Home Sweet Home


700 Years of Pop now available for digital download! - CD Baby - Amazon Also available: Music CDs * Sheet music * Greeting cards * New Zealand photography

In this newsletter:
*** Home at Last
*** News and Current Projects
*** Cool Things Friends Do: Stephanie Noverraz
*** Asni's Adventures In Internetland

Home at Last

After three anxious and stressful months, the wait is over: As of 10 February, I am the sole owner of part section 125, Town of Featherston, 809 square metres approximately. And no mortgage. Take that, ye bankers who thought I wasn't even worth seriously considering for a home loan! Tell a banker that you're an artist and musician, and they'll get that blank look on their face and start looking at their watch. But look, I'm having the last laugh: Ha. Hahahahahaha! I have a daddy who's a pirate captain and drops off a suitcase full of gold coins with his daughter once in a while. To keep them safe! Your bad.

This promises to bring some much needed stability to my personal life. I have lost count of the times I have moved house since I moved out from home some 20 odd years ago — something like ten cities, six countries (counting the short- or part-time residencies in Sweden and the USA), and three continents. It does get very tiring.

Now that I have found the house and garden I have always wanted (I've spent the largest part of my life living in city flats), in a location that as far as I am concerned, is just about perfect — combining the advantages of living rural, with closeness to a major centre, and with some of the most beautiful landscapes and beaches on the planet within easy driving distance, even biking distance! — I would like to stay. And plant some trees. And quietly get on with my work. I just better hope it will all work out that way — after 40-odd years of things conspicuously not working out, I have become a little distrustful of good fortune. So wish me luck! :)

Oh, and just a note to the WINZ person who is apparently employed to monitor my website in order to find out how I'm cheating the New Zealand tax payer of those 45 bucks a week in social support: Thanks so much for cancelling my Accommodation Supplement at the precise date when I've ceased to pay rent. Saves me a stamp for the letter to notify you of my change in circumstances! Though I gotta say, I was pleasantly surprised: It's the first glimpse of efficiency I've had from your institution. You just keep on shutting your eyes and ears to the poverty and discrimination that exist in this country, and I'm sure one day they'll just go away. Actually, no, you can't want that. You'd be out of a job!


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News & Current Projects

It never rains but it pours, as the saying goes — and so this month, there is plenty of good news:

A while ago I was contacted by a polite fellow from Germany, who asked if he could license one of my music tracks for a sampler of harp music he was putting together on his own small world music label, NoEthno. And yes, he did offer to pay! Some weeks ago I received my complimentary copy in the mail: Magic Harp, available exclusively from the NoEthno website.

It's not your average sampler CD! The project attempts to give an overview of the musical cultures of which harps form a part: From Latin America to Africa, Ireland to Myanmar, medieval revival to jazz. The box set includes 3 CDs and a lavish booklet detailing the history of the instrument: In the case of the harp, this spans five millennia, and just about the whole planet. Harps are documented since Sumerian times — and to this day, they are part of traditional music cultures in Latin America, Africa, Europe, and parts of Asia, as well as increasingly of contemporary genres such as folk, pop, jazz and film music.

The selection of tracks is generally on the upbeat side of things, emphasizing the rhythmic qualities of the instrument, rather than the diffuse dreaminess most people seem to associate with it: very much the kind of selection I myself might have made. Much room is given to performers from Africa and South America, whom I am less familiar with, but who, I am sure, are just as pre-eminent in their own cultures, as the performers who represent traditional European and contemporary harp culture: there are tracks I used to listen to and admire when I was a student, by Alan Stivell, Sileas, and a beautiful rendition of Debussy's "Danses" by Phia Berghout. I find myself on the same CD with such luminaries as Nicanor Zabaleta, Loreena McKennit, and of course — Harpo Marx!

I have to say, I was a bit speechless for a moment there. Looks like I'm now officially part of that ongoing history of the harp! Future generations of harpers and researchers will likely refer to this compilation, just like I referred to a similar one from the vinyl days, twenty odd years ago. As a lifetime achievement, not bad for a start. ;)

Life drawings by Astrid Nielsch at Blueberry Gallery, Carterton Life drawings by Astrid Nielsch at Blueberry Gallery, Carterton Life drawings by Astrid Nielsch at Blueberry Gallery, Carterton Life drawings by Astrid Nielsch at Blueberry Gallery, Carterton Life drawings by Astrid Nielsch at Blueberry Gallery, Carterton Life drawings by Astrid Nielsch at Blueberry Gallery, Carterton Life drawings by Astrid Nielsch at Blueberry Gallery, Carterton

Life drawings soon to be available at Blueberry Gallery, Carterton

As if this wasn't enough to boost my ego, I now have a gallery which exhibits and sells my work! A selection of my life drawings will be available at Blueberry Gallery in Carterton, which will open this weekend. The address is 223 High St., Carterton — that's on the Masterton side of Carterton. Opening times are 11 am - 4 pm, though I am not quite sure which days ... weekends would be a good bet. There is to be an official opening, with the usual drinks and nibbles, and a spot of life music by yours truly, on Saturday, 10 March, from 4.30 to 6 pm. Come along if you are in the neighbourhood! It will be worth your while. There will be other fine artworks by other fine Wairarapa artists, too.

University of New Earth, pencil version Wellington City Library, escalators Wellington City Library, ceiling structures

Preliminary sketches for University of New Earth

This month's new painting is another assignment for the London Art College Science Fiction and Fantasy Art course, which I am indeed still doing, and now hoping I'll actually manage to complete. The task was to create a building combining elements from different time periods: architecture that looks "at least a 100 years old", and modern elements such as shiny metal piping, or anything that would look futuristic. I used some of the architectural sketches I'd done on my trip to Europe (already with a view to completing this assignment), and for the modern stuff, I spent a few afternoons at Wellington City Library, which has an interesting open ceiling structure with lots of ventilation pipes and other building innards lying bare, and also a rather elegant elevator staircase — which is what I ended up using for the final picture.

The assignment said "pencil sketch", but having finished the sketch, I thought it would be really interesting to give it a proper Sci-fi twist by putting it under an alien sky with alien light conditions. I have always wondered how a different solar spectrum and a different atmosphere would affect the way things look on another planet, so here was my chance to give it a go. I suppose there still is plenty of Oxygen in that blue atmosphere, but perhaps at a different concentration than on Earth?

I figure this would be the entrance to the Experience Library of the "Earth Studies" department of the University of Gamma-Psy Nebulae Orionis, otherwise known as "New Earth" (one of the many). The building dates from the early 52nd century After Moon Landing. Experience libraries, as the name implies, collect experiences — this one allows the library user to experience some typical Old Earth environments. Not only does the building reference historical Earth architecture, the inside of the building simulates an Earth environment, complete with ozone blue light. Note that this is a transdimensional building, i.e. the inside is bigger than the outside. Those Old Earth escalators actually do go somewhere. Yes, well, I suppose you *could* call it oblique Doctor Who fan art. But it does look great as a poster print on my wall, if I say so myself!

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Cool Things Friends Do: Stephanie Noverraz, aka Crooty

Stephanie Noverraz is a long-time online friend of mine. I met her on that certain illustrator's internet forum which has turned into an informal online community spanning DeviantArt, Facebook, and occasionally other sites, not to mention bleeding over into "real life": Stephanie has been to New Zealand a few times, and we usually have dinner when she passes through Wellington. I also met her in Switzerland, when I went there a few years ago.

Stephanie is a big fan of Robin Hobb's work and has done an extensive series of illustrations for her books — enough to fill a calendar! Lately, she has been focusing more on her photography. She is a keen traveler, and apart from several trips to New Zealand, she has done series of photos from her trips to Australia, Iceland, the USA, Guadelupe, and South Africa – as well as her native Switzerland, which is quite photogenic too. :)

"I really liked drawing as a kid: I remember copying Sleeping Beauty's three-quarter profile or Snow-White's dress from the back of my book+record at age 4 or 5, or drawing the face of my classmate and sweet-heart Jean-Daniel from a photo, which impressed my parents, when I was 11. When time came to choose a trade, I thought architecture was a good mix between the maths I loved and my need for drawing. It turned out I wasn't quite cut for it in the end, and although I kept on studying to get my degree, I was already attracted to 3D modelling."

"As for photography, I think I got it from my dad. He always took a lot of pictures of the family and of our holidays. So it was natural to take a camera (and many rolls of film) with me when travelling."

"After getting my post-graduate in 3D imaging and working for a while at the Virtual Reality research lab at the University, I found out that finding a job as 3D designer for film or video games here in Switzerland was quite utopic, but I didn't feel like leaving. I took several jobs as 2D or 3D designer for real estate agents, architects, but none was satisfying. I now work as 2D designer for traffic engineers. It doesn't have much to do with what I had originally pictured as my "dream career", but actually corresponds much more to my skills and need for "things done right" (I think I've got a left-sided brain after all)."

"I think I must thank my teenage love for opening my eyes to the world around me. I was a very "urban" girl, and he was studying biology. One day in spring, he told me to look at the lovely colour of the trees, of the young leaves. I've been in awe of nature's beauty since that day. I love travelling to discover vast untouched landscapes (the smaller human footprint, the better), and I frantically take hundreds of photos (especially now with digital) to try and capture those landscapes for myself (for lack of being able to go back whenever I want them again)."

Judging from your portfolio, you really like photographing rocks. What fascinates you about them? — "I never realized that (if you'd asked me I would have said trees), but I guess I do! I think I love the patterns, and the funny shapes I sometimes see in them."

From: Crooty. Submitted 25 February 2012 2:59 am NZDT

Thank you very very much for the feature! *hugs*

It was entirely my pleasure! :)

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Asni's Adventures in Internetland

This week, on my DeviantArt account, I had a Kiriban. "Kiriban" is a word coined especially and particularly by the user community on DeviantArt, to denote — there is some dispute as to the exact meaning — either, a round (or otherwise remarkable) number of pageviews (in my case, 30 000), or an artwork which is given as a reward to the person whose visit to the page achieves the round (or otherwise remarkable) number of page views, and who can claim the commission by posting a screenshot, to prove that it was indeed them who made the number full (or round).

Etymologically, the word seems to derive from Japanese "kiri", or kilo, meaning 1000, and "ban", which means number (I'm trusting Urbandictionary here, my Japanese is so-so. You should always trust Urbandictionary. You can learn things from Urbandictionary!) —— So this would include numbers like 1000, 10 000, 100 000, 20 000, 30 000 and so on. By extension, a kiriban can be defined at any other remarkable number - such as 123 456, or 55 555, or even say, 477 777. It has become tradition on DeviantArt to announce an approaching round number of pageviews with a journal entry, stating "kiriban", or "kiriban approaching", the number in question, and what kind of commission the artist will undertake for the lucky winner.

This I did, yesterday, when I was still some 120 pageviews away from my 30 000 pageviews kiriban — a number of views which it usually takes a few days to achieve. Checking back some five hours later, my kiriban had already been achieved, and claimed! Evidently I had become subject to a case of kiriban fishing. That day, I clocked in at a whopping 160 pageviews: on average, I am getting somewhere between 16 and 32 pageviews a day, and I'd call 45 pageviews a very busy day indeed. I suspect that about 120 of those pageviews were the same person checking in, checking out, checking in again ... she deserves her commission, then.

It's just good to know that I am not the only one obsessed with pageview stats, and round numbers. On DeviantArt, there is a whole culture emerging around the cult of the Round Number Pageview Stat! Fancy that. Happy kiriban to you!

I have now entered the wild and adventurous world of internet advertising. As in, being paid to put links on my website. Quite good money, too! Not like dabbling with affiliate links, which only ever earned me 34 cents — and that was back in 2009. One day last month, I found an email in my inbox that was different from the usual offers to do three way link exchanges, which I generally just mark as spam. These people sent along a paragraph of text — vaguely related to my own text content — with a couple of links that they wanted to have placed, they detailed exactly where it was to go on which page, and they quoted me a fairly decent sum of money. I have a lot of misgivings about people who send you unsolicited offers by email about putting stuff on your web pages, but after checking the links and finding that they all led to completely legitimate sites — travel agents, in this case — my natural curiosity, combined with a chronic need for cash, prevailed. I figured, what can I lose: why not give it a go and see what happens!

It helped that the page they were targeting is part of the not-yet-updated section of my site. Never mind a bit of gibberish there. I placed the link, and lo! the money was in my Paypal account the next day. And another email in my inbox, offering an even more decent sum of money to place another link. What Spanish cross strung harps have in common with garden umbrellas, is a matter of mystery to me, but perhaps one ought not question these things too deeply. I feel good about garden umbrellas. I have no qualms about advertising garden umbrellas on my website. As a friend of mine pointed out, I do need money, and hey, people need garden umbrellas. No doubt about that.

I've also had my initiation into dealing with a malicious hacker attack on one of my client's websites. One time is always the first time! One day, out of the blue, the site came up with a warning displayed by Google, that it was unsafe to browse, and distributing malware. A quick check on the server revealed that there were several files sitting on that web space which had no business being there. Deleting the files was easy, but convincing Google that the site was now kosher, was a trickier job. Especially since, what with the site being already blocked, I couldn't even access the control panel!

I've always assumed that ensuring the server's security was the job of whatever web hosting company I pay to host my sites — the main reason why I am not simply hosting them myself! This hosting provider, however, evidently didn't think so. They were completely unhelpful when I called them up about the matter, and it later turned out that the site had been distributing malware for several weeks — and they had never monitored their servers. The only time someone had tried to hack into asni.net, I had an email from my hosting provider in Germany to say they'd fixed the issue, before I even noticed there was one! But not with The Kiwi Web Hosting Company.

A new hosting provider was found, the site duly moved, and after a protracted search, I did figure out how to circumvent Google's block and add the site to my webmaster tools account, so that I could submit a request for Google to reconsider the site, which it kept telling me I should do, but did not reveal how.

Next morning, the client sent me another email to say the site was now displaying this: hacker message

Well, at least it meant that Google had taken the site off their blacklist!

Fortunately, the problem was easily fixed. Turns out that Ne0-h4ck3r and his/her crew, the "Indian Underground Hackers", style themselves as ICA: Indian Cyber Army, and they've built a reputation for defacing websites — including a number of Pakistani government websites, back in 2010. And that this was a different attack, completely unrelated to the malware problem I had experienced on the other server: ICA had been defacing a number of New Zealand sites on the new web hosting company's servers, by replacing the index pages with their lovely message, the very night I was completing the move of my client's website. Talk about a piece of luck!

Unlike the old hosting provider, the new hosting people apologized profusely, and took it upon themselves to figure out how the hackers had managed to get into their server. And I've learned a few useful bits of internet wisdom along the way. Though what the Indian Cyber Army hoped to achieve by defacing the Wellington Yoga Centre website, among others (you can get a glimpse of the range of the attack by googling "Ne0-h4ck3r" and looking for New Zealand sites reporting the same defacement) — is another matter of mystery to me.

I try to keep up with the tech news, and I do quite a bit of random browsing on the net — for education as well as entertainment. Here is one tidbit I found that is so bizarre that I feel the need to share:

Rick Santorum is a US politician and former Senator, a staunch Republican, who (according to the latest on Google) believes in the Devil. Good on him. I hasten to say that as a non-US citizen, I have no particular grudge against the man, but it would appear that if I was living in the US, I well might. He is now apparently running for US president. So this does concern us all.

Senator Santorum made himself particularly popular with certain parts of the US population, by being vocal against homosexuality, stating that it went against "family values" (kitchen, children, church for all females, I presume?), and equaling it with pedophilia and sex with animals. He also stated that in his opinion, the right to privacy does not exist in the US Constitution. What goes on in anyone's bedroom between consenting adults, is everybody's business, according to this man. No, I don't think I would be a Santorum supporter if I was living in the US.

Unfortunately for him, the gay and anti-homophobia communities are traditionally over-represented in certain creative circles, including, it would appear, among bloggers. A certain Dan Savage, internet columnist, hosted a contest for readers of his column to come up with a neologism — a new meaning coined for the word santorum. You can find out what the winning definition was, by googling "Santorum": as of today's search results, it comes up in second place. Shall we say, it gives the word "smear campaign" a whole new meaning!

And oops — I've just helped that site's google ranking by providing yet another incoming link to it. Lesson learned: you don't want to upset people who are savvy on the internet. And that includes me. Harharharharharrrrrrrrrr.

Privacy. Privacy and the internet. Now, that opens up a whole big stinking can of fish. In an environment rife with news about one or other major player — Google, Facebook, Apple, you name them — harvesting their user's personal data, contacts and internet habits, all in the name of "providing a better experience", privacy seems to be an oldfashioned concern. They mean oh so well. But let that information fall into the wrong hands, and boy will that backfire.

Do the social rules and taboos that have developed over time, and which most people naturally respect in their offlline dealings, not apply when someone chooses to communicate through the internet? When they publish their thoughts, activities, opinions, and personal details on their public websites, social networks, and blogs?

How public is "public"? Can people still rely on other people's discretion not to eavesdrop on personal exchanges, monitor someone else's online habits, posts, comments and most recent uploads, or follow them around to online groups where they have no business being? Do searches on colleagues, family members or friends, for no legitimate reason — and then look up every single page that the search engine spits out?

If someone deliberately and repeatedly follows another person in the street, insists on accompanying a family member to each and every social gathering, obsessively monitors their habits and moves, opens another person's mail, these acts are clearly not appropriate, and in some cases punishable by law. Most people wouldn't walk up to someone else's window and watch what is going on in their living room — or their bedroom, for that matter (unless you're Mr. Santorum, of course). You could easily be put in jail for trespass, doing that.

So where does trespass on the internet start? Is stalking still stalking, when it happens anonymously over the net?

Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the topic of Cyberstalking:

"Stalking is a form of mental assault, in which the perpetrator repeatedly, unwantedly, and disruptively breaks into the life-world of the victim, with whom he has no relationship (or no longer has), with motives that are directly or indirectly traceable to the affective sphere. Moreover, the separated acts that make up the intrusion cannot by themselves cause the mental abuse, but do taken together (cumulative effect)."

CyberAngels has written about how to identify cyberstalking:

"When identifying cyberstalking "in the field," and particularly when considering whether to report it to any kind of legal authority, the following features or combination of features can be considered to characterize a true stalking situation: malice, premeditation, repetition, distress, obsession, vendetta, no legitimate purpose, personally directed, disregarded warnings to stop, harassment, and threats."

I don't know if you have ever been stalked. I have, as a teenager in Berlin (all that blonde hair, you understand), creepy older men following me out of the subway car and into the street. I developed elaborate techniques to dodge these perverts, but they still inspired fear and shuddering revulsion.

Or much later, by an obsessive fan (which goes to prove that one doesn't have to be very famous to attract obsessive fans!), who at one stage followed me on to an online forum where I was posting regularly, and which I knew was of no interest to her, other than that I was posting there. She embarrassed me with her simpering comments on my posts, and I eventually reported her to the webmaster and asked for her account to be blocked. Thankfully, they complied, though some people on the forum questioned my right to act in this way, and it didn't help my standing in that community. Later, the same person compromised my professional relationship with Victoria University, where I was employed to teach. Eventually she confessed that she "had a crush on me". I had been on friendly terms with this person, an elderly and fairly isolated woman, but at that stage, there was no way I would have been willing or able to carry on any sort of contact.

This sort of stalker means oh so well. They do it just because they love and admire you so much. They're your biggest fan. They're not doing any harm. Indeed, they'd do anything to help and support you. Except of course, they don't. The only way I can protect myself from this form of excessive and unwanted attention, is to either create fake identities — this is how the "Asni" tag first came about, btw — or cease being active on the internet altogether.

Fake identities are problematic. They easily create the impression that you've got something to hide, when all you're trying to do is to get out from under the radar of someone who is not prepared to respect your personal boundaries. And they generally don't hide your identity for all that long — not from the obsessive stalker, anyhow!

So that leaves ceasing to participate altogether. Not really a feasible choice for someone like me, who has built a large part of her professional life and identity on and through the internet. But it limits. And it has led me, in the past and in the present, to stop participating in online groups where it would be very useful and profitable for me to be able to participate freely, without having to worry about who else might hear.

I suppose people do it out of a craving for connection, attention, affection, validation — even boredom perhaps — but the tragedy is, all they are ever going to achieve is that the walls will be built stronger, the fences higher, the distances wider. The dodging maneuvers more time consuming and elaborate. And instead of the affection and validation they crave, all they are going to get is shuddering revulsion.

Stalking someone on the internet, without actively harassing them, may seem like a relatively harmless issue. Like bullying, what constitutes stalking is often hard to pin down or define. It is never just one single transgressive act, it is the cumulation of things which in and of themselves, would be quite acceptable. And the subjective perception of the person being stalked may vary. But here is one fail-safe test: if the stalker persists, after being repeatedly asked to stop their behaviour, then that is clearly beyond the limit of what can be considered a healthy and mutually respectful relationship.

It may be the harmless end of the spectrum. But at the other end of that spectrum are the child molesters and the date rapers, the paparazzi and celebrity stalkers, the Stasi, CIA and KGB (:waves to the CIA dude reading this:). What all these groups have in common? They aggressively invade other people's personal sphere. They convince themselves that their own needs and cravings entitle them to this invasion: be it for connection, closeness and gratification, or for money, or control. And they cannot accept that a no means a no means a no.

Arohanui, from Asni

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