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Tuesday, 12 March, 2019

The World Wide Web is 30 years old. Congrats! Its founder, the English engineer and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, first proposed the system that would become the WWW on 11 March 1989. To celebrate the anniversary, he’s distilled his ideas about the internet in a letter to the world titled, 30 years on, what’s next #ForTheWeb?

“Today, 30 years on from my original proposal for an information management system, half the world is online. It’s a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come, but also an opportunity to reflect on how far we have yet to go.”

This is a very positive opening message from Sir Tim. Sure, lots of bad actors have enriched themselves during the past 30 years thanks to the WWW, but the web is a world of wonders and there’s much to be grateful for. And Sir Tim is indefatigable.

In fact, last September, he announced the launch of Inrupt, co-founded with cybersecurity entrepreneur John Bruce. The goal is “to restore rightful ownership of data back to every web user.” Berners-Lee has been working on a new web platform called Solid for some time now and this will re-imagine how apps store and share personal data. Inrupt will power the development of the Solid platform and transform it to a viable infrastructure for businesses and consumers. The big idea behind Solid is that, instead of a company storing all your personal data on its servers, you keep it on your own personal data “pod” on a Solid server and you can then give individual apps permission to read and write to your pod. Inrupt plans to make money by offering products and services to businesses and individual who want to implement Solid. The company is based in Boston and is backed by the VC firm Glasswing Ventures.

“The fight for the web is one of the most important causes of our time. Today, half of the world is online. It is more urgent than ever to ensure the other half are not left behind offline, and that everyone contributes to a web that drives equality, opportunity and creativity.”

Since attending an HTML course in Dublin at the end of the 1990s, your blogger has done his best to contribute to a web that drives equality, opportunity and creativity. The road goes ever on, however.

“The web is for everyone and collectively we hold the power to change it. It won’t be easy. But if we dream a little and work a lot, we can get the web we want.”

Sir Tim


The tenth post of pre-Christmas 2018: October

Saturday, 22 December, 2018

On 25 October, here, we posted an entry about Siracusa, the home of the world’s best sandwich. Who knows, we might even get to see a live performance of this in 2019.

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Described by Cicero as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”, Siracusa (Syracuse) is one of Sicily’s most historic places. It’s mentioned in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles 28:12 as Saint Paul stayed there, and its patron saint is Saint Lucy, who was born there. Her feast day, Saint Lucy’s Day, is celebrated on 13 December.

Today, Siracusa is home to a street-food artist who makes the very best sandwich in the world. Watch this.

Back on 19 September, our post here was about the affordable and delicious street food sold at markets and train stations and from ‘pojangmacha’ (carts) in most of South Korea’s urban areas. The featured Korean Egg Toast was made with remarkable efficiency and an almost Confucianistic solemnity, and while we’re warned today by our PC overlords about comparing cultures, we’re still allowed to express preferences and the making of this sandwich is Siracusa wins. It’s craft and art; it’s theatre with an enthusiastic audience; it’s loving, passionate, creative and, especially noteworthy, it nourishes a community that appreciates good food prepared with local ingredients.

Talking of the ingredients, one very thoughtful YouTube commentator has listed them:

Filoncino bread, olive oil, Parmesan, dried ciliegini (sweet tomatoes) with basil, fresh salad (radicchio + lettuce + lemon juice and lemon zest), fresh tomatoes, grated Caciotta, grated sheep Ricotta (the same he serves on a plate in the meanwhile). The one in the plate has been aromatized at the moment with fresh garlic, olive oil and oregano, more Ricotta, olives, red sweet onions and some more dried ciliegini.

The filling roll: Slices of a massive Caciocavallo cheese, mashed potatoes with parsley and oil, ham, more Ricotta, more sweet onions (with a drop of lemon this time), parsley.

Divine. Sublime. The way the ham is added is magical.

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Tomorrow, here, our review of the year approaches the end of this series with the eleventh post of pre-Christmas 2018. The subject is the author Frederick Forsyth and his subject is the thief Edward Snowden.


Yemen: Arabia Felix

Thursday, 13 September, 2018

On a winter morning in 1761 six men boarded a ship in Copenhagen. They were the members of a Danish expedition to Arabia Felix, as Yemen was then known. The adventures of the group, which comprised a botanist, a philologist, an astronomer, a doctor, an artist and their manservant, are recounted in Arabia Felix: The Danish Expedition 1761-1767 by Thorkild Hansen. Translated from the Danish by James McFarlane and Kathleen McFarlane, the book features an introduction by Colin Thubron, and it’s a joy to read.

It took about six months for the Danes to reach modern-day Turkey, and on 8 September, 1761, with all the preparations for the journey complete, the expedition officially began. Snippet:

Dressed in their new Oriental clothes, the learned gentlemen took leave of their host von Gähler and went aboard the boat which was to take them to Alexandria. On this ship, a little Turkish vessel from the Adriatic port of Dulcigno, the expedition encountered quite another world from the one they had been accustomed to on the Greenland. The purpose of the ship’s journey was quite simply to take a cargo of young slave girls to the Egyptian markets. It is apparent right from the start how this curious cargo captured the interest of our travellers.

Peter Forsskål forgot his jelly-fish and marine plants for a while and noted in his diary: “We find ourselves in the company of a merchant who is going to Cairo with a cargo that would be highly unusual in European ports, namely women. He has taken all the safeguards of jealousy: a special cabin, which lies above our own, has been reserved for the young women, and he alone takes them their food. In addition, he has fastened a blanket inside the door so that the women cannot be seen when he lets himself in and out.” It would appear from this description that Forsskål had lost nothing of his power of exact scholarly observation; and Niebuhr too seems to have made a conscientious study. The young women, he says in his diary, “are generally very well treated, because when they are to be sold in Egypt it is very important for their owners that they should arrive at the market healthy and cheerful.”

Felix Arabia


All Ireland Hurling Final: Galway vs. Limerick

Sunday, 19 August, 2018

It’s Sunday, 19 August, and 82,000 hurling fans, including family and friends, will trek today to Croke Park in Dublin to watch this year’s All Ireland Final between Galway and Limerick. It should be a wonderful occasion and the hope here is that, when “all doing is done”, as the poet Desmond O’Grady put it, Limerick will win its first title since 1973.

BREAKING: Limerick 3-16 Galway 2-18. Up Limerick, All Ireland Hurling Champions 2018!

Galway and Limerick

Desmond O’Grady was born in Limerick in 1935. He moved to Paris in the 1950s, where he worked in the Shakespeare and Company bookshop. He earned his MA and PhD from Harvard University and appeared in the 1960 Fellini film, La Dolce Vita, playing the role of an Irish poet. During the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, while teaching in Rome, he was European editor of The Transatlantic Review.

A Song Of Limerick Town

We, in the fishblue hours
Of clockstrike early morning;
Sleep in the househuddled doors
Of our eyes, love in our yawning;

Stole through the sailorless streets
Of the still, caught-cuddling town,
Where seabedded fishing fleet sleeps
Fast in the arms of ‘Down

Anchors, all hands ashore.
And now, here with the bulk
Of our talk from the hours before,
Here with the sulking hulks

Of ships, when no bells fore
Or aft will bang in the ears
Of morning and the town clock
Hoarsely churns its gears.

We are made one. I
With the man of the Limerick town
And you with the Shannon stream;
Made one till all doing is done.

Desmond O’Grady (1935 – 2014)


World Cup: Adidas vs. Nike

Wednesday, 4 July, 2018

Forget about the football. The real battle of this World Cup is the branding one between Adidas and Nike, and the Americans are beating the Germans as we approach the final!

Adidas began well, sponsoring 12 of the 32 teams, including favourites Germany and Spain. Nike supplied shirts for 10 countries. But look what’s happening now: The Nike swoosh adorns the proud quarter-final chests of Brazil, France, Croatia and England, while Adidas has but Belgium, Russia and Sweden, with the group of the last eight rounded out by Uruguay, which is sponsored by Puma.

It all started to go pear-shaped for Adidas on 27 June with the shock elimination of World Champions Germany from the tournament. Its shares fell 2.7 percent in the following trading session. After all, Germany accounted for a third of Adidas’ roughly nine million team jersey sales in 2014. And at the weekend, two very high-profile Adidas-sponsored teams, Argentina and Spain, were eliminated, and Mexico (Adidas) lost to Brazil (Nike) on Monday. Calamity! Since the start of the World Cup on 14 June, Nike’s stock is up almost three percent. Adidas has lost about five percent. We say: Nike for the win, Adidas for the discount.

Adidas


The amazing Amazon jobs and money machine

Monday, 30 October, 2017 0 Comments

Hear this: Amazon now employs 542,000 people, up 77 percent on a year ago.

And this: The company announced third quarter sales were up 34 percent to $43.7 billion. But there’s more. Consider this:

“Amazon launched Amazon Wind Farm Texas, its largest windfarm yet, which generates more than 1,000,000 megawatt hours of clean energy annually from over 100 turbines. Amazon now has 18 solar and wind projects live across the U.S. with more than 35 on the way. Together, Amazon’s renewable energy projects now produce enough clean energy to power over 330,000 homes annually.”

Those stats, and many, many more can be found in the retailer’s press release from last Thursday, which makes for thought-provoking reading.

As Jeff Bezos once said: “There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second.”


École 42 may be the answer

Wednesday, 11 October, 2017 0 Comments

At 8:42 every morning, students at École 42 on the Boulevard Bessières in Paris get their digital projects. They have 48 hours to complete them, so they are always under pressure, as in real life. École 42, takes its name from the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything” in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The answer, by the way, is 42.

The school is the creation of Xavier Niel, a French billionaire who has so far spent about €48 million on the Paris campus and an additional $46 million on a twin school in Fremont, in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Niel made his fortune with Free, the second-largest internet service provider in France, and in 2013 he declared that the country’s education system was not working so he set out to fix the software engineering, coding and programming part of it.

Incidentally, no degrees or special skills are required to apply to attend École 42, and those who are accepted attend for free for three to five years. According to Niel, around 80 percent of students get jobs before they finish the course and 100 percent are employed by the end. Clearly, if it’s broke, Xavier Niel is the man to fix it.

42


Gunn and Vuillard: Coffee people

Tuesday, 29 August, 2017 0 Comments

In a poem from his 1982 collection The Passages Of Joy, Thom Gunn declared: “I like loud music, bars, and boisterous men.” Gunn was born on this day in 1929 in Gravesend in Kent and died on 25 April 2004 in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. He moved from England to California in 1954 to live with his male lover and to immerse himself in San Francisco’s bath-house culture. Gay life, however, was not his sole poetic focus. Celebration, endurance, mortality and reading, in their broadest senses, were his themes. “Deep feeling doesn’t make for good poetry,” he said once. “A way with language would be a bit of help.”

Thom Gunn’s meditation on Deux femmes buvant leur café, a remarkable painting by Édouard Vuillard now housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, is filled with the poet’s love of people and places and art and coffee.

Painting by Vuillard

Two dumpy women with buns were drinking coffee
In a narrow kitchen — at least I think a kitchen
And I think it was whitewashed, in spite of all the shade.
They were flat brown, they were as brown as coffee.
Wearing brown muslin? I really could not tell.
How I loved this painting, they had grown so old
That everything had got less complicated,
Brown clothes and shade in a sunken whitewashed kitchen.

But it’s not like that for me: age is not simpler
Or less enjoyable, not dark, not whitewashed.
The people sitting on the marble steps
Of the national gallery, people in the sunlight,
A party of handsome children eating lunch
And drinking chocolate milk, and a young woman
Whose t-shirt bears the defiant word WHATEVER,
And wrinkled folk with visored hats and cameras
Are vivid, they are not browned, not in the least,
But if they do not look like coffee they look
As pungent and startling as good strong coffee tastes,
Possibly mixed with chicory. And no cream.

Thom Gunn (1929 – 2004)

Vuillard


The Strange Death of Europe

Monday, 24 July, 2017 1 Comment

The Strange Death of Europe Background: More than 90,000 migrants have arrived in Italy from Libya so far this year and the country is now riven by deep political and civil divisions because of the strains the influx is putting on the country’s infrastructure. Meanwhile, it is thought that at least 300,000 Africans from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Chad and Sudan are en route to Libya in hopes of getting across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Long-term demographic trends mean millions of Africans could be driven to Europe by hunger, poverty and repression. How many millions? No one knows for sure but Niger, a huge, mostly desert country to the north of Nigeria, offers some indicators. According to Reuters, “With an average of 7.6 children born to each woman, its population is projected to more than triple to 72 million by 2050, from about 20 million now, according to the latest U.N. figures. By then, Africa will have more than doubled its population to 2.4 billion, the United Nations says.”

As the poet wrote, the centre cannot hold.

How very timely, then, that The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam has arrived on the bookshelves. According to the blurb, this is Douglas Murray’s “highly personal account of a continent and culture caught in the act of suicide. Declining birth rates, mass immigration, and cultivated self-distrust and self-hatred have come together to make Europeans unable to argue for themselves and incapable of resisting their own comprehensive alteration as a society and an eventual end.”

The Strange Death of Europe is our reading here this week.


Trespassing in the uncanny valley 

Friday, 4 March, 2016 0 Comments

More than 40 years ago, the pioneering Japanese roboticist, Mashahiro Mori, created the term “uncanny valley”. What does it mean?  Here goes: People will respond positively to a robot with a human appearance, said Mori, but when robots get too close to being life-like without attaining life, the thing that was endearing becomes repellent. 

The dilemma for robot makers today is that they may have to enter the uncanny valley to create machines that evoke empathy instead of disgust.


Iceland by Garðar Ólafsson

Saturday, 25 July, 2015 0 Comments

“Experienced in Landscape, Portrait, Product, Event and Aerial Photography,” is how Garðar Ólafsson describes himself. The locations in his “Powerful Iceland” include Mount Kirkjufell, Vík í Mýrdal, Sólheimasandur, Sandvík, Straumsvík, Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Goðafoss waterfall, Aldeyjafoss waterfall, Hólmbergsviti lighthouse, Garðskagi lighthouse, Hvalsneskirkja church, Miðnesheiði and Vatnsnes.