Posted in Culture/History, Technology

Evolution – by Dove

In Generation M! I wrote about the influence of media on the image men and women might want to have nowadays. Imperfections brushed away by foundation and photoshop.

A friend of mine sent me this video, called Evolution (thank you Peter). About an imperfect (but genuine) duckling who turns into a beautiful (but fake) swan in front of our eyes. The film was made for Dove as part of their Campaign for Real Beauty, with the message:

No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.

An excellent initiative!

Posted in Books, Humour, Music, Technology

Virtual Assistant

Online shopping is one of the comforts of modern life. A new book, a CD, dress or shirt is only a few clicks away. You do not need to drive to town, avoid a traffic jam, find a parking spot and fight your way through crowds of talkative people, who decide to catch up on things in the middle of the sidewalk. Only to find the object you want is sold out. Or not available at all. Even the shipping costs are covered by the parking fee. A win-win situation!


For years I have been buying books at, a Dutch online store. Sponsoring them! Their service is excellent, swift, reliable and they have a wide variety of books, games and music. If you order current books before 9.30 pm, they will be delivered the next day. Seems almost like magic. And I would recommend to anyone, if not for Billie.

Billie is a merry looking chap in a blue suit. He is in a winning mood. This man is always ready to talk to you, even in the middle of the night. His manners are impeccable, he is polite and will never raise his voice. I, on the other hand will – loudly – for Billie drives me absolutely NUTS. I would like you to meet Billie, the chatbot.

He looks like a real friendly fellow eh? Well, looks can be deceiving. Some months ago had a special offer: order three ebooks for the price of two. And my Sony was eager for food. I found some interesting titles and placed my order. Click click click, YES, onwards to download! Two ebooks snuggled with my ereader, but the third one halted. Seems it was not ready for its new home. Within ten minutes I received a mail, telling me the book was not available. Well damn, I had already paid for it! Or was this the ‘free’ book and did I have to pay full price for the two books anyway? That was indeed a special offer!

In search of the Customer Service on the site, I stumbled upon mr. Billie. Just type your question and Billie will reply. Indeed, he did.

Billie says: Welcome, I’m’s virtual assistant. How can I help you?

Hello Billie, I ordered an ebook, paid for it, and suddenly the book is not available anymore? What happened?

Almost immediately he replied.

Billie says: Could you rephrase your question please? How can I help you?

Alright. Apparently that had been too much information in one sentence. I hit the brakes and start anew.

It’s about ebooks. A specific title is unavailable and I have already paid for it.

Billy says: Would you like to order a book?

A light irritation blossomed.

No. Book has been ordered. Not available. Want money back!

Billy says: How can I help you?

Moderate irritation.

Now listen to me, I want to speak to a HUMAN damn it!

Billie says: Could you rephrase your question please? How can I help you?

Zen. Yin Yang. Failure!

After a while, all I typed was ‘Aaaaaaaaargh’, ‘$hH873*^$%(*^$&()&’ and ‘Stupid thing SHUT UPPPPPP’… until suddenly, out of the blue, Billie said

Would you like me to e-mail the Customer Service for you?

Quiet. Then ‘YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS’ as my answer, after which Billie said ‘Could you rephrase your question please? How can I help you?’ Big sigh. After giving my personal data, I could finally compose a (limited) message. Next day Customer Service e-mailed me, suggesting I should contact them in stead of Billie. That Billie was not meant for complicated questions. NO KIDDING!

Everything was tip top after that: apologies, money refund and even a small voucher as compensation. I immediately ordered a new e-book of course.

The next order failed again. A spontaneous present for my friend Suzan: Sara Bareilles’ CD Kaleidoscope Heart. Item – check; different delivery address – check; text – check; blue gift paper – hand wrapped by Billie 😉 – check; payment through Ideal – check; back to site for confirmation – … … … no check at all. The screen would no refresh. I waited ten minutes and then visited the site. And there the CD was, neat and snug in my Shopping Cart?! Another ten minutes of F5’ing later I got pissed and fired up good old Billie to my Gmail to contact the Customer Service directly. No no no Billie, not a second time! I explained the situation in my e-mail and hit send. And received an automatic confirmation my original order had been received. Argh. My e-mail had been unnecessary: all was OK.

Four days later and still I had not heard from Suzan. And that was strange, because I was sure she would call me immediately upon receiving the surprise CD. Perhaps she didn’t like Sara Bareilles… I sent a text message.

And sweetie? Very curious! What do you think of Sara Bareilles? I loved to share this CD with you, bought it myself too. Am at Chinese take-away, just finished work.

Hi Mar. Have it myself too. Like it. Bon Appetit. Hugs.


ROFL you’d better yes, for I have sent you this CD as a surprise birthday present!

Ring ring, Suzan on the phone, who told me she had not received anything, plus she already had Kaleidoscope! Aaaargh.

Customer Service was delighted to hear from me again. Another mail – somewhat longer this time – to tell everything that had happened. And again a great and quick reaction: the money would be refunded, plus Free Shipping for my next order.

Let’s hope this series of bad luck is over, so I can look forward to years of happy book and CD ordering again., it is truly fine to be online, as long as you stay out of Billie’s hair 😉

Already posted @ Doldriest in Dutch.
Posted in Music

Music: Harry Potter Waterfall of Light & Dark

Have you ever heard of The Piano Guys? No? Then I suggest you listen to these musical virtuosos, they are a delight for your ears and fun to watch. Today they have pushed a new talent into their spotlight.

This young men with his head stuck in the piano has interpreted a Harry Potter arrangement by Jarrod Radnich.

His fingers create liquid music, a waterfall of light and dark, triggering your imagination and memories of the Potter movies.

Watch and listen:

Robert Peeters


Robert has a fanpage on Facebook: Robert Peeters Piano.

Posted in Animals, Photo

Photos: Shake – by Carli Davidson

You just HAVE to take a look at these photos:

I am at a loss for words. They are SO very detailed. Fantastic. And funny! Huge compliments to Carli Davidson, who made these gourmet pictures.

Please visit her website Carli Davidson Photography for more. You can find me there, cruising the images!

Posted in Nature, Photo

Amazing Pictures

These pictures were sent to me by a friend. Thanks M! 

Alas I have no knowledge of where they came from, so I can’t give the credits that I would like to give to these camera artists. But they are so breathtaking and cute that I didn’t want to keep them from you.


Is this last one a Kingfisher? I especially love this one. Plus the horse dog!

Which one is your favourite?

Have a wonderful amazing weekend 🙂

Posted in Music


After five long years, Evanescence finally released a new album! And it is in my hands. Or better, in my computer. Even more precisely, in my ears, finding its way to my heart!

Amy Lee about Evanescence’s genre:

We’re definitely a rock band, but the twist is that the band’s music is epic, dramatic, dark.

Well, to be frank, I couldn’t care less about the genre. It’s the music that counts, the spirit, not in which box it is stuffed! Amy Lee’s voice is as full and clear as ever, their music epic and varied. Beautiful ballads, rock, compelling melodies, great drumming!

Listen and watch the opening song: Do What You Want. Though you might want to clear your desk first: your head will start to move 😉

On their site Evanescence you can listen to four more songs. Just click in the upper right corner. Or better yet, get their album!

Posted in Culture/History

Generation M! ~ Impact of Media

Can the image of men and women as presented in media and culture nowadays be an expression of misogyny? Or even enhance it? As I’m writing a series on the demands of ‘beauty’ throughout the ages and their effect on women and men, these questions strike me as highly interesting.

An excerpt of the Media Education Foundation’s 2008 documentary, “Generation M: Misogyny in Media and Culture.”

The accompanying text of the foundation:

Despite the achievements of the women’s movement over the past four decades, misogyny remains a persistent force in American culture. In this important documentary, Thomas Keith, professor of philosophy at California State University-Long Beach, looks specifically at misogyny and sexism in mainstream American media, exploring how negative definitions of femininity and hateful attitudes toward women get constructed and perpetuated at the very heart of our popular culture.

The film tracks the destructive dynamics of misogyny across a broad and disturbing range of media phenomena: including the hyper-sexualization of commercial products aimed at girls, the explosion of violence in video games aimed at boys, the near-hysterical sexist rants of hip-hop artists and talk radio shock jocks, and the harsh, patronizing caricatures of femininity and feminism that reverberate throughout the mainstream of American popular culture.

Along the way, Generation M forces us to confront the dangerous real-life consequences of misogyny in all its forms – making a compelling case that when we devalue more than half the population based on gender, we harm boys and men as well as women and girls.

Slim, tanned or white, faces without imperfections, muscled. Sexy, provocative, aggressive. All imperfections covered up under a layer of foundations, lipstick, hair extensions. All perfections emphasized by a minimum of clothes. And the things that can’t be obscured are photo shopped – or whatever other program is used.

These sexy role models give the impression of glamour, of success in life, of friends, parties and money. Of a happy and exciting lifestyle.

Do these messages in media and culture demean women? Demean men? Lead to misogyny? Young people can easily be influenced by the message media are giving on desired behaviour and appearance. If you look good, you are good. Talk and act tough. Appearance over personality. And though the examples given in this documentary don’t all apply, still the overall message is true in my opinion. But to focus this merely on America is nonsense: it is global!

People can not live up to the images as presented in the media. More importantly: people do not NEED to live up to that image. Where is the intellect? Where is individuality? Where is growing older with grace and pride? Where are YOU? Age and life in general have an effect on the way we look. And we are good enough as we are, damn it!

Mind you, I’m not saying we should eat as much as we want to. Or not try to be fit – taking care of our health is very important. Or dress nicely if it makes you feel good. But the impossible ‘standards’ as overall presented are ridiculous and even undesirable.

Sending out a personal call for more natural role models in the media. For the importance of personality. For mutual respect.

Tell me. What is YOUR opinion on this subject?

In this series also:  Padaung, the Long-Neck Women and Chinese Foot Binding.

Posted in Books, Personal, Stories, Writing

100 days of daily blogging

Today, after a period of a hundred daily posts, the time feels right to let go of the daily challenge and step over to Post-A-Week-2011 of WordPress.

In these past months of Post-A-Day-2011 I have learned to write when I had inspiration, pouring the wriggling words out. I wrote when my brain was empty, and out of nowhere – triggered by the tiniest spark – still a couple of words found their way to my screen. Tiredness, migraines, illness, nothing stopped my dear sweet muse from whispering words and visions in my ears – to send out to you. Thank you WordPress, for these valuable lessons.

But postaday2011 was becoming a goal in stead of a tool.

So the time has come to use everything I  learned to write my stories and books. They have been waiting patiently while I was blogging, but now they want to be born. And although it seems a simple thing to post every day, still it takes up a lot of precious, scarce time. Finding words, editing them, searching for pictures to illustrate meanings. To groom and shape them into the right form. And I need to spend this time in a different way now.

I will still share my thoughts with you here, at Figments of a Dutchess, whenever the need arises. Plus write a post once a week. Thank you all for staying with me daily. And though the frequency will be less, the intensity and joy will stay.


All it takes is a true friend’s nudge…

Posted in Personal

Thin Line Between Pampering And Being A Good Parent

Hi mom! Can you take me back to school by car in an hour?

It is 1.30 PM and my youngest son barges into the living room, returning from a morning at high school. He deposits his school bag at the floor and walks over to the fridge to see if there are edible objects to his liking.

What do you need to go back for?

An extra test for French, the one I missed when I was sick a couple of weeks ago.

Aha. Well, you can take your bike son.

First an indignant reaction. Followed by puppy eyes – to no avail. Then an attack of ‘reasonable arguments’, trying to lure me into an endless discussion. My firm response to all of this is NO. I am waiting for a fire alarm check-up. Need to clean the whole house on my only afternoon off. Write my English blogpost. Furthermore merry blue skies do not indicate any wetness to fall any time soon. He has just left the building, with loads of good-luck encouragements on my part.

Regularly I am trying to decide where the line between pampering and being a good mom is. This particular boundary wavers in all directions, depending on the occasion. In fact, it is not a line at all but a rapid assessment of facts, possibilities and plain old common sense. Plus the strong urge to take care of my children in the best way I can.

From time to time Vman says I am pampering my lads, who will soon be 20 and 17 years old. That I have to be stricter with them, to guide them on their way to adulthood. And this results in discussions in which I try to keep an open mind and heart. If I agree with him, I put my foot – not my food – down with the kids. If I disagree, I put my foot down with Vman and do it my own way. The female way.

The trap, or should I say challenge, that one-parent families have to face daily. A father is stern, strict, more inclined to reason and ‘commands’, while a mother relies on her feelings, uses her tact and instinct. The soft side. But soft is not always good. There has to be a healthy balance between the hard and soft way in raising children, young men in my case. My ex-husband jumps in in major issues when needed.

I catch myself doing chores that are supposed to be theirs. Just because I am downstairs and my sons are high and dry up in their rooms. For the sake of quickness and perhaps also of avoiding a never-ending discussion. And in those moments I realize I am acting stupid and call myself names, because this way things will never ever change. How will they behave when they live on their own?

Do I have to force them against their wishes to come downstairs in the evenings to watch TV ‘as a family’ of play a board game? In the evenings I finally have time to write, to reply to mail, and can often be found in my little study upstairs and I hardly ever watch TV. So there we are, three people in the same house, sitting behind our computers studying, gaming and writing. When I suggest to go somewhere in the weekend or evenings, visit someone, they hardly ever come along. Sometimes it keeps me awake at night.

But when I think back to when I was young, living at my parents’ house, I was also often in my room, reading and doing stuff. The most precious moment of the day was the hour I came home from school and my mother was waiting with fresh tea so we could chat. Alas I can’t give my sons this moment, because I’m working full-time. They are home earlier than me. But we always have supper together, where we talk about the day’s adventures. Is this enough for a family?

I am wondering how other parents cope with this. How YOU think about this. How do you find your way through these dilemmas?