London

I’m now working in IT which is mostly good fun so I don’t have much time for blogging anymore. I’m also learning a lot of new technologies too which is interesting. In fact the only reason I have time now is that I’m heading up to Manchester by train to meet up with a good friend from University, which means I have three hours to kill. Additionally as I got an advance ticket I managed to grab a first class ticket for less than £20 one way, which as the train was pretty damn full was probably a good idea. It was nice to get a table, a bit more space and free food and drink (which alone almost made up the extra £7 it cost over standard class.) the only problem with first class is that its a damn Voyager as my friend Dave would say and the seats aren’t any more comfortable than standard class (I’d go so far as to say they were less comfortable.).

However last weekend I headed down to London a couple of days in a row. The first evening I headed to a gig of Earthless and Pontiak, these are both American rock bands that are fairly heavy but also pretty damn good. I wouldn’t have gone on my own, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. The second band only played four songs in their entire set (including encore) and the second lasted for a good 20 minutes, which was really cool to listen too. It was a little long for my tastes (and I did get a little bored halfway through) but it still managed to work well as a song.

The gig was at a great little venue called Borderline which is just a short distance down Charing Cross road from the Astoria. It is a great little venue, and I can’t wait to go back as I’m sure it made the music even better. The Astoria is one of London’s more famous music venues and it has now been shut so that a CrossRail station can be built underneath it. I have to admit its not my favourite venue, but a lot of famous gigs have been played there. After CrossRail is finished the venue is apparently going to be re-opened – hopefully they can make it into a decent venue at the same time :p.

When we went to the gig we went on the bus from Oxford to London which is probably the nicest bus journey in the country in terms of quality. Even so you get 4 seat across rather than 3 you’d get in other countries. The only bonuses are the toilets which were decent enough and “free WiFi” though on 2 out of the three buses I took it didn’t work with my iPod touch at all – and with the other it was barely functional – “broadband” only to the standards of developing world free hostel internet. That said it still manages to take the timetabled 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to London even on the way back after midnight which means that that estimate is really only an aspiration of how long it will take most of the time which isn’t really very good.

I mention this as when I was in Cambodia I was talking to the people who owned my hotel about the buses you can take there and they didn’t believe that the buses in Cambodia were better/as good there as in the UK – sadly it is true. Mostly because those who are rich enough take the train – though to be honest Via Barriloche in Argentina spanks the first class train I’m on now in terms of comfort – maybe we should sell our railways to the Argentineans :p.

As we went on the bus we got in a little further into London than you would on the train so we got a nice walk down Oxford Street including the eastern end which I have never been down before. Oxford Street is quite nice and Selfridges is in a very impressive building though the sign outside seems more than a little tacky to me. What surprised me is that even though the east of Oxford Street is fairly posh overall it is more like Nanjing road in Shanghai than Orchard road in Singapore.

The next day I headed into London to meet up with some other friends who I mostly know online in Hyde park this was great fun until it started to rain and then we decamped to the pub in Kensington to the south of the park. This was great fun and I had a great day. Unfortunately I stayed a bit too late missing the last train back to Oxford so I had to take the bus home taking bus three of the weekend. After all that excitement I was due a relaxing evening before Monday morning.

A retraction

I feel I owe a retraction from my previous piece: http://matthewhutton.com/2009/03/uk-democracy-still-functions/

The MP’s last week published their expenses in full after blacking out almost all of the detail – unfortunately they didn’t quite black out enough:
Railway ticket for my MP

Now aside from blacking out the class of travel, the number of people travelling, the ticket type and the destination and start points – none of which are actually national security issues (which is the only reason not to publish them) – ultimately if you are doing something you don’t want to reveal you have to use your £60k salary to fund it.

Unfortunately he hasn’t quite blocked out all the useful information on the ticket. The ticket says Y-P on it, which means that it was bought with a young persons railcard. Now my MP is quite young, but he’s been in power since 1997 so he can’t possibly be under 25.

So either he was travelling illegally under a young persons railcard – or he is claiming other peoples rail journeys under expenses and hiding it.

I suppose he could be claiming for some of his staff, and they could be under 25, but that is stretching the excuses.

Copyright Reform: Updated

I sent my European Parliament members an email this morning about the EU extending copyright from the current term of copyright for sound recordings from 50 years to 95 years. The vote on this issue is going to be this Thursday.

Anyhow within today I got an email from both of my Liberal Democrat MEP’s today as well as from UKIP, all of whom agree with my position on the EU Copyright laws. From this I will definitely be voting Liberal Democrat in the next election.

The other amusing thing was that one of my Liberal Democrat MEP’s is a Baroness and she replied within minutes, I find it very interesting to see “establishment” figures like a Baroness agreeing with me politically here. Its actually like the Economist being pro-drugs legalisation. Now I agree about drugs legalisation for the same reasons that the Economist brings up, but regardless on your position it is definitely a liberal position to hold.

Amusingly if you read a more downmarket news source that the “common man” reads like the Daily Mail and the Sun they will be anti-drugs legalisation and much more right wing.

Anyhow I found out about this vote from Arstechnica, which led me to the following website. I personally thought the sample email given there is rubbish, so here is what I wrote instead:

I have heard that this week the European parliament is voting to extend
copyright terms for sound recordings. Personally I think this is a bad
idea as the terms are currently long enough.

I think this because independent studies including the UK governments
Gower report (http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/gowers_review_index.htm)
are opposed to this move. This information is covered on pages 49 to 57
of the report. The University of Cambridge has also collected a list of
other independent studies and their conclusions which is available at
the following link:
http://www.cipil.law.cam.ac.uk/File/Studies+Signatories.pdf

According to the Gower Report the life of the vast majority of creative
works is very short – only 3% of record company income comes from works
released before 1966. Additionally when the US considered extending the
copyright term beyond 50 years, 17 economists including 5 Nobel prize
winners estimated that extending copyright beyond 50 years would have
no affect on investment decisions on new works as the income was to be
received so far into the future.

The flaws in this bill especially apply to retrospective copyright as
in those cases the works in question have already been made under the
current rules, extending those copyrights isn’t going to make more
works magically appear in the past as that is impossible, all that is
going to be done is that a few already very rich artists and record
labels will be made even richer while providing no net benefit to the
average citizen as according to the Gower report less music would be
available to the consumer.

Updated: I have to also credit the Green party representatives for getting back to me within just over 24 hours.

UK Democracy still functions

I sent my MP an email on Monday over the chief medical officers plans to introduce minimum prices of £0.50 per unit of alcohol (US$0.70, €0.53) which has been rejected by Gordon Brown (UK Prime Minister) and was pleasantly surprised to receive an acknowledgement in the post this morning.

I’m impressed that he’s managed to read the message and respond to it so quickly, and on that basis I’ll almost certainly be voting for him in the next election.

I sent the email in the first place because the government is wrong to reject the proposal as it makes sense, it also isn’t particularly controversial as its just raising the minimum alcohol price to the same price as it is in China’s supermarkets given purchasing power parity – and the Chinese have pretty cheap alcohol.

Back in the UK

I flew into Heathrow earlier this evening and am now back at home. The flight was good and the British Airways food was excellent, we also got a great view of London which was a bonus.

I’ve had a great trip and now have a little more blogging to do on the trip covering the last couple of weeks. I aim to do a post a day for the next week so that I can talk about everything without overwhelming you (and of course myself :p).

After the trip is over I will probably continue to make the occassional post on life™ and of course when I travel in the future.

So you don’t have to check my website regularly you can also read the RSS feed of my posts, and if it isn’t clear I’ll get it all sorted in the next few days.

Islam in KL

On my first full day in KL I went to the Islamic Arts museum. I did this by public transport which involved first taking the monorail from Times Squsre shopping centre to KL Sentral station which went past a lot of interesting architecture.

From KL station I then took a damp (probably from the air conditioning) commuter train north to the old Kuala Lumpur station. This was apparently reminisant inside of an old London railway station but if so it was like Fenchurch street or something – not Paddington. The outside of the station was suitably impressive however as was the KL rail headquarters across the road which were built in a cross between British and Islamic style. I’m starting to understand Islamic style more now I’m in Malaysia and it seems to be very mathematical and geometric. This is because you aren’t able to display pictures of people in mosques you have a lot of beautiful patterns instead.

After seeing this I went to the Malaysian national mosque which was fairly attractive though not particularly impressive. There they were supporting a boycott of American companies as their government supports Israel. This was of course highly ironic as the posters were probably made on computers manufactured by an American company using American chips (possibly even chips made and designed in Israel as Intel has a multi-billion dollar microchip factory there – source: Arstechnica.) running American software and researched using an American search engine and hosted by an American webhost.

Prehaps a boycott of Intel (use AMD instead) would be in order to show that people feel Israel acts appallingly (which frankly they do – though the Palestinean terrorists also behave badly towards Israel.) and that would also severely affect the Israeli economy.

After this I went to the Islamic arts museum just up the road. This had a couple of special exhibitions on including one on Islams role in Britain. This was very interesting photographic exhibition funded in part by the British High Commission (the equivalent of an embassy in a commonwealth country.) here in Malaysia. The exhibition included pictures of a lot of British Muslims including a white, female Judge (this was occompanied by the punnish title never judge a book by it’s cover – probably only funny if you have been away from puns for a while.). I think the pun is a piece of humour that only the British do and it is part of our culture. This exhibition was a very interesting look at my culture at least partially from the outside – the exhibition would do well to be shown in the UK as well.

Although Britain took Islam into account as far ago as 1911 when Halal meat was allowed most of the progress has occurred within the last 10-15 years. I do think that the London central mosque should be demolished and rebuilt as it is a concrete monstrosity and is undoubtably one of the ugliest mosques in the world. From further looking at the museum this seems to be typical as Chinese and South East Asian mosques seem to take a traditional local style – though the mosques I’ve seen in Malaysia seem to be styled as you’d expect.

After seeing the exhibition on Islam in Britain I went to a local street stall for lunch as the museum restaurant was too expensive for me (45RM – £9) and after this I returned to the museum. The next exhibition I saw was on Islamic architecture which was interesting and even included the mathematic significance of it including the golden ratio which is apparently also the ratio between the sides and radius of a pentagon as well as linking the terms in the Fibonacci sequence. These relate to many things in nature as well as music and buildings like the Taj Mahal also has a lot of mathematics in it’s construction.

After this I saw the main exhibtion galleries which included some Islamic history as well as beautiful ceramics, metalwork and cloth. The ceramics especially looked very European as 19th century European pottery took a lot from Islamic pottery. These were also very interesting to see – it is clear there is a lot more to Islamic art than Persian rugs! There was also some more stuff on several of the Islamic empires including the Mughals in India – there apparently wealth and power had to be displayed.

After that I had a wander around before getting a new cover for my Nokia 6230i to replace the old and busted cover. After that I went to a food court for dinner which was excellent; except for the main course which was average. Then it started absolutely pouring down with rain so I went indoors to McDonalds for some chips.

More time in Singapore

Over the weekend here in Singapore I didn’t get up to much at all – just uploading photos, sending a parcel, relaxing, playing games on my iPod touch (I’ve just discovered ronaldo and fieldrunners – both are excellent; especially ronaldo) and chatting with people in the hostel. I deserved it after having only around 2 hours sleep each night for my last couple in India. I also went to MOS burger.

Then on Monday morning I got up bright and early; first I had some admin to do so I had to sort that out and I had to catch the bus down from my hostel. This worked well thanks to the EZ link card – it’s a great piece of technology that actually “just works”. After that I headed to Burgis where I had some more admin to complete. While there (well Sim Lim tower actually) I picked up a new memory card for my camera – this is the first place I’ve ever seen memory cards for the same price or less than Amazon.co.uk. After this I had some pizza for lunch and went to a hairdressing salon unfortunately I didn’t manage to ask for the length correctly so it is now much shorter than I’d like.

After this I went to the Singapore National museum for the afternoon which was very interesting and was one of the best museums I’ve been to on my trip. It had an excellent section on the history of Singapore and went back before the British arrived. It did critise the British rule a bit and said we didn’t do enough education of the Singaporeans but overall it took a much more mature line to the British than the Indians generally didn’t. Although I’m sure we weren’t perfect many of the countries we ruled over the past several hundred years are now rich from the USA to Canada to Singapore itself.

After this I had a wander through the colonial district which was very European though there were buildings with a Singaporean twist and with bright colours before I caught the bus back to my hostel. This was a bit of an adventure as it didn’t actually quite go were I wanted and took ages. The moral of the story is if in doubt take the MRT. Then I had dinner at my hostel before going out for a drink before bed.

Singapore and Milk

Note that the next three posts are all new today as I managed to grab some WiFi to get them online.

So leaving India early to go to Singapore was always going to be a bit of a paradox for me. Leaving the place I was looking forward to most to go to the place I was looking forward to least and only really staying to apply for some visas.

The good news is that I’m enjoying Singapore far more than last time I was here. Maybe it’s getting more laid back (people even jaywalk here which they don’t in Japan) or maybe I accept it more having been to Japan which it is similar to in many ways and yet also different. To give it a European analogy maybe it’s like the English and the French cultures.

On Friday I slept in the morning after a healthy Mcdonalds breakfast and afterwards headed out to lunch at a nearby and excellent restaurant. It was cheap too at S$5. After this I had some shopping to do including a smartcard for public transport and a copy of the Singapore and Malaysia bible Rough Guide. This took all afternoon before I had a burger king supper (I seem to have lost some weight in India.) before heading over to a nearby cinema to catch a movie.

There wasn’t much on so I picked the film milk which from the poster looked only OK. After sitting down to watch the film it wasn’t just OK and I will fully admit to crying at some of the more emotional moments. It is a great film that I thoroughly recommend and it is definitely a true story.

For those who aren’t aware Milk is about a gay businessman called Harvey Milk who in the 1970’s who was elected to the city of San Francisco as the first openly gay city official and they shot down a proposition banning the removal of teachers for being gay or supporting gay rights; in fact though at the time even Reagan supported them.

The sad truth is that this is still happening today with proposition 8 banning gay marriage and that influential organizations such as Apple are supporting gay rights today (though they weren’t as effective as Milk. In the UK things are much better as we have “civil partnership” for gays which has the rights of marriage but not the name to avoid upsetting the religious which is fair enough in my book and it seems the American gays haven’t taken that compromise position.

Marriage in “the West”

I was having an interesting coversation with the mother of the Japanese family I was staying with in Tokyo about marriage. She was talking about how the divorce rate in Japan is rising. She was shocked when I mentioned that the divorce rate in England was currently approximately 50% (update: just checked the government figures, they don’t give figures per marriage but comparing the number of divorces this year to the number of marriages this year and the average since 1951 gives a probable divorce rate of between 40% and 50% – of course this only counts official marriages and not couples who live together unmarried.); I’m sure the situation is just as bad in the US and the rest of Europe. I suddenly realized that the reason for this is the lack of available advice about whether the person you are with is really “the one” or not. Given the vast quantity of stuff we were officially taught about relationships is less in amount to my knowledge of Vietnamese. For something that is so important; children who grow up with only one parent perform worse in all sorts of ways. And ancidotally children of parents who stayed together “for the children” wished their parents would split up.

Of course the sensible solution at this point would be to ask someone older and wiser who has had more life experience and who knows you well. So for the majority of young people without older friends to turn to that would leave their parents (of course this depends on your parents not being keen to marry you off to formulate an alliance or for power or something like that.) or other members of your family but asking for their approval of a relationship isnt really something you would do.

Of course you can always base it on the relatively small amount of life experience of long term relationships that you and your friends have (and the longer you wait the more likely that your friends have that experience.) or the media. But they will say practically anything to sell their publications on something that is fairly subjective, and obviously popular to discuss, like relationships.

So the current western model doesn’t seem to work that well but I suppose it is better than arranged marriage as at least you are free to make your own decisions. Thoughts and comments?

Tokyo and Hakone

First thing on Wednesday morning I headed to Ginza as I needed to buy some socks; the mission to do this was successful and after that I headed to Tokyo station to get the rest of my train tickets reservations. After this I headed to Ryogoku and the Sumo (really pronounced with a very short u rather than a long one that I’ve always used.) area, which wasn’t particularly exciting though after a Chinese lunch I headed to the Edo Tokyo museum which described the history of Japan from the Shogun era which was very interesting and I spent 4 hours there. The only issue was that there was clearly more information only in Japanese that wasn’t in English. Spanish would have been OK too but they didn’t have any information in that either :p. After that I did some important stuff on the Internet before coming back home.

The next day I got up at 6am and after showing and breakfast I got the 7am train headed towards the mountains. It was a steam train too; though unfortunately the steam was on the inside of the carriages rather than coming out of the engine. After arriving in Odawara I got my “Hakone Freepass” (which of course wasn’t free but cost ¥3900 (£28)) and I then got the train up slowly into the mountains before changing again onto a narrow gauge railway heading up to the Fujiya hotel where I had some tea and cake. After that I went to the Hakano open air museum. As the name hints they had a lot of outdoor displays but also some indoor displays though theses weren’t partcularly great. The outdoor displays included a massive Pegasus and rider, several moderately erotic nudes and a massive climbing frame made out of segments you could climb inside. All in all I spent two and a half hours there so afterwards I had to get a move on. So I got the train further up the mountain and grabbed a sandwich before jumping on the funicular (though in Wellington New Zealand it would also be a cable car) and then getting on the cable car to the top of the mountain. At the top of the mountain you emerge over a volcanic valley which had lots of steam coming out of vents in the mountain and was very impressive. I did go on a walk to get closer but I didn’t get too close as I’ve seen them before in New Zealand and Chile. I also got to see a great view of mount Fiji though there was a little cloud low down on one side of the mountain.

After that I got the cable car down the mountain the other side to the side of a volcanic lake – like Rotaruha lake but smaller. At the bottom I got the boat across to the other side. The views were good but the boat was very cheesy and even had a Lord Nelson cartoony statue. Then at the Mokihakone I got off the boat and went for a walk to the second stop. On the way I walked along an avenue of tall Cryptomeria trees before reaching a viewpoint which let me see Mount Fuji again – this time without any cloud at all which was great. As the sun set I saw the Hakone barrier built on the road to Kyoto by the second Shogun before catching the bus back to Odwara.

At Odwara my journey got more exciting as I decided to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) back to Tokyo as it’s free on my railpass (otherwise it’d be about ¥3500 or £25) I didn’t think it’d be much slower. However in 24 minutes I had covered the approximately 75km from Odwara to Tokyo. In the UK this is approximately the distance between Oxford and London which takes 55 minutes on the fastest train. The train even stopped on the way at Yokohoma and even so it managed an average speed of 180km/h! After that I took a trip on the Tokyo loop “Yamato” line to Shibuya. When I arrived on the platform to find it almost completely full. This train was the busiest train I’ve ever been on and I nearly lost my backpack on two occassions due to people pushing onto the train. Imagine the final top banana of the year (or if you aren’t a Warwick student a very, very, busy club) and then add some more and you get how busy the train was. It even got difficult to breathe as I got slammed against the people around me completely. And they didn’t even have to get the White gloved platform attendents involved to push people on (though they did get involved later on the journey on the train from Shibuya.). Then from Shibuya station I took two further trains to get back to where I’m staying in Tokyo. Due to the speed of the Shinkansen I got back in 75 minutes rather than 95 on the way out; even though I also got lost at Shibuya station for a bit. Overall though I’m getting used to the Tokyo public transport system. Maybe I should list the ability to use public transport on my CV as a skill :p.

The next day I headed north towards Sendai first catching a couple of pretty busy local trains to catch my Shinkhansen north out of Tokyo which I just managed to catch. As my seat was by the window in a row of three and the seats next to it were already occupied I tried to sit elsewhere but it’s clear the Japanese catch trains they have reserved seats on unlike the British who often don’t. I decided to get off the train early to see the Japanese railway museum as after travelling on all these trains I was curious about how they worked. There was some information in English but that was using a mobile phone barcode reader which didn’t work particularly well. Though the information I did learn was very interesting and mostly was interesting even if like me you ride on trains mainly to get from A to B (though I admit I went on the Shinkansen yesterday purely to travel really fast.) I’m sure it would have been much better if you understood Japanese. Numbering the exhibits and providing printed information in different languages would have worked far better in my view.