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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Ded Moroz, and the Defecating Log: Christmas Around the World

SEASON'S GREETINGS!

One of the fascinating things about travelling and visiting new countries is learning about the colourful and unique festivals that exist out there. Now while I don't travel as much as I used to, I am able to explore the world vicariously, through my job on iTalki, and my online wanderings. It has become clear to me that Christmas is a global event, celebrated on every continent. The way it is celebrated differs starkly, however, depending on the locality. Not every country has a Santa Claus, and Santa doesn't always ride in a sleigh. In Spain the Three Wise Men deliver presents to children, which kind of makes sense, since they gifted gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus in the Bible. In Holland they have a Santa but he lives in Spain and sails to and from the Dutch homeland by boat. Go figure. Russian children send letters to Ded Moroz, a bearded old man who resides in Vologda near the North Pole, and whose name means "Father Frost". He walks with a long magic staff and sometimes rides a troika.


The Christmas Shitter (El Caganer), and El Tio (Australia, 2019)

I believe there is a relationship between Christmas and New Year's Day in that they offer a glimmer of hope in the midst of winter. They both arrive just after the winter solstice, the most desperate time of all, but they promise that the light/sun/Son will return. It might be faint and distant, but the light is there and can be seen, twinkling through the hoary boles. The rebirth has begun... (To read my full account of how Christmas is celebrated around the world, click here.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Remember the One Who Left

I like music which reminds me of places that I have been, or places that I want to go. Listening to Drum&Bass I feel like I am back in London in a council flat, bass-bins throbbing, high hats crackling, the air heaving with hashish. Vietnamese love songs transport me to Mũi Né on a languid evening, waves crashing on a nearby beach, a radio crooning in a fisherman's hut. Vietnamese music always sounds so sad, it must be because they had a tragic history...



I love music's ability to rally our emotions, and take us on a journey. When I got out of my 16 days of detention in Japan, the only one who could really understand what I had been through was Jónsi Birgisson, the frontman of Icelandic quartet Sigur Rós. It didn't matter that I had never met him, it was obvious that he understood. It doesn't matter that his songs are mostly wordless, it is the emotion that counts. In fact, his music speaks of the realm beyond language which we inhabited before incarnation, and separation... (To listen to my curated playlist of music from around the world, click here.)

Monday, August 26, 2019

Entranced by The Entrance

Established at the mouth of Tuggerah Lake, The Entrance is one of those scenic seaside towns you should see on the long road from Sydney to Brisbane. It is called The Entrance, presumably, because it sits astride the outlet of Tuggerah Lake, where the lake enters the ocean (or vice versa).


Life up here revolves around the elements: fishing, surfing, and boating are major pastimes. Every afternoon, hundreds of pelicans descend on the town for a free feed. The pelican is an emblem of the Central Coast, and you can see its likeness everywhere: as the logo of The Entrance Backpacker's Hostel, or a statue in someone's front yard.


There are actually two coastlines to explore, one on the lake, and the other on the ocean. The channel is the place they meet, where they kiss as Venetians might say. Domestic tourists abound, many from Sydney; Lebanese and Koreans are common in the summer months, and you can buy their food in the local Coles. The Red Bus service connects the town with other transport hubs, such as Tuggerah and Lake Haven. It is convenient to just jump on and off, and venture forth in search of new adventures. And there are plenty of adventures to be found, both north and south, east and west... (For more on The Entrance and its affiliated attractions, click here.)



Friday, May 24, 2019

Introducing the Schwa, the Upside Down e

There are 44 basic sounds in the English language, represented by 26 letters of the alphabet. Of these, 23 are vowels, which is quite a lot more than in some other European languages, like Spanish, or Italian.

Because of the mismatch between the number of phonemes in English and the number of letters used to represent them, there are often difficulties in trying to spell English words phonetically. This is actually one of the biggest complaints of non-native speakers when they learn English.

To overcome this problem, phonetic symbols were developed to represent the natural sounds of English in a comprehensive scientific way. The International Phonetic Association has created a system that describes the phonemes which can be used not only in English, but any language in the world (even Klingon, or Sindarin!)... (For more on the schwa and other 43 English phonemes, click here.)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Consulting Augur: An Introduction to Decentralized Probability Markets

With all the speculation in the cryptosphere, it is liberating to come across a platform that you can use right here, right now. According to Ben Davidow, Augur is the world's first decentralized prediction market (DPN). It aims to unlock the wisdom of the masses by offering incentives for insider knowledge.  Will Donald Trump win a second term as President?... that is a current question on Augur (probability: 40%). Will there be a big earthquake in Tokyo by April 2019? (probability: 2%.) The theory is, people with secret knowledge, for example Japanese seismologists, will try to exploit their private expertise, and tip off the market. Over time, Augur might answer some of our most profound questions, such as When will AI become self-aware? I would wager never.. but with such an open timeframe, there won't ever be a payday. This is the kind of market I would be ought to stay away from, for reasons that I will shortly explain.


Augur has huge potential, not just in the speculated future, but right now, and that is what attracts me to the platform. That said, the system is still a bit buggy, very much Beta, and counterintuitive for newbies. To begin with, bets are called markets (buying and selling the probability of a certain event). If you want to bet against an event, you sell shares in it (even though you don't own any shares to begin with). Once you wrap your mind around this, it gets a little easier, but there are other problems. The UI can shut down, for days at a time. With some markets it can take a lot of time getting trades through. Cancelling such orders costs more gas (though not as much as it costs to enter or exit a market). Congestion on the Ethereum blockchain can freeze you just when you are about to pounce.


In spite of these obstacles, I persist, because I can see real rewards here. Based on my exchanges so far, I am 93.75% certain that I have found the Holy Grail for bear markets such as these. And since my research has revealed that cryptocurrencies languish in bear markets 75% of their lives, Augur offers me the way to monetize this downtime. Who knows, it could help kickstart the Escape from Oz, a project which has been languishing way too long in my personal bear market... (For the full review of the Augur prediction market, click here.)



Monday, June 4, 2018

The Three Australian Dialects, Explained

Being a young nation, Australia is not endowed with the patchwork of regional dialects found in the United States or Britain. Geography does not influence speech in any meaningful way; one regional dialect covers the entire continent. That said, ethnic and social differences do exist. Apart from the ethnic dialects of immigrants, and fading Aboriginal tongues, there are said to be three sociocultural varieties of Australian English: broad (Ocker), general, and cultivated. As Wikipedia records, "the term 'Ocker' is used both as a noun and adjective for an Australian who speaks and acts in an uncouth manner, using a broad Australian accent." Ocker culture is anti-authoritarian, and anti-intellectual. The intonation is flat with a nasal twang, and rhythms are slower than the general dialect. Speech is peppered with unique idioms, frequent swearing, and colourful terminology... (For my complete observations on the dialects of Australia, click here.)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Reawakening the Tiger

I have been reading a few blogs about a trauma intervention called Self Regulation Therapy, or SRT for short, which is based on Peter Levine's book, Waking the Tiger. It sounds similar to CBT, but there is one crucial difference: in SRT the focus is on repressed energy in the body, rather than faulty thinking patterns. It is psychosomatic, rather than just cognitive, or psychological. You could call it psychophysiological, which is rather a long word, and difficult to pronounce. Whatever the name, SRT has resonated with me, because I have been disheartened with CBT for quite some time. Session after session, I have met with K.A. at Your Strengths in Wyong, or Dr Goripati, to receive their wisdom, and pretend that they are actually helping me. They keep stressing that the solutions to my panic attacks are cognitive, I just need to change the way I interpret my thoughts, blah blah blah. They say it over and over again, but I can't get it to work for me. They claim the thought comes first, then the fearful reaction, but in my experience it is the other way round. First I feel anxious, and then I cognize, and catastrophize. It has led me to believe that panic is a symptom of the hindbrain, the reptilian brain... the part of our anatomy that we share with the birds, and the beasts. I notice that whenever I disturb the lorikeets which abound in my parents' garden they shriek instinctively, empty their bowels, and then burst into flight. For them it is the equivalent of encountering a wild lion, but they do it every day, and they never appear to suffer from any mental trauma afterwards... (For my complete observations on SRT and how it may help with panic disorder, click here.)
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