Current affairs, engineering, Uncategorized

PPFF #173: Tally Sticks

Good morning,

It has taken a while for this one to sink in with me and an even longer while to form any kind of opinion on this ever more baffling phenomenon.

I’ve recently read this Guardian article; terribly negative about the whole cryptocurrency thing. The gist of it was; ‘don’t do it’ by calling it collective insanity and a modern day tulip mania or whatever disparaging remarks must have come to their mind, which I found a little lazy – If you asked me, it seems to be a perfectly rational(ised) response to the underlying conditions that gave rise to this ‘mania’. Low interest rates. Low wage rises. Overvalued and saturated traditional asset prices. Crisis of faith in the traditional economic/monetary system. Growing inequality. Cheap money from loose monetary policies. ‘Shrinkflation’. Etc. Certainly more rational than waiting in the hope that the next lottery draw would hit our lucky numbers, or blaming Mexicans and Romanians for all our social ills yet again)

In any case, the other day, I also came across a podcast where Pippa Malmgren (author of Signals: the Breakdown of the Social Contract and the Rise of Geopolitics), started talking about bitcoins and cryptocurrencies in general, and how they could, overnight make conventional fiat currencies obsolete. A little far-fetched I thought, but it made me wonder how many bitcoins she might have bought before that lecture.

What was more interesting, mentioned in the same talk was the 1782 Act of Parliament,  which basically stipulated that all accounting should be on paper ledgers, and abolished the widely circulated ‘tally sticks’ as a part of accounting procedures.

Now, you might be wondering, what on earth are tally sticks? Simply put, tallies were a tamper-proof way of recording lending/borrowing transactions back in the days. The wooden stick containing a record of a debt, would be split in half, down its length. The debtor would retain one half, called the ‘foil’ while the creditor would retain the other half, called the ‘stock’, and because of the way the wood split, every split tally record would be unique and virtually tamper-proof. Does that remind you of anything?

Normally, these transaction records would be kept in a ledger somewhere. However, something cool happened; tally stocks (the creditor’s half) began being traded. For example, a stock showing, say ‘John Smith owed £11,563’, would actually be traded for £11,563 more or less, assuming John Smith was creditworthy. Basically a ‘stock’ market was born, where it was possible to use stocks to pay for goods and services as a convenient form of payment, not relying on officially minted coins or gold. Does that remind you of anything?

Well, to find out how it all ended, google ‘16 October 1834’

Have a good Friday

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Current affairs, Uncategorized

PPFF #172: Moscow Metro

Good morning/Happy New Year (or some other things one says to greet people),

It’s going to be another amazing year of the same great stuff which life in 2016 was made of. So round and round it goes, the nature of life, though progressive at times, seems also (wonderfully) cyclical – like circles (quoting Lion King obviously). You know what else is like circles? Merry-go-round but more pertinently Moscow Metro Central Circle Line.

I heard this on some radio podcast a few days ago on my jolly commute, and subsequently checked the fact (it was such a cool fact that I made up that terrible intro you’ve just read). Anyhow, on Moscow Metro Central Circle Line, announcements of upcoming clockwise trains are made by a male voice whilst anti/counter-clockwise trains by a female voice. Furthermore, upcoming trains toward the city centre are announced by a male voice whilst trains away from the city centre by a female voice – particularly helpful if you’re one of those clueless, ‘checking-the-tube-map-in-everyone’s-way’ tourists.

Notwithstanding Putin, Crimea and now Trump, well done Russia.

Have a good Friday and a great year

Current affairs

PPFF #171: Hawaiian pizza

Good morning,

On the 10th of June, as many of you might have already been aware, Sam Panopoulos, a Canadian restaurateur passed away. It was a sad day, not just for his family and friends but also for all those who appreciate the ingenious pineapple-and-ham combination on oven-baked, tomato sauce covered circular flatbread, served all over the world. Yes, that controversial invention of his which polarised the first world, already plagued by many other devastating questions such as ‘ios or Android?’, and set it ablaze with what we commonly refer to as Hawaiian ‘pizza’.

There are plenty of half-wit semi-entertaining articles on this issue out there (obviously including this very piece but also this, this , this and this – to get you started). But as trivial and frivolous as this pseudo-controversy might seem, this debate is probably not confined to pineapple as a pizza topping (I’m sure there is a sociological angle one can approach this from too, but I’m not qualified to go there). There is a slightly more substantial culinary issue here if, for analytical purposes, we deconstruct the pineapple and ham to the fundamentals; mixing savoury and sweet tastes.

The five basic tastes (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savoury – ignore ‘umami’ – it’s contestable) we’re hardwired with, apparently provide our taste-buds with crucial information about the food we’re about to swallow e.g. sweetness signals high density of energy/calories, and saltiness, minerals and nutrients, while bitterness/sourness signals potential toxicity.

Whilst I understand that culinary masochists would condition themselves to like all things bitter and sour, most of our tongues favour salty and sweet over bitter and sour especially if each taste is to be experienced on its own. So, when sweet is combined with salty, that’s a double-whammy of what our body is programmed to prefer; at this point smug Hawaiian pizza lovers are probably thinking ‘exactly!’.

Well, not so fast.

The thing is we all know salt is pretty special, in that not only does it taste salty but it is a flavour enhancer in low doses (with ‘low doses’ being the key phrase in this sentence). In fact in high doses (relatively speaking) salt is a ‘bitterness/sourness taste-bud activator’.

Now to finally bring you to the Hawaiian pizza abhorrence, I surmise that (amongst other reasons), maybe it’s not so much the sweet-and-savoury combination per se that offends people’s taste-buds as the poor imbalance between the two tastes and/or the (wrong) amount of salt in the ham, relative to that of pineapple in the first place. Yes. That’s right. It’s the ham!

Have a sweet and savoury Friday.

Current affairs, Uncategorized

PPFF #168: Star Wars

Hello,

I watched Star Wars Episode 4 for the first time in a long time. Never mind the special effects, details and intricacies of the film, I kept thinking ‘wow, isn’t this just like Harry Potter films’.

Now please, put down the stones; those of you fervent worshippers of ‘the force’. Let me explain.

Any real Star Wars fan would know that the structure of the Star Wars Ep. 4 follows that of monomyth (or hero’s journey), a highly influential concept proposed by Joseph Campbell a mythologies/literary scholar in a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The theory has it that pretty much every mythical story under the sun follows the same structure, be it Jesus, Buddha or Moses. It goes something like this:

The hero in his ordinary world receives a call to embark on an adventure, accompanied by a mentor, who usually dies (Departure). He then crosses the boundary between the ordinary and the unknown world (Initiation), where he faces the central crisis of his adventure. Against all odds, he defeats the archenemy (Ordeal) and wins a reward. Then he returns to the ordinary world but nothing is quite the same (Return).

Having read about this, I was reminded of last year’s US presidential election and thought ‘That sounds awfully like Donald Trump’. Call me crazy but upon this thought, I happened to google “hero’s journey and trump”. You’d be surprised how many articles have already likened his election campaign and victory to the structure of monomyth.

Basically, Trump (the hero) is a businessman and an entertainer (ordinary world). The failing state of American politics compels him (the call) to declare his intention to run for presidential office. But in the realm of politics (the unknown world) he is ridiculed and mocked but against all predictions and odds he defeats Hilary (archenemy), wins the election (the reward) and nothing is quite the same again.

Well, Trump certainly isn’t my hero (besides his political views, I can’t get over his hair) but you could just about see the parallel in how his story unfolded.

Then I thought, ‘hang on a minute. Isn’t this how Obama’s and Macron’s election campaigns panned out? They both came out of nowhere; unexpected and inexperienced underdogs formerly outside the major political scene and against all odds they both overcame their obstacles and won a decisive victory.

So I came to this conclusion. Maybe, we’re hardwired to think this way; the hero’s narrative is what people buy into. Now, with regard to the UK general election next Thursday, the question is this; which of the two potential PMs’ campaigns resembles Campbell’s hero’s journey? May? Or Corbyn?

You decide. Literally.
Have a monomythic Friday

Current affairs

PPFF #143: Dylan

Good morning,

For the last two day I kept thinking and writing about something that turned out to be factually worthless. Thank god, a good friend of mine tipped me off last night that Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature. At first I thought he was joking; it wasn’t the first time he was nominated. I was rather happy when I heard the news, I told the group of strangers I was drinking with “Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature. All drinks are on me”. Again, thank god, they didn’t take me seriously; I didn’t actually buy any of the drinks I promised. I know literature snobs say he’s not really a poet (screw them) and music elitists say he can’t sing (screw them too) but I think he juggles both beautifully. In any case, in honour of this great news and the poet laureate, as tacky as it is, I feel compelled to do a few quotes.

Interviewer: “Mr Dylan, what are your songs about?”

Dylan: “Some are about five minutes, some are about six minutes, and some, believe it or not, are about eleven minutes.”

“People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.”

“I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you”

“All this talk about equality. The only thing people really have in common is that they are all going to die.”

If you want more, here’s a pretty decent summary of Dylan and his words.

Have a good Friday.

 

Current affairs, grammar

PPFF #116

Hello all,

Amidst the furore over Panama Papers and still unclear and dubious circumstances that prompted authorities to launch fraud /bribery investigations surrounding Unaoil, this week, if you paid attention to the current affairs and if you happen to be particularly emotionally responsive, it must have been not only disappointing but also emotionally exhausting (if vicariously indignant).

Probably completely unrelated and irrelevant but that was the backdrop from which my mind jumped to the following two words ‘person’ and ‘people’.

If we’re talking about one human being, we use the word ‘person’ but if it’s more than one, we collectively refer to them as ‘people’.  You would notice that with the exception of the first two letters ‘P’ and ‘E’, lexicographically, they don’t look that similar. ‘Are they related’ was the question to which I wanted an answer. Fortunately for me (I don’t get this lucky very often), the answer I came across was rather definitive.

The singular word ‘person’ is actually derived from a similar English word ‘persona’, which in fact came from two Latin words ‘per’ and ‘sona’, literally meaning ‘through/sound’.  ‘Per-sona’ was originally used to denote the mask worn by actors in Roman theatre as in ‘(mask) to sound through’; something that required presentation. If you look up the word ‘people’, most dictionaries will tell you it’s the plural form of ‘person’. This gives the impression that somehow ‘people’ is a cognate (variation) of the original word ‘person’ but that is not the case. The word ‘people’ was derived from a completely different Latin word ‘populus’, which was a French adoption that replaced a more indigenous Germanic word ‘folk’ (you know, poncy people like using fancy French(-derived) words if available)

If I tried to make a tenuous point of connection between Panama papers and the two words explained above, perhaps it would be that they all begin with  the letter ‘P’; alright that was a poor attempt and very tenuous indeed.

In any case, people, have a good Friday