

Notice that the second tab now mentions Aza's website, whose address appears at the top. Now return to the Antipodes blog by clicking the left-hand tab. You'll return, as expected, to my blog. But look at the tabs:

The right-hand tab no longer mentions Aza's website, as it did ten seconds ago. It seems to refer to the Gmail website. In fact, we're faced with a tabnabbing trap. It's not really an authentic Gmail website, but rather a fake site designed to extract vital data from you. You can switch to this fake website, harmlessly, to see what it looks like.

It certainly looks like a harmless Gmail page, asking you to sign in. But don't be fooled into thinking that it's really the authentic Gmail website that's requesting data from you. As you can see from the address up at the top, it's still actually a page of Aza's website. So, simply destroy this obnoxious tab.

Conclusion: If ever you click on a tab and discover what seems to be a familiar website, asking you for information, disregard the request, and remove that tab immediately! In other words, whenever you click on a tab, be wary of its authenticity.

POST SCRIPTUM: If readers still have doubts about the trap I've been trying to explain, they can ask me questions through the comments device. Some readers might say: "Oh, I never use tabs." That's simply not true. In Firefox, new tabs often get created automatically when you're clicking around. So, everybody is at the mercy of suddenly having his/her attention attracted by a tab with a familiar favicon and reference, which turns out to be an evil tabnabbing thing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cousins of all kinds

In 1987, when I was lecturing in computing out at the Curtin University in Perth, I once told my students (who knew I'd been living in France for most of my adult life) that I'd never knowingly met up with a genuine Tasmanian… let alone visited that southern island. I imagined that certain members of my audience would be surprised by this declaration… but not at all. Just like me, apparently, none of those young people had ever been in contact with that out-of-the-way place.

In an article entitled Tasmanians [display], I evoked Truganina, the queen of the Tasmanian Aborigines. In another article, entitled Ray of hope for our devils [display], I mentioned the terrible cancer epidemic that could possibly wipe out these exotic creatures.

Over the last few years, because of my non-stop intellectual diet of the extraordinary words of Richard Dawkins, I realize that my entire attitude towards Life (with a capital L) has been changing—evolving, you might say—in an unexpected but colossal manner. As a "born-again atheist" with the pretentious conviction that I understand vaguely, at last, what Existence is all about (at least the parts that a human brain can tackle), I'm aware that I've become a totally changed individual over the last few years. The aspect of life that amazes me most is the idea that all creatures—animals, plants, bacteria, etc—can be thought of as "cousins" of varying degrees of remoteness. For any pair of specific creatures—say Truganina and me… or even a Tasmanian Devil and me—we can imagine that we once shared a specific couple of N-great-grandparents, where N represents the number of times you would need to repeat the term "great" in order to ascend to this ancestral couple. In the case of Truganina and me, this couple would have surely looked a little bit like Truganina, a little bit like me, and a big bit like countless folk who were still living over in Africa some 50 millennia ago. On the other hand, in the case of the Tasmanian Devil and me, it would be vastly more difficult to imagine seriously what our last common ancestors might have looked like.

Talking of Tasmanian cousins, I'm particularly fond of this pretty fellow, some ten centimeters long, who apparently still exists today:

Known as a handfish, and located in the waters of Hobart, it uses its fins, not to swim, but to stroll around on the ocean floor. Concerning our common ancestors, I would imagine that, one day long ago, they happened to walk up onto an African beach or river bank, where they were totally charmed by the new environment. So, hand over hand (maybe hand in hand, if we wished to give this tale a romantic touch), they just kept on walking…

Rose update

When preparing the front of my house for the restoration of the façade in the autumn of 2007, I was saddened by the obligation to cut away a splendid rose bush of the Pierre de Ronsard variety (named after a 16th-century poet). Today, I am thrilled to discover that it is flowering (timidly) once again:

This French variety, created in 1986 by the Meilland family dynasty in Provence, was voted the most popular rose in the world at the Osaka convention of the World Federation of Rose Societies in 2006.

Last summer, when I was planning my rose garden at Gamone, Christine advised me wisely to avoid glaring colors, particularly those that clash with one another. Well, since I didn't know a lot about roses, I'm not sure I respected this challenge when I selected the two dozen bushes that I wished to plant. But today, I'm finally happy with the outcome. My choice of varieties did, however, include a few particularly flamboyant specimens, such as this Limoux, whose bright ocher-yellow is said to be in harmony with the celebrated sparkling white wines of this region of south-west France.

At another spot in the garden, there's this brilliant Bicolette, which is supposed to have touches of cream on the outer edges:

No rose could be simpler or purer in its form than this lovely Bernadette, whose heart will shortly turn to light cream:

And here's another Meilland specimen, André le Nôtre (named in honor of the chief gardener of King Louis XIV):

The juxtaposition of the delicate flowers of a shrub of a similar hue is most successful.

Besides the visual scene, there is the magnificent aroma that the garden exudes towards the end of warm afternoons. I find that the flowers have a similar soothing effect to staring into an aquarium. There are differences, of course. You don't have to remove weeds from an aquarium. And you don't have to build a vast staircase to get down into an aquarium. (I promise photos as soon as it's completed.)

Ebook version of a genealogical document

Yesterday, I decided to carry out a hands-on test concerning the idea of distributing genealogical stuff in ebook format. So, instead of wasting my time witnessing the fact that "there's nothing like the Socceroos", I spent my evening building an ebook version of chapter 7 of my monograph entitled They Sought the Last of Lands. Click the following image to download it:

I believe that you should be able to transfer the downloaded file to an iPad, but I haven't tested this possibility (because I don't yet own an iPad). Otherwise, you can click the following banner to obtain a free copy of the Adobe Digital Editions software tool, which will enable you to read my file comfortably:

Unfortunately my test was not exactly conclusive. Indeed it was disappointing in the sense that the challenge of creating such an ebook turns out to be quite messy and time-consuming from a layout point of view. I had to readjust the sizes of many of the images and genealogical charts, and attempt to implement all kinds of vertical spacing tricks, but I'm still not satisfied with the aesthetic results. Worse still, after all these messy operations, I'm left with an ugly set of complicated code files, which would not be easy to update.

My conclusion? For the time being, I think it's preferable for me to stick to the conventional method of distributing my genealogical chapters in the form of .pdf files.