14 May 2013

Commander Chris Hadfield's Space Oddity

Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield has spent almost six months orbiting earth aboard the International Space Station.

His gift to humanity prior to returning to earth was a cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity.

20 May 2012

Obama and Hollande: cheeseburger and French fries

On 18 May 2012, ahead of the G8 summit at Camp David and the NATO meeting in Chicago, French President François Hollande and US President Barack Obama held a bilateral meeting at the Oval Office at the White House. At the bilateral meeting, President Obama expressed an interest in President Hollande's views on cheeseburgers in Chicago. See remarks.
I was interested, when I was reading the President's biography, that he actually spent some time in the United States in his youth, studying American fast food -- (laughter) -- and although he decided to go into politics, we'll be interested in his opinions of cheeseburgers in Chicago. (Laughter.)

Hollande (translated)
And I would like to thank President Obama for the knowledge he has of my life before I took office. I will say nothing against cheeseburgers, of course.

I just want to remember that cheeseburgers go very well with French fries. (Laughter.)
Seemingly trivial, the exchange was not unnoticed in media reporting.

See for example, BFMTV (in French) or via YouTube

In Le Nouvel Observateur, Sylvain Courage provided some context to the exchange (my emphasis in bold)
Il sait que le jeune Hollande est venu, dès 1974, étudier le business américain du "fast food". Du coup, il attend avec impatience son jugement concernant les "cheeseburgers" de Chicago sa bonne ville où se tiendra, ce week-end, un sommet de l’Otan. L’allusion est rituelle. Combien de leaders mondiaux ont dû faire l’éloge du petit pain rond garni de steack haché pour s’attirer le lumineux sourire de Barack

La blague finaude souligne la dette culturelle et gastronomique du premier des frenchies. Naguère Sarkozy avait confié son admiration naïve pour Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne et l’inspecteur Colombo… Cette fois, le président français passe pour un accro du "Big Mac" et du "sundae fraise".
and finally
Pour conclure l’entretien préliminaire, Obama lance une dernière plaisanterie : les cheeseburgers de Chicago vont très bien avec les "french fries", ces frites que l’Amérique bushienne avait conspuées par francophobie post-irakienne… Hollande qui goûte autant la friture que la métaphore se garde "de faire tout commentaire." Pas de doute, pour tous les experts ès-diplomatie, le couple franco-américaine a remis le couvert.
The food metaphor signalled unchanged strengthened Franco-American relations.

See full exchange on White House YouTube complete with translators

09 May 2012

Possibly the best flash mob. Ever.

I previously wrote about flash mobs and nominated my top eight (on YouTube) but that was at the end of 2010 and there have been others that have far exceeded what was then considered the best.

On 17 April 2012, Sjællands Symfoniorkester/Copenhagen Phil gave an unannounced performance (flash mob) on Copenhagen Metro's M1 train to Vestamager playing Morgenstemning from Evard Grieg's Peer Gynt, in collaboration with Radio Klassisk.
Tirsdag den 17. april annoncerede lystavlerne i den Københavnske Metro et “Klassisk Særtog” – for inde i toget spillede Sjællands Symfoni­orkester / Copenhagen Phil Griegs smukke Morgenstemning fra Peer Gynt til stor begejstring hos de mange rejsende.
Simply marvellous. Watch.

27 April 2012

Sarkozy still unsure whether France is secular or not

Last year, I wrote about French President Nicholas Sarkozy's landmark speech at Puy-en-Velay on Thursday, 3 March 2011, in which he spoke about France's Christian heritage.

More recently, in campaigning for the 2012 presidential election, at another major speech at Raincy on 26 April 2012, incumbent President Sarkozy again referred to France's Christian heritage
Je veux dire d’ailleurs que ce fut une grave erreur – et je le dis en Seine-Saint-Denis en sachant à qui je parle – que pendant tant d’années, mes propres amis se sont contorsionnés pour reconnaître ce qui, à mes yeux, était depuis longtemps une évidence, je veux parler des racines chrétiennes de la France. Quand je dis que la France a des racines chrétiennes, je ne fais pas la défense d’une église, je regarde simplement dix siècles de royauté et d’église qui ont construit une nation, je regarde ce long manteau de cathédrales et d’églises. Et dire que la France a des racines chrétiennes, ça permet d’accueillir ceux de nos compatriotes qui n’ont pas une racine chrétienne et de venir additionner leur identité à la nôtre. Mais si, dans le même temps où on accueille des compatriotes d’identités, d’origines différentes, si, dans le même temps, on conteste l’identité profonde de la nation française, il ne peut pas y avoir d’intégration parce que chacun se sentira menacé dans l’identité qui est la sienne !

Et je vais plus loin ! Ce fut une erreur. J’ai toujours été Européen, j’ai toujours dit oui à l’Europe. Mais ce fut une erreur de renoncer à inscrire dans le projet de Constitution européenne que l’Europe avait des racines chrétiennes parce qu’il y a un certain nombre d’Européens qui ont compris à ce moment-là que l’Europe venait contester leur identité alors même que l’Europe venait conforter leur identité. Voilà la réalité ! Si on ne sait pas d’où l’on vient, on ne peut pas dire où l’on va ! D’ailleurs, si vous doutez de ce que je dis, il suffirait, il suffit de voir tout simplement ce que font tous les autres pays dans le monde !
Here, he talked about French identity being based on ten centuries of Christian roots.

As I mentioned last year, "In all his insistence that France is secular, particularly in relation to a perceived Muslim/Islam issue, it is an unusual step and an attempt to appeal to Christian voters.

The question remains, either France is a secular state or it is not."

See full speech or if you prefer, watch (all 59 minutes of it).

22 April 2012


Luminale is a bienalle of lighting culture, that was held in Frankfurt from 15-20 April 2012 in conjunction with Light+Building, a trade fair for architecture and technology.
This is the 6th time that Luminale will cast its spell on Frankfurt and the Rhine-Main region. After the rapid growth of the early years, it has levelled off with around 170 events and thus ranks among Europe’s established and important architecture and design festivals. Luminale puts the spotlight on Frankfurt and the region. Thanks to the combination of Light + Building and Luminale, target groups as varied as industrial companies, artisans, the retail and wholesale trades, research, the property business and the cultural scene can find everything they need together at the same place and time – discussions, business transactions, inspiration and the good feeling that the sector’s products are needed for the ecological conversion of society.
See report from Deutsche Welle about the Dutch design team DRIFT

Stunning. See also Luminale 2012 photos from hr online.

07 March 2012

How the world learnt about Joseph Kony

A short 30 minute documentary on YouTube (below) and Vimeo has been shared extensively on Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about Joseph Kony, a warlord and war criminal who has kidnapped children to turn them into child soldiers, amongst other atrocities.
KONY 2012 is a film and campaign by Invisible Children that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.

See - www.invisiblechildren.com

03 March 2012

Three Little Pigs - the real story

A brilliant video from the Guardian showing how the incident of the Three Little Pigs might be reported in the media today. Not everything is as it seems.

Perhaps most of the rhymes, stories and tales by Mother Goose, Aesop and the brothers Grimm could be reinterpreted.

25 February 2012

Who owns sunken treasure?

Mitch Stacy for Associated Press (AP) has reported that 17-tons of silver and gold coins salvaged from the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish galleon sunk by British warships in the Atlantic, off Portugal, while sailing back from South America in 1804, has been returned to Spain.

Legal action in the United States denied ownership of the find to both the Peruvian government which argued the material was sourced from Peru and the salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration. See also Newsday and El País (in Spanish - with excellent photographic and video coverage).

Stacy reported that "Peruvian cultural authorities say their country's legal case would have been stronger if it had signed the 2001 U.N. Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which states that countries of origin have priority in deciding the fate of cultural artifacts found in shipwrecks". However, the text of the convention does not appear to regulate the ownership of wrecks or sovereignty rights.

While Spain has asserted its legal right to the find, surely Peru would also have some moral rights.

When it comes to sunken treasure, it is not a case of finders keepers.

27 January 2012

further travels of Tintin 2

In August 2009, I wrote about further travels of Tintin, cover art of additional places Tintin visited, by people who were not Hergé.

Australian artist Glenn Smith has drawn his tribute to Tintin set in Penrith, which is west of Sydney.

Glenn Smith hopes to offer the drawing as a poster.

26 January 2012

Le changement, c'est maintenant

The campaign slogan for France's Parti Socialiste, contesting the presidency with François Hollande as candidate, is "le changement, c'est maintenant".

Quite a dull campaign slogan but when combined with a hand and arm gesture, it's quite magnifique.

Le changement, c'est maintenant: le signe de... by francoishollande

See reporting in Le Nouvel Observateur and France24.

22 January 2012

Whales give dolphins a lift

In 2010, the journal Aquatic Mammals (DOI: 10.1578/AM.36.2.2010.121) reported about interactions between dolphins and whales. Abstract
Two Unusual Interactions Between a Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and a Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Hawaiian Waters

Mark H. Deakos, Brian K. Branstetter, Lori Mazzuca, Dagmar Fertl, and Joseph R. Mobley, Jr.

When two species share a common habitat, interspecific interactions can take many forms. Understanding the dynamics of these interactions can provide insight into the behavior and ecology of those species involved. Two separate, unusual interactions are described in which a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) lifted a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) completely out of the water. Both incidents occurred in Hawaiian waters. Based on reports of object play by hump-back whales, and the apparent initiation and cooperation of each dolphin being lifted, object (i.e., the dolphin) play by the whale and social play by the dolphin seem to be the most plausible explanations for the interaction. Aggressive and epimeletic behavior by the humpback were also considered.
Recently (10 January 2012), the American Museum of Natural History released photos of such an interaction

Was this a case of inter-species play or had one species 'domesticated' the other?

17 December 2011

A random act of kindness does make a difference

From Life Vest Inside

(Song: One Day by Matisyahu - original clip)

A random act of kindness does make a difference and 'what goes around comes around'

16 December 2011


Press release from Die Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (GfdS)/the Society for German Language, on the word of the year
Wort des Jahres 2011 ist Stresstest. Dieses Wort, ursprünglich aus der Humanmedizin stammend, begegnete im Laufe des Jahres auffällig oft. Es erwies sich dabei aus sprachlicher Sicht als äußerst produktiv und war in den verschiedensten Bereichen anzutreffen: Nicht nur Banken wurden auf ihre Belastbarkeit getestet, auch etwa das Bahnhofsprojekt Stuttgart 21, die grün-rote Landesregierung in Baden-Württemberg und deutsche Atomkraftwerke wurden Stresstests unterzogen. Diese Praxis und somit das Wort erlangten dadurch politische, wirtschaftliche und gesamtgesellschaftliche Relevanz. So ist Stresstest mittlerweile als fester Bestandteil der Alltagssprache anzusehen. 
Read more, for the other nine words in the top ten list.

Borrowed from the English term, it was originally used in German in a medical sense. Lately, it has been applied in the financial sector as a measure of an institution's resilience and 'health'. The term has also been applied to describe whether transport systems and indeed nuclear reactors are able to withstand stresses and 'overloading'.

See also Duden for a more official definition.

In 2011, the word captures the fear of systems failing.

12 November 2011

Another (sub) species, extinct

According to the latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, "the Western Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) has officially been declared extinct." (see IUCN news release).

The loss of a rhinoceros sub-species is a travesty, particularly as it was hunted to extinction.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a democratic membership union composed of over 1,000 members, 11,000 scientific experts in various thematic commissions with 1,000 staff, working together in more than 160 countries to help the world find pragmatic solutions to the most pressing environment and development challenges.

The Australian Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities is a country member, along with nine state government agencies and 16 non-government organisations.

The United States Department of State Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and the United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are also country members.

11 November 2011

Tintin in India

Soutik Biswas is the Delhi correspondent for the BBC. He's also an unabashed Tintin fan and writes
Indians love Tintin like no other comic book. In an age of dashing, computer generated comic book heroes, Tintin albums - in English and in Bengali and Hindi translations - continue to sell by the thousands. Is it any surprise then that Steven Spielberg's paean to the intrepid reporter, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, releases in India later on Friday, six weeks ahead of its US release?

"Tintin is huge in India, perhaps bigger than in the US," says a spokesperson for Sony Pictures (India), which is releasing the film here. She says their research shows that more than 90% of the audience that watch Hollywood films in India are Tintin fans. Amazing.
Read more.

Tintin visited India in Tintin in Tibet, The Blue Lotus and Cigars of the Pharaohs.

10 November 2011

Water from thin air

The winner of the James Dyson Award was announced on 8 November 2011. From James Dyson Award website
The James Dyson Award is open to product design, industrial design and engineering university level students (or graduates within 4 years of graduation) who have studied in the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, UK and USA.
The award is £10,000 for the student or student team (up to four members) winner, £10,000 for their university department and the James Dyson Award trophy and Certificate.

This year, the award was won by Edward Linacre, a Swinburne University of Technology graduate, for his Airdrop invention, in which
Moisture is harvested out of the air to irrigate crops by an efficient system that produces large amounts of condensation. A turbine intake drives air underground through a network of piping that rapidly cools the air to the temperature of the soil where it reaches 100% humidity and produces water. The water is then stored in an underground tank and pumped through to the roots of crops via sub surface drip irrigation hosing.
Read more.

See also

In his own words

Amazing ingenuity from Australia - an innovative and practical solution to a major problem that is also cheap to implement. Congratulations to Mr Linacre.

31 October 2011

Tintin TIME

TIME magazine's 31 October issue featured a Tintin cover in the Europe, Asia and South Pacific editions.

The United States edition was unique

Evidence that the United States doesn't get Tintin the way the rest of the world does.

30 October 2011

Saving canines

Two interesting articles this week.

Global Post has a pictorial of pet dogs in Bangkok also being saved/evacuated from the flooding.

Der Spiegel reports whether the German Shepherd breed can be saved from show-breeders who have deformed the standard so that the lower back and hind-legs now slope down, making those dogs impractical for police work.

27 October 2011

Tintin update

The Tintin film was released in Belgium and France on 26 October 2011 (link for other release dates elsewhere).

Reported in Euronews

Read Euronews report.

Reporting in the Belgian and French media have been glowing.