whitesplaining food and cooking

Learned two new terms recently.

Whitesplaining — a Causasian person explains, in a condescending manner, something that many people, usually non-Causasian, already know about.

Columbus syndrome — people in a dominant culture claim they have discovered something that has existed elsewhere for a long time.

First, it was the NYT’s article on bubble tea. I won’t link to it, because it’s condescending af. They claim, in an article written in 2017, that this drink that originated in Taiwan in the 1980s is so newfangled, “alien” and “exotic.” The “blobs” were painted as something to be afraid of, Fu Manchu-like. The backlash was immediate and they had to issue an apology. Confused about why? One reader’s comment on the article:

It highlights otherness rather than uniqueness, defines familiarity through a nondiverse lens, and for me evokes the unpleasant feelings of being the kid in a nondiverse neighborhood bringing ‘weird’ lunches to school.

sap152fishstand

And as if the lesson hadn’t been learned. Lifehacker came up with an article (again, not linking) that lists the various new ways people can use chopsticks to cook. You know, like using it to beat eggs, or flip meat while frying, or take small pieces of food out from a jar. It’s apparently an “under-rated” kitchen tool that is usually relegated to the junk drawer. So while the NYT may be forgiven for thinking a drink invented 30 years ago is new, how abot Lifehacker doing some research and realising that chopsticks have been used for cooking for THOUSANDS of years. I’m not even going to dignify it by googling archeological or literary evidence. To write about this everyday tool used by millions of people around the world as if it were some new discovery is colour-blind, tone-deaf and downright daft.

So I learned about Columbus effect from Edward Anderson at the Centre of South Asian Studies in Cambridge.

And don’t get me started on yellowface.

millions dream of the lives we are living

millions

I saw this on an askreddit thread but forgot to save the page so I can’t even remember the question. I do remember being momentarily floored by this simple comment.

We must be more grateful for our lives.

The 2016 World Bank report on Poverty and Shared Prosperity is almost 200 pages long, so I didn’t read it. But looking at the World Bank page on poverty just hammers home how lucky I am, and everyone around me, and everyone who is reading this.

globalpoverty

There has been progress:

  • in 2013, 10.7% of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day, compared to 12.4% in 2012 and 35% in 1990
  • nearly 1.1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty since 1990

But the fact is that there are still 767 MILLION people who live in poverty, defined as living below US$1.90 a day. I cannot for the life of me imagine living on that tiny sum a day.

Which is the bigger problem, inequality. The Gini index measures wealth gap. A perfect distribution of wealth within a group means a Gini index of zero. A Gini index of one is where one person in the group has all the wealth and the others have none. So, the lower the better. Here’s another World Bank chart:

gini

The global index (blue line) has decreased since 1988, in part due to globalisation and rapid growth by developing countries–countries are more equal as shown by the light orange between-country index. But look at the dark red in-country index that has gone up a whopping 75%. In real terms, this means the rich in one country has gotten richer, and richer, and richer. It’s a challenge to explain this. Politics, economics, taxation, market movement, greed, these are all factors.

Going back to the reddit comment. I don’t know how to solve inequality aside from being aware of the issue. Just let’s be more grateful, okay?

meat index

ire055butchercote

Interesting article about meat prices around the world, based on a a study by a UK b2b catering company. The study itself is a huge table that looks a lot like airinc goods & sevices tables.

meatprices

The Eater graph shows the top and bottom 10 countries in the study in terms of meat prices compared with the average global price. Switzerland is way out front with meat prices almost 1.5 times that of the global average. The US comes in at only 17.94% and the UK actually below average at -3.06%. Meat in Switzerland and Norway is expensive because they are expensive countries. Meat in HK is expensive because everything is imported. Which is why I don’t buy minced beef–there is not that much difference per kg between minced beef and braising beef like cheeks and oxtail. I already know meat in the US and UK are not that expensive, especially if cooking at home.

It’s not very useful to simply compare prices. A more indicative index is affordability. The study also indicated how many minimum wage hours will be needed to buy 1kg of meat. In Switzerland, that comes to 3hrs. The US comes in at 2.67hrs, UK 1.42hrs and HK around 5hrs. The most expensive, in terms of number of hours needed, is India at 27.38hrs.

There are also other areas of consideration like regulations, trade tariffs and cultural differences. All in all, an interesting area.

more nyt feel-good stories

I needed this, NYT’s latest stories that have nothing to do with politics in which they discover and share stories from around the web that take us away from the current newscycle of politics, terrorism, pain and suffering.

world’s smallest violin

violin64

Atlas Obscura has a story about the world’s smallest violin, at 1/64th normal size measuring less than 12 inches in length. The fraction represents the volume inside the instrument compared with regular violins. Mostly they go to 1/16th so 1/64 is tiny and rare. These small ones are made for kids, with this 1/64 model for 2 year olds. Yep, two years old and learning the violin. I do know that with learning, especially languages and music, the best results are to start young. Most young violinists start off with an instrument constructed from a box–the idea is to get them used to the feel and bow movement before actually getting them to produce sound.

One of the manufacturers of small violins is Stentor Music from the UK (their image above), who started making them in the 1980s. They have a factory in Mainland China where small violins are handcrafted. There is a limited demand, because kids grow out of them, so they only make a few hundred a year. I don’t think they are concert quality, but definitely serve a purpose. I wonder how many young musical prodigies started with a 1/64.

happy ending maths problem

happyendng

Quanta magazine tells the story of Hungarian mathematicians Esther Klein and George Szekeres, and their friend Paul Erdős. The problem is dubbed the happy ending problem because Klein and Szekeres fell in love and got married. Anyway, the original problem:

Given five points, and assuming no three fall exactly on a line, prove that it is always possible to form a convex quadrilateral — a four-sided shape that’s never indented (meaning that, as you travel around it, you make either all left turns or all right turns)

They proved it for 5 points to make a 4-sided polygon f(4); and 17 points to make a hexagon f(6). The general solution they proposed, the formula for the number of points it would take to guarantee a convex polygon:

f(n) = 1+ 2(n–2)

was only recently solved by Andrew Suk of the University of Illinois in Chicago. It gets a bit too technical for me, involving what’s known as the cups-caps theorem and an area of maths called Ramsey theory that says:

within large disorganized sets — like a set of points dispersed randomly on a plane — you will always be able to find well-organized subsets

And this is when I wish I were better at maths. I can understand the simple one page wikipedia entry but not the more complex explanation on quanta.


Luckily, numberphile has a video. It was made in 2014 which pre-dates Andrew Suk’s proof but is a good introduction. Talking about happy ending, Klein and Szekeres moved to Australia after WW2 and passed away within an hour of each other on 28 August 2005.

marriage made tidy

The NYT itself had an article about marraige turning a slob magically tidy. Before she got married, Helen Ellis was a slob-hoarder, who didn’t bat an eyelid when she had food crumbs on her sofa, or even bothered to close cabinet doors and drawers. Her husband still married her.

A year into our marriage, my husband said: “Would you mind keeping the dining room table clean? It’s the first thing I see when I come home.”

What I heard was, “I want a divorce.” What I said was, “Do you want a divorce?”

“No,” he said. “I just want a clean table.”

I called my mother.

She asked, “What’s on the table?”

“Oh, everything. Whatever comes off my body when I come home. Shopping bags, food, coffee cups, mail. My coat.”

Her mother called her husband a saint and told her to learn how to clean.

And she did.

She bought storage boxes and gave away stuff. She started dusting and treating making the bed as cardio exercise.

I guess there are two kinds of people, those who tidy up after themselves and those who don’t. I can’t even let a drawer be a centimeter not closed. Everything has to be put back. A slob, even a recovered slob like Ms Ellis has to remind herself to tidy up, it’s not second nature to her.

london

unionjack

Terrorist attack at London Bridge and Borough Market on Saturday night.

White van crashed into pedestrians then a horrific stabbing spree. Seven dead, 48 injured. All over in 8 minutes. [Edit: 8 dead.]

It’s hard to comprehend. I’m not in London, but I could have been. Saturday night out at Borough Market, something that any Londoner could be doing.

It’s hard to have the right words, reaction, feeling.

We’ve been through this before. Too many times. Regent’s Park, Harrods, Victoria station, 7/7, Woolwich, Westminster.

Guardian journalist Owen Jones, Sunday morning on facebook (and this illustrates my point earlier about not able to link, embed or save worthwhile fb posts):

London has far more love than the terrorists have hatred. London is just as it always was today. It’s a Sunday so it’s quieter than usual. People are in cafes, restaurants, and pubs. Parents have taken their children out. People are laying in parks. Dogs are being walked. Box sets are lazily being watched at home. People who are standing on the left side of the escalator are being tutted at, as are tourists who suddenly stop in the middle of busy walkways and people who are listening to music on their headphones on public transport too loud.

That’s not because London isn’t angry at the terrorists, or not mourning the lives of those murdered by these twisted extremists. It’s because a city which has endured all sorts of horror and attack is not going to surrender to terror and fear, which is what the terrorists want.

Let’s remember those who died, let’s come together, let’s debate how we defeat extremists – and let’s also do what the terrorists don’t want: for us to get on with our lives without fear and hatred.

social media border control

socialmediaborder

It was just announced that US consulates can ask visa applicants from certain countries for social media accounts, email addresses, phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information. This is for visa applicants, like for the B visa, not visa waiver / ESTA applicants.

My ESTA is coming up for renewal so I went online to fill out an application. They do ask for employment information and social media accounts. Employment is mandatory and social media optional. Seems to be something implemented by the current administration since the beginning of the year. Don’t forget, this is an application form that asks if you have engaged in or plan to engage in terrorist activities. Who would put yes?

As the social media section on the ESTA form is optional, I left it blank. The ESTA was approved, so at least that hurdle is successfully negotiated. But of course there’s no stopping them from making us hand over devices and passwords. When I tell my US friends, they rightly get outraged and other people online have mentioned the ACLU. There is a huge difference–the rights of Americans returning to the country and visitors visiting the country. Naturally the former gets more protection and attention from the ACLU; I doubt there is much they can do if visitors feel their rights have been threatened. Visitors have very few rights.

TBH, if I didn’t have to be there at the conference this year, I’ll stay home or go on holiday someplace else. America is such a joke nowadays and I feel guilty about saying it.

almost #breaking2


2:00:25.

So close. Eliud Kipchoge almost succeeded in Nike’s #breaking2 marathon challenge at Monza F1 course. Even if he had gone sub-2 it wouldn’t have counted as a world record because he had 30 pacers and a lead car. Plus Nike’s Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoes and sports drinks delivered by moped were questionable against IAAF rules.

The amazing thing is, he was on pace until around 30km, when he dropped back. Regardless of whether it was a staged event, and regardless of the fact that he didn’t go sub-2, it was still, as the Guardian said,

the most glorious of failures.

breaking2split

Just look at his splits. Wow.

symphony for a broken orchestra

We can do with as much good cheer as possible right now. NYT has a page of 12 great stories that have nothing to do with politics. Between US politics, the French and UK elections, I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’ve stayed off fb mostly. I understand my American friends’ frustration with the recent healthcare situation, but I only have so much empathy to share. UK elections is no better, I used to lean Conservative, but I can no longer stand them. The problem is there is no alternative.

brokeninstruments

Anyway, one of the great stories is about symphony for a broken orchestra. It all started when Robert Blackson of Temple Contemporary, a part of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, learned that there are over 1000 musical instruments in the Philadelphia school system that are broken but can’t be repaired due to lack of money. Mr Blackson collected the instruments for an exhibition and is planning a performance of a piece, Symphony for a Broken Orchestra, composed by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang. The composition

is written specifically for the sounds these instruments can only make in their broken state

They are still looking for volunteers to play the instruments, help with aspects of the performance and to repair the instruments. People can donate and adopt an insrument: after the performance the instruments will be repaired and given back to the schools so young people can learn and enjoy playing music. Here’s some more information:


snap general election

parliamentunionjack

The Prime Minister has called a snap general election on 8 June. What on earth? Most of us kept hearing her say no, there won’t be a general election soon. Clearly she’s changed her mind or is plotting something.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Some analysts say she’s done it to clarify the Brexit mandate. She inherited Cameron’s mess and this is her way of stamping her own authority. Basically it’s a threat, vote for me on my merit or suffer the consequences. She’s also likely to be taking advantage of a big lead in the polls. Labour isn’t an effective opposition party and hasn’t been for a while. The Lib Dems are still too tiny and the SNP is stuck north of the border.

It’s Hobson’s Choice for the voters. One of my fb friends said it best:

would I rather have an incompetent prime minister with his heart in the right place, or one who I disagree with 75% of the time, but who has the ability to deal with foreign leaders, internal dissent, day to day chaos

As disillusioned as I am with the Tories, I cannot stomach voting for Corbyn. Like my fb friend said, nice guy but no presence.

I’m glad I renewed by voter registration. Let’s see if this time roung I get a ballot paper.

random reddit

I’m bored so I’m clicking the random button on reddit, which brings me to, well, random subreddits. Yes, reddit has a bad reputation and there are some cesspool subs that shouldn’t exist. But mostly, it’s people getting together because they have a common interest. I’ve come across subs on games, tv shows, anime, sports teams, cities/countries, tech etc. Sometimes the topic is a complete mystery to me.

No wonder certain newspapers steal–um, borrow–content from reddit. A celebrity does an AMA and an article is written as if they gave an interview. Sometimes there are nice human interest stories. There’s one recently, on r/talesfromtechsupport about a tech support person fixing a simple skype issue so an elderly hard-of-hearing person can video call his wife, who is deaf and abroad for a 2 year temporary work assignment:

I looked up and there was Pete, crying while waving to his wife through Skype. Pete called her and she picked up! He introduced me to her and told me that it’d been 3-weeks since they’d heard from each other.

Anyway here are the most recent 5 random subs and some random posts.


r/minimalism

A place where people gather to talk about simplicity. I have now subscribed to it. Posts about people’s experiences like a post on decluttering using the one in, two out method. Most of us have heard of one in, one out but throwing or donating two out will definitely declutter. The OP says,

it makes me want to replace and upgrade the things I already have, rather than buying entirely new things

which sounds like a solid reason to try the program.

lv225sky

Many image posts of minimalist pictures. The was one with blue sky and a part of a slanted roof. I can do better, here’s one I took ages ago in Las Vegas.


r/dbz

dragonballz

I know very little about dragonball z, even though it’s been around for ages and ages and ages. The subreddit has discussion posts on all sorts of topics including specific episodes. What is dragonball z:

it follows a boy named Son Goku from childhood to adulthood, as he trains himself in martial arts with the goal of growing stronger. Throughout his adventures, he and his friends search for seven magical Dragon Balls that, when gathered together, can grant a single wish

There are posts with titles like What would happen if Dai Kaioshin was removed from Majin Buu? which are meaningless to me. Lots of fanart and I can see the effort that has gone into it. Not surprised that fans are gathered on this sub, this is exactly what the site is about.


r/cactus

Hahaha, a subreddit dedicated to cactus. Mostly pics of people’s plants, identification requests and posts with questions on caring for their cacti. Again, I love that there is a space online that people with similar interests can gather.

hkcchau020cactus

My contribution. We saw this whilst walking around one of the islands a few years ago. I’m loving the flickr search function.


r/historywhatif

Wow, I hadn’t realised there are whole subreddits on history whatif, future whatif, time travel whatif, even magic whatif. Very interesting, if one is interested in history. The top post is entitled Republican Spain wins the Spanish Civil War?

So lets assume that by means of less army defections or more international support or any combination of factors leads the Republicans to oust the fascists from Spain by April 1939(The end of the OTL civil war).

Not a historian, but food for thought. I started clicking on the other whatif subs and now I can see why whole hours, days, weeks, can be wasted.


r/submechanophobia

Okay, I was like, huh? This sub, which has almost 40k subscribers, is all about:

the fear of partially or fully submerged man-made objects

Ah okay. The banner pic is a cruise ship half sunk in the water and most posts are pics of submerged objects like ships, WW2 fighters, cars, submarines. One thread is entitled I will never become a Navy SEAL.

The best thing, I learned a new word.

brexit triggered

brexit

The Prime Minister triggered Brexit on Wednesday 29 March 2017. It’s a bit like knowing exactly when a bomb will go off but not having any choice in the matter. All we can do is watch the ripples spread out in concentric circles as we, as the Guardian described (it’s their banner here) we’re stepping into the unknown. There are tons and tons of opinion articles on this, from doom and gloom to glee. I’ve saved an extremely helpful BBC article all you need to know about Brexit. Many sensible questions, like:

What impact will leaving the EU have on the NHS?

But some equally amusing ones like:

Will we be barred from the Eurovision Song Contest?

Most of the answers to questions are variants of “it depends.” No one knows how the negotiations will give us. The overriding lesson from the past 12 months is: take nothing for granted, the world is unpredictable, people do not behave in ways we assume they would. No one person has the same circumstance as anyone else. Naturally I’m hoping for a soft Brexit, with as little disruption to everyday lives as possible. It’s probably naïve and unrealistic because of special interest groups and people with different agendas to ours.

There are a lot of people immediately affected by Brexit; I’m in the last group which arguably is the least affected:

  • 63 million people living in the UK
  • 58 million British people living in the UK
  • 2.9 million EU citizens living in the UK
  • 1.2 million British people living in the EU
  • 4.3 million British people living overseas (excl EU)

My primary income and financial assets are not in in the UK, so I’m less affected by the fluctuation of GBP or, to a lesser extent, EUR. If anything, sterling is cheaper for us so we should go back to visit or look into buying property. That puts me in an embarrasing predicament, because I can stand to gain from Brexit. What does it say for me as a Remainer, do I take advantage of FX volatility and falling house prices? Do I take the high road and not try to use this opportunity to my personal advantage? It’s stupid to take the naïve moral stand, TBH. When I can get us organised, I’m persuading mm to go for a househunting trip.

Aside: Scotland is in an interesting position. They voted overwhelming to Remain. If there is a second IndyRef, and if they vote for independence, will it then be a feasible location to move to? I don’t know.

There’s a part of me that still can’t believe how we got ourselves in this mess. I don’t know anyone who voted Leave but I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive them. I’ll wait and see. And hope for the best.

london bridge has fallen

London Bridge Roundel
photo credit: flickr user diorama_sky, under CC

I can even fathom, but one of these days the Queen will pass away. Spent a few minutes (more like 20, it’s a long read) reading the Guardian’s article about Operation London Bridge, or the top secret plans for the few days after the Queen’s death. The extension plans cover both the Queen’s death and Charles’ ascension and have been in place since the 1960s. The group of people involved (government departments, the police, the army, Palace staff, the media) meets regularly to update the plans and there are rehearsals for all manner of eventualities.

The middle of the article talks about Britain’s decling power compared with when Queen Victoria died. Then, we had the Empire. Now, there’s Brexit. But the Empire is gone, it’s nothing to be ashamed about; the world changes and evolves. Britain will still mourn the death of our monarch with dignity and it will be done with full-on British precision and ceremony. Extensive procedures will be followed, every detail, from the thickness of the cloth covering the bell of Big Ben that will ring the start to the Queen’s funeral to stockpiling of condolence books in all corners of the country, are in the playbook. The Prime Minister will be informed, Parliament will be recalled. TV and radio programs will stop and networks will merge with the announcement. The BBC, other channels as well as newspapers and magazines will have material already prepared.

The royal standard will appear on the screen. The national anthem will play. You will remember where you were.

And it being a completely modern world, the news will spread very, very quickly. It took hours before George VI’s death was announced; the press who were in Paris with Robin Cook who was travelling with Princess Diana knew within 15mins. Now, it’s as fast as data is carried over the internet.

There will be a profound outpouring of grief. Some observers predict an increase in patriotic feelings.

People who are not expecting to cry will cry.

I don’t cry a lot and I was close to tears just reading this.

fearless girl

fearlessgirl
photo credit: Federica Valabrega

Advertising firm McCann New York placed a statue of a girl opposite the Wall Street charging bull on behalf of their client State Street Global Advisors. The statue, called Fearless Girl, was by sculptor Kristen Visbal and will be there for a week. The purpose is to bring attention, on International Women’s Day, to diversity and gender equality issues. She starts down the bull and plaque at her feet says

Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.

State Street is refreshingly unusual in having 3 women on its 11-member board. Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Tisdalle:

She’s not angry at the bull — she’s confident, she knows what she’s capable of, and she’s wanting the bull to take note.

If only the rest of Wall Street is as enlightened as State Street. More than 80% of FAs are men and 25% of Russell 3000 index firms have no women on their board. I mean, has anyone been to the pit that is a trading desk? Sigh.

Come to think of it, I think my friend Larry went to State Street. I think he’s still there, global head of mobility.

nyc295bull

And another thing, they must have roped off the statues for photographers or the photographers got there early. When I was there last year, there were so many people taking selfies with the bull I could not get a proper pic at all.

subscribe to newspapers

nytsub

How is the NYT really doing, asked om malik. Newspapers are painfully transitioning from print versions to digital versions, some with more success than others. I can understand the constant calls to subscribe, or to put articles behind a paywall–they have to make money after all. I left the NYT when they started their paywall, but have enjoyed a free trial subscription thanks to my friend R for the past 3 months. The question is, do I continue subscribing once the free period is over? Their income from ad revenues has gone down significantly although their digital subscription rate has gone up, possibly due to the US election. A basic subscription is only USD2.75 a week, and I really should support that.

The alternative is to subscribe to the guardian, which is marginally more expensive at USD3.85 per week. There obviously is room for both, it doesn’t work out to be that much.

Thinking.

2016: tl;dr

It’s december and time for best of, worst of, retrospective of, summary of and all that of the year. How to start? Sigh. This was on reddit: what’s the tl;dr for 2016 and some great answers. Two most meaningful ones for me, the first for the world in general:

2016 is the year we went from thinking that there might be alternate universes, to realizing that we are the alternate universe

The second one from someone who said exactly what was on my mind:

My dad died, and the world literally stopped making sense

And then someone put all of 2016 in a song. Like what the first comment said, no need for me to say which song it’s based on, by the chorus readers should start humming along:

2016tldr

2016 olympics

2016olympics

The Olympics finished. Didn’t watch a lot because the tv channel only showed the big sports like swimming and athletics. Very happy and proud that Team GB finished second in the medals table. So many greats, Katherine Grainger, Mo Farah, Andy Murray, Nicola Adams, Giles Scott, Max Whitlock, Nick Skelton, the divers, the hockey team and the entire cycling team. 67 medals in total, 2 more than London 2012, an impressive achievement for an away games.

Another way of looking: 7th weighted medals by team size which is very good too.

Special shoutout to the 10 countries winning their first gold medals: Bahrain, Fiji, Ivory Coast, Kuwait (as Independent), Jordan, Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Tajikistan, Vietnam. It’s easy to focus on the big countries and big crowd-pleasing sports, the achievements of the smaller countries and smaller teams is proportionately even larger. And what about Sakshi Malik, who won India’s first ever medal, a silver in wrestling. Imagine the difficulty she’s had to overcome.

sportsmanship

There are no better embodiment of the Olympic spirit than Nikki Hamblin and Abbey d’Agostino, who were awarded the prestigious Pierre de Coubertin medal for fair play. One of the best moments of these Games.

typhoon last night

We got a direct hit from typhoon Nida last night. It made landfall 40km away and there were winds at 150km/hr plus more than 60mm of rain. Many places were flooded. T8 was raised.

Apparently.

treedowntyphoon201607

I heard some gusts of winds just before I went to bed but I slept through it all. When I woke up, there were winds and some rain but nothing out of the ordinary. There were bits of leaves over the windows but it was only when I looked outside that I realised it was a ferocious one. Branches all over the ground, the cover of our neighbour’s car had blown off and a couple of the papaya trees in the garden had fallen over.

I’m with her

Been quiet about the US presidental election while watching from the sidelines. Like most outside the US, and many (hopefully many, many) inside the US, I shake my head as Trump gets nominated in his party by behaving ridiculously towards minority and talking utter rubbish all the time.

Resisted until this week, then couldn’t help but tune into the livestream of the DNC. President Obama’s speech was awe-inspiring. Don’t boo, vote.

Khizr Khan talking about the loss of his son in Iraq and telling Trump he has sacrificed nothing was one of the most heartfelt speeches I’d watched for a long time.

And then Hillary Clinton walked out.

I watched most of her speech live, then had to go out. Watched it again in full later. Here are some highlights.

If I can vote for her, I will. I hope and wish that my friends who can, not only go out and vote in November, but spread the message amongst friends and family that there is too much at stake this time. Learn from Brexit. Look at the big picture. Don’t let anger and frustration destroy everything.

brexit: what have we done?

In the end, my vote wouldn’t have mattered. Westminster voted 69% for Remain. But that’s where the good news ended. The rest of the UK, outside of London & the Southeast, Northern Ireland and Scotland (and Gibraltar), mostly voted to Leave.

brexitmap

It’s the biggest event in the UK for several generations. The bbc map and analysis shows a country divided. The analysis also showed that by and large:

  • young people voted Remain; older people voted Leave with the crossover point at around the mid-40s years old, the same age range as our EU membership
  • people with higher degrees voted Remain; non-graduates voted Leave
  • people who self-identified as English voted Leave

I was watching the live results. It was a big shock as constituency after constituency returned Leave. A little respite when the first of the London results came in for Remain, but it was shortlived.

brexitmarket

Even though the European markets were closed, 24/7 trading meant it was possible to see the moment when the world realised Leave was going to win.

brexitfx

The £ dropped to a 30-year low. I’d bought some last week, when it was around 11.01 against local$, and when I checked my bank it was 10.75. Even as I typed in the online order it dropped to 10.62. Texted sis and mm, mm was able to get some at 10.55.

My FA texted. We were going to sell off one of my GBP accounts anyway, and she wanted to put the order in as soon as the markets open. I said it’s the worst time to sell, since there’d be lots of panic selling and the indices will be sure to fall. It’s not like we were desperate for the money. FA was more pessimistic than us, she thinks the markets will fall further. In the end, we set a line, if the drop is less than a certain % then sell, wait and buy back when it’s still cheap. Otherwise sit tight.

If I weren’t flying to the US next weekend for the conference, I would have dragged mm to London so we can go house-hunting. House prices are expected to drop, even though the top end of the property market will probably go up because of the cheap £.

I sound like one of those detested bankers! Taking advantage of a horrible chaos to try to make money.

markets20160624

And chaos it was. I turned on the tv to bloomberg to watch Cameron resign, and the markets go crazy. Interestingly the FTSE-100 only dropped 4% compared with the CAC and DAX. World markets closed for the weekend with red everywhere. One of my uni friends on our whatsapp group joked:

Brexit to be followed by Grexit, Departugal, Italeave, Fruckoff, Czechout, Oustria, Finish, Slovlong, Latervia, Byegium until the EU reaches the state of Germlonely

And still the recriminations continue. I try to understand where the Leave voters were coming from, which boils down to:

if you’ve got money, you vote in; if you haven’t got money, you vote out

It was all voting from the heart, coming from resentment of a government that has failed the entire country whilst lining the coffers of their one-percenter friends. There is no excuse from the government, but let’s vote them out at the next general election and not use the EU referendum as a temper tantrum.

There was a lot fearmongering about immigration too, that the heart listened to. I get it. I saw my own neighbourhood change when I was back in London after more than a decade away and it wasn’t for the better. It’s true, many people who come to the country didn’t bother to assimilate, but Britain is also the country where a hijab-wearing woman whose parents come from Bangladesh can win the most popular baking competition ever and goes on to bake a cake for the Queen’s 90th birthday. That’s British identity, not Nigel Farage’s stupid poster.

The heart that voted for Brexit didn’t listen to the head and forgot about consequences. How leaving the EU will affect pensions, mortgages, job opportunities, the economy and, closer to home, making their Costa del Sol holiday even more expensive now.

And we’ll have to be British about this. Apologise to the world about the mess we created. Make the best of the situation. Europe already wants us out. Best case scenario, our politicians (and please do NOT elect Boris Johnson) salvage some of the EU benefits and we become like Switzerland or Norway. Worst case scenario…ugh, that’s a bottomless pit.

What have we done?

EU referendum didn’t vote

euballotpaper

Results are starting to come in for the EU referendum. Despite me being a good citizen and registering to vote, I did not get my chance to vote. Why? Because I didn’t get my ballot paper. I have no idea why or what happened. I received a confirmation from Westminster council, which I duly filed away. Then waited and waited and waited. Most info and articles were geared towards people in the UK. It’s hard for people outside to find instructions. I wonder if I should have registered for a proxy vote, but I don’t know anyone in Westminster.

So that was the tactic then? Not send the ballot papers or send it so we get it after the event. I wonder how many of the millions of overseas voters got their voting card on time and had their vote count.

What’s this about #yourvotematters? Clearly mine didn’t matter.

A bit mad, to be honest.

p.s. for the record, Remain.

welcome home Major Peake

After a 6-month stay at the ISS, Tim Peake came back to earth.

The first UK astronaut to spacewalk; the second astronaut to run a marathon (London, which he completed in 3.35). I’ve been following him on the news, on twitter and flickr. He’s safely back on earth now, but not before a final tweet from space:

Beautiful pics on his flickr feed. Aside from the marvel that is seeing the Earth from space, there’s his keen eye too. It’s good to be reminded of how beautiful our planet is.

The Earth:
Planet Earth

Aurora over Canada:
Aurora masterclass

Sunlight reflecting on a Himalayan lake:
Stunning colours

p.s. all pics copyright Tim Peake ESA/NASA, from Tim’s flickr.

jo cox

sg013temple

What an awful week. Still reeling from Orlando. And now Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen.

Like most people, even in the UK, I haven’t heard of Jo Cox before. But reading all the tributes, watching her maiden Parliament speech, she was just one of those politicians who are what we want from a politician: hardworking, bright, working for her constituents and her country rather than blagging and hogging the spotlight with empty promises.

She achieved so much. Head girl, Pembroke College, Head of Policy at Oxfam. A

tireless campaigner

for Syrian refugees.

She even lived on a houseboat! She left behind her husband, Brendan, and two young children.

What is the world coming to? Awful, simply awful. There are eyewitness reports that her attacker shouted “Britain First” and although it’s not confirmed the fact that organisations like Britain First exist in the first place is a terrible reflection of how the world has become.

This quote from her maiden speech sums up how we should carry on her legacy:

we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us

We simply must do better.

orlando

cpride001flag

Not sure if I can articulate my thoughts about the Orlando shooting. Many others are doing it more eloquently. Most western news media outlets have lots of reports and opinions.

As the guardian said so many faultlines.

Discussion about whether it was terrorism or hate crime. Put the blame on radicalisation or lack of gun control. Anger at poliicians using a tragedy to push their own agenda. Censorship on r/news. Reopening arguments about immigration. Mental health issues. Still waiting for the day homophobia is no longer in existence.

Words.

I look at my other feed and there is nothing there. It’s as if my RL friends and family are a world away from what happened half the world away. It’s my perennial conflict, what happens in my community life has no overlap with my real life.

#yourvotematters

ukexpatsvote

I didn’t vote in the last general election because I didn’t keep up my registration on the electoral register when I left the UK. Not that my one vote would have counted, I figured. Except that’s exactly the wrong attitude. I’ve been following what’s going on in the SMH-worthy US primaries. Time and time again people are telling their friends to go vote, because their one vote does count. People who are passionate about their parties and issues are more likely to vote in large numbers, and sometimes that’s led to bad results because people with extremist or discriminatory views have simply cared more than the lethargic majority.

Sis has been nagging me about 2 things: get health insurance and register to vote. We were talking about Brexit and she reminded me to go register asap. The FCO has been calling on the estimated 5.5 million overseas British citizens to exercise their right to vote.

It’s really easy to do online and yes it only took around the time to make a cup of tea. R is registered in Chichester; Sis and I are in Westminster. When I have time, I’ll register for mm too. Seems like the publicity is working with over 2000 registering every day.

The criteria is that the person has to have been registered as a voter or left the UK in the last 15 years. Don’t know why it’s 15 years, sounds arbitrary. Some people who left more than 15 years ago are also fighting to have their voting rights recognised.

Hopefully more than 106,000 overseas British citizens bother to vote at the June referendum. That’s the number in the last general election.

#bruxelles

Another senseless terrorist attack. Ths airport and Maelbeek Metro station in Brussels came under attack on Tuesday.

lemondebruxelles

There’s a small part of me that is angry at TPTB. They knew the Paris bombers lived in Belgium, there was talk that an attack on Brussels was planned / foiled. But honestly, all the police in the world can’t stop someone with a backpack going to the landside of an airport, or a metro station. Mostly, I’m sad and want to reach out to the victims and everyone in Brussels. This drawing from Le Monde is poignant and full of sympathy. We all feel like France at this moment.

In less than 10 days’ time, Mum and I will be in Paris and then mid-April we’ll be in London. Am I worried? I’ll be a fool if I said flippantly, “no.” But am I tempted to cancel? Absolutely not, and reddit agrees it’s still safe to travel to Europe. I’ll be vigilant and prepared to go through plenty of security checks. It’s a way of life in the world now, I doubt the threat of terrorism will decrease during my lifetime.

brus094frites2bar

I have good memories of Brussels and this is what I will think about today. A beautiful, cosmopolitan city with beers, chocolate and frites.

brus006lecomet

Great architecture and a pleasurable city to walk in. That’s the Brussels of my mind.

Eddie Izzard 27 marathons in 27 days

Regardless of what you feel about Eddie Izzard, my hat off to him for completing 27 marathons in 27 days. He did 2 on the last day and raised more than £1 million for charity. Awesome.

BBC3 has been following him on his quest, the clip of his last day shows dedication as well as humour. Yes he has a team supporting him but it seems so lonely to run mostly on his own. I bet he got a lift from supporters running with him and cheering him along the way. And why did they make him climb up those stairs to Nelson Mandela’s statue after he ran 56 miles that day?

Someone posted a really funny comment on runnit:

As far as I can tell, Eddie Izzard’s daily schedule looks something like:

5.30 am, Alarm goes off
Brush teeth
A quick before breakfast marathon
Shower. A healthy breakfast
Get dressed. Try on a sequined dress. Look fabulous
Change of mind. Put on a suit
A brisk 26.2 mile jog into work
Start shooting scenes for pilot of tv show. Nail every scene
The odd marathon between takes
That’s a wrap
After work drinks
Marathon
Dinner
Marathon
Head downtown to do a standup show. Audience is in stitches
Leave stage
Fit in a quick marathon before returning to thunderous applause to perform encore

Teehee, I love reddit.

england vs france at wembley, the score didn’t matter

englandfrance20151117
image from the independent

If I were still in London, I would have thought about going too. And I’ve never gone to a football match.

On Tuesday night, France came to Wembley to play a football match with England, four days after the terrorist attack in Paris, during which their own game with Germany was under attack at la Stade de France. While most people will agree that sports and politics shouldn’t mix, this time

football itself has been rather thrust forward into the vanguard of the response to the horror in Paris.

Kudos to the FA their french counterpart and the government, for the determination that the game will go ahead,

defiance, normality, business as usual: this was the message.

It was always going to be an emotional night. It was well known beforehand that the Duke of Cambridge, Cameron and the team captains would lay wreaths on the pitch; that there would be a minute’s silence; that the words of La Marseillaise would be shown on the big screen so England fans can sing with their counterparts.

I looked for videos of that. I did not expect to be so moved. Wonderful display of Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Yes, the words were mangled, the band wasn’t perfect. It was perfect:

it suited the often funny fraternity between France and England: our closest neighbour, but a sibling kind of relationship that leaves each afraid to say to the other how much we care, until something truly awful happens.

In the meantime, politicians, most especially Republican governors in America are portraying Muslims and Middle Eastern refugees as all terrorists and falling over each other to slam the door on Syrian refugees. Wow, that’s inhuman and cruel.

Oh, the final score was 2-0 to England. It didn’t matter. Marchons, marchons.

 

 

paris fusillade last straw, or how I was a meanie

I woke up this morning to the news of the terrible terrorist attack in Paris. It’s been a dreadful few weeks, with the sudden loss of a friend to cancer, a death in the family and now this. I was about to start looking for flights and hotels too.

As with many news events nowadays, social media played a big part in both dissemination of information and for people to express their feelings. What I observed on my fb, twitter and instagram feeds was quite interesting:

  • fb — fb friends’ demographics are fairly homogeneous in terms of background, education and values. It’s a close and tight community. Plus, I’m careful about whose friend request I accept, which perpetuate the sameness. The reaction to #fusillade was overwhelmingly outrage, sadness and sympathy
  • twitter — I follow all sorts on twitter: runners, professional athletes, whisky & wine lovers, travellers, nano participants, artists, writers, photographers, chefs, GBBO partipants, journalists, tech people, gamergate people, celebrities. Some I follow to see what sort of mischief they get up to. Some are people whose views I may not necessary agree with. I don’t check twitter all the time, but if there is an important event, it’s the first place I go to. Most of the updates for #fusillade was via twitter and the reaction was varied, from sadness and sympathy to more controversial views
  • instagram — instagram was quiet, people continued posting as normal albeit slightly subdued, a couple of the parispaix image

 

parispaix
image via the guardian

I spent most of the morning following the livefeeds on the guardian and NYT (they disabled the paywall for this event) as well as #paris and my own feed on twitter.

For some reason, one person’s twitter posts stood out. Suffice it to say they are an author and possibly self publish, I’m not sure. I’ve noticed the tweets by this person for a long time, because it’s all the same: “buy my book” multiple times every day. RTs are when they are @mentioned by others, also writing and publishing and book buying related.

So when the news in Paris broke, and everyone was waiting with bated breath as the police operation went underway, what did this person do? A “buy my book” post. Seriously. In the middle of the largest attack on a western city since 9/11. Where was the common sense? Where was the perspective? Where was the empathy towards the dead, the injured, le gendarmarie?

I don’t know this individual personally.1 I could have, and arguably should have, sent them a friendly DM. But I didn’t because I thought a DM from a stranger will likely be taken the wrong way and have the opposite effect.

I’m not saying don’t post. Life goes on. My feed gradually filled up with non-Paris posts, although I noticed they were more low key. If I had gone running, I would have done my normal running post too. My issue with this author was the constant barrage of promotional posts did not stop2 when it was clearly inappropriate. The excuse that they weren’t aware of what was happening doesn’t fly because they were RTing Paris stuff too.

batmanbuybook

It was the last straw. So I vented on fb. I added that I’m sad and pissed off. I figured, in a while, I’ll calm down and I’ll delete it. No one will be any wiser.

The post blew up. Mainly agreeing. Like I said, homogeneous group. The post isn’t public, only people I have personal interactions saw it. The comments were somewhat valid, so I thought I’ll leave it up. There were hints that certain commenters saw the same tweets.

One person called me out on it. She disapproved of the way we seemed to have gone all lynch mob on the author. That it was disappointing that no one thought to educate instead of hanging someone out to dry. That we should be more forgiving about mistakes. Since it is someone I really respect, it was time for self-reflection. Was it wrong to say something so harsh? Should I have said nothing? Should I have contacted the author to understand where they were coming from?

I looked at the author’s twitter feed again. Another promotional post had gone up in the meantime. This is the gist of what I added to the OP:

  • it’s common sense to know what to not do in times of tragedy
  • how many times have people written about written about the perils of constantly bombarding readers with “buy my book” posts? Everytime, the answer is don’t do it
  • if you’re on social media, be ready that someone will disagree with you
  • we should stop catering to the lowest common denominator in society

I mean what I say, about lowest common denominators in society. Because a handful drunken louts damaged a property, now no one can go inside [a park, a building etc]. Because one person freaks out at witchcraft and sorcery, Harry Potter books are banned. Because someone has no common sense, we should use kid gloves to oh-so-gently nudge them in the right direction. How many people will step up when a customer insults an autistic employee when most businesses would act the opposite way?

Was I a meanie, posting on fb? Possibly. Did the author deserve it? Possibly, since they seem to have taken a what-not-to-do guide and did exactly those things (yet another promotional post came up later). They probably deserved a more reconciliatory tone. Would I do it again? I sure hope that the circumstances leading to needing to rant never occur, ever.

 

1 This person posts a lot. Yet I have no clue about their personality. Do they like where they live? Favourite food? Do they have pets? Post something other than writing or RTs that make me interested in you AS A PERSON. For all I know, this is a bot.

2 A thought occurred to me that they are scheduled. I don’t have the energy to check timestamps. Even if they were scheduled, turn it off.

 

 

happy news: young woman runs own business

Sometimes heart-warming stories come out of reddit. This is a story about Jo and her incredible daughter Emma. 21 year old Emma has Downs Syndrome, autism, hearing loss and a cleft palate, which prevents her from learning to read and write. After an encounter with a girl who lost her mother, Jo realised that she needed to help Emma plan for her life as Jo won’t be there forever.

mastershredder

Turns out, Emma’s inability to read and write is a bonus, and now she runs her own successful shredding business, Master Shredder. Her clients include a solicitor’s and a credit union; they give her confidential documents and she shreds them in a non-recoverable way. Jo:

If I look at this from the perspective of confidential documents that’s great, she can’t read it. You could put a state secret in front of her and she won’t know.

It’s also really heartwarming to watch Emma working very diligently; and how happy she looks when with other people. Beautiful story.

 

long to reign over us

queen2015
image: getty

Today, the Queen becomes the longest-reigning monarch in British history, overtaking Queen Victoria’s 63 years, seven months and two days. It’s both a sad and happy day, as it marks the day she lost her father, George VI. Lots of commemorations and celebrations in the news. The bbc has a wonderful series of pictures from each year of her reign. The Telegraph has this video that transforms her from when she was 25 years old to now, at 89:

Even the stoic Independent is full of praise for her, recognising her dedication, sense of duty and the rock on which the country has built on for 63 years. How many 21 year old princesses would say this:

I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family, to which we all belong

She’s the only Queen I’ve known. There’s an unspoken sense of awe, respect and…love for her that isn’t there for the other members of the Royal Family. It’s like it’s baked into our core. Even the people who want to scrap the monarchy have to admit that she has been a great queen, seeing the country transition from the glory days of the Empire through devastation following WW2 and then to the modern age.

Of course we can’t hope for another 63 years, but we’ll take as many as we can while she is with us.

on the #timhunt incident

My niece was complaining about her Chemistry teacher so I offered to give her some Chemistry help over the summer holiday. She didn’t really say yes or no; can’t blame her, who in their right minds will voluntarily do schoolwork during the summer holiday? Anyway, I’ll have to read up on the topic if I do need to help her, I’d all but lost my chemistry knowledge. Why did I leave my research job? It was boring and there didn’t seem to be a good career progression.

A dinosaur masquarading as a Nobel Laureate made stupid comments about “girls” falling in love and crying when criticised and was asked to resign from his post at UCL. I agree with the outcome, and even though I should feel sorry about the speed and ferocity of his treatment by social media and his employer, I don’t. He claims it was a self-deprecating joke and he’s been hung out to dry but again, no sympathies.

People are allowed to express their opinions in private; this is the basic tenet of a free world. But he wasn’t in private, and as a Nobel Laureate, he is a role model and speaking from a position of eminence. Did he think before he spoke? Obviously not. Did he think what he said was wrong? From his half-hearted apology afterwards, no. He only apologised more profusely after the backlash. It’s another case of being sorry that his remarks were heard by journalists.

Here was someone who took credit for work done by scores of undergrads, postgrads and postdocs under his supervision, and yet his attitude towards 50% of the population is so backwards that I wonder at atmosphere in his labs. Then again it’s likely that his labs had around the national average 12.8% women (oh sorry, Prof Hunt, “girls”) so it’s not like they count, right.

Lots of commentaries, tweets and opinions about this incident. Women scientists started posting pictures of themselves looking #distractinglysexy. Other prominent male scientists rushed to his defence. Even Boris Johnson chimed in. Astrophysicist Dr Katie Mack summed it up nicely:

scienceresearch01 scienceresearch02

In other news, scientific research is bizarre. In Ways of Knowing, photographer Danier Stier took photos of actual research going on at actual research institutes. He says,

we get the wrong idea of science when we look at something like National Geographic, we think of lab coats, high-tech equipment—the realities couldn’t be more different

Hmm, there aren’t that many women in the photos either. Credit to them that they’re not crying.

not the superhero runner

8.5km 1.12.30hr 8.32min/km plus 1.5km walking

I took advantage of a little breeze and cloud cover to go to the park. It was still a bit of a struggle as the temperature was high and I was dripping with sweat very quickly. Argh.

Need something positive, and I came across an article in medium called the superhero runner. The author’s son (age 5) is British and was born in Japan and lived there till he was 2.5 years old. Naturally he feels a connection with Japan. His parents are also avid runners so when his homework was about his own personal real-life hero, he wrote about Yuki Kawauchi, the “maverick” civil servant runner from Saitama.

Kawauchi is fast, very fast. 2:08 at the 2011 Tokyo marathon, multiple victories in a year and a member of the Japan world championship team. He is also one to buck the system. In Japan, professional runners are part of a coporate or university team. Kawauchi still has a day job as a government clerk, pays for his own expenses and generally does things his own way.

Great role model for a 5 year old.

Even better news is that after his dad tweeted his homework, the folks at Japan running news passed on the image and Kawauchi sent a response:

I’m not quite the fastest in Japan yet but I’m very happy to hear that English children know and value that I try to be competitive and to never give up. I will keep trying to really become the fastest in Japan. Thank you.

#ge2015

ge2015lego
lego parliament via mashable

I tuned into BBC as soon as I woke up and one of the first MPs returned was 20 year old Mhairi Black from the SNP. That would set the tone for the entire general election results. I watched as the SNP annihilated Labour in Scotland; then the Tories proved too strong for both Labour and the LibDems, who ended up getting decimated. Cameron got elected back to No. 10 without needing a coalition partner.

I’m not 100% happy but I’m not all that sad or angry at #ge2015 results. It was a shock to watch the decimated LibDems and Labour’s poor showing, though in hindsight there wasn’t a real alternative to the Conservatives—Miliband and Clegg were gracious in their resigations, where was the backbone before the election?

ge2015scotland gd2015maggiesimpson

Quite astounded at the SNP landslide. A lot due to Nicola Sturgeon’s good performance, though ironic that she wasn’t even standing. I don’t know a whole lot about Scottish politics or the everyday priorities of the Scottish people. It seems to me that they voted in the SNP not because they want independence, but because they want effective representation in Westminster. It’s telling that the voice of non-public school, London-centric Britain now falls to a party that was, many years ago, considered marginal. I hope they reward their constituencies’ faith in them and not hijack issues for their own purposes.

ge2015crossstitch
#ge2015 live cross-stich via tom katsumi on twitter

It’ll be a very different Britain in the next 5 years. I want to be hopeful that Cameron & Co will do the right thing, but I’m more afraid that they will put the interest of their corporate buddies before that of the British people.

ge2015pr
charts via independent

People have been talking about electoral reform. That the UK needs to move to proportional representation because how come the SNP had 1.4mil votes and got 56 seats, while the Greens got 1.1mil votes and only one (yay for Caroline Lucas, btw).

What alarms me is that, if we had PR, Ukip would have won 80+ seats. That’s scary. I grew up in a Tory stronghold (Chipping Barnet has returned a Conservative MP since 1974, when the constituency was created) and I have some empathy towards the Little England view of immigrants (despite the fact that I’m one such immigrant myself). I felt the change in Britain since I left. In the space of 2.5 years it does seem that we have been overwhelmed by newcomers. No one on the tube spoke English, no one selling us tea or coffee were native English speakers, house prices have gone through the roof with foreign investors and their buy-to-leave tactic. I get it. People who move to a new country must do so sympathetically and respectfully and there are people from certain countries that simply do not (it’s not just a UK problem, those people are everywhere in the world.)

The world is still reacting to #ge2015 results. Financial markets were up, and share prices for property related shares shot up with the news. Is that a good sign? Can economic recovery be sustained for the next 5 years? What about small businesses and taxpayers? Children and pensioners? Europe? I don’t have a good feeling, I think the country will become even more extreme as the wealth gap increases. I hope that Cameron means it when he says stuff like “one nation” because we need to be one country.

    </div>

vlm 2015 #handinhand #thankspaula

London Marathon on Sunday. 35th anniversary of the first one, how time flies. And I remember the two winners at the end crossing the finishing line together holding hands, even though I can’t remember their names. I’m annoyed that it, like most major races, has been hijacked by charities. I recognise the need for charitable giving but forcing people to cough up or raise thousands of pounds as a condition of entry is ridiculous.

I didn’t watch the livestream, so I’m browsing around people’s home videos and interviews. The biggest moments for me are those of Paula Radcliffe. Starting with club runners, the first female club finisher at 2:36:55. No one cared that much about her time. The story of how a running store ran out of women’s running shoes after her world record in 2003 is one example of how she inspired so many to run.

I hope against hope that marathons don’t become over-commercialised and too focused on charities. The argument is I could race in lower profile races. That’s true. I do still want to experience the crowd and buzz of London one day.

two inspiring running stories

Couple of inspiring running-related stories in the news, one in humid Miami and one in snowy Boston.

Miami: twin pushes disabled sister at half marathon

ridersrace

Spotted via runnersworld, the inspiring story of how a runner pushed her disabled sister to finish a half marathon together.

Twins Nichole and Jennifer Rider were both runners and athletes through school. In 1995, Nichole was in a car accident that paralysed her from the neck down. Eventually she regained enough mobility to kayak and handcycle. At last week’s Miami Half Marathon, Jennifer and a friend took turns pushing Nichole, the trio finishing the race in 2:06. They were racing to raise awareness for a new organisation Thumbs Up International that aims to match able-bodied runners, swimmers and cyclists with those who need help in participating in races.

I really like this idea, this is something I’d rather do than sign up for a charity place. I’m slow, so pushing or guiding someone will definitely slow me down even more, but I don’t mind. It’s also potentially challenging to match personalities too. Hmm, reminds me of a story idea I have on the backburner, of two people forced together to train and race in exactly the same scenario (able-bodied and less able-bodied).

Thumbs Up is Miami-based only right now, won’t be it great if the idea is picked up by one of the big races?

Boston: local bartender shovels Boston Marathon finish line

bostonsnow

Boston and other parts of the northeast part of the US got hammered by snow this week. Someone took a pic of a good samaritan shoveling snow from the Boston Marathon finish line, which is permanently painted on a street. This led to a twitter search for #WhoShoveledTheFinishLine.

 

Boston Marathon has a very special place in the hearts of both the people of Boston and to runners, moreso after the bombing in 2013. The good samaritan was eventually identified as Chris Laudani, a local bartender, who said he cleared the finish line because it:

isn’t just a strip of paint in the road. It means so much more to us as a community of Boston and of runners

Ironically 4 out of 5 of his Boston Marathon finishes were as a bandit. There is a long tradition of banditing Boston, but that’s another discussion. He’s been offered an official place this year, so there’s a happy ending to the story.

 

#thisgirlcan ad campaign wants women to exercise

 
It’s January. People make resolutions which inevitably include losing weight and exercising more. Newspapers and magazines are full of articles about the 10 ways to start running or 5 foods to eat instead of cake. The intentions are noble and grand; the tone of these articles at times seem condescending, but if it inspires someone, then it’s all for the good.

Except, apparently, women in the UK aged 14-40 are not exercising. Sport England conducted extensive research to find out that 2 million fewer women than men regularly participate in sports. Worryingly, there doesn’t seem to be such a big disparity in other European countries. They heard that one of the main reasons is that of body image and fear of judgement. With that in mind, they launched a campaign called this girl can:

to inspire women to wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgement is a barrier that can be overcome

 

The campaign includes videos showing real women of all ages, shapes and sizes exercising and enjoying the exercise. The beat of Missy Eliott’s Get Ur Freak On is combined with catchy inspiration quotes like “I jiggle, therefore I am” and “hot and not bothered” to get the inactive off their couches.

There are criticisms for the campaign. The ads have been described as clumsy and and having some of the worst typographic design you’ve seen in ages. The Guardian is disappointed that the campaign still plays into the norms of objectifying female flesh by referring to women of all ages as girls and using the familiar video formula

where highly mobile, athletic female bodies are performing for a male audience

I think that any campaign that gets people exercising and watching their health is a good thing. Healthcare shouldn’t be just about curing illness; it should also focus on improving health to prevent illness. Not enough money, resources or focus goes to the latter. With binge drinking in women increasing at an alarming rate, any effort to get them from the pub to the gym is worthwhile.

thisgirlcan

Will the campaign succeed? Let’s hope so. It needs more positive images and messages. I guess they had to use innuendos like “I kick balls” to grab attention when they should have focused on the friendship and camaderie of participating in a team sports. I like the one of the cyclist lapping everyone on the couch. I also like the one where a mum exercises in the living room with her kids [youtube]. There should be more emphasis on the benefits of exercise besides looks.

Will it change people’s attitude towards body image? That’s a longer battle to fight. I never understand the issues behind body image concern, although I know plenty of people who are worried about how other people see and judge them. I’m puzzled at why, for instance, mum spends so much money on eye gel, goes for dubious skin treatments and stands in front of the mirror for what seems like hours before going out. I try to tell her that no one on the street will give a damn about how her, and why on earth is she bothered about what the shop assistant thinks. I’ve come to the conclusion that people believe certain things and act in certain ways because they themselves are like that—people who are afraid of being judged on how they look are the ones who are guilty of judging others. This type of attitude is what needs to change.

Anyway, I have 6 miles to run this weekend. In my tatty t-shirt and cheap shorts. I will end up covered in sweat with my hair like a rat’s nest underneath my cap. I won’t look at anyone and I don’t think anyone will look at me.

 

we’ll be back #occupyhk #umhk

After 79 days, the last of the #occupyhk #umbrellamovement camps at Causeway Bay was cleared on Monday, following the Mongkok site clearance two weeks ago and the main Admiralty site clearance last week. There was polite, peaceful resistance to the end.

About 20 people were arrested, adding to the 200-odd arrested and 900-plus whose ID card details were registered by police at Admiralty. Those arrested included Uncle Wong, a elderly supporter who had already been arrested last week at Admiralty. Go Uncle Wong!

What next? The CE declared the end of the protests and people went back to going about their daily business, or so the blue ribboners think. Students and protesters are regrouping.

oclphk371wewillbeback

That the Movement lasted over 2 months is beyond everyone’s expectation, but its scale and spontaneity are unlikely to be repeated in the near future. The next wave of activities will likely be smaller, more covert and unexpected like #9wu shopping trips and guerilla banners. Communication will continue to take place over social media. The idea, as the last ditch banner in Admiralty said, is that we’ll be back.

oclp356ribbonumbrella

As for me, I’m tucking my yellow ribbon and yellow umbrella away into my coin holder. This way, they’re with me all the time but not forgotten. When the time comes again, they and I will return.

p.s. after I published the original post, I received a couple of messages on twitter. I think we’re onto something.

 

RIP Phillip Hughes 63 not out forever #putoutyourbats

I love cricket. Summer in the UK, in the days before internet and cable, was spent a) outside playing in the garden and b) sitting in front of the tv watching cricket. In those days there were only 3 tv channels and during cricket season, BBC2 showed the test matches all day. Cricket was a new sport to me then, but I had great teachers. Between the likes of Richie Benaud, Christopher Martin-Jenkins and a revolving chair of experienced commentators, I learned how the game worked, how to score, the terminology and strategy.

I never got the chance to play (aside from bowling a tennis ball at the garden wall occasionally) or to attend a game in person (the only time I made it to Lord’s was for Olympic archery) and I don’t follow the sport as much nowadays (cricket channel is an expensive add-on to my cable).

This week, the cricketing world was shattered by the news that Australian batsman Phil Hughes died after being hit at the side of his head by a bouncer. I don’t know why, I’m even more affected by this accident than normal. We read about tragedies all the time on the news and they are all extremely sad. This one came as such a shock that it’s hard to put my head around it. People don’t die playing cricket, and for this to happen to a 25 year old, world-class batsman, it’s so awful, so awful.

Around the world, people are paying tribute to Phil Hughes on twitter, instagram and social media by putting their bats outside. The images under the #putoutyourbats hashtag are fitting, dignified and very powerful. This is from former Australia captain Adam Gilchrist:

I don’t have a cricket bat (on this occasion, substituting a baseball bat is not appropriate) and I lost my cricket ball during the move back from London. So all I’ll do is pay my respects silently, and share on these images instead. This next one is from the New Zealand team:

Sincere condolences to the Hughes family, but the thoughts of every cricket fan and player are also with Sean Abbott, whose pitch hit Phil Hughes’ head. It was a freak accident, there was no fault.

 

gamergate, shirtstorm, ubergate

Things have been happening in the science & technology world lately that make me feel uncomfortable and sad.

#gamergate

I’m at best a very casual gamer. I don’t have the patience or interest to spend more than a few minutes playing a game, however much I’ve tried since I was young. So I peripherically follow games news without paying much attention.

Twitter exploded with something called #gamergate during the summer. A simple summary:

  • a nasty breakup led to one of the party writing terrible, bitter blog posts about his ex, accusing her of a) sleeping around and b) sleeping around with a games journalist
  • he implied that games journalists are not objective since they are in bed with devs
  • somehow the posts went viral in certain quarters
  • trolls attacked the dev, including doxxing her (releasing her personal information such as address and phone number) and sending her death and rape threats
  • other women who came to the dev’s defence were also horribly harrassed using the same methods
  • a female journalist who wrote about the death of the identity of ‘gamer’ (because of popularisation of gaming) was also horribly harrassed
  • more women who spoke up were equally horribly harrassed
  • interestingly, a male gamer who called #gamergaters every name under the sun was not harrassed

Ostensibly #gamergaters are up in arms about ethics in games journalism, but they have never been able to articulate exactly what they were after. The turning point for me, was when well-respected, well-loved gamer who wasn’t a dev or a journo got doxxed within an hour of her writing a personal post on the subject. Which part of ethics in games journalism was that attack?

It’s a no-brainer, really. They have been exposed as a emotionally retarded boys who don’t want girls to play video games.

Makes me sad, reading all the threats against the women, and it’s all been against women.

#shirtstorm

On 12-nov-2014, the European Space Agency (ESA) landed a small space probe on a comet, after a mission spanning more than 10 years. It was an incredible moment in human scientific achievement.

One of the scientists, while on a global livestream broadcast, wore a colourful shirt with cartoon naked / semi-naked women. In one stroke, he spoiled the vast achievement of the ESA by his stupidity and insensitivity. The STEM industries have had trouble recruiting and retaining women, and this was symptomatic of the reasons why. Lots of negative comments on the topic of #shirtstorm.

Then, guess what? Women scientists who spoke out got horribly harrassed with death and rape threats.

The scientist has since made an apology, but I feel it’s a hollow one. I’d like to see what he, and the ESA, do to recruit and retain women into the industry. My fear is, nothing.

#ubergate

This week, something else blew up. It’s all about ride-sharing service, uber. This storify gives a good summary. Basically, a senior uber executive suggested at an official dinner that the company could hire a team to dig up dirt on journalists who write critical articles about them. He threatened the family of a particular journalist and said they could expose her personal life.

The uber exec in question half-heartedly apologised to the journo (by creepily calling her, when she had never given him her phone number), and the CEO of uber issued an apology that was more like an internal memo, while not firing the exec.

Other journos revealed that uber was not careful with confidential data, accessing and showing ride history and location without the permission of the customers involved.

There are 2 stories here that dovetail into each other. One is the threat against the family of a woman journalist who wrote critical things about a company. However much someone disagrees with any person or company on a professional level, to bring the fight to a personal and family level is unacceptable. It’s sad and scary that a company such as uber would even think of such action.

The second is the seemingly casual attitude the company has when dealing with their customers’ data. They have personal info like credit card, phone number and home address. Furthermore they can deduce where the customers work, what they do on a Friday night and where their kids go to school.

No wonder the journo who was threatened has now hired security for her kids.

uberdelete

I’ve never used uber. Taxis and public transportation are readily available and cheap where I am, and the couple of times I looked into uber, it’s been more expensive than a taxi. I get that ride sharing services are useful in cities where there’s poor public transportation and/or insufficient taxis. I downloaded the app for a) emergency and b) when I’m in another city and may need a ride. In any case, after #ubergate, I’m heeding the call of many techies to delete the app. It doesn’t matter to me, I hope that people who have loyally used it can find another, more ethical and more trustworthy, service for their needs.

 

international literacy day

crossposted to medium as Getting the World to Read.


litday

Today, Monday 8 September, is International Literacy Day. The day has been celebrated since 1966, after the World Conference of Ministers on the Eradication of Illiteracy adopted the view that literacy is a means for development and an integral part of the development process.

To mark International Literacy Day, there are events in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chile, New Zealand, Rwanda and other countries celebrating and promoting literacy. The big UNESCO event at Dhaka has two parts. First, a conference on the 2014 theme of “Literacy and Sustainable Development” with special emphasis on Girls’ and Women’s Literacy and Education; second, prizes will be given out for outstanding performance and innovative practices in literacy.

Former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, wrote about 15 countries that have joined together to become Learning Champions to focus on improving literacy and numeracy in the world’s poorest countries. The first country to launch the initiative was Kenya, with countries in South America, Asia and the Middle East to follow.



It is well accepted that increased literacy leads to better quality of life, improved health and economic success. To that end, it is one of the most important aspect of humanity. From UNESCO:

Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational opportunities depend on literacy.

Literacy is at the heart of basic education for all, and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy.

The numbers [pdf] are staggering, and staggeringly desparate:

  • 16% of the world’s population are illiterate
  • 64% of illiterate adults are female
  • 61% of illiterate youths are female
  • 171 million people will be out of poverty if they had basic reading skills
  • 15% fewer child deaths if the mother had primary education

There are numerous initiatives aiming to help and improve literacy — IBBY, the World Literacy Foundation, Room to Read and World Reader are just a few examples of organisations and programs doing various things in the area of literacy and education.

Although there have been progress, such as primary school enrollment reaching 90% in developing countries (as of 2010), there are concerns about the quality of education in all, even developed countries. In the UK, as reported by The Guardian:

One in six adults in Britain now has a literacy level below that expected of an 11-year-old

The most commonly read material by children is text messages.

Text messages.

srsly? SMH.


sisuk082books

I can’t imagine not being able to read. The earliest books I remember reading was a children’s weekly magazine that had short stories and cartoons. At school one lesson a week was going to the school library and borrowing a book to read. I read abridged biographies of composers, that was my interest area when I was about 7. Growing up, I devoured Enid Blynton, the Hardy Boys (didn’t like Nancy Drew that much) before moving onto classic science fiction and fantasy. Even now as an adult I love paranormal adventures and mystery thrillers. Romances are my guilty pleasure.

As part of a 1001 day challenge I have been keeping track of my reading and I’ve read over 90 books in 9 months. My most recent book was a funny paranormal adventure with a sarcastic and annoying main character who happened to be Death’s daughter. Very engaging read, and I would love for more people to read the book. I would assume that everyone I tell about the book will have the ability to read it; whether they choose to, that’s another matter.

Today I went grocery shopping and there are so many things I take for granted because I can read. Bus numbers and destinations, road signs, shop names, product names, prices, even the doorcode to get back home. All assume an ability to recognise words and numbers. Imagine only relying memory to know which road to take, or only recognising items by colour or size, or not even knowing how to write my name. It’s unimaginable.


What can we do to help global literacy? I don’t know. I know it’s a problem, but not until today when I looked into International Literacy Day more carefully did I realise how severe the issue is. I bought one of the One Laptop per Child laptops because they said for each one bought, they’d donate one to a child. I hope it helped a child somewhere.

There are so many charities and causes vying for our attention nowadays, global literacy needs is its equivalent to the ALS ice bucket challenge. May be we can challenge someone to read a book and donate $1 or donate $100 to a reading charity. Or may be we can start small:

  • give a book as a gift and include a note about literacy is so important
  • get involved in reading / literacy charities — start by going through a useful list of 150+ such charities
  • donate our used books — to the library, to a school, to a local organisation. Some charities collect used books for developing countries, some sell books with profits going to literacy causes
  • support, donate to our local libraries
  • spread the word

I don’t know what I can do aside from becoming better informed and writing about it. I know I should get more involved in charitable giving and may be it’s time I did more. i know reading and writing are topics dear to me. And on that note, I’m off to read another book.

the future includes robots

Published another article at medium.


The humans need not apply video has been doing the rounds lately. An apt summary:

“Technology gets better, cheaper, and faster at a rate biology can’t match” + “Economics always wins” = “Automation is inevitable.”

So the message is, humankind should look forward to being treated like horses in the early 20th century and become obsolete as robots take over jobs previously performed by humans. And it’s presented like it’s a bad thing.

Here’s what I think. I think that automating tasks currently performed by humans is awesome. The cost of “running” a human is so astronomical compared with running a robot, and it includes errors and inconsistencies made by humans. Am I the only person who has been following news about driverless cars with enthusiasm and happiness? Driverless cars (and buses and trains and other modes of transport) will probably be much safer because robots don’t get tired, fall asleep, text, or get distracted while they are driving. The current difficulty of integrating driverless cars isn’t just the technology, it’s that these cars need to negotiate roads occupied by unpredictable human drivers. There’s not been any difficulty in using driverless trains or trams that use fixed tracks. I’m sure that the map of roads in a few hundred years will be vastly different from our network of highways, but it’s progress.

ky322bartonbottle

There’s always been resistance to change over the course of history. People used to manually write out copies of books by hand, their jobs were eliminated when printing was invented. The Industrial Revolution replaced manual labour with machinery. The digital revolution had similar impact on jobs.

But every time there was a new invention or progress, as dust settled, people went on to do something else — trading, finance, services industry. Going back to the printing example, yes there was no longer any need for meticulous book calligraphers, so did humankind grind to a stop? History tells us otherwise. The widespread availability of books meant improved literacy and education. Humans who used to copy book contents went on to create content for more and more books. When robots assume the more mundane tier 0 or tier 1 tasks, a human brain is freed to take care of the more complex, emotionally driven, critical thinking tasks that robots can’t do yet. Robots can cook burgers, pizza, sushi, but they can’t create sublime dishes that are more art than mere food. I can live with robots at Mcdonald’s, but there will still be a place in the world for the Fat Duck or Noma.

mel174horse

Leisure, that’s our lot in future.

Our ability to consume leisure nowadays is astounding and something that our parents’ generation would never imagine. When I think of horses, who, as the video told us have been deemed unemployable, I see them grazing in meadows. The ones who are working are mainly “employed” in the services industry — touristy horse-drawn carriages, horse racing or in the services of police forces or farms. Just as horses’ lives have changed, it is up to us, humankind, to find a new place in the brave new world of robots. As wired said (emphasis mine),

We’d still have to find our place among the robots, except this time without work as a guidepost for defining a sense of purpose. By eliminating the need for people to work, robots would free us up to focus on what really makes us human.

I admit, I’ve presented an overly simple and westernised view. How the next generation will work is unclear. May be we will see the end of robot-like commuting and fixed hour (9-5) work as people gain more flexibility not only in hours they work but where and how. The world is going through a prolonged recession, if I knew how the next generation of jobs will evolve, I’d be a famous economist.

harry redknapp and the west ham fan

The World Cup is here. Football players are well-paid professionals nowadays, with the emphasis on well. But within living memory, before the money-grabbing premiere league, were times where words like P&L statement has no place on the pitch. Like the day Harry Redknapp brought a fan on to play for West Ham.

tl;dr version for Americans and others unfamiliar with or not interested in football: the coach of a well-loved but perpetually underperforming sports team plucked a loyal fan from the sidelines to play with the team when there were too many injuries in a match. And the fan scored a goal.

This is the stuff legends (and tear-jerker films) are made of.

When asked if I follow football and if I have a team, I usually say no, which is close to the truth. I like watching highlights but have trouble sitting through an entire match unless I’m really bored. If I really, really had to pick a team I’d say West Ham accompanied by a small, embarrassed smile. Not that I can name any of the Hammers players currently on the roster, mind. Two reasons: a) Sir Trevor Brooking; b) I went to school with Bobby Moore’s daughter; I guess both make some weird sort of sense.

black rain

festivalwalkblackrain01 festivalwalkblackrain02

So I’m at parents’ and just getting settled for the night after an early dinner. All of a sudden, it started pelting down with rain. We couldn’t get our windows closed quickly enough. Rain was quickly followed by thunder and what sounded like hail. It was completely dark outside with the rain like a ominous curtain. The thunderstorm and rain warning went from amber to red to black in just one hour.

So glad we were all indoors, mm pinged me that she was safely home, having gone gravesweeping with her family. She also told me about how the rooftop windows of a shopping centre nearby (my nearest apple store) got hit by either a column of rain or hail and there was water everywhere. Thanks to the power of social media, pictures are already all over twitter, instagram and facebook. Wow it looks like an indoor waterfall. When it rains here, it’s serious about rain. Welcome to the start of spring, finally!

new year

I was watching Ramsay when I heard plop-plop sounds outside. I can hear fireworks in my apartment, although all I can see is the sky turning bright and some smoke. Switched over to the tv channel and caught a bit of the new year’s fireworks.

globalisation of food

Yesterday’s post about regional / country cuisine led me to think about the globalisation of food, food culture, palates and all that. Seems like academics like to use food as an example when they study globalisation. Every nation has food, and the concept is easy to understand. One of the most common food item used in these studies is, rather surprisingly, sushi.

global food

ldn079itsulunch

Came across a study [warning: pdf] where the author tells of his experience in 1966 when, as part of survival training in the USAF in Japan, he had to eat a piece of raw tuna. Raw fish. That was the bizarre food of the 1960s. A Wharton book review tells of the Molly Ringwald character in The Breakfast Club bringing sushi to detention and the other kids, who had brought sandwiches, mocking her. No one would mock any one eating sushi anymore. The weirdness, the elitism, even the healthy aspect, not so much.

Just look at this pretty lunchbox from Itsu in London. It’s a chain fast food place, and there are the pieces of raw tuna that would horrify a 1960s American soldier or a 1980s teenager. But equally, an OL in Japan would not recognise this as a bento box. What are those vegetables? Where are carefully cut side items, the delicately arranged pickles, the rice? Is this Japanese food? British food? Global food?

The blame, for want of a better word, lies in increasing affluence and the importance Gen Xers place on leisure and betterment of themselves. Air travel, the internet, the sheer number of food and travel programs on TV—these are all Good Things. Educational and introducing us to cultures, including food, that appear nearer and nearer. As my friend Trish commented in yesterday’s post, she would cook Moroccan lamb, Italian lasagna and Indian curry, Spanish rice—and it would be just another day.

commodities

hok025crab

The production and distribution of food has undergone so much industralisation that it’s now a global commodity. Grains and livestock and even milk are ferociously traded in the markets; the top 2 agriculture products at the CME are corn options and corn futures. There was this Discovery Channel program I remember watching, where a fishing boat caught a bluefin tuna off the coast of Newfoundland and they were rushing to get it to port, weighed, graded and transported to Tokyo’s Tsukiji market where it’d fetch lots of money before parts of it being shipped to restaurants in New York. Travel distance thousands of miles, ending up somewhere just hundreds of miles from where it was caught. This is by no means unusual.

Sometimes, the word globalisation is spit out, as if it were a dirty word. Looking at the produce at the supermarket, many of them are now available year round as they are grown in controlled environments that are not open to effects of weather. Tomatoes, strawberries, coffee. It’s amazing, a few hundreds of years ago, there were no tomatoes or strawberries or coffee in western Europe. Spices too. We have all benefited from globalisation, the world just needs to tackle some of the unsavoury practices and effects before it’s too late.

seasonal and local

nz0491fishing

The backlash against globalisation is best seen in the rise of the slow food movement. The movement is associated with foodies rising up in arms against the slow march of Big Fast Food like Mcdonald’s or KFC. Cookery programs talk about seasonal and local. Everyone wants to eat organic.

How truly are the seasonal and local foodstuff, seasonal and local? Why really does it matter where the food comes from? Shouldn’t we be more concerned that the food we buy and consume are safe, have good flavour and produced in a way that our conscience can tolerate (and everyone’s tolerance level differs, hence carnivores and vegans.) Why shouldn’t I support all community farmers and not just the ones within a 50 mile radius from where I live?

Given a choice, wild salmon caught sustainably in the Pacific Northwest or fish caught by Indonesian fishermen in overfished, polluted waters? I know which one I’d rather have in my sushi.

global local food

The guardian asked

if you could only ever eat one cuisine again, which would you choose?

and then goes on to describe how “ethnic” food becomes diluted when they travel out of their country because it is necessary to adapt the taste sensitivities that are different depends on who we are. What I don’t get out of the article is, do we like or dislike a certain food because it’s part of our DNA, or is it learned. Nature or nurture?

stg336mariscos nz0525salmon

Back to the original question. So many choices. Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian, Middle Eastern, Mexican. I remember those mariscos I enjoyed when I visited Chile; there’s a whole South American cuisine I haven’t had the opportunity to explore. Or how about salmon we caught ourselves at Lake Wanaka in New Zealand, it’s where the food comes from rather than the actual cuisine.

hok035seafood hok697pub

My first reaction was Japanese. After all, if I could only eat sushi, sashimi, tempura, yakitori, shabu shabu, green tea ice cream, mochi and drink sake, plum wine and Japanese beer, I’m alright with that. I’ve eaten at Nobu (overpriced) but I’ve also had really great sushi at this cheap ¥100 hole-in-the-wall conveyor belt place in Tokyo. There’s enough variety and freshness in Japanese food to never be tired of it.

roastgressduck03 bbmmldn025crumble

The comments in the article were interesting. Some were like, what’s wrong with British food? Well, nothing. Steak at Hawksmoor, roast lamb and two veg at the pub, Gressingham duck, game, fish & chips, savoy cabbage, celeriac, parsnips, yes even mushy peas, treacle tart, cream teas, cheese, and puddings, puddings, puddings. Then there’s real ale, cider, English sparkling wine and whisky.

So what is the choice now?

olympics pics

After almost a year, I finally got round to dealing with pics from August / September 2012. Olympics, Prague, Provence, Paris, London and Paralympics. There is also a folder of misc pics that I want to sort too.

Anyway, full Olympics set, 195 photos, 12 videos. Includes Olympic torch, screenshots from opening ceremony, beach volleyball, archery and both diving finals (3m and 10m). There’s still the Paralympics pics to sort.

a different sort of anger

nofb

I’ve been following the story about the NSA PRISM scandal, not obsessively but with the interest that such a big international, important, story deserves. “What is PRISM?” JFGI, okay?

It’s not for me to judge whether the actions of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower, were legal or not; it’s up to the courts to decide. It’s also not for me to decide whether it was morally just; he believed that what he did was right. And when we look back on this episode of history, my hope is that history and the public will decide correctly. That said, I feel compelled to put down my thoughts as I am pulled in different directions on this issue.

right or wrong

Technically, what he did was wrong. It’s surely, at the very least, against the confidentiality agreements that he must have signed with his employer. And since he had access to information way up in the confidentiality stratosphere, he probably broke the law. However, breaking the rules is part and parcel of being a whistleblower; almost by definition, you have to do one to be the other.

He has said in his guardian interview, that he believed what he blew the whistle on was a matter of public interest. I was talking with mm about this, and she asked me what was my take. For me, I’m glad he did what he did. Yes, he broke the law, but the sort of revelations he made, it’s knowledge that I as a member of public want to know. Not that I was under any illusions that surveillance wasn’t happening, I wanted acknowledgement that it was.

under surveillance

The revelation is that the NSA has been collecting, on a massive scale, metadata on phone calls, internet activity and all sorts of stuff people do on a day to day basis. The surveillance is conducted on everyone, rather than just the people who are under suspicion. There are big players involved: verizon, google, facebook, to name a few. Rightly so, the EU is aghast, because if the NSA has been spying on EU citizens, it’s potentially against EU privacy laws. The EU has a different approach to privacy than the US, the main difference being the question of who owns personal data. The EU gives the right to the data subject whereas the US gives the right to those who have access to the data.

The rapid growth of CCTVs in the UK has brought concerns, although by and large, my feeling is that people have gotten used to it. Being recorded hundreds of times a day and watched by unnamed government employees (or worse, poorly trained TSA types) should worry us, but anecdotally, people around me take the pragmatic way: we’d tolerate having our privacy invaded if it leads to criminal convictions and it prevents crime. Whether or not criminals are actually deterred, and whether or not CCTV footage have helped solve crimes, that’s another debate.

The NSA surveillance is like CCTV, except in a much hugher scale. Their justification is that they’ll collect and store the information to help them with the fight against terrorism, amongst other things. But does it really help? What do they do with the data? Have they been able to stop criminals and terrorists?

not so angry

Perhaps John Scalzi summed it up nicely, why he didn’t have anything angry to say about the whole affair.

I have assumed the US government was getting my data one way or another. At the end of the day, the Internet was born out of ARPANET, and the US government has never been keen of letting the Internet go entirely private. Once more, I’m slightly surprised people seem surprised.

Why anyone is surprised that their online activity is being monitored is surprising. If you use the internet, you need to realise that what you do and put out there will be there forever for all to see. And that the email you send via gmail doesn’t belong to you. Google isn’t a charity, it’s not providing a free email service out of the kindness of its heart.

At work, the employee handbook specifically said that emails sent via the company’s email system belong to the company — they are open about it, and there are company policies that tell employees that yes, what you write in you emails, what you save on shared drives, everything you do on company time…the company owns it, has a right to inspect and as such, you have no privacy. There are no is and buts.

It’s also well accepted that countries like China and certain Middle Eastern countries heavily censor internet usage by its residents. They do it, and they don’t apologise for it. In a way, a country that doesn’t have a surveillance system is far too naïve in today’s political environment. If other countries are doing it, then we need to have solid defences.

a different sort of anger #1

There are 2 things I’m angry about. First, is how quickly the likes of google and yahoo fell over themselves to deny that data mining is taking place. Oh please. Be transparent about it. Acknowledge that, yes, the data is collected by the government. Make public what type of data it is. Tell the public what they do with it, how they store it, how they maintain its integrity, who has access to it and what are the checks and balances in place.

I hate companies who sell my personal information to telemarketers, because that’s abuse of my providing the information to them. I’m usually uncomfortable providing personal information to companies.

But surely there is a difference when it comes to government access? They have my passport number, they have access to my tax and medical information. It’s a matter of trust. I need to trust that the government respects my privacy and won’t abuse the huge amount of information it has on me. Make me glad that it’s the government, acting in my best interest, and not unscrupulous corporations that has my data. Hiding behind the laws and pretending PRISM doesn’t exist, that makes me angry. Please, treat the public with a bit more respect.

a different sort of anger #2

The second thing I’m angry about is more simple. If the government is collecting all this data in the name of crime and terrorism prevention, then why didn’t they stop the Boston bombers? Why didn’t they stop all the other atrocities that have occurred lately? Why are there so many drug dealers and rapists and murderers still at large? When we see some real results?

hong kong, china

Edward Snowden has escaped to, of all places, hong kong. I don’t particularly advertise it openly, but that’s where I’m right now. I’ve lived here on and off throughout my life, which makes me a tiny bit of an expert, especially amongst the few readers I have on this blog. So anyway, it was quite a surprise that he’s decided that HK is relatively safe for him. Unrelated, it’s a good opportunity for the rest of the world to learn about this place. Yes, technically it’s a part of China. No, we have different judiciary, financial and education systems. The judiciary progression of district court, high court, court of appeal and court of final appeal has its basis in the British system, not the mainland system. China isn’t supposed to interfere except on matters of defence and foreign policy.

Many commentators are opining on what China would do. Me, I wish China’d stay out of it, to show the world that HK really has the autonomy that it claims we do. The part in the Basic Law about China having a veto on extradition proceedings is for Chinese nationals only, not a American citizen like Mr Snowden. Whatever the US government does next, and whatever requests they make to the HK government, all need to follow the proper due process, away from interference by parties that have no business interferring.

I was surprised Mr Snowden praised the “strong tradition of free speech” in HK. That is true in a way. Lots of protests, just last week thousands of people attended a June 4th memorial event (China pretends nothing happened on June 4th 1989), and people can say and do whatever without fear of repercussions. Most people just regurgitate what they hear on tv, so I can’t attest to their intelligence level. I guess the point is, they are free to be as stupid as they like without repercussions.

The problem is, the tradition of free speech that Mr Snowden alluded to, has been eroded in the last few years. The CE is obviously pro-Chinese. The pro-China movement has grown stronger, and the unwelcome influx of Chinese immigrants and tourists has increased tension with locals. The judiciary system is still seen as above the fray and able to claim to be just and neutral. But it’s a matter of time before it’s tested.

And then onto China. Evil. Over the weekend mm and I were in Shenzhen, just over the border from HK. We were having lunch at the swanky Hyatt hotel. Attentive staff, good food, amazing views. But when I turned on my iphone to check facebook, I was greeted with the everspinning “loading” wheel. It wasn’t because of slow wifi connection. Belatedly I remembered, facebook and twitter and the like are all banned. One thing you can say about the Chinese government, they don’t hide or deny stuff like this. They are open about blocking facebook, they are open about tracking people’s internet usage. They don’t hide. And that, is what I think the US government needs to come to terms with.

ongoing

Coverage of the story seems to have tapered off, even the Guardian has it underneath the headlines today. I hope that this has been an eye-opener for all. About the workings of secret government sections, about the need to be open up front versus asking for forgiveness when discovered. Will my phone or internet habits change? I doubt it. It is what it is.

following the news

It’s been a bad week. Boston bombing, Texas fertiliser plant fire, Lady Thatcher’s funeral. Been following the manhunt for the bombers on social media, on livefeeds, on newspaper sites. News travels fast, credit to the journalists who managed to report the right news. BBC timeline.