Sunday 23 November 2014

Alan Turing: The Imagination Game

“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of that do the things no one can imagine.” Recurrent quote in The Imitation Game.
Father and victim
In Sackville Park, Manchester sits a statue with a plaque at its feet, one line, less prominent but quite important, "Victim of prejudice." That was a bygone age where the other sexuality was criminalised and with it came the law, heavy and merciless in its application.
Yet, to this man we owe more than we can ever fully appreciate him for. It was his genius that gave birth to the computer.
I type away literally oblivious of the real history of computing that Hollywood has attempted to serve us in film, one that opened in cinema theatres just over a week ago.
Of the film
Interest and engagement have gotten me have viewing The Imitation Game twice already, it is the story of Alan Turing and his work in breaking the encryption of the German Nazi Enigma machine.
One cannot say that the depiction in film is entirely true to the facts especially in the part where Alan Turing might well have been slandered in the film by being accused of being a spy.
The film itself is worth watching, it is interesting, engaging and somewhat plays around the youth, the genius, the sexuality, the persecution and the prosecution of the man, the man who died on the 7th of June 1954.
There is much acknowledgement of his seminal work, honours that have come posthumously and the royal pardon granted from 2013. [Computing Machinery and Intelligence – Turing, A. M. (1950)]
My crazy
This is not a film review, I somehow cannot help myself when I watch films, and I have to find something of the essence of life in the drama and the action.
I liked the line, "Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of that do the things no one can imagine," which passed from Christopher Morcom to Alan Turing to Joan Clarke and back to Alan Turing in the film.
However, the other bits that got me thinking in my usual penchant for over-analysing plots and plays are some of these things.
How crossword puzzles were used as a means to interview personnel for code-breaking, the conventional wisdom was to use linguists to decipher German code, Alan Turing however saw these as puzzles.
And so …
Somehow, what Alan Turing did was to eliminate chance from solving logical problems, at least that is one perspective to things.
Once the Enigma code was broken, the greater task was keeping it a secret and consequently, when it comes to tough decisions, who makes them and what goes into it? That was what Ultra was about and apparently that is why the allies won WWII.
That is why the Imitation Game was more like the Imagination Game for me, what he imagined became the reality of the world of computational power at the fingertips of mankind today. Alan Turing was an exceptionally gifted man, his homosexuality should never have taken such a genius away from us.
Other readings

Essential Snobbery 101: Emails should not replace proper communication

Breeding annoyance
The times I have been quite noticeably shocked by behaviour and attitude is without count. That I have quite promptly upbraided people is something people who know me appreciate.
The other day, it was an email with the appeal that I be "calm, logical and professional". Some messages are not worth responding to, because there is no arrangement of words that would serve the intent as well as the put down she deserved.
I decided, she had not with all our dealings began to understand the kind of person that I am. Nothing annoys me more than the lack of courtesy, where people resort to emails in place of the essential conversation and think things are fine that way.
Proper conduct
Sadly, in my view, if you will saddle me with a responsibility, then you should chat to me. That I have acquiesced does not mean I have accepted that responsibility apart from trying to create a situation of, 'can we just get along?'
It is the same thing that informs how I travel and how I like things to be, 'just so'. There is a cost to this, but the truth is whilst some might consider me demanding or complaining. I prefer the absence of conflict borne of the fact that people know what they are supposed to do, that I do not have to ask them to do what should have been properly done.
Human-to-human conversation is still the most effective, courteous and respectful kind of communication, it shows engagement too.
Project management off the books
This is where one must say the project is losing focus, no expectations are set, no inspiration is given and hence, there is no commitment and targets are not met.
There is the science of project management and there is an art of project management; many have mastered the former and lack any skill in the latter. In essence, they have to bludgeon rather than encourage and escalate rather than encourage.
That they appear to be out of their depth is no surprise and that we are to pick up Humpty Dumpty's pieces afterwards, is no surprise.
If I have to insinuate myself into this situation, the quest to get things going might inadvertently expose the incompetence of others. That is why I am restraining myself, but it would not be long before knowledge and understanding meet in the realisation of somewhat all too obvious facts.
I am biding my time.

Thought Picnic: The travails of story

Stories struggling
It is strange that the constant urge to write is sometimes overcome but nondescript distractions that end with a day not clearly defined by any worthy activity of note.
In the process you upbraid yourself having silently resolved at some date in the past to apply yourself diligently and with discipline to that activity.
Over time, a number of stories un-birthed settle into a period of painful introspective gestation having no term from which to have a determinate trimester.
Opportunity in distress
Yet, sometimes event and opportunity coincide to give the story a life never expected, but surer than when it was first conceived.
I have one such story I have wanted to write for three weeks, a number of events of international significance and particular to two personalities came to light and I prevaricated until a few days ago. When a social event I had planned was shifted to another day, giving me the chance to tie a number of tales together, but I gave up that chance.
The interesting thing is I already have a good idea of what I need to do, but I cannot write until something in the celestial orbits of my mind aligns. Then the inspiration flows to produce something better than I ever intended.
That is the power of story.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Thought Picnic: The plant

Labours of reluctance
I am not as green-fingered as my father who in his professional prime left lucrative accountancy on an unfortunately doomed enterprise in farming, the first harvest was raided first by monkeys and what was left fell to mould.
Besides, as authoritarian patriarch long before his father died, he had a penchant of starting us off on some laborious earthy project and conveniently disappearing off for some more important activity. We noticed that sleight of hand long before and it probably informed how we sometimes distanced ourselves so as not to be enthused into another wild scheme.
The plant
I was given an orchid when I bought my home in Amsterdam, it needed careful tending and it only flowered annually, it was the plant.
The plant in some ways was something I desired, I was ready to invest in it for the pleasure of the bloom and so the tending began. The right flower pot, a place to put it to catch the sunlight, the watering done not to drown the plant, the soil sometime fertilised to nourish the plant and I waited.
Religiously, the tending became routine, as expectation grew, but the flowering and the pleasure came once, then the waiting for a second as the routine continued after which one hoped the season may shorten for a more frequently flowering.
I’m done
For all the hope, it began to look hopeless, there was no bud and no flower, the plant took the sun and the water, it was trimmed and pruned to the point that if it were possible one would pull out a flower like a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat. All to no avail.
By the third year, I was tired of the orchid much as I have grown tired of the plant, this love interest that one is apparently trying to woo with all charm, concern and compassion is taking sunlight and water, and giving nothing back in the colour of nature. I am quite done with this, time for another plant, though maybe that is why I am not green-fingered, I'll place an order for Gardening for Dummies.

Thought Picnic: The global village is like jetting off to the next hut

The distances in the village
The morbid reality discussed in the former blog, is not just restricted to the many Nigerians or the Africans that have gone to far-flung destinations; it affects the many who have moved away from home to make their lives in other town or cities, countries or continents.
Thankfully, we have not yet colonised space, that would have factored in the equation and there is no telling what the postcodes for the moon or other planets will be.
We are constantly reminded that we live in global village, because of the ease of travel first and now the ease of communication. This also means that the village huts are not as close together anymore; the village chief is probably the UN Secretary General, but he does not wield as much power as the old village chief, whose wisdom and counsel made for peace in the community.
Comfort zones lost
Easy things of simple living and dying have been jettisoned by globalisation. If the means exists, we can circumnavigate the world in just over a day and have learnt nothing but the thrill.
Yet, we must learn new habits, make adjustments and accommodations for difference and diversity, understand strange cultures, and appreciate nuance and subtlety as we try to carry these from the vernacular and the village to the lowest common denominator of global communication - English.
Each language has a richness, even English. We are usually advised to write for the broader audience, simple short sentences which are fine, but we end up losing versatility and depth if we live on milk alone when we should have moved on to meat. There is the milk is for babies element to expression and there is meat for deeper engagement.
Between us and apart from them
Context, tone, intent, delivery and meaning can be rudimentary or complex, the English when being English have mastered the understatement, a Shibboleth that only the schooled or reared would understand as those who speak it as another language will be completely oblivious.
Ridiculous as English jokes might sound to very many, we laugh if and when we get it, the division made more stark because English in the United Kingdom is many cases quite different from that spoken, written and understood in word usage, context, tone and meaning from that spoken in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand where it is natively spoken before you consider other countries where it is the official language.
I wondered how to end this blog and then decided, it best ends this way to be continued along another line of thought.

Nigeria: If we are to have deathbed goodbyes

From reality to memory
Watching films sometimes brings up episodes of life experiences that circumstances might dictate we never experience. As we grow older we begin to realise certain certainties of life where people we once saw as we were growing up have become a distant memory.
Yet for me I realise that the closest I have ever been to the death of a relation was 37 years ago, the death of a great aunt, the wife of the younger brother of my great-grandmother, we called her Iya Ijebu. I will not go into complicating that relationship.
A tribute paid
My great-grandmother and her brother sowed the seeds to the sheltered life I have lived because they decided my father should get the best education they could afford and from then on, my father became the first a long list of accountants that came from my village.
As I approach mid-century years and my father has passed 75, the memory of the people I once knew fades as the wizening of age takes its toll, the truth left unspoken is a reality that dawns for many of us.
The new communication
It was on Facebook that I learnt of the death of an aunt, just a few months ago; she was my father's second younger sister who passed on after a brief illness, the brief illness – an affliction that has shovelled too many to mention to the Great Beyond in Nigeria.
When I called my father to express my condolences, between musing and expressing the truth, he suggested I might well learn of his passing from the same medium.
The fact is, I have learnt of the passing of lovers, friends, cousins, uncles and now an aunt on Facebook, if I am spared to mercifully have my parents predecease me, it is very probable I might learn of such on Facebook.
The speed at which we approach that medium before we consult, communicate and confirm is alarming and disconcerting, but Facebook has become part of life.
Deathbed opportunity
This however conceals another reality, in more developed countries, it is very likely that generations of a family are closer rather than in far-flung places. When you read of the passing of people, they are most likely surrounded by close family who have had the opportunity to say their goodbyes before they have to plan committal.
Some of those who have already lost their parents may appreciate this more, because they never had those deathbed experiences, deathbed which could be many things from watching life slowly ebb away to the lucidity of blessing and encouragement, the deathbed wish that someone promise something.
The call is rare
Though there are others whose sudden death again robs their kin of the parting from life goodbye as grief sets in coupled with deep sorrow, it is almost impossible to celebrate that life for a long while.
This is the world today, one where for life and livelihood, because we have a motherland too messed up for words and we do not have the unlimited means to keep everyone together, we might experience that rotten situation where we were joyfully welcomed at birth, but we miss the deathbed goodbyes of those who brought us into this world and gave us the foundation for the lives we now live.
That call to the bedside, be it at the homestead, in a hospice or a hospital is not easy to make rather than to inform, the rush against time rarely is on time before the person is gone, making it sadder still.
For this chapter ending story of existence of those who matter to us the most, we must consider what change we need for our country that we do not have to read of the death of relations again on Facebook, but have the blessing of seeing our forebears pass on in our presence having lived a full life.
The other matter beyond the particular is in another blog.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Thought Picnic: Losing things is not fun

Losing the plot
For a while, it never really bothered me, I was used to losing things from when I was a kid and the number of times I was told off for it did not make me a better keeper of my things for a long time.
When I was shipped off to boarding school, a good 500 miles or more away from home, I was literally equipped with the wrong things. My shorts were grey instead of green, I do not know if it was my mother or the school that got it wrong, my cutlass was not fit for purpose, neither light nor sharp, I never completed any of my grass cutting chores with that thing.
Losing my pail
All my things were scrawled over with Kandahar indelible ink and the first thing I lost was my water pail. Unbeknownst to me, you had to secure your pail at all times or it ended up in the hands of someone else and basically, you had no rights of claim except with an exchange – meaning you stole someone else’s pail to get your back.
Suffice it to say, I did not see my pail for years, it had somehow been sequestered in the hallowed temple of the girl’s hostel, the grounds of which were verboten to all males until one summer school season in my penultimate year when some of my class mates raided the place in search of fun and that was the end of boarding school for us in the last year.
Losing my jimjams
Yet, now, I seem to keep things for much longer that I can even remember and with that has come a keener sense of loss when I inadvertently lose things.
In the past two days, I am at a loss as to where have I left my night wear; the top and trousers which I thought I had packed for a weekend trip. It was not as if I did not check every drawer and top in that hotel room before leaving and yet, somewhere between my home and my sojourn, I seem to have lost my pyjamas. I am baffled.
This morning, I could have sworn I left home with my brown Roeckl leather gloves, they are usually in the pocket of my coat when I am not wearing them.
Losing the trail
This evening, I suddenly realised I did not have them and I am left wondering if I left them on the train to work, in the cab between the station and the office or at the office.
The taxing thing about this realisation is how I try to playback my day as if it were some closed-circuit television recording in my mind. I can say this has sometimes worked for me because I am literally able to remember as far as it appears I subconsciously had things with me before I lost sight of them.
Losing the mind
Then the mental disputing begins; as I start to question whether I am sure of what I have remembered. After a while, I can probably settle down to knowing exactly what happened, and then I have to decide if I can get the lost items back or consider replacing them.
In all this, one must not forget that there might be other things at play; a gripping fear of the possibility of losing essential parts of memory and recollection. I desperately try to put the thought far from me as one hopes that a track record of losing things is not a precursor to losing one’s mind.
I guess I have to phone the hotel, the train operator and the cab company, just to put this matter to rest, and at least rest my mind until I have the time for the self-flagellation that comes with having been careless.
This morning as I made for work, I picked up my bowler hat and as I checked my coat pockets I realised the coat I thought I wore yesterday was a different one.
So, it transpired, my gloves were still in my other coat’s pocket and my memory was more to do with the day before yesterday, rather than yesterday.
That sums up the kind of disputing that goes on in my mind as I challenge my recollection of events to be sure that I know what really happened. Yet, I could have sworn I always wore the same coat to work.
The jimjams however, are somewhere I still need to determine.

Sunday 9 November 2014

Essential Snobbery 101: Revisting the age of respectful address and proper communication

Fathering odds
As one's age begins to reach significant numbers, you begin to realise some changes in how you are viewed and addressed.
In my case, I guess my style of formal dressing has made me stand out to be respected and accorded courtesies in ways that could be rather inconvenient for some.
The other day, I was out to a Nigerian restaurant in a Manchester suburb with a colleague from work who is, well, two-thirds my age, whilst I stepped away from our table, the restaurateur asked him if I was his father.
Chaps on the lip
Apparently, she surmised that my dressing put me in an age bracket to be his dad and with that, some banter mixed with mirth ensued, yet, it was a bit revealing. Where some people are suspicious of being addressed as ‘Sir’, it does not really bother me; yet, there are places where I expect to be addressed properly.
I remember calling a repairs service, a few weeks ago and the receptionist calling back to ask if I was the ‘chap’ – the effrontery – you wonder where they get such uncultured people from; I do not think I paused to correct her by saying I was indeed, the ‘gentleman’, with emphasis, ‘that called earlier’.
A mugshot to pose for
Then, the descent into familiarity with strangers, people addressing me as mate, whilst it might be customary for certain people to do that, I take exception to being called mate because the first image that comes to mind of ‘mate’ is more of cellmate than schoolmate. That Australians have ‘mate’ as a standard form of address is no attempt to point to elements of interesting history.
However, as an information technology consultant, I get many calls from recruitment consultants and you can imagine, any recruiter that addresses me as ‘mate’ has lost me from the get-go, we will not be doing business based on that call. Certain standards of address and decorum have to be kept and in my case, when abused or infringed; demanded – I have no qualms about such old-fashioned views.
Back to basic English-speaking
Recently, the attempt to keep up standards of communication up has gone to dating forums where you get messages that leave you in near-shock. You are hailed with ‘Hey!’ and then this, ‘Wruu2’, at first, pretended not to understand it, then I decided I should start as I meant to go. So, I responded with, “Hello, Can we try English please?” and the response was, “Sorry, I meant, ‘what are you up to?’”. It makes you wonder how technology and the ease of communication have taken us back to the equivalent of when smoke signals were the best technology of the time.
Obviously, you then realise that since many in my age range are already parents and even grandparents, ‘uncle’ and even ‘daddy’ are expected forms of address one has to accommodate without quibble. The lesson or moral of the tale being, whilst a few of us might well be old-fashioned, we do not intend to go out of fashion. Until we are gone, some things will just have to be right and proper.

Monday 3 November 2014

#WhatDoesBHWant Discussion with @ContactSalkida

Ahmad Salkida, a knowledge expert on Boko Haram shared his insights on the Boko Haram ideology, activities, financing and recruiting effort on a Twitter discussion forum with the hashtag #WhatDoesBHWant on Saturday the 1st of November 2014 for 2 hours.
The session was moderated by Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim and Akin Akintayo, the full timeline of what Ahmad Salkida said appears below and I have added some notes to highlight some of the points he made.