Home is not here or there, but inside yourself or nowhere


In 2017 I travelled and travelled. I soaked up culture and history. I met and found friends. I gathered souvenirs, my eyes wide open.

One souvenir is this lake called “Zypressenteich” near Nuremberg (Nürnberg) in Germany: An inviting yellow bench to sit on and just dream and reflect under trees covered with yellow leaves surrounding the mysterious lake hiding its ground.

It could have been here that Hermann Hesse thought about home (or in German: Heimat).

“Heimat ist nicht da oder dort, Heimat ist in Dir drinnen oder nirgends” which can be translated to “Home is not here or there, home is inside yourself or nowhere.” This struck me.

I must admit that, when travelling in 2017, I found my second home in Brandenburg, because everyone around me spoke like my mum. I have never experienced that before. I had found my second home in Brandenburg, while  my first roots are in Basel, the town of my dad, where I live.

Yes, I feel home in Basel and in Brandenburg… here and there… which gives me roots. But nevertheless I sense like Hermann Hesse that my real roots are not here and there, but home is inside myself. He may have used his words to warn from growing nationalism and growing rejection of everything outside.

While travelling, I sensed some signs of growing nationalism which I fear… Hermann Hesse came in right for me and motivated me to work on his thoughts my way, in German first, then trying to translate that.

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Heimat ist in Dir drinnen oder nirgends

Warum Heimat da oder dort suchen?

Warum nach Heimat in der Geschichte forschen?

Warum für Heimat verbissen kämpfen?

Warum Fremde aus der Heimat sperren?

Warum?

Ist denn Heimat nicht in Dir drinnen – oder nirgendwo?

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Home is inside yourself or nowhere

Why look for home here and there?

Why search for home in history?

Why fight for home like do-or-die?

Why lock out others from home?

Why?

Is home not inside yourself – or nowhere?

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Родина внутри тебя или нигде
Почему ищут Родину тут или там?

Почему истоки Родины ищут в истории?

Почему сражаються ожесточённо за Родину?

Почему закрывать Родину чужим?

Почему?

Разве Родина не внутри тебя – или нигде.

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Las raíces están en tí mismo o por ninguna parte

Porqué buscar las raíces por ahí o por allá ?

Porqué investigar las raíces en la historía ?

Porqué batirse por las raíces tan reñidamente ?

Porqué bloquear el ingreso de los extranjeros en nuestras raíces ?

Porqué ?

No es que nuestras raíces están en tí mismo o por ninguna parte ?

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Well, for 2018 I do hope that we look for home inside ourselves and nowhere else!

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Source: “Demian” (1919), requoted in the anthology about trees “Hermann Hesses Betrachtungen und Gedichte über Bäume” edited by the Insel Verlag.

 

Back to some business – mentoring a student at the verge of work life

Recently I have signed up with the alumni organisation of “my” university to participate in their mentoring program for students at the verge of work life. Mentoring – I have done that before and my former mentee is now a good friend of mine.

Let me reflect about what mentoring is and what an effective approach may look like.

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What is mentoring?

In the Internet I found this definition of the Alberta Learning Information Service ALIS that resonates with me:

«Mentors are experienced, trusted advisors or counsellors who have successful careers and proven track records. Mentors are not usually paid for their services.

As a mentor, your role will be to:

  • make a commitment to support and encourage your mentee
  • encourage your mentee to develop careers that reflect their skills, potential and goals
  • offer wisdom, knowledge, experience, constructive criticism, connections and resources
  • focus on the overall career directions like advancement and training rather than on day-to-day concerns of your mentee
  • set an example for the level of professional conduct and success your mentee hopes to achieve»

In alignment with this definition and with my previous mentoring experience I understand that…

  • The mentor accompanies the overall career development of his mentee in a one to one setup independent of the current work place. He acts as a sparring partner bringing in his long year experience, with the target to help the mentee find a career path that matches his/her strengths and interests. The relationship is based on mutual trust and confidentiality. The time horizon is longer term and can be several years.
  • Mentoring is different from coaching. I understand that a coach accompanies an employee at his/her work place – to perform efficiently and effectively according to his potential.

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How would I conceive our mentoring process to be effective?

To mentor a student at the verge of work life, I think of these steps for the process to be satisfactory and effective. 

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  • Basis: Initiative is with Mentee / Mentor is a responsive sparring partner
    From the mentee, I expect that he/she will drive the relationship, invite for meetings and/or ask for support, when he is ready or needs it. As a mentor, I will be the responsive (reachable) and  supportive sparring partner bringing in my experience and network. The mentee has to solve his “problem” and he can count on my mentor support. As a mentor, I cannot impose my ideas, I just give suggestions, hopefully good suggestions based on my experience.
  • Align mentor and mentee / revise relation: Trust and commitment
    As a first step, we, the mentor and the mentee will get to know one another, exchange about our motivations and backgrounds and find alignment. The target is to build trust. Trust is indispensable for our mentor/mentee relationship. Without trust it is not possible to proceed and achieve results. Based on trust, we make the commitment to start our mentor/mentee relationship. This relationship is not expected to be short term, and hence it is also necessary to revise it from time to time to verify trust and commitment still exist.
  • Identify mentee strengths/interests/personality: Profile
    As a second step, the mentee will identify his profile, with my mentor support. The profile consists out of his strengths (capabilities/talents/knowledge), his personality (e.g. more a researcher or an entrepreneur) and his interests (what activities turn me on). Useful structures to identify the profile are provided by Tim Clark, Alexander Osterwald and Yves Pingeur: “Business Model You“, Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2012). They call it “key resources”.
  • Find targets: Value propositions
    Based on the profile or key resources, the next step is to find the activities that are of value for potential customers and that allow my mentee to make a living (earn money) and perhaps harness more personal benefits (such as satisfaction from living his mission or from doing what he likes to do). Tim Clark et alii recommend to find the “value propositions” using their structured “business canvas“.
  • Sell and apply: CVs, job selection > job
    Based on the profile and targets identified, we can act and apply for jobs. The profile will be phrased out in CVs (for media such as LinkedIn and for the “paper” CV that  might need adaption for individual applications. As a mentor, I also think of using my network and of coaching the interview process (letter of motivation, what the interviewer may ask/expect or ideas on how to react when being rejected). 
  • Digest lessons: Updated profiles, value propositions and CVs
    The experience gained during job applications will help us to loop back and update the profile and value proposition and the CVs (in the media (such as LinkedIn) and in the paper CV. Then more applications may follow – or it is also an alternative to look for options to open a business.
  • Hand over to work life: Business mentor
    Once, a job is found, I will have to retreat. I suggest to find a business mentor for similar support in the new work life. Well, in case our mentor/mentee relation was one of trust all the way through, I might have found another friend that would perhaps come back and ask for ideas and support from time to time.

 

 

 

 

 

Wonderful, I will be a godmother (Gotte) – what does that mean?

“Will you be godmother to my son”, my nephew asks me…

Around Christmas, I try to calm down my nephew’s half year old son – I am his grand-auntie. Not his auntie, his GRAND-antie. Then my nephew asks me, whether I would be the godmother of my grand-nephew. I feel touched. Yes, of course, I agree.

I have never been a godmother before. Another new adventure at my – not so young-  age. I look forward to that and start to think about what matters.

After looking back to my childhood and listening to friends I think that care and love matter, being authentic and reliable, finding an atmosphere of trust, and living this by creating habits, by exchanging, by showing you are always there when needed and – yes, also – by making presents that will be remembered. It all has to come from the heart. Accept that this is a mutual relation and enjoy that. And it may become a friendship that lasts beyond the age of 20.

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Looking back to my childhood: I enjoyed the love and care of my godfather and my godmother though they lived far away

My godfather was Onkel Nante and my godmother was Tante Christine.

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Onkel Nante must have been my age (around 65), when he started his journey with me. He was my mum’s uncle and my grand uncle. He lived in Berlin. I could feel his love in the carefully selected presents, in the letters we exchanged and during my visits in Berlin. One present I remember were the Christmas angels singing “Holy Night”. It was a music box with a windup mechanism, and after some time, the tune would slow down: H-oo-oo-ll-yyy—- n-iii… and then it would fade away. These angels accompanied me every Christmas. When I was seven, Onkel Nante gave me a skirt with a matching vest, modeled after the red-green-white Scottish kilt, and I was proud of wearing it for many years – I also wear it on the foto. Then I received a summer dress in ice rose – so beautiful. And, when I was fifteen, he had a blue costume made for me to cover my (temporary) overweight. I often exchanged letters with Onkel Nante and his wife. Both were always interested in my life. When I was a student, I traveled to Spain staying in a tent, and I sent him a travel report. The result: An angry letter to my mum: “Please give your daughter enough money to stay in a hotel – tents are extremely unhealthy!” He was more than 80 years old by then, but he was still worrying about me. When I started studying economics at university, he sat down with me, looked at me firmly and asked, whether I will be able to earn a living with that. So – what I remember, are some great gifts and his loving care. And today, I always go to see his house in Berlin, not far from the mosque, to – virtually – say hello to him (his house has been sold).

My godmother, Tante Christine, was a friend of my mum’s and lived in Köln. She always lived alone and may not have had a lot of opportunities to travel. I have not met her often. But we regularly exchanged letters, and she always selected her gifts with great care. For my birthday and for Christmas, she would send me jumpers – they always became my favourite jumpers. I particularly remember an ice blue jumper. Through the letters and her gifts I could also feel her love. One day my letters were no longer answered. I was very sad. I think she must have been lonely and sharing her love with me was also important to her.

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Ernst, my husband, shared adventures with his godson

In my first summer with Ernst I heard him mumble: “My godson left a message on the answering machine. He wants to spend a few days with me. I will pick him up at the train station.”  We had a few wonderful days – I particularly remember the mini golf tournament that he won. Sometimes we all would take the camper, roast sausages, sleep near a lake in the mountains, go for hikes and climbs or visit the caves in the area. In winter we went out skiing. Every Christmas, Ernst renewed the subscription to “Spick”, a scientific newspaper for kids. After having finished school, the godson shyly said that perhaps he does not need the “Spick” newspaper any more. Now he is a scientist himself, and for his doctorate exam, Ernst promised him a globe based on his specifications… a wish that I eventually fulfilled, when Ernst was already a star watching over us. There was this regular tradition of presents and also sharing time and adventures. The relationship carried on into adulthood and I inherited it in a way after Ernst had left us.

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Some of my friends add that for them regularity, independent advice and a mutual relationship for ever are important

From various friends I gathered their godfather and godmother experience.

A friend of mine had a godfather that was a farmer with nine children: “He was not rich. But every birthday and every Christmas, he gave me a five franc piece (Fünfliber). He slipped it firmly into my hand looking at me with warm and kind eyes. I loved these moments. And they came back every birthday and every Christmas, with regularity. Being able to rely on this regular gift was very important for me”, he pointed out to me.

A couple told me that they had selected a very good friend as the godmother for their daughter. It all started well, but then the friendship broke. The godmother wanted to give back her duty. But the mother said: “Well, you may give back your godmother duties, but do not tell my daughter. She is very proud of you and she loves to think of presents for your birthday and for Christmas. We do not want to take that away from her.” So, the daughter, not knowing about the problem, continued to handicraft presents for her godmother. Eventually, the friendship between the parents and the godmother was restored and the daughter had never noticed the problem… Yes, the relationship between godparents and godchild is mutual.

My friend from Munich (now also in her sixties) told me that she has just visited Tante Bärbel in the hospital. She is her godmother and is now in her nineties. The friendship with the godmother lasted far beyond her childhood – beautiful.   And her husband added that he valued the advice of his godparents that added an independent view to the opinion of his parents.

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So – let me try to live up to that…

… and I do hope that I will be able to accompany my godson into his adulthood.

 

The Rainbow – the treasures hidden at its end make me dream of conciliation

The rainbow near Gjirokastra in Albania

It rained all day until late afternoon, when I was in Gjirokaster in September 2015. With Ben I followed the tracks of Ismail Kadaré’s “chronicle in stone” – his house, the airport and the castle… (see  “On the tracks of Ismail Kadaré“). Late in the afternoon, the sun started to emerge and we saw the rainbow.

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This rainbow linked us up with Ismail’s rainbow. Ismail saw his rainbow in 1940 and he was 4 years old. “The houses in the town made of stone have cisterns to collect rain water… In the morning the river is flooding the road below the town, after having tried to get rid of the bridge. The child sees hatred between the river, the bridge, the wind, the mountains and the creeks attacking from the mountains – and between all this hatred is the town – all lonesome – with their stone walls that the boy loves. In the morning the boy sees a rainbow that makes peace between the elements, but Ismail is convinced that this is only a temporary peace (see my earlier blog)”.

Yes, seeing a rainbow near Gjirokaster linked me up with Ismail Kadaré’s rainbow.

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The rainbows in Switzerland point to buckets of gold (Kübeli Gold) or treasure chests (Schatzkisten)

In Switzerland you have to run fast,  when you see a rainbow. Where it touches the ground, there are buckets of gold or treasure chests (depends on the canton; in Berne – buckets of gold and in Basel – treasure chests; I do not know precisely about the other cantons). Whatever kind of treasure, you have to run fast to reach it.

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The Swiss – Albanian combination of rainbows made me dream of conciliation

Rainbows and their treasures, this made me dream of conciliation and peace. I wrote down my feelings for the turn of the years 2015/2016, first in German…

Ein Regenbogen…

Die Stürme – vorbei,
Die Kräfte – versöhnt.
Der Bogen verbindet
Zwei Schätze am Boden.

Zwei Schätze – verschieden?
Und dennoch – verbunden?
Zwei Schätze – versöhne,
Was scheinbar verschieden,

Du, mein Regenbogen…

 

… and then in some other languages to share my thoughts with more friends.

A rainbow…

The storms – passed,
The forces – reconciled.
The arc connects
Two treasures on the ground.

Two treasures – different?
Nevertheless – connected?
Two treasures – reconcile,
What seems to be different,

You, my rainbow.

 

Радуга…

Бури прошли,
Силы примирились,
Арка соединяет
Два сокровища в земле.

Два сокровища – они разные?
И всё таки – соединились?
Два сокровища – примири то
Что кажется разным.

О! Моя радуга.

 

Un arc-en-ciel…

Les tempêtes – passées,
Les forces – réconciliées.
L’ arc – relie
Deux trésors sur terre.

Deux trésors – différents?
Et pourtant – reliés?
Deux trésors – réconcilie
Ceux qui paraissent différents,

Toi, mon arc-en-ciel.

 

Un arco-iris

Las tempestadas passadas,
Las fuerzas conciliadas.
El arco conecta
Dos tesoros al suelo.

Dos tesoros – diferentes?
E sin embargo – conectados?
Dos tesoros – concilia
Los que parecen diferentes.

Tú, mi arco-iris.

Elucubrations: Service catalog – structuring the big picture for a security operations service

Assume this task: Write a service catalog for IT Security Operations

Assume that IT Security Operations has to write down their services for a large company. I like this task. I believe that writing down the services helps clarify the mission and targets, focus on deliverables asked for and ease collaboration with the related IT and business areas.

In this blog I describe my thoughts about structuring the big picture of the service catalog for IT Security Operations. My thoughts may be useful for similar endeavors.

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Four questions that help structure the big picture of our service catalog

  • What is the most logical structure for IT security operations services?
  • Who is the main client and what is his mandate? Who are additional clients and stakeholders?
  • What does the service list look like?
  • What layout/details shall describe the services on the list?

To answer these questions requires talking to the subject matter experts within the IT Security Operations team and around it.

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What is the most logical structure for IT security operations services?

The mission of Security Operations is: “We detect, defend and prevent attacks.” They are a “watch dog” for the enterprise IT infrastructure.

  • They detect attacks based on the knowledge about threats and vulnerabilities and based on analyzing logs as well as user/client reports of attacks perceived.
  • They defend attacks that have penetrated into the IT infrastructure. They stop incidents immediately and for major attacks they collaborate with other teams and with management.
  • They prevent attacks in future by feeding back their hands-on experience to security -, risk – or engineering teams and their management.

I like the mission “detect, defend, prevent” to give structure to the services. This is a process oriented view.

An alternative is the attack classification (e.g. by objectives such as privilege gain, denial of service (DDOS) or malware). I  rejected to use attack classification, because it is ambiguous (research has provided multiple  classifications) and rather reflects a client or market view (e.g. selling malware defense services and tools) which is less relevant for an internal service. I prefer the process view.

Conclusion: For our service catalog, structuring the services along the lines “detect, defend and prevent” or along the process is the best option.

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Who is the main client and what is his mandate? Who are additional clients and stakeholders?

In the organization that I had in mind, IT security has been assigned to a cross-functional department (owning enterprise IT security). This IT Security Department has “outsourced” IT security operations to the IT department that owns incident and problem management. Hence the IT Security Department is the main client of IT Security Operations. I believe this is an efficient organizational set up for IT Security Operations, as they will  follow  the one incident/problem management process (IPM) that holds for all IT services often following the best practice library ITIL.

In addition to the IT Security Department, IT Security Operations has more clients/stakeholders such as Legal&Compliance, Business Risk Functions and Officers, Fraud Detection, Enduser or Server Operations, Application Development or Enterprise Architecture. The major stakeholders collaborate in a Security Committee.

Indirectly all employees and business clients as well as all departments benefit from IT Security Operations, as they can rely on the “watch dog” detecting, defending and preventing attacks. IT Security Operations is a link in the value chain delivering to the entities that are in more direct contact with the end clients.

Conclusion: The IT Security Department (owning IT security services) is the main client of IT Security Operations (responsible for security incident/problem management)… in the setup that I was confronted with.

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What does the service list look like? 

Even if a service list already exists, I propose to change it, in case it does not fit the logical structure “detect, defend and prevent”.  A logical structure eases communication. Also service names have to be as short and concise as possible. To convince the stakeholders of the catalog, I always make a cross tabulation to show where the differences are  (while working the existing list into my proposal). This is a description of the process:

  • “Detect” encompasses (1) operating the security tools (needed for attack detection), (2) security event monitoring (normalizing a variety of logs), (3) running a security and advisory desk, and (4) security incident detection (analyzing the logs, taking into consideration attacks reported to the service desk by internal users and external clients, being aware of vulnerabilities found in vulnerability scans and benefiting from knowledge bases available from sources such as governmental or research authorities).
  • “Defend” is (1) incident response (taking immediate action to stop incidents) and (2) security problem management (initiating/participating in solving major problems).
  • “Prevent” is providing (1) a vulnerability scan service, (2) reporting security incidents (successful and unsuccessful attacks) and (3) consulting about security operations (based on hands-on experience with attacks, e.g. in  Security Committees, to project and system managers or to security architects).

Conclusion: The big picture is clear – mission (detect, defend, prevent attacks; responsibility for security incident and problem handling), main client (IT Security Department or owner of security), and the service list (to be illustrated as a pie chart along the lines “detect, defend, prevent”) . This will be the heart of the service overview chapter.

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What layout shall describe the services on the list?

Based on the ITIL best practice and with some minor modifications, I chose this layout to describe the service items on the lists:

  • Service name: Describing the service as shortly and as clearly as possible. Example: “Security incident response” or “Security event monitoring”.
  • Service lifecycle status: Mostly operational.
  • Client/audience: Business or IT facing. Examples: IT Security or Legal&Compliance.
  • Service owner/manager: Responsible person from within IT Security Operations.
  • Service description: Short outline of the service and reason. Example: IT Security relies on measures being taken to stop incidents detected. Or: Legal&Compliance relies on logs available for compliance coverage.
  • Service deliverables: Breaking down the service into individual results. Example: Incident classes in scope such as DDOS, malware, phishing etc. Or: Logs available for compliance.
  • Limitation of the service: What is included. Example: Only handling security relevant incidents.
  • Service dependencies: Prerequisites for the service. Example: IPM process is operational. Or: Raw event logs are available for normalization and further analysis.
  • Cost recovering: Lump sum recovery or cost charging based on prices. Example: IT Security provides the budget, but projects pay for security operations consultancy.
  • Service changing/canceling: How can the service be modified or canceled. Example: IT Security Committee agrees about new incident classes to be included.
  • Service support: Contact points. Example: Dispatching group defined for ticketing process or one mailbox for clients to report observed/suspected attacks.
  • Hours of operation: Example: 7×24 or week days with on call availability.
  • Performance metrics: What are the handles to measure the quality of the deliverable. Example: Resolution time for incidents or false positives. Note that research (e.g. from Forrester or Gartner) is available that supports defining performance metrics for security.
  • Target service level: What service level is to be delivered (ITIL calls this “service level agreement”). Example: 99% of malware attacks stopped within 24 hours hours or no more than 10% false positives

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Conclusion: Deliverables matter

I strongly believe that it is indispensable to focus the service catalog on deliverables. The clients/stakeholders want to know, what is in it for them: What matters for them are the results, not the tasks performed that describe “how” results are achieved. Focusing on deliverables leaves room for optimizing or innovating the process at the point where the process knowledge is – in IT Security Operations.

 

 

WordPress – some lessons learned from a full media library

A lot of pleasure with WordPress for two and a half years – now I am blocked

When retiring, I set up my WordPress site with the “dusk to dawn” theme, wrote more than 100 blogs and uploaded many, many photos to my media library. About a month ago, I receive the howdy-message that I have reached the free limit of 3GB. I can no longer upload photos. Well, I have to admit, I have blogged a lot, I have never looked at the size of my photos – and I knew, now I have to start thinking about all that first.

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Why have I hit a limit in WordPress in the first place, though all my blogs sit on a private server?

All my petrapeters.ch blogs sit on a private server and not in the Wordpress “cloud”. So, why have I hit a WordPress storage limit in the first place? As I understand eventually, the media library is in the WordPress cloud and not on the local server. I do not understand why, but I can also not figure out, whether it would be possible to change this. Okay, I accept the fact that my media library has to fit into the storage space provided by WordPress. Freely available are 3GB – more space is available at a price.

My conclusion: Plan for the premium upgrade, but try to understand more before doing so.

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Can I resize my photos in the media library – after the fact?

I look at the size of my photos and understand that they are 4-5MB large. Well, I know I should have thought about this before.

So I start to tidy up my media library. I delete all unused photos – a very handy feature in WordPress. The howdy message becomes less frightening: I am at some 97% of my maximum storage (and no longer 99%). Next I start to downsize the used photos by editing them in the WordPress media library. After some time, the howdy message becomes frightening again: I am at 101% now. Why? I have downsized so many photos and as a result I use more space? Yes, WordPress has ADDED the smaller photos TO the existing ones. My wish to WordPress: What about adding a feature that allows to resize photos after having uploaded them AND delete the larger versions at the same time?

My conclusion: Resizing the photos can only be done BEFORE uploading them to the media library. Oh dear.

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What image editing software is recommended to resize the photos before uploading them?

For image optimization, this WordPress support blog recommends various image editing software programs, on top of the list being Irfanview. I find it straightforward to use. I will set up a shadow media library in my picture folders for my downsized photos. The blog also tells me that smaller photos will make my page load faster, when people look at it.

In addition I learn that JPEG is the recommended format for photos, PNG for details such as text (e.g. maps)  and GIF for line art such as logos.

My conclusion: Resize photos using Irfanview, keep a shadow media library and upload photos to WordPress after resizing.

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What number of pixels and what file size are optimal for my photos, before uploading them to WordPress? 

File size: An entry in the wordpress codex teaches me: “Typically, large high quality images should be kept between 100K and 60K.” Oh, sorry, 4-5 KB might have been a bit much. I resize some photos to about 100K and find them slightly less brilliant, but I will have to live with that knowing that loading will be much faster instead.

Number of pixels: The handle I am using to resize the photos is the number of pixels. What number is optimal? The wordpress codex article indicates that for each WordPress theme there is an optimal number of pixels. What is the optimal number for “my” theme which is “dusk to dawn”? I am confused by various recommendations in the internet, and ask the happiness engineer. He writes to me: “Suggested header images are 870px x 220px. The content of the page (left sidebar plus articles) is 870px wide. The left sidebar is 282 px wide. The right article area is 588px wide. And actual content of posts are 472px wide without padding.” Okay – 472px.

My conclusion: Resize photos to 472px wide which will resize them to some 60K to 100K.

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Now buy the premium upgrade and start over again

Now I buy the premium upgrade. I discover that premium includes having a private domain (which I have paid for so far anyway), and I can have a discount right now. For all the pleasure I have had with WordPress, I am happy to contribute the premium price.

Immediately I can upload photos again. But from now on I restrict them to 472px wide and upload them only after having resized them. I also start to resize some of the photos in older blogs – but this is quite cumbersome and will take time.

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May I restate my wishes – why does WordPress not allow to resize photos in THEIR media library and – at the same time – ONLY keep the small versions of the photos deleting all other versions? And why does the media library HAVE TO BE in the WordPress cloud – why cannot it not be moved to the local server that also keeps the blogs.

Are e-cars for me? – Not yet, perhaps later and for one of them…

A friend of mine owns a Tesla Model S – is he a nerd or a visionary?

A friend of mine owns a Tesla Model S. He has studied physics, and I think, he is a bit of a techie-nerd. He tells me his stories about driving from Zurich to Chiasso (about 200km), hooking up his Tesla to a hotel plug, and then the hotel went black. No way to recharge the Tesla there, and he eventually found a camping site for that.  He seems to love that thrill. I am not convinced…

As I read more and more about e-cars, I start to change my mind: My friend  may be an early adopter of e-mobility that might well become a future trend.

Traditional car providers such as BMW, Nissan, VW, Mercedes, VW, Renault and even Chinese companies (such as BYD) develop their own e-cars. They would not do so, if they saw no business in it. The Tesla Model S, has recently been rated to be the second most sold luxury car after Mercedes in the US (Newsticker). The “world top 20 half year 2015” edition of ev-sales.blogspot.ch shows Nissan Leaf as the leader worldwide (25068 cars sold in Jan-Jun 2015), while in June 2015 Tesla leads the ranking with almost 5000 cars sold worldwide. Around 200’000 e-cars sold worldwide in Jan-Jun 2015 is of course still a small share of the overall car market.

Norwegia subsidizes e-cars giving them privileges such as the right to drive in the bus lane. As a consequence, the number of e-cars ramped up more than in other European countries, in towns, and also in remote northern areas (wikipedia and EV Norway). There must be potential, if waked up by the government. Other European countries are lagging, with Switzerland a bit more ahead: In Switzerland, growth rates of e-car sales are 44%, in particular Toyota and Tesla cars are well adopted (NZZ 29.07.2015: “Das E-Auto wird in Deutschland zum Fiasko”).

I am surely not a nerd. I just like to drive my “normal” combustion car that is reliable and also a bit of fun to drive. Are e-cars now becoming reliable and fun to drive, too, even for me? Let me summarize some of my impressions just from the viewpoint of a “normal” potential consumer.

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Yes, I find that e-cars are cute to drive around, but the range is still a problem

At an event organized by one of our local electricity providers, I have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with e-cars.

  • The Renault Twizy reminds me of the Deux Chevaux back in my university days. Minimalistic. The Twizy may be an attractive advertisement platform for companies or handy for the Pizza service. Not for me, I prefer my “normal” bike for short distances (not yet considering “e”-bikes that recently have become somewhat hype).
  • The BMW i3 is utterly elegant with a GPS showing the charging stations on the map. But why are there so many knobs to manage the car? Why is that not integrated in the electronic cockpit?
  • The Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe are more sober, but handy to drive.
  • The e-Golf  feels like a VW Golf, very robust. VW might have had their current clients in mind, when designing their e-car. and they will surely recognize the experience.

All these cars have one problem: The e-charge is empty after 100 to 200 kms (depending on conditions, see Wikipedia entry and 10 Electric Vehicles with the best range in 2015), and recharging takes time. My combustion car can do 700km . Opportunities to load the e-car are still patchy (interesting concept: park & charge with map LEMnet).

Some time ago, I traveled in a KIA from Basel to a village near Baden, about 100kms. We start with a reserve for 160kms, reload the car at a normal 220V plug in Baden, find out that after five hours, it has only reloaded to give us 120km. We just about make it back home with 25km left to drive, with the car warning us about “low battery”. Fortunately the navigator shows the loading infrastructure available and hence longer journeys can be tackled with the KIA, but not without hazzle. That evening we took the cable from my garage to recharge the KIA.

Though the e-cars are comfortable and so much less noisy to drive, I would not replace my combustion car with any of them right now. I hear that BMW gives out combustion cars to BMW i3 owners, when they plan their vacation in Southern Europe.

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Tesla Model S… THIS car IS different…

Some Tesla Model S drivers are attending the hands-on experience event. They take guests out to sit in their car and feel, what it is like. One of them invites me to a ride. Proudly (Tesla owners are fans of their cars) he shows me his cockpit screen. “Well”, I say “this is different, this is innovative… it reminds me of the battle between traditonal telephone companies and Microsoft around desktop collaboration in enterprises… the telephone solutions were “clumsy telephones” and the Microsoft solution was easier for us, because it worked like all the other software we did our jobs with.”

Tesla, I sense, is similar. It is a different paradigm. It is a car designed as “e” and with a modern “tablet feel”. The computer panel in the Tesla controls most of the functions that other e-cars still have a knob for. It is connected with the Internet and the navigation is based on Google maps. The interface has become “e”, not only the “fuel” of the car.

The driver notices my enthusiasm. “Do you want to drive?”  I drive uphill on the test run. After a while we stop and try out the navigation system. “London”, we enter as a target point, and after some thinking, the board computer spits out the route that minimizes the “fuel” and shows the Tesla loading stops (“super chargers” that are free). Other than in traditional e-cars, the Tesla cockpit also takes over the task of optimizing the route, and it is all based on Google maps that we are familiar with anyway. Then, the range of the Tesla is higher to start with – 10 Electric Vehicles with the best range in 2015 says 270 miles or about 350km.

When traveling in our KIA to Baden, we met my friend, the “techie-nerd”, who owns a Tesla. He mentions that since his experience with the hotel going black when trying to recharge his Tesla, the supercharger infrastructure has improved a lot. Frowning he looks at the front trunk of the KIA:”What is this? It looks like usual combustion car, why does the electric “engine” use up all this space – look at my front trunk”. He opens it, and it is empty – well – not really – his set of Tesla plugs are carefully stowed away in an edge of the empty trunk. “Yes, they have designed the Tesla from scratch”, my friend says.

I am impressed. The Tesla Model S is different… though the entry level is still high: Around 100’000 CHF. However, the total cost of ownership may come closer to traditional cars, as charging “fuel” is free. But it is still more expensive compared to e.g. the KIA that goes for about 27’000 CHF.

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… but not yet for me… maybe in a few years…

Though the Tesla Model S is a tempting option to replace my combustion car, I still do not intend to acquire one right now considering the high entry level prize and the size of the model S (not really for small people like me). Maybe, my eyes permitting, I would reconsider buying a Tesla, when the smaller Tesla model 3 comes out and scaling lowers its entry level price.

But I am fascinated and want to learn more about the driving force behind Tesla, Elon Musk. He seems to be a visionary and challenging leader, like Steve Jobs was… I buy his biography.