Saturday, May 31, 2008

My own 'Rosetta' stone discovery!

This last week we started long planned renovation works in our house, in the kitchen and dining room. Doors, ceilings, walls and fireplaces disappeared from the face of the earth, all in one large container that carried the spoils to the junkyard...

If curious how bad this is, have a look at a series of panoramic shots about the work progress that I maintain day by day on my Flickr account. So yesterday, as we were pulling off the wallpaper, I 'discovered' an old notebook page with some writing on it, stuck in between the framing of the kitchen door and the wall opening where the door is mounted. It must be dating back from 1943 when the house was first built by its previous owners. It actually served as material to fill (isolate) the gap I described. It seemed to have belonged to a pupil exercising French. One line was in French, the Dutch translation following on the next line. Like that Rosetta stone they found in Egypt and learned to decipher the hieroglyphics! Unfortunately, no strange language involved in my case. Nevertheless, I felt like Indiana Jones for a split second.

You might wonder whether I read the whole thing and if there was a love letter story hidden somewhere... Hell, no. Just managed to read a couple of lines somewhere in the middle discussing the experience of a storm that made the 'class windows tremble from the blowing wind', etc... If you speak either language, try for yourself. The name of the author is Antoine Vermeulen, from Oudenaarde, in Belgium, I believe in his late sixties or even seventies right now (God bless'm if still alive). He was the owners' son, one of a number of children they had.

The shot is done via a scan at a descent res, so click it for a better view and enjoy deciphering the text.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Trading in options... like comets do...

Many day-traders like to trade in stock options. The key reason is that related returns are usually a huge percentage of the amounts invested in buying option contracts in the first place. On the downside, if things turn out opposite of what you hoped for, you might lose the entire amount you put in, at least if you don't get out early enough with some (relatively heavy) loss, instead of waiting for the tide to turn around.

Take a look at the Wikipedia article for basic info on options, if you wish to do so. And a myriad other sites as well. Here I am going to give you a dummy's view of options trading.

For quite a long I have been confused by the concept of trading in options as I seemed to forget time and again what the benefits and risks were of buying or selling the two types of common option contracts, calls and puts (search me how on earth they came up with such names). It wasn't until I got into trading in option contracts and felt the pain of losing quite a bit of money (and occasionally the pleasure of making some cash) that I finally (I think) managed to remember two things:

1. When you sell any options (either calls or puts) you get the benefit of the proceedings immediately (the day you sell)! However, the moment you do that, you force an obligation upon yourself as well. The obligation is to either sell (in the case of calls) or buy (in the case of puts) the amount of shares of the underlying stock at the expiry day and at the strike price of your contract, and that only if the party to whom you sold your options decides to exercise his/her rights. Because of this 'obligation thing', anyone selling option contracts must be covered by collateral for the sale to happen, in the form of either the amount of underlying shares concerned (for calls) or the cash to buy the shares at the strike price (for puts). Therefore, only 'loaded' capitalists' can afford selling options... like the ol' saying... money makes money!

2. As a rule, any investor expects to spend his/her money buying 'something' that he/she can sell later (as soon as possible) at a higher price (as high as possible) and pocket the difference as profit. In the case of options, many traders expect the option contracts they bought to soon appreciate, at which time they'd sell them, long before expiry. So, basically, if you decide to spend your hard earned money to buy either a 'put' or a 'call' contract, you'll wish and pray the underlying stock to move in one or another direction for you to make a margin on your investment. Which is this direction then?

In the case of puts, you make money when the stock goes down. Regardless what 'put' strike price you selected to buy, mostly all of the 'put' premiums appreciate when the stock moves south. If you look at any options table of a particular stock, provided free by many providers on the net during a trading day (Y!F being one of them), you'll see the 'put' tables all turn green on a day that the stock goes down. If you plot these premiums for each strike value along a vertical axis, it looks very much like a comet (or a cone) moving vertically downwards and heading towards earth collision! Click on the screen shot on the right for more detail and see what I mean.

Exactly the opposite happens with calls. Their premiums go up when the underlying stock price moves up. This time, the plot looks like a comet moving upwards, or like a launched space shuttle with its exhaust gazes right behind, forming a "comet's tail".

So, if you buy 'put' contracts you'll hope the stock to lose value for you to make money. For 'calls' however, you need to hold the graph I gave you upside down and see that you'll need the underlying stock to increase in value for you to make money (you need the shuttle to move upwards towards outer space!).

What happens when things turn different though? Meaning, you bought puts and instead of the price of the underlying stock moving down as you hoped, the sonovabitch moves upwards! Well, look at the graph again. The comet keeps its position pointing south but suddenly it moves upwards, like it put the motor in reverse (happens sometimes in SF movies). In that case, it's like you bought at 'b' and as the put comet moves in reverse your contracts only sell at a lesser 'a' and you then lose money (equal to b-a). Same sh*t with calls. You bought them at a price and hope for the shuttle to go for the outer space, but instead, like it's run out of fuel, it starts falling back to earth with tail and all, and its 'selling' price gets less than what you paid for.

When the reverse of what you expect happens, you better consider your odds, take your loss and get the hell outta there, or stick to it and potentially burn out. When things turn right for you though, and the comets move in the right (for you) direction, don't get greedy and get out of it as soon as you have a descent return. Once in a while miracles happen and the returns percentage is in the hundreds and even the thousands (happened recently to Google options as the stock picked up about 90+ bucks in a single day and few of its calls moved up by 18000%!)

So, next time you trade in options, think of my comets... puts 'move' down, calls 'move' up.

Another Microsoft blunder of proportion...

I've been quite skeptical and critical of Microsoft in the last dozen years. These folks don't seem to be getting anything right anymore. They tried to build a position in 'search' for so long... they ended up in third place. They are trying to acquire the nr 2, they get away empty handed. Next, they go after the Mac OSX look and feel... they end up 7 years later with the Vista disaster. They move into the MP3 players with Zune... years later you can't even find the darn thing in other than US shops (who's looking for it anyways?). A year and half ago, they do their regular thing, mimicking others' great ideas and throwing shitloads of cash into it. They decide to scan all of the world's books and do what Google already started before them. 700,000 books later they decide to ax the project (five days ago). What the hell is going on with them?

I'm telling you... it's the law of nature. When you grow fat beyond proportion, you're confined to a bed (if it can hold your weight) and wait to die. It will probably take a new Gestner to replace Monkey Boy and put Microsoft on a diet. Starting by laying off all the mediocrity that the company accumulated into its middle management ranks in the last ten years. You see, they needed to grow and they hired like crazy. They had to get mediocrity to fulfill their headcount requirements, there was no other way, and that mediocrity hired even more mediocrity. The company ended up with gray people, like those slick IBM blue suits in the eighties, who can all explain to you the thousand reasons that made them and the company to fail... taking the piss on everybody else (yep... it's never their fault).

Sad story. Not because I am still a shareholder... (getting rid of it pretty soon) but because this is where the new Microsoft, known as Google, is also gonna be in ten years time. The law of the overweights (... or the dinosaurs!)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Storage is the keyword...

Five years ago, when I was still active at CA Europe, I remember some of my 'visionary' colleagues making a fuss about storage, about how this was going to be the next big thing together with wireless, and how CA was well positioned to take the world by storm on storage related software. I guess they were right about storage and wrong about CA's role in it... ;-)

I decided to post this blog as I realized that we are far deeper into storage than we ever thought possible. I was just watching TV and in a moment of boredom (or epiphany) I looked under the set and saw four separate devices that I bought long ago.

One is a Bose 1-2-3 audio system. Further, a Blu-Ray player (PS3 game console), an HD Cable TV decoder, and finally Apple TV. All but the Bose have HDDs on board with hundreds of Gigabytes of storage. Even the Bose system, if I had spent some more Euros, could carry on board storage in a more expensive model of the family. The HDTV cable decoder (Telenet Belgium HD Digicorder) uses storage for recording live programs and for time shifting... days long of video capacity. Also, two of the devices, the PS3 and Apple TV are IP enabled via on board WiFi and Ethernet connectivity; the cable decoder also got an Ethernet connection. Only the Bose and the TV set have got no IP connectivity whatsoever (a question of time, I believe).

Conclusion: Convergence of standard media ICT and traditional AV is already a mainstream fact of life. Even more, there is quite a bit of overlap of the services offered by most devices. For example, I can watch slide shows on AppleTV with shots stored locally or on the Internet (Flickr and Mac Galleries) but also via PS3 and finally, directly on the TV set itself thru USB connectivity . Any standard DVD, I can watch via either Bose123 or the PS3. I can browse the net via PS3 but I can also watch a 'few'* via iTunes related offerings (movies, podcasts, videocasts) online as well as clips from YouTube via AppleTV. Because of this overlap, it's still too complex to operate, especially if you happen to be slightly tech-illiterate. Despite my geekness, I also get confused from time to time... but that's the price to pay if you want to be ahead of the curve and get max AV quality and media versatility.

Still, despite existing standards (Bluetooth, Ethernet, WiFi, media exchange protocols, HDMI), many AV appliances have problems talking to each other or even stay connected reliably. User friendliness (except for Apple's products) is also something they'll need to further improve. Remote controls remain a mess and are far from compatible with each other (well... it starts gettin' better). Finally, future TV sets ought to pick-up the functionality already offered by some of the peripheral devices I mentioned earlier. Maybe Apple should go for it and build a TV set like they did with the iPhone/iPod; they are definitely the only shop who could come up with something like that... who can say? Still they might do it, as they increasingly seem to have realized they kinda lost the desktop to MSFT and they therefore had to focus their headlights straight towards our living rooms...

* in this case consider 'a few' being in the thousands...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A simple riddle!

What do Austria, Belgium, Egypt, the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Switzerland have in common? What a question!

If Switzerland wasn't in that group I'd say they are all third world countries... So, it must be something else. A modern geek following geek news on the net finds the answer to this quite obvious. The rest of the human race might not, but equally, they wouldn't care less either.

Let's keep up the suspense... here's some hints. Common fruit are involved, two sorts... and it's about talking to each other... and frogs are involved too...

So? What is it?

Too old for a new job?

This is an interesting article from CNN Money that may sadden many among us:

Too young to retire, too old to get a new job. That's how many older workers are feeling these days.

While it's not easy to land a job in this weak economy, older workers are in a particularly tough spot. Corporate downsizings are hitting this group hard, with many companies looking to shed the higher-paid positions these employees often occupy. Even worse, older job seekers are discovering the search is even rougher as many employers shy away from hiring those closer to retirement than to the start of their careers.

The downsizings come at a bad time for older workers. Not only can't they afford to retire, but many were counting on beefing up their 401(k) accounts in the years before they exit the labor force. Compounding the problem is the slumping stock market, which has left them with a deflated 401(k) cushion to draw on while looking for a new post.

continue reading...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Think different...

When most other normal people think about their imminent retirement and about spending money on viagra and stuff this dude decided to jump into the history from a balloon at 130,000 feet altitude (almost 40km). Read the article to see what I mean.

As far as I know based on another article published just 8 hours ago, his team was in final preparations this last Friday... meaning he is still alive.

Wish him the best. He deserves it (well, he does... he spent 20 years of his life preparing for that, he jumped 8000 times todate, and sold his house to fund his adventures; this amounts to a whopping 20M USD made up of his own and of his sponsors' dough).

UPDATE: Apparently the test had a happy ending! The balloon departed on its own without the frog suspended on it. Cost: the best part of 200 grand. Well, at least he's alive and made it to all the media worldwide as the biggest loser of all time. What an end! His five minutes of fame...

Ballmer Hungarian bonanza, take 2.

Forgot to mention, first time I heard about Steve's duck-behind-the-desk Hungarian adventure was while watching the latest edition of Cranky Geeks. Along with Sebastian Rupley and John C. Dvorak were Patrick Norton (a techie reporter previously leading DL.TV) and Danny O'Brien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

After showing the infamous clip the four panel members resorted into some serious criticism of the (lack of) security around Ballmer, of the nutcase who did that to him and how a couple of Special Forces gorillas were necessary to be there and make the dude disappear, how Ballmer was a big lad and could beat the bully to the ground and how he handled the whole issue with humor and better than Bill; if you remember, some time ago, Bill Gates received a cream pie in his face while visiting Brussels, his spectacles all over and fresh cream creeping down his cheeks. You can see this happening on YouTube...

Sad conclusion: Those same folks who take the piss on Monkey Boy all the time seem to form, in a heartbeat, a common front to his defense, ready to launch laser guided missiles to defend a fellow American from the Commies! Meaning, as long as they throw shit to his face, it's fine... it's thrown at him with love... however, no freakin' alien is allowed to do the same, or else, we'll take him down, him and his entire family...

Sounds familiar?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Ballmer ducks and recovers...

Well, I had the faint impression that Eastern Europeans weren't a-holes. I was wrong again, then. This time poor Monkey Boy suffered an assault on his 'life' by an idiot who wanted to prove to the rest of the planet that he is really gifted with a single digit IQ. Dressed in a blouse with the writing 'Microsoft is corrupt' on his back, he stood up to claim Microsoft's money was stolen from the people and should be returned to the people (another brainless red) and he then started throwing eggs onto Steve. Terrifying fact, the audience laughed, and no security in sight to Steve's protection. If that nutcase was just a tiny bit more insane than he already is and happened to carry a gun, we may have witnessed far worse events. Don't forget Hungary is called HUNgary because its people stem from Attila the Hun! By taking a shot at Steve, one of Attila's grandchildren has just proven again the origin of his genetic code.

Anyways, to Steve's credit, he recovered wonderfully and was able to joke about it as well.

I am pretty upset though. WTF (w for who) does that moron Hungarian savage think he is? I mean, Ballmer is a shrewed businessman but... Gosh, regardless what Microsoft has done to become the Number One of the software business, it has changed our daily lives to the (much) better and Bill Gates turned into the greatest philanthropist the world has ever known. Neither Gates nor Ballmer deserve to be treated like this.

As the saying goes about the "ex"- communists of the 'new' Europe: "once a whore, always a whore..."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Many have tried, few are truly gifted...

I came across this article earlier today in the Chicago Tribune and I thought you might wanna take the time to read it and learn...

Here's an excerpt:

"It has been nearly a year since Apple Inc. launched the elegant and easy-to-use iPhone. Since then, our perceptions on how we can use a mobile phone have changed. But the essential lesson of the iPhone has yet to be learned: The magic is in the simplicity of using Apple's software. That became abundantly clear as I wrestled with two new touch-based phones. They have their merits but are no threat to what Apple offers.

The LG Vu and Verizon's XV6900 (an, ahem, attention-grabbing name; another missed lesson) are both handsome from a hardware standpoint. In some respects, I prefer either to the iPhone in terms of styling. But based on usability, they are so far behind what Apple achieved that it seems unfair to even make a comparison. Essentially, the one thing these phones have in common with the iPhone is touch. And even that needs work."

continue reading...

Terry Vangelis K.

That's what we called my youngest son (getting 20 next August). He's got the ideal face to shoot photographs and paint portraits of him, he always has had that (from the cradle).

I recently victimized him and got him in front of my lenses (actually he's the only one left of my three kids that lives with us during the weekends, thus, only one available for a portrait 'shooting' session).

After I did the African Head I decided to paint Terry's portrait from one photograph shot in the recent session I spoke earlier about (result shown here). I recorded the painting with time lapse on my Canon 40D again (about 850 shots) and created the clip you can watch on YT. The accompanying music is by Moby (18) and the clip was assembled as always with iMovie (in say half an hour incl. uploading to YT).

Hope you like it...

PS. Forgot to mention... the painting itself took some 4 hours to complete, I reckon.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

African Head!

Some of you asked me to post a better shot of the time-lapsed portrait of the African man... so there you go. Click it for a larger and sharper view.

Anyways, here's the original photograph of the man :

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Well folks, this time it worked. Recorded my own time lapse while I was painting a portrait, exactly as I wanted it to work out... 571 shots in total with a duration of a quarter of a second per shot (about 6 frames and change), with some titles and background sound, altogether yielded a clip of 2:31 min. The subject is a portrait of an African that I picked over from Flickr. I didn't want to waste too much time in sketches and stuff, so I used my cheap tricks. Enhanced the picture, printed it on A3 size (Canon 9000 pro), on thick paper that I normally use for watercolors and then I went over it with regular acrylics as if it was on canvas. The result you can see. The clip I assembled of course in iMovie (in less than 20 min, incl upload to YT). Music is from the Babel soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat.

Funny thing, as the original picture was on sepia I had to invent the coloring on my own and without realizing I painted his robe in orange. Only after the clip was posted on YT I came to realize that I made the poor sod look like an Al Qaeda convict sitting locked in Guantanamo Bay. Sorry folks, any resemblance is purely accidental.

I don't know about you but my youngest kid thinks the clip is just cool... especially Desplat's background music African song.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Painting portraits...

Did you know that YouTube is full of clips about learning to paint with most known painting techniques? Well I didn't. There are buckets of them. All sorts of people expose themselves by showing off how to hold the brush and how to stroke the canvas, how to combine colors, paint highlights and shadows, use the charcoal, paint graffiti and doing portraits with airbrush... Nothing interesting from an artistic point of view really, just a plain wonderful pastime for amateur painters like myself.

The part that is quite funny though is that most of those folks 'teaching' you the intricacies of the painting skill, all but a few call themselves artists... it's a scream! I mean, you should see some of their work for crying out loud! Anyways.

The thing that I liked though was the fact that many among those exhibitionists (!) recorded their work with time lapse cameras and it was cute to see a painting taking shape and form in a matter of seconds whereas it normally takes a painter quite a few hours to complete a work (if not days...). I liked that trick and decided to do the same. Started calculating like this. Suppose a painting takes you 4 hours to complete (c'mon, it doesn't need to be a Roy Lichtenstein or a Caravaggio!), then 4 hours contains 4x3600 secs or 14400 secs. A normal clip in PAL plays back 25 frames a sec; suppose you shot a frame with time lapse every 5th second, then that would give you a total of 14400/5=2880 frames or (/25) 115.2 seconds of video clip; that's just a heartbeat shy of 2 minutes. If you shot every 3 secs a frame in time lapse then you'd get a descent clip of 3.5 min. Problem is, when you start painting, you never know how long it'll take you to finish. You may even never finish it... happened to me often. I got fed up in the middle and the thing stayed there half finished for years (for ever in some cases).

Anyways, I'd give it a try. I took a recent photograph of mine, copied it on an wooden base that I had prepared for painting a Russian icon, set up my Canon 40D, connected it to my MBP and there I started the experiment. Long story short... experiment failed. I managed to finish it in less than three hours but I screwed up the recording and ended up with a few thousand shots of the back of my head. Anyways, next time better. In the meantime, you can 'admire' the masterpiece (R U havin' a laugh?) here above. Click on it for more detail. Don't queue up on my doorstep though... Not for sale! ;-)

Somethin' techie for a change

This concerns those of you who are enlightened enough to have made their computer choice by selecting Apple Inc as a supplier. Like myself that is... I recently 'discovered' something peculiar with Apple's routers though (nobody's perfect) and wanted to share this with y'all. I am not sure my conclusions are technically accurate but you can judge for yourselves.

I use a broadband connection that is rated by my ISP at 20 Mb/s on download. It never gets there but on average it hits 18 to 19 Mb/s, so it's fine, compared to most of my bros and sisters in the US! In my subscription contract I was given four to five external IP addresses (I forget how many, anyways more than 3 that is) of which I use two by means of one Airport Extreme Base Station (of the latest models) and one Time Capsule 500G. Occasionally I got some speed degradation on the Time Capsule and some difficulty to connect to Internet at all. I always 'cured' the problem by resetting the router each time that happened (plug in and out of the power outlet) and that seemed to 'solve' the problem.

Yesterday same happened again, but this time I documented the incident more precisely by using speedtest. The Time Capsule appeared to be running this time at 6Mb/s, obviously less than 1/3 its normal average. It happened after midnight though and I thought it was due to possible ISP driven slow-down because of maintenance they often do on their servers after midnight. Also, when I performed a speed test with my other router, the Airport Extreme, it showed similar slow results as well.

This morning though, I repeated the test and the TC showed again the low speed. No good, I thought... I couldn't blame the ISP this time since they are supposed to work fine on normal daytime hours, and even more so as my other router, the Airport Extreme showed its regular high speed (19+ Mb/s). I was pinging quite a few servers in the neighborhood during the process (Brussels, London, Amsterdam, Malmo, Groningen, Rotterdam... yep, I did a whole lotta testing). Repeating the TC testing showed once more the same slow download speeds. BTW, it was only my download speeds that were affected. My upload is slow anyways (an issue for cable connections, about 512 Kb/s rated, 480 Kb/s on average).

I then reset my TC and tested again. Wundebar! All speeds restored with success! Since I am using the same physical cable connection and the signals travel physically thru the same paths to my ISP's outlet and both routers (both on the 11n draft spec, btw) are connected to the same ISP modem, and I did the tests with the same wireless MacBook Pro (latest model at 2.5GHz Core 2 Duo) after experiencing what I described, I must conclude (in my own 'low tech' knowledge of such things) that this should be a software glitch on Apple's routers... I am not suggesting only the TC has the problem though. I am sure I had the same with the Airport Extreme in the past as well but I have kept no concrete numeric proof as now, as I didn't know or use the at the time.

Hope this helps...


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Personal responsibilities when using present day communications tools

The world is filled up with comms devices of all sorts... from desktop computers to portable wireless phones and MP3 players to other appliances. We have never been globally so much interconnected as nowadays. It's also never been the case that interconnectivity by means of offline/online written word (email, IM, SMS), voice and image (3G cellphones, Skype) has been so cheap compared to other items of everyday life (travel, hamburger restaurants, etc). Wherever on the planet, people can connect to one another in a heartbeat. And it costs almost nothing to practically nothing to do that. Reminds me of the country & western song though... we got satellites computers... and we still can't communicate, us in the human race... or something like that...

Why am I discussing all this in a cloudy morning of the month of May, you may wonder. Short answer: I'm more than ever pissed! Seriously! I just can't get it. People, the majority of them, lack elementary manners and sense of ethical responsibility when using all their gadgets which they are so proud of. I'll only refer to one simple item of responsibility: responsiveness and acknowledgment. What is it?

Suppose you sent a message to someone. Email, IM, SMS, whatever. The fact that the recipient has accounts that make it possible to be reached by these modern comms protocols, it means he/she has a responsibility too. To respond to incoming messages. Well, it pisses me off to see how many descent people whom I deeply respect are full of shit when it comes to respond and acknowledge reception of their incoming messages. What's their problem? Don't they realize they have the responsibility to say something? I mean, I feel deeply ashamed if I don't respond to an incoming message and the thing is bugging me until I send an acknowledgment, whatever it may be. Because I can tell you. Receiving a message from someone you know well and pretending it never came is the worst lack of respect you can think of. And it tells you something about yourself... that you are full of it and you deserve to be treated proportionally.

The worst case I experienced in my life is a few years back, working for a company as COO. On a given moment I lost my internal power because of all sorts of org reshuffles. I remember during that time I used to call a C*O who used to report to me before and he would systematically ignore both my calls and emails. Bloody GSMs and modern telephones show with caller ID who's on the other side of the line and the sob would pass me systematically on his voice messaging (in other words, the trash basket). No way for him to respond to emails too. He was taking a sweet revenge in his trivial mind! Good news for the company though, he recently decided to leave them and join the competition. With his 'skills', I told the CEO, it's more an opportunity for improvement than a loss.

Folks, be human. It takes just a little to show courtesy and respect to your counterparts wherever they are when they try to reach you. Do at least the following:

  1. When emails come in, respond immediately, within the day. You don't have to write a book, if you can't take action, say you'll come back... and make a point to come back.
  2. Same for phone calls and voice mails and SMSs. It takes a few secs to acknowledge reception. Responding does not mean you come back with a solution... it means you heard the message and you are thinking about it.

This is all it takes.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bleedin' iPhone, freakin' Belgium!

That really pisses me off! Even bloody Turkey will soon get the iPhone (via Vodaphone) but no word at all about this freakin' country I live in. In Belgium they think they can teach Steve a lesson. You see, they made it illegal to sell phones linked exclusively to an operator. As far as I know, it's only the Benelux and the Nordic region that have been left without the little marvel. Even Switzerland was announced just a few hours ago. Almost all of Europe, with the exception of the few countries I mentioned above and a few miserable countries in the new Europe of the East (except for Czechs and Bulgarians who seem to be among the lucky ones), will soon get orgasmic pleasures by holding their iPhones.

WTF am I doing in this place? Other than its fast broadband and the 1000 different sorts of beer it's the last place you wanna be on earth... innit?

UPDATE: Apparently it was reported yesterday that in Belgium we shall be iPhone serv(ic)ed later this year by the Mobistar subsidiary of Orange. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!


I happened to be watching yesterday a documentary episode in a series by Michael Palin, one of the funniest characters of the legendary Monty Python team. He traveled to Turkey and he was reporting their life and hopes to enter the EU. After showing a ruthless Turkish pastime of watching male camels fight, Palin's travel brought him further to the East of Asia Minor, the Province of Cappadocia. Such a wonderful interplay of nature with rocks in menhir-like shapes standing from the ground up, like Easter Island sculptures. Palin met there a German anthropologist married to a local woman who dressed in traditional Muslim clothes of the region. Nevertheless, she admitted she wasn't too religious herself and she actually took Palin to her favorite place of sins. This was the house of a local 'medium' who could read somebody's 'future' by studying the bottom of the victim's coffee cup (Turkish coffee of course). The thick of the coffee forms different revealing shapes after turning the cup upside down and keep it in that position for a few more minutes.

This particular incident reminded me of my own youth as this was a habit among us Greeks as well; 'reading' mostly a girlie's future (say fortunes) in a cup of Greek coffee (yep, that's what we call the Turkish coffee in Greece). Well... go figure. Palin had a good laugh when the old woman told him that he was going to 'find' a rich and beautiful lady to be with... and the way to find her would be via... an Internet Chatroom! Blimey! In far and forgotten Cappadocia an old Turkish woman who makes a living by reading... coffee cups talks of rencontres dangereuses via Internet chatrooms! It's a blast!

88 years ago, to this day, my hometown of Alexandroupolis (Αλεξανδρούπολις) was liberated from the Othomans. After hundreds of years of living under the fear of expansion of the Othoman Empire into Europe, in the early years of the last century, the English forces, leading an alliance of European nations, helped the Greeks reclaim the territories of their forefathers. In that campaign, a more or less pathetic Greek army advanced bravely and kept on 'liberating' parts of Asia Minor until they almost reached Ankara. In the process, of course, they took their long awaited revenge and committed atrocities upon defenseless Turks of the worst kind... However, the allied nations eventually changed their position and the Turkish armies of Kemal Ataturk pushed back heavily and expelled from Asia Minor everything with Greek DNA in its cells. They burnt to the bone the city of Smyrna (present day Ismir) and massacred thousands of Greeks, men or women, old or young. My mother, who was actually born in the north Agean island of Lemnos four years later (1924), where her parents and oldest sister ended up during the exodus, lost five close relatives in the process... all young παλικάρια (Greek for lads) between 15 to 30 years of age. I remember my aunt Georgia, my mom's sister and 10 years older, describing the events to me 15 years ago (in 1993... aunt Georgia was almost 80 yrs then) about the exodus that she remembered to the last tragic detail. Amazing creature the human memory... to remember events at that level of detail since so long ago, emotionally carved into the brain cells of a frightened refugee 7 year old girl.

Anyways, the whole conflict eventually ended at the current frontiers between the two countries as can be found on Google maps. Greeks on one, and Turks on the other side; loving each other to death! God bless'em...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Looking for portrait models

Making people portraits with good cameras has always been what I wanted to do for living... but I never did that. I wasn't meant to. All I was able to do was to shoot myself, Rita (spouse) or my three kids, and occasionally some friends and neighbors. I remember that I used to 'force' them kids to sit in front of my modeling lamps for hours and they all hated it... now that all three of them became adult there's no way I can get them in front of my lenses, unless they feel sorry about me. That's what happened with my youngest 20 year old who in a moment of goodness last Saturday accepted to pose in front of my brand new Canon 40D. He loved to watch the shoot as it has been deploying on a 24 inch iMac monitor within micro-seconds after the studio bulbs flashed. That was my selling argument to him, btw, as I have been bragging about the brand new iMac driven Canon body.

Above shot is one of many I took of him. Rest can be found by linking to the Flickr set where this is coming from. I think the kid might make a good fashion model... something that cannot be said of his father... not anymore anyways...

Panoramic view of Oudenaarde

Sunday May 11th, and exceptionally sunny and hot weather in this otherwise gray and wet country, what else can a man do with a brand new 40D in his hands? Shoot a few pics and try to stitch them into some panoramic views that make sense. Click on picture above to see what I mean...

The cloud is not yet a slam dunk space for posting panoramic views by non-hackers like myself. My stitching software was able to generate beautiful VR files that I could view with Quicktime but there's no easy way to upload those files to spaces like Blogger... who knows why? Same goes for YouTube, btw. The VRs ended up 'playing' sideways... are you having a laugh? I wish I knew what I've been doing wrong...

Even the shot above has ended with substantially reduced resolution after the Blogger upload. I can understand that... Imagine every cheap blogger like myself uploading MBs upon MBs to the their space for free... this already being a huge burden at Google by requiring gargantuan storage capacity to accomodate the piles of BS people enjoy posting on YouTube...

BTW, I was standing on a bridge above the Schelde river (which sources somewhere in France - I think - and delta-ing in the North Sea via Antwerp), camera body mounted on a tripod with a rotating base subdivided in degrees all the way from 0 to 360 in segments of 10. The panorama above is almost 180 degrees wide and was built from stitching individual pictures taken at 10 degrees sequential rotation (panning right to left) and locked exposure values. With some fiddling to properly overlap the images along their seams I finally assembled this panorama. Some stitching blunder notwithstanding, easily spotted on the yellow-white building on the right... I used a Canon zoom lens (20-135mm with VR) at its normal (per a 24x36mm film standard) focal distance of about 50mm to avoid distortion of vertical and horizontal contours usually caused by wide angle focals, especially visible along their edges.

What do you think? Any good? C'm on..

More spicy hot from the North...

I had no clue the Swedes had time for that... read this article found in our favorite Swedish tabloid, The Local...

A man pretending to be a sex researcher made calls to several women near the northern Swedish city of Sundsvall to inquire about their sexual habits.
The interviews led eight of the women to report the man to police, according to the newspaper Sundsvalls Tidning.
“Stone the bastard,” said a 22-year old who was taken in by the phony researcher and revealed details about her sexuality during puberty.
In addition to posing questions about women’s sex lives, the man on several occasions also offered lessons on masturbation.
He asked the women to take off their clothes and follow his instructions.
Police have no leads, as the man made his calls from a protected telephone number.

Planet warming, you said? The North getting hotter and icebergs melting? You wish...

Borat II

What do they teach 'em at school in Kazakhstan, I wonder. Read this article in The Local, Sweden's English tabloid News. It's a scream!

Kazakhstan’s Trade Minister Ablezov Karybay was arrested in Stockholm at the weekend, accused of molesting several women.
The 47-year old was in town on holiday, possibly looking forward to a few days of fun and frolics with some Swedish hotties.
Instead, the minister ended up in a cell on Friday night after he made unwelcome attentions towards at least three woman aged 20, 29 and 47 years.
He grabbed the women’s breasts before even venturing out from his hotel, Aftonbladet reports. He was obviously under the influence of alcohol.
Hotel staff had to call in security and the minister ended up staying the night at Norrmalm police station in central Stockholm instead of partying the night away.
Karybay was let off on Saturday afternoon after admitting to disorderly behavior and agreeing to pay a total of 2,000 kronor ($ 334) in various fines. Karabay did not bother staying another night in Stockholm and has apparently departed.

And you thought Borat carrying his poop in a plastic sack was over the edge!

More stats...

Every time I watch or read John C. Dvorak's podcasts and columns he' s taking the pis on US based ISP providers and network operators for delivering appallingly low upload and download speeds to their consumers. The thing that John C obviously is not aware of is this. Of the top 10 national scores, nr one is Japan (not Korea), nr 2 is Sweden (kinda normal) but nr 3, 4 and 5 are countries that didn't know a PC if it hit 'em in the face some 20 years ago. Romania, a couple of Baltics and Bulgaria being there just in the middle of the rank. Only then follows Korea, the Netherlands, Germany and the Russians! Tells you something, doesn't it?

It's good not to have had any IT legacy before in your life. That's what happened with the East after the fall of the curtain. I heard about Baltic countries using SMS to pay public parking spots for more than ten years now. Recently the same was introduced in the city of Antwerp and the media did like they invented how to split the atom!

Anyways, I shouldn't complain, folks. My own benchmark per the 'speedtest' that gave us the above stats shows download speeds of 2.33MB/s when pinging a London, UK, server, 250 km away from where I live. I shouldn't complain. My upload is kinda slow at 485Kb/s but they (Telenet) promised to go higher, double that, in a month. Besides, I am not acting as a download server whatsoever... so, not a big deal!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Microhoo stats

Now that even my granny knows that Microsoft has blown off its deal with Yahoo (Jerry Yang... what an idiot... thank God I never held their stock) let's look at some stats of today's trading... Yahoo average trading volume on an dull day does give and take 26M shares... today a hefty 277M and change. Microsoft only had a fraction of that over-activity... just less than twice the volume of an average day (avg 62,4M shares whereas today they did close to 117M shrs in volume). Both ended the day in red, with Yahoo falling by 21% in pre-market and ending the day at about 15% and change whereas Microsoft started the day pretty much in the black and turned half a percent point in the red by 4pm EST... probably because of monkey boy's lack of ability to convince the market that he knows what he's doing...

Anyways, I stick to my favorite of all stocks and hardware supplier, the fruit company (AAPL) that reached another milestone on its way to 200 bucks a share and beyond... the rest is plain BS!