Cats in a Cradle – Kittens sleeping any which way.

If you like cats, you ought to love this post. It is, as the title of the blog suggests, cute overload. The title of this particular post is “Powered by Ambien” which I find a little tragic (=prescribed happiness?). Otherwise, the shots are priceless. The photographs apparently all come from the internet (see about us), so I have blithely borrowed a couple of them for you as a taster. The following three shots are of cats in the various important parts of life.

Family Time. The Postprandial Slumber
Family Time: Cats sleeping train in Postprandial Slumber

Cuddling up with Friends.
Cuddling up with friends: Cat sleeping on Dog

The power [cat] nap at Work
Cat sleeping on Computer

Here’s to the cats with nine lives and seven sleeps. Enjoy.

Marketing Guns for Jobs in Paris?

Paris de la diversité et du premier emploi - translates (with a play on words in the first word Paris which also means bets/betting) into: “Betting on diversity and a first job.” This advertisement is for a forum in Paris (June 12th, 2008) to help young people — with diverse backgrounds — to get a first job. Oddly, the home page of the site has the wrong date (1st June).

This was a street advertisement that I happened upon this morning, walking on my way to work. But, do you see what I see?

Paris de la diversité
I did a double take. I was shocked.

Paris de la diversité
This handshake looks scarily like a white hand holding a revolver, with the black skin resembling the shaft of a gun. The case of a marketing person not taking a step back from what you are trying to achieve.

Anyone else see the same thing?

Fasten your seatbelts

Fasten seatbeltsFasten your seatbelt up at 10,000 feet? Is it any better to buckle up at 35,000 feet?

If you are like me and the intimate masses who travel frequently, you will no doubt share a preconceived notion that wearing a seatbelt in an airplane is tantamount to putting a Band-Aid on a sawed off leg. I am a “put it on before you pull out” seat-belt fanatic when it comes to the car and, perhaps by extension or habit, I do the same in the airplane. That said, I was barely convinced on the reason why. George Bibel’s article, entitled “Flight Safety. Fasten your seatbelt. Yes, YOU” that appeared in the weekend’s IHT editorial pages, was great as it laid out for me the reasons why it is absolutely pertinent to listen to the words of the flight attendant and to buckle up.
Two main reasons:
  • The vast majority of plane accidents need not be, and indeed are not, fatal.
  • Large and sudden drops in altitude caused by turbulence can break an unbuckled passenger’s neck by bouncing off the ceiling.
So, in the interest in spreading the good word, buckle up on the plane! What about finding a viral way to spread the word and introduce on board peer pressure?
Message to flight attendants and airline companies, just because it’s the law and because you have to say it every flight, find ways to entertain us as you repeat the safety refrains. Virgin (film with character) and Southwest (good humour allowed here) set the example.
* For good humour, try this photo out on Kevin’s blog: fasten your seat belt while seated (not while standing)
** Meanwhile, how many of you know the difference between ‘direct’ and ‘nonstop’? Apparently, there is much room for misinterpretation per this IHT Q&A article.

The answer: ‘nonstop’ is the way to go. ‘Direct’ means you might stay on or use the same plane, but that there may yet be a stop over. Nonstop means just that, no stopping. Did you know the difference?

Motorcycle Helmet Day: Visit to Hanoi Vietnam – Part 3

Hanoi Vietnam Motorcyclists Without Helmets StillVisit to Hanoi Vietnam – Part 3 of a 3-part recount…Today is December 15th, an important day for motorcyclists in Vietnam:

Based on a personal survey, I would say that, up until a week ago (when I left), less than 5% of the scooter riders were wearing a helmet. With the photo to the left taken a week ago, you can see for yourselves [note the mobile “tea time”]. By itself, the absence of helmets is a statement on the value of life. During my stay, I witnessed five accidents where a scooter rider was sprawled out on the ground motionless. Every year there are reported to be 15,000 deaths on the road, with 80% due to cerebral damage. The ironic thing is that, today, December 15th, a new law is going into place in Vietnam to make wearing the helmet obligatory. There were several large Soviet-style posters dotted around town announcing the new legislation (right). With less than a week to go, when I was in Hanoi, I did not see people lining up Hanoi Vietnamto buy the helmets in the stores. I can only imagine the process of implementing the helmet law will take a good long time before (a) the police manage to pass along the message sufficiently, (b) the people find the resources to purchase the helmets and (c) the habits change such that no more than 3 people ride together (it is much harder, even more dangerous, to group ride if everyone were wearing a helmet).

Scooters are parked chock-a-block on the sidewalks. Some are even parked inside the shops. I saw one house with a car parked in the ground floor living room. Scooters are part of the daily life and represent, it seems for the majority, the way of life. Families, friends, colleagues, baggage, goods, livestock… You will find all grouped onto the the scooters. The record I saw was 6 adults (young kids) who clambered on together (although it was difficult for them to get started). I was simply fascinated by this way of life. You just about saw any combination. Parents with their two kids; sometimes an infant carried by the mother behind the husband. Many were fortunately wearing a mouth protection, of course, to avoid inhaling the ghastly pollution.

Anyway, in honor of the December 15th law, this post is to encourage ALL motorcyclists to wear helmets, wherever ye may be!

Meanwhile, among I have just a couple of final observations to share with you. As much as the messages may still controlled by the government, the young population is clearly getting plugged in to the outside world, despite the filters. The internet cafes (left) were systematically crammed with eager surfers.

And I save for last the merchandising magic of the jeans stores (photo right). The mannequins are placed in the street and ALL of them are turned around so that you can evaluate “properly” the way the jeans fall. Quite an astute marketing ploy, no? In this photo, I also half captured a live mannequin-slash-shopper.

And, finally, a quick blogroll of other interesting blogs of people commenting on Hanoi:

Lockportions from NY
Sri Kebatat Photo Blog
Peter – A life in Hanoi
And, Web Censorship in Vietnam from Global Voices Online

Visit to Hanoi Vietnam – Part 2

Hanoi Vietnam ScootersVisit to Hanoi Vietnam- Part 2 of a 3-part recount:

Hanoi is a thriving city, with approximately 5 million inhabitants said the two local guides (although the official statistics cite a much lower number). The architecture of the buildings is a mixture of French (windows, balconies), Chinese (inscriptions, colors) and Russian (Stalin era cheap) styles. The unifying feature is the narrow width of virtually all the houses, made with either a 3-meter or 5-meter wide berth to limit the taxation (see left photo). The houses vary from one storey to six stories, with many that have a base in the French style and the top that features Chinese traits. It seemed that virtually all of the houses are dual purpose with a shop on the ground floor and the shop owners’ dwellings either squaredHanoi Vietnam away at the back on the only ground floor, or upstairs. The rents in downtown Hanoi have moved up with the times, although still with government controlled pricing. On the tourist-haven Silk Road, rent for a typical thin shop on the ground floor is $4000USD. In the Viet Nam News of Dec 7, 2007, there was a piece on “Land Prices.” “The People’s Council carried a resolution that sets the price of land in the city in an effort to settle site-clearance difficulties and complaints of overcrowding.” Not sure how that works. “The resolution,” the article continues, “sets the price of city land at beween VND2.5MM [108E] and 67.5MM [2934E] per square metre.” These price “controls” are effective Jan 1, 2008. I was also told by my guide that a 75m2 apartment located on the outskirts of the town costs $100,000.

At the same time as being a constant photo-taking opportunity, the hundreds of thousands of scooters and mopeds dominate the street experience. According to the HCM City People’s Council Deputy Chairman Nguyen Thanh Tai, there are 2000 new motorbikers (scooters) and 200 new cars registered each day. There is an evident lack of regard for the rules of the road, where bicycles and scooters drive nonchalantly up the wrong side of the road, like fish swimming upstream. The occasional policeman can be spotted pulling over a scooter; however, their citations are as effective for bringing order as throwing a pebble into a river is effective for creating a dam. I saw more scooters do double turns up into one-way traffic to avoid the cop than scooters actually getting stopped.

And, even if the maximum speed (anywhere) were to be above Hanoi Vietnam80 kmh, you rarely have the opportunity to drive quickly. With swarming scooters, bicycles and foot traffic, everyone drives at a certain pace. No quick moves. And a lot of tolerance, though, there was lots of (mostly futile) honking as well. The honking, that said, was mostly to remind someone to move over or that there was someone coming up from behind. I never saw any acts of aggression. Nonetheless, it is a hair-raising experience to drive in and around Hanoi. Overtaking on the main road (where you can reach the dizzying maximum speed of 80kmh) means honking and flashing like mad, pushing the slower vehicle toward the extra margin on the right and then forcing oncoming traffic over to the extra margin on the left, all the while juggling the cacophony of motorcycles and scooters. For the kids riding on the front of the scooters, it was like a Disneyland joy ride, except for the very real pollution and danger. Most of the kids I saw (that weren’t wearing a mask or helmet) were carrying a big grin throughout their ride (except for this one grimacing on the right–note the family of four; photo courtesy of Frederic).

Beauty in the eye of the software

Just as we have Unilever presenting the “real” woman with their Dove campaign, on the other end of the scale, we have digital retouching going democratic. In 2006, an Israeli firm launched a software to allow for perfect retouching of faces. Found this subject courtesy of this now defunct blog (closed down after this ‘famous’ posting). A better site is by Mr Piquepaille (got to love his name) with some more information on the technology. What is hard to imagine is the business model.

“Here, darling, I thought you might like this software.”

“Sir,” the creative director said making the final presentation, “your product did nothing for the model, but you gotta love this software.”

“It’s for my passport photograph. I can’t stand to look at myself for 10 years.”

One of the funny comments left on the site about the photos posted on the left (the redhead) was: “my 3 year old found the photo on the left more attractive.” Personally, about the two photos on the right side (the blonde), I might also have said that the shot on the left was more attractive. And you?

My wife and I have often debated the topic of whether beauty is objective or not… Of course, it would also be appropriate to say that beauty must also then be atemporal.

Any thoughts?

Lost Cities…

In the imaginary, the lost cities of yesteryear (or in fantasy land) somehow conjure up a mixture of nostalgia, curiosity and mystery. Found this Lost Cties site that gives an nice overview of lost cities around the world, including some commentary. Featured on Shunya.net, its founder Namit Arora (whose former nom de plume, Shunya, gave this site its name), is a travel photographer, prose writer, and Internet technologist. The full site includes lots of shots of wildlife, nature and different peoples. Worth the visit for the armchair traveller.

Digital Cameras – Digging Digital Dollars Saved

When I think of digital cameras these days I have two symbiotic thoughts that lead me to a euphoric urge to go out and buy yet another camera.

1) Why don’t we skip the small talk and get to the next generation now. I know already that my credit card sized Panasonic (Leica-inside) Lumix (left) is soon to be undergrown by a business card version and then some time later by a photo passport size version and so on (thumb size pictured right). It is kind of obvious. That said, why was the last camera I purchased for the big bucks the size of a melon? I have reverted back to the old fashioned traditional SLR-sized Canon (Rebel EOS), replete with multiple lenses, carrying bags and gadgets. Fortunately, haven’t buckled for the separate flash yet. But it does seem like a throwback. My next purchase? A 300mm zoom.

2) To make space for my new collection, at least mentally if not physically, I have to get rid of the old equipment, including the Canon AE-1 SLR kit, the hopelessly large DVR recorders (2) plus the “small” Sony that preceded my current Lumix. Each was state of the art at time of purchase. And ache of the heart pricing. And each has been accumulating dust, lying in the drawer under my daughter’s bed.

Where does that leave me? For problem #1, a perfect justification:

Having gone digital, and assuming just a regular rate of photo production (as opposed to unrestricted gigabytes of pictures in the current digital mode), the annual savings on film and film development is about €270. BTW, brought back to a price per good picture [typically only 2 out of 36], that means about €10 per photo. Having gone digital, therefore, a top end €600 machine is actually amortized in just over 2 years.

For point #2, thanks to the secondary market (my favourite and most effective remains www.Craigslist.com – sorry Fabrice at www.olx.com, the volumes in France aren’t there yet), I can cut into that remaining €430. Each “old” item should fetch between €50 and €100. That means I am down to around €230, which seems quite reasonable.

And, as if I needed any other benefits, I don’t have to fret about my photo albums going up in smoke as I can store the photos on an external server (thanks Fabrice www.allmydata.com). That’s good POM. I can share the photos on line with consummate ease (Dial family website). And, think of the ecological benefits of not printing all those rubbish photos (closed eyes, smirk, over exposure, etc.) in terms of wasted paper and chemicals for classic film development (that smell is oh so unnatural).

So, with these new calculations in mind, no wonder I have (post rationalized and) bought the best smallest and largest digital cameras. Of course, that won’t stop me buying a iphone with yet another camera embedded sometime in the future either…

Now, the real challenge is figuring out how to save on time.