From Kathmandu to London

March 25th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

I had a very leisurely lunch today (around three hours) in a Moroccan restaurant called “Sidi Maarouf” on Edgware Road in central London..

I was with my young friend Alexei who is ethnically Russian, was brought up in Moldova, and now lives in Germany.  He is such a bright and thoughtful man with a couple of degrees, five languages, and lots of international work experience.

The amazing thing is that I have only met Alexei once before when we spent about half an hour talking in a small aircraft at Kathmandu airport in Nepal as we waited to have an aerial view of Mount Everest. In fact, we never even took off because the weather was so bad so neither of us ever saw the mountain [see here].

That was 14 years ago. Thanks to the Internet which has enabled us to keep in contact and a training course run this week in London by his employer Akamai Technologies, we were able to renew our friendship after a decade and a half. Don’t you just love the Net?

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At last, I again have a main computer that works

March 23rd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

You may have read earlier about my travails with my Mac Mini in this blog posting.

I can now report that, after two visits from techie friends, two long calls to Mac support experts, two visits to an Authorised Service Provider, two hundred pounds in payments and two weeks with no main computer, my Mac is now back and running smoothly.

What was the problem? Well, I bought the Mac Mini five and a half years ago and  it came with only 2GB of memory. It seems that the standard today is 8GB and it is not uncommon for some computers even to have 16GB when you buy them new.

So, with only 2GB of memory, my computer really struggled more and more, especially with a recent MacOS Sierra upgrade. So the ASP has put in 8GB and all seems fine. Such a relief …

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So how is President Trump doing so far?

March 22nd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

In the United States, there is a longstanding practice of polling the popularity of the president. There are different polling organisations but one of the most reputable with one of the largest samples is Gallup.

The last Gallup poll of President Barack Obama’s popularity – after a tough eight years in office – found a score 59%. The latest Gallup poll of President Donald Trump’s popularity – in what is traditianlly a honeymoon period for a new office holder – recorded a score of 40%.

Just saying.

You’ll find more detailed data on Obama and Trump and interesting graphs on previous presidents here.

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A review of the latest Ken Loach film “I, Daniel Blake”

March 21st, 2017 by Roger Darlington

British director Ken Loach – now aged 80 – is a film-maker with singular focus and talent. Nobody else would make a work about the benefits system with such a personal style and powerful impact. Like so many of his films, the acting and dialogue are so naturalistic that the work could almost be a documentary.

Daniel Blake is a carpenter in Newcastle who has suffered the twin blows of bereavement and heart disease. He finds himself caught in the cruel benefits trap whereby his doctor judges him unfit for work but he is denied the Employment & Support Allowance, while the state tells him that he is for enough to work but he has neither the online skills to participate in the jobs market or the physical ability to take on a job.

He meets Londoner Katie, mother of two children, who is in a trap of her own. Her mother and friends are in London but she cannot afford to live there and has relocated to the north-east where the vagaries of the benefits system force her to resort to a food bank and worse. These are two souls who are both financially and materially on the precipice. The unlikely pairing of Daniel and Katie, brilliantly played by Dave Johns and Hayley Squires, is the kind heart of this otherwise searing portrayal of modern-day poverty in one of the richest countries of the world.

Like Daniel, a friend of mine went for a medical assessment (which I attended with him), following which he was refused the Employment & Support Allowance. Like Daniel, my friends appealed against the unfair decision. I spoke at the appeal which he won. Daniel, was not so fortunate. So I know at first hand that this film is a fair, if polemical, representation of what is actually happening and that any of us – in the face of one or two twists of fate – could be in that position.

In the famous movie “Spartacus”, the followers of the eponymous leader of the slave revolt cry out “”I’m Spartacus”. At the conclusion of “”I, Daniel Blake”, I wanted to scream out “I’m Daniel”.

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Welcome to International Happiness Day

March 20th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

The International Day of Happiness (known as Happiness Day) is celebrated throughout the world on the 20th March. This Happiness Day was founded by United Nations adviser Jayme Illien on 28th June 2012, when all 193 member states of the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted UN resolution 66/281 The International Day of Happiness.

As my contribution to this day, I offer you the following resources on my web site:

  • My guide to “How To Be Happy” here
  • My review of the book “Happiness” here
  • My review of the book “Happiness By Design” here


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What do you do when your computer crashes?

March 18th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Anyone who knows me in the real or the virtual world appreciates that both personally and professionally I depend massively on being connected to the Internet. So, if there is one thing which is guaranteed to raise my stress levels, it is a problem with IT.

Five and a half years ago, I switched from a PC to a Mac (Mini) and I have had no problems that a techie relative or friend could not sort out quite easily. Until now …

Over the last couple of months, my Mac has become slower and slower. Over the last few weeks, I have sought help from friends and professionals and every intervention has failed to solve the problem and meanwhile the computer has run ever more slowly.

Effectively my Mac Mini is now frozen.  A click on an icon or typing a letter requires a full minute or so until something happens. Loading a web site takes minutes. The spinning coloured wheel is a permanent feature of my computer experience. Things became so bad that there was simply no way to back up in order to perform a full reloading of the software which might have solved the problem.

Techie friend one,  techie friend two, Mac support in Greece (an American), Mac support in Ireland (a South African) all tried and failed and both the Mac guys advised that going to an Apple store would be a waste of time given the complexity of the issue.

So this morning I travelled into central London to visit an “Authorised Service Provider” called Amsys.  A third tech professional – another foreigner – is now involved, so this time we have a Spaniard in the works. I’ve left my Mac Mini with them, paid £96, and wait to see what will be involved and how long it will take to be sorted out.

Meanwhile I cannot access most of my documents or my older e-mails, I cannot edit my web site, and I cannot send out my Thought For The Week.  So please bear with me if you do not experience my normal level of responsiveness and involvement.

Thanks goodness I have an iPad and an iPhone …

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Word of the day: abiogenesis

March 17th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Currently I’m reading a fascinating but challenging book by Sean Carroll, an American theoretical physicist. It has the title “The Big Picture: On the Origins Of Life, Meaning Anad The Universe Itself”.

One of the subjects discussed is abiogenesis which the origin of life. The truth is that we do not have a single agreed-upon definition that clearly seperates things that are ‘alive’ from things that are not. NASA has a working definition but it may be that, in the future, we find something beyond Earth but cannot be sure whether it constitutes life or not.

Although we do not have a hard definition, we know that there is something called life and that plants, animals and humans here on Earth fall into this definition, although – especially in the face of scientific developments in medicine and robotics – we cannot be sure of the exact scope of the term.

Even more confusingly, we do not know how life on Earth originated and how life outside Earth might originate.  There are all sorts of theories, taking the cell as the basic unit of life and hypothesising about metabolism-first or replication-first processes. Carroll is convinced that “There is no reason to think that we won’t be able to figure out how life started”.

What he is clear about is that “there is only one world, the natural world, operating according to the laws of physics”. So existence, whether at the levels of the sub-atomic world, our human-size world, or the whole universe itself can be explained completely and only by physics.

So no need or case for any metaphysical or supernatural concepts such as God, life-force, soul, spirits, afterlife, miracles, magic and the like. He accepts that there is still a great deal we do not know, but argues that we can only achieve knowledge through science. Those who argue otherwise have to provide evidence for the existence of metaphysical concepts and crucially explain how the metaphysical impacts the physical and can contradict the laws of physics with forces or processes that cannot be detected.

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A review of the new film “Hacksaw Ridge”

March 15th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Even 70 years after the end of the Second World War, there are amazing stories to be told. Hacksaw Ridge was the nickname for the Maeda Escarpment, a location on Okinawa Island defended ferociously by the Japanese against American attack, and this film depicts the heroic tale of Desmond Doss who saved an incredible number of lives in that assault.

What gives the narrative extra poignancy is that he was a devout Seventh Day Adventist and a conscientious objector who refused to touch, let along fire, a gun but overcame great prejudice to complete his training as a combat medic. He was credited with saving the lives of 75 infantrymen on the escarpment and while on the island he himself was wounded four times. He received the Medal of Honor for his bravery, the only conscientious objector to received the award.

As you would expect from formerly-disgraced Mel Gibson as a director, this work is firmly in the ‘war is hell’ category and immensely patriotic, but it is an astonishing piece of film-making. If you thought that the beginning of “Saving Private Ryan” was hard viewing, the second half of “Hacksaw Ridge” is much tougher with body parts and guts splaying all over the battlefield and many victims still alive with appalling injuries.

In the central role, British actor Andrew Garfield gives a convincing and nuanced performance that firmly enhances his career, taking him much further than the “Spiderman” franchise. Among the supporting cast, Hugo Weaving as Doss’s abusive father stands out in a role a million miles from his appearances in “The Matrix” movies.

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The remarkable story of a four year old Russian girl

March 14th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Think you have problems? Four year old Saglana Salchak woke up to a family crisis in freezing Siberia and trudged five miles in thick snow to reach her nearest neighbour. You can read her astonishing story here.

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“Love Actually” revisited – love it! (2)

March 13th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Some weeks ago, I did a blog posting about the 12 minute follow up to the film “Love Actually” which is being made for Red Nose Day on 24 March 2017.  Today the “Guardian” newspaper has a report from the set of the mini sequel which includes this observation:

“[Hugh] Grant sips water and tries to catch his breath. He’s just shimmied his way around a bit of the set made up to look like 10 Downing Street, a grand marble staircase behind him hung with photographs of former prime ministers. His photo is among those on the wall, the actor today reprising his role as the Blair-ish PM who in the original film put aside duties of state to woo his secretary, played by Martine McCutcheon.

Such is the power of love in a Richard Curtis film that Grant had to dance out his romantic vigour by wiggling up and down the halls of Downing Street to a Girls Aloud song. There’s another dance in the sequel. As with most of the new scenes in Curtis’s followup, an incident or encounter from the first film is referenced, with some sort of twist catching us up on what has happened to the character, a decade and a half on.

Incredibly, in the idealised Curtisland of 2017, Grant’s fluent, moderate prime minister is still in power. It’s a bit of unashamed wishful thinking that’s heightened, on set, by the fact that the stairway photographs of real-life prime ministers include Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, but stop short of David Cameron and Theresa May, as if these premierships (and world financial collapse and austerity and referendums and dissolution) had never come to pass.”

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