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FinTech WOTD: Tokenization

Tuesday, 19 July, 2016 0 Comments

FinTech? It’s a portmanteau word created from “Financial Technology.” It’s hot because it threatens to grab some power from the bloated banks and give the the entire byzantine money business a much-needed shakeup. Heard of Bitcoin? It’s the most popular FinTech cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency? It’s a form of digital currency that uses cryptography for regulation and security. No one is really sure who “mined” it, but the open-source software underpinning it has a shady history. Heard about the Blockchain? It’s where cryptocurrency transactions get recorded. It operates like a public ledger and once data has been entered, it cannot be altered.

All this brings us to our FinTech WOTD (Word of the Day): Tokenization.

Tokenization replaces sensitive data with unique symbols. These “tokens” enable users to retain essential information about their credit cards and transactions without compromising security. Tokenization also turns complex information into short, useful codes.

If you’re still not convinced about the power of FinTech to do good, don’t forget that its advocates say it may help the underbanked to become, well, more banked. Win win.

Language note: There’s tokenization and then there’s tokenism. The latter is the policy and practice of making a superficial gesture towards members of minority groups. Adding a token employee to a workforce usually is intended to create the appearance of diversity — racial, religious, sexual — and so avert accusations of discrimination. Following the Bastille Day terror attack in Nice, Channel 4 was accused of tokenism by putting the hijab-wearing Muslim Fatima Manji in the anchor’s chair.


Fjord watching

Monday, 18 July, 2016 0 Comments

“These timelapses are all recorded in the western part of Norway, where the mighty fjords Geirangerfjord, Hjörundfjord, and Storfjord sits quietly and waits for anyone who wants to seek something else than watching the latest show on TV.” So says the Norwegian photographer and videographer Jonas Forsberg.

Watching TV these days is not very good for the soul, especially given the news from Nice, Turkey and Baton Rouge. Fjord watching, like whale watching, offers a temporary, healing respite from the woes of our troubled, tele-visual world.

Nerd note: The 4K resolution standard was created for digital cinema and computer graphics. It was so named because it offer 4000-pixel horizontal resolution (4K is technically defined as 4096 x 2160 pixels). 4K provides higher image definition quality, more detailed pictures and larger projection surface visibility.


At the setting of the sun

Sunday, 17 July, 2016 0 Comments

Family, friends, colleagues will gather today to honour Professor Christian Schreiber, whose 51st birthday should have been celebrated on Friday. Instead, he was taken from those he loved on 4 July after a year of unbearable suffering. Franz Kafka put it aptly: “One sees the sun slowly set, yet one is surprised when it suddenly becomes dark.”

Christian Schreiber


Blood and violence in Turkey

Saturday, 16 July, 2016 0 Comments

Snow Orhan Pamuk’s brilliant novel Snow is recommended reading for those trying to understand the forces at work in Turkey these days. Early in the book, the central character, Ka, is sitting in the New Life Pastry Shop in the east Anatolian city of Kars when an Islamic extremist kills the director of The Education Institute, who had barred headscarf-wearing girls from attending class. Because the victim was carrying a concealed tape-recorder, Ka is later able to get the transcript of the fatal conversation from his widow. In this excerpt, the killer pours forth his murderous ideology:

“Headscarves protect women from harassment, rape and degradation. It’s the headscarf that gives women respect and a comfortable place in society. We’ve heard this from so many women who’ve chosen later in life to cover themselves. Women like the old belly-dancer Melahat Sandra. The veil saves women from the animal instincts of men in the street. It saves them from the ordeal of entering beauty contests to compete with other women. They don’t have to live like sex objects, they don’t have to wear make-up all the day. As professor Marvin King has already noted, if the celebrated film star Elizabeth Taylor had spent the last twenty years covered, she would not have had to worry about being fat. She would not have ended up in a mental hospital. She might have known some happiness.”

Upon hearing this nonsense, the director of the Education Institute bursts out laughing. Pamuk describes the end of the transcript thus:

“Calm down my child. Stop. Sit down. Think it over one more time. Don’t pull that trigger. Stop.”
(The sound of a gunshot. The sound of a chair pushed out.)
“Don’t my son!”
(Two more gunshots. Silence. A groan. The sound of a television. One more gunshot. Silence.)

Talking of Turkey and fanaticism, of blood and violence, From Russia, with Love, the fifth 007 novel to feature the British Secret Service agent James Bond, might not be where one expects to find insights relating to last night’s coup, but it’s full of surprises. Ian Fleming wrote the book in 1956 at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, and the story was inspired by the author’s visit to Turkey on behalf of The Sunday Times to report on an Interpol conference. Fleming returned to London via the Orient Express, but found the experience drab, partly because the restaurant car was closed. Bond observes:

“From the first, Istanbul had given him the impression of a town where, with the night, horror creeps out of the stones. It seemed to him a town the centuries had so drenched in blood and violence that, when daylight went out, the ghosts of its dead were its only population.” — Ian Fleming, From Russia, With Love


Impressions of Nice before the Terror

Friday, 15 July, 2016 0 Comments

Ce fut le temps sous de clairs ciels,
(Vous en souvenez-vous, Madame?)
De baisers superficiels
Et des sentiments à fleur d’âme.

Paul Verlaine

It was a time of cloudless skies,
(My lady, do you recall?)
Of kisses that brushed the surface
And feelings that shook the soul.


The barbarity of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel

Friday, 15 July, 2016 0 Comments

The terrorist responsible for murdering up to 84 people by driving a truck into a Bastille Day celebration in Nice has been identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a delivery driver and petty criminal. How do we respond to such barbarity? With more useless hashtags? Ineffective cartoons? Meaningless interdenominational prayer ceremonies? Hollow declarations of “je suis Nizza”? Hand-wringing gestures by political leaders? We’ve had lots of those in the past but they made little impression on Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel. Maybe we should consider the words of J.R.R. Tolkien:

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” — The Two Towers


The Johnson Factor

Thursday, 14 July, 2016 1 Comment

The main point of The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, is that one person can make all the difference. Snippet:

“Churchill decides from very early on that he will create a political position that is somehow above left and right, embodying the best points of both sides and thereby incarnating the will of the nation. He thinks of himself as a gigantic keystone in the arch, with all the lesser stones logically induced to support his position. He has a kind of semi-ideology to go with it — a leftish Toryism: imperialist, romantic, but on the side of the working man.”

Boris Johnson The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History

The Churchill Factor


English: Going nowhere and everywhere

Wednesday, 13 July, 2016 0 Comments

Andrew Linn is Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Westminster. He studied English and Modern Languages at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and he was Professor of the History of Linguistics and successively Head of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sheffield. So, he should know what he’s talking about, then, when it comes to the future of the English.

Britain may be leaving the EU, but English is going nowhere” was the title of his article that appeared in The Conversation (motto: “Academic rigour, journalistic flair”) on 4 July. A week later, it was given a wider platform when it was published by Quartz, the global business news website of the Atlantic Media Company. This time, it had a different title: “English is and will be the lingua franca of Europe in spite of Brexit.”

Was the headline change prompted by the, er, Atlantic divide? Or because of literal and figurative incomprehension? Let’s look at the language and the meaning of go nowhere.

Confusion arises because the phrases “going nowhere” and “not going anywhere” have literal and figurative meanings. In the figurative sense, both can mean “not changing” or “not making progress.” Example: “His career in Brussels is going nowhere.” Meaning: He’s not climbing the greasy ladder at Eurocrat HQ. But here’s where it gets tricky: “not going anywhere” can have the same meaning as “going nowhere”. Example: “His career in Brussels is not going anywhere now, thanks to those chavs in Sunderland.”

But “not going anywhere” can also mean “constantly in existence.” Example: “Theresa, you know you can count on me here in Brussels. I’m not going anywhere.” Meaning: I’m in the Berlaymont building and I’m staying here to support you during this nasty Article 50 business, no matter how long it takes.

Keep Calm As regards the content of the dual-headlined piece, that will be the subject of another post, but one thing requires addressing right away. Andrew Linn writes: “The preponderance of English has nothing to do with the influence of Britain…” This is daft as it suggests modern British culture, from The Beatles to Monty Python to J.K. Rowling to Idris Elba, plays no role when English is being taught in Munich, Dakar or Lima. English is everywhere now and the the influence of Britain is key to understanding why this is so and why so many of its teachers draw upon certain models that affect how learners acquire the language and absorb the prestige that makes it so attractive. The influence of Britain, like the soft power of Miss Marple or James Bond, is global, linguistically, whatever about politically, diplomatically or militarily.


It’s just a different wolf

Tuesday, 12 July, 2016 0 Comments

“Fear isn’t so difficult to understand. After all, weren’t we all frightened as children? Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf.” — Alfred Hitchcock

Wolves have survived in the wild, Terry Pratchett once remarked, because they learned that human meat has sharp edges. But not all humans are human. Some are far more lupine than the wolves and neither mother nor father are spared their sharp edges. Those sharp edges were to the fore in the excellent drug-cartel thriller Sicario.


Instant indignation impact

Monday, 11 July, 2016 0 Comments

This is an era of instant indignation impact. People now spend hours online each day searching for videos, photos and stories about “injustice” and then instantly share them with others. The result is increased indignation impact. Social media has changed the rules and the playing field has not just been levelled; it’s been paved over. The antiseptic output from traditional media outlets has been replaced by raw, unedited, personal input reports from the front lines that have an immediacy that intensifies their emotional impact. This makes them more effective at triggering outrage and makes us more vulnerable to emotional manipulation.

The paradox is that many people would like their police to be militarized when confronting terrorists, but unarmed when confronting protesters. But what happens when the peaceful protest in Dallas is joined by the armed warrior Micah X. Johnson? Wanting to have our cake and eat it has never made for good policy, however.

Baton Rouge


A bevy of mysterious, beautiful swans

Sunday, 10 July, 2016 0 Comments

A group of swans in flight becomes “a wedge,” but it’s called “a bevy” on the water. The genus Cygnus has its own terminology of the collective and the literature also offers “a colony of swans” and, best of all, “a whiteness of swans.” When W.B. Yeats observed The Wild Swans at Coole, he was taken by their transitory nature:

“But now they drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away.”

Wild swans