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Ottawa, Ontario

Just a little corner of the interwebz where I occasionally jot down a thought or two. Why do I do it? Partly to communicate in some way with you, the reader, and partly because it's some sad way of leaving a legacy of some kind I guess.



how far is too far

Jonathan Tom

Yesterday during the Google I/O keynote their CEO, Sundar Pichai, made several announcements but the one I would like to talk about is Google Duplex - an evolution (?) of Google Assistant whereby it can, or will be able to, make phone calls for you to make restaurant reservations, hair appointments, and finding out holiday hours of operation. It was announced with a recording which Pichai said was a recording of an interaction between Google’s AI and a hair salon. I have to concede that the voice sounded very natural and I’m not sure, if I had been in the receiving side of that call, if I would have been able to tell the difference between it and a real person; the person in the example clearly did not.

While I’m clearly in entrenched in the technology camp; the question has been asked often and more-so now after Google Duplex’s announcement, “how far is too far?”. I think there are valid arguments on both sides of the proverbial fence but for me, I think we’re still quite a ways away from some sort of skynet). Notably, about a month ago, Elon Musk posted a “warning” against AI, saying that AI needn’t necessarily be malicious but that it could still pose a significant threat to humanity.

”If AI has a goal and humanity just happens to be in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it. No hard feelings”. Elon Musk

What do you think about the advancement in technology? Is there a point at which humanity goes too far? If so, how far away is that day?

great divide

Jonathan Tom

There are some things that are inevitable in life but even when they are expected it doesn’t necessarily make it any less distressing. Over the last six weeks things have gone from visiting grandma for Chinese New Year and having to take her to the hospital to making arrangements to go to her funeral. This isn’t easy to write about so I’m going to leave with a quote / poem from Shawnee Chief Tecumseh:

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place.Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

  • Chief Tecumseh

great, now I'm hungry

Jonathan Tom

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve at least heard the term “dim sum” and you likely know that it’s a part of Chinese culture. But what is it? Well, while it is a meal, it’s mainly a social meal to be enjoyed with friends and family. It’s what many would call “family-style” dining where there’s many different dishes that are shared with everyone else at the table. Synonymous with dim sum, at least for those with cantonese roots, is yum cha which translates to “drink tea” because tea is an integral part of dim sum - like love and marriage in the song.

Historically, dim sum comes from the silk road tea houses where travellers would stop to rest. They would have tea which was discovered to aid in digestion so tea house owners started adding snacks. This evolved in Guangzhou from a way to relax and recover to a bustling family occasion.

Many of the dishes served at dim sum are steamed (or at least served in steamers) and, here’s where things differ from regular restaurants in North America, they are placed in carts that are pushed around from table to table where you can see and smell them. If you opt to take one of the steamers from the trolleys then they just mark it down on your bill and place it on your table.

We’ll cover the must have dishes in a moment but before you get to that level you need to understand a few do’s and don’ts of dim sum. Let’s get to it:

Do pour other people’s tea first before your own. If you want to go really formal then you begin with the eldest and work your way to the youngest person. It’s customary to thank the person pouring your tea by tapping on the table with two fingers (supposedly you should tap with only a single finger if you’re not married but I had never heard of that practice before researching this). The lore behind this gesture is best explained with a quote from Wikipedia:

This custom is said to be analogous to the ritual of bowing to someone in appreciation. The origin of this gesture is described anecdotally: The Qianlong Emperor went to yum cha with his friends, outside the palace; not wanting to attract attention to himself, the Emperor was disguised. While at yum cha, the Emperor poured his companion some tea, which was a great honor. The companion, not wanting to give away the Emperor's identity in public by bowing, instead tapped his index and middle finger on the table as a sign of appreciation.

Dim sum restaurants can be quite loud and boisterous, and the conversation lively so the practice is also a time saver! Incidentally, when you run out to tea, simply leave the lid of the pot balanced on the handle so that the pot is clearly open and the wait staff will automatically refresh it for you.

Don’t ask for coffee. Just don’t.

Don’t expect really spicy dishes. Cantonese cuisine, which is what dim sum primarily is, is focused more on the freshness of ingredients than spice. If you do want a little kick then do ask your waiter for chili sauce (or la jiu in cantonese).

Don’t fill up on rice. Consider this a pro tip.

Do pace yourself. Dim sum is all about sharing and variety but those dumplings and buns can be surprisingly filling.

Don’t save dessert for last. There’s nothing in Cantonese culture that says you have to have your sweets at the end of the meal. In fact, you should feel free to have them at any point throughout the meal (how has this not caught on earlier?!).

Do try everything you can. There can be some dishes that might be a little foreign to North American tastes but I would encourage you to try everything at least once. You never know, you might find out you like Chicken Feet.

Don’t ask for a window seat. Dim sum is the right time and place to ask for a seat near the kitchen so you can get first dibs on the freshest tidbits as they come rolling out the door.

Don’t be shy about chasing down one of the cart ladies if they make it by you with something you want. Just remember to bring your bill/card so they can mark your dish on it.

Alright, on to the dishes that you need to try:

Har Gow (shrimp dumplings) are the litmus test for a good dim sum place. The pieces in the steamer should be uniform size, the dumpling skin should be relatively thin and definitely not dry.

Shu Mai (pork and sometimes shrimp dumplings) are the other mainstay of a dim sum meal and are very popular. As opposed to har gow which uses a rice wrapper, shu mai is served in an egg wrapper. Good shu mai will have filling even with the top of the wrapper; add a little soy sauce and enjoy!

Lo Mai Gai (lotus wrapped sticky rice) is one of my favourites though the recipe varies from restaurant to restaurant. Usually it will contain some kind of meat and some Chinese sausage (lap cheung); all this is wrapped in tasty sticky rice, which is somewhat glutinous, and a lotus leaf which imparts an almost tea-like aroma.

There are literally hundreds of other dishes which I don’t have time or the word count to go into, but I’ll refer you to my earlier comment about trying everything. Just give it a go!

guns and ships... ok, no ships

Jonathan Tom

Full disclosure, I consider myself to be fairly liberal and not particularly in favour of guns to begin with.

February 14th 2018 in Parkland, Florida, seventeen students were killed and more than fifteen injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. This tragic event brings the total number of school shootings this year in 2018 up to 18 which works out to roughly three per week according to Everytown for Gun Safety. The problem with this statistic is that it’s not necessarily completely accurate... although all the incidents used to come to this number involved the firing of a weapon on school grounds some of them aren’t really what most people would consider when the term “school shooting” is used.

I’m not going to delve too much deeper into the fact that the statistic isn’t quite accurate - if you’re interested in that aspect of the story check out Snopes here. The reason I’m not going any further into that fact is because it doesn’t matter. Let me say it again for those of you at the back of the room it doesn’t matter that the statistic is not completely accurate (though not inaccurate) because any school shooting is too many.

Parents sent their children off to school trusting that it should be a safe place of education and, to some extent, socialization. No one sends their child to school thinking “I wonder if this will be the last time I see my kid alive” and no one should have to have those thoughts. There are plenty of arguments for and against gun control and regulation in the US - the NRA and pro-gun faction argue that it’s all covered under the second amendment which should be held sacrosanct to all else. They’ll argue that they need to protect themselves against a tyrannical government and that firearms are the only way to accomplish that protection. They’ll argue that if you take away their right to own firearms then the “bad guys” will find a way to get them anyway.

Let’s address these in sequence and without any name calling because that’s not the way to converse about the subject in an adult matter: firstly, the second amendment was created in a time when people had muskets and not assault rifles. A musket has a firing rate of 2-3 rounds per minute while a modern semi-automatic rifle is able to discharge 45-60 rounds per minute. Without being a time traveler there’s no way to completely prove this point for or against but I strongly believe that this is not the type of weapon that the founding fathers had in mind when the second amendment was written.

Secondly, with regards to the need to protect yourself from a tyrannical government and with the definition of “tyranny” including “crude, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of power or control”. It could be argued that the current administration could be considered tyrannical, but that aside, even if the people were to rise up against a modern government it would be the equivalent to bringing a knife to a drone fight. With technology being as advanced as it is today the current armed citizen with an assault rifle barricaded in his or her home would never see the strike coming - the rebellion would end as quickly you could read this article.

Finally, the point about taking away “good guy” guns and the “bad guys” being able to get them anyway... where to start? I wish I could find the video clip to link here but there’s a great video available where President Obama speaks to this exact point. Essentially he starts by saying that at no point did he try (or want) to take away people’s guns - what had been proposed was stricter gun control. The argument that bad guys will always be able to get weapons is countered by the overwhelming data from the rest of the countries in the civilized world. Just because the determined will be able to acquire something doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be made more difficult to get. It’s an argument akin to saying “Cocaine will always be able to be gotten by determined addicts so we should simply make it legal to buy at any pharmacy”. Doesn’t that sound preposterous?

Recently the students of Parkland’s shooting protested in Washington and some of the resulting social media comments were , at the very least, reprehensible, deplorable, repugnant, and downright unforgivable. In response to a live stream of students lying down at the White House in protest against the current administration’s stance on gun control people commented with comments about high pressure hoses, rubber bullets, and motor vehicles being used to clear them away. Several people jumped right on these monsters and started doing research as to who they really were, where they lived, and who they worked for with a “let’s make them famous” attitude. In multiple instances these people’s employers were forwarded screenshots of their terrible comments and the commenters profiles were quickly either deleted or made private.

I am immeasurably impressed with the students who are standing up to the current administration and doing what countless others have not done. I stand with them and and support them; so should you.