Monday, October 04, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Composed while drying up from my morning ride...
“Pointy little teeth!”
Brain freeze, probably. It's not even a real haiku or anything. Last line courtesy of Monty Python of course.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
I was reading a book those last days on artists' pigments - not a bad book, although I made the mistake of buying it in French (it was originally published in England), with a translation so bad it made my teeth hurt.
Anyway, it made me reflect on my own practice of photography, even though I'm not too sure it would qualify as art. I am mostly taking color pictures, both with a digital compact (Canon Ixus 400) and with a 135mm film SLR (Pentax MZ-10); most of the pictures you see on my blogs are taken with thoses cameras.
Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, August 2004.
Camera: Pentax MZ-10 SLR with its standard 35-85 zoom; film: Fuji Superia 400.
The eternal question of color photography is that of color fidelity : is it our goal goal to produce "true colors" - and for a start, is there such a thing? I don't think so. Your perception of colors at any given time is influenced by many parameters that can't be captured by a camera, and that's as true for the moment when you take the picture and for when you're watching the result. The influence of framing on the perception of a picture is a perfect exemple of that.
What this means is that your goal is not to render the true colors of your object, but the right color impression. And the thing is, you haven't got much control on that - basically, you've got to find an harmony between your subject, the lighting and the type of film you're using. And then hope the lab won't screw things up for you. And of course, if you're an amateur, you won't devote a whole film to a single subject.
So what I'm saying, basically, is that luck has a lot to do with it. Probably the reason why art photographers tend to stick to black & white, where a talented individual can master most parameters..
I might try B&W sometimes - but for now, I'll stick with luck!
Thursday, March 01, 2007
As I planned to use a picture of a panda on my main blog, I remembered that old joke:
A panda walks into a bar, asks for a dish of bamboo, eats it, then take out a gun, shoots around randomly, reholsters the gun and walks out.
The bartender runs after him: “Hey, Sir! You've got no business coming into my bar, eating my food, shooting down the whole place and then walk away just like that!”
The panda answers: “Of course I do, man! I'm a panda! Look it up!”
The bartenders goes back to his bar, finds an old dictionary, where he reads this definition: Panda (masc. noun): a chinese bear who eats bamboo shoots and leaves.
Anyway: here is a picture I took a few years back at the San Diego Zoo and which I'm borrowing from myself:
San Diego Zoo, Aug. 15th, 2004. Bon appétit.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
As good a way as any to get this blog back to life...
On my desk you'll find:
A few Books:
- Howard N. Fox, Eleanor Antin, L.A. County Museum of Arts, 1999.
- P. Chabot & G. Hottois (eds), Les philosophes et la technique, J. Vrin, 2003.
- Technology and Culture, vol. 48, n. 1, Jan. 2007.
- Jeff Horn, The Path Not Taken, French Industrialization in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1830, MIT Press, 2006.
- David A. Kirsch, The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History, Rutgers U.P., 2000.
- Christophe, L'idée fixe du Savant Cosinus, 1900 [reprint Armand Colin, 1946].
Two Atlases, for Paris and Metro Philadelphia and a map of the Père Lachaise cemetery.
Several packs of photographs: 3×4" prints of XIXth Century works of arts, 4×6" prints of Amsterdam, Philadelphia and Paris, 7×11" prints of many different places, plus one framed picture of Gamkaskloof, South Africa.
A pile of xeroxed archive documents concerning an XVIIIth Century gun foundry.
Lots of personal documents that ought to be stored, archived, destroyed or maybe answered, who knows. Among those: my passport, several train tickets and a heap of bank statements.
A few electronic devices among which a Canon Lide 80 scanner, a Garmin etrex GPS, a Palm Tungsten craddle, an Apple Ibook and a Dell laptop, plus various peripherals: earphones, mouse, and all kind of cables; and the old Texas Instrument 57-LCD I've had since high school.
Many pencils and pens of various types, thickness and hardness, plus rulers and dividers, all stored in a large beer mug. Also: a magnifier, scissors and two penknives.
A belt with the great buckle I got for my birthday last week. A pair of leather gloves. My keys. My watch. A few coins. A lamp
That's it - my desk. What's on yours?
Thursday, April 13, 2006
I love this word, calisthenics. It's got this early twentieth century hygienist ring to it. I just hope I'm spelling it right.
And by the way, I took the good old dumbells out of the drawer - had some trouble picking them up though. Hahaha. Just kidding. They're not very heavy, about 13 pounds each. And I'm not overdoing it either - but still, there are some muscles there that I had completely forgotten about.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Read this excellent column in the Washington post: Ports Furor Is Just Protectionism, With a French Accent. Pretty accurate. Whish we had more column like this one in the French press. Of course, there's not much of a French press nowadays.
Excerpts from Steven Pearlstein's column:
And last weekend, de Villepin personally arranged the shotgun wedding of Gaz de France, the state-controlled gas supplier, and Suez, the French water and power supplier, to thwart a bid for Suez by Enel, a rich and attractive Italian suitor. So obvious was the patriotic intent that the boards of the two companies approved the deal on Saturday even before the price had been worked out.
Scare quotes around "patriotic" would have been in order.
But when viewed through the prism of French exceptionalism, what's good for the poule is not necessarily good for the coq. The view within both the French left and right now is that full European integration must await the development of "national champions" that can then carve up the rest of the world in ways that don't threaten workers at home or the cozy relationship between the political and economic elites.
He's missing the extent of this relationship: Suez has had close ties with the neogaullist establishment for years. What this operation amounts to, at the end of the day, is to give away a state-owned company to corporate cronies with absolutely no benefits to the taxpayer. Are we a great country, or what?
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Okay, so I've been connected to the internet, one way or another, for the last 15 years. That in itself makes me such an expert in the field I should be invited on TV talk shows all the time. Or not.
In any case, here it is: my own abridged history of the Internet.
“There be the internet”: fiber optics do the dance inside a wiring closet.
First came email - not much more available in 1990, except for a few ftp servers. We had an account on Unix machines, with our personal disk space on the server: our home directory. Ah-ha. Big deal. Of course as students we didn't have much in the way of actual homes back then, so having a home directory was just great.
Along came the first chat systems: I was on one of those when the first gulf war broke out (and if this isn't history, I don't know what is). And there were the Usenet News, which were a sort of useful mean of communication at the time.
Then came the first online library catalogs, in text mode of course. Then came gopher, the first navigational system for accessing data repositories. And then, in 1993, came the World-wide web.
Why did the “web” become such a thing so fast? Well, first, it was technically simple, if not simplistic. Second, server software was made available for free - good old CERN httpd server, took a matter of minutes to set up on any Unix machine with TCP/IP connectivity. Once you had that running, it was a child game for any self-respecting geek to write html pages about, er, whatever - and, tah-dah! it was available worldwide. Third, graphical user interfaces were quicly available, making things just as simple on the client side.
Then a strange thing happened: the fit was so good that it took off - and people started to have their personal computers hooked up to the internet. Now, that was quite unexpected: most of the computers connected to the internet at that time were Unix machines, with a few VMS servers here and there; the idea any PC or Mac could be connected too came as a bit of a shock, and indeed neither Windows 3.1 nor Apple System 7 had native IP capabilities.
Anyway, there was this new medium, and not much to fill it yet - naturally, all of us CompSci students had to jump on board... We had our home directory; now we had to have our home pages. Conveniently enough, the home pages were located in a subdirectory of our home directories. Now we could say anything we wanted to the world. Provided of course we had something to say.
The way I remember it, I set up my first web pages in the autumn of 1993 to show pictures I took back from a trip to Greenland to friends of mine who had moved to the other end of France (Hi guys, by the way!) - pictures scanned in grey scale with a hand scanner, and don't ask me how I managed to transfer them onto the server. And the html pages themselves were written with a plain text editor, of course - I am still very uncomfortable using any kind of html editor. They're for sissies anyway. Ha.
O.K. folks, let's stop here for today. Next episode will be: From home pages to weblogs, very soon on a web browser near you.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
To my American readers: guys, apologies for Bernard-Henri Lévy. But could you please, please, pretty please, please with sugar on top and a cherry on it - could you please keep him for a few years?
You've probably never heard of him before, so here's the story: In the early eighties a group of French so-called intellectuals calling themselves the Nouveaux Philosophes appeared suddenly in the French media. They were young, talked well on TV and were quite markedly right wing - that's what made them “new” at a time when the French inteligentsia were still predominently close to Althusserian marxism. One of them got famous, mostly for his strange first name and his open-collar shirt: that's our guy.
Years passed - they tend to do that. BHL married a famous actress (turned singer now), which gave him some little extra media exposure, but basically his 15 minutes of fame had come and gone. Hence that new scheme.
Since it is a scheme, if not a scam: the plan was to publish a book in the US, hoping it would infuriate the American “establishment” (whatever that is), and a few month later publish it in French - with a dust cover calling it "What America doesn't want to hear" or something to that effect.
And of course this scam might very well work, at least in terms of French sales. People aren't going to read it anyway, but as long as they buy it before not reading it, he's an happy man. I mean, his wife's last album tanked badly, he probably needs the money.
Anyway, by all means, do read the well-desserved scalding his book got in the NY Times. And if I ever start sounding like he does, please throw something at me.
P.S.: thanks to my wife and to our friend Chris for pointing me to that review)
Friday, January 27, 2006
Nothing like a protracted breakfast on a cold winter day, with a mug of nice mocha, baguette, butter and marmelade and, of course, my daily instalment of comic strips on the Ibook, thanks to Yahoo! News :
9 Chickweed Lane, Andy Cap, Bob the Squirrel, Cleats, Dilbert, Doonesbury, For Better or for Worse, Fox Trot, Jane's World, Luann, Non Sequitur, Over the Hedge, PreTeena, Prickly City, Tank MacNamara, Wizzard of Id, and Ziggy.
Coffee is from New Guinea - I'm just having a small pang of guilt right now: probably not that good for the local environment. I'll get Harar next time. Jam is bittersweet oranges or strawberry, seeing that we're all out of my Mother's homemade blackberry jam, straight from the hedges and thornbushes of Brittany.
Smug? What you mean, Smug?
Have a great day.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
OK, now that my French-speaking, daily weblog is close at hand, guess I'll be a bit more present here...
For now, more of the D.C. pictures. The federal capital statuary is not that different from what you'd find in any European capital - except for the fact that there's more of it, and more systematically located. But the most fascinating of it all is, in my opinion, the Sherman statue, right in front of the capitol.
People don't know much about the American civil war in France. They know it was about slavery and that, in that respect at least, the good guys won. Some people probably know it occured sometimes during the XIXth century, but that's pretty much that. They don't realize the trauma, they don't realize the space it takes in the colective memory. This statue is a clear reminder of that memory: William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the foremost proponent of total war, the General who blazed a trail of destruction across Georgia, is riding a horse as if he had just trotted down the steps of the Capitol, a military arm of the American Congress; calmly sitting on his horse, assessing the field; his eyes are steady and they're turned toward the South.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Yeah, this blog has moved. Not that it has readers or anything, anyway...
The thing is, I wanted to free the URL I was previously using (le-plume.blogspot.com) because I might want to move my main French-speaking blog (www.20six.fr/le_plume) here - 20six is getting from bad to worse and I'm getting mighty tired of it.
In any case, my English-speaking ramblings have moved here, hal a block down the street. Please come in and make yourself comfortable!
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
As I come back from Washington, D.C., I feel the need to go back to my English-speaking blog a little bit more - not to mention the fact that I might very well move my main, French-speaking blog to Blogger as soon as I find a way to transfer all my archives in a clean and easy way.
A week in D.C., then - a pretty good time there: even getting soaked on a rainy Christmas Day, walking around Downtown and the Mall, was sort of fun. More for me than for the guy that was trying to make the model trains to run around the national christmas tree despite the heavy rain, in any case...
Otherwise, the usual when visiting the U.S. : the good surprise of civil servants willing to serve you, the pleasantness of day to day interactions with people - and, God help me, I just love the food.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
I've been using the wires dispatches, as found on yahoo or other, as my main news sources those last few month. It's free, better than TV and as good as most newspapers, in my opinion - especially French newspapers, by the way.
Those last few days, the topic of "rioting in Paris" is starting to pop up. I'll try to ellaborate a little bit on that.
The thing is, I'm having have some difficulties doing so because, even though I live in Paris, this could very well happen on another planet. This, I guess, is very much part of the problem. I'm not affected, my neighborood is not affected, and I barely know anybody who is. And still, cars are being burned every night ten or twenty miles from where I sit.
Let's go back to the facts. A few days ago, in Clichy-sous-Bois, a pretty tough North-Eastern suburb, two young people who were messing around on a construction site were spotted by the police. They flew and jumped a fence to take refuge in a power station. There, they died of electric shock, which is very much something that might happen to you if you walk in the dark inside a power station. They were found much later because, apparently, the police had done a visual check inside the power station, decided the kids couldn't be in there, and took the pursuit to another direction.
When the incident was disclosed, some rioting started in Clichy-sous-Bois. Small groups of young male getting out of the buildings at night and fighting the police, burning cars and trash cans ; this has been a recurrent event in those suburbs, which is indeed rather worrisome. Still, two or three days later, things were starting to cool down under the influence of local authorities and community leaders.
Then, the Minister of the Interior, who is markedly on the right wing of this governement, launched into a scalding denounciation of what he called "racaille" (translated as rabble, riffraff or scum in my dictionary) from the suburban housing projects. This widely publicized discourse launched a new cycle of violence, this one more generalized, which was still going on yesterday night.
I am for my part very much of a legalist, in the sense that I feel that democracy lies in people adhering to the law of the Republic. And of course, since I believe in personal responsibility, I think noone but yourself is to blame if you trespass into what is obviously a very hazardous place. But, for the same reason, I can't accept that a political leader will make blattant provocations for political gain - and this is exactly wht Nicolas Sarkozy did last week.
Things are most probably going to go back to normal in a matter of days, especially if the media attention gets away from the incidents. Still, we have to face the fact that we have a deeply divided society here - and, quite frankly, I don't know what the heck we could do to fix that.
Monday, October 17, 2005
Okay, this has been a pretty long summer vacation - everybody know about the French and summer holidays, right?
Actually, keeping two blogs (one in French, one in English) is actually harder than I thought it would be. Especially since I try to abide the self-inflicted constraint of posting once a day in the main category, named "du jour", of said French blog.
Anyway, I promise I'll do better and save this blog from the old soldier's fate: not to die, but to fade away.
Not fading away, I, no sir!
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
As most of you must have heard, France was voting yesterday on the European constitutionnal treaty and rejected it. I voted against it myself - therefore I can't say I'm unhappy about the outcome, even though I don't think it is a result to cheer to, either.
Let me try and be a bit more articulate about this. I have been for all my politically conscious life in favour of furthering the European union. For that reason, I was in favour of a real European constitution and I'm a bit sad at having to dismiss the proposed text. The problem is that this text was absolute crap, there's no other way to describe it. Well, see for yourself if you feel like it. I mean, this would be fine if we were talking about the rules and regulations of a condominum, but this is meant to be a constitution!
Moreover, the project included the present policies of the Union (with very few modifications), changing them into constitutionnal standards. This is unacceptable on a matter of principle and even more so if you happen to disagree with said policies...
The "Yes" camp tried to make us believe that a "no" would mean the end of the world as we know it. Well, so far, this failed to happen. The prime minister resigned this morning, but that was long overdue and anyway the new government will be mostly a reshuffle of the previous ones. The Euro went down some, but since industrialists have been wailing over the Euro's overvaluation for months, one has to think this is actually good news. Of course, the "constitution" is now a walking dead and will be even deader tomorrow after Netherland's vote but, considering the quality of the text, this isn't bad news either.
I just hope that, after going through the current rough patch, the European institutions are going to go back to work and write a completely new text, much shorter, much clearer and, for short, much more constitution-like. I'd approve it as soon as I can.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
I realize that the titles my most recent posts both started with "back" so.. let's make this a trend!
This blog has not been very active these days, probably because I spent most of my blogging time on my French-speaking blog, quite notably because of the political situation here, which led to a few comments in my "politix" section.
As some of you may know, the adoption of the treaty instituting a so called constitution for the European union is being submitted to the popular vote in France at the end of this month. I'm in a bit of a fix because on one hand I don't like this text at all - I'll ellaborate on this if anybody is interested; on the other end, I don't quite like the way its rejection would entail, being a strong proponent of a stronger European Union.
All in all, I'm leaning towards the "no" - since, after all, the question I'm being asked is wether I think this "constitution" is any good, and I don't think it is. Moreover, the strong arm tactics of the "yes" people (on both side of the left-right divide) make me wary of the whole thing. We'll see how the whole thing turns out in a few weeks!
But, for now, back to the basics with a very tourist-friendly view of Paris:
Paris: l'Arc de Triomphe, picture taken during a bike ride last Sunday.
Actually, the place is not tourist friendly at all: the Place de l'étoile is a huge roundabout, so swarmed with cars that there's an underground passage to go to the arch itself, while the metro station access are perfectly hidden. Paris is still not the most hospitable city of the world, is it?
Saturday, April 30, 2005
Okay folks, I'm back in town after a week in Brittany: sailing, walking, etc. (weather permitting) and otherwise resting. That did a lot of good.
On the way back we stopped in Dol-de-Bretagne, a few miles from the Mont Saint-Michel but on the Brittany side of the Brittany-Normandy line. There's a cathedral there, which is a bit unusual for a town of 5,000 inhabitants - a rather interesting building, dating back from the XIIIth century but completely different from the major gothic cathedrals of Northern France. There's a picture of its nave on my French-speaking weblog; you'll see what I mean.
A stained glass window in the Saint-Samson cathedral of Dol-de-Bretagne.
Anyway, I'm back in paris, which means I'm back on DSL internet access. In other words, I'll be able to blog a lot more!
Friday, April 22, 2005
In my first post here I stated that I was going to write about books. I realize this has not happened yet: let's get to it.
It has become topical in the "learned" press to start any paper on a classical author or book by "Il faut relire So-and-So" ("one should read So-and-so again"). And of course, more often than not, you've never read the author in question, which makes the sentence a tad bit humiliating.
Still: One should re-read Conrad. And especially Heart of Darkness. Actually, I think I'm going to make it a policy to read it at least once a year - encouraged thus by the modest size of the novel. The fact is, each time I read it, I find new levels of interpretations I had previously overlooked.
The first level is of course its vivid description of one specific instance of colonialism in Africa: the so-called "Congo Free State", which became the Belgian Congo in 1910. The "Free State" was set up in the late 19th century to "protect" the Congo basin from the scramble of European nations for Africa, under the authority of what we'd call now an NGO. It actually was, from the start (Henry Morton Stanley, the foremost promoter of the scheme, was known to have a strong appetite for easy proffit), a major scale looting scheme, under the personnal authority of King Leopold of Belgium. The scheme turned out to be less profitable that it was supposed to be: it was mostly based on the export of ivory, purchased or plundered from the Interior tribes' stockpiles. Those stockpiles dried out at the time when the financial pressure from the railway works (a necessity to take the products out of the country efficiently) peaked, leading to the bankruptcy of the "Free State" and of the King, who then passed out its possession to a reluctant Belgian government.
Those two themes (the railway works and the plunder of ivory) are prominent in Heart of Darkness. This by itself makes the book a valuable tool for the historian of Africa. It is even a bit unsettling to read the description of two major problems of the "Free State" (the depopulation along the portage routes and the massive death from malnutrition and disease amongst displaced workers building the railway), knowing that the exact same events occured on the other side of the river, in the French Congo, years after the publication of Conrad's book...
Another historical reading would be made by historians of ideas: they'd note the cedrtainties of Marlow about English colonization ("where real work is done"), as opposed to French. They'd also note the cohabitation, in the character of Kurtz, of a high-spirited "white man's burden" type of discourse with violence and plundering.
But Heart of Darkness is of course not an documentary novel - even though it is a well documented novel. The closing sentence, echoing Marlow's opening, makes it clear that the heart of darkness is no more on the banks of the Congo River than on those of the Thames. And, as always with Conrad, the boundary between characters often blurs: "he was a voice", says Marlow of Kurtz, as he himself is speaking in the dark to a silent audience.
I could go on for days, eventually exceding the book's length. Which would be pretty pointless, I guess. So I'll just renew my advice: read it if you haven't already read it; read it again if you have.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Slowly recovering from what turned out to be some sort of bronchitis - hence my protracted silence here. But I'm alright now, thanks.
Let's take on the occasion and honor this mind-bogging little winter of April with an adequate picture:
One nimble young iceberg drifting out of the Ilulissat icefjord, Greenalnd, summer '93.
This picture was taken during a crazy cruise along the west coast of Greenland on a 28 feet, plywood-hulled sailing boat. Saw an add in a sailing magazine, called up and, three month later, overloaded with bags and boots and stuff, I was walking down from the Ilulissat airport to the harbor, where the boat and her owner were waiting for the new crew - I was the crew.
An amazing cruise, really. That is, until the point when we struck a "growler" during a patch of rough weather and very nearly sunk.
On another note, this cruise gave me the opportunity to set up my first web page, in October of the same year, as a mean of sharing my pictures with friends around the country. How's that? I started web-designing twelve years ago and managed not to earn a cent with that skill.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Dead at 28.000 feet.
Tomb of two XIXth century balloon pilots
Paris, Père Lachaise Cemetary, March 19th, 2005.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
The Canal de l'Ourcq in Aulnay-sous-Bois, last Sunday, around Noon.
One mile North from this point, huge housing projects, ugly malls and factories being dismembered. Real life always lurks.
Monday, April 04, 2005
[this post is an adaptation of the latest entry on my French-sapeaking blog.]
Springtime in Paris' Jardin des Plantes. Under the dwarf cherry tree - overloaded with its own white flowers - a crow is hopping from branch to branch.
Having a hard time finding the way out maybe. Unless it's just happy to be there.
Jardin des Plantes, Paris, last friday afternoon.
A minuscule occurence. The number of people stopping there to look at the cherry blossoms doesn't have much meaning either. But it does feel good nonetheless.
Le Plume wishes you a good day.
This is a self answering question if I ever saw any. Let me ellaborate a little on this anyway.
- First, I already maintain a weblog, with daily entries including pictures. It is witten in French (which is pretty natural since I happen to be a Frenchman living in France), and you can access it using the link on the sidebar. The home page I mention there is mostly an index to the photographs published in said weblog, by the way.
- Why this blog then? Mostly because I wanted to have an English-speaking publishing space, since for various reasons I do have an interest in both cultures. And there's also the small fact that the blogging platform I've been using so far seems to be plagued with technical and managerial problems...
- What will it be about? Probably mostly about books, and about places, and presumably many other things.
- Books: I read mostly in English those days, from crime novels to poetry, which makes it a bit pointless to comment about my recent reads in a French-speaking blog.
- Places: because I believe in going there and seeing what it's like. And there's "here" too: it's easy to forget how interesting the city where one lives can be interesting and surprising - even more so if you happen to live in Paris, I guess.
I'll try to keep my contributions here rather frequent - more or less daily.
So... please sit back, relax and enjoy!