Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Europeans know how to Christmas - are we missing out on the fun?

As all the children in Britain clamber excitedly out of bed on 25th December to open their stockings and eat their chocolate money, little do they suspect that their European counterparts have already opened hundreds of gifts and still have more festivities to look forward to. Are we Brits missing out on some worthwhile traditions?

In Germany and the Netherlands, among other countries, the fun starts on the 5th December with a visit from Saint Nicolas who arrives with sweets and gifts. In France, Christmas takes place on the evening of the 24th with a huge meal and presents. And the Spanish don’t pack up on Boxing Day. They keep celebrating till the 6th of January - the day of the 3 wise men visiting the baby Jesus. As well as sweets and gifts, they have a round cake with a figurine hidden inside, which one lucky person might get to crack their tooth on.

Perhaps we are not so very unfortunate. When my family and I were in Iceland several years ago we learnt that there they have not one Santa Claus but 13. However, these thirteen “Yule lads” as they are called are not the sort of people you want climbing down your chimney. They each have different characters: some steal food, while others play nasty tricks or even kidnap naughty children; some break in through the window, others pick the lock to the back door. They were intended to install fear into children and I am convinced that even the most well behaved child in Britain would probably shudder at the thought of having to write out 13 Christmas lists...

Personally, I’m more than happy with my stocking and a turkey dinner. Plus maybe a mince pie or two...

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The girl who survived an abortion

(Don't watch if you are easily offended) ;-)

I know that abortions are common nowadays, and that there are so many arguments in their favour. But it still upsets me that so many unborn babies are destroyed, and that many young women are advised by friends, family, doctors, to terminate a pregnancy because it is inconvenient, or because it is one of her rights as a woman, without anyone considering the rights of the unborn infant. Our society is more concerned by killing lab-rats than killing unborn babies.

This is an amazing testimony from a girl who survived, despite being aborted, and is now a voice for unborn children.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Beautiful Strasbourg

So, I got offered a business trip to Strasbourg, all expenses paid... hard to resist.

Strasbourg manages to combine quaintness with being a lively and bustling city, although this makes it challenging to get a photo without cars or modern signs. But it is definitely worth a visit, especially during the Christmas market when all the lights and little wooden huts go up.

November is COLD for taking photos. My fingers were turning blue.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Is technology overtaking us?

Technology is changing the way we live, anyone can see. This is not a rant against advancement; definitely one reason for me starting a blog is because I feel increasingly that I don't want to be left behind by modernity! Facebook, Twitter, iPhones have all become an integral part of our daily lives, with all their advantages and disadvantages rolled into one. But all the same, I am convinced that even if we want to, we cannot escape the advancing of technology any more than we can stop it.

However, that is not what I meant by this title.

I'm talking about technology that will soon overtake our very capacity as human beings. Perhaps it begins with self-service machines at Tesco - which I love incidentally - but which symbolise the decreasing need for personnel or human interaction.

Last week I was at a conference in the European Parliament on “Bio-engineering”, subtitle: "Creating Perfect Life". An ambitious title, no doubt, but it was designed to be provocative. There were various discussions, one being "Biology becoming technology" and another "Technology becoming biology”.

Words like ‘human cyborgs’, and ‘drones’ flew around the room leaving me feeling disorientated. Perhaps it didn’t help that I had watched the entire Star Wars series earlier this month (images of the clone wars going through my head). But this was not science fiction; it is already becoming scientific reality.

Did you know...?

·         The US have already deployed unmanned combat vehicles to Afghanistan, meaning, effectively, that a person can sit in Texas with a computer screen and a joy stick, and can control an aeroplane that is shoot people thousands of miles away. They are now thinking of developing autonomous vehicles.
·         Scientists are currently carrying out a project to design a super computer that is an exact replica of the human brain.
·         Human embryos have already been cloned up to 100 cells (more or less 3 days old).

The European Parliament was listening to scientific experts to open debate on how these developments should be regulated and what ethics apply.

One expert concluded by saying that it is doubtful anyone can stop science advancing: bio-technology is inevitable. What is therefore essential is to prepare ourselves for what ethical stance we should take.

I wonder how my (hypothetical) great-grandchildren will compete in job interviews against a fully autonomous robot whose brain power functions at several hundred times the speed of a human...