egypt bound …

Much has happened around the world since my last blog: the authorities, having shot dead an innocent Brazilian, now believe they have the losers responsible for the 21 July attempted bombings in custody, NASA’s still struggling after the Discovery shuttle experienced similar rocket debris problems that killed the entire crew on Columbia in Feb 2003, the world got together to outline proposals for a son-of-Kyoto treaty to tackle climate change, and after four decades of terror, the IRA have once again re-affirmed their position to end their armed campaign. Well, this has been a busy July, especially at work where the controlled panic of bid documentation production has now transmuted into a general mood of sensory-deprived cruising … I guess the feeling isn’t dissimilar to the sort the numb sensation you get after an engine burn-out … the vessel (i.e. me) is still travelling at considerable speed due to earlier momentum than any new accelerative agents, but somehow the thrill and excitement of the journey has long departed.

Which conveniently brings me to our imminent holiday, booked on the day of the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings – not that the horrific event would have changed our plans one bit. Egypt will soon be host to our 10 day sojourn that will include 2 main centres: Cairo with the surrounding Great Pyramids at Giza, and Luxor with the great temples of Karnak and Valley of the Kings/Queens. So watch out, moblogging will strike again … from a variety of devices … if only I can find a holster that will house an XDA II, a Nokia 6630 and 2 Blackberries (a 7100v and T4) and oh, not forgetting the mobile power generator to keep these devices fully charged 😉

J1 celebrated his birthday yesterday. It really doesn’t feel like 10 years have passed since we brought home the little bundle of joy from Queen Charlotte’s – a bundle that has mutated into a laconic, gangly, late waking, fridge emptying pre-teen ‘thing’, but who’s doing well at school and recently passed his Grade 4 (Piano) and Grade 2 (Violin) exams. So we treated him and his monkey brother to the evening show of Charlie and the Chcolate Factory – Depp under Tim Burton’s direction did a fine job bringing to life Dahl’s intended eccentricities in the Willy Wonka character. Go see – I don’t think y’all be disappointed …

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we’ve got your number …

The hunt is on. Even in the remote parts of Wiltshire some 90 miles away, I can feel the collective wrath of Londoners, angry but united in their resolve to seek out and erradicate the animals whose attempts to bring carnage to the capital yesterday, failed with spectacular effects.

You can run, but you can’t hide.

tolerate and integrate …

I’ve blogged on my feelings about excessive religion before and now in the light of the London bombings, I feel somewhat … well, vindicated. Not in a smug ‘I told you so’ way, but with great sadness, regret and more importantly despair for my kids who will have to grow up in a world where religious zealots, bigotry and now practitioners peddle their hate so openly in public, aided by ease of travel and communications and advances in bio-chemical technology.

Take the BNP for example, who are desperately trying to paint a horrific picture of an ethnic Britain where a small group of young, impressionable men swap ‘snuff’ videos of executions on their mobile phones, or the BBC for that matter, when they publicly profiled the so-called ‘homegrown’ bombers, and pushed them into the category of idle, ideological losers who have somehow been indoctrinated into religious hate, from a single visit to Pakistan! Come on you guys – this is complete piffle and as responsible Brits, you owe a debt of gratitude to the immigrants who came over to rebuild post-war Britain, despite the memory and anxiety of past colonial attitudes.

Nationality is an accident of geographical settlement of our ancestors, and not a birth right to establish racial supremacy! Did we not learn anything from the last guy who gassed millions of innocent people because he didn’t like the colour of their hair or eyes …

That the war in Iraq divided British public opinion was to be expected – that it was to polarise religious beliefs to the extent that someone could detonate himself on public transport was quite frankly a big surprise. Not only because of the ‘homegrown’ factor which suggests that the integration may not have been as seamless as we first thought, but it is now clear to me that society’s tolerance to cultural and religious diversity is also on very shaky ground.

As a child growing up in Malaysia (a predominantly muslim country), I often wondered about the need for the frequency and volume of prayers – these questions became more pertinent when the government built the state mosque half a mile down the road and equipped it with the loudest PA system money could buy! Tolerance for me was hard to accept … until I considered my very own Chinese culture – the incessant burning of joss sticks and paper during our religious festivals (and there were a good many of them), the thumping of the barrel drums and fire crackers that accompanied the lion dancing and the regular traffic chaos created by wooden structures that seem to appear unexpectedly in the middle of a major thoroughfare whenever a need arose to host a chinese opera. When I put myself, as I did then, into their shoes, I soon realised how lucky I’ve been to have been born into this environment. If you want to see a truly multi-cultural society, where racial harmony between Malays, Chinese and Indians transcends over religious tolerance of Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, where cuisine and language are so integrated we’ve almost invented a new genre and we certainly speak peculiar, then visit Malaysia. There, end of plug …

I think Britain is miles away from true racial integration, but miles ahead in terms of religious tolerance – mainly because (and call me a cynic if you wish) not many people give a shit about religion these days. But those who give more than a shit and think they understand the full implications of teachings and the concept of martyrdom in their young and irrelevant lives, these people clearly feel excluded enough to make a statement. As a wise law Lord once said:

Tell me, and I will forget.
Remind me and I will remember.
Involve me, and I will understand.

love is the world …

The BBC are proxy blogging the diary of a survivor from the London bombings last week, who is simply known to us as R. R wrote that she was reminded of a WH Auden poem “Musee des beaux Arts” about the fall of Icarus and the banality of evil. But, in the days that followed the the destruction of the WTC in 2001, another of Auden’s poem 1 September, 1939 was widely circulated because of its somewhat prophetic references to New York – “The unmentionable odour of death” that “Offends the September night” and the “blind skyscrapers” that “grope the sky. “

Auden left London at the outbreak of WWII, and was openly criticised by many of his friends including George Orwell for not supporting England at her time of need. As a pacifist, he felt he could not in all conscience stay, but whatever the reason, his poem left behind a legacy – a reminder to us all, black or white, Muslim or Christian, rich or poor – that in the madness that sometimes engulfs our world, there is and always will be love … but to those who have evil “bred in the bone”, there is no salvation. We must love each other … or *all* die.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

fucking losers …

I was expecting the euphoria from the Olympic announcement to last at least 24 hours, but some Londoners had their lives interrupted (and in some cases ended) by the series of bombings during rush hour this morning. To those who carried out this nonsensical act, go fuck yourselves – I mean that sincerely, not as a directive, but as a polite invitation to continue with this futile form of procreation and thus bring about the extinction of your species … whatever that is, because human you certainly are not.

During these times, I see the wisdom in Lincoln’s Gettysburg address when he observed that while men are born equal, they are also born different. And the difference, I suggest, is our morality. Society does not create evil people – neither does religion, poverty nor dysfunctional political systems. Some people are born good, and some are born bad. Period.

Be strong, people of London. My thoughts and prayers are with you …

it was the best of times …

and the epoch of incredulity. It was also undoubtedly the worst of times for Parisians upon hearing the announcement that the 2012 Olympic games have been awarded to London. Somehow the prediction of a close race, set around heavy Dickensian references of two rival cities, could not have concluded more dramatically if it had received Hollywood direction. Perhaps, that was the mistake of the French in engaging Luc Besson … Anyway, I had been feeling a little skeptical about this ‘feel good’ factor – prompted partly by my cynicism about practical outcomes from the G8 summit, and partly due to sheer exhaustion caused by long hours at work and excessive traveling. So when someone pronounced in the middle of our risk workshop today that Lord Coe’s team had clinched the deal, I surprised myself (and other colleagues) by letting out a yelp of joy! Way to go Seb …

like clockwork …

Do you remember how you were taught to tell the time in the old fashion way … you know, with an analogue clock face using phrases like “It is just after ten past 3”? Do you ever think about the concepts and numeracy skills involved in what may seem to you a trivial exercise, but to a child might as well be the toughest Mensa challenge? No, well – nor did I until I attempted to impart this skill on J2.

I’ve itemised below the learning elements that I believe need to be understood in order to tell time in this way. I’ve also made some assumptions that your child already understands basic number sequencing (i.e. can count upto 60) and has the ability to distinguish size and movement (the long, short hands and which one is visibly moving). Ok, looking at my digital watch, the time is 19:43 and the analogue equivalent answer we are seeking is “It is almost a quarter to 8 in the evening”. So, how do you go about instructing your child to arrive at this answer?

i) Modulo 12 arithmetic – there are 24 hours in the day and the day starts at midnight, but at midday, the hour goes back to 12 again. Get your child to look at the clock face and establish where the short (hour) hand is pointing. With any luck, he/she should respond “Between 7 and 8”.

ii) Latin – in the English speaking world one adds “ante meridian”or “post meridian” in order to make the distinction clear between an hour that falls before midday (AM), and an hour that falls after midday, but before midnight (PM). Now ask your child if he/she has had lunch (yes, I’m making the bold assumption here that lunch is still served around midday). Hopefully, the answer should be positive so you add to the confusion with some additional rules – if it’s before lunch, say “in the morning” but if it’s after 5, say “in the evening”, otherwise say “in the afternoon”.

Still with me … good, now let’s try to read the minute hand.

iii) Modulo 60 arithmetic – there are 60 seconds in a minute, and 60 minutes make an hour. On some clocks, the minute segments are marked, but more often than not, only the hour delimiters are marked 1 to 12, leading to the common mistake of calling “It’s 2 minutes past six” when the time is actually indicating “10 minutes past six”.

So …

iv) enter the 5 times table – multiply the number on the clock face by 5 to get the value of the minute, e.g when the minute hand is on the number ‘4’, the minute value is really 20 (4 x 5). In our case, the minute hand is nearer the number ‘9’, so the answer we are looking for is “45 minutes” (9 x 5).

v) roman numerals – if that wasn’t challenging enough, on some clock faces, the hour segments are marked in roman numerals. so teach your child (parrot-fashion if that’s easiest) to convert between roman and arabic numerical notation – sorry, that’s out of scope for this tutorial 😉

v) being able to distinguish your right from your left (you’ll be surprised how many grown-ups still struggle with this concept!) – it is considered clumsy to say “45 minutes past” the hour, so we need to split the clock face vertically down the middle into two halves. The ability to differentiate right and left is needed to establish whether time is ‘past’ the hour (the long minute hand is on the right half of the clock-face) or moving towards i.e. ‘to’ the next hour (left hand side of the clock face).

But we now have to introduce the concept of …

vi) symmetry – having split the clockface into two halves, persuade your child to look at left hand side of the clock face as a mirror image of the right i.e. substitute 11 with 1, 10 with 2 and 9 with 3 etc etc. Now, get your child to confirm that the minute hand is on the left hand side, in which case apply the 5 times table to re-evaluate the minute value as “15 minutes to”.

vii) approximation – it seems anachronistic in this day and age to approximate time when we have the technology to put accuracy of +/- 5 seconds drift per annum on a quartz wristwatch! Nevertheless, this is an exercise in mental gymnastics and not a scientific experiment. So, instruct your child to add the words “almost” or “just after”, depending on whether the minute hand is closer to and approaching the hour segment or just departed, respectively.

viii) higher or lower – now go back to the answer in part i) and apply an additional rule based on the position of the minute hand. If it’s on the left hand side, make the hour the higher number i.e. ‘8’. Otherwise, use the lower number. So, putting it together, we should now have assembled “It is almost 15 minutes to 8 in the evening”.

ix) fractions – this is still clumsy, so we approximate time further by cutting the clockface again, horizontally to produce 4 quarters of a pie. Now, instruct your child to substitute “15 minutes” with the phrase “quarter” and “o ‘clock” and “half” when the minute hand is closer to or at the hour markers of ’12’ and ‘6’ respectively.

“It is almost a quarter to 8 in the evening”. QED … actually, it is 20:47 and boys and girls, tomorrow’s mathematical problem is to evaluate the time taken for me to write this blog in Martian hours so sharpen your pencils and stand ready …