31 Mar 2011

More Stuff Than You Can Shake a Stick at!

In my Car Crash TV moments, I used to sometimes watch The Life Laundry - we're talking 5 to 8 years back. Not sure if all U.K folks remember that programme: not exactly a paragon of upbeat entertainment, culture or TV genius, more like a desperados get-together when nothing else across the 100+ digital TV channels spectrum was worth watching... And that says something.

Think outside the box? Hmm...

Aside that and if I dare be honest, it was certainly a programme I was slightly intrigued about, as a 'sufferer' from a mild form of the hoarding syndrome. I was hoping the series would, if not prompt me to get rid of stuff, at least be inspirational about how to approach it and deal with it.

And stuff is something I could talk about for hours (she whispers shamefully). Not sure about you guys, but I don't just keep useful stuff (that wouldn't be the point)! I also hoard stuff that I might need one day (read: that millennium soirée outfit I haven't worn since well... Y2K NYE, but that I might magically decide to wear in future - not sure how near or distant that future might be, considering one decade has already elapsed...).



I keep stuff others would discard first and foremost: wrapping paper, old Xmas cards, (pretty) packaging, old glossy magazines, newspaper cuttings... I also keep stuff I never needed in the first place, don't need now and will never need: unloved, unworn, unwanted, unused stuff that is usually relegated to the dusty corners of the loft.

Here's some examples: chipped terracota pots, spare clothes airer, those nasty wire coat-hangers from the dry-cleaners, old electronic components, hard hat and overalls (nuke protection equipment?), DIY tools with some mysterious function, redundant hamster cage, empty biscuit tins, mats and rugs, boring board games, cringeing easy-listening tapes from a bygone age (any sane person would cry out for Slipknot after hearing those!), and a general collection of hand-me-down bric-à-brac that got dumped on me because I was too polite to decline.

Clearing the cobwebs: Slipknot (picture source)

So there we are, I was hoping The Life Laundry would make me feel better about my condition by acquainting us viewers to a panel of 'crazy' hoarding extremists who surround themselves with pointless stuff (euphemism?), from endless rows of collector items to boxes crammed-full with junk, controlled by their compulsion to the point where they share their bed, their bath and even their bowl of porridge with it, and whose home has relented on room space, from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling.

A pivotal scene in The Life Laundry was the 'crusher scene', a sadistic moment when the protagonist was summoned to throw a few selected belongings that had symbolically taken over their life. More than a relief, it seemed a painful ordeal to watch as the stuff got crushed to smithereens under the beady eyes of the protagonist. As some sort of redemption, a selection of stuff items would be spared an early grave and end up transferred to new owners via a sale process (someone's junk is someone else's treasure!), while the rest would end up unceremoniously dumped down the skip.



At the end of the process, you got the big reveal: a pared-down de-junked tidied home and its forcibly-smiling owner who'd been through a life-changing 'transformation' episode, shaken to the core in their core values, and stretched and reasoned through a speedy psychotherapy session where they'd been told one thing or two about 'letting go' and 'regaining control'.

The presenter looked well proud of herself but I'm not sure whether the feeling was shared by the ex-hoarder and whether clearance was gonna bring proven benefits to their life. Discarding things in the heat of the moment, as an act of bravado (while cameras are rolling and the presenter's pressing you on) is one thing. How about though when they've all gone home to their stuff, and you are left in that home of yours that doesn't feel like home anymore, with stuff meaningful to you now gone for ever and stuff you were indifferent about now taking pride of place on the mantelpiece... This can only make you want to fill the void by... getting more stuff!



Stuff is a controller. Some of us get satisfaction in the act of purchase: that elusive instant that gives you - the buyer - status, power and a buzz. For some of us (or most of us at one particular point in our lives when we feel vulnerable), want may be completely detached from need, and any act of reason flies out of the window!

Take that retired lady (true story) who lived by herself in solitude and moral abandonment, and who would find fleeting solace in her daily shopping trip down The Trafford Centre (Manchester's main shopping destination), a habit that had been dominating her life for approximately 18 months. Back home, she wouldn't even care to wear her new outfits or get the trinkets out of their boxes. The purchases would remain untouched, bagged up, with the tags and packaging on, and would end up piled up all around the house, and when space became a premium, the garage got taken over, and when it became overrun, the car turned into a mobile chest.

Truth out of the bag?

The lady died afterwards, probably on her way back from yet another pointless shopping trip. The local authorities removed over one ton of untouched purchases still in bags and boxes, with price tags on. She probably was trying to fill the void, that lady, fill that isolation feeling, that hapless helpless retirement she didn't accept, the passing of time, the lack of purpose. That initial endorphin-released buzz associated with making a purchase soon enough dissipated and by then she was going through the motions of hardcore addiction and compulsion.

As tragic as this true story is, it speaks out one stark truth: stuff can't buy you happiness - The Beatles even dedicated a song to the cause - nor can it fill a void or lend a sense of purpose to your life. And material clutter, together with social isolation and family/ relationship breakdown are symptomatic of the trappings of our modern, individualistic, consumerist society.

For a fascinating insight into stuff that takes over our lives, visit Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff Project.

28 Mar 2011

March in Bloom

Welcome to La Baguette's latest feature: 'A Month in Bloom', which debuted in our February edition. At the end of each month, this blog will showcase a gallery of floral blossoms of the wild order encountered during that month on random walks around my current base in Northern Corsica.

Angelica Jolie!
March was damp and rainy here in Northern Corsica, with acres of grey skies and moggy/ foggy atmosphere, except for the back-end of the month, when temperatures have been exceeding 15°C and the sun has been casting the blessing of Spring upon us.

The heavy rain from earlier in the month has caused the mountain streams to swell up and generated floods in the valleys. Rainfall has encouraged extensive grass growth down the pastures and along road verges.

Mellow yellow: Yellow Sorrel (Oxalis megalorrhiza)
In terms of flora, all of the plant varieties featured in last month's issue are still observed in their high numbers four weeks on, including the Yellow Sorrel (pictured above), a false shamrock.

As regards the latest arrivals on the scene, we are delighted to note the Genista (not to be mistaken with the prickly sub-species Genista Corsica). Interestingly in this part of the island, the Genista specimens that have been observed are not as full-bodied and thrivingly healthy as they were this time last year.

Jewel in the maquis' crown: Asphodel
Another cause for delight is the much anticipated White Asphodel, a perennial floral stemmed staple statement associated with Corsican Spring. The bulk of the Asphodel stock is expected to be in full bloom within the next couple of weeks, weather permitting.

Meanwhile Wild Rosemary clumps found on mountain sides, on the edge of the maquis, are currently in full bloom and casting purple sprinkles across the local landscape.

Not quite Dandelions: Terres crépies
Heather, another basic component of the Corsican maquis, is still in bloom and the delicately sweet aroma of its pale clusters of tight flowers adds further interest.

Finally the Allium triquetrum bulbs (a.k.a. Three-cornered Garlic), with their unmistakable garlic smell and flowers reminiscent in looks of lily-of-the-valley are found here and there in the grassland, while the most adventurous specimens will be spotted on the most unusual places, like dry-stone walls!

A garden herb with panache: Allium triquetrum
But all of the above are only a flavour of wilder grander things to come, for April, May and June will be botanist heaven alright and we can hardly wait! See you next month...

No shrinking violet: Veronica

26 Mar 2011

A Week-End Wonderweb 26-03 (Dessert)

Aside from good company and interesting conversations, the most enjoyable part of a dinner party is - for those of us with a sweet-tooth inclination - the anticipated dessert, prepared, shop-bought or made to order for the host(ess): from a baking classic to the decadently-laden crème de la crème, the cherry on the cake is likely to stir up more than one capital sin, and sure enough we'll even come back for more!




Sources (top page down):

24 Mar 2011

Beauty Review - SkinCeuticals Serum 10

In 2008 and quite suddenly I started suffering from late-onset acne (adult acne that manifests itself in the thirties). It was localised on the lower-face region and became quite unsightly. It was characterised by a combination of acne spots, skin blotchiness and flakiness. I had read about the condition previously and when personally confronted to it, I put it down to a combination of stress, fatigue and poor diet (contributing factors, although the real reasons are likely to be more complex and hormonal).


From having suffered a mild yet stubborn bout of acne in my late teenage years, I knew that lotions and potions alone would not be sufficient to treat the condition, while on the other hand I was reluctant to undergo another round of Roaccutane, as the harsh side-effects had put me off.

When out and about in Manchester city centre, I had spotted (pardon the pun) a newly-opened skin treatment clinic, in Kendals (House of Fraser): White Light Skin Clinic - rebranded shortly after as DestinationSkin. I went in and enquired about their IPL treatments (Intense Pulsed Light), and whether these would make a noticeable difference to my skin. I was told that they would and I signed on for two courses of IPL treatment, and never looked back! Despite some doubts after my initial buzz, the results were truly amazing. The spottiness, blotchiness and flakiness all cleared.


As soon as I started the course, I was advised (but not forced) to switch my skincare routine to SkinCeuticals products, in order to maximise the benefits from the IPL - especially the broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection, to wear day in day out, even on cloudy and rainy days (when we may wrongly assume that skin is safe from the damaging sun effects!). By the way, I was told by DestinationSkin that they are not commissioned on any of the brands that they recommend/ sell to their clients.

I was also encouraged to start using a serum - which I had never done but read that once in your thirties you should consider using one - and to kick off the process with SkinCeuticals Serum 10 (10% pure vitamin C), SkinCeuticals' mildest dual formulation of ferulic acid and L-ascorbic acid. It is an antioxidant serum that offers added protection against UV skin damage and free radicals, and claims to reduce the visible signs of premature ageing like wrinkles, lines and brown spots.


SkinCeuticals is an American cosmeceutical brand. Its proposition is at the intersection between pharmaceutical and cosmetic care, on a mission to deliver pharmaceutical advancements in skincare. The brand is part of the top-end niche skincare market, and is building on further market penetration.

My skin therapist warned me that SkinCeuticals products didn't particularly 'smell nice' (apart from the subtly-scented Emollience moisturiser). So no pampering flowery smell nor - for that matter - luxe designer-style, sexy perfume-like packaging to demonstrate the premium nature of the brand. SkinCeuticals would rather keep sobriety in packaging and shy away from glossy advertising campaigns to concentrate their research budget and expertise on those formulations of active ingredients that will help deliver benefits to the skin. If the proverbial proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of the product is definitely in the application...


The Serum is so concentrated in active ingredients that you should use no more than 4-5 drops for the whole face, neck and chest, daily. So this is really a case of a little going a long way, and a bottle of Serum will last you months! Therefore keep this in mind when faced with the initial price outlay. For best results, you are advised to use the serum regularly, without interruption, although SkinCeuticals serums are effective for a minimum of 72 hours after application. Apply in the morning on cleansed skin, before moisturiser and UV protection sunscreen, in a thin-to-thick formulation order.

SkinCeuticals encourages its customers to increase the level of concentration, in line with skin tolerance, i.e. move from Serum 10 to Serum 15, when you feel your skin ready for it. You may experience some stinginess and/ or irritation at first, therefore space applications out until skin gets used to the treatment. The serum will oxidise naturally with time, i.e. turn darker in appearance, which won't affect its effectiveness.


It would be naive to expect miracles out of a bottle of serum alone. My skin tone has greatly improved, primarily thanks to the IPL, but I doubt the serum alone would have achieved such dramatic results all by itself. However as part of a maintenance programme, it is a great way to help your skin stay in tip-top condition. My skin looks and feels more supple. The serum facilitates skin cell renewal, and as a result my complexion is less dull than it would without. Now I have a confession. I haven't been as religious with the Serum as I should have. Also I should have moved to a higher serum level, instead of lingering in the comfort zone. So I'll make sure my next SkinCeuticals serum purchase reflects that intention.

Also to those of you who might be tempted to believe that a serum will magically erase sun spots or age spots on the face, it won't. It will fade them, like IPL does, but they will tend to return, especially if - like me - you (now) live on the Mediterranean shores, even if you do avoid the sun... That's the price to pay for that life-in-the-sun lifestyle, I'm afraid!

SkinCeuticals Serum 10 is available as a 30ml (1 fl.oz) bottle, RRP: $84.00, £54.00.

Pluses:
  • Proven added protection level to UV factor sunscreen used daily
  • Lightweight, easy to apply
  • A little goes a long way
  • Skin feels plumper, suppler, healthier
  • Cosmeceuticals brand, integrity
Minuses:
  • Metallic smell, may be perceptible
  • When the serum starts to naturally oxidise, its colouring might tint an area of the skin slightly if not applied light-handedly
  • Price (serums are not cheap).

21 Mar 2011

Gâteau Basque d'Itxassou

Serves: 6
Preparation: 20 mins (+ 2 hours)
Cooking: 30 mins

Cherry Pie meets Bakewell Tart and Linzer Cookies (minus the almonds!) for this easy-peasy Southern pudding! I made it for the first time last Sunday and it certainly won't be the last! Although it might not look like much on the picture, first impressions are deceptive. This unassuming little treat will be an instant hit, thanks to its gorgeously rich taste and melting texture!


The recipe is part of my mum's extensive collection, and is a French Prima vintage cookery number (November 1990 issue), no less!
  • 3 eggs
  • 280g flour
  • 220g salted butter, cut in thin slices
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 organic lemon
  • 1 jar good quality cherry jam/ preserve (370g)
  • Pinch of salt
Pour the flour into a large mixing bowl, and make a well in the middle. To the well add one whole egg plus the yolks from the other two eggs. Set aside the two egg whites (keep in the fridge). Add the sugar, salt and slightly softened butter slices to the well, and some finely chopped lemon peel (to taste).


Stir together (you will find it easier to use your fingers rather than a spoon or spatula), until you get a smooth yet rather firm dough consistency. Shape it as a ball, leave in the mixing bowl and place on the middle shelf of the fridge for 2 hours (I actually left mine for 18 hours in the fridge and it was fine to work with, despite having hardened!).

Pre-heat the oven (220°C). Butter a baking dish and lightly dust with flour to prevent sticking. Allocate two thirds of the shortbread dough for the bottom of the pie and one third for the upper section (i.e. the lid). Now you can either be traditional and use a rolling pin to roll and flatten the dough - as per the original recipe - or be more hands-on like I: tear one small section of dough at a time, flatten it in your hand and press it down directly onto the baking dish, then assemble other sections of dough in a similar fashion until you obtain a single uniform pastry sheet (with no gaps or holes). Finish off by covering the sides of the baking dish with a ribbon of pastry like you would a tart.


Next scoop cherry jam all over the whole pastry case, before covering it with the remaining pastry (then again either rolled out with a rolling pin and laid on top, or like I did, with a small section of dough at a time, flattened in your hand and carefully applied onto the jam filling, making sure that the final result shows no holes or gaps in the pastry, and that the jam filling is thoroughly encased in pastry.

Lightly prick the surface of the pastry lid with a fork. Brush the reserved egg whites all over the pastry. Bake in the oven for half an hour. The pie should be golden in appearance. Leave to cool down completely before serving.


Perfect as a dessert or to accompany that lovely mid-afternoon cuppa. Easy to make, easy on the palate, moist in texture, buttery in taste, enhanced by the kick of the fruit: what else do we need as a new baking favourite?

20 Mar 2011

A Week-End Wonderweb 19-03 (Spring)

Of the four seasons, Spring is certainly the most anticipated as it heralds a resurrection in life: the drabness of Winter is put to sleep, daylight increases significantly, temperatures get milder and nature wakes up from hibernation, with catnips, blossoms and buds showing their faces, while wildlife animals are busy building homes and raising youngs.


Sources (top page down):

15 Mar 2011

A Lesson in Humility

Last Friday the violent earthquake striking off the shore of North East Japan set a full chain of events in motion, that have been documented on our TV screens since. The quake triggered a tsunami. And in turn the tsunami triggered a nuclear disaster.

'The Great Wave off Kanagawa', by Hokusai (1829-32). Picture source
Japan was not only once but three times hit. Coastal towns like Tokai, Sendai and Ishinomaki got wiped out in a blink like sand castles, claiming tens of thousands of lives in a matter of seconds. And in the process of it all, people lost everything: relatives, friends, homes, possessions, workplaces, like this young man found crouching amongst the rubble, whose life had been shattered to pieces. You would need to be superhuman to take this into your stride and carry on. Or Japanese.

I have felt totally humbled by the level of dignity and restraint displayed by the Japanese survivors in the face of the ordeal. The situation in itself couldn't be more chaotic though, with the earth still shaking in regular intervals, the death toll rising, the extent of the wreckage as far as the eye can see. Yet amongst this apparent chaos, the population are showing resilience and discipline and are driven by an inner-force that we can only admire and take as example.

Destroyed houses near Iwaki. Picture source
The Fukushima nuclear plant workers, experts and external bodies who are braving death in a bid to save lives or at least to contain the number of casualties that will directly result from radioactivity leakage, have taken bravery to new heights. This focussed sense of duty, when one would be one breath away from giving it all up, these people find the courage and faith to get up and carry on. To keep calm and carry on.

Despite visible indications that things are not quite the same (less crowded streets, less store lighting at night, busier hospitals, etc.), Tokyo - so far - is inhabited by a sense of normality. Maybe this is just a front, just a pretence, maybe it's part of their education, their make-up, maybe it's pure madness considering the radioactivity risks (but there again the gravity of the news is played down by the authorities, presumably in a bid not to be scaremongering). Whatever the motives behind the composed faces, I can't help but be admirative of the population's determination, pride and sense of hope, and this feeling of organisation, resourcefulness and preparedness.

Fukushima No.2 nuclear reactor blast. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
Japan, it seems, was fated to be nuclear. Fated but fortunately not doomed by it. From the horror of the final solution in the form of the atomic bomb in 1945, to the current Fukushima nuclear plant situation, you can't get more final, more insidiously lethal than the atom. Yet the Japanese showed incredible determination and tenacity to overcome their WWII nuclear punishment head on, and I am certain that they will overcome today's catastrophe with the same pugnacity. Japan is the most prepared country in the world in terms of quakes, and one of the best in the world in terms of safety records. If a copycat string of events had struck elsewhere in the world, I believe the death toll and devastation levels would have been even higher.

My thoughts right now are with those who have lost everything, from irreplaceable relatives and friends to precious heirlooms and memorabilia that make you who you are and where you come from. Meanwhile the Japan tragedy will hopefully teach the rest of us a lesson in humility.

Art print available to purchase from AllPosters.com

12 Mar 2011

A Week-End Wonderweb 12-03 (Detail)

The devil might be in the detail, but the detail sets the tone, it sets the pace, launches trends, it gets noticed, stamps on the seal of quality and craftsmanship; detail creates art and makes that tangible difference between ordinary and extraordinary.


Sources (top page down):

11 Mar 2011

Google Me, Google You! (Part 3)

The situation can slip out of control when you start poking your nose into the dark areas of cyberspace, and that's when we need to exert caution. Copyright may not be the ultimate physical protection against plagiarism or duplication etc. but it does give the copyright holder the appropriate jurisdiction to help them ensure their intellectual property is protected to a degree (depending on the type of copyright).



So here's a word of advice in passing: make sure that your work is copyrighted, if only by just mentioning it clearly on your site. This gives you that legal power of action against copyright infringers, although legal action is an expensive, time-consuming and convoluted process (as perpetrators are often difficult to trace and prosecute, and in some cases material ownership may be difficult to prove).

Likewise if you 'borrow' material from third parties in order to illustrate your blog (I do!), act fairly and lead by example, mention your sources clearly and link back. Be prepared for some image owners to ask you to remove their material from your site; chance is they will have a good reason for it. Some fellow bloggers or sites may require that you contact them prior to using their material. Send them a quick email, if only to cover yourself and abide by web etiquette, even if you don't get a reply back. Some sites (ex: The Sartorialist) are explicitly clear about the fact that you are strictly not allowed to use their material without their express permission.



Certain online image libraries make allowances towards non-commercial sites (including blogs) to be able to use their photographic stock under certain conditions, while commercial sites are required to purchase a licence. Fair enough. Meanwhile some photographer websites will be much more restrictive, but then again try to see it from their perspective. In the face of all these restrictions, the best option is definitely to use your own material.

Now there is a real risk about divulging too much information about oneself. Teens are naturally prone to it, and it is up to us adults to warn them against the potential consequences of such actions: peer pressure, bullying, stalking, wrong crowds, racketeering etc. A young girl I knew from way back had that Bebo page she used as a real-time diary of boyfriends, love interests, love secrets, unrequited love feelings, romantic mood effusions, all set against a collection of hearts, teddies and roses. It was naive and girly, yet at the same time verging on the scary and the outright neurotic to any outsider exposed to such an open invitation to voyeurism - as indeed this was a public page (whose very existence I'm not even sure her parents were aware of).

All mapped out by XKCD! Click image for high res view

It's one thing telling the world you are My Chemical Romance's biggest fan, or you fancy Pete Wentz. It's quite another to pour your heart out to all and sundry, with very personal information thrown into the mix that can potentially expose you as an easy prey. If you feel the urge to write, gals (or guys!), it may be best to keep a good old-fashioned paper diary with a lock, for those very private confidences. And remember those deleted webpages can still come up on searches long after having been deleted at source. Next time think twice before getting carried away on the keyboard.

Adults too may be guilty of too much information free-for-all. I personally know someone who uses and abuses social media platforms, and if that wasn't enough she also has her own personal website (with professional career to date - including CV, hobbies, friendships, fave things, little quirks, social diary etc.). This sort of self-promoting fan-club combo is scary. I'd be inclined to believe that this over-exposure may indicate a sign of insecurity and a need for self-justification and acceptance. Too much exposure exposes you to vulnerability, jealousy, envy and is a safety risk as it opens a Pandora's box of issues that may well be more than you asked for, jeopardise your privacy and overwhelm you. I'm not warning against talking to your heart's content (I'm doing it right now!), but make sure that personal information is kept to the strictest minimum. Better safe than sorry...


Social Media Charts from Avi Savar


Certain snippets of information are best kept under wraps, like your date of birth, bank details (D'oh!), financial status, trade secrets, business disclosures, marital and extra-marital exposés, detailed social diary, slander and malicious gossip. If washing their dirty laundry in public was damaging to Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Katie Price, Kerry Katona and others in the media spotlight despite their PR team working remarkably well to salvage their reputations, think of what this would do to the rest of us, albeit not in the public eye in the same way, yet unable to afford the expertise of a PR or legal team close-by. Prevention is better than cure. Let's remain reasonable when unleashed on the web and teased by the temptation to throw caution to the wind, and let's do ourselves a big favour by being protective of our privacy. In doing just that we will save face and keep both mystique and respect as intact as could be.

Phew, what a journey this has been and we've almost been through an identity crisis in the process! We are now hopefully ready to approach social media platforms less light-heartedly and more safely. Just remember: your favourite online search engine may help you be nosey enough to unravel things you didn't know about yourself, and find out about present or past friends and relatives. Keep a blog and even start writing another. Go on The Social Network and wherever tickles your fancy. It's all meant to be fun, we're told, although as we have demonstrated, it might not necessarily be good fun once we dig deeper, so play your cards right and be your best PR team. Information control equals damage limitation.

9 Mar 2011

Google Me, Google You! (Part 2)

I fancied a French moniker for my blog, with a touch of vintage. I was going through a bit of a 1950s phase at the time and La Baguette Magique (literally: 'The Magic Wand') conjured up images to me from the Bewitched TV series (which wasn't even from the 50s by the way!). Meanwhile I was also looking for a play on words (I should have known better!) with a loose connection to the culinary world as I was still contemplating my blog to be food-orientated. La Baguette was an obvious connection to the French bread stick, as the word is universally understood as such. I was OK with people relating La Baguette Magique to something like 'Magical French Bread Stick'... Why not?



The problem was never going to arise from English speakers, but rather from French-speaking countries (especially France and Belgium), where I found out - only recently - that La Baguette Magique is slang for something down there... Now I'm getting you guessing and reaching out for Google... Anyway I was not impressed, to say the least. Then again my blog is unequivocal, there is nothing from down there on show up here, so let's all rest assured! I might one day decide to change the blog name (countless fellow bloggers have done it for one reason or another), but for now I'll just lay to rest any unfounded suspicions: 'La Baguette Magique' as a Magic Wand, with connected imagery to Bewitched (although their noses acted as magic wands I know, I know...), with 'La Baguette' as a reference to the bread stick, and 'Magique', well, as in 'Magic! Superb! Wonderful!'

Now guys, back to our search engine exercise, some of us (I guess most of us!) have used the wonders of the web to support some personal yet perfectly innocent detective work, to trace long-lost contacts, pals, colleagues, school friends, relatives, acquaintances, former neighbours etc. Who needs Friends Reunited when Google provides you with all the clues! Social media platforms like Facebook, MySpace, Wayn, Plaxo or LinkedIn deliver the results too.

Casting a spell on us while fixing things in a twitch! Image source

Down that journey, I went on a mission to recall names of long-lost friends from primary or secondary school, but the findings weren't as promising as anticipated. Class of '86 maybe wasn't a good vintage year, I'm not sure. The only two people I managed to trace back (although didn't contact them) was a girl who now runs her dad's estate agents office (she was an only child and back in the day we all knew that she would end up taking over the family business, despite the fact she didn't show an interest in property nor did she have good school marks, but eh that might prove yet to be another nail in property agents reputation coffin?).

The second person was some guy from secondary school, a bit of a whippersnapper who - I never forgot - told the class one day that he ambitioned to work for General Motors (not in some European backwaters off-shoot but in the US of A headquarters, that went without saying)... Maybe it's a good thing for him that he never made it to GM (might be without a job as we speak!), but instead he became a food technology lecturer in a Midwest university, settled into mariage and parenthood as the perfect American family man (it's amazing the information you can glean just off the web, I'm telling you!). Which takes me to the next part of our article: your creative material and information about yourself.

The 'magique' is in the 'baguette'!

In my little detective work via Google (some people really have nothing better to do with their time it seems!), I found extracts of my blog that had been changed, randomly copied and pasted completely out of context (even featured on some totally unrelated Dita Von Teese tribute site, go try understand...). Some of my blog posts come up through the most random search sites (sure the words La Baguette Magique don't help the cause, as we found out earlier)...

You guys will have probably experienced similar situations I'm sure, with copyrights bent right, left and centre, watermarks airbrushed, photos under 'new' (i.e. unauthorised) ownership, missing credits, your artistic portfolios passed down as someone else's, and your creative licence tweaked at leisure... (to be continued)

7 Mar 2011

Google Me, Google You! (Part 1)

Here's the $10,000 question: who amongst you guys will be honest enough to admit that they have "googled" themselves at some point in their lives, preferably on a long solitary night, when confidence levels were low, or on the contrary to boost an already-boosted ego? Don't be ashamed and get closer to the screen because I can't hear you... Me? Hands up, I have... several times in fact! It's no big deal and if you haven't given it a whirl yet, you should, it's all fun! Whether it's good fun or not is another matter of course as we'll find out later on...

The Commodore PET 2001 PC (1977), from Old Computers - naturally!

Let's start at the beginning. Go into your favourite search engine and type in your name in the search bar. The search engine (1) needn't have to be Google of course, and (2) no, this post wasn't sponsored by said Mountain View corporation, although for the purpose of the exercise we'll just stick to the aforementioned. Now if your name is - say - John Smith or Lisa Miller - you might need to enter more than just your name on Google in order to scale down the result pages.

In my case I found out that I had a few homonyms around - always good to have homonyms as they make things a bit more anonymous on the identity side and act as some sort of a buffer zone, a protection shield like some big anti-virus software. Coz the web, man, is riddled with danger, cyberstalkers and that... So Mr John Smith or Ms Lisa Miller, you may count your blessings after all, as you can hide in peace in the realms of the cyberworld (unless you happen to be famous, like this John Smith, or this one or that one!). Point taken!

Here's Johnny (Smith)! This one's from The Dead Zone (1983)

If you have a blog or website, you can google it too and gauge its visibility on the search engine results. If you need to scroll page after page to find it, or if you need to add a long string of search words to locate it, it's not good news. Perhaps you need to give more thought to SEO (especially if you thought it's new spelling for CEO), or revisit those meta tags, even change your site's name into something shorter, snappier, easier to spell or remember... And of course publicity in all its forms will help drive traffic and your blog's popularity will increase as a result, taking it right to the top of the league!

Talking of blog names, you may get a surprise or two when doing your Google search, especially if your carefully-thought blog name (or so you thought at the time!) happens to be some double-entendre (unbeknown to you!). I don't have a better example to illustrate this than by referring you to my humble blog, La Baguette Magique and I think a little digression on the subject might be worthwhile while we're at it.

Ready for my close-up? Not if it's bigger than life!

So then why did I choose La Baguette Magique? That's another $10,000 question by the way (I may well make you a millionnaire by the end of this article)! Well, the answer is that the original name I had in mind wasn't that original after all as it had already been taken, same story with second best name and third best name and so on, you get the picture.

As we all know too well, it is getting increasingly difficult to find original blog or website names as time goes, as all the best ones have already been snapped (a bit like the smart, cute and trendy guys at them school parties back in the day, remember?)... Even our John Smith guitar hero from earlier had to repeat his name twice for his URL. It just goes to show that we are seriously running out of URLs! (to be continued)

5 Mar 2011

A Week-End Wonderweb 05-03 (Art Déco)

In chronological terms, Art Déco was the next major art movement to take the world by storm after Art Nouveau; spanning post-WWI to WWII, with its aerodynamic, fluid, streamlined cruise-ship lines borrowed by architecture (from American flagship skyscrapers to Le Corbusier's modernist structures, via countless other references) and rolled out to the Applied and Graphic Arts, enchanting towns, cities, interiors and art lovers with a visually-pleasing design rhythm destined to become no less than a quintessential 20th century classic.


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