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Tis the season to be merry!

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

 

Every year around this time my mother would proclaim “it doesn’t feel like Christmas this year” as if some invisible Scrooge with a big vacuum cleaner had sucked away Santa along with the world’s supply of tinsel and whatever else makes Christmas what it is. I would roll my eyes and think ‘Oh mother, you say that every year’.

 

So when I caught myself thinking the very same thing this year I stopped dead in my tracks, wondering if this was this my mother’s spirit speaking through me? Or maybe, on reflection, this is what happens as you get older?  Or is it simply a case of this year something really just doesn’t feel right?

 

I am not particularly drawn to any specific holiday although I do look forward to and appreciate the time off from work and the license and freedom to do guilt-free things like not work, be lazy, overeat and drink and not go to gym. There is complete permission for immoderation and to be what you weren’t for the whole year.

 

As I am not a religious person the holiday holds no sacred significance for me, but of all of the holidays, Christmas has a heart and soul and is my most favoured because of its energy, charm and “camp-ness” – shopping, tinsel and sparkly baubles!  Let’s face it you can't get much camp-ier than that!

 

There is a allure about Christmas that you can only properly appreciate in the northern hemisphere where the sky is dark  for a good part of the day which contrasts magically with the Christmas trees with its pretty flashing lights, illuminated street decorations and Christmas window displays like tableau works of art.

 

And if the Gods are kind, snowflakes will be falling,  covering the ground in a white blanket of snow.  As a little boy taking a train ride to Glasgow to see the shops was as good as a trip see Santa’s Grotto in the North Pole.

 

The real thing might have been out of my parent’s budget and inclination but it was all quite unnecessary anyway as most big department stores had artistically and magically recreated Santa’s Grotto in their premises and brought the big man himself to Glasgow to boot! He was always tucked away in some secret corner where lines of kids would queue before getting to sit on his knee for a picture to be taken.

 

He would always whisper “have you been a good boy?” and even though you knew the answer was no, you lied and received your present. The experience was terrifying, exhilarating and magical.

 

This morning as I sat in a coffee shop sweating in the 30 degree heat (cool I know, but it was only mid-morning)I hearing the first Christmas music of the season playing. It felt premature, yet we are in the first week of December. It’s not that I haven’t been exposed to any festive activities yet.

 

My work Christmas party is tonight and last night I wrapped staff Christmas presents for the party when I had for a moment, toyed with the corny idea of playing one of Bony M or Michael Buble’s Christmas Albums, but this thought vanished just as quick as the rolls of wrapping paper. 

 

Last week my daughter also commented that it didn’t feel like Christmas to her because we had not put up any decorations. Clearly this ‘where is Christmas’ feeling is affecting multiple generations in my family. I admit I love Xmas decorations as you get to spruce up your house for a few weeks with kitsch ornaments that otherwise would never be allowed on the premises but which twinkle and sparkle and ostentatiously proclaim the season.

 

My reasoning for not having the makeover  this year is perfectly logical in that as I am off to Europe next week to spend Christmas in France, there is no point: getting out the boxes with all the Christmas paraphernalia, putting  the tree up, untangling the fairly lights, buying poinsettias from the nursery etc. As my mother’s son it’s a waste of time!

 

My mother rarely made any effort with Christmas and every year was known to say “I can’t be bothered this year” which by implication suggested it was a one-off reaction, which it wasn’t. There was one year however when she could be bothered and which I can recall vividly because of its extraordinary nature.

 

I had come home from school and my normally working mum was at home. This was most unusual.  She had cleaned the house, done some baking  (both out of character), the Christmas tree had been put up and dressed, Christmas decorations adorned the house; white plastic reindeers pulling Santa’s glittered sleigh…it was spellbinding. 

 

It looked amazing, smelt fantastic and felt like what I imagined coming home is supposed to feel like. In truth it may have been none of these things but as perception is reality to me it was as if Betty Crocker, Mary Poppins and Mother Clause had morphed into one – my mother. She looked happy AND it was Christmas. It’s a treasured memory.

 

As I write this I realise that to capture the magic and wonder of the season—the spirit of Christmas – you have to become involved. It can’t happen by accidentally hearing a Christmas carol and asking yourself “oh is it December already?”

 

And while you might not deck the halls with boughs of holly, for the most obvious reasons not least of which is you wouldn’t be able to find holly not to mention comprehend what the heck ‘deck’ means and besides, which hall?  Boipuso?, you can make Christmas, just like my mother made it for me that year by psyching yourself up and properly getting in the mood!

 

So no more Scrooge for me. I am going to put up the Christmas tree this weekend, have an early Christmas lunch with friends and family before I leave on my holiday, play Bony M until the neighbours complain and I am going to search the stores for white plastic reindeer ornaments and sparkly glitter Santa’s and feel the joy and gratitude for what was and what is!  Bon Noel!

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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